Horizon Air Provides 24-Hour Charter Service to Any U.S. Airport

Need a flight right now? Want to fly to a small town like Bowling Green from Lexington? Need to fly to four other cities -- today?

Horizon Air might be able to help. With a fleet of two small planes, the Georgetown company specializes in doing what traditional airlines can't: providing 24-hour-a-day chartered air service to any airport in the United States, sometimes on just a moment's notice.

The small business is one of only a handful of aircraft charter companies in Central Kentucky. Its primary competitor is Air Lexington, based out of Blue Grass Airport.

Chartering a plane saves travelers time by avoiding commercial airlines that travel only to a limited number of cities on inflexible schedules. That convenience comes at a hefty premium, but in some cases chartered flights are actually cheaper.

Horizon co-owner Greg Jones can point to a few of those scenarios: Since travelers are paying for the entire plane, not just the seat, it can be more cost-effective to charter if a business needs to fly several people. Horizon has planes with four and seven seats.

And the costs go down when you consider meals and hotels, Jones said. To make a morning meeting, commercial fliers often have to travel the night before and stay overnight. If business runs late into the evening, they might have to stay another night.

"Suddenly, a one-day excursion turns into three days," he said.

Time is money, as the cliche goes. That's particularly true for high-priced engineers and professionals who charge by the hour, even for travel time, Jones said.

He conceded charter service is not for everyone. For one, the flights are pricey for travelers of average means. A flight to Atlanta could cost more than $3,300, depending on fuel prices, weather and the time of year.

And if the trip lasts longer than a day, the costs go up. That makes it less suited for vacations, although about a quarter of Horizon's flights are for leisure, Jones said.

But for Tod Greshan of the engineering firm Marshall Miller and Associates, convenience is the biggest selling point. He can fly to several survey sites in a day -- the firm primarily does minerals and mining consulting -- and not worry about missing his plane or having $40,000 in equipment end up on a different flight.

"You are kind of locked in with commercial" flights, said Greshan, who works in the company's Lexington office. "Utilizing this kind of service, we can call our own takeoffs and landings."

Joe Pendergrass, Horizon's founder, started flying when he was 17 years old. He later flew in the National Guard in Frankfort with Jones. "We got into it young, kept going and just thought it was a pretty neat thing to do," he said.

In 1980, Pendergrass started Horizon Helicopter to fly for Kentucky Utilities, where he was also a lineman. Flying eventually evolved into a full-time gig for him.

The company began chartering planes in 1992 and has since abandoned the helicopter business because of high insurance costs, Pendergrass said.

Both Jones and Pendergrass are full-time pilots for other companies, Jones for DHL in Cincinnati and Pendergrass for Air Methods in Lexington.

They contract out most flights to seven of their co-workers, whom they also require to complete additional training.

"We kind of handpick them as we go," Pendergrass said.

Business has picked up in the last few years as more companies have increased travel budgets after Sept. 11, he said. Horizon makes about 200 flights a year.

The chartered airline industry is well-positioned for growth, said Mike Boyd of the Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm in Colorado. In medium-size markets such as Lexington, commercial fliers typically have to make connecting flights at large hubs.

That can take up most of the day, Boyd said.

"Business is not just in Detroit or Cincinnati," he said. "Business is taking place in Flint, in Erie, in Rochester. To go to and from those places can be fairly expensive on scheduled air service and take a lot of time."

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