Sensing an opportunity, Gonzales left Honda Aircraft and put his impressive education to work creating a new concept for buyers. Gonzales, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserves. In the Air Force, he was a T–38A instructor pilot and later an F–15C flight commander and four-ship flight lead. He also earned a master’s degree in aeronautical sciences from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a Master of Business Administration from the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina. After his active service in the Air Force, he served a stint as an international demonstration captain for Gulfstream Aerospace.
A big believer in the efficiencies business aircraft can deliver, Gonzales was frustrated that he couldn’t help more people. “More times than not, they just didn’t have a need for owning an aircraft when they were only going to fly it 30 to 40 days a year, or 100 to 150 hours a year. And it was no longer a smart decision for them,” Gonzales said. “That being said, seeing that opportunity, understanding the airplane and its capabilities and the needs of the customers, it was just a perfect storm to create a business model that served all of those elements.”
He joined forces with fellow Gulfstream and Honda alum Vishal Hiremath to create Jet It, a fractional ownership program using HondaJet Elites, but with several twists compared to other fractional providers.
Among the differences is that customer usage is by the day, rather than a number of hours the way most fractionals charge. In addition, buyers who are pilots with an instrument rating and willing to earn a multiengine rating can fly and log time with Jet It captains while flying for their own business or personal needs. The option is particularly important to customers who ultimately want to own their own turbine airplane, but don’t have much turbine time. The flights help them build safety experience in a professional pilot environment and also help them meet insurance requirements for their own purchases later.
Jet It sells HondaJet Elites in increments between 10 percent and 50 percent. A 10-percent share provides 25 days of use a year with the option of rolling over two of those into the next year. Fifty percent owners get 130 days a year and can roll over 20 days a year.
“People don’t necessarily fly by hours,” explains Duncan Jones, Jet It vice president of sales and company captain. “They fly by days, and it’s what do they want to do that day? It’s your airplane for the day. And so if you’re looking to do one trip then that uses a day if you fly it for a couple of hours. And then there’s also another piece to it where you can do multiple flights within a day. The days-based model allows people to be able to utilize the aircraft to a larger degree. So, you can do multiple flights and be back home that day.”
The business model seems to be working—perhaps spurred in part by the pandemic, which has many people reluctant to travel on the airlines. “For second quarter of  we grew by 300 percent. Third quarter was by 400 percent and we’re on path this year to exceed that for this fourth quarter,” Jones said in November of last year. 2020 was the company’s second year of returning positive earnings, with 2020 revenue up 2.7 times over 2019, Gonzales reported in March.
Jet It operates 10 HondaJet Elites.
“We expect to be somewhere between 20 and 25 airplanes by the end of 2021, he said. They recently established Jet It Canada in Quebec. A sister company, JetClub Europe, run by Hiremath, was scheduled to begin operations in March. Additional expansion plans include operations in Southeast Asia, and India, Gonzales said. JetClub is a similar hybrid ownership model for many countries outside the United States where tax laws differ and traditional fractional programs may not be feasible.
As with other fractional ownership programs, customers actually own a portion of an airplane. “You own a real asset. You’re on the registration as a part of that aircraft. And so you’re able to depreciate that airplane, if that’s something that you’re able to take advantage of in your personal situation,” Jones said. “We also give a guaranteed buyback number as well, as to the value of the airplane at certain stages. It’ll have market depreciation and you’ll have the tax depreciation, but we’ve got that built into part of the model.”
Pilot owners who fly with Jet It captains are a part of the Red Jet Squadron. The squadron is not just about individual use of the airplane, it has become somewhat of a flying community in and of itself. Squadron members sometimes plan outings together where they and their families can use the airplanes to meet at various destinations. Some choose to use their Jet It time to set records.
Red Jet Squadron member Jon Halpern, for example, set a world speed record from Denver to Bar Harbor, Maine, a distance of 1,662 nautical miles that the HondaJet Elite crossed in three hours and 59 minutes. Gonzales, who holds four other aviation world records, was his co-pilot. Halpern, a 20-year pilot, sold a jet to join the Jet It program in 2019. “Jet It offers all the freedom, flexibility, and adventure of aviation, for a fraction of the cost and with none of the headaches,” Halpern said after the flight. “I fly state-of-the-art equipment, have on-demand access to seasoned professional crews, and benefit from corporate flight department-level training, maintenance, and operational support. All my costs are fixed, with none of the surprises that are common with private ownership.”
In addition to paying for their share of the airplane, owners pay a monthly fee and a flat rate of about $1,600 an hour. In addition to fuel, the fees cover maintenance, staffing, insurance, hangar, and other fixed and variable costs.
With such rapid growth, the company is anxious to hire more pilots. As of late 2020, they had 28 pilots, with Gonzales and Jones among other company managers sometimes taking legs as well. Duncan estimated they would need a total of 40 in the coming months. Captains need about 3,000 hours, an airline transport pilot certificate, and a HondaJet type rating. First officers can come on board with less, but will be expected to upgrade quickly.
While airline pilots are especially available right now, Jones said they generally prefer to hire those coming out of general aviation and corporate flight department environments because they are used to overseeing all aspects of the flight and flight planning. “We are building the culture and the company with Jet It, and we’re looking for people who are able to come here and add value and be here for a long time,” Jones said.
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