Time is our most precious commodity. Most of us want to enjoy as much of it as we can with friends and family. Nobody wants to spend it jammed in gridlock or standing in an airport line and stressing out about making your flight on time.
When you decide to travel by chartered air service you’re buying time and control. “There’s no uncertainty about when you’re going to get to your destination,” says Adam Keller, President at Chartright Air Group. In addition to offering on demand private jet charter and management services, Chartright offers helicopter service to the Muskoka region during summer months. “If you can leave from the city at three o’clock, you’re going to be on your property in Muskoka by 3:45.” says Adam.
Once seen strictly as extravagance, Adam says there’s been an increasing trend in recent years towards using charter flights as a viable option to traditional commercial air travel.
Anxiety and air travel have always tended to go hand in hand. The stress starts before you even leave your front door, and once you’re on the road it only gets worse.
Traffic congestion, finding a parking spot, check-in lines, customs – take too long with any of them and you could be watching your flight leave from the terminal window. “You show up two or three hours beforehand, and whether it’s a family vacation or a business trip you have no idea what you’re going to encounter when you fly out of an international airport,” says Adam. “You could have lines that are an hour long. You’re going to miss your fight if something goes wrong.”
Flying privately cuts that anxiety level down to virtually zero. There are no lines, no early check-in and none of the shoes-liquids-and-laptops-into-the-bin that come with the standard security check. “There’s a one minute check in time. You walk onto the airplane like you get into your car and you go,” says Dave Shaver, Chartright’s Vice President of Sales.
“The helicopter can take you anywhere there’s an 80 foot by 80 foot open flat piece of land. In many instances we do direct flights right to people’s front lawns,” says Dave. “If not we’ll land on a nearby golf course, with prior permission. We’ve landed at Windermere; we’ve landed near Clevelands House.”
Chartright also frequently flies international clients into the Muskoka Airport. “Muskoka has customs now and we actually have a number of clients who fly directly into Muskoka airport,” say Dave. “Generally speaking, customs often comes onto the plane and it takes about five minutes. They look at passports and then you’re on your way.”
It’s conveniences like this which are increasingly making private flights such an appealing offer. What if you’re only able to book two seats together for your family of four? What if your neighbouring passenger is a little loud, sick or far too big to squeeze into that seat beside you?
There’s a long list of potential airline inconveniences. Many of them have to do with traveling in close proximity to complete strangers, and all of them are tied to economy. “Airlines around the world have evolved into efficient mass movers of people,” says Adam. “Squeezing more and more people into an airplane helps the airline reduce fares. That represents value for those who are willing to suffer some inconvenience and some cattle-like logistics.”
That’s fine for some, says Adam, but not for everyone. Most people want to start their trip relaxed – not anxiously watching the clock or running around an airport. Sometimes travelers are headed to an event which demands punctuality that can’t be compromised. “Sometimes you can live with the stress but missing your connection is going to mean a complete disaster,” says Adam. “Today, more and more, people are willing to buy a service feature that an airline can’t sell you − they want to buy control.”
That means control over your departure time, line-ups, security, seating and traveling companions. It means you don’t have to worry about whether there’s room in the overhead compartment or if your bags are going to make the trip with you. “With us your bags either go right on the plane with you or they go as external baggage, which in many cases is accessible from the cabin. You can actually get to your bags during the flight if you want to,” says Adam. “We offer so much control over your flight that you can literally walk to the cockpit and ask the captain how the flight is progressing.”
The departure process with a charter flight is entirely different than commercial air travel. For starters, you pick the departure time that best suits your schedule. See the kids off to school, avoid rush hour or schedule to arrive at your destination for exactly the right time.
“Let’s say your meeting runs long and you’re half an hour late. Relax, the plane won’t leave without you,” says Adam.
When you get to the airport your car will be marshalled right to the side of the plane. You simply climb aboard and take off. On board everything is tailored to meet your requirements. From food and drinks to games and movies, how extravagant or modest you want to make it is completely up to you.
Once you touch down customs boards the plane (although Adam says sometimes they don’t bother), you hop off the plane and get into a waiting car with your bags in the trunk. “In most cases you’re leaving the airport 10 minutes after your jet touches down,” says Adam. “The entire flight experience was in your control. There’s no stress, no surprises and the only crying babies are the ones you brought with you.”
When you can offer a client that type of control, the flight goes from being a necessary evil to being an eagerly anticipated part of the journey. “It also gives it a much broader appeal,” says Adam. “Our clients are everyone: businessmen and women, families on vacation, ladies on tennis trips, parents visiting their children at school and guys going out to a baseball game.”
The much maligned private jet isn’t an overindulgence for the pampered, says Adam, and these days it can be used as a tool for the corporations to move staff and executives efficiently from one location to another. It’s also become something that families and individuals are using to make the most of their leisure time. “Hiring a private aircraft has an extravagant sound to it, but a lot of people look at it like hiring a sedan to take you to the airport, a guide to take you fishing or a co-ordinator to get your group through a tour,” says Adam. “It’s just one more element of organization.”
Rob Robinson, Supervisor of charter sales and service, says while a chartered flight can get costly, once you factor in up to eight or nine people on the flight it begins to become a lot more cost effective. “Hiring a private jet is a lot like buying a car,” says Rob. “The question is how much car do you need?”
Chartright offers a range of aircraft that are suitable for virtually every type of trip. Going with a group of friends for dinner and a show in New York? Take a Chartright Citation jet. Do you have a dozen managers visiting six branch locations in two days? Only a Chartright Falcon will get it done. Would you like to go anywhere in the world? A Chartright Global can get you there. “Just like a car, the more exotic the plane, the higher the cost,” says Rob. “What most people don’t know is the private jet world also has a ‘Chevy’ type aircraft that can give you reliable and economic air transportation without breaking the bank.”
As an example, six people flying from Toronto to New York on a Chartright Citation can be less expensive than the equivalent airline business class fare. Robs says their “empty leg” services have quickly become the go-to service for anyone who wants to take a private aircraft at a more modest price. The service offers discount rates on flights that are returning from a destination and would otherwise be empty. Rob sends out regular e-mail blasts outlining what’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org and the interest has peaked over the past few years. “We get everybody from billionaires to newbies,” he says. “Everybody likes getting a good deal.”
There is always someone available at Chartright for assistance, and Rob says the operations department works 24/7. He says the reason most people choose Chartright is because of the integrity of the company and its employees. “It’s all about building relationships. There’s a huge trust factor involved in this business,” says Rob. “Transparency is extremely important, and we make it a priority to let people know exactly what’s going on at all times.”
Chartright has bases all across the country, with the largest at Pearson International in Toronto. During their 30 years of service they’ve become the largest service provider of their kind in the country. Chartright doesn’t own the aircraft they supply, they are independently owned and Chartright supplies the pilots, the insurance, the hangar and take care of all the regulatory compliance. They charge a management fee and then when the owners aren’t using the aircraft, they charter them out and give the owner revenue from that rental. Many of those aircraft owners have residences in Muskoka, and so does company president Adam Keller, who’s on Kahshe Lake.
Dave also spent his summers growing up at the family cottage on Lake Rosseau and has fond memories of exploring the bays, and waterskiing on Rosseau or cruising to Clevelands House for dinner. He says he loves that he’s able to keep such a strong connection with Muskoka while working at Chartright, and that he can help put people where they want to be safely and quickly.
“For people who have a place in Muskoka, it’s a huge part of their lives,” says Dave. “We can offer them more control and better use of their time so they can spend more of it doing what matters most.”
Muskoka has had a long love affair with aviation that continues to this day.
Throughout the fairer months of the year, you can regularly find planes taking off from many of the lakes or smaller airstrips that dot the region, but the hub of aviation activity is undoubtedly the Muskoka Airport.
The airport was built in 1933 as a make work project during the Depression. At the time, a man and a team were paid $1 per day, plus keep, to help clear and level the landing strip.
The first airplane landed at Reay Airport (named after what was then known as Reay Township) in 1935. In 1938, the Reay Airport was officially re-named the Muskoka Airport. During the Second World War, the airport was more commonly known by another name – Little Norway.
When Nazi Germany attacked Norway on April 9, 1940, with only a small number of modern aircraft on order from US manufacturers taken on charge, the Royal Norwegian Air Force was unable to mount a sustained defense.
In an effort to train what remained of the decimated Norwegian Air Force, the first Little Norway training facility was established in Toronto, and later moved to the Muskoka Airport in 1942. From then until February 1945, Little Norway trained 2,000 pilots, crew and ground crew. For three years, the Norwegian personnel were an integral part of Muskoka life. The training continued at Muskoka until February 1945, when the camp was moved to the air base at Winleigh in Devon, England.
Many major events have taken place at the airport over the years, including the first Muskoka International Air Show in 1984. The airport also provided a landing location from some of the most powerful leaders in the world during the G8 Summit in 2010. This little airport has also welcomed many celebrities and even royalty over the years – Prince Andrew touched down in Muskoka en route to attending a celebration at his Alma Mater in Peterborough.
Far from the hidden gems they once were, the lakes in Muskoka have become just as famous as a second home for the elite as they have for fishing and swimming. In recent years, various Hollywood and sports stars have built retreats in Muskoka, including Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Mike Weir, Martin Short, Justin Bieber, Cindy Crawford, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.
Just like Chartright, the Muskoka Airport continues to grow with the times, and to host the most impressive “elite” guests offering the greatest “little” airport around. Muskoka and its people have been attracting the attention of Europeans, Americans and other international air travellers since its conception and continues to bring foreign investors into our community. Tourism has become Muskoka’s far and away number one industry and air travel is increasingly becoming the way guests are getting here.
It’s estimated that the airport brought roughly $31.3 million into the Muskoka economy in 2005. That includes everything from land and building lease at the airport to landing fees, fuel purchases, to indirect benefits like guests spending their dollars at hotels and restaurants throughout the district.
Currently this “little” airport is discussing an expansion to facilitate commercial air flights. Commercial flights will increase Muskoka tourism and allow the community an opportunity to maximize its assets and create year round reliable employment with the developing infrastructure required to support these decisions. Turns out it isn’t so little after all.