Aircraft: Restricted Access
Trans-exec air service’s Priority Program, which generates the bulk of its revenue, is more akin to an exclusive private club than an aircraft charter service. The Santa Monica, Calif., company is an anomaly in its field, because unlike other charter programs—or other businesses in general—it is not interested in taking on more customers, at least not yet. “The only way we add clients is when we add aircraft,” says Trans-Exec CEO David Bilson. “The biggest hurdle for us is allowing new people into the program.”
Those clients who have been allowed into the program—the club members, if you will—had to be recommended by people who were already Trans-Exec clients. Fittingly, most of Trans-Exec’s clients work in Los Angeles’ entertainment industry, a business where it certainly helps to know or be known by the right people. “You’re at a level where you could afford us, you definitely know somebody who flies with us, and you have to be recommended by existing clients,” Bilson says of prospective members.
Trans-Exec’s admissions policy enables it to operate with a client-to-plane ratio of 4-to-1 for each of the Gulfstreams (three G-Vs, two G-IVs, one G-III, and one G-II) that the company either owns or manages for private owners.
The cost of joining Trans-Exec’s Priority Program varies, depending on the type of aircraft and hours flown annually. Members, who must commit to either a one- or three-year contract, spend an average of $800,000 per year, which is paid in monthly installments. Bilson says that because there are so few members, they do not pay deadhead fees to reposition the aircraft between legs. Instead, the plane remains with the traveler.
While the paucity of openings and the recommendation requirement may be discouraging for nonmembers, existing clients certainly benefit from Trans-Exec’s insistence on maintaining the boutique nature of its operation. A member often flies aboard the same plane, becoming familiar with the captain and crew. Trans-Exec also provides customized meals that can include Vermont cheddars and sour cream coffee cakes from Zingerman’s, a Michigan food purveyor, and H&H bagels delivered overnight from New York. Approximately every two years, the interior of each aircraft is refurbished and updated to include the latest furnishings and entertainment systems.
Most significant, says Bilson, is that because of the low client-to-plane ratio, the company has never had to subcontract a flight from another charter operator. Private flight companies, from small charter operators to national fractional ownership programs, have occasionally been forced to hire aircraft from other providers when their own planes are not available because of mechanical reasons, or when several fliers, especially around holidays, are scheduled to travel at the same time. “This program is the closest to ownership that you can get instead of buying a plane and hiring a crew,” Bilson says. “Our clients could easily afford a plane and crew, but they don’t want to be in the plane business.”
Trans-Exec Air Service