South Shore Insider: Business Plan With Wings

Pay-as-you-fly jet service Cut fees

By BRAD KELLY

The Patriot Ledger: Don Smith and Greg Goodwin decided to start their own private jet travel business after the two spent more than seven years in the industry.Smith, the chief operating officer, and Goodwin, the vice president of marketing, both worked with eBizJets in Norwell in the late 1990s; that company is now known as Sentient Jet and is based in Weymouth. They were both on the team that invented private jet membership, which they said revolutionized the industry.

Customers still had to pay high membership fees regardless of how many times they flew in a year. It was this problem that prompted Smith and Goodwin to start a new jet travel service, Private Business Jets, in 2002.

They started their company with a goal of providing their 1,000 or so clients -- with a simple pay-as-you-fly service. The company employs 12 people at its headquarters on Research Road in Hingham.

Smith, 43, lives in Scituate’s Humarock section and is responsible for overseeing the company’s strategic plans. He and Goodwin co-own the company.

Is the market for private jet travel growing?

Absolutely. Options that are available to folks now to fly privately and the strengthening of the national economy has created quite a national thirst for private travel. And that has led to a substantial expansion of this industry over the past five or six years.

This has helped our company by giving us the opportunity to develop a service that is customized to our client.

Our clients are anyone who has a lot of money. You see professional athletes, entertainers, investors, real estate professionals.

How does your ‘‘Fly Private Service’’ work?

A customer can call us, get a quote for a round trip or a one-way direction and pay for each trip as they fly without any deposit, up front or contractual commitment. 

We made private travel as simple as possible for private fliers.

What we offer is access 24 hours a day, seven days a week without having to put down a deposit or buy part of the plane. So people can get all of the benefits of private jet travel without the financial commitment.

How do you compete with fractional ownership programs and other private jet operators?

The fractional business itself has decreased steadily over the last four years due to expensive financial commitments.

The main difference is that in the fractional ownership world you have to make the financial commitment to a certain amount of hours and you have to put up an acquisition fee, which can be anywhere from $400,000 to several million dollars. Then you pay a monthly management fee and an operator cost, which you have to pay whether you fly or not.

With our service you have none of that. You just pay as you fly. So it is very simple for us to compete against the fractional ownership programs.

We contract with high net worth individuals and corporations, who own jets and have extra time on the jets that they want to sell off. They will tell us that they have an empty leg going from point A to point B and we book that flight. They make money and we provide our service to the customer with no extra fees.

The customer wins because he gets the best price out there and (the company with the jet) wins because they are selling seats on a plane that would otherwise come home empty. We help them defray the costs of owning these types of airplanes.

How much does a trip with Private Business Jets cost?

A trip from Boston to New York for the day would cost between $4,000 and $5,000 with one of the light jets, which holds four passengers, and that cost is for all the passengers.

It would cost $8,500 to $9,000 for a trip to Southern Florida (from Boston). It wouldn’t be cost-effective to have the jet wait for five days. So when you need to leave, we find another jet that is already there.

The midsize jet holds a party of up to seven and a cross-country trip would cost roughly $20,000. A heavy jet, which holds 10 or 11 people, would cost about $30,000 for a cross-country trip.

How do you plan to keep growing Private Business Jets?

Our program is a customer-driven program. And ...why we have been able to grow so fast and continue to grow is because we listen to our customers. They have been a tremendous part of our success.

Because we have such an experienced group here, it is very difficult for (competitors) to deliver this service on a daily basis. Our team understands the aviation business and our customers’ experience and that is a huge advantage over our competition.