Richard Armour is not a name familiar to most, except for fans of this humorous light verse author who wrote in the tradition of Ogden Nash. In 1953, this Harvard-educated poet wrote It All Started With Columbus, a satirical take on America’s history. The title presaged by some ten years a significant piece of business aviation history which indeed “all started in Columbus.” Columbus, Ohio, that is: the birthplace of shared use business jet fleet travel programs, first as a straight charter operation – Executive Jet Aviation – and then, two decades later, as the first fractional share company, when EJA became Netjets.
In 1964, Columbus had a couple of distinct advantages as a business jet operations hub. More than 60% of the nation’s population was within 800 miles, a two-hour jet flight, which would minimize positioning flights; and two USAF bases were located within an hour-plus drive, placing soon-to-retire Strategic Air Command jet pilots in easy reach for recruiting.
EJA was modeled on the military aircraft transport pool used to fly officers between and among bases. Those aircraft floated, flying to the next officer pick-up airport immediately upon discharging its previous flight passengers. A double-digit fleet of original Lear Jet Models 23 and 24 aircraft painted identically and flown by gray-haired former SAC pilots in uniform company garb made EJA aircraft and crews interchangeable.
The concept and the aircraft were an excellent match for the ’60s and its burgeoning Jet Set of celebrities and CEOs. In its first years, EJA spawned many competitors seeking to tap into that market, but EJA held its own – though without turning a profit. It wasn’t until a new owner, Bruce Sundlun (later Governor of Rhode Island), assumed control in the early ’70s did EJA move into the black.
Financier Richard Santulli purchased EJA in 1984. By then, charter users were finding the “sensible” (i.e. fuel efficient) Cessna Citation featuring turbofan engines – a more cost effective and more comfortable ride than the old Model 24s powered by fuel-guzzling turbojet engines. But replacing an entire fleet – even with a quantity discount – required some creative financing: time-sharing each aircraft among multiple owners, with interchangeable access among the uniform fleet of Citation S/IIs.
Enter the EJA Quarter Share Program, which has evolved into today’s Netjets, with fleets of various business jet makes and models, as well as ownership, charter, and jet card programs.
EJA was first headquartered in Hangar 1, adjacent to the original Port Columbus International Airport Terminal, built in 1929. Its executive offices and ops center were housed in the office attached to Hangar 1, overlooking the arrival and departure ramp. Hangar 1 was EJA’s maintenance facility, which also served as an Authorized Learjet Service Center – the birthplace of the 6,000 hour/10 year Learjet “de-mate” inspection.
So it is very appropriate that the original terminal soon will become the home of the Ohio Air & Space Hall of Fame, thanks in large measure to significant donations from Netjets, as well as its sister Berkshire Hathaway company, FlightSafety International. The latter also will contribute two flight simulator stations, designed to educate as well as inspire the next generation to pursue careers in aviation.
And it all started in Columbus!
Publisher of Business Aviation Advisor, has nearly 50 years in business aviation including executive positions at aircraft management/charter and ground services companies. He is a past director of the NATA and Corporate Angel Network.