Monday, March 10, 2014
Portland-based Mac Air Group, formerly Maine Aviation Corporation, specializes in converting used 50-seat commercial jets into luxurious private living rooms in the sky. Once completed, the 16-seat planes have a range of 3,000 nautical miles, and frequently ferry wealthy fliers around the world. Click and drag the green slider to compare.
Photos courtesy of Maine Aviation
A Maine aviation company that took off more than a half-century ago when it started offering sightseeing flights to tourists has shuttered its small-aircraft rental business and rebranded itself to focus on high-end aviation services.
Ron Tardiff buffs a Hawker 9000 airplane at Mac Air Group in Portland. The former Maine Aviation Corp. has shuttered its flight school and charter business and is focusing on the high-end aviation market.
Photos by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer
Mac Air Group, formerly Maine Aviation Corp., has flown from the Portland International Jetport since 1959, but this year the company ceased short-term rentals and flight instruction so it could focus on a more lucrative market: sales and charters of luxury aircraft.
The decision, which was years in the making, reflects ongoing changes in the private aviation market – high fuel costs and the shift in demand to other parts of the world made offering local two-seater rentals less financially viable. The shift marks a return to strength for the company, with demand for nonessential luxury services and big-ticket items rebounding after it wilted in the financial meltdown of 2008.
As the economy returns to health in the United States and demand for high-end aviation services expands overseas, Mac is following this demand to new corners of the globe, catering to wealthy business travelers, politicians, ex-presidents and famous recording artists, in addition to recently minted millionaires and entrepreneurs from Malaysia, Singapore, China and the Middle East. Although Jim Iacono, director of business development at Mac, declined to provide annual revenue figures, he said the company is thriving.
“We’ve grown into more of an international company,” he said.
Now, the company is preparing to launch a shared jet ownership program that will allow four customers to each buy a share of a nine-seat Hawker 1000.
For a monthly management fee plus hourly charges for running the airplane, share owners get 100 hours of flight time per year. Iacono plans to target New England fliers who shuttle frequently between New York, Washington, D.C., Florida and the small airports in between that are not frequently served by commercial airliners.
According to one industry analyst, it could be the company’s most risky venture yet.
Mac will be competing with NetJets and Flexjet, two of the leaders in shared jet ownership, both of which have more capital and greater power to negotiate fees and fares than Mac does.
“Anybody who’s got a couple aircraft that have downtime these days have come up with a (shared) program, but they don’t play in the same league as NetJets and Flexjet,” said James D. Butler, whose Bethesda, Md., company Shaircraft Solutions advises private aviation customers.
Because Mac has only one fractionally owned jet, scheduling and maintenance could be difficult if multiple owners seek to fly on the same days or schedule a flight only to find the plane down for maintenance, Butler said.
“Some regional operations have worked, but it’s a tough business,” Butler said.
But Iacono said Mac has laid the groundwork to be successful and plans to move deliberately while the economy in the United States slowly returns to health.
The company’s charter and aircraft management divisions, which are its core services, cater to the wealthy, who can afford to charter a flight or purchase their own small jet.
For $3,500 to $4,500 per hour, depending on the size of the plane, charter flight customers receive what commercial air travel cannot provide: made-to-order flight schedules, direct service to airports that commercial airlines don’t serve and, perhaps above all, privacy, Iacono said. Mac charters between 700 and 800 flights annually, and operates four 16-seat Challenger 850 aircraft and four nine-seat Hawker 1000 planes.
The company’s maintenance division will service nearly any aircraft that fits inside its 12,000-square-foot hangar. When the planes can’t come to Mac, its mechanics go to the planes, especially convenient for commercial airliners that need Mac’s mobile mechanics to travel around New England.
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