Despite rising fuel prices and possible new taxes, Tulsa’s charter flight industry is encountering little turbulence.
Due to delays and declining flexibility caused by security measures at commercial airports, business passengers are turning to charter flights, said Tom Park, Tulsair Beechcraft Inc. owner.
“It is the difference between taking a taxi and taking a bus,” he said. “While the bus is cheaper, it takes the customer when it wants to and goes where it wants. In a taxi, the customer can go when they want and where they want, but it costs more per seat mile. The same is true within the charter industry.”
Other advantages are not having to deal with the commotion of going through a hub to meet a connecting flight that might be delayed and knowing exactly who is on a flight, charter owners said.
Flight Concepts conducts extensive background checks on all its clients. “If we don’t know what their business is and who they are, they don’t fly,” said Russ Newman, owner.
Easy Boarding, No Delays
Last week two friends grabbed a quick flight from Tulsa to Wichita Falls, Texas, for a business meeting. And quick it was: They didn’t wait in lines at the airport, check their bags or show boarding passes at the gate. They just hopped right on the plane.
No, it wasn’t a mistake: the two friends chartered their own King Air turbo prop. Door to door, the trip took considerably less time than had they flown commercial. “It’s a little bumpy, but at least you don’t have to deal with delays,” said a Tulsa commercial real-estate executive.
With the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks came tighter security across the nation’s airports including the charter industry. The 12,500 rule states that all planes weighing 12,500 lbs. or more must be inspected and reported to authorities before travel.
While it calls for a little more administrative work, passengers don’t seem to mind, said Darrah Callen, Flight Concepts charter coordinator and vice president.
Not For Everybody
Tulsair and Flight Concepts officials agree that 90 percent of the charter business is made up by working professionals.
While considered to be a niche business, “very rarely do we just see individual’s charter flights,” Callen said.
“Typically it is businesses that recognize the efficiencies of chartering an aircraft,” she said.
“While the rates to fly a private aircraft are higher, the benefits are much greater,” Newman said. “If you look at the value of a person’s time, the efficiency that private aircraft can provide can truly be a viable option.”
Typically rates will run anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500 per hour.
“The main difference in price is the speed of the aircraft,” he said, noting that also includes greater amenities as well.
While business has been steady, the future of fuel prices causes concern, Clark said.
“At some point, somebody is going to say that the fuel prices we pass on to our customers is too much,” he said, noting that it could cause a slowdown in business.
Other issues affecting the charter industry include a major battle that is going on in Congress over a proposed use tax on all flights. The longer the customer is the air or if the pilot uses the radio, there’s a fee, Clark said.
“Right now in business aviation, we pay 28 cents per gallon tax on fuel use,” he said.
The charter industry doesn’t pay a fuel tax but does pay 7.5 percent of the total bill, which includes the fuel, airplane, pilot, food, transportation, overnight expenses — everything that is associated with that trip, Clark said.
The proposed use tax is used in Europe and Canada and is very expensive, he said, noting that “every time you land somewhere, use the radio or take off from someplace, a bill is issued.”
Certainly other concerns include the economy and the potential of another terrorist attack.
“While 9/11 may have hurt the commercial business, the charter business improved because it made airline traffic much more troublesome, with delays and cutting back service and routes,” Newman said.
This helps make corporate aircraft and ownership and charter that much more desirable, he said.
“Clearly, just as prices have gone up through the result of fuel prices and living in a region that is very much involved in the oil industry, we see many companies that are taking advantage of the benefits of private ownership or aircraft charter that didn’t before,” Newman said. ?