By Richard Barron
GREENSBORO – With few people wanting or willing to board commercial airliners because they fear being infected with the coronavirus, one aviation company has found its services are in high demand.
It’s a local company called Jet It. For a fee, you can own a share of a HondaJet — the company isn’t affiliated with Honda, although it does buy the company’s aircraft — to use at your disposal.
Nimble, fast and small, the roughly $6 million HondaJet, made in a factory at Piedmont Triad International Airport, is perfect for the well-heeled person who may not need or be able to afford larger business jets that cost tens of millions of dollars.
But leaders of the company, which launched in December 2018, believe they have found an accessible way to get people into private planes. And in 18 months, the company has seen sales increase dramatically.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has shut down the country and much of the airline industry in the process, has also created a new kind of client for Jet It: the business traveler who wants to remain socially distant but needs to fly.
“The COVID crisis has only gathered more attention to what we’re doing,” said Glenn Gonzales, the CEO of Jet It.There are companies like Jet It, but it’s the only one exclusively with a HondaJet fleet.
Jet It began with one airplane in January 2019. Now, it has five. By the end of 2021, Gonzales expects to have a fleet of 16 jets that can fly “anywhere and everywhere.”
To say that Randy Carver’s immune system is compromised would understate the health challenges he has battled since he was 12. He overcame obstacles that might have discouraged other people and in 1990 founded Carver Financial Services in Ohio.
Now 56, he owns the largest Raymond James Financial office in the country, managing $1.7 billion in assets for customers. And although he has never been to Greensboro, Carver was one of Jet It’s earliest customers and remains one of the burgeoning company’s greatest supporters. He said he took a look at Jet It and found the company matches his needs as a businessman who flies somewhere at least once a month. And besides, flying commercially is a huge risk for anyone these days.
Diagnosed with cancer at age 12, Carver endured treatments and surgeries for three years that left him without pieces of his lungs, no spleen and a paralyzed vocal cord that causes him to speak with a rasp.
While in his 20s, Carver endured another setback when a small plane he was piloting was forced to make a crash landing. He suffered numerous injuries, including a cracked larynx.
In 2019, he heard about Jet It and paid an introductory price of $600,000 along with two friends to buy a one-tenth share of a HondaJet. Since then, he has joined with another friend to expand his shares and now is part of a group that owns one-fifth of a plane.
It’s by no means a cheap way to travel, Carver says. Still, the service, which he says costs an owner about $1,600 an hour, is allowing him to be more efficient with his time.
What’s more, it’s limiting his exposure to the coronavirus.
Gonzales believes Jet It opened at the right time. The pandemic “has resulted in a lot of people trying to find us rather than us going out to find them,” he said.
Business is up by a staggering 300% in the second quarter compared to a year ago. Where there used to be one employee a year ago, now there are 34. And each of the company’s five planes are flying 50 hours a month.
At some point, one of those planes lands in Ohio, where Carver lives. A customer like him can live in another state and do business with Jet It because the company has what it calls a “floating fleet” that will deliver a plane to any customer at their airport, large or small.
“With all the COVID stuff, people who don’t want to be exposed on flights, it can be a great alternative,” he said.