Here’s an idea. Instead of charter companies and flight brokers all competing for business, why not share information so that everyone can get ahead?
It seems like a simple concept but it has been a successful one for Terry Cooper and his newly launched website, CharterMatrix.com. In an industry that is full of competition, he’s trying to help everybody in the business by providing a service free of charge that will help customers, brokers and charter companies all use their time more efficiently.
Cooper started his career in the military as a mechanic and flight engineer on F-16 Falcons. He got his college degree from the University of West Virginia before going to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. For the past six years, he’s been working in different charter companies and currently flies Gulfstreams part-time for a private family out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, Calif.
He came up with the concept for CharterMatrix at his last job at a charter company in Indiana.
“We had a lot of aircraft and the owners wanted to start flying the airplanes more,” Cooper remembered. “In managing the flights, I knew we would do much better if we could just sell our empty legs. The growth of the brokers has been tremendous; if you let the brokers know where your airplanes are, they’ll charter you quite a bit.”
The difference was staggering. After Cooper’s efforts to put the word out, the company went from flying 80 hours a month on two Lear 45s to 179 hours per month. At that point, he felt that those efforts could be done on a much wider scale.
“There was a gap of information there where customers and broker just couldn’t find the empty flights,” Cooper explained. “Everybody was sending emails back and forth and getting bombarded. Brokers would call in a frenzy when they needed to book a trip, whether they knew you had an airplane available or not. I thought this time needed to be organized in a way that helps everybody out.”
To meet the need, Cooper launched CharterMatrix.com, using a Website design team in his home state of West Virginia. Anybody, including customers, brokers and other charter companies, can post their flights or their request for a flight on CharterMatrix.com for free. Customers can search for an empty flight by clicking the state they’re leaving from on the U.S. map on the home page. If a specific flight isn’t available, a whole list of charter companies and brokers can help them out or they can post their general or specific needs in private aviation so that companies can contact them directly.
Cooper funds the site by running banner advertising connected to each state.
“If a customer doesn’t find the flight they want, the customer’s first impulse is going to be to click that banner ad or call the 1-800 number on the advertisement,” Cooper said. “That makes the ad a very popular proposition because one good trip can pay for a year’s worth of advertising.”
In fact, Cooper could operate the site like the few competitors out there who are really brokering their own flights using the website, but his intentions are much more generous.
“Most of the operators in charter just want to make as much money as fast as possible,” Cooper admitted. “I’m not just interested in making money. I want to make the best website out there and actually make a name for myself and be known in this business.”
Unlike other sites, CharterMatrix isn’t trolling for personal data, either. While customers have the option to list their contact information so that flight brokers can contact them, Cooper is not collecting data or mining it for sales leads.
“There’s no gimmick,” he said, emphasizing his desire to help beleaguered customers. “There are people out there who fly first-class and have the money to fly private jets but they find it’s a hassle to find a flight at a decent price. Their time is worth a lot of money and they don’t have time to call 15 companies looking for a flight. This can alleviate a lot of that stress.”
He thinks that not only are customers getting more sophisticated about the charter business, but that the business itself is changing as well.
“Customers are starting to get smarter in realizing that companies are selling that empty leg,” Cooper explained. “At the same time, business aviation is going to change in the next five years. It will literally be an air taxi. That’s the future. It’s a trend that is growing and I would give it just another few years before this one-way and empty-leg business vanishes.”
The site is helping a lot of brokers and charter companies as well. Over 200 companies are now doing business through CharterMatrix.com, and the site is generating 5,000 hits a day, a healthy number in the charter business.
The very first week that CharterMatrix was in business, Diane Saldo of Geneva International Air in Manassas, Va., posted an empty Gulfstream leg from California back to Virginia. Instead of the leg costing the charter company $10,000 just to get the plane back home, they were paid over $18,000 for the flight. Another company has sold five empty flights on their Lear 60 and a second company in Virginia has sold several coast-to-coast flights.
“There have already been over $100,000 in flights that have changed hands on the website,” Cooper said. “No company can lose just by listing their flights. It’s a no-risk situation and I do my best to help them out.”
Some charter customers would like to see the site more automated but Cooper has been cautious about speeding up the process too much.
“Clients would like a system that automatically lists their flights for them, but you will end up posting fictional flights if you’re not careful,” Cooper warned. “That is one of the problems with some of the other websites, because they do post these imaginary flights and it upsets flying customers. I’m trying hard not to waste anybody’s time.”
Anthony Carey of flight broker Blue Star Jets in New York City has been using the site since it began and affirms that CharterMatrix has been a boon to business.
“It’s an excellent resource within the industry,” Carey said. “We can go out and post the legs that we’re looking for and see what everyone else is posting at the same time. It’s truly unique. There are other websites offering similar resources but Terry has done it in the simplest way for both the broker and the operator.”
While investment groups and potential partners are calling daily, Cooper is taking his time in building CharterMatrix into an invaluable resource.
“I’m just taking it all in right now and keeping my cool while trying to improve the website,” Cooper said. “I am just trying to offer everything that people need to help out their business.”
For more information, visit [http://www.chartermatrix.com].