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60.3 F
San Diego
Wednesday, May 22, 2024

More Time in the Air Is The Road Less Traveled

With traffic congestion steadily increasing and executives’ time becoming ever more valuable, businesses are turning to charter companies for their transportation needs.

A recent report by the Texas Transportation Institute revealed that people spend 3.7 billion hours delayed on the road in 2003. For businesses, time on the road means money out the window, executives say.

“Time is valuable,” said Ron Belville, the former owner of San Diego-based Belville Pharmacy Services, Inc., a long-term care pharmacy serving skilled and residential facilities and hospitals in Southern California.

“If I am going to go to a meeting in Los Angeles, sometimes it can take three hours each way,” said Belville, who now works for Baltimore-based NeighborCare, Inc., an institutional pharmacy, which acquired Belville Pharmacy Services in December. “It doesn’t work. Traffic is so bad. With a charter flight I can just hop on one here and go to the meeting and be back within a couple of hours.”

Belville, now a vice president with NeighborCare, said chartering a plane has enabled him to go to meetings and events he otherwise wouldn’t because of the hassle of commercial flights and traffic congestion.

“It is the only convenient way to get around right now,” he said.

Nationwide, there are more than 6,400 aircraft in use for charter flights, according to the 2003 Air Charter Guide, an industry publication.

Air Advantages

According to a February 2004 survey conducted by the Air Charter Guide, half of all air charter operators were enjoying increased business compared with the same period in 2003, with the majority of increased business due to the demand for more timely air travel among existing customers.

“In using charter, there are several advantages,” said Dan Hubbard, spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that represents the interests of nearly 7,600 companies and organizations that use business aircraft. “Basically, it’s for efficiency and productivity. When people use charter, they are able to be more productive on a flight than on a commercial flight. Most of the aircrafts are like conference rooms. They can work on their laptops, get work done and not worry about the person next to them listening to what they are doing. It’s really about the value of time.”

Jim Norman, who has been operating his charter business for more than four years, said he has experienced a steady increase in business travel in the last several years.

Norman operates a one-man business, Affordable Air Charter, out of Montgomery Field in Kearny Mesa, and said he expects to reach more than $100,000 in revenue by the end of 2005.

“Customers love it and they want me to fly for them and for them only,” Norman said.

Finding A Niche

Norman, who has been flying planes for 10 years, has developed a niche in shuttling business professionals between San Diego and Los Angeles for business meetings. The cost, which averages about $400 for a round-trip flight between the two cities, is worth it, Norman said.

“San Diego to Los Angeles seems to be a big niche for business travelers,” Norman said. “Three hours up and three hours down is a whole day of work. For $400, it is worth it. For some, they make $400 in a half-hour.”

Thomas McGrath, a local sales executive with San Diego-based America’s Choice, a construction sales business, has been chartering flights on and off for the last five years and said the benefits of chartering a flight are extremely advantageous.

“Within an hour I can be in Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Phoenix is within two hours,” McGrath said. “It fits perfectly. I couldn’t do that commercially.”

McGrath, who charters a flight several times a week, said driving often is not practical.

“I don’t like to drive and it’s not efficient to do that,” he said.

According to the 2005 Urban Mobility Report by the Texas Transportation Institute, which was released on May 9, the average San Diegan spent nearly 52 hours delayed in traffic in 2003 , a 33 percent increase from 2000.

For business executives who are used to special customer service, the ability for transportation to be arranged within a quick time span is also an attractive feature for charter companies, which are also considered on-demand carriers.

In 2004, San Diego charter companies flew more than 10,600 domestic flights out of San Diego airports, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

“What we sell to a business traveler is time and convenience,” said Henry Schubach, the president of Schubach Aviation, a charter aircraft company based at Carlsbad’s McClellan-Palomar Airport. “A lot of business owners are figuring out that it makes sense for them not to blow two days (traveling) and that it makes sense for their top people not to blow two days.”

Most of Schubach’s chartered flights are for business trips, he said, adding that many business travelers have turned to chartered flights since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Our business has increased dramatically,” Schubach said, “because the airlines have changed so much. One of our best selling tools is to get people talking about the last time they were on an airplane and the hassles they went through. We go where they want when they want. We can go to two or three cities and have them home for dinner.”

The company, which has a staff of 42, flies six or seven trips a day and charges on an hourly basis ranging from $1,000 an hour to nearly $4,000 an hour.

“There’s no doubt about it; we sell a very expensive service,” he said. “But for somebody whose time is important, it is not that much money.”

Schubach said he flies to Las Vegas 40 times per month. He expects revenue to reach $15 million by the end of 2005 — an increase of 50 percent since 2003.

In San Diego County, there are a handful of charter companies vying for business from business and leisure travelers.

“Like any other business, it’s very competitive,” Schubach said. “We compete on price and on service. There is plenty of competition. This is a business where you don’t make mistakes.”

The company, which has 13 planes, has also had to deal with the increase in fuel prices by adding a fuel surcharge to the price it charges its customers.

“It is frightening how much gas is,” he said.


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