Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Jets cost thousands an hour

Yet demand exceeds supply for Comair rental business

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — It's a plane ticket not just anybody can afford — $4,350.

        And that's just for the first hour.

        But the market is so good right now for charter jet rentals that Comair Jet Express is ordering two more $25 million Bombardier Challenger 604s — the plush 10-seat aircraft with the pricey per-hour charge.

[photo] Wynn Poe, director of Comair Aviation, in the companyıs new hangar where itıs charter jets are housed.
([name of photographer] photo)
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        “We have two of the 604s, but the demand is so large right now for the corporate jets that we've ordered two more,” said W.E. “Wynn” Poe Jr., director of Comair Aviation, which oversees the airline's jet charter service.

        “We put planes in the air about 250 to 260 hours a month, and we'd like to double that,” he said.

        Comair, an airline that grew through its use of regional passenger jets — and was bought last year by Delta Air Lines — is expanding its charter jet and management business at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

        The airline has just opened an $8 million, 40,000-square-foot hangar for its fixed-base operations, which includes the corpo rate jets it owns and leases, as well as those it manages for area companies.

        “These operations have always been an important part of Comair, but they have had a lower profile because of our success as a regional airline,” said Rick St. Onge, vice president of operations for Comair Jet Express.

        The hangar and adjoining office building is on the east side of the airport near the new control tower. It replaces a much smaller facility that was often cramped with passengers and pilots who travel on corporate jets.

        The new building has several amenities for passengers, including a large lounge and conference rooms for meetings. For the pilots, there are sleeping quarters, showers, a flight planning room, food service and a computer that tracks weather in real time.

        Mr. Poe said Comair doesn't release the names of its jet charter service customers, but they include corporations, entertainers, professional athletes and wealthy individuals.

        “We have one corporate client from Miami, Fla., who leases a jet from us that we fly empty to Florida and then take him to England,” Mr. Poe said. “All at a few thousand dollars an hour.”

        In addition to the Challenger 604s, Comair has two other jets in its charter fleet:

        • A Lear 35A that seats eight, costs $3 million and charters for $1,250 an hour.

        • A Lear 60 that seats seven, costs $10 million and charters for $2,350 an hour.

        Some companies, such as Covington-based Ashland Inc., have their own jets at the airport.

        But as Northern Kentucky's economy and business community has grown, more companies are chartering jets, Mr. Poe said.

        “There are certain times when we have to be somewhere at a certain time and a commercial flight just won't get us there when we need to be there,” said Mark Simendinger, president of Carroll Properties, the developer of the Kentucky Speedway in Gallatin County.

        But it's not just wealthy or corporate passengers who use the Lear 35A. Comair provides the plane at cost to Children's Hospital and Shriner's Hospital in Cincinnati, to bring critically ill or burned patients to their facilities.

        PATRICK REDDY W.E. “Wynn” Poe Jr., director of Comair Aviation, stands in the company's new hangar with charter jets. The planes include a $10 million Lear 60, in the foreground, owned by Comair. It charters for $2,350 an hour.


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