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Charter service has corporate feel

November 16, 1997

Charter service has corporate feel

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Aero-Smith Inc. isn't the first company to offer charter air service out of Washington County Regional Airport.

But its approach to the business makes it distinct from its short-lived predecessors, said company president George M. Smith.

"We decided to model our charter company after a corporate flight department," said Smith, a former corporate pilot who believes charter service can and should cater to business travelers' needs the same way a corporate flight department does.

Aero-Smith has another advantage over its competitors in its ability to serve its own maintenance, fueling and de-icing needs, he said.

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The company has been supplying Washington County Regional Airport with those services since it was started in September 1993 with a tiny aluminum building and four employees, Smith said.

Aero-Smith now has 23 full-time employees and hangars and offices at Washington County Regional Airport and the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg, W.Va.,

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished in four years, but my employees worked, sweated and toiled as hard as I did," he said.

The charter service got up and running in March, when the company's first plane, a Beechcraft Baron that can seat up to five passengers, hit the air, Smith said.

Its second plane - a larger, faster and more expensive Beechcraft King Air - came on line in early October, he said.

Smith sees education as key to building the needed customer base for a successful charter operation in the Quad-State region.

He said his own industry is to blame for a mass ignorance of charter air service as a viable alternative to commercial airlines for business travel.

"We've just done a very bad job of explaining it," said Smith, who sees tremendous potential for his company's newest venture if it's correctly marketed to area business people.

Charter air service isn't for everyone, he said.

It's not cost-effective for one, or even two, passengers, Smith said.

And it's not for really long trips, or trips in which passengers need to stay for different lengths of time, he said.

Once you get up to three passengers, all going the same place, leaving and returning at the same time, however, charter service becomes as cost-effective as commercial air travel, Smith said.

And it has advantages a commercial airline just can't offer, he said.

A charter flight can leave from anywhere and go anywhere anytime the customers want, Smith said.

Aero-Smith planes can leave from any airport within 25 nautical miles of Martinsburg, which would include Frederick, Cumberland and Gaithersburg, Md., Winchester, Va., and Chambersburg, Pa., he said.

And they can land at any airport within 500 nautical miles, Smith said.

You don't have to waste time with preflight check-in or layovers, he said. And there's increased security since the pilots also load the baggage.

Business is already promising, said Smith, who envisions the charter fleet growing to four or five planes and possibly offering jet service, as demand increases.

The King Air is averaging three flights a week, and the Baron is booked until the end of November, he said.

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