FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE
Flexible point-to-point service using short runways grows with 30 Pilatus PC12s now and more to come.
By Mike Potts
(L) PlaneSense employees on the ramp at PSM (Portsmouth NH) with some of the company's PC12s. (R) PlaneSense Pres & CEO George Antoniadis.
It was 1994 and George Antoniadis had a vision. He wanted to create a fractional ownership operation based on a turboprop aircraft platform that would provide flexible transportation options at an attractive cost. But what he needed was the right airplane.
At the time, he was considering 2 options—the Socata TBM700, which he judged to be too small, and the Hawker Beechcraft King Air, which he felt didn't project the image he wanted for his new company. That's when Antoniadis arranged a visit to Pilatus Aircraft in Stans, Switzerland, to view their new single-engine turboprop model—the PC12.
When Antoniadis saw the PC12 and reviewed its operating characteristics, he soon became convinced this was the airplane he'd been seeking—a modern fast turboprop that could operate in and out of major airline hub airports or 2000-ft runways with equal ease. He placed an order and in Sep 1995 took delivery of the 20th Pilatus PC12 off the assembly line.
A native of Greece, Antoniadis came to the US to attend Harvard Business School after graduating from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, Switzerland. Immediately after attaining his MBA, Antoniadis worked for the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co, but in 1992 he set out on his own to start Alpha Flying—an aircraft management company based initially at OWD (Norwood MA). He soon relocated to ASH (Nashua NH), where he says he found the operating environment more conducive to aircraft ownership.
Check Airman Catherine Lawler (L) and Instructor Pilot TJ Schipano in the cockpit of a Pilatus PC12 NG with Honeywell Apex avionics.
Antoniadis says he knew that succeeding in aviation would be a tough task. As he says, "Billions of dollars of value have been destroyed in the aviation business." But he was convinced that a carefully managed customer-oriented business could be successful.
Believing that customers should be able to see and evaluate an airplane before buying, he waited until his first PC12 arrived before starting to sell shares. "Almost no one had heard of the PC12," he recalls. "People would come up to us and say, 'This is a Platypus?'" But within 4 months he had sold enough shares for 2 airplanes, and PlaneSense—the name he had given his new fractional company—was on its way.
Largest PC12 operator
Assistant Chief Pilot & Check Airman Mike Woytek (L) and Assistant Dir of Operations & Check Airman Eric Goucher.
Today PlaneSense has grown to be the largest PC12 operator in the world, with 280 employees, including 110 pilots, and a fleet of 30 aircraft that made more than 26,000 flights last year.
The company is now based at PSM (Portsmouth NH) on the site of the former Pease AFB, in a facility that includes a 40,000 sq ft maintenance hangar and 46,000 sq ft of offices and backshops that it constructed as a green-field site in 2007.
The PlaneSense fleet of 30 PC12s consists of 12 PC12 NGs and 18 "legacy" aircraft, with an average fleet age of just 4.7 years. New PC12s are being added at a rate of 1 per quarter, with legacy aircraft generally being retired a little more slowly than the NGs are arriving.
The NG aircraft have Honeywell Apex avionics systems with 4 large flatscreen displays, while the older aircraft are equipped with Garmin GPS, Bendix/King radios and glass displays for the attitude indicator (ADI) and horizontal situation indicator (HSI) displays.
Antoniadis says PlaneSense is built on a 3-pronged strategy:
• To excel in customer service
• To be the most cost-effective solution for customers seeking point-to-point air transportation
• To operate from short runways, in order to provide customers with a wider range of options than fractional jet operators can offer.
"The PC12 is a great platform to deliver these value statements," Antoniadis says. "Today we'll go into JFK—tomorrow into a 2000-ft runway. You can't do that with too many airplanes that also provide [both] the cabin environment and operating cost of a PC12."
(L–R) Flight and Ground Training Instructors Eric Cannon and Tim Cloutier, with Dir of Training Casey Hoch. Cannon, Cloutier and Hoch play key roles in training new PlaneSense pilots.
Antoniadis displays an almost fanatical approach to customer service and satisfaction.
He says that every aspect of the PlaneSense operation—scheduling and dispatch, flight operations, maintenance, training and employment policies—has been designed to produce an outstanding customer experience. "We live and die by the degree to which we can satisfy our clients," he says.