privateflyer

Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for July 2011

JetSuite private jet charter — mini review

leave a comment »

In case you haven’t heard, JetSuiteis a fairly young private jet charter company that exclusively flies Embraer Phenom 100 very light jets.

JetSuite plane

The company was founded by an ex Jet Blue exec, and more recently was purchased by Jet Blue founder, David Neeleman.  Right now, they only serve the Western US, but I imagine they will spread Eastward as they build their business.  I’ve now flown 2 round trips with JetSuite and figured I’d share my experience.

First, I like big jets and I cannot lie.  The little planes tend to make me claustrophobic and I don’t care for the way they seem to get tossed around more than bigger planes.  That said, for a trip with just a few people over a relatively short distance, the cost savings of a light jet are just too big to ignore.   Luckily, the Embraer Phenom 100’s are very comfortable for this class.  They’ve only got 4 passenger seats, but the cabin height and width is really good for the size — the same as a Lear 40 or 45, and slightly bigger than most other true light jets and very light jets.  The personal space is fine with 4 passengers and great with just 2.  The planes are pretty much brand new at this point, so the interior is in great shape, and the seats are comfortable.  I’d still rather be in a bigger jet, but the Phenom 100 is not too bad ride and comfort wise.

There’s a decent snack center, with some cold drinks and ice in a little cooler and plenty of little mini-liquors — really a better set up than I expected in such a small plane.  There’s a handful of different snack items — nothing fancy, but given the limited range of the planes, plenty enough to get you through the flight.  Additional catering really is not a viable option, given the limited interior space to store it.  There are a few power outlets — at least 2, maybe 4, I didn’t really count.  Also, there is a flushing toilet, though you’ll have to be flying  with close friends  or really need to go to use it, as the lav is only separated from the cabin by a curtain.  I have not flown with more than a brief case, but the external baggage compartment looks pretty decent — at least the size of normal car trunk.

JetSuite advertises some $999 one way rates for certain trips.  None of my legs qualified for these rates as there are a number of restrictions on how you qualify for them.  That said, they were pretty cheap.  My longer trip came in under $2k / hr — which is hard to beat, especially in a new plane.  If I understand their pricing scheme, that worked out to renting the plane for a whole day for $3750, then paying around $1200 / hr for actual time flown.  The quote and invoice didn’t really explain where the price came from, just listed a price for each leg, so I had to reverse engineer it to find out where that rate came from — and even then, what they charged me was a few hundred less than what I got with that formula, so I may not have it completely right.  I think it works out that for single day travel over 1.6 hours, you get a price that’s below that $3500 / hr level.  A same day roundtrip of 2 hours each way works out to $2138 / hr.  I think the max range is probably around 3 hours or so. [Yes, I know that’s still a lot of money.  Compared to other private jet options, however, it’s pretty cheap. ]

One trip required a different crew for the return (because of the FAA’s 14 hour duty day restriction), and there was no extra charge for that (depsite the fact that the crew had to fly commercial from who knows where to the nearest commercial airport and rent a car to drive to the private airport we were flying from.   The three crews we flew with were all professional, with the captains clearly being very experienced, long time pilots.  The FO on each trip was clearly junior, but came across as professional nonetheless.

The fact that JetSuite is a single operator, with one plane type, standardized pilot training and maintenance is also important to me.  I have had good luck with general charter, where you don’t really know where the plane is coming from — outside of assurance from the broker that it’s a quality operator — but it’s not my preference.  In this case you don’t really give up anything on the cost side to get a single, known operator.

Overall, I was very satisfied with my JetSuite travel and expect to use them more in the future.  Hopefully their business model proves successful.  In both of my JetSuite trips, I would not have flown privately if there wasn’t an option like JetSuite available.  For one trip, we would have flown commercial, and the other we probably just wouldn’t have gone.  I think that’s the niche in the market they are hoping to target, and it looks to me like they’ve hit it.

JetSuite website

Advertisements

Written by mojofinance

July 21, 2011 at 12:14 am

Why are private jet charter brokers so sleazy?

with 2 comments

Al Palagonia with Apollo Jets customer Shaquille O'Neal

Al Palagonia with Apollo Jets customer Shaquille O’Neal

Several years ago when a salesman from Blue Star Jets cold called me for the first time, I didn’t know what to make of it.  For one, I thought it was weird that a private jet company was named after the fictional airline in the movie “Wall Street.”  Also, the tone of the call was unusual for that type of sales spiel — fairly hard sell, wrapped in an easy going, personable, sort of bro-to-bro conversational style.  Of course, once I found out more, that all made sense.  For one, the name is not a coincidence, but an intentional nod to the movie by Blue Star founders Todd Rome and Richard Sitomer.  Their background was in the bucket shop / boiler room underbelly of Wall Street (the place), where they had been booted from the industry after some questionable goings on at their firm, Millennium Securities.  The pushy sales tactics were right out of the boiler room business, too.

This seems like a common trajectory for jet charter brokers.  Jets.com co-founders Manny Scarso and Edgar Alacan had similarly been asked to leave the securities business.  Private jet broker to the stars Al Palagonia took it one step further — instead of merely being asked to cough up ill-gotten gains and promise to stay away from the securities industry, he actually had to spend a few years in jail for some securities fraud he described like this: “Let’s just say I took a short cut and it came back to bite me in the ass.”  It’s claimed that Palagonia’s work at infamous brokerage DH Blair served as the inspiration for Ben Affleck’s character in the movie “Boiler Room.”

Palagonia was accused by a competitor of being the “secret ceo” of Halcyon Jets, a charter brokerage that traded as a penny stock and underwent a particularly interesting self-imolation.  Halcyon COO Christian Matteis, along with two others,  was accused of attempting to sabotage the company and steal the client list, and was arrested by the Miami police (see mug shot above).  With the Halcyon stock virtually worthless, the remainder of Halcyon merged with Apollo Jets, where Palagonia can be found today.  Matteis is now CEO of Universal Jet Charter.

What does any of this matter?  I’m not sure.  It certainly doesn’t mean that the flights chartered through these brokers are unsafe.  It doesn’t mean that these guys are ripping customers off.  It just feels, well, dirty.  Blue Star certainly seems to have achieved a level of considerable success.  Al Palagonia appears to have A-list client roster.  Clearly, most people are not bothered by the checkered history of many of the big charter brokers — and, judging from the number of Blue Star hats visible in the Hamptons, they may even embrace it.

Bloomberg has a good article from a few years ago that touches on some of these issues and its definitely worth a read if you fly privately via charter.  It discusses the 2005 crash of a Challenger 600 at Teterboro  (chartered through Blue Star), that highlighted the difficulty of knowing the provenance of the aircraft and crew with which one is flying.    It also talks about the 2004 crash in Colorado injuring NBC’s Dick Ebersol and killing his son.

The NTSB report on the Teterboro crash pointed out the lack of transparency in the charter broker business as problematic.  Here is an excerpt (from NTSB board member Kathryn O. Higgins) that seems particularly apt and is worth considering when chartering a flight:

But how much do these brokers really know about the operators they do business with? How much do they know about the planes these operators fly? How old are they, when were they last inspected? How well trained are the crews, what experience does a particular crew have with the route the customer wants to fly? Have they flown into that airport before? Does this operator have a dispatch function or just flight following? What safety equipment is on the plane? Who will make the decision about de-icing? Does the operator have a safety management program? Are the crews trained in crew resource management? What does the FAA know about this operator?


Business Jet Crashes Expose Rule-Breaking Brokers

Apollo Jets’ founder Al Palagonia  SEC finding

Al Palagonia: The Man Who Never Sleeps

Jets.com co-founders Edgar Alacan and Manny Scarso SEC finding

Halcyon Jets Exec Accused of Sabotaging Company

Christian Matteis, now of Universal Jet Charter

Halcyon’s Christian Matteis, now CEO of Universal Jet Charter