Corporate aviation market noses upward in TC

TRAVERSE CITY – Kevin Nelson thinks he has "the best office in the world."

And why not?

It offers a great view and ensures that everything he needs is at his fingertips.

But then, that's one of the perks of being a pilot.

Nelson and Roy Nichols own separate companies in Traverse City that cater to corporate aviation.

Nichols is the president of Air Services Inc. and Nelson is the head of Nelson Aerodynamix, Corp. Nichols' company specializes in getting customers to their destinations in small, corporate planes. Nelson's company uses mostly turbine helicopters.

"What we offer our customers is total flexibility," said Nichols, whose company is opening its new corporate offices this month. "Our company has thrived because this is a no hassle way of traveling. Our corporate jets get people to their destinations and back. Time is money and nowhere is that more evident than in the business world. We found there is a big need for this kind of corporate travel in the Traverse City area."

Nichols said they average four to seven flights per day.

The new Air Services Inc. facility will include two large aircraft hangers and a corporate office. Pilots, support staff and clients will use the new state-of-the-art facility, which is located at 1100 Airport Access Rd.

"We've been in business almost 13 years and we continue to grow," said Nichols, who started his company in 1994 with a handful of planes and employees.

Now, he employs 21 pilots plus a support group and office staff. They do more than $2.4 million in business a year.

Most of the planes that Air Services Inc. charters are actually owned by clients. ASI manages the planes. They take care of maintenance, hire pilots and when the plane is not used by the owner, they charter it out. Kind of like a time share.

"We have a lot of expertise in purchasing airplanes," said Nichols.

He has owned planes for 33 years and is a former Marine pilot. He knows that safety and convenience are paramount to corporate travelers.

All of the planes used by Air Service Inc. feature Global Positioning Systems and the most up-to-date radar. For convenience, customers drive right up to their plane on the tarmac and board to find food and drinks on every flight. Some planes are equipped with stereos and in-flight phones.

"We can also take care of your rental car, hotel and dinner reservations," said Nichols.

Both Nichols and Nelson stress that corporate travel offers some major advantages.

"We fly on your schedule. Plus, we can fly to multiple destinations in the same day. And without waiting in line or jeopardizing safety, we give people personalized customer service."

Nelson's clients own the helicopters but through his experience as a Coast Guard pilot, he oversees their use, trains pilots and transports clients to their destinations.

"I'd say about 85 percent of my business is in-state," he said. "The turbine helicopter is a great way to travel. The ones we use hold up to seven passengers. And the advantage of using a helicopter is that we can get right to the site. We don't have to fly to an airport and then get transportation from there. A lot of times our clients need to get to their destinations and back quickly and they'll call us."

The helicopters Nelson uses have a nautical range of 325 miles, which would get customers to Indianapolis or Dayton, he said.

"But most of our business is to the Grand Rapids area," Nelson said. "My clients are well-known, successful people."

In fact, one of his clients is Dick DeVos, former gubernatorial candidate.

Using corporate aviation services makes sense for Traverse City businesses, says Leith Butler, vice president of American Proficiency Institute and a regular customer of Nichols.

"We find it's cost effective," he said. "We can travel to Atlanta, for example, and get back by the end of the business day. So we can wrap up a deal and then be back in time to keep up with what's going on locally."

Butler also likes the flexibility of choosing one jet for a shorter trip to Lansing or a different jet for a trip to Atlanta.

"It gives us choices, depending on our needs for that day," he said.

Nelson and Nichols agree that the corporate aviation market is still growing in the Traverse City area.

"We're able to get people airborne much more quickly than commercial airlines," they both said. "That's what our niche market is about-time and convenience."

To reach Air Services, Inc, call 922-0406 locally or (888) 922-0406 from out of the area.

To reach Nelson Aerodynamix, Corp., call (231) 642-0696. BN