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San Fernando
Tuesday, Jun 6, 2023

Veteran Hands Over Reins of Air Firm

When Richard Hodkinson founded Elite Aviation, the company had only one client with an airplane and got most of its customers as overflow from other charter airline firms. As Hodkinson president and chief operating officer prepares to step away from daily operation of the aircraft management and charter company, Elite has 24 planes and employs an aggressive marketing campaign to get new clients. As of June 30, Hodkinson’s role is limited to aircraft sales and acquisitions. At year’s end he intends to take stock whether to continue with sales at Elite or instead pursue real estate or personal travel interests. “I’m still active in a lot of ways through Elite,” Hodkinson said. “I’m just not going to be doing it every day.” Becoming more involved in the running of Elite is Bob Lyle, a former client when he owned an apparel tag and label company who became a majority owner two years ago. Lyle is looking for a new chief operating officer. “Bob has really enjoyed the business and put a lot of money into expanding it,” Hodkinson said. “It is through his efforts that the company has ramped up its marketing and retail sales efforts.” As a client, Lyle was in a good position to see how the aircraft management and charter company operated, the services it provided and the way customers were treated before taking on an ownership stake. Having established a trust with Elite, it made business sense to get a share of the company, Lyle said, adding, “Frankly I’ve been impressed with their integrity and how they did business.” Hodkinson had worked for other aircraft management companies before starting Elite in 1992. His philosophy was that if a company offered great service and a great deal while providing a good return on the investment the aircraft owner made there was room for another aircraft management and charter company in the San Fernando Valley. The model Hodkinson pursued allowed Elite to not only be financially competitive but also allowed the company to claim that it had the customer’s best interests at heart because there was no financial gain in the other services offered. “We made money primarily on charter revenue,” Hodkinson said. “Most of our other services were passed through or at cost.” Elite operates out of a 40,000-square foot hangar at Van Nuys Airport and also has planes based in Orange County, Long Beach, Arizona and Colorado. In 1999, Elite and Hodkinson gained some notoriety by purchasing a Gulfstream IV jet via the aircraft manufacturer’s website, reportedly the first transaction to take place in cyberspace. From their different perspectives, Hodkinson and Lyle believe in the services they provide. Lyle saw the benefit of having a corporate jet when he owned the tag and label company, estimating it grew by one-third by his being able at a moment’s notice to go anyplace “to solve problems or capitalize on an opportunity.” In his more than 20 years in the aviation industry, Hodkinson said he’s seen corporate travel go from being seen as a perk to an accepted business tool. “Time is becoming increasingly valuable to executives and business travel uses executives’ time efficiently,” Hodkinson said. “I think that’s an easy sell to stockholders if they believe it’s being used properly.” Management firms themselves are seen in a different light as well, what with their volume purchasing power and expertise in services that go beyond just managing and maintaining aircraft. Elite offers a concierge service for hotel and restaurant reservations and arranging for ground transportation at a passenger’s destination. Hodkinson added that charter customers and aircraft owners are much savvier when looking for services because of information available through the Internet and from industry watchdogs such as AR/GUS and Wyvern that rate management and charter companies.

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