THERMAL — Pilot and entrepreneur Denise Wilson saw a need in the desert for an alternative to aircraft ownership and the fractional share model for people who fly privately a few times a month or less.
So, in 2007, she founded Desert Jet, a full-service aviation management company specializing in aircraft charter, management, maintenance, acquisitions and sales. Structured as the personal car service of the sky, private flyers can use the services as they need, with no requirements such as buying a fractional share, jet card or membership.
Desert Jet is both a charter operator, with eight jets available for charter here in the desert, as well as an aircraft charter broker, with a worldwide affiliate network comprised of hundreds of vetted aircraft.
Its clientele includes a wide mix of society from former presidents, vice-presidents, governors, secretaries of state and secretaries of defense, to small businesses, entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 companies, private individuals, retirees, celebrities, professional athletes, musicians and even pets.
“What separates us is our laser focus on our customers, employees and our community,” said Denise Wilson, company president. “I hire the best and the brightest and give them the resources needed to wow our customers, and each other, by being proactive and anticipatory in meeting our clients’ needs.”
Wilson has led her company through explosive growth and success.
The aircraft management, acquisitions and sales company quickly expanded to include jet charter and maintenance services. Desert Jet now offers the only FAA certified jet maintenance business in the Coachella Valley.
The company currently employees 18 people in the Coachella Valley and three in Orange County and boasts an aircraft fleet consisting of a Citation CJ3, two Citation V jets, a Citation Bravo, a Citation S/II, and three Citation Mustangs. The company has bold future growth goals that will elevate the business opportunities in the east valley.
Based at Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport, Desert Jet was a bootstrapped venture whose funding has come entirely from its own operations. The company remains debt-free and solely owned by Wilson, its CEO.
In November, Wilson was named one of 12 winners of the Ernst and Young 2013 class of Entrepreneurial Winning Women, a national competition and ongoing executive leadership program that identifies a select group of high-potential women entrepreneurs whose businesses show potential to scale — and then helps them do it.
On the 2013 Inc. 500|5000 list, the exclusive ranking of the nation’s fastest growing, privately owned companies, Desert Jet earned the No. 715 spot. Its previous appearances on the list were at No. 296 in 2011 and 69 in 2012. Since Desert Jet first appeared on the list, it has been ranked as the fastest-growing business jet charter company in the nation each year with a growth rate of more than 600 percent.
It has also earned the National Business Aviation Association’s Commercial Business Flying Safety Award for exceptional achievement in maintaining safe flying operations for a third consecutive year. Only 45 aircraft charter companies have been presented with this award, from the nearly 2,000 charter operators throughout the U.S.
Hobby takes off
Wilson’s experience before creating Desert Jet includes flying and management positions for several airline, charter and corporate flight departments.
Before learning to fly, Wilson was a professional oboist and directed the music program at a college preparatory school. She learned to fly as a hobby and quickly followed her passion by changing careers.
She majored in music performance at the University of Southern California and attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she earned her bachelor of science degree and minored in aviation safety.
She is a member of Angel Flight West, Women in Aviation, Women in Corporate Aviation, Women Presidents’ Organization and the National Business Aviation Association.
Wilson’s vision was to build a company that makes a difference, in the aviation industry and in the community.
Desert Jet has raised and donated more than $100,000 to date for local charities by donating luxury jet travel packages as auction items as well as providing “compassion flights” for critically ill patients with Angel Flight West, puppy-mill rescues, golf tournament sponsorships, and awarding scholarships in the aviation industry.
“We give back to the community doing what we do best — flying airplanes,” Wilson said. “We donate our time, resources and aircraft whenever possible to help worthy causes.”