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Air charters take wing

Businesses turn to chartered planes to avoid security hassles
/ Source: The Associated Press

The reports are still mixed on whether a genuine recovery in business travel is under way, but signs of certainty are emerging over at the other side of the airport — in the charter terminal.

THOSE INVOLVED in charter sales and in selling private planes to corporations believe the corner has been turned and business looks good.

InsertArt(2049856)Charters won a new look by some business travelers after Sept 11, 2001, for several reasons: There was far less hassle and delay related to security and, perhaps more importantly, service to every airport, including those that commercial carriers had abandoned or which required multiple hops to reach.

While charters may not be the right fit for most business travelers, they work for some because the price can be competitive when the right number of people are heading in the same direction.

Matching potential customers with available space is a business, of Quincy, Massachusetts, which began operations in 1999.

Chief Executive Officer Nate NcKelvey says: “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth ... we’re tracking where the aircraft are, and travelers are telling us where they want to go.”

His company was recently named a “Rising Star” on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, a list of North America’s fastest-growing technology companies. Deloitte cited the firm’s “phenomenal revenue growth.” The company says its revenue has increased nearly nine times over the last three years.

McKelvey says the growth is not just related to the changed world after the Sept. 11 attacks, but to companies looking in general for different ways of doing business at a time when air fares, especially those purchased at the last minute as business travelers must often do, remain very high.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth on the Eastern Seaboard,” he said, probably reflecting a geographical area that lends itself to shorter hops and cheaper smaller jets, compared with longer flights and larger jets on the less congested West Coast.

Charter operators trying to enter the market can more readily do so with smaller, cheaper aircraft, he said.

There are about 3,000 charter operators in North America serving about 5,000 airports.


Florida-based Jet Aviation International Inc. is one of the largest operators, and Darleen DeLisle, public relations and advertising manager, credits its growth in good part to “the immense delays and security” at commercial air terminals.

But 9-11 has changed things even for charter flights. In the company’s terminal at the Teterboro, New Jersey, airport customers used to be able to drive or be driven right up to the aircraft for boarding.

Now cars are allowed only as far as the terminal. Passengers are checked, but there is a concierge to handle last-minute details and bellhops to handle luggage, she said.

Some of the same factors are driving an increase in corporate jet ownership, fractional and otherwise.

Walt Wakefield, vice president for aircraft sales at Jet Aviation, said in a recent company publication that interest in corporate aircraft ownership has never been higher.

“Corporate aircraft ownership today is viewed as a necessary business tool and the difficulties in airline travel and security concerns are likely to stimulate even more demand in the future,” he said.

Bob Knebel, vice president of Bombardier Flexjet, which arranges for individuals or companies to purchase shares in business jets at a fraction of full ownership cost, says the sour economy had a much bigger impact than 9-11 on fractional sales.

“As companies return to profitability, they begin to consider investments in capital including either fractional or whole aircraft,” he said. “We have just recently begun to see that turn in the market. Venture capitalists are beginning to make investments again, there is a sense that the economy is going to grow in the near term, and an increasing interest in private jet transportation.”

In the background still, however, are the security and hassle factors associated with standard air travel.

“I spend as much time at the airports at either end as I would normally in the flight itself,” Knebel said. “If I were traveling on a fractional (jet) I would have arrived and been at my destination typically before I departed from the airport on a typical commercial route.

“While we understand the reasons for increased security, we all also have dreams and ambitions and we’re trying to get a great deal out of life,” he added.

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