Aircraft: Fliers Club
Colorado energy company executive Alex Cranberg certainly is not the first frequent flier to complain about airplane food. But unlike most of these criticisms, his barbs are directed at the food served on private jets, not on airliners. “It’s just atrocious, generally speaking,” says Cranberg. “It’s $40 for a dried-out sandwich and a bunch of veggies wrapped in cellophane. It’s nutty when you think about it. You’re flying in these $15 million planes and get first-class service in everything except food. The food you get on general-aviation flights is far worse than what you get on business class.”
Cranberg has invested in Xjet in part to address this concern. Plans call for builders to complete the Xjet hangars and clubhouse at Denver’s Centennial Airport by the end of 2006. Three hangars totaling 65,000 square feet will provide state-of-the-art security and maintenance for members’ aircraft, but Xjet’s centerpiece will be the 16,000-square-foot clubhouse, where a member will be able to have a massage, enlist the club’s staff to arrange the details of his overseas travel while he relaxes in the lounge, or enjoy a meal—in the club’s restaurant or in the air—from Bruno Bruesch, a former private chef with experience catering to jet owners. Bruesch has yet to set his menu, but he probably will not include dried-out sandwiches. “We want to provide a haven for our club members,” says Xjet CEO Josh Stewart, who envisions additional facilities on both coasts of the United States and in Europe.
Xjet will limit its Denver facility to 50 members, 15 of whom will not own jets but will be able to charter aircraft from other members. The annual membership fee begins at $100,000. This fee does not include the cost of renting hangar space, which will vary depending on the size of the aircraft but will, because of Xjet’s amenities, carry a premium compared to space at Centennial Airport’s other hangars.
Xjet’s goal, explains Cranberg, one of Xjet’s seven current members as well as a primary investor, is to give jet owners a means of pooling their purchasing power—to negotiate better prices on jet fuel, insurance, aircraft maintenance, and crew training, which, Stewart claims, will largely offset the $100,000 membership fee. “The club allows owners to achieve economies of scale in all the bits and pieces needed to make the planes run,” Cranberg explains, adding that the idea for Xjets evolved from discussions with other jet owners in the Denver area. “A lot of friends of mine here in Denver had a lot of the same issues. Some guys even had gotten together in groups to achieve economies of scale.”
David Paddock, a corporate aviation consultant with SH&E International, an air transport consulting firm with offices in the United States and Europe, says many of the services that Xjet touts—pooled purchasing power, travel planning services, arranging for members’ jets to be chartered to defray their ownership costs—typically are offered by aircraft management firms. “What really differentiates this product from an aircraft management business?” he asks.
Well, there is the clubhouse, which, when it is completed, will include the aforementioned restaurant, lounge, and massage facilities, as well as a library and an art gallery. Furthermore, Cranberg notes, an Xjet member will be able to charter his plane to people he knows: the other 49 club members, particularly the 15 who do not own planes. “If somebody else is flying on your plane,” he says, “it’s somebody you know, and that makes a difference. It’s a higher level of care on both ends of the equation.”