Industry Research

High Life Thrives At Private Jet Service

Posted on July 15, 2009 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

MIAMI — Michael Cohen figures that even during a recession, some people won't be satisfied flying plain old first class.

After working as an aircraft broker and running a conventional charter service and a New York-to-Paris private jet service, Cohen is starting Air Platinum Club at the Opa-locka Executive Airport.

The business works like this: For fees beginning at $163,000, the customer gets 15 hours of flight time on a 14-passenger Gulfstream GIV or similar private jet. Not a seat on the plane, mind you — the whole plane. And the plane will take you wherever you want from wherever you want.

If the trip takes you to Miami, however, there are additional perks such as eight days' use of an 80-foot yacht, complete with crew, and three weekends per year in a three-bedroom condo at the exclusive Aqualina Resort and Spa in Sunny Isles Beach. Another perk is up to 20 days' use of a luxury car, SUV, or limousine.

Unlike many concierge services that obtain these vehicles for clients, Air Platinum owns its own equipment. Cohen, a Frenchman who lives in Sunny Isles Beach, started the business using his own savings from previous ventures. He personally chooses all the planes, boats and cars.

"It's my aircraft," Cohen said. "The boat is my boat. The car is my car."

No cheap 3-series BMWs here, either. His cars include a Rolls Royce Phantom, a Lamborghini, and an Aston Martin model that James Bond has been driving in recent movies. The car can be waiting for you beside the plane when you land.

Need to fly more often? No problem. You can get 100 hours of flight time plus extra use of the toys for $780,000.

If these over-the-top services and prices seem a bit much in the middle of a recession, you're clearly not a part of Cohen's clientele.

He only started selling memberships in the last two weeks and is hoping to attract some of the 230 customers from his traditional charter business. He figures his clientele will be about 40% wealthy individuals and 60% corporations that would use the service for executive travel and entertaining customers.

Cohen's push for corporate customers, however, comes at a time when big firms are under pressure to cut back on executive perks.

But that doesn't necessarily mean a luxury jet/yacht/sports car service won't sell.

For one thing, not all companies have shareholders; private firms have far more discretion on how to spend their money.

And while shareholder outrage has led many companies to sell their corporate jets, that doesn't mean every Bill Gates or Jack Welch is flying commercial.

Many will find other ways to retain access to a private jet.

"Companies are pretty expert at not letting anyone know how they're wasting their money," quipped Ernie Hodges, president and CEO of Virginia-based Corporate Jet Sales.

Still, even NetJets, a Warren Buffett-owned firm that allows customers to time-share jets, says it lost $96 million in the first quarter.

Meanwhile, the weak market for corporate jets has been a big boon for Air Platinum. For instance, the company was able to take over the lease on one jet from a company that didn't want it anymore.

"For me," Cohen said, "it's the perfect timing."

Source: The Miami Herald

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