Apr. 25 -- NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- It looked a bit like a CEO conference had made its way to Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport.
The line of sleek corporate jets in front of Mercury Air Center, which provides fuel and services to private planes, was part of a Tuesday seminar. It was the first time Bank of America and a group of jet companies had brought the event to Virginia.
The bank specializes in financing and arranging corporate jet acquisitions and leasing. Consultants who advise companies on choosing aircraft and the companies that manufacture and own the planes were also on hand to make their case for using private aircraft.
The aviation experts are riding a growing trend of companies shunning commercial air travel for the ease and speed of private aircraft. In particular, firms are increasingly embracing fractional ownership, where they own a portion of a plane in return for rights to use one at any time.
"These are time machines," said James Dickerson, a senior vice president in Bank of America's Corporate Aircraft Finance division. "The value to the owner is that it helps them manage their time."
Some large local companies such as Northrop Grumman and Ferguson Enterprises use private jets. But there's not a huge local corporate client base that regularly flies, said Mike Agee, general manager at Mercury Air Center.
Many of the executives coming through Mercury Air are executives at retail chains checking on the Hampton Roads developments that have popped up in recent years.
"This area's probably geared a lot to the retail market," said Agee.
In part because of Anheuser-Busch and Kingsmill, executives will often use the airport for Williamsburg trips. "This is the gateway to Williamsburg for corporate travel," Agee said.
Fractional ownership is also the trend amongst most Hampton Roads firms. There aren't many local corporations that own their own corporate aircraft, said Agee, besides Smithfield Foods and a few other companies.
Fractional ownership means buying a small piece of the value of a plane. That gives the company a right to use the plane on very short notice. The leader in the field, NetJets, was in Newport News Tuesday to drum up some new business.
Private jet advocates like to remind executives of the worst aspects of the commercial flying experience: taking off their shoes for airport security, waiting for a flight that might not be on time, possibly switching planes on long layovers and losing luggage.
Not only can an executive avoid these time- and money-wasting slowdowns, they can visit multiple cities in a single day. Unlike commercial aircraft, private planes can land at about 5,000 airports nationwide, getting as close to their destination as possible, Dickerson said.
"They can visit two or three locations and still be home for dinner," he said.
Another growing trend is jet card membership, which involves depositing a large amount of money to have the right to have a jet available to them anytime they need it. There is an hourly charge for using the plane that is deducted from the account.
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