The winglets and tail of a 10-passenger jet poked out from under a black drape that concealed the form of the fuselage and nose in the hangar at Westchester County Airport when NetJets CEO Jordan Hansell approached the lectern.
“It’s hard to hide a plane,” Hansell said, smiling at a recent press conference at NetJets’ hangar at the airport. “Especially in a hangar, where people are looking for it.”
Underneath the huge drape was the first Challenger 350 to roll off Bombardier Business Aircraft’s manufacturing line near Pierre Trudeau International Airport in Dorval, Quebec.
Customers have come to the NetJets hangar at Westchester County Airport for 10 years. In that span, NetJets has carried more than 300,000 passengers on more than 87,000 flights to and from the airport, Hansell said. The company has 65 employees at the Westchester County Airport.
“Our planes go everywhere,” he said. “The way we operate, it’s almost irrelevant to talk about basing concept. They’re wherever they are at any given moment.”
Hansell said the Challenger 350s that will be delivered to NetJets will come through White Plains frequently, one of two New York City-area airports where NetJets maintains fixed-base operator facilities through Executive Jet Management, a wholly owned subsidiary.
“Because we fly a large volume out of this terminal, and a number of our owners are out of New York, we want to make sure we can provide the highest possible level of service,” Hansell said of NetJets’ relationship with Westchester County Airport. “What White Plains does for us is it allows us to control it from beginning to end. It gives us the opportunity to control the total experience. We have a similar setup at Teterboro (N.J.), and between those two, we feel that we can provide unparalleled service to this market.”
NetJets sells fractional ownership shares in private jets and then manages and flies the jets for the owners. The company divides 800 hours of flight time per aircraft among the fractional owners, who can buy as little as 1/16th of a share in a plane, getting 50 hours of flight time. The Berkshire Hathaway-owned company has placed orders for 670 new aircraft worth $17.6 billion since 2010. Including that first Challenger 350, 38 of the new aircraft have been delivered. According to a NetJets release, fractional sales of the aircraft on order currently exceed deliveries.
“Today marks the delivery of the first Challenger 350,” Bombardier Business Aircraft CEO Eric Martel said at the unveiling. “The Challenger 350 is building from the already-renowned Challenger 300. The 350 I think brings it to another level. We’ve worked on this one very hard with the NetJets team to make sure that we come up with the product that the ultimate customer is looking for.”
The new jet will be part of the NetJets “Signature Series” – planes featuring interiors collaboratively designed by NetJets and the aircraft manufacturers from information drawn from NetJets owners. Among the Signature Series features are leather seats, fine carpeting and wood-accented interiors, as well as augmented soundproofing and customized in-flight entertainment systems.
“This is a very unique product, and we’re confident that we are going to lead in that market segment going forward,” Martel said of the 10-passenger jet. The plane features a new avionics suite from Rockwell Collins and an upgraded engine design built by Honeywell.
“We really enjoy working with them,” Martel said of NetJets. “They know their industry in a lot of detail, and they know what aircraft building is all about. We’ve worked very closely together to be sure we came up with the best product to offer to the market today.”
Customers have reacted well to the new offering, as Hansell noted that virtually the entire fleet of Challenger 350s NetJets has ordered – eight aircraft – has been presold. Hansell declined to state the price of a share.