If there is a ‘typical’ aviation company, Avantair, Inc, is not it — it breaks the mold in several ways. You may be familiar with Avantair. My education began with information provided by PR person Katie Kiernan, who offered interesting info on the company, which provides fractional ownership and block time in Piaggio Avanti propjets which they operate exclusively. In fact, they operate half of the Piaggios in this country.
Avantair ads and promotional literature compare the Piaggio to jets rather than to other propjets because, they say, the Piaggio performs like a jet, cruising at 450 mph at 41,000 feet while using 40 percent less fuel. This, the promotional info points out, makes it a “green” aircraft unlike any other. Perhaps I should point out that a much-respected competitor tells me these numbers are accurate and combine with a large comfortable cabin.
Having thus whetted my appetite, Katie arranged a telephone interview for me with Avantair CEO Steve Santo, who is as interesting and different as the Piaggio. For one thing, he was not an aircraft nut who started a business, but a businessman who built an aviation company.
My first question to Mr. Santo was to ask what came first, the company or the Piaggio. He stated that this was a case of building a company around an airplane. They “stumbled” onto the airplane, negotiated a price, and founded a company around the strengths of that airplane.
Mr. Santo’s background at that point (early 2000s) was not in aviation, but in finance and leasing. He was first a lawyer who started as a prosecutor in New York, then switched to a private law firm. In the early 1990s he and others started a leasing firm, specializing in aircraft leasing. Again, the fascination was not with aviation, but with business and financing.
Aircraft were the equipment leased, and they carved out a niche in Cessna Citations.
When he discovered the Piaggio and started Avantair, guess who was on the first board of directors? Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airline fame. Santo was/is a great admirer of Kelleher (aren’t we all?) and Avantair was modeled after Southwest. Like Southwest, for example, Avantair uses only one airplane in the fleet, thus saving greatly on costs for parts and training of pilots and technicians.
Santo also wants a company which is “scalable,” and he reminded me that Southwest grew from a small company operating profitably into a large company operating profitably. He believes that Avantair can do the same.
I also asked Santo if “green” sells. He assures me that it does. Many people, he says, feel the Piaggio gives them the convenience and benefits of corporate aircraft while allowing them to feel a sense of responsible use of resources. Sounds reasonable.
Avantair stock is for sale; it is not on the big boards yet, but one wonders if that is to come quickly. The company is growing rapidly, so maybe the stock will be a good buy.