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Wednesday, Nov 29, 2023

Locally Based Firms Lead Way as Private Air Grows

Though Van Nuys Airport is home to over 100 companies, four corporate aviation firms in particular have emerged as some of the biggest players in the business aviation industry. All based at Van Nuys, these companies are often competing for the same corporate dollar, yet each of them has still managed to succeed in this crowded field. The Business Journal examines the personalities and management strategies behind these industry leading firms. The Air Group Founded in 1980 by Jon R. Winthrop and Robert A. Christy, The Air Group, maintains a fleet of 45 planes scattered at bases across the globe. Traditionally known as one of the major corporate providers of chartered jets, in recent years the Air Group has attempted to diversify its client base by including more of the Hollywood studios. As a result, according to Winthrop, the company’s chairman of the board and CEO, the company’s revenues are up 16 to 17 percent in 2005 over 2004. “Our growth is the biggest jump that we’ve had in the last few years. There were some pretty big jumps at the end of the 1990s, with the Internet bubble,” Winthrop said. “The difference today is that our growth is controlled, steady and sustainable. It’s with real clients, not high flyers who have money today and no money tomorrow. This growth has allowed us to be the fifth largest business aviation provider in the country.” The Air Group’s number of employees has surged with company revenues, as the firm has added approximately 20 more workers in the last year, bringing its total staff to 172 employees. Additionally, the company recently added two more jets to the fold, one based in Denver, the other in Honolulu. One of the key things to watch regarding the company’s future is the result of a bidding war the firm is currently embroiled in. The Air Group is vying against two other companies for the rights to develop a 10 acre parcel of land on the northeast end of the airport. If the Air Group wins the bid, Winthrop says that it will contribute a substantial amount of money to help build a magnet school on site. Skytrails Aviation Mark Sullivan, the President and CEO of Skytrails Aviation, started the company in 1985 at the age of 27 because of a passion for aviation that he’d had since he was a child. Like many of the other charter companies at the airport, Sullivan claims that his business is booming, with revenues growing in double digit leaps for each year since 2001, the result of the hassles and delays that have plagued the commercial aviation business in the post-9/11 environment. “Businesspeople like being able to conduct business on an airplane. Skytrails allows them to conduct in-air business meetings, connect with people via Internet and e-mail, and talk on satellite telephones. It’s like being in a flying office,” Sullivan said. But while all successful business aviation firms offer their clients a relatively quiet and serene in-flight environment, Sullivan says that his company beats the competition by offering superior customer service. “It’s a very competitive business, but we differentiate ourselves by our customer service,” Sullivan said. “It’s all about hiring the right people. If you have good people who are dedicated to providing good service in a team environment, than you will be a success.” Some of the amenities that Skytrails offers its clients are a world class chef who has been with the company for its duration. Additionally, the company recently constructed a new terminal for its clients, featuring a sizable conference room and a full-fledged kitchen. Sitting on an 18-acre spread, Skytrails leases and manages a fleet of approximately 40 jets of all types and sizes. Petersen Aviation Petersen Aviation bills itself on being known the world over as the “premiere destination for executive aircraft and whose clientele include celebrities in the entertainment and record industries, heads of state, and other notable VIPs.” Founded in 1994, by Los Angeles publishing magnate Robert E. Petersen, Petersen Aviation maintains a fleet of six planes on its approximately nine acre property, including two Gulfstream IV’s, widely considered the Rolls Royce of airplanes. Employing approximately 40 people, according to Petersen Aviation general manager Tom Magglos, the company features two captains on each flight, a rarity in the business aviation world. “We fly with two captains on all of our flights because of our high regard for safety,” Magglos said. “This is not a common practice due to the additional expense for the charter company. It’s far more expensive for us, but it’s worth it for our clients.” According to Magglos, one of the major threats facing the industry is the rise of credit-card charter companies. These companies which work as travel agencies selling directly to the client have created a contentious environment in the industry. “They’ll call up the corporate aviations firms and ask us what the lowest price we’ll rent an airplane for,” Magglos said. “They’re deplorable. They promise a guaranteed minimum amount of flights hours per month, than re-sell the time to consumers for an inflate price. If the consumer came to us directionally, we’d be able to fly them at a lesser rate than the credit card companies will offer.” Clay Lacy Aviation The oldest corporate aviation firm at Van Nuys Airport, Clay Lacy Aviation began in 1968 with just a single jet. Operated by Clay Lacy, who managed to run the business while simultaneously working as a commercial pilot for United Airlines, the company has grown to 155 employees and 45 airplanes (including 11 jets). The major problem that the firm faces today is a lack of land. Sitting on an eight and a half acre plot, the company hasn’t been able to expand, despite the fact that a sizable empty lot sits directly adjacent to the Lacy hangars. Though Lacy has made frequent attempts to obtain the space, LAWA has allowed the area to be vacant since the 1950s. “We’re booked up 115 percent. I’ve rented another hangar to help out out with overflow, but what I’d really like to get is more land,” Lacy said. “I’ve been trying to get some from LAWA, but it has been difficult. The land next to me is what I really need. That land has been vacant for 40 years and hasn’t drawn a dime in rent or taxes.” In the past decade, the fastest growing part of the company has been in aircraft management, where corporate firms purchase an aircraft and give it to Lacy for maintenance and upkeep. Many of the firms allow Lacy to then charter out the aircraft to other clients, offering them the opportunity to realize revenues when the jet would otherwise be unused. In addition to chartering planes and aircraft management, Clay Lacy Aviation also does a sizable business in aerial photography, primarily for movies and commercials; fuel sales and aircraft storage.

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