Despite signing more high-profile partnerships, as of last week, AeroVanti’s fleet was grounded it and owes money.
According to multiple sources, including a consultant to the company and members, private aviation membership club AeroVanti has its entire fleet grounded. It is also behind on paying employees and vendors.
The reasons for not having airplanes available appear varied. They include aircraft waiting to be repaired and at least one recent repossession.
Reached yesterday via phone, Paolo Ferreri, who was named Interim COO in February, said that AeroVanti’s fleet is indeed currently parked.
He said the grounding was related to maintenance.
However, he says at least one aircraft is expected to fly imminently.
Ferreri, an ex-Piaggio executive, said his role is limited to consulting on maintenance issues, and he is working on a plan for getting the fleet flying again over an undefined period.
He declined to say how many aircraft AeroVanti currently has.
Employees, he said, are on “standby” to return.
In an email sent to employees on June 6 with the subject line “Paychecks,” Joey Giordano, Vice President, Operations wrote, “The company is not closing or going out of business, but due to repercussions of recent events, is awaiting some capital in order to get back on track and continue on a path of success. The capital is expected to come in two weeks or so.”
He continued, “[W]e understand that you have other obligations that need immediate attention financially, and you must do what is right for you and your family. There are no hard feelings if you decide that AeroVanti isn’t the right path for you. For those that stay, there could be very green valley’s ahead to enjoy! You may also decide that you will not work until you get a paycheck. We understand. You may decide to simply work from home until you get a paycheck.”
However, missing paychecks is not the only concern. Since the beginning of the year, employees have been receiving pay without tax withholdings.
Previously AeroVanti had used ADP. Employees were told the company will pay the taxes at some later date.
When we contacted Founder and Chairman Patrick Britton-Harr on June 19 after being told the fleet was grounded, and employees had been sent home, he wrote, “Negative. We have not suspended operations whatsoever. In fact, we have been making significant adjustments and additions to our team, which we will be sharing very shortly.”
Britton-Harr was copied on Giordano’s June 6 email.
At the time of Giordano’s email, AeroVanti is believed to have had several dozen employees in Sarasota, Florida, and Annapolis, Maryland, including maintenance, operations, and member services, but not including pilots.
AeroVanti also owes vendors money.
Vendors provided Private Jet Card Comparisons with records showing past due invoices of over $100,000 in one case and more than $50,000.
Also owed money is Woodbine Aviation.
Gary Tullius, its president, wrote in an email, “Yes, we did have (N70KB, a 1982 Cessna Citation II) leased to them for a short period of time, but they defaulted on the lease, and we retrieved our aircraft last week. Yes, they still have funds due us.”
Over the past six months, while claiming around a dozen aircraft, AeroVanti typically only had one or two airplanes available to fly at any one time.
New airplanes would come, others would leave, and the majority were on the ground, waiting for repairs.
Several sources say AeroVanti may have had as many as 400 members as of earlier this year.
Members paid from $12,000 per year on a pay-as-you-fly membership or $75,000 to $150,000 for Top Gun memberships with the promise of flights for as low as $1,500 per hour.
Sources say AeroVanti has been trying to sell top-tier members in recent weeks even as existing customers haven’t been able to book flights and the fleet has been grounded.
Multiple members report last-minute cancelations or simply the inability to get flights booked at all. Flights booked in April by one Top Gun member for travel last week were canceled.
Another member emailed, “They will not communicate. All flights are denied. I finally spoke with (redacted) at Aerovanti about a week ago, and (redacted) informed me they have zero planes flying.”
Still, on June 7, one day after the email by Giordano saying AeroVanti was waiting for new funding, Britton-Harr sent an email to members touting six empty leg flights between June 8 and 11.
Britton-Harr has long defended the program and its spotty service record, saying, AeroVanti is “not set up for everyone. We are not an on-demand charter. We are a private membership club.”
AeroVanti is already facing two lawsuits from groups of disgruntled members.
The lawsuits allege AeroVanti diverted funds that were designated to lease, acquire, and refurbish specific aircraft. The two airplanes were repossessed, according to the filing.
Ryan C. Wagner of WLG Firm in Ft. Lauderdale, who filed both lawsuits, said, “Based on the information and documentation that was discovered, and continues to be discovered, the activities and misappropriation of funds related to AeroVanti’s Top Gun Membership, are hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.”
The day after the lawsuit was filed in May, despite being unable to meet its next payroll, Britton-Harr sent an email to members stating, “In a continued effort to enhance our membership program, I am pleased to announce that Aerovanti has added 18 aircraft to our fleet through a direct and exclusive relationship with an air carrier partner, which will significantly increase flight availability. In addition to more availability and flexibility, our members will now have access to longer-range flights as well as increased passenger capacity.”
Last week, AeroVanti announced the appointment of Scott Hopes as CEO with promises of improving customer experience.
Hopes resigned from his last post as Manatee County Administrator in February.
Yesterday, The Bradenton Times reported as of May; there was an ongoing investigation that Hopes illegally destroyed public records on his departure.
However, in an interview with the Baltimore Business Journal, Hopes denied allegations of wrongdoing.
While Hopes was announced as CEO on June 22, he was copied on the June 6 email notifying employees the company couldn’t make payroll.
In January, AeroVanti said it was expanding with a yacht club, including three vessels.
AeroVanti has kept itself in the news with high-profile partnerships as the private jet provider to the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the University of Maryland, and U.S. Sailing.
Last month it had its logo on VIP tents during The Preakness and NASCAR’s No. 7 Spire Motorsports.
AeroVanti’s logo currently appears on the Buccaneers website (above) alongside Coca-Cola, Hertz, Mercedes-Benz, Publics, and other sponsors.
The 2021 start-up also claimed to have secured a $100 million investment last year.
At the time, Britton-Harr said he wanted to acquire a Boeing 767 for sports team charters.
Earlier this year, the FAA sent letters to AeroVanti members as part of a possible investigation into illegal charter.
AeroVanti is operating under Part 91F. Jet cards and private aviation memberships typically fly under Part 135. The latter has more stringent requirements on pilot training, duty time, and maintenance.
Two members say they have spoken at length to the FAA and are providing them with information about their flights.
According to an email sent to members announcing Hopes as CEO, AeroVanti has flown more than 1,200 flights, 3,000 hours, and 2,200 passengers in 2023.
In Giordano’s email, he told employees, “Many major companies that are a great success today have faced similar challenges: Uber, Amazon, Apple, Tesla, and the list goes on. What made them an ultimate success is the movements made following the dip in success. They stayed together as a team and operated on the faith and belief in their products. We can too!”
However, multiple members would likely disagree.
Several now say they, too, are considering legal action.
One member put it this way.
He wrote, “Patrick Britton-Harr is a complete scammer. His comments to every issue are baseless and fraudulent. His touted numbers can not be accurate as they never have the planes they say they do. He is only interested in creating a false image so that he can scam more people. He has multiple lawsuits filed, with more coming. I would rather lose my money than risk flying with a company that lies about everything.”
Britton-Harr did not respond to an email or phone call to comment on this story.