Wings & Water: Less Is More
In an industry where growth and expanded services predominate, the PlaneSense fractional program offers a case study in the benefits of doing a single thing well.
PlaneSense, which is managed by Alpha Flying of Manchester, N.H., sells shares in just one aircraft type, the Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12. This turboprop has a range of more than 2,000 miles, can fly as high as 30,000 feet, cruises at 310 mph, and has outsold all other turbine-powered business jets and turboprops for each of the past three years. Fliers who make a lot of short hops to a variety of locations tend to like this plane because it requires relatively small runways (as short as 2,500 feet), allowing it to land and take off at about 9,000 U.S. airports, compared to about 5,000 for light jets.
The PC-12 is priced at about $3.5 million, but the cost of ownership dropped sharply when PlaneSense entered the scene in 1995. The operator, which is based in New Hampshire to take advantage of the heavy concentration of fliers in the Northeast, offers a one-eighth share (corresponding to 90 annual hours) for about $460,000, plus a management fee of about $6,500 per month; one-quarter shares (180 hours) cost double those amounts. PlaneSense guarantees an airplane within eight hours of notification.
Alpha Flying president and CEO George Antoniadis notes that the company handles fractional sales only–no chartering, no jet-card service–and, unlike many of its competitors, does not load its service with perks. With this stripped-down approach, he says, “we deliver performance similar to that of similar-sized jets, but much more cost-efficiently. If you fly from Boston to Washington, D.C., for example, a jet might get you there 10 minutes faster, but at more than double the cost.”
Antoniadis reports a customer retention rate of 93 percent, compared to the fractional industry average of about 50 percent. The company currently flies 23 PC-12s and plans to add seven more by the end of next year.