Keeping Focus On Business, Not Travel

    GRAND RAPIDS — Imagine having a business meeting in Florida and being able to be there in two hours and then back home before dinner.

    Chuck Cox believes it’s feasible when flying with his firm, Company Jet — a so-called fractional jet company — that enables business people to purchase a fraction of a Cessna Citation Bravo jet for business and personal use.

    The Company Jet, founded to serve as a fractional jet service for Northern Air, really came into its own after 9/11, when security and wasted time spent traveling became a major issue for business owners.

    Cox contrasted travel by fractional jet with arrangements in days past when a few members of a sales team — or an entire sales team — needed to get from Grand Rapids to, say, Bentenville, Ark.

    One had to arrange a flight to Little Rock, arrive at Gerald R. Ford International Airport one to two hours early, wait in lines for extensive security checks, wait to board, and then set off.

    Upon arriving in Little Rock via one or more connecting flights, each with ground time and security checks, the travelers still had to make arrangements to drive to Bentenville, and then — after an entire day of traveling — business could begin.

    The same scenario would replay the next day traveling home again.

    To business owners, that translates to money spent and valuable time wasted.

    “When riding on the commercial airlines it wasn’t that we feared for the safety of our staff, but that it was a real inconvenience as business people — who are only going for a few hours to another destination — to have to go through all of the same procedures that you would have if you were traveling for a month,” said John C. Leppien, president of Garr Tool, a customer of The Company Jet.

    “Here, most of the time we know our pilots by their first names and we are on, off and ready to work. It just makes sense.”

    With The Company Jet, the sales team, the CEO or other administration members all fly and confer together en route.

    The Cessna Citation Bravos that The Company Jet flies can hold a maximum of eight people and carry enough fuel to travel about 1,715 nautical miles — meaning from here to south Florida or south Texas — in one hop.

    Instead of spending a full day traveling, Cox said, passengers arrive at The Company Jet to be greeted by their pilots.

    The passengers turn over their car keys to Company Jet assistants, who wash the car and park it just off the flight apron so it’s close by upon return.

    Pilots and assistants load luggage into the aircraft, passengers board and the trip begins.

    Upon arrival — regardless of the airport’s size — passengers are immediately provided transportation, either in a previously arranged rental car or some other mode, and are off to work.

    The layout of the aircraft affords business passengers conference space with tables, comfortable chairs, portable air phones, laptop outlets, and food and drink.

    The same goes for the return flight. Passengers can hold a post-mortem after a meeting or presentation, wrap up paperwork, complete their workday, and often get home in time for dinner with their families.

    Cox says one of the reasons The Company Jet service makes sense is that most business trips are day trips.

    “They’re trips where a sales person, a team of sales people, a CEO, president or anyone from the business needs to get to a presentation, a meeting, or to help a client with a problem.

    “For that, the customer comes in and within a half an hour they are off the ground and on the way.

    “While they wait, we wash their car, take care of whatever while they are gone, and then bring them back at the end of the workday. It is also a great benefit for our pilots who can be home for dinner with their families.”

    Cox said the luxury of owning a fraction of one of The Company Jet’s jets is that the price is also a fraction of the cost of a corporate plane.

    “We give our customers the opportunity to purchase an undivided interest in one of our jets,” said Cox. “Their ownership is then registered with the FAA and they are also able to take advantage of the aircraft’s depreciation for tax purposes.”

    He said one-eighth is the smallest fraction that a firm can buy, affording the purchaser 100 hours of air time per year.

    The buy-in fee for an eighth costs about $718,000, plus a monthly fee for operational expenses and other base expenses, and then $590 per hour per flight.

    Cox says the math works out to about $900 to $950 per hour, which —  when carrying eight people — turns out to be very economical transportation.

    Cox said that because the planes tend to hold their value well, businesses can depreciate the asset on a rapid basis for tax purposes while creating value in their assets.

    “Using The Company Jet really allows us to use our capital more effectively,” said Leppien.

    “In the end we may spend a little more, but we are doing more with it. We can accomplish so much more by having so many more working hours, instead of wasted time in an airport.”

    Cox said he doesn’t expect that fractional jet services or even charter jet services will replace commercial travel or be the end-all, know-all for travel. He said that as far as business travel for the mid-size company is concerned, he feels it may become the norm in five to 10 years.

    “Within five years I would say ownership of an aircraft for business purposes will become almost as ubiquitous as computer technology,” said Cox.

    “There will come a time that you can’t do business in the future without it, and you can’t do it as well.”    

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