Thursday, April 7, 2016

Davinci Jets: Charlotte charter-flights company rides improving economy

Eric Legvold piloted his first flight at age 12, when his uncle, a U.S. Navy pilot, encouraged him to take his side of the controls during a ride in a Cessna 172.

After landing, his Uncle Jim complimented him: “You did a fantastic job.”

Legvold, now 41, now knows that his uncle was really the one in the control of the aircraft. But back then, “I believed him,” he says, laughing.

Later, during a career piloting corporate clients in Charlotte, Legvold again had moments when he believed he could do a good job – this time as a business owner. Along with Ryan Stone, a childhood friend from Orlando, Fla., who also was in Charlotte, they launched JetPool in 2004, which had its first flight in 2006.

They rebranded the company name in November to Davinci Jets (a nod to Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci’s fascination with flight.)

With annual revenues in the eight figures, according to Legvold, the privately-owned company specializes in aircraft management and private charter flight services – often for high-ranking companies, sports figures, celebrities, company owners and executive staff of professional sports teams.

Today, Davinci Jets manages 13 aircraft in Concord, Monroe, Greensboro, and Knoxville, Tenn., and its home base at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, where seemingly every window has a grand view of planes taxiing and landing.

Legvold says it’s important to the company’s leaders – him and Stone, third partner and CFO Paul Sameit, and Scott Voglesonger, executive vice president of business development – that Davinci Jets be known for treating both clients and employees right.

Aircraft management companies are “not a new idea,” Legvold says during an interview at the company’s leased hangar and office space at the Charlotte airport.

“The new idea for us was, if we treat everyone out there the best that we can, then what’s naturally going to happen is everyone’s going to have a smile, everyone’s going to do their job better, because they’re happy.”

He shares his takes on expansion plans, keeping their eye on innovation through new companies, and why some sports figures prefer Bojangles’ over fancy foods during their flights. Comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

On Davinci Jets’ growth: Since 2006 until now, we have grown every year (in employees, now at 43, and in aircraft under management). That’s a testament to employees. Our customer service has been the best in the area. It’s what we can do for you, which is how this was born.

The majority of our clients are new aircraft owners. A few are existing flight departments in companies that decided to make a change and go to management. A lot of the younger companies that are growing and have the need for private transportation are leaning more toward the management style, rather than having an internal flight department.

We operate for a Fortune 200 company, all the way to private individuals that own or have sold companies. We have six clients that are Fortune 1000.

On its recently launched sports and entertainment division: It followed an internal study showing 45 percent of clients are tied to sports and entertainment, 40 percent are corporate, and 15 percent are private. Among our sports and entertainment clients, it broke down to going to events: Masters, Super Bowl, big NASCAR events, World Series - large sports or entertainments. Through our charter business, you can call the sales office and say ‘I need a trip to the Masters.’ If you needed help with hotel and tickets, we can facilitate that. We have very good relationships with several car and limousine companies.

For the actual sports figure or entertainment figure, we’ll handle their travel needs, as well as professional teams’ executive travel. What we do very well is the customer service side, door to door.

What we’ve learned over the years is a sports figures’ preferences are different from CEOs. They prefer lower key treatment, with respect and good customer service. We get to know our clients, we get to know their personalities and what they like. Some like certain foods, like Bojangles’ or Papa Johns. We get that for them.

Did the Carolina Panthers’ Super Bowl season help? We didn’t have any (aircraft) that were not used. (As local sports teams do well) it drives business. We have a lot of local clients who call us up and say what do you have? We give them options.

Costs: Range from $1,450 to $5,400 an hour (depending on length of trip and aircraft).

On expanding, and launching new projects: Our goal is to be a strong contender in the southeast. From there, we’d like to go to the deep south Texas area. Over the next couple of years,our challenge will be getting outside of the Charlotte area, and really growing Greensboro, Knoxville, and entering Charleston.

We’re in the early stages of starting another company in the drone field, Davinci AIS (aerial information systems). Because of our background in aviation, we feel we’ll be poised to take advantage of that. As the FAA starts to regulate this, it’s going to reflect what’s already in existence with airplanes somehow, and we know that area very well.

(Ryan Stone is a founder and president of SmartSky Networks LLC., which formed in 2011 and provides high-speed Internet service for airborne passengers. Legvold is vice president of flight operations.)

On clients’ experiences: As an example, we had a passenger who flew out and left his car idling in the parking lot. A maintenance employee saw exhaust coming out. He called scheduling to see who it might be. The car ran out of gas. He went to the passenger’s house, got a spare key from his wife, came back, got gas, and of course the battery died, so he got a new battery put in. Two days later, the client found out. He wrote an email saying thank you.

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