Because the pilots are often the first and only contact a customer might have with a Fast Air employee, Rutherford says he often attended pilots’ meetings to conduct sales training and to help them better understand customer service. “A lot of times it was just giving them [pilots] permission to do things that will make the experience better for the customer,” he says. “The rationale behind it is, even if they’re not the ones doing the actual booking, the flyer can often influence the decisionmaking process on what charter company is used.”
In the case of the medevac pilots, they are the ones that are primarily in the community at the nursing stations and can develop the relationships that will lead to future business. Rutherford says Fast Air developed an employee incentive plan to encourage pilots to spread the word about the company’s services. Fast Rewards, an allegiance program developed for Fast Air customers, has also been successful for the operator.
As for marketing pieces such as brochures, Rutherford says it’s all about targeting one’s efforts to the appropriate audience. As of yet, e-mail marketing has not been as successful for Fast Air as direct mail has been. And, he adds that people should not overlook the effect of a handwritten note. “Ten handwritten notes are worth 10,000 e-mails,” says Rutherford.
Fast expects that the introduction of the very light jet will have an impact on the industry, but perhaps not as profound as some predict. “I don’t think the impact is going to be as great as everybody says, but I think there’s a future in it, and certainly if you want to be in the charter business, you’re going to have to fly them,” he says.
At this point, Fast does plan to make the VLJ a part of his business and he says he currently favors the Eclipse 500.
Increased security, both on the U.S. and Canada sides of the border, has made charter operations more complicated, says Fast. “The U.S. is building the fence higher and higher,” he says. “The process is more time-consuming and more complicated.” Fast says that, as a charter operator, he must have more information on his customers and ensure that it’s accurate. “Gone are the days where the passport number is mistakenly incorrect,” he says. “You just have to make sure your Is are dotted and your Ts are crossed better.”