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JetSuite lands headquarters at JWA

The charter jet firm moves from Long Beach to Orange County.

BY STEVE CHURMPublished: June 23, 2011 03:00 PM

Banking on an improving economy, JetSuite officially opened its new corporate headquarters across the street from John Wayne Airport today.  The airline plans to double its workforce to 140 employees over the next year.

In moving its administrative base to Orange County, the charter jet firm moves into a crowded market at JWA where 10 other charter airline services are already open for business. However, CEO Alex Wilcox says JetSuite is different than the rest - because it is a more affordable option.

 “Our mission is to make private jet travel more accessible for more people,” said Wilcox, a founder of JetBlue and a veteran commercial airline executive with his experience largely in the low-price end of the industry. “We are delivering a better experience at a more efficient cost. We are very enthused at the possibilities.”

The company has 11 Brazilian-manufactured Embraer Phenom 100 four-passenger jets for hire and has designs to become the Southwest Airlines of the private jet market. The planes have a range of about 1,100 miles before needing to refuel. The firm operates like a limousine company with clients renting the plane and identifying the destination. Standard rates are $4,000 an hour for four passengers. However, less expensive rates are available on their website and Facebook, including last-minute daily deals from $499 to certain destinations.

 “Some may look at our prices and say it’s too expensive,” said Wilcox who launched JetSuite two years ago just as the recession was ending. “But time and convenience is money. What we are really selling are time machines. We save individuals time and that is a very valuable to many people.”

The privately held company, whose management team is made up of several former JetBlue employees, started in a two-bedroom apartment before moving to offices in Long Beach. The decision to relocate to JWA was easy Wilcox said. “Long Beach is an airport I know well and like. But there is nothing around it. Orange County has the amenities nearby and reflects our customer base better.”

Wilcox says JWA is a friendlier airport in terms of operations. He described the noise ordinances at Long Beach Airport as “draconian” because they restrict flights at certain hours of the day. However, JetSuite can operate 24 hours a day because the design and construction of its Embarer fleet of planes produces quieter take offs.

Orange County was also a top choice because of its state-of-the-art “flight center.” In addition, many of the firms 70 employees already live or are near JWA and it’s one of the three primary markets for its service. Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley, and Las Vegas are the company’s other top markets. The firm has about 40 pilots and 30 administrative/operations workers. The number of JetSuite employees is expected to double in both categories within a year.

Wilcox said the Phenom 100 is the “game changer.” He shopped for the right jet and when he reviewed the design and performance blueprints he ordered 50 of the aircraft on spec. Retail the planes cost $3.9 million.

What excites the aviation executive is the plane’s efficiency. While his competitor’s aircraft are burning 200 to 300 gallons per hour of flight time, the Phenom 100 uses about 100 gallons per hour. “Even if fuels spikes in the future, I have a built in edge in terms of overhead,” he said.

The interiors of the planes are spacious with plush leather seats, tables for games or work and beverage and food service offerings. Eventually, Wilcox said Jet Suite would begin offering service east of the Mississippi River.  He says he launched the company in the West because the market is underserved by commercial airlines and the weather is more favorable, particularly during winter months.

“We are trying to fill a gap for travelers who need to get to markets like Fresno, Bakersfield or El Centro,” he said. “Those markets have seen jet service curtailed or eliminated altogether. In fact, if you need to fly to Bakersfield you have to fly through Phoenix—twice. Something’s wrong with that picture.”

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