Business Flying At Northern Jet

November 19, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Like a smooth takeoff, the flying business at Northern Jet Management Inc. has risen steadily since last September.

"The owners that own their own airplanes are using them quite a bit. The fractional owners are using their airplanes as much as possible, and our charter business has just steadily increased," said Charles Cox, principal and company president.

"I wouldn't say we've had a huge increase, but it just has been very steady," he added. "We're signing a new customer contract about every two weeks."

Cox told the Business Journal that the upward business swing his company has had over the past year was tied to the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks.

"I think it's directly related to 9-11 and to the issues that are going on with the airlines today. The airlines are trying to do a good job," said Cox. "But if you think about the extra time its takes now to get through security, and with the connect times being stretched out at the hubs, it's just taking longer to get anywhere.

"Companies have people that travel every week and it's just getting difficult for them to do that."

Cox added that many firms were also doing more work with fewer people. So getting a key executive or employee back from a trip as quickly as possible and ready to work the next day is an important consideration for a company.

"It is hard to put a dollar figure on that, but it has a huge intangible value," he said.

"We have one company that told us if they didn't have their airplane, they'd have to have at least two more vice presidents."

Executive Aircraft Charter is the name of the on-demand service Northern Jet has. But Northern Jet is more than a corporate charter. The nearly 7-year-old firm also provides aircraft and flight management services for the planes owned by its growing list of clients.

"We maintain the airplanes," said Cox, a former owner of Travel Consultants, which specialized in booking corporate commercial travel.

"All our customers do is call us up and schedule a flight and we take it from there. We kind of call it 'turnkey aircraft management.'"

Here's one reason why firms use Northern Jet's turnkey management. If a company has its own flight crew, that crew can't fly again until they get a full 10 hours' rest. But Northern Jet has multiple crews, so a customer can take off on another trip with a new crew soon after a plane has returned from a previous flight.

"If a firm has its own crew and they come back at midnight from a trip and they want to use the plane the next morning at seven, that crew can't go because of duty times," said Cox.

"In other words, they can't just come back and sleep for a few hours, get up and take another all-day trip. We can have multiple crews to crew an airplane and we can keep the airplane running basically seven days a week."

Northern Jet does much of the same service for the fractional aircraft program it offers. This program is sort of like a time-share where individuals or firms each buy a share in an aircraft and split the use of a plane, instead of owning one outright.

It gives business types who may not travel a lot an opportunity to have a plane when they need to fly, but without the expense that comes with owning a jet.

"They don't need a plane every day. They only need it a certain number of days per year, and this makes it much more affordable for them," said Cox.  "And they use it on what I call key trips — trips where they are going places which are hard to get back from the same day or even in two days."

One such trip would be making the trek to Bentonville, Ark. He said a lot of area firms do business with Wal-Mart, but getting to and from the retailer's corporate home can be an adventure in logistics for someone flying commercial from Grand Rapids. Travelers fly from here to Detroit and then from Detroit to Memphis, say, where they usually have to rent a car and drive to Bentonville.

"We go direct. We can be down there and back in the same day," said Cox.

Northern Jet has a sister company in Northern Air, a dealer for Piper and Diamond aircraft. Northern Air also does maintenance, de-ices planes, pumps fuel at the airport and stores private and corporate airplanes. Taken together the Northerns employ 110.

Northern Jet operates 14 aircraft, ranging from a 12-passenger Falcon 900EX to a Citation 500, all small executive jets.

Northern Jet and Northern Air are based at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

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