The fractional (frax) aircraft ownership industry at large has been a strong catalyst for improvements in aircraft, service, and support systems that benefit both the business and general aviation communities. Large standardized fleets with high annual aircraft utilization and strong demands for reliability create an operational environment that fosters accelerated learning and continuous improvement for fractional service providers and the vendors that support them. The frax industry has spearheaded numerous improvement campaigns, creating growth opportunities for OEMs, maintenance, and other supporting industries.
These improvements invariably make their way into the greater aviation community. Two aircraft that come immediately to mind as having been essentially designed to succeed in the frax marketplace are the Bombardier Challenger 300 and the Cessna Citation Sovereign. These are tough, highly reliable, and easily maintainable aircraft that thrive in high-utilization environments.
Alpha Flying Inc. launched the PlaneSense aircraft fractional ownership program in 1996 with two Pilatus PC–12s. Today, with 32 aircraft, we fly the largest PC–12 fleet in the world. We safely complete more than 20,000 flights annually on behalf of our fractional owners, who enjoy the combination of superior service and excellent dispatch reliability—along with turboprop economy and the wide operational flexibility that the PlaneSense program provides. Beyond our commitment to our fractional program participants, it is part of our culture to share with the broader general aviation community what we have learned through our extensive operational experience and from our knowledge of other fractional programs.
Given our high utilization of the largest fleet of PC–12s for many years, we probably have more operational experience with the PC–12 than any other aircraft manager or operator. Over the years we have worked closely with Pilatus, Pratt & Whitney Canada, and Honeywell in resolving operational and supply chain issues that have ultimately benefited a wider audience.
For instance, the introduction of recognition lights and rotating beacons; widespread use of the double battery option now standard in the PC–12NG; and the change from carbon brakes to steel were gestated in the operations of the PlaneSense program. The master minimum equipment list (MMEL) for the earlier PC–12s and the PC–12NG is also a product of our input. Issues in the earlier builds of Honeywell’s Apex avionics system were identified and troubleshot based on PlaneSense program experience. The same can be said of improvements to the powerplant system. Through collaboration, much has been accomplished.
We have also had an impact on crew training. Our team devised a customized, highly detailed in-house training syllabus, which has been reviewed and sanctioned by the FAA for use in our program, as well as by the insurance industry. True to our commitment to the PC–12 community, this wealth of knowledge and training is available to all PC–12 users through familiarization and recurrent training, presentations, and webinars at our newly built facility at Portsmouth International Airport, New Hampshire, and via remote access.
As a final point, through the PlaneSense program we have validated the excellent safety and operational capabilities of the PC–12 to the aviation insurance underwriters. The data we have provided over the past 14 years has certainly bolstered comfort and improved the risk profile of the PC–12, which I’m sure has benefitted insurance rates for the PC–12 community at large.
The lesson here is not only to manage and operate aircraft in a manner that improves safety, service, and value, but to share how those goals are accomplished in order to help improve all sectors of aviation. I am proud that we’re able to do that.
George A. Antoniadis founded Alpha Flying in 1992. George A. Antoniadis is founder, president, and CEO of Alpha Flying Inc., manager of the PlaneSense program. He holds a master of science degree from the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, and a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School. He is a commercial instrument-rated pilot.