- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 17, 2006

A ban on liquids, gels and creams aboard commercial airline flights has led to a boom in business for air charter and air taxi services, company officials say.

The restrictions don’t apply to general aviation flights, which include charters and air taxis — typically small aircraft rented by the hour to corporate clients.

SATSair, which provides air taxi service in the Eastern and Southern United States, reported a significant increase in service since last Friday — a day after the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began prohibiting passengers on commercial flights from carrying liquids, gels and creams on board out of concern the containers could conceal explosives.

The ban was implemented after British authorities last week said they foiled a plot to blow up more than 10 commercial airliners en route to the United States. The TSA this week eased those restrictions to allow some prescription medicines on planes.

“We received calls [last week] asking to ‘come pick us up’ so the traveler could avoid waiting in lines and possibly having flights canceled,” said Phil Quist, SATSair’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Mr. Quist said his company experienced its biggest demand for service at Washington Dulles International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

SATSair flew 10 planes in or out of Dulles last Friday, which was about a 50 percent increase, Mr. Quist said. That pace has continued this week, he said.

The Greenville, S.C., company, which began flying in late 2004, has a fleet of 16 planes that can carry up to three passengers. Rates start at $595 an hour for the plane. About 90 percent of SATSair passengers are business travelers.

Landmark Aviation, which operates charter services from Dulles, Leesburg Executive Airport and other airports nationwide, has experienced a small increase in service since last week, President Shawn Vick said.

But Mr. Vick added he expects a steady increase in charter service in the months and years ahead.

“The likelihood is that we will see a measurable increase in our aircraft sales and charter business related to [commercial airline restrictions] as people re-evaluate travel strategies,” Mr. Vick wrote in an e-mail. “This would be in addition to the growth we are already experiencing.”

TAG Aviation USA, which has domestic and international air charter service, experienced a significant spike in requests for services immediately after the TSA announced the new restrictions on carry-on items last week.

“When the story broke, we had about a 100 percent increase in inquiries, and almost all of it was for international travel,” said Gil Wolin, vice president of corporate communication for TAG Aviation USA.

Inquiries have cooled this week to about a 15 percent to 20 percent increase, Mr. Wolin said.

About 80 percent of business for the San Francisco company, which maintains a fleet of about 150 small jets, is from corporate clients.

Leesburg Airport Director Tim Deike said he hasn’t noticed much of an increase in charter or air taxi service this week. But he added that the Loudoun County airport typically handles a steady charter demand, with some 200 charters and private planes taking off or landing daily.

“This morning I had a ramp full of [corporate jets], and this afternoon it was full of prop planes,” he said.

But while increasing numbers of business travelers are seeking less-restrictive alternatives to commercial flights, others say they are taking the new rules in stride and have no plans to abandon flying on commercial flights.

“It’s no big deal — and the hotels give you everything you need anyway as far as shampoo and stuff,” said Joseph Bernstein of Salisbury, Md., before a business meeting at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport Wednesday.

Bill Britz of Winchester, Va., who typically flies about three times a week, said the new restrictions make it easier to get on and off planes because passengers are carrying fewer items on board.

“I think the people that don’t travel often get a little hysterical [about the restrictions], but it’s really not a problem,” Mr. Britz said while waiting to check a bag for a Southwest Airlines flight to Louisville, Ky., from BWI Wednesday. “This is a blip on the radar screen compared to right after 9/11, when it took three or four hours to clear security.”

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