As Dallas-based JetSuite makes the turn into its second decade, its president Stephanie Chung says after a year on the job, she is ready to help lead the company into a future that looks to be focused on larger aircraft. It means paring down the Embraer Phenom 100 that helped launch the company. It recently stopped accepting new members and renewals for the type.
Chung said, “Our immediate goal is to become a dominant provider in the U.S. and to accomplish this, we will continue to add more 300s, as well as gradually lessen our footprint within the very light jet space.”
She added, “This will mean strategically phasing out a portion of our Phenom 100s. These aircraft have served us well over the past 10 years, but due to their operational limitations, we’ll shift our focus as we expand our offering nationwide and ultimately to anywhere in the world.”
For current VLJ customers, she noted, “While we will continue to service existing Phenom 100 members, we will discontinue accepting additional memberships or renewals for this aircraft type to ensure a seamless transition.”
While Chung declined to detail specific numbers beyond saying three Phenom 300s were added in August, she called the fleet plan “aggressive.” JetSuite, Inc. is thought to currently have around 30 aircraft counting JetSuite and its sister company JSX. Together, a spokesperson said the plan is to have over 100 jets by 2023.
JSX operates Embraer 135/145s in an executive shuttle configuration running scheduled services along the west coast using private jet terminals, a trick that cuts total travel time in half. It recently rebranded from JetSuiteX while adding flights to Seattle and Phoenix.
In January, an article in Flight Global reported JSX will have 20 aircraft by year’s end. At the time, it reported there were 11 Phenom 100s and five Phenom 300s, although it seems the ratio of the two types has flipped over the past several months. Two subscribers of Private Jet Card Comparisons said they were told by sales reps five or six of the Phenom 300s are being added in the next couple months.
However, the shift to a more traditional fleet won’t mean a traditional marketing approach. “One of our board members challenged us to build a brand that people talk about. It seems simple, but the words are profound,” Chung said.
If you look at the hospitality side of the business the Hiltons and Marriotts are always going to be bigger, but today’s consumer is really talking about the boutique hotel as the experience they want.Stephanie Chung, president, JetSuite
Referring to NetJets and Flexjet, Chung an alum of the latter, says, “If you look at the hospitality side of the business the Hiltons and Marriotts are always going to be bigger, but today’s consumer is really talking about the boutique hotel as the experience they want.”
She adds, “Today the customer is less interested in how big you are, and instead asks the question, what you can do for them? What’s their experience going to be like?”
She also says there will be significant news regarding a new, undisclosed aircraft type announced within weeks and the company is using its 10th anniversary to look at all elements of its brand and operations.
For now, the focus is on the Phenom 300, the best selling light jet since it was introduced a decade ago. It’s also one of the roomiest in the category, second only the Pilatus PC-24, which is not currently part of any dedicated jet card programs. PlaneSense offers the Swiss-made jet on a fractional share basis.
Chung says building its business around the Phenom 100 “was very smart” when the company launched during the Great Recession. At the time, nearly 20% of all private jets were for sale and delivery of new jets had plummeted by over 40%.
The focus then was a no-frills approach of low prices for short hops, attracting first-timers to private aviation and others who were tightening their belts, and looking for a slimmed-down solution during such an unstable period in the economy.
A decade on she describes the company’s customer base as traveling longer distances with more people driving JetSuite to the Phenom 300. Its version currently guarantees seven seats, and she says she is open to exploring six and eight-seat options as well.
While Chung lauded the Phenom 100, several industry executives tell Private Jet Card Comparisons, “It’s a perfect weather plane.” One said, “It’s a better plane for an owner with specific missions than a charter operator that has to fly where its customers want to go.”
Only four of over 50 jet card providers offer very light jet options with fixed rates and guaranteed availability: Airshare, Airstream Jets, Nicholas Air, and OneFlight International. When Solairus Aviation revamped its membership offering earlier this year, it dropped its VLJ program.
JetSuite’s switch last year from fixed rates by route – it had over a million fares in its system – to more traditional jet pricing with fixed hourly rates and adding guaranteed availability is attracting customers who want a more national scope and whose missions are better suited to the Phenom 300, Chung says.
In SuiteKey, you buy into an aircraft type and while you can switch, it comes at an interchange rate, so Chung says customers voting with their wallets were choosing the Phenom 300.
JetSuite is not alone in finding love for the Phenom 300. Last month NetJets added the type of its jet card line-up, and earlier this year jet card broker Magellan Jets launched a dedicated program, albeit on a regional basis.
Other private aviation sellers offering Phenom 300 specific options include Airshare, Flexjet, Grandview Aviation, Nicholas Air, and OneFlight International.
In terms of range, you can fly 1,811 nautical miles (nm) full or 2,077 nm with four passengers, according to Conklin & de Decker Associates, Inc. Teterboro to Salt Lake City at 1,724 nm is an example while a flight like Charlotte, North Carolina to Aspen, Colorado at 1,258 nm is well in its range both east and westbound.
Chung said the company also plans to change some elements of its branding to go along with its more customer-oriented full-service focus. She points to its decision last year to offer premium catering, helicopter transfers in key cities, and the launch of JetSuite Experiences, a partnership with Virtuoso luxury travel agency Embark Beyond.
“Now our customers have access to the very best travel advisors who can create unique experiences wherever they are flying,” she says. Launched in May she said it had “taken off like hotcakes, People have really responded.” She pointed to a recent promotion around New York Fashion Week offering behind-the-scenes access.
While Chung sees JetSuite reaching “global brand” status, she said there were no current plans for joint programs with Qatar Executive. Its parent Qatar Airways along with JetBlue is an investor in the company. It’s also a significant player in the international business aviation scene operating a fleet of large cabin and ultra-long private jets, including the Gulfstream G650ER and Bombardier Global Express. In June it inked a deal to buy 18 more long-range jets from Gulfstream at a price tag of over $1 billion.
Chung declined to say if the upcoming announcements will be timed for the National Business Aviation Association’s annual conference. The largest business aviation tradeshow in the world begins on Oct. 21 in Las Vegas.
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