Sunday, March 16, 2014

St. Augustine, Florida: Boomerang Air Charter off to good start, sees room for growth


When Frontier Airlines announced this year that it would start operating flights out of St. Augustine, it was a sign that activity was about to pick up at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport.

But for Elliot Mintzer, the traffic has already increased, well ahead of Frontier’s first scheduled flight in May.

Mintzer is the owner and chief pilot for Boomerang Air Charter, and he thinks he’s found the perfect niche market in St. Augustine.

Although there are plenty of charter companies that use the St. Augustine airport, Boomerang is the only one based out of it.

In about 15 months of operation, Mintzer has seen a steady stream of customers and enough demand that he’s now leasing a bigger hangar and has gone from one plane to three.

“The first year exceeded our expectations,” said Mintzer, adding that Boomerang booked 85 flights in the last year. “It’s only going to get better.”

Even though the addition of Frontier might first seem to offer competition to Boomerang, Mintzer said that isn’t really the case. Frontier is marketing to a totally different customer than Boomerang.

The airline’s presence in St. Augustine might actually help Mintzer.

“I think Frontier is going to be great,” he said. “It’s going to give the airport exposure. I think it’s going to be wonderful.”

Boomerang might even pick up a few fares from Frontier passengers looking to head down to the Bahamas or the Keys.

Mintzer said people are still discovering his service, and he’s often explaining to customers what his business model is.

Boomerang doesn’t compete with commercial airlines like Frontier or Southwest Airlines. Depending on what plane he’s using, he can carry five to eight passengers, which means he’s got to charge more than a company that can fly 100 or more people at a time.

On the other hand, Boomerang flights are not bound by any predetermined schedule. Mintzer said he can be ready to go with as little as two hours’ notice.

Customers also are saved the time of driving to Jacksonville or wherever, waiting in line at the security checkpoint and loading the plane. And as long as the destination is within 1,000 miles or so, there won’t be any need for a connection.

“We provide a different level of service,” Mintzer said. “Most of the people we fly are people who understand the value of time.”

For about half the year, the majority of Mintzer’s customers are people headed for the Bahamas — many of whom have vacation homes or timeshares there. A charter flight can get there in less than two hours, allowing people to maximize their vacation time.

Sometimes they even add to Mintzer’s holiday. On short stays, Mintzer said customers sometimes put him up in their guesthouses instead of paying him to fly home and then back to pick them up.

Mintzer doesn’t usually charge wait time, just fly time. So sometimes it’s cheaper just to accommodate the pilot.

Mintzer said he keeps his fares affordable by flying simple twin-prop or turbo-prop planes. They aren’t quite as fast as small jets, but they’re significantly less expensive.

With those planes, Mintzer can price fares similar to those of first class or business class on major airlines. For instance, posted fares to the Bahamas are about $800 each way (depending on the city) to fly up to five people.

The other side of Mintzer’s client list mostly includes business travelers who need to visit a work site (sometimes several) right away and want to be able to get it done in one day.

“Everybody is working harder and longer these days,” Mintzer said. “Time is the most precious commodity these days.”

As for Mintzer, he’s loving his career choice. He’s been a pilot for about seven years after spending two decades in the building materials business.

He has no intention of going back.

“There’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. My office view is different every day of the week.”