When the balance books of the country’s largest companies began showing signs of economic downturn in 2008, corporate aviation took a dive. And in November of that year, when the CEOs of America’s automotive giants taxied their jets in Washington en route to their bailout pleas, the industry was vilified by association. Today, the market for private aviation is returning in the United States, but slowly. So companies like Prime Jet are setting their sights overseas.
The very sentiment that the American charter industry is recovering from was once a hindrance to business in the Asian market, where Prime Jet CEO Cheryl Janke says opinion is changing and beginning to reflect an appreciation for the economic benefits of corporate aviation. “When you have executives making million-dollar salaries and divide that by an hourly rate, you quickly realize the money wasted on commercial flight,” Janke says. Time spent on an airliner cannot be maximized with private meetings. Nor do commercial carriers wait for execs tied up in long meetings, potentially jeopardizing business at their next destination. For the time being, that business case has been overshadowed by strong rhetoric of luxury in the states.
“When one economy goes down, hopefully another goes up,” says Janke. That’s what she’s seeing in China. In order to capitalize on the opportunity, she realizes Prime Jet can’t have all its airplanes in the United States. Prime Jet’s fleet is primarily comprised of heavy jets, ideal for international travel, so the Asian market was a logical avenue for diversification.
Since 2006, Janke has been making inroads in Asia—first with her company, Jet Repair Anywhere, an online, aircraft-operator service portal, and now with the charter, sales, and maintenance services of Prime Jet. “When we first started operation in Asia, we were one of the first,” Janke says. “Competition has definitely increased with increased travel to the continent.”
American, or N-registered, aircraft are sought after in Asia because of increased business between its countries and the United States. And due to international restrictions on charter services, Janke is seeking out partnerships with international management companies. In the International Civil Aviation Organization, cabotage—the transportation of passengers by a foreign carrier within another country’s territory—is a serious offense, resulting in significant fines of more than $20,000. Pooling the resources and purchasing power of other carriers in Asia and Europe, Janke hopes to position Prime Jet among operators of similarly high standards to make international chartering a seamless, painless process for customers leaving and entering the states via private aviation.
In times of sequestration, Janke believes there is still opportunity for chartered aviation in federal contracts as well. As a 70 percent woman-owned business, Prime Jet fares well on the US General Services Administration’s schedule, which increases opportunities for such businesses. “You have to diversify,” says Janke. Thanks to the CEO’s foresight, that’s just what Prime Jet has done to allow its business to takeoff even in times of economic uncertainty.