The world of private aviation and aircraft management seems elusive at best to those without accessibility to private aircraft ownership or exclusive memberships to companies that allow them to travel on those aircrafts.
And though a significant level of capital and reputability is still necessary in order to be a considered a viable client for most private aviation memberships, perhaps a streamlined and localized business model in the world of private aircraft management is what’s been the most inaccessible facet for aspiring members all along.
That’s where Omaha-based Jet Linx is changing the game.
First, let’s backtrack — if you're unfamiliar with how the world of private aviation works, you’re not alone.
As much as it seems like celebrities, top executives and the general one percent of the population are snatching up private jets left and right and leaving them parked at private airports within driving distance of their homes, having a ‘private jet’ doesn’t mean simply buying an aircraft and keeping it — well, not exactly.
Jet Linx CEO Jamie Walker explained the typical private aircraft management company model:
“The industry offers two major types of programs … there’s a jet card program that a handful of national operators offer. What the jet card program offers you is guaranteed availability, a guaranteed hourly rate and guaranteed standard of safety with a private jet whenever you need it, 365 days a year. In order to access those programs, it’s all provided through a national organization and you call an 800 number and deal with remote relationships, you fly on different airplanes with different pilots every time.”
This model highlights one of the biggest misconceptions about the private aviation industry: the belief that having a "private jet" means having your own "personal" jet.
Other private aircraft companies will also allow for members to be fractional aircraft owners, allowing clients to own 25 percent, 50 percent, whichever amount of an aircraft with the other dividends belonging to other members:
“You can be a factional owner where you can buy a fraction of an aircraft and that’s something that [Jet Linx] doesn’t provide. The reason is — there’s only a couple of companies that offer fractional ownership -- those companies own the airplanes and they sell you a piece of the airplane, but even though you own a piece of the airplane, you fly on a different plane every time.”
What Walker and Jet Linx are doing to combat the lack of personalization in the private aviation sphere is localizing and centralizing the process as much as possible, from a member’s first payment to their 1000th ride:
“The way Jet Linx fits into this is that we’re also one of those jet card providers, but you call a local number instead of an 800 number. We have 18 locations today and the reason we have these specific locations is that we localize and personalize the service for our clients. You call a local number, you deal with local representatives (they’re at a private hanger, not a gas station at the airport) that’s just purposed specifically for Jet Linx clients … you then come to a private terminal and fly on local planes with local pilots — it's completely localized and personalized versus the industry and our competitors who all do it through remote relationships.
We manage the airplanes — there’s corporations as well as private individuals who own the aircrafts that we actually operate and fly and we’ve essentially created an asset-like model similar to an Airbnb for private aviation. It’s almost like if you own a second home and want to rent out your second home when you’re not using it, these corporations or private individuals will own their own airplane and then when they’re not using it, [Jet Linx] will resell their availability in the form of a jet card.
If someone partially owns one of the aircrafts and three other people own the other 3/4, rather than have people buy the other 3/4 of the aircraft, Jet Linx uses jet card revenue to fill the remaining price gap so that they have essentially their own aircraft, but expenses are offset by 75 percent using jet card members to generate revenue.
So we’re putting those two together — we have a local jet card program and a local aircraft management program and we’re coupling those two together on a local basis. So the asset-lite aspect of our business is also a unique feature to [Jet Linx].”
Jet Linx — which operates over 100 aircrafts and has become the third largest private aircraft operator in the U.S. — is changing the experience from the moment members arrive at the airport.
Though most private aircrafts leave from private, smaller airports catered to the clientele they’re flying, these airport hangars (what Walker referred to as “gas stations at an airport”) are all but intimate and luxurious.
But Jet Linx members have access to private terminals “only purposed for Jet Linx members”, stocked with wine racks, wet bars, catered meals — when you walk into your designated Jet Linx terminal, the staff will know you by name and whether or not you like your water still or sparkling.
If you’re squealing in your seat in hopes of becoming a member, the process is actually pretty simple (provided you have the funds and connections.)
Walker explained that members simply have to pay a one-time, upfront fee “similar to joining a country club” and follow a pay-as-you-go method every time they want to use one of the aircrafts:
“In the industry, it’s common for companies to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars upfront in the form of hours … [with Jet Linx] there’s no predetermined number of hours you have to fly with us, there’s no refilling a deposit, you pay out of pocket every time you use [our services].
Once you’re a member, we guarantee you those three guarantees [guaranteed availability, guaranteed hourly rate and guaranteed standard of safety] in four different size categories — lite jet, midsize jet, super midsize jet or heavy jet. And you can find any one of those, any day of the week, anytime of the year.”
When it comes to that final guarantee, Jet Linx excels where other companies in their sector seem to miss the mark -- the company recently made headlines on June 11 when it voluntarily grounded its entire fleet to host a full-day Safety Summit with all employees across the country in hopes of advancing the private aviation industry’s safety standards, becoming the first-ever private aircraft carrier to do so.
But even if the words “private jet” still flood your brain with images of flashy influencers posing all over your Instagram feed, it’s clear that the Jet Linx member-base couldn’t be further from that curated representation:
“Our clients are not those people .. our demographic is much more private. they have the kind of wealth that they don’t want people to know they have that much wealth.
The majority of our clients are entrepreneurs that have created their own wealth. They have a business need as well as a personal need — that’s the large majority of our clients, probably 55 to 56 percent of our client base. The next 35 percent would be executives that are at large corporations, and then the remaining balance is actually retired people flying for leisure purposes.”
Jet Linx’s biggest bases right now are in Dallas and Atlanta, but with a Boston base opening June 20 and a New York market set to open at Teterboro Airport by the end of 2019, the company is about to make a major splash across the U.S. and eventually beyond.
Because even when it comes to choosing a location for a new base, Walker makes sure he’s starting from the ground up by integrating the company with a trusted community member in that specific area to serve as the Jet Linx representative for that marketplace:
“By definition, [Jet Linx is] not a franchise but it kind of looks like one, it’s easy to explain it like one. In each of our local markets, we bring in a local partner … in every one of these markets we partner with people in the community who are both consumers as well as well-respected people in their marketplace … they are private individuals and corporations that can make the introductions for us.”
The Jet Linx memberships in each city are develop through what Walker calls a “viral local network” with members looking to join solely based off word of mouth and through conversations with others in their local community.
And with over 100 million miles flown through Jet Linx in the past five years alone, it seems as though this viral network isn't stopping from taking off anytime soon.