General aviation in this central region of Canada has been pretty steady in recent years, according to Dylan Fast, president of Fast Air, a ten-year-old charter company based at Winnipeg International Airport. The charter operator has seen success during its relatively short tenure by focusing on what it calls the “briefcase segment” of its customer base, as well as its medevac operation. And while Fast says growth is among the goals of the company, it doesn’t necessarily mean getting bigger, but rather doing what it does better.
Dylan Fast started his company some ten years ago. He was a pilot flying a Cheyenne out of Winnipeg when he approached the owner of the aircraft about using it in a charter operation when the owner wasn’t flying. Within six months, Fast purchased his own aircraft and today the charter operator has seven of its own aircraft on its certificate and four managed aircraft. The fleet of 11 includes the Westwind Business Jet, King Air B200, Cheyenne II, Chieftain, Navajo, and an Otter based at Baker Lake.
In addition to business charter and aircraft maintenance, Fast Air also offers medevac services, which has been “extremely busy,” according to Fast. The company recently added a second medevac aircraft.
Fast Air currently employs some 50 people, 20 of which are pilots.
Since 1996 when Fast started the operation, he says business has grown steadily each year. While he wouldn’t share figures, he says revenue has increased some 20 percent every year in the last ten years of business. Fast Air has a 40-year lease at Winnipeg International, which Fast says is atypical here. When he opened his business at Winnipeg International, there was an empty World War II hangar, which Fast assumed the cost of tearing down in exchange for the longer lease term. Facilities here include a 13,000-square foot hangar with 6,000 square feet of attached office space. The company is in the process of constructing another 20,000-square foot hangar.
Looking ahead, Fast says that adding bases could be in the future for the operator, if it makes sense financially and operationally. Other goals include filling empty return charter legs and seeking more aircraft management opportunities. “We’re always trying to do things better,” says Fast, “not just concentrate on growing bigger but doing what we do well.”
The Positive Impact of Effective Marketing
Marketing is key to the company’s growth and success so far and Fast Air employs a full-time marketing manager, Margaret Koshinsky. [At the time of this interview, Dan Rutherford was transitioning out of the company and Koshinsky was assuming his role as marketing manager.]
Fast Air targets its marketing efforts to what Rutherford calls the “briefcase segment” of the market — business charter. The “tackle box segment” (sport fishers) and the “tool box” segment (contractors) of charter customers are very competitive in Winnipeg, according to Rutherford and, particularly with the sport fishers, there is only really a ten-week season when that business is available. “So we’ve chosen to be focused more on the briefcase segment,” he says. “If we let others do the tool box and tackle box segments, we can focus on the briefcases and that strategy has served us very well so far.”
In addition to the briefcase customers not being as seasonal, Rutherford adds that the flying is generally easier for Fast Air — it’s easier on the equipment because they’re most often going to more developed airports as opposed to remote locations.
Rutherford says Fast Air has used things such as its website (www.flyfastair.com), brochures, participation in corporate golf charities, direct mail, and word of mouth to promote its services. “Referrals are huge, like in any business,” he says.