Friday, May 18, 2018

George Antoniadis: His business is like time sharing for airplanes

George Antoniadis’s PlaneSense has access to more than 4,000 US airports.

When it comes to frequent fliers, George Antoniadis may top the list.

He has promised his family not to travel across the Atlantic or Pacific for three weeks because lately he’s been absent a lot from home. Antoniadis recently returned from a trip during which he crossed 12 time zones in a week, flying from Boston to Zurich, then to Greece, Italy, China, back to Europe, and — finally — home. It’s all in a day’s work as CEO of a fractional aircraft business, PlaneSense, Inc. The job includes attending a lot of conferences and industry board meetings. PlaneSense doesn’t fly internationally yet, but offers Uber-style on-demand domestic service on elite private jets.

Fractional aircraft business is akin to airplane time-sharing or a renting a plane. The cost of a plane is split among several owners who buy shares and avoid the hassles of scheduling, maintenance, and crew. Last year, PlaneSense, based in Portsmouth, N.H., traveled to 920 destinations. With a fleet of Pilatus PC-12s and PC-24s – sleek single-engine turboprops that have been called the Swiss Army knives of the sky — this door-to-door air transportation cuts out commercial airline travel.

The Greek-born and Swiss-educated Antoniadis, a Harvard MBA who did a stint as a management consultant, first tested his aviation business acumen at Norwood Airport. “I saw planes sitting idle and unused for weeks at a time on the tarmac. I wondered why air time couldn’t be shared among several parties, driving costs down and improving operations,” said Antoniadis, 57, who is a commercial instrument-rated pilot.

He started by managing and renting small trainers, like Cessna 210s and Bonanza a36s, and eventually began acquiring a fleet of jets, flying to Switzerland to speak to manufacturers of high-end turboprops.

PlaneSense then moved its headquarters to modern, glass-enclosed offices in Portsmouth, where Antoniadis can view the airfield from his desk. The Globe spoke with him about his nonstop push to make fractional aircraft ownership work.

“On occasion, I fly commercially in the US when I think it’s more corporately responsible to do so. I was on a flight out of Orlando when a client walked onto the plane and said, ‘George, what are you doing on the bus?’ We had a conversation about fractional airplane ownership and a lot of people around us were intrigued by the discussion.

“Then the captain came on the loudspeaker and said, ‘Ladies and gentleman, there’s a technical issue. We have a one-hour delay.’ So my commercial air travel often ends up being a recalibration and reminder of why I’m in business.

“While private aviation is seen as a privilege and a perk, it maximizes time savings for entrepreneurs, vacationers, retirees, families, small-to-midsize companies, and large corporations. They are able to land at smaller airports, closer to their destination, bypassing hubs. PlaneSense is able to access more than 4,000 airports in the US with our PC-12 turboprop, versus 500 for the large airlines.

“With fractional aircraft ownership, you buy only as much of an airplane as you need. It’s a very well-oiled system. The average aircraft flies about 300 hours a year — less than an hour a day. But in our case, planes fly multitudes of times, and fleet dynamics drive costs down significantly.

“The idea for PlaneSense began over two decades ago, when I was a pilot and saw a need for small aircraft management, helping owners take care of planes and renting them out for others to use. It was my cautious foray into the field of business aviation, and served as a periscope into the industry. I became interested in the emerging field of fractional ownership, and started drawing up the idea for PlaneSense on a whiteboard.

“In the world of fractional ownership, jets are the dominant force. I decided to enter the space with a brand new airplane at the time, the Pilatus, a modern-turbo prop. It’s very efficient and can easily go to short runways such as Chatham’s 3,000 foot runway, Fisher Island — a very sought-after golfing location — or high altitude airports in the Rockies. These planes attract attention — if you want to be discreet about your arrival, take a bicycle.

“As for me, I continue to be an avid aviator and exercise that privilege often. I’m intrigued by the innovation and elegance of engineering solutions behind every aircraft. I’m also fascinated by the efficiency and effectiveness of air travel in terms of distance, flexibility, and speed. Seeing the earth and weather from an airplane at 40,000 feet inspires awe.

“I fly daily, commuting to Portsmouth by air, using either one of our PC-12s or a smaller six-seater Bonanza. There’s no better signal to my troops then arriving and departing in an airplane. Good aviators know that you need to be current and trained, and that means you need to fly a lot.”

Original article ➤

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