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Innovation’s in the Air

Membership Programs Offer New Options

Innovation’s in the Air: Membership Programs Offer New Options

Just ten years ago, only three BizAv travel options existed: aircraft ownership (whole or fractional), purchase of a block of hours via jet card from one of more than 65 charter operators and charter brokers, or straight charter on a trip-by-trip basis. Now there’s a fourth option: a membership program.

Your aircraft may be unavailable or unsuitable for a particular trip. It may be down for maintenance, or on a wait list for ADS-B upgrades and compliance. It may be too large to access smaller runways,  or too costly for short hops. You need supplemental lift.

Using a jet card requires a commitment of pre-paid funds: you purchase a specific number of hours, at a specific cost per hour, and pay in advance. However, any unused hours may be forfeited at contract termination, and you could be subject to surcharges or strict cancellation policies  during peak-demand times.

When you use on-demand charter, you pay per trip. The cost per hour is not fixed and can vary depending on many factors, including the make/ model of aircraft available, positioning charges, or operator. And there’s no guarantee that the aircraft you need will be available when you need it. 

In the past five years, a few companies have created a new type of supplemental lift: the membership program, which offers guaranteed access to the company’s own fleet of aircraft, with as little as 24 hours’ notice.

With a one-time entry fee, and annual dues that may not start until, or may be reduced in, year two, these programs offer the option to pay for flight hours only as you use them. You pay fixed rates only for occupied hours flown, based on the aircraft type, with no repositioning fees or minimum-hour commitments.

Membership companies offer a variety of aircraft models, en-abling you to select the most efficient aircraft for each trip. For ex-ample, the King Air 350i is an economical eight-passenger turboprop, well-suited for flights of two hours or fewer. It offers access to shorter airfields unavailable to many jets. Landing at a smaller airport closer to your destination can save you considerable ground travel time. For flights of three hours or more, you could choose a faster, longer-range business jet, such as the Citation Excel/XLS or Citation X.

A membership program may be for you if you:

  • Fly fewer than 150 hours per year.
  • Want supplemental lift without capital outlay.
  • Usually fly one-way, or round-trips without a same-day return.
  • Require guaranteed availability with short notice.

Advantages Include:

  • The Ability to Pay As You Fly – Since you’re not locked into a long-term contract or minimum number of hours, you can optimize your BizAv expenditures.
  • A “No-Positioning Charge” Option – While traditional round-trip charter sourced from an operator based near your flight’s origin usually is the most cost-effective, membership programs let you avoid the fee for one-way trips between remote locations or round trips without a same-day return.
  • Uniformity – You can count on the same high quality of pilots, trained to the same safety standards, and aircraft configured and maintained to the same standards, on every flight.
  • Simplicity – Insurance coverage and cost per hour are standard, with no surprises. In case of any maintenance issues, backup recovery aircraft are guaranteed at no additional charge.
  • A Dedicated Flight Desk – To meet your needs, it sources air-craft only from safety-vetted and verified operators for all trips.

As you analyze your past usage and forecast your future travel needs to determine if a membership program is right for you, recog-nize that the type of aircraft available may make your trip longer or shorter, and thus more or less costly, than those you’ve flown before. When the time and dollars make sense for you, a membership program can supplement — or replace — your current BizAv travel option. BAA

Sean McGeough, MBA, is Executive Vice President of Sales at Wheels Up. An airline transport pilot holding a type rating on the King Air 350i, he is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organization.


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