Indulgence in the air a booming business at Talon Air

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Travel agents who cater to clients with very deep pockets should have Talon Air on their short lists. Agents, that is, with clients in the extreme upper echelons of personal and corporate wealth who are able to fork over $42,000 for a charter from New York to Palm Beach, Fla., on a luxuriously appointed, 14-passenger Gulfstream jet. 

Talon Air, based in Farmingdale, N.Y., charters a luxury fleet of nine aircraft that can fly virtually anywhere in the world. Founded in 2000, the air transport company has quickly expanded since, its growth spurred by a steady increase in its prepaid sales business.

Prepaid flight contracts, which start at $50,000 -- for use within one year -- represent 80% of sales; charters booked by the flight represent the remaining 20%.

Talon Air founder and President Adam Katz has made prepaids the focus of his marketing strategy.

Customers who prepay benefit from a 10% discount on per-flight charters, with value-added extras thrown in.

For their part, travel agents benefit from Talon's 5% commission rate, which is paid on both prepaid and per-flight business.

For the right retailers, it is an opportunity to earn some sizeable commissions: The commission on the roundtrip between New York and Palm Beach works out to $2,100.

Although Talon Air obviously targets an exclusive niche market, there is growing demand for its charter services.

The firm's clients are people for whom time, convenience and money are on equal footing. That means executives in Fortune 500 companies as well as wealthy individuals.

Up, up and away

The results speak for themselves; Talon Air has posted a 400% increase in business over the past 16 months, further fueling six consecutive years of steady growth.

In the past year alone, the company fleet has grown from six aircraft to nine, to keep up with a growing customer base. 

"I'll add to the fleet as long as there's demand," Katz said. "We're working to grow."

Katz himself remains a hands-on owner, pilot and air travel enthusiast with the apparent vision, passion and resources to quickly grow the Talon Air fleet.

He has customized each airplane to a five-star standard, adding first-class options such as a gourmet in-flight menu created and prepared by chef David Burke and in-flight pampering as part of "Concierge Service."

Katz is quick to emphasize that Talon Air is in a class of its own, not just in service but in the terms of how the company conducts its charter business.  

"We're not a broker selling fractional ownership," he said. "Unlike fractional ownership, there's no long-term commitment, which makes our charters more cost-effective, and there are no complications securing flight time."

Katz described Talon Air as a "fully dedicated" charter service with its own jet fleet, multiple flight crews -- including 29 veteran pilots, with two pilots per flight -- and its own maintenance facilities, manned by a staff of 12 mechanics trained to factory standards, at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, on Long Island.

"We pass our [twice-annual] audits for safety with flying colors," he said. "Our maintenance standards go beyond what's required by the FAA."

The fastidious concern for safety at Talon Air seems to be matched by an equally demanding focus on quality. That might mean an airport transfer by stretch limousine or, even better, aboard Talon Air's own helicopter.

The copter is the latest addition to a fleet that includes Gulfstream IV, Hawker 800Xp, Beechjet 400 and King Air 200 jets, with passenger counts ranging four to 14.

The Gulfstreams, the largest planes in the fleet, can fly transcontinental and transatlantic runs, which provides worldwide reach.  

Hourly charter rates range from $1,000 to $9,000.

Katz estimated that the cost of a charter between New York and Las Vegas on a 14-passenger Gulfstream is $107,000, or $7,650 per person, roundtrip.

Air quality

Katz said he has involved himself in all aspects of creating Talon Air as a brand. It bears his signature, which helps assure his standards are met. 

"It's a matter of catering to the expectations of people for whom the best is a lifestyle option," he said. "Service on our larger planes goes all they way: Baccarat crystal, fine linens and the best bone china and silver for multicourse, gourmet dining."

For travel agents, Talon Air represents a product that provides convenience and luxury on flights to just about anywhere. 

The convenience factor starts with a departure from a smaller airport with less air traffic and faster passenger screening, real pluses in today's world of crowded, high-security airports.

From the New York metropolitan area, that means departure from either Republic or Teterboro and easy links to Nantucket, Palm Beach and Las Vegas, all popular destinations with Talon Air customers. No long lines. No security hassles. 

Currently, travel agents represent less than 10% of Talon Air's business.

But it's a number Katz expects to grow, particularly as mainstream travel becomes more complicated and time-consuming. Charters, in a way, return air travel to what it was in the not-so-distant past, he added. 

"We offer the ultimate in flexibility and can book a flight just about anywhere with 10 hours' notice -- and there will be no compromise on service," Katz said. "That's what it means to be best-in-class in the high-end market."

For detailed brochures or information on bookings call (888) TALONAIR (825-6624) or visit www.talonairjets.com.  

To contact reporter Allan Seiden, send e-mail to [email protected].

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