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With 17 different aircraft types on the line, Chartright offers the full spectrum of
aircraft management services for owners, as well as on-demand executive charter
and both fixed- and rotary-wing maintenance services.
Back in 1987, three successful individuals in Toronto, Ont., were enjoying the perks of private jet ownership, but they certainly weren’t enjoying the associated paperwork. So they pooled their resources to create one central organization, based at Pearson International Airport, to oversee the daily minutiae of aircraft ownership. Shortly afterwards, they acquired a charter licence to bring in some revenue when they weren’t using their three jets, and Chartright Air Group was born.
The company flourished throughout the 1990s, with the owners dabbling in aircraft speculation and growing the fleet to as many as 12 airplanes. Then, at the end of the decade, Chartright weathered an economic downturn that reduced the fleet to just five aircraft. The company began to lose money and the owners realized change was needed to get back into the black.
Andrew Money, chief pilot of the fixed-wing division, said a shallow labour pool is
making it difficult to find and hire qualified pilots.
In 2003, they hired aviation consultant Adam Keller to take the reins of the faltering company. Keller was well qualified for the president’s role, having started in the aviation industry as a flight instructor before launching his own successful company, Samaritan Air Service, in 1987, and then subsequently completing his executive MBA.
“The mandate was to grow the company into profitability,” Keller explained to Skies during a recent interview. “We probably took 18 to 24 months to do that, by bringing on additional aircraft but also by paring down overhead and realizing efficiencies. By 2004, we broke even, and ever since then we’ve been growing the service.”
This Dassault Falcon 2000 is just one of the aircraft options available to Chartright’s charter clients.
From 2004 up to 2009, Chartright grew at an astonishing pace, logging annual growth rates in the neighbourhood of 22 per cent. In 2010, its rate of expansion slowed to a more moderate five to six per cent, but Keller reported that—true to aviation’s cyclical nature—business seems to be on the upswing once again.
“Our utilization is starting to go up dramatically,” he said. “I think this speaks well to what is going on in the economy in general.”
In 2011, the company seized the opportunity to secure an additional 33,600 square feet of office and hangar space at Pearson Airport. At an airport where real estate is scarce, Chartright’s headquarters now occupies a combined total of 91,000 square feet in hangars 3, 6 and 9. However, the company is looking to grow again, so Keller is examining different options.
The whereabouts of all Chartright aircraft, including this Gulfstream G200, are
tracked around the clock by staff in the flight coordination centre.
Today, Chartright employs 135 people and operates a total of 37 aircraft, ranging from a Beechcraft King Air 100 all the way up to a Bombardier Global 5000. Its Chartright Executive Helicopters division operates a fleet of four AgustaWestland machines: three AW109S Grands and one AW119Ke Koala. In addition to the Toronto site, the company operates satellite bases in Chatham, Ont.; Timmins, Ont.; Regina, Sask.; Calgary, Alta.; and Vancouver, B.C.
With 17 different aircraft types on the line, including the helicopters, Chartright offers the full spectrum of aircraft management services for owners, as well as on-demand executive charter and both fixed-wing and rotary-wing maintenance services.
Chartright specializes in providing “personalized private aviation solutions.” To Keller, that means delivering the best customer experience, not just during the flight but before and after it, as well.
“All private aircraft look quite similar, but our difference is in the details,” he explained. “We pay attention to the small things—ground transportation, catering, schedule changes. Afterwards, we provide total transparency when it comes to expenses; we are very good at financial controls. Owners can be very curious, and to keep their trust, you have to be able to produce what they need immediately and to their satisfaction. You have to be quick and look good when that spotlight hits you.”
From left to right: Dean Fex, chief pilot helicopter; David Shaver, director of
business development; and Justin King, regional general manager, Western Canada.
Every month, aircraft owners get a report from Chartright which includes an invoice and a copy of all charges relating to their account. Through a custom-designed web portal, they can look up any invoice and drill down to find any details they require. For example, if they are questioning a fuel bill, they can see where and when the fuel was purchased and at what price, and they can even access a scanned copy of the receipt.
The 24-7 web portal is just one way clients can connect with Chartright. Other options include a specially-designed cabin app, coded to each owner and their aircraft, enabling them to send notes and even photos to a central system where they are actioned by the appropriate staff member.
Chartright prides itself on being a large operation that still offers “mom and pop” access to company management.
Chartright’s flight coordination centre is staffed around the clock.
“We have good people who are really concerned with taking care of the aircraft owners,” said Keller. “We’re a very flat organization, so it’s easy for a client to plug into us and speak to someone who has the authority to make decisions. We have tried to stay small in our approach to the clients.”
That direct access to management also leads to new opportunities—which is exactly how Chartright’s rotary-wing operation was established in 2010. “One of our jet owners owned a helicopter and simply asked us to manage it,” said Keller. “We were initially reluctant, but there’s only one good answer when a client asks you to do something. And if you have the ability to do it, you do it.”
About 90 per cent of the Chartright fleet is available for charter, with inquiries coming in by phone, email, or a quick quote form on the company website. During business hours, the average turnaround time to provide a quote is less than 20 minutes—a service standard that David Shaver, director of business development, takes very seriously.
When he joined the company in 2005, there were just seven aircraft and charter requests were handled by dispatchers in Chartright’s flight coordination centre (FCC). But about five years ago, said Shaver, charter sales were separated from operations, in recognition of the fact that charter clients have different needs and requirements than those of aircraft owners. Today, there are six full-time charter sales staff who report directly to Shaver.
Chartright president Adam Keller makes client communication a priority.
“The charter side has grown as we have added more aircraft. Of the 6,800 hours we flew in fiscal 2014, 2,800 were charter, so just over 40 per cent,” explained Shaver. About 65 per cent of trips are to the U.S., with 20 per cent to international destinations and the remainder within Canada.
As a former survey pilot, Shaver combines his aviation knowledge with several years’ experience as a financial advisor, followed by an MBA. The combination serves him well in his current role, where he corresponds regularly with aircraft owners and endeavours to build solid relationships with each of them.
“When it comes right down to it, we’re competing against a number of companies,” Shaver told Skies. “We want a relationship from the get-go. We like to get people into the office to show them the heartbeat of the company. Once we get people in here, it’s much easier than dealing (with them) over the phone.”
VP and DFO Robert Squires said Chartright’s biggest challenge is to grow rapidly,
but also safely.
Chartright offers several attractive programs to its clients. A good example is the company’s hour swap program. Explained Shaver: “It gives an owner flexibility because they are populated into our matrix system, and can swap hours on their aircraft for hours on another type. Before they buy an airplane, we can show them how much time it will buy them on another type—they can essentially fly on larger airplanes for a lesser cost, and no cash is exchanged. That’s a big plus, and our program is mature. We’ve been doing it for about four years now.”
For charter clients, block hour programs are transparent and simple. When purchasing a package of hours, customers receive a discount on the hourly rates, and any expenses are billed through without markup.
Shaver estimates that Chartright is competing for the business of about 4,000 Canadians who have the means to use its services.
About 65 per cent of trips are to the U.S., with 20 per cent to international
destinations and the remainder within Canada.
To reach that narrow target market, the company focuses on direct mail campaigns and search engine optimization, to ensure that Chartright always comes up near the top of a related web search.
The company also publishes an aircraft guide, a glossy reference tool that educates clients about the various types of business aircraft, providing a comparison of direct ownership costs versus charter fees. For every thousand books the company distributes, one new customer—either charter or owner—walks in the door. However, word of mouth remains Chartright’s single biggest source of new business.
“Owners know a lot of people who might also be interested in our business,” said Shaver. “Our service in itself is a referral factor.”
￼Chartright has logged 27 years of accident-free operation.
Safe, Steady Growth
Sixty pilots plus 17 different aircraft types equals a lot of paperwork. As vice president and director of flight operations, Robert Squires oversees regulatory compliance at Chartright.
When he joined the company a decade ago, Squires’ mission was to install “ready to deploy” compliance mechanisms, clarify company policies and best practices, and facilitate safe growth.
“Our growth has been pretty consistent,” he commented. “Every year, we’re larger than we were the year before.”
￼David Shaver, director of business development, said the charter side of the
business has grown.
Squires—a former pilot who managed a First Nations-owned airline in Thunder Bay, Ont.—is proud of Chartright’s diverse operation, even if it does make for complex planning. “In real terms, we can operate from a 3,500-foot gravel strip or we can take you to China—and everything in between,” he said.
Of course, that kind of choice makes it challenging to provide and train pilots for each type of aircraft. Crew A isn’t able to support Crew B, because they’re not qualified on the same type. Furthermore, it’s an engineering challenge, because 17 different types and multiple manufacturers means multiple maintenance schedules and parts catalogues. Finally, from a flight planning point of view, staff members need to consider 17 different performance profiles when organizing trips.
However, the diverse fleet equates to multiple advantages for Chartright clients. As it has grown, the company has invested in technology and infrastructure to improve customer service and increase efficiencies. Its flight coordination centre at the Toronto headquarters is staffed 24/7. Flight Explorer software allows the company to visually track its aircraft anywhere in the world, providing there is radar coverage. A dedicated regulatory compliance manager keeps tabs on crew training requirements, and Chartright’s IT department has also developed a number of effective, customized software solutions to address the company’s unique needs.
“The biggest challenge for us is to grow safely, because rapid growth has certain safety implications,” commented Squires. “We have had to restructure the organization at least twice in the last 10 years, and we anticipate reviewing that need within the next 12 months.”
Engineers are cross-trained, working on fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft as needed.
In the last 15 years, the Canadian outlook on private aviation has changed. Airplanes have played a huge role in developing the rich resources of the West, and private aircraft are increasingly seen as a valuable tool within corporate Canada. This change in mindset opens up a broad range of opportunities for companies like Chartright.
“The West is our opportunity right now,” confirmed Squires. “I’d say the immediate priority is Western expansion. We’re well established in Calgary. Most recently, we expanded into Regina, and we’re already established in Vancouver. So personally, I’d like to see something in Manitoba next.”
Company president Adam Keller said there is a focus on establishing smaller bases, such as the one in Chatham, Ont. “Having mega bases like Toronto and Calgary is nice, but a lot of people own corporate jets and they aren’t associated with big airports,” he explained.
For five years, Chartright operated a base in Moscow, but Keller said the experiment uncovered huge cultural differences. “It was a lot of fun, but we’re glad to be out,” he said.
The company’s westward expansion has revealed cultural differences within Canada, too. Keller noted that in Toronto, for example, every owner wants their own flight crew. Yet, in Calgary, they’re happy to share pilots.
“You have to learn these regional differences and come to respect them. I’m very fond of saying that we adapt every management agreement to the needs of the client—each will have unique nuances,” said Keller.
The ramp outside Chartright’s Toronto headquarters is busy. However, the
company has also established several satellite bases in Western Canada.
Squires added that geographic expansion brings its own operational challenges to the table.
“We’re a full SMS company and we find that’s a wonderful tool to enable safe growth across the operation,” he said.
However, one factor that is beyond control is the labour supply. According to Squires, “The final challenge is pilot and maintenance engineer supply. Every time we have a position open, we’re not looking at 10 qualified candidates—we’re looking at one or two.”
Andrew Money, chief pilot of the fixed-wing division, agreed that the pilot labour pool is fairly shallow. “It’s hard to find good people,” he said. “The airlines are drawing them up. It’s tough, because a pilot coming through generally has an airline job in his sights. Also, you’re arranging a marriage per se—an aircraft’s two crewmembers need to live with each other on the road, and get along.”
So, what else makes a pilot candidate attractive to Chartright? “Proven command experience,” said Squires emphatically. “Someone who has flown a King Air out of Attawapiskat, Ont., at 2 a.m. in February knows how to fly. We can teach them how to clear customs.”
He added that Chartright handles the initial search for pilots, bringing preferred candidates forward for a meeting with the aircraft owner, if they so desire.
The diverse aircraft fleet at Chartright gives clients lots of choice, but it does
present some internal challenges.
Initially, Chartright operated an in-house maintenance department, but the work was contracted out in the early 2000s in a cost-cutting measure. Recently, the company’s tremendous growth, coupled with the acquisition of additional space at Pearson Airport, led to the repatriation of the maintenance department.
“I think it was a natural evolution,” said Tom Kolli, who is director of maintenance and a 15-year Chartright employee. “We found there was potential for a profit centre, and we wanted to be able to control our own maintenance costs.”
Today, there are 22 people in the department, including aircraft maintenance engineers, managers and support staff. Production supervisors are onsite at each remote base. Within the department, engineers are cross-trained, working on fixed- or rotary-wing aircraft as required.
Once again, the variety of aircraft in the fleet necessitates some special consideration. “When an AD (airworthiness directive) is issued, chances are it’s against one of my airplanes,” said Kolli. “The big challenge when you have 17 different types of airplanes is you have to consult 17 different maintenance schedule approvals. And then we’re bringing the older airplanes up to current standards, which is always a lot of work.”
In March 2013, Chartright was appointed an authorized service centre for AgustaWestland commercial helicopters, providing maintenance and support services for the AW109 Power, Grand, GrandNew, and all variants of the AW119.
The company is also hoping to become the Canadian parts distributor for AgustaWestland, which would open up opportunities for performing outside maintenance for other Canadian operators. “Everyone is in agreement and we’ve had numerous meetings to discuss the logistics; however, we’re still waiting on a signed contract,” said Kolli in August.
Flexible and Accessible
After 27 years of accident-free operation, Squires is convinced Chartright owes its success to the efforts of its highly experienced staff—experts who, he said, know their craft inside and out.
That staff includes the likes of fixed-wing chief pilot Andrew Money, who enjoys private aviation because “it’s no milk run” and he can interact more personally with clients. It also includes the maintenance team that can fix it all, from grounded planes to delivering forgotten luggage; and the charter sales staff who often find themselves prepping an aircraft to meet a client’s unusual requests. Then, there’s the crew in the flight coordination centre, who staff the company’s nerve centre around the clock. And, finally, there’s president Adam Keller, who ensures he is accessible to every client.
It’s a recipe that has met with success in the highly competitive industry that is corporate aviation.
“Business aviation is a fairly small community, and if clients are happy they talk to other people and word gets out,” said Squires. “We go the extra mile and the quality of the service we deliver is top notch. That pays real dividends.”
Lisa Gordon is editor-in-chief of MHM Publishing’s Skies magazine.