PlaneSense continues steady growth with its Pilatus fleet

With Wheels Up’s retreat, Pilatus PC-12 and PC-24 fractional operator PlaneSense now offers the only national, guaranteed turboprop program.

By Doug Gollan, June 16, 2023

Last year, PlaneSense ranked as the seventh-largest operator in the U.S. based on fractional and charter flight hours. It was the third-largest fractional operator, behind only NetJets and Flexjet.

With Wheels Up retreating from a national footprint, it is the only coast-to-coast turboprop program that offers on-fleet guaranteed availability with fixed/capped hourly pricing.

However, it’s not your fault if you aren’t familiar with the Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based flight provider.

Led by its low-key CEO George Antoniadis, who started the company in 1995, PlaneSense eschews issuing streams of press releases or racking up dozens of lifestyle partnerships.

Asked about the low decibel approach, Antoniadis tells Private Jet Card Comparisons, “We focus on substantiative improvements to the value we offer our clients. We feel our clients will be our loudest public relations voice.”

On the partnership front, he says, “We feel our clients are well connected, and they don’t need us to provide deals.”

If PlaneSense lacks sizzle, there’s plenty of steak for private flyers, starting with its fleet, which now includes both the Pilatus PC-12 and the PC-24 twin-jet.

PlaneSense fleet

The PlaneSense fleet includes two aircraft types, both from Swiss manufacturer Pilatus.

It operates 43 Pilatus PC-12s, including the 2000th ever made, which it took delivery of last month.

The PC-12 is one of the most utilitarian aircraft in business aviation.

Business Jet Traveler writes, “If you need a go-almost-anywhere, do-almost-anything aircraft, this is your best option.” Writer and pilot Mark Huber continues that the PC-12 has “dominated that niche, combining go-anywhere utility with creature comforts that include a pressurized cabin, near 300-knot speed, and more than five hours of endurance.”

It’s also one of the most popular, with over 70 in flight at any time.

PlaneSense pricing

However, it wasn’t until 2021 that PlaneSense expanded its primary service area to the West Coast.

That means nationally, clients only pay for occupied flight time, and there are no repositioning charges.

PlaneSense uses a six-seat executive configuration, and its entire fleet offers WiFi.

The callout is just 24 hours, with only 10 peak days.

Short-leg flyers will appreciate there are no daily minimums.

According to Private Jet Card Comparisons’ Fractional Ownership Cost Calculator, assuming a 50% residual value, without tax benefits, you can fly for around $5,000 per hour.

Pilatus PC-24

While PlaneSense values steady growth – it’s the world’s largest PC-12 operator, Antoniadis says the PC-24 light jet program could be nationwide by the first half of 2024, although that is not definite.

It added the type in February 2018 and has 11 in its fleet.

Like its sister, the PC-24 is known for its cabin comfort, ability to carry oversized luggage and sports gear via its large cargo door, and ability to access short runways.

Twin & Turbine writes about the light jet: “The flat floor in the cabin is a distinct advantage over drop-aisle designs, especially when changing seating and cargo configurations. The seats are highly adjustable and offer the ability to rotate and facilitate cross-aisle communication. Cabin lighting is fully adjustable, with beautiful overhead upwash, as well as downwash side panel, LED lights.”

“You are as likely to see one of our airplanes at JFK as a 2,000-foot runway in the Bahamas,” says Antoniadis.

Who is the PlaneSense customer?

If PlaneSense has a unique fleet profile, its customer profile is diverse

The wide-ranging capabilities of both Pilatus types are reflected in the diversity of PlaneSense’s fractional owners.

Antoniadis says clients include flight departments needing supplemental lift and mission-specific aircraft, airplane owners with large jets that also need to access short runways, and customers who own shares with other fractional providers.

PlaneSense availability

Fractional ownership remains a hot spot in private aviation even as demand recedes from the record levels of 2021-22.

According to our sources, NetJets remains sold out for deliveries in its Phenom 300 light jet program until October 2024, and Flexjet has sporadic availability.

Antoniadis says that “flying activity is more or less the same. The market for new shares has dropped a little from last year, but last year was insanely crazy.”

He calls it “still a very active market.”

That puts PlaneSense in a strong position since no other national on-fleet guaranteed turboprop programs exist.

While Antoniadis declined to provide specifics regarding future deliveries, he said there is a “constant stream” of new PC-12s and PC-24s throughout this year and 2024.

Regarding available shares, there is immediate access for the PC-24s, with August timing for PC-12 shares.

There are also interim leases for the turboprops with restrictions based on share size.

Operating challenges

Like all other operators, PlaneSense has not been immune from the supply chain, labor, and logistics issues that have made providing reliable service challenging.

The CEO says the company has made “great inroads hiring pilots and technicians.” He says the company has “made significant investments that have borne fruit, and we are seeing good increases to pilot and tech numbers.”

It has tripled capacity at its western maintenance hub located near Las Vegas.

However, the challenges continue.

Antoniadis notes that while the company has been investing in parts inventory, “You can have 10 of one part, but if there is a shortage of something, and you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve invested everywhere else, the airplane is going to be sitting on the ground.”

While increased restrictions on jet cards – more peak days, longer callouts, and longer daily minimums- are helping drive fractional ownership, the increasing challenges of ownership are now driving private aircraft owners to move into fractional ownership and let somebody else deal with the operational challenges.

One benefit of the Pilatus fleet is the ability to bypass busy airports.

Antoniadis says delays are still due to a lack of ramp space during peak times at busy airports.

He echoes the voices of both OEMs and operators speaking at EBACE recently, “Everybody relies on an ecosystem, and the ecosystem is still broken.”

What’s next for PlaneSense?

It took PlaneSense nearly a quarter century to add a second aircraft type.

However, future expansion in types could be in the offing.

“It’s something we always look at and study,” Antoniadis says.

Don’t look for a jet card from PlaneSense.

The CEO says he prefers to focus 100% on its fractional customers.

In the meantime, he says, “I know this is a little boring for an interview, but for us, it’s really about operating a high-quality, reliability program today, tomorrow, next week, next month, so I’m not sure that’s exciting to write about, but we think that’s what our customers want.”

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