Puttin' On The Ritz For Private Jet Owners

May 29, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Xjet Club and Sam’s Club both offer their members discounts — but that’s about the extent of the similarity.

Xjet Club, which hopes to open a facility at Gerald R. Ford International Airport, is for private jet owners, and the annual membership fee may be more than the annual income of the average Sam’s Club member.

A proposal from Xjet will be on the table at the Kent County Aeronautics Board meeting on May 30.

Bruce Schedlbauer, manager of airport marketing and communications, said details of the negotiations between the airport and Xjet were “confidential.”

“When opportunities arise for the airport to partner with other entities on new and enhanced aeronautic services to West Michigan, we work very hard to achieve that. It must be a fair and reasonable financial arrangement for both parties,” added Schedlbauer.

Josh Stewart, founder and CEO of Xjet Club LLC, said the company’s first facility is scheduled to open in June at Centennial Airport near Denver. The $25 million facility will include three hangars for up to 20 private jets and a “world-class clubhouse with luxurious office suites and conference rooms.” The clubhouse also will have a members’ lounge, library, fine art gallery and massage facilities. Members will have access to a personal concierge for travel assistance at any time of the day or night. The Xjet Club at Centennial Airport will also have a five-star restaurant open to the general public.

According to the Denver Post, the Xjet Club at Centennial Airport has been selling memberships for $100,000. A spokesperson for Xjet Club said the cost of memberships for an Xjet Club in Grand Rapids would depend on the size of the member’s plane and the amenities options he or she chooses.

“While our goal is to provide an effortless and luxurious travel experience complete with unparalleled service and superior support, we also are focused on making good business sense for people who are accustomed to flying private jets,” said Stewart.

Xjet Club is also looking at potential sites at airports in Chicago, Dallas, Florida and California. Stewart said Grand Rapids is on the short list of potential sites because it is “a great airport” with “tremendous potential.”

He said there are an estimated 50 private jet owners and fractional-owners in the Grand Rapids area, which could provide enough members to make an Xjet Club here feasible. Non-commercial, private aircraft based at Ford International includes 37 jets. This number does not include jets owned and operated by corporations such as Alticor and Steelcase.

An Xjet facility here would cost “in the ballpark” of $10 million, according to Stewart.

Xjet would qualify as a fixed-base operation (FBO), which are companies that provide fuel, hangar space, maintenance, office rentals and other basic services to the general public. But the Xjet Club memberships would be above and beyond the normal FBO services to the public and would be targeting “high net-worth individuals … who demand the best,” said Stewart. An Xjet membership is “beyond first class,” he said.

There are currently two FBOs at Ford International: Rapid Air Service and Northern Air.

“The FBO model caters to the pilot,” Stewart said, while Xjet is “based on the owner of the aircraft.”

Xjet opened discussions last fall with the Kent County Aeronautics Board. Xjet is looking for “a good working relationship with an airport,” which would include “a good economic package … that works for the airport and for Xjet,” said David Vaughan, an Xjet executive who was in Grand Rapids with Stewart earlier in May. Vaughan is a former vice president of Signature Flight Support, the largest FBO company in the world with bases at 75 airports.

Stewart said the heart of the Xjet concept “is providing its members with aggregate purchasing power — including significant fuel savings — and economies of scale” that can lower the fixed and recurring costs of private aircraft ownership.

Fuel for Xjet members will essentially be provided at cost.

“We won’t be making any profit on fuel. Zero,” said Stewart.

Members would also have discounts on insurance and flight training, and Xjet would assist members in leasing their aircraft to other members.

Stewart, a native of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a Royal Air Force pilot who has logged more than 5,000 hours as a military, bush and commercial pilot. Prior to creating Xjet in 2003, he worked as a pilot in Africa for the International Red Cross, the United Nations and the U.S. State Department. He now lives in Conifer, Colo., and currently holds an FAA airline transport pilot’s license and an FAA commercial helicopter pilot’s license. 

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