Jonathan Rosenthal, Founder of Nation’s Biggest Jet Taxi Company
NEW YORK (AP) _ Jonathan Rosenthal says he began with a pilot license, law degree, telephone and $7,000 from his savings and a credit card cash-advance.
Three years later at age 30, he runs the nation’s biggest jet-taxi company, owns $1.5 million worth of its stock, drives a Porsche and ponders his future.
″I think about the next deal. I think about why aren’t I further along,″ Rosenthal said. ″The problem is, the diving board keeps changing distance from the water.″
Rosenthal is president of NetAir International Corp., a Denver-based company that operates 74 business aircraft for charter to clients that range from television news crews to investment bankers.
Rosenthal spoke in an interview about himself and his company, which on paper made him a millionaire before his 30th birthday.
″It doesn’t feel like much. I’ve got everything I want. I’ve got my little Porsche and I like to date beautiful women,″ he said. ″But I’d rather do a deal than play tennis or lie on a beach. If I didn’t do business, I don’t know what I’d do.″
An attorney disillusioned with practice of law, Rosenthal co-founded NetAir three years ago with a business consultant, Stephen Straight, in the midst of airline deregulation. They aimed at a narrow segment of people who cannot afford to wait for scheduled flights and need not worry about expenses.
″We’re in a business environment where deals get done in days. How do airlines answer this question? They don’t,″ he said. ″They’re going after the $99 passenger. If you look at an airport, it looks like a bus station did 10 years ago.″
NetAir owns none of its planes, but leases them from corporations in exchange for maintenance services and a portion of the charter revenue. NetAir also has no crews, but hires them through a network of independently owned aviation companies scattered at airports throughout the country.
Rosenthal said these companies are similar to a franchise operation such as a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant or Hertz car rental, with the same standard of service and NetAir logo.
Netair’s major physical assets are its core of seven employees and a computer that enables the company to coordinate use of the planes and crews, so that a flight can be ready for takeoff within two hours of the time a client calls on a 24-hour toll-free number.
Rosenthal did not specify how many customers NetAir has or identify any, but said they are mostly senior executives. Air-freight carriers sometimes use NetAir when their own planes break down, Rosenthal said, but his most demanding clients are TV news crews dispatched to cover an urgent story.
″When they call they’re on their way out the door, screaming into the phone ’We’re in the car,‴ he said. ″When they want to go, they want to go.″
With rates of $2 to $3 per mile, a NetAir roundtrip from Denver to New York for up to eight people costs about $10,000, Rosenthal said. The comparable commercial roundtrip fare ranges from $198 specials to $1,118 for first class.
Rosenthal said many potential investors at first dismissed his concept for on-demand air travel, calling it nothing more than an expensive airline in an environment where most carriers are cutting fares to attract customers.
But he wooed enough investors by getting on the phone and traveling, supported by his savings account and ″the cash advance limit of a credit card,″ Rosenthal said.
He also enlisted the help of Straight, now NetAir’s executive vice president, and industry experts including E. Paul Burke, a former president of Frontier Airlines, and former astronaut Wally Schirra, who agreed that a market existed for such a company.
″I recognized in Jonathan a person who had a lot of drive and a great deal of ambition, basically a good business concept and a good business plan,″ said Burke, now NetAir’s chairman and chief executive. ″He had all the ingredients that were needed.″
NetAir is now the country’s biggest air-charter company, operating out of Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Washington, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland and Austin, Texas. Rosenthal said NetAir will ″fly anywhere that has a standard runway.″
The company now has 12 million shares outstanding sold on the over-the- counte r market. At 40 cents a share, NetAir’s stock is worth a total of about $4.8 million, of which Rosenthal owns just under a third.
A flying enthusiast, Rosenthal gained his private pilot’s license as a teen-ager by washing planes at airports in exchange for lessons.
The youngest of three brothers, Rosenthal said he was the only member of his family to go into business. Raised in Los Angeles, his father is a linguist and his mother a teacher.
Rosenthal received his law degree from Southwestern University, worked as a law clerk with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington and practiced law in Denver before deciding he wanted to start a business.
He now draws a $48,000 yearly salary, less than half of what he would have made by staying in the law practice, and said NetAir has yet to make a profit. The company’s operating income has increased by a third every fiscal quarter and totaled $341,000 for the nine months ended Dec. 31.
″We just started, it takes awhile to get going from ground zero,″ he said. Asked when NetAir would begin to make money, he said, ″That’s a tough question and the kind our lawyers discourage us from answering.″
End Adv Friday April 11