Back in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s—before the term "business jet" came into common use—those tasked with selling personal jet aircraft took the time to develop close relationships with their often-famous clients, including stars of film, television, and radio. Those esteemed passengers espoused the speed, efficiency, and other benefits of flying on a jet, and businesspeople took notice.
As the saying goes, that was then, and this is now. Today's business jet market is markedly different from that of a half-century ago, with a staggering variety of aircraft choices and with sales, charter, and leasing agents tasked with handling far greater numbers of aircraft transactions.
The scope of that incredibly competitive market often leaves little time for brokers to build rapport with their customers and fully determine their needs. Instead, aircraft sales sometimes become faceless deals in which brokers push clients towards airplanes that offer the highest commissions.
However, there are still at least a few companies that believe in taking the time to find the right business aviation solution for their customers’ needs. One of them is Leading Edge Aviation Solutions (LEAS), which has been working in the aviation marketplace and building relationships with clients for more than half a century.
A History of Personalized Service
LEAS chairman emeritus Joseph Carfagna, Sr. began his aviation career with Bendix in 1966, initially working in electrical engineering and avionics. The company soon formed a separate division for general aviation and commercial aircraft, including the nascent personal jet market.
"Around the same time, Bill Lear started Learjet, and [Bendix] was a launch customer for our flight director and autopilot," Carfagna recalls. "I was a technical rep on the project and watched planes moving down the line in Wichita. I also saw the big-name companies like Citibank, Chase, and Mack Truck buying these aircraft, and I recognized that people were needed to buy, sell, fly, and maintain them. In 1968 I had a conversation with Bill Lear and became a salesperson for Learjet with the New York area as a territory."
As a salesperson for Learjet, Carfagna built a client list that soon grew to include such notables as golfer Jack Nicklaus and entertainer Arthur Godfrey. He moved to the first management company in the Northeast, Executive Air Fleet, as a founding member in 1971 and acted as COO and managed the aircraft sales function of the firm until the mid 1980s. He later formed Wings Associates in the late 1980s, which ultimately evolved into LEAS. "From the beginning, it was my goal with the clients we handled that, if we did it right, the referral business would be there for us," he says. "Aviation is very much a referral business and the customer’s experience drives the referrals."
Such experience, attention to detail, and personalized care have become even more important as the business jet market has evolved over the years. "Today’s clients demand an emphasis on analytical expertise," says Joe Carfagna Jr. who became the president of LEAS in 2010. "We were a pioneer in offering those services, and our clients responded very well to it as the market matured and company executives began to take a larger role in determining aircraft selection.
Joe Sr.’s wife Kay joined the firm in 1990, son Joe, Jr, in 1994 and son Craig in 1996.
"Often, a buyer or seller simply doesn't know what they don't know," he continues. "We've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we're better able to stay focused on the methodical process of buying and selling aircraft for them to determine the right airplane at the right price, even if it’s not necessarily the cheapest.”
“LEAS’ success for many years has resulted from superior expertise, placing the client’s interests first and applying the hands-on touch of a family-owned business.”
Exploring Alternatives to Best Suit the Client
Frank Janik, vice president of transactions at LEAS, joined the company in 2006 at the height of a booming global market for business jets. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime market phenomenon before the downturn two years later," he explains. "Everyone in the world was buying corporate jets, and the euphoria made it seem like the high times would last forever. Of course, it wasn't really a normal market."
While the global recession of 2008–09 hit the business jet market hard, it also highlighted the competitive advantage of offering business-focused consulting efforts, in which LEAS helps clients to find the right solution for their needs. Janik notes that customers who've worked with other agents are surprised by the level of service provided by LEAS.
"The market is now far more transactional," he explains. "There's so much information available out there, but a lot of it’s more noise than activity. We focus on consulting with our clients to help them with their full package of needs and taking them through the entire process of selecting an aircraft. There's a lot more to that than just trying to sell a plane."
LEAS works exclusively with prospective aircraft buyers, taking them through the entire process and representing their interests. "We conduct a feasibility study with every client to find the right product for each of them, and that may not mean buying an aircraft," Janik says. "Block-charter, jet cards, memberships, or fractional ownership may be far better suited to the buyer's needs than purchasing an entire new or used aircraft.
"It's about offering the solution that best fits their needs," he continues. "We'd love to sell a $50 million jet, but realistically the client may be best served at this time with a jet card. The client’s needs will likely evolve over time, and our goal is to make every client a lifetime client. I'm very proud of the number of clients who've bought their third, fourth, or fifth aircraft from us."
Continuing to Support the Customer With Unique Offerings in Addition to Brokerage and Acquisition
The high level of service from LEAS continues after the sale, thanks to the company's The Client's Edge program. That’s a comprehensive suite of value-added services to assist clients with the ownership experience through partnerships with ARGUS, FlightSafety International, Marsh Insurance, and MedAire in a benefits program exclusively for LEAS clients.
The ARGUS program is an exclusive offering that provides clients who purchase an aircraft with LEAS deep discounts on a custom-tailored package that examines their operating costs and procedures (whether the aircraft is managed or not) for a three year period after the purchase. So not only is a large amount of due diligence done well before the purchase, the due diligence continues for three years afterward. Janik said, “We take the position with clients from the onset of an acquisition that the total cost of an aircraft is really only measured when you quantify the purchase, the cost to operate it, the tax benefit taken if any, and what you sell it for. Only then can you really determine what the total cost of owning a corporate aircraft will be.”
Janik notes that The Client’s Edge is a particularly useful resource for first-time buyers. “They’re now fully responsible for the costs and responsibilities of that operation," he explains. "We'll match the client with a management company, as well as provide membership with ARGUS to ensure that the management company is the best fit for the customer and that maintenance and operating costs are in line with the fleet. That gives our client the added sense of stability and assurance that things are being done the right way."
Another value-added LEAS service is overseeing quality control of aircraft completions. "We have a highly experienced airframe & powerplant (A&P) technician on staff with 50 years of experience who's involved with the technical aspects of the sale," says Joe Carfagna, Jr. "With him on the shop floor representing the client's interests, it saves the client time and brings more expertise to the table."
Joe Carfagna, Jr. also points to the company's Inside Edge web portal, which is accessible 24/7 by clients. "The Inside Edge contains all legal and procurement documents pertaining to their transactions, as well as aircraft valuations and market intelligence," he adds. "This transparent portal may be used to disseminate information at any time, and it's the kind of innovative idea that makes doing business with Leading Edge Aviation Solutions even easier.”
Such client education goes hand in hand with providing superior customer service—and clients should expect nothing less from their aircraft broker. "Bigger is not always better," concludes Carfagna, Jr. "Better is better, and I'd put the experience of our team and quality of our services as well as the client experience we provide up against anyone in this industry.”
“We've been around for a long time, with a 50-year history in the industry. We offer a unique mix of terrific experience, communication, customer service and innovation. We may be an ‘old dog’ in this business, but one with a lot of new tricks."
To learn more about Leading Edge Aviation Solutions, including the company’s complete history, and to review an impressive list of testimonials from clients, please visit the company’s website at www.leas.com.