As Jetcraft celebrates its diamond jubilee, we profile the company at 60 and look ahead to the next 10 years. Our guides are Chad Anderson, CEO, Jahid Fazal-Karim, owner and chairman of the board, and Charles ‘Bucky’ Oliver, founder and chairman emeritus. Words: Mike Stones

‘We are a big, little company’

Chad Anderson, CEO

SPANNING FIVE CONTINENTS, Jetcraft has a global wingspan but prides itself on embodying the virtues of a small company.

Chad Anderson, CEO, puts it like this. “We are a big, little company. That means we're big in scope to serve our industry, with more than 20 offices worldwide, and large in our business reach but relatively small, with a headcount of still only about 70 people,” he tells Corporate Jet Investor. “So, we all wear a lot of hats.”

Anderson’s CEO hat leads him to give guidance on all the company’s core business activities supporting private jet sales and acquisitions. He is as active in sales as he is in technical operations, finance, marketing, management teams and more. Specifically, he is responsible for leading the company’s overall global sales, inventory and strategy, with specialties in transaction structuring, aviation finance and tax.

Winning line up: David Dixon, president of Jetcraft Asia, (second right) and colleagues celebrate their win in the AsBAA Aviation Awards 2019.

Sales are his passion. “The closings are always the fun part. It's always a delightful crescendo at the finish line. That's the ultimate buzz. But the chase is fun too.”

There’s been a lot of chasing recently. Testimony comes from the International Aircraft Dealers Association (IADA), whose members closed 20% more deals last year than the year before at 1,372 recorded aircraft transactions. This was while aircraft inventories plummeted to historic lows, with significant improvement unlikely soon. Only 3.8% of the total business jet fleet was on the market, according to AMSTAT data, at the end of April 2022.

As demand from new and returning business jet buyers has rocketed and inventories dwindled, buyers have scoured the world looking for the right jet with the right quality at the right price. And this has afforded Jetcraft a powerful edge, says Anderson. Using market intelligence from its more than 20 offices worldwide, Jetcraft is better placed than many to identify aircraft for sale worldwide and to negotiate competitively-priced deals, he says. Jetcraft’s international team speak the local languages, understand the culture and are experienced negotiators in their local area, says Anderson.

“It is our secret sauce because so many times we're able to find and properly source airplanes from other venues that other companies simply don't have the boots on the ground to do. And we can do it with confidence.

“Our sales directors’ local first-hand regional knowledge enables Jetcraft to negotiate the best deals in each area,” he says. “It also offers the possibility of locating aircraft that might not be currently listed for sale.” He highlights the possibility of buyers trading in their aircraft – either to upgrade or simply to sell, without the need for the business to find an end buyer first. Jetcraft is now transacting over 100 aircraft annually.

A critical part of the Jetcraft proposition is offering buyers – particularly new buyers – a full service from selecting the right aircraft at the right price to legal considerations, contract negotiations, and financial transactions.

First-time buyers are impacting the market as never before. Anderson reports seeing about double the number of first-time buyers last year than in previous years. “A lot of our clients are existing owners, but more and more business comes from acquisition projects for first-time buyers needing advice and help and oversight in the process,” he says. “The beauty of the first-time buyers now is they are all well-educated by whoever's representing them on the purchase. So, I think they're going in with logical expectations.” There’s a growing group of well-qualified management companies doing a good job in helping to oversee costs and manage them, he says. “We're also big believers in the maintenance programmes and so forth. There are more support mechanisms than ever helping buyers avoid major surprises when purchasing pre-owned and new aircraft.”

Seaside celebration: The whole Jetcraft team relaxes at the beach near Cabo in Mexico during one of the company’s annual get-togethers.

Referrals from existing clients are an important source of new business. Younger buyers – some 40-year-olds buying their first or second aircraft are increasingly representative of the company’s client base. Such owners could buy three or four aircraft in their lifetime, he says.

Younger buyers typically value aircraft demonstrations more than their senior colleagues. Anderson senses purchase decisions are a little less analytical and a little more of an emotional process than 10 years ago. Another key change is a focus on sustainability topics.

“It's the heart and soul of what the world is trying to reinforce with us,” says Anderson. “Our banks are asking us sustainability questions as much as our clients are, so it is probably now becoming an institutional question.”

It’s not just private buyers who are shaping the market. Corporate buyers are also returning to the market, placing new orders with OEMs. “Order books for manufacturers are getting extended out further because the corporates are back. More are now ready to implement their fleet replacement plans,” he says.

A central part of Jetcraft’s strategy is to develop its team’s skills and confidence. “After 60 years in business, Jetcraft has been able to set up a career path within the company,” he explains. “I'm proud of being able to give people enough architecture to learn the markets. Learn the company, learn the product and you will be able to deploy that on a sales stage.” Currently about half the sales force grew and learnt their skills within Jetcraft.

While the company does recruit external candidates to deliver its growth plans, “We always look to give our current team the opportunities first,” says Anderson. It’s part of what Anderson and the senior management team like to consider a family culture within Jetcraft. He takes pride in retaining all staff during Covid-19.

Luxury with wings: Business jets such as this Boeing BBJ3 (pictured above and right) deliver the airborne luxury Jetcraft customers expect.

Another symbol of the Jetcraft family culture is the annual whole-team get-togethers – global pandemics permitting – which help to reinforce team bonds for staff who work worldwide. “The tradition started decades ago when ‘Bucky’ [the company’s founder and chairman emeritus] started getting everybody together, the whole company, at his former guest ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.” Later the gatherings evolved to Italy, Thailand, and Mexico “to get people outside the norm”.

While the gathering was suspended one year to save money, the management team concluded it could not afford to skip the annual meetings. “These one-family get-togethers create that bond and set the stage for the coming year, and keep people connected. After that initial pause, we've never not done it other than Covid.”

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Anderson divides his life into time zones. “My Sunday nights start with Asia mornings. The first job is always to see what's going on in Asia,” he says. “The only real architecture is on Mondays, spent catching up on whatever developed over the weekend, and Tuesdays, scheduled for management and sales calls.” The focus is about responding rapidly to changing market opportunities: organising demonstration flights, talking about inbound aircraft, technical updates, aircraft that are in pre-buy, trading in Asia, the Middle East and the Americas. “That’s our big opportunity to consistently connect all the dots,” he says.

Anderson believes the current demand for business jets is not unprecedented. He draws comparisons with 2006 and 2008, ahead of the financial crisis. “During those times new aircraft delivery lead times could extend three, four or five years into the future,” he explains. “Also, pre-owned aircraft sales were on fire and it wasn't unique to the Americas but included Europe, the Middle East and Africa – you name it.”

But he draws a key distinction between then and now. “The demand we are seeing now is far more meaningful and far more sustainable than around 2006.” What would help is a modest increase in production from OEMs, he believes. “A measured increase in production would help, because that would create a bit more churn in the pre-owned world,” he says. “But supply chain limitations are, I think, the biggest hurdles to the manufacturers.”

One positive factor to emerge from the Covid pandemic is a re-appraisal of private aviation. “The substance and the merits of business aviation are no longer being challenged because, in many cases, it's a life-saving device for those who have the means to afford it,” he says. Travellers want to avoid the risks of travel on scheduled airline services – if they can find them.

Europe, the number two market after North America, has reopened and Anderson expects activity to rebound. “In terms of the demand we see right now, the Americas is just the start.”

For evidence Anderson pointed to the high level of demand for the services of programme providers, jet cards, fractional providers, and the charter companies. “They're all healthy right now. And that's the best news for us because that's the ease of entry for clients to get a taste of business aviation to see if they can realise the true benefits out of it,” he said.

We end our conversation with a powerful lesson in customer service, courtesy of an unexpected source. It arises from Anderson’s high school job working in a tuxedo rental store. Wally, his boss, was an expert at disarming frustrated customers. When Anderson asked how he does this so well, Wally replied: “Chad, if you disarm them with kindness and become their solution they have no choice but to be satisfied and grateful. That’s how we create long term relationships and good business.”

Jetcraft: The next 10 years

Private aviation is on the brink of big change, says Chad Anderson, CEO of Jetcraft. Rapid rising private wealth, technology innovation and lower transportation costs promise to open the industry to many more private and corporate clients.

One of the most rapidly growing sectors of the market over the next 10 years will be new customers coming from the Ultra-High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWIs) segment, he says. “The corporates that currently own and operate airplanes are probably going to consistently own and operate airplanes in various ways or forms. The biggest growth will come from the UHNWI sector globally.” And it's not just unique to the Americas. He expects to see strong growth in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and in other regions of the world.

“So, 10 years from now, you will probably see Jetcraft bigger than it is today – probably with more people and more resources and certainly a new product mix for whatever the demand is at the time,” says Anderson. “Whether it's eVTOL, battery-powered or hybrid aircraft or ultra-long range business aircraft, we will go where the industry and the clients go.”


‘I’m still a deal junkie’

Jahid Fazal-Karim, owner and chairman of the board

JAHID FAZAL-KARIM likes closing aircraft deals. “I’m still a deal junkie,” Fazal-Karim tells Corporate Jet Investor.

He has closed thousands over the years, but one memorable deal stands out from last year. This was the sale of a Bombardier Global in just three days. “At the end of December, a client wanted a Global urgently and when an opportunity arose, we managed to close the deal in 72 hours. We identified the plane, contracted the plane, financed the plane, closed the deal and had it delivered. That one belongs in The Guinness World Records.”

Fazal-Karim concedes though, as owner and chairman of the board, personally closing deals is far from his sole responsibility. “I spend half my time trying to get transactions and deals done – particularly the bigger deals – because I love being with my customers and clients. Then, the other portion is more permanent vision and strategy and the way the company needs to grow, inventory management and investment opportunities.”

There was no shortage of deals last year. In 2021, the company had one of its most successful years since 2018, beating 2020’s transaction count and making it probably the largest non-manufacturer company in business aviation, he says. Jetcraft is now transacting over 100 aircraft annually.

Deals are what Fazal-Karim lives for. Since joining the company in 2008, he has led Jetcraft’s expansion from a mainly US-based organisation to a global business, with more than 20 offices worldwide. Before joining Jetcraft, he was senior vice president of worldwide sales for Bombardier Business Aircraft where he led a team of more than 100 sales staff. He was also vice president of Business Development and Asset Management for Airbus.

Seriously seeking sales: Chad Anderson, CEO Jetcraft (left) and Jahid Fazal-Karim, owner and chairman of the board, still both relish the thrill of personally closing private jet sales worldwide.

“Even many US-based clients want a transcontinental plane, leading them to choose larger aircraft than previously.”

After all those years, packed with all manner of deals, he considers Jetcraft to be his best deal yet. “It was one of my greatest investments,” he says. “I could see there was a gap in the business aviation industry for a properly-structured sales and marketing company, that was not a manufacturer, to grow global private jet sales.”

Also, his Jetcraft investment secured a key partner in Charles ‘Bucky’ Oliver, founder and chairman emeritus of the company. (Read more about Oliver in the following article). “In retrospect, it was my best investment because I managed to get not only a great business, with huge potential, but also a great partner in ‘Bucky’ Oliver. ‘Bucky’ and I come from complete opposites in terms of our backgrounds and culture, but we work so well together. We have never had an argument about how to manage or how to grow Jetcraft and where we want to take the company.”

It’s an impressive record of growth over the past 60 years – from flight school and Learjet dealer to global presence. Over the past decade alone, the company claims to have closed more than 800 transactions, worth over $14bn in value. And that is despite weathering the worst downturn in business aviation history during the financial recession of 2008 and 2009 and an initial Covid-19 setback.

But the global pandemic has helped to turn potential clients into customers. Last year saw a significant increase in business from new clients – driven by two main factors. These were: rebounding economic growth, which led to significant wealth creation, and growing personal health concerns arising from Covid. “Until the pandemic, many potential buyers were happy to continue flying in the first-class cabin of commercial carriers. But, for those with the financial resources, private aviation offered an opportunity to avoid the crowds and find their own safe space,” says Fazal-Karim. “The decision was no longer just about how much it would cost to fly a private jet – it became more of an emotional choice about personal safety and how to protect family and colleagues.”

New clients are typically younger than existing customers, he says. Many Ultra-High or High-Net Worth Individuals accumulated significant wealth in technology businesses during the pandemic. Another key difference is that new entrants are choosing large aircraft, such as super-midsize or even longer-range models, as their first purchase unlike 20 years ago. “New entrants see the world as more of a global market,” says Fazal-Karim. “Even many US-based clients want a transcontinental plane, leading them to choose larger aircraft than previously.”

Another new factor is the growing currency of sustainability topics. It’s becoming progressively more important to the whole industry, he says. New aircraft are more fuel efficient and produce lower emissions than older models. There’s also growing interest in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) – despite its 30% to 35% higher price tag – and various carbon offsetting schemes. “Sustainability is in the back of everybody's mind,” he says. “And we do the best we can to help develop sustainability options and to influence people’s behaviour.”

The key to turning potential clients into customers is Jetcraft’s increasingly global footprint, he says. “We have set out to create a truly global company. Anywhere in the world, we have someone who will speak our clients’ language.” So, Chinese clients who want to buy or sell an aircraft can speak to someone locally who is fluent in Mandarin.

The same applies in Latin America, Europe and the company’s other locations around the world. Fazal-Karim is himself multilingual, fluent in English and French, having been born in Madagascar, and with a smattering of Gujarati. He is a graduate of the French National College of Aeronautics (ENAC) where he obtained an engineering degree in Aeronautics and holds a master’s degree in air transport management from Cranfield University, UK.

The company aims to be both global and local. “We are locally very strong, but because we're everywhere, working as a truly global company.” Fazal-Karim and his wife are based in Dubai.

“We are locally very strong, but because we are everywhere, working as a truly global company.”

While turnover and profit are supremely important, they are not the only measures of success. Employee motivation and morale are two other factors, which help the company achieve a high staff retention rate. “We always try to create an environment where people can express themselves – and feel part of the family. It's all about creating an environment where people feel part of something bigger in the best way.” (Jetcraft takes pride in retaining all staff during the global pandemic).

Fazal-Karim says this is how they can close deals in 72-hours. The ability to source, finance, transact and deliver a business jet in just three working days reveals much about the company’s service, he says. “It’s a great example of how customer service is in our DNA. Everything we do is focused around making it easier for our clients to buy and sell aeroplanes.”

Jetcraft: The next 10 years

There’s no escaping world economic cycles but Jetcraft’s global reach will help the business take advantage of the opportunities while mitigating the risks, according to Jahid Fazal-Karim, owner and chairman of the board.

“We see economic cycles rise and fall but we are global and, with more than 20 offices around the world, we have people everywhere,” he says. “Our job is to be able to grab any market out there that is active.”

Jetcraft’s latest Market Forecast predicts pre-owned aircraft transaction volumes and values will maintain current growth rates for at least the next five years. It predicts the market will reach 2,647 annual transactions valued at $12.4bn by 2025.

While the US continues to dominate over the next 10 years he sees demand growing more strongly elsewhere. In Asia-Pacific and Europe the two key drivers of aircraft purchases – wealth and flying hours – are expected to increase along with new business jet owners. This is likely to narrow the gap between these markets and ownership levels among North America’s Ultra-High Net Worth Individuals.

“For us, it doesn't matter where demand will come from and where the supply will come from, because we are everywhere. That's what makes us different.”


‘I’m a serial workaholic’

Charles ‘Bucky’ Oliver, founder and chairman emeritus

AVIATION ENTREPRENEUR Charles ‘Bucky’ Oliver is a self-confessed “serial workaholic.” Having just turned 80, it’s a condition he has exhibited for more than 60 years, after first acquiring the company that would later become Jetcraft. Like so many aviation stories, this one begins with a flying school.

VIPs transfer from auto to aircraft in the 1980s.

“In the fall [autumn] of 1961, at the age of 19, while a freshman at Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina, I found myself owning a flying school,” he tells Corporate Jet Investor. Always an aviation enthusiast, Oliver acquired the flight school and later FBO, almost by accident after an acquaintance defaulted on a loan. Instead of doing what most teenagers would do – shed the business to focus on studies and social life – he decided to keep it going. So, having just started his college course and while studying for his private pilot’s licence, Oliver became the owner of Raleigh-Durham Aviation based at Raleigh-Durham Airport, North Carolina. But, eventually, the allure of aviation proved too strong to resist and he decided to leave his studies to focus on the fledgling business.

In the early years, Raleigh-Durham Aviation consisted of a training fleet of a dozen Piper Tri-Pacers and Piper Colts and FBO services. “One of the great pleasures I enjoyed by forcing myself into the aeroplane business, while still a college freshman, was having access to what we considered to be really progressive aeroplanes,” he says. Swapping lessons in an old two-seat Cessna 150 for the luxury of a four-seat Cessna 172 fired his passion for more sophisticated aircraft. The Model 35 Beechcraft Bonanza fanned those flames.

But it was another iconic aircraft, the Learjet with its signature tip tanks – the world’s first purpose-designed business jet – that was to play a key role in the company’s evolution. Oliver saw the revolutionary design’s potential immediately. So, in the late 1960s, Raleigh-Durham Aviation became a leading Learjet dealer. The business also broadened its focus to include aircraft charter and brokerage.

In the mid 1970s, Oliver sold Raleigh-Durham Aviation and launched Raleigh-Durham Aircraft Sales to focus on Cessna, turboprop and piston aircraft. (He later re-bought Raleigh-Durham Aviation). The new company became one of Cessna’s largest dealerships and one of the first Cessna Citation service stations. As business aviation matured in the 1980s, with the growth of corporate flight departments serving the growing number of multinational companies, Oliver’s business grew to supply the burgeoning demand for business aircraft. It began trading under the name Jetcraft in 1987. “We happened to be in the right business, at the right time and at the right location,” he says. “But we also worked and continue to work pretty hard. Like any great success, it doesn't happen solely by luck but by hard work and no bad luck.”

Fellow aviation entrepreneur Jahid Fazal-Karim joined Oliver as co-owner in 2008, later becoming the owner. In parallel with the expansion of international markets and preference for large business jets, Jetcraft grew from a mainly US-based organisation to an expanding international corporation. It launched operations in Dubai, Switzerland, Russia, Asia, Turkey, Australia, Latin America, Africa and the UK.

Today, the company operates more than 20 offices worldwide with a team of over 70 people on five continents.

“We happened to be in the right business, at the right time and at the right location.”

Oliver picks up the global theme. “Jetcraft is the only representative in the particular marketplace – aside from the manufacturers – that is truly global.” He believes it’s a key factor in the company’s success in transacting over 100 aircraft annually. Oliver says this global reach enables the company to identify aircraft for sale in one market and match them with buyers elsewhere. This is proving a decisive advantage with business aircraft inventories at historic lows, he says.

So, does he miss cutting the big deals? There’s a thoughtful pause. “I still enjoy a deal. But I do them differently now,” he says. “There's no question about the thrill of the deal – that’s a big part of business. And it’s a key indicator of a successful salesperson.”

It’s a characteristic he detects in Fazal-Karim, owner and chairman of the board. “Jahid is a true expert in facilitating aircraft transactions and really gets a thrill out of finding unique solutions, making and cutting the deals that others say can’t be done,” he says. Oliver had lost his long-term business partner John Ames in a snowmobile accident and later went on to forge a new partnership with Fazal-Karim, whom he knew from his work at Bombardier where he was senior vice president of worldwide sales for Bombardier Business Aircraft.

The pair agreed to work together in London in April 2008. “It was a wonderful arrangement. It created an opportunity for Jahid to build a company structured around his masterful approach to buying and selling aircraft I wanted to start rebuilding a partnership, and it played out exactly the way I had hoped.”

The Learjet helped to boost Charles ‘Bucky’ Oliver’s business.

All partnerships take work, he concedes. “You have to live it and breathe it and support it, nurture it every single day. But picking the right partners has always been critical to the business. That's how we have attained so many of our successes.”

Another critical appointment was Chad Anderson, who joined Jetcraft in 2005 and was appointed president in 2010 and CEO in 2022.

Oliver describes his current role as mainly strategic. He makes active contributions at board-level discussions to help the company avoid the mistakes of the past. “I try to highlight some of the errors that we have made over our past 60 years in business, so that they don't have to be repeated again.”

After talking about the strong bond between colleagues, Oliver moves on to another key business relationship – with Jetcraft clients. The gold standard rule is to establish a relationship where Jetcraft is seen as a trusted adviser, he says. “I talk to salespeople all the time and I say: ‘Guys, when you think that you've built a strong relationship with the client, you’re not there, unless your customer asks: ‘Well, buddy, what do you think I should do?’ When you get to that point, you have become a trusted counsellor and adviser.”

But it’s not solely the sales team that is responsible for Jetcraft’s success. Equally important are colleagues in the company’s technical, legal, administration, accounting teams together with a host of other roles, he says. “The back of house team – including the technical, legal and accounting – are the core of our business and probably not as well-known as they should be.” Oliver, like colleagues Fazal-Karim and Anderson, highlights the close relationship between the company and its workforce. He also takes pride that the company retained all its staff during the global pandemic.

So, having closed thousands of aircraft deals and logged more than 25,000 flight hours over 65-plus years, what is his favourite aircraft? That depends on the mission, he says. For transporting family, friends (and occasionally three dogs), Oliver and his wife Wendi owned a 1984 Cessna Citation 1SP.

Plane talking: Charles ‘Bucky’ Oliver says “picking the right partners has always been critical to the business”.

But to rekindle the thrill of flight, Oliver recalls the aircraft that helped propel his business onto the US national stage in the mid ‘60s and on which he has logged more than 6,000 hours. “If it’s about the pure joy of flying, the obvious choice must be the Learjet 25. There is really nothing that gave you the performance those aeroplanes did in their day.”

Jetcraft: The next 10 years

Teamwork has established Jetcraft on the global stage for business jet sales and it will continue to play a key role in the company’s success, says Charles ‘Bucky’ Oliver, founder and chairman emeritus. That’s effective teamwork not just between the executive team but throughout the entire organisation.

“Our global exposure is a key factor, as is our financial strength to make things happen worldwide,” says Oliver. “But it’s the back-of-house team, that people don’t see, that keep things running.”

While aircraft may not have changed fundamentally over the years, the age of Jetcraft’s clients have, he says. From an average age of 50 to 60 several decades ago, the company is now seeing new clients in their mid-40s.

But he believes a new tide of innovation is rising that will deliver more efficient engines powered by new low or zero-emissions fuels such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). “Engines are the longest lead time of any portion of an aeroplane, perhaps 10 or 20 years ahead of all the other development,” says Oliver. “We're going to see that shortened some, and I think we're going to see propulsion changes and that may change things such as cruising altitude, range and different uses of aeroplanes.”

Finally, Oliver retains a workaholic’s optimism for business prospects. From about 10 deals a year in the early years, the business has now grown to more than 100 transactions a year. Given burgeoning global demand for business jets, fuelled by new cleaner technologies and reduced airline schedules, Oliver thinks, that number “may probably double itself”.

Mike Stones, Group editor, Corporate Jet Investor