According to CEO Alex Wilcox, private jet operator JetSuite has been doubling its sales annually since its founding four years ago and is expected to close the year at about $50 million in revenue. The industry is growing rapidly, he said, with high net worth individuals wanting to own their own jets. But jet ownership is not necessarily cost effective, considering that JetSuite’s light jets burn about 130 gallons of gas per hour, Wilcox said, plus factor in the cost of hiring a crew, lodging it in a hangar and routinely servicing the plane. Chartering, jet club membership, or factional share ownership of a private jet often makes more economic sense than outright ownership.
Wilcox believes, naturally, that there is tremendous opportunity for light jets and specifically JetSuite’s chartering services. “We think of ourselves as Southwest Airlines 20 years ago, few people had heard of them and they just sneaked under the radar and grew,” he said. “Then one day everyone woke up and they were the biggest in the industry in terms of passengers carried.”
An ambitious flight plan for a four year-old company working in an industry where some argue there is overcapacity. Penta hitched a ride back to New York City with Wilcox and president Keith Rabin, after a short flight aboard JetSuite’s CJ3 jet in Teterboro, New Jersey. JetSuite has nineteen planes; 13 four-seat Embraer Phenom 100s are based on the West Coast, and six CJ3s on the East Coast. To meet increasing demand, JetSuite will add two more CJ3s to its fleet this year and may reach twelve by the end of 2014.
JetSuite, along with competitors like XOJet, allows customers to charter private jets. Folks pay a per hour cost and airport fees. For a short flight from, say, Teterboro to Bedford, Massachusetts, a customer would pay a one-way cost of $4,138, while Teterboro to Palm Beach, Florida, would cost $13,479. A membership, which requires a minimum deposit of $50,000, shaves around $500 per hour off the average $3,500 an hour non members typically pay. For more pricing information see our previous Penta Daily, “Charter Jets for Quick Flights.”
JetSuite can fly planes out of 2,788 small and major airports throughout the U.S., so an executive can land closer to his remotely located manufacturing facility, say, to check-up on operations. Fractional jet operators like Flight Options, Marquis Jet and VistaJet make money regardless of whether their planes are in the air or not, but JetSuite must fill its seats to get paid.
The private jet operator estimates that the total trip cost, including airfare, taxi and meals for six executives, to fly a CJ3 between three meetings in Corning, NY, Scranton, PA, and Greensboro, NC is $14,171. The firm’s sales pitch reads, “Essentially an airplane conference room without the hassles of flying commercially.” But that assumes you’re not flying across the country or internationally of course, since JetSuite’s light jets don’t typically have the range to fly in excess of 5 hours.
But JetSuite does sweat its assets. Its flight management software crunches the data to efficiently guide planes along their complex journeys across the country. “We’re like a [commercial] airline’s worst day every day,” said Rabin. “One new flight might change the whole schedule.” Case-in-point: The pilots that took us for a quick flight around Teterboro were immediately leaving for Florida.
JetSuite’s flights are not exclusively slated for business travel. Wilcox estimates chartered planes are split fairly evenly between business and leisure. Recently, it announced flights from Florida to the Caribbean and a PR rep note indicated that flights from the Northeast to the tropics are in the offing.
On board a JetSuite private jet, the cabin is outfitted with the usual amenities, among them- a refrigerator, mini bar, slide-out desks for work, lavatory, power outlets, and Wi-Fi above 10,000 feet. Though the light jets rarely make flights in excess of 5 hours, the four comfortable club chairs swing out, forward and into the aisle, so you can recline almost 180 degrees for a quick nap between meetings. Lean back and a fluffy headrest cups your head.
The seven seat Citation CJ3 pulled-up to us just as the sun was receding and the moon began to crest. As the plane took-off abruptly, I grasped instinctively for my glass of champagne lest it tumble from the cup-holder. One reason private jets are so efficient with time: they often don’t have to endlessly circle an airport like a large commercial jet would, but can go straight up and down at take-offs and landings.
From the seventh seat, which also doubles as the lavatory, Wilcox mused that we were lucky to get a test-ride tonight, including him. The previous day, Wilcox had flown to New York on JetBlue, the discount airline he helped co-found, because JetSuite airplanes weren’t available. “These planes are for the customers and only once in a while am I lucky enough to grab a flight myself,” he said.
By Robert Milburn