During the recession, Executive AirShare directed its capital toward buying aircraft and tabled some of the hangar projects it had been planning.
Now because of demand and tight capacity, the regional fractional ownership company is moving ahead with plans to add hangar space.
That includes evaluating whether to add an executive hangar at Jabara Airport in northeast Wichita.
“It’s a high priority in 2015 for us,” said Keith Plumb, Executive AirShare’s president and CEO.
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The company, founded in Wichita and based in Kansas City, operates a maintenance facility at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.
But most of its customers want to use Jabara for flights.
“Most if not all of our departures from Wichita are out of Jabara airport,” Plumb said. “We spend more time than we should moving planes back and forth” between the two airports.
Jabara is a good location, Plumb said.
Executive AirShare is “still on a fact-finding mission. But we’d like to be out there,” he said.
Jabara Airport has property available. Others have built executive-style hangars there.
Executive AirShare is in the midst of studying the number of hours spent moving planes back and forth and the related expense.
But adding space at Jabara seems top makes sense, Plumb said.
The company doubled its hangar space in Buffalo, N.Y., last summer.
It’s also adding a hangar at the Fort Worth Meacham International Airport, a move that will increase its hangar space there by 20 percent.
Executive AirShare employs nearly 200, including 115 pilots. That includes 24 employees in Wichita, including 10 pilots and 14 mechanics, schedulers and other staff.
Wichita is its busiest maintenance base, ahead of its facility in Fort Worth.
It now has 50 airplanes, including Learjet 45XRs, Embraer Phenom 100s and 300s, Cessna Citation CJ2+ jets and King Air 350s. Of the 50 planes, 30 are in its fractional fleet. The rest are planes that are in its aircraft management business, Executive Flight Services.
It added $27 million worth of airplanes to the fleet this year.
Two of those are Learjet 45s, the first Learjets in its fleet.
They have been well received by customers, Plumb said.
Both are late models bought from Bombardier in Wichita. Their owners had traded them for new Learjet 75s, he said.
The purchases “gives us a new opportunity to build a business relationship with Learjet,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to get some experience on the 45XR, which has a lot of similarities with the 75.
At the same time it added planes, it also retired $4 million to $5 million worth of older aircraft this year. Still, it was “definitely a net gain,” Plumb said, of the additions, however.
The company has had a good 2014. It has nearly 200 customers, including 39 new ones this year.
“Sales are very strong,” he said.
The company is on track to finish 2014 with revenue in the upper $70 million range. That’s 9 percent to 10 percent higher than 2013 revenue.
It’s the fifth year in a row of profitability.
“We’re on strong financial footing,” Plumb said.
“That’s one of the things some of these customers in the other programs are worried about —is the operator going to be around for the long haul,” he said. “It’s exciting to sit down and explain to them our growth.”
During the depths of the downturn, the company gained about 2.5 customers to each one who exited.
And now that the economy is better, its retention ratio for 2014 is 8-to-1.
“We compete very well with national programs,” he said.
The company also has increased the marketing of a lease program, called Launch, started in 2012 with little promotion.
An increase in marketing has helped gain customers. The program allows customers to lease a share of an aircraft for two years.
“The upfront cost is minimal relative to fractional ownership,” Plumb said. “They’re making a two-year commitment instead of a five-year ownership commitment. That’s been huge for us.”
The lease program introduces customers to the program. They get to meet the pilots and see the flexibility of flying.
In the past 15 months, 10 customers in the Launch program converted to fractional ownership.
“It’s been exciting,” he said.
In 2015, the company plans to add an additional $25 million to $30 million in additional aircraft to the fleet.
It also will continue to expand in Texas, as well as add customers in Wichita and elsewhere.
“All of our markets are growing,” Plumb said. “There’s no stagnation.”