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October 10, 2016

Fractional ownership jet provider targets CT businesses, wealthy

HBJ PHOTO | John Stearns Capt. Jerry Smith (top of stairs) and Kevin Bjorkdahl, sales director, show the Embraer Legacy 450 parked at Signature Flight Support at Bradley International Airport.
PHOTO | Contributed

Aer Lingus has received most of the attention lately at Bradley International Airport, but it hasn't been the only airliner trying to gain the attention — and business — of Hartford-area travelers.

Cleveland-based Flexjet LLC recently showed off the newest, top of the line midsize business jet in its fleet at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, hoping to whet the appetite of the state's high-net-worth individuals and business executives.

Hartford was the second stop on Flexjet's 41-city, coast-to-coast tour hopscotching the U.S. through October.

Flexjet is the first U.S.-based fractional ownership provider to offer the eight-seat Embraer Legacy 450 business jet, which is “considered to be the most technologically advanced and comfortable aircraft in its class,” the company said. In fractional ownership, companies or individuals purchase a fraction (as little as 1/16th share) of an aircraft and receive management and pilot services associated with the aircraft's operation.

Convenience is a big reason businesses and individuals opt for private jets, said Kevin Bjorkdahl, the Stratford-based sales director for Flexjet, which has been flying fractional owners in and out of Bradley since 1995.

The company can access about 5,000 U.S. airports directly from Harford vs. 31 on commercial carriers, he said.

Flexjet declined to share how many trips it flies out of Hartford or how many owners it has in the region, saying it serves its owners here with regularity and that its travel in and out of Bradley has remained consistent for the past five years.

“Our owner base in the Hartford area is a lower concentration than what we have in the New York area, but these owners tend to be high-utilization customers,” Flexjet said.

Connecticut customers typically use the company's light- to mid-sized jets for short business trips — to White Plains, N.Y.; Teterboro, N.J.; Boston; Bedford,Mass.; Montreal; Syracuse; and Chicago to name a few destinations — so they can get home in the evening to be with their families, the company said.

Altogether, Bradley handles more than 20,000 business jet arrivals and departures annually, according to federal statistics.

The Connecticut Airport Authority said corporate traffic seems to be picking up. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) said flight hours nationally have rebounded somewhat since nosediving after the Great Recession in 2008.

“The reason for that is that business aviation … is very closely tied to the economy,” said NBAA spokesman Dan Hubbard. “Although there has been some recovery, the flight hours still don't amount to the historic highs from 2007.”

Demand for the Legacy 450 has been strong across the country, Bjorkdahl said, noting that Flexjet is scheduled to take delivery of four more of the planes by the end of the year, among 18 others of various makes and sizes arriving by Dec. 31. It will close 2016 with 52 new jets delivered in 24 months at a cost of about $1 billion, he said.

“That's where they see the industry headed to is these new aircraft, these new private jets that they feel is the demand of the private-jet owner,” Bjorkdahl said.

Fractional costs

The plane retails for about $17 million new, with Flexjet selling shares starting at 1/16th of the cost, or about $1.075 million, Bjorkdahl said. A 1/16th share is 50 hours a year, with the plane's full utilization considered 800 hours a year. In addition, fractional owners pay about $7,000 per hour for operations, which includes the flight crew, fuel and other costs.

The Legacy 450 features a cabin 6 feet high and about 7 feet wide, includes seats that can be converted to a flat position for sleeping, and sound-reduction elements for a quieter ride and less passenger fatigue. The plane's range is capable of nonstop coast-to-coast or New York-to-Dublin flights, depending on weather and passenger load.

The aircraft has a cruising speed of 536 mph and typically flies between 41,000 and 45,000 feet.

Capt. Jerry Smith, an 11-year Flexjet pilot with more than 10,000 flying hours who was showing the plane with Bjorkdahl, praised its safety and handling features, including its fly-by-wire (FBW) technology, which replaces conventional manual flight controls with electronic ones.

The Legacy 450 and 500 are the smallest business jets to use fly by wire, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

“It's just phenomenal how (FBW) works,” Smith said.

The Legacy 450 is part of Flexjet's Red Label offering, which the company describes as bridging the gap between traditional fractional programs and whole-aircraft ownership, “providing a premium level of comfort and customization, giving fractional owners the feeling that they are flying on their own plane.”

Bjorkdahl said the company's jet use is about evenly split between business and leisure, depending on the region.

Flexjet is owned by Directional Aviation Capital, other holdings of which include Flight Options, Sentient Jet, Skyjet, Nextant Aerospace, N1 Engines and Constant Aviation.

Flexjet says its business aircraft are some of the youngest in the fractional-jet industry, with an average age of about six years.

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