Northern Air Dedicates Hangar Ramps

December 30, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Northern Air and the Gerald R. Ford International Airport recently dedicated a new 14,700-square-foot, climate-controlled corporate jet hangar and two newly reconstructed ramps for general aviation aircraft, capping two key expansion projects totaling more than $7.5 million.

“Our new hangar underscores our commitment to the airport and regional business community to continually improve our responsiveness to the aviation public,” said Chuck Cox, founder and president of Northern Air, Northern Jet Management and The Company Jet.

The $1 million hangar can house up to nine corporate jets and can accommodate the new “high tail” jets now used by several West Michigan companies. Northern Jet Management and Northern Air operate 6 other hangars at the airport that currently house 34 aircraft. 

The newly reconstructed, $6.5 million concrete ramps were put in place to better support larger, heavier business aircraft used in corporate and private aviation today. The ramps also give the larger aircraft room to park with the rest of the general aviation aircraft, thus freeing up cargo access for commercial jet traffic. A Federal Aviation Administration grant covered nearly $5.6 million of the reconstruction cost, the state paid $147,342, and the airport paid $147,342. 

The former asphalt ramps could only serve aircraft up to 75,000 pounds, while the new concrete ramps can accommodate aircraft up to 175,000 pounds, such as the Boeing Business Jet, Gulfstream V and Bombardier Global Express.

Tom O’Hare, vice chairman of the Aeronautics Board, said the board and Northern Air have been “long-standing partners” in serving the region’s corporate, business and private aviation sector.

“This partnership has contributed to what is today a significant and growing segment of the overall aviation mix that makes up the GeraldR.FordInternationalAirport,” he remarked.

John Wheeler, CEO of Rockford Construction, partly owns a high-tail jet that’s now a tenant of Northern Air’s new hangar. The hangar also houses some of The Company Jet’s fleet.

“This new hangar allows us to park our Falcon 50 inside a climate-controlled facility, and eliminates the need to constantly shuttle the jet around the airport during winter months,” Wheeler stated. “As private aviation continues to grow, bigger jets allow for more flexibility in travel distance and passenger capacity.”

Northern Air, in fact, has seen a “tremendous upsurge” in the past several months in both its charter business and in the purchase of fractional ownership in private corporate aircraft, according to Cox. He attributes the growing interest to the “pain” of traveling on the airlines.

“From my discussions with people, they just seem to be getting kind of tired of traveling on the airlines,” Cox said. “The airlines have eliminated a lot of routes, they’ve cut back on their schedules, and the connection times are longer today. With the airline bankruptcies, the canceled flights and unhappy airline employees, people are just tired of the travel hassles, so they’re looking at alternatives.”

Adding to that is what appears to be a growing acceptance among companies of using corporate aircraft for business and corporate travel, he said, noting that more and more companies are chartering aircraft or buying shares in private aircraft.   

Northern Air sells and maintains private aircraft. Northern Jet Management, on the other hand, offers executive aircraft charter service and is the largest charter operator in West Michigan  It operates a fleet of 13 aircraft, and is licensed to provide charter services in the continental United States, Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean.

“In the last year our charter business has doubled,” Cox observed. “Where we’d average maybe 90 hours a month in charter on our corporate jets, today we’re approaching an average of 200 hours a month.”

The Company Jet’s fractional jet sales are “very strong,” too, he said, especially on the west side of Michigan and in the Chicago and Wisconsin areas. Typically, Northern Air adds two to three new aircraft to its Company Jet and Northern Jet Management fleets every year, he said.

The Company Jet gives companies in the Midwest region on-demand access to corporate jet service through the purchase of fractional shares of aircraft. Fractional ownership is designed to offer the flexibility of private jet ownership without the expense or responsibility of sole ownership. Planes in The Company Jet’s fleet have up to eight owners. 

When a company buys a fractional share, it owns a corresponding portion of the aircraft. A 12.5 percent share of a plane, for example, entitles that company to 100 hours of use per year, Cox said. Company Jet shareholders hail from Chicago, Wisconsin, South Bend, northern Indiana, northwest Ohio and all of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Its core fleet currently includes eight Cessna Citation Bravos, of which four are already sold in shares.

Additionally, Northern Jet Management recently introduced a Northern Jet Private Advantage Card, which entitles the purchaser to 25 hours of corporate jet airtime on jets that hold eight passengers. The $107,000 card includes tax, landing fees and fuel surcharges in one price.

“It’s quite popular with individuals who are looking to buy travel time and may want to use it to go to Florida in the winter, or go to a ski resort or something like that,” Cox said. “It will be a long-term program for us, and it’s designed to make it very simple to use our services.”

Northern Jet has been selling about two to three cards a month; Cox expects card sales will increase “significantly” going into the winter months.     JX

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