Nicholas Air plans fleet expansion in 2021

By Doug Gollan, February 5, 2021

After doubling its fleet over the past five years, Nicholas Air says it plans more measured expansion this year

Don’t look for Nicholas Air to make a billion-dollar order with deliveries stretching over six or seven years. The Oxford, Mississippi-based private jet operator and management company will follow up its addition of two new Phenom 300 light jets added directly from Embraer last year. However, it expects to buy for near term needs, head of marketing Peder Von Harten tells Private Jet Card Comparisons.

In 2000, Nicholas Air saw a 62% revenue jump, and while funds deposited in its jet card programs never expire, importantly, he says, flight hours increased 45%.

“Our customers bought into the program and then flew. We have people who have bought Q4 and have already flown through the hours,” he says.

With 23 aircraft in its Part 135 fleet and another dozen managed for owners under Part 91, Von Harten says manufacturers are now coming to visit Nicholas Air instead of the reverse.

While eschewing the normal private aviation publicity angles of sponsorships and partnerships, the Nicholas Air fleet has doubled in the past five years by focusing on what customers want.

Nicholas Air jet card options

Its jet card program, in fact, offers all three of the most popular private jet membership options.

There is the pay-as-you-go Smart Card membership program. You pay to join and then pay when you fly. It appeals to prospects coming to the end of a fractional contract or winding down hours with their current jet card. It gives them a low commitment way to experience Nicholas Air.

The Blue Card, sold in 15, 30, 60, and 100 hours. It is targeted to customers focused on a specific aircraft type. The diverse fleet includes the Pilatus PC-12, Embraer Phenom 100, Citation CJ3, Phenom 300, Citation Latitude, and Bombardier Challenger 300.

Blue Card customers buy into a specific type (the Phenom 100 and PC-12 are co-rated) and can move up or down, but with an interchange fee.

For companies with specific missions or individuals flying routes where one type of aircraft is the best fit, the Blue Card offers the lowest rates.

For customers who want access to the entire fleet at published rates, the Rise Card sold at $200,000, $350,000, $500,000, and $1 million. It allows them to choose the best aircraft for that mission with no interchange fees.

All of the Nicholas Air programs offer fixed one-way pricing. Lead time for non-peak booking is 10 hours, and the peak is just 36 hours. Its cancelation window of 24 hours non-peak also provides flexibility. The exception is the 15-hour Blue and Smart Cards, at 48 hours.

Nicholas Air’s fleet plans

For the OEMs who may be calling, Von Harten says there will be an order. However, he says, “Our members have been the ones that chose the aircraft for us, in theory. We study the trends and analyze the data, but we also spend a great deal of time talking about fleet plans with our members to see what they want from the company. We discuss their future travel and their onboard amenities, and then create a plan to implement those elements when working on our fleet growth.”

While making a bigger order stretching over a longer period of time offers pricing benefits, it also commits an operator to a specific manufacturer and type.

“In five years, is this specific type going to be what our customers want? Maybe, something better comes along. Our commitment is to our customers’ preferences, not to the OEM’s preferences,” he adds.

The company is happy with its current types. However, it buys and sells aircraft to keep its average fleet age five years. Its oldest aircraft is currently from 2011.

A big advantage for Nicholas Air, Von Harten says, is how it configures them. For example, its Phenom 300 fleet has a nine-passenger capacity. There are six club seats, a divided two-seat divan, and a belted lavatory. In many cases, if you need eight seats, it requires a midsize or even super-midsize aircraft. Its Citation CJ3 fleet offers seven seats, while the Latitude has eight seats in the cabin and a belted lavatory.

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Institute

Von Harten says the company is more and more becoming a destination instead of a stepping stone. “It is interesting to see where the people of Nicholas Air come from, particularly the leadership. These are lifelong aviation professionals who have not only joined the team because they saw the opportunity here, but they moved their families here so they can be a part of it every day.”

He continues, “There is no remote work or Zoom meeting. It is our entire leadership team, here in the office, every single day. Most companies in our industry are owned by funds and private equity, making (fast) decisions much more difficult. In contrast, here, we have an engaged Founder/CEO who can approve all decisions and strategy implementation without asking a fund manager or a parent company.”

Von Harten says he is looking forward to when The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Institute reopens in-person classes. He credits the training its customer contact personnel go through with accentuating the southern hospitality that comes naturally.

Most importantly, he says no details are too small. That includes distinctive uniforms for its pilots that make them easier to spot in a busy FBO.

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