It’s not just for the CEO anymore. So say the executives at Omaha, Nebraska-based Jet Linx, a private aviation firm that has set up shop at Washington Dulles International Airport to service the capital region.
“D.C. pops up on the list as not only a good market but an underserved market,” said Jamie Walker, the Omaha-based president and CEO of Jet Linx, which was founded in 1999. “We think [there are about] 25 locations across the United States that will fit our business model, and D.C. is one of those.”
The Dulles location, the company’s 14th, has seen a boost since Jet Linx came to the area in 2015 with five local aircraft (now seven). The company also operates locally at Leesburg Executive Airport (JYO) and Manassas Regional Airport (HEF).
“D.C. being an underserved market … I think that’s a factor that has helped us grow quicker than maybe some of the other markets we’ve opened,” Mr. Walker said.
He emphasized that it’s the personalized nature of the service Jet Linx provides its clients that has kept its customers returning — as well as fostered new ones along the way.
“We’re the only ones in the industry providing this guaranteed service with the local personalization so that you have a better experience,” Mr. Walker said, adding that clients and crew are often on a first-name basis.
Mr. Walker said that since spreading their wings at Dulles, Jet Linx’s clientele has been a mixture of business, politicians as well as leisure travelers.
“In our other markets it’s primarily either business or leisure travelers, but in D.C. we have that complement of politicians that need to travel … from time to time as well,” he said of legislators needing to visit constituents or travel elsewhere on government business.
Greg Kinsella, who acts as base president of Jet Linx D.C., calls Dulles “not very efficient” as far as commercial airports go, which allows for private companies like his to step in and fill the gap.
“We knew that Dulles would be our primary base of operations [because] we know that this is where the majority of travelers arrive to or depart from” in the metro capital area, he said.
Mr. Kinsella, a pilot in his own right — “I don’t fly any of our airplanes because I’m too busy managing, but I do still fly on the weekends and I do still instruct,” he said — claims that Jet Linx has experienced better-than-expected growth since coming to Dulles. Partly that has been due to positive response to the “Jet Card” program, which allows customers a type of membership in the company by which they can get a seat on a craft rather than renting out the entire plane. Such a program enables a greater familiarity between client and service provider, Mr. Kinsella says.
“We know our clients,” he said. “We don’t have people walking in off the streets and saying, ‘Hey, I want to charter a jet.’ We’ve already established business with them through the Jet Card agreement.”
Mr. Kinsella emphasizes that commercial airlines service only 500 or the 5,000 or so airports in the United States with runways that are 5,000 feet or longer, opening up a major market segment for private fliers.
Both Messrs. Walker and Kinsella said that, while private aviation indeed is a privileged niche, it has becoming “democratized” from the days when only the company CEO or self-funded billionaires could afford a solitary jet ride. Jet Linx has accomplished that partly through its own Jet Card and other loyalty programs.
“With the advent of fractional ownership, that opened up a whole new market,” Mr. Walker said. “Prior to that you had to own your own jet, which is obviously a very small piece of the population for both business and leisure. But the advent of fractional ownership … lowered the bar in that you didn’t have to own the whole airplane, just a piece” of the craft, or even just a seat alone.
“People can enter at a lower [price] point and then, as they graduate, privately or through their business, they can graduate to other programs by purchasing the Jet Card or per-seat concept,” Mr. Walker said.
Mr. Kinsella said the Dulles fleet can reach the west coast of the U.S. and even some ports in Western Europe on a single fuel tank. Popular proximal Jet Linx routes from Dulles include Aspen, Colorado, during the ski season, the “hop” up to New York or Boston for business, as well as Palm Beach, Florida, where many Washingtonians have second homes.
That route has become even more popular thanks to President Trump’s fondness for visiting his Mar-a-Lago golf property.
“There are flight restrictions and [other concerns] we have to deal with when flying into Palm Beach when he’s there,” Mr. Kinsella said of Mr. Trump’s “Winter White House.”
Unlike commercial travelers, Jet Linx passengers do not need to go through a metal detector. However, passenger lists are run through the TSA No-Fly List prior to boarding, and bags can be searched at a pilot’s discretion, Mr. Kinsella said.
“It’s a very broad mix [of client requests], so it’s important that our customer serve team is trained to handle each accordingly and keep in mind what the mission of the trip is, whether it’s a fun trip for someone’s birthday or board meeting,” Mr. Kinsella added.
Mr. Kinsella said that clients in the Dulles market are “more humble” than any other sector of private aviation he has worked in before.
“There’s not a lot of flash and panache,” he said of the capital market. “This is a means of transportation that’s very efficient.
“We like to say it’s a time machine in that it creates a lot of time back in your day.”