Waterford Township-based Corporate Eagle has been helping its members fly since 1982, and operates its fractional and managed aviation platform at Oakland International Airport. DBusiness Daily News interviewed Corporate Eagle’s founder and CEO Rick Nini about what it takes to succeed in the private aviation industry.
1.DDN: What is Corporate Eagle’s role in the aviation industry?
Corporate Eagle is southeastern Michigan’s private club for business aviation users, so it’s developed over time to have a natural progression to establish a members-only business aviation flight department. We added eight new members in 2016, so we’re up to 47 members that we fly for, and all of them are southeast Michigan-based companies or wealthy individuals. We happen to be the longest provider of fractional managed business aviation programs.
2.DDN: Can you talk about your decision to be headquartered in metro Detroit?
The decision was easy because I was born here, and coming to work at the Oakland County National Airport, back when it was the Pontiac Airport in the mid-70s when I was going to high school. Like I said, it naturally evolved to where we are today, but really, we are metro Detroit and metro Detroit is us. We have our business plan, which is a members only, Michigan-based, fractional program, so all of our marketing efforts are locally based. We try to tie ourselves into this marketplace, so that potential members know they don’t have to go anywhere else for business aviation services, they have everything they need right here in southeast Michigan. We’re the only fractional aircraft program certificated in Michigan, so our major competition is the big-box fractional ownership programs, and they’re headquartered in Cleveland, Kentucky, and New Jersey.
3.DDN: Are there any improvements, expansions, and innovations on the horizon for 2017 and beyond?
Well, we’re going to add a few people, and a couple more airplanes, which puts us at a 14-aircraft fleet. We’re fully-subscribed on some of the fleet, so we need to add some airplanes and some people. I would say that we’ll probably be prepared in the next couple of weeks to make an announcement, but we’re presently in a 54,000-square-foot facility that we’re really outgrowing, so we do need a new facility. We’re very close, and we’ll be making some announcements soon about expanding our footprint.
4.DDN: Do you think we’ll see the aviation industry change on a really large scale like we’re currently seeing in the automotive industry?
There are new people entering this market space every quarter, from Uber in the Air, to different ways to do jet cards, or sell the empty legs, and I don’t see a transition happening like that, especially in our space, where we have our members flight department. The 47 people we fly for have one thing in common, and that is they don’t understand the word “no,” and in the evolution of our business, where we used to sell the empty legs or have other people use them, it just doesn’t work. These people want to travel on their schedule, so the Uber in the Air thing isn’t something we’ll participate in, it’s just not our business model. I think it’s a tough road, but you never know.
5.DDN: How does being a Corporate Eagle member impact the travel experience?
I think people choose to work with us because we’re members only and we don’t charter our planes out or sell jet cards. The facilities, aircrafts, staff, and crew are all dedicated to the members. So what our members come to enjoy is the experience, and it must be the same every single time, from the valet parking their cars, the detailing of their vehicles, ramp-side services, and their company logos on the electronic screens on the aircrafts. We’re able to deliver that because we’re a locally based flight department and we limit the number of people we fly. So the travel experience, there’s nothing like it. We bring the next step to it and really personalize our service to our membership.