By S. Clayton Moore
Two of the country’s most vibrant charter-related companies are serious when they talk about safety in numbers. CharterX Corp., one the Internet’s most dynamic air charter market services, is advancing its capabilities with the acquisition of Wyvern Consulting Ltd., a leading consultant in the areas of aviation safety auditing and information.
“I wouldn’t call it huge, but it’s a big deal for our little business,” said Jim Betlyon, CharterX president, who founded the company in 2001.
The company was formed when a small group of less than a dozen employees broke off from the Air Charter Guide just a few years ago. Betlyon has since grown the company into the world’s most utilized air charter marketplace by using innovative technology as well as listening to what customers tell the company.
Betlyon is a pilot himself who owns a Cirrus SR20, as well as an active angel investor who serves on several boards. Prior to founding CharterX, he held several significant leadership positions at various leading technology companies including Adobe Systems, Inc., ITT Corporation and Imation Corporation, where he managed technology acquisitions.
Betlyon says the change in information technology has created an incredible demand for CharterX’s comprehensive integrated services. While retail clients don’t typically use CharterX, charter brokers, flight departments, travel agents and other professional aviation operators heavily utilize the site as a portal, which encompasses real-time air traffic control feeds showing all landings.
“The need for information and having access to quick information online has really enabled CharterX to grow,” he said. “We’ve become the central marketing, buying and selling resource for air charter.”
Wyvern Consulting Ltd., founded in 1991, adds a significant aviation safety aspect to CharterX’s already robust operation. Wyvern is the safety source for in-house flight departments for many Fortune 500 companies as well as many fractional-share aircraft providers. Its products and services include corporate aviation internal audits, safety program development, accident investigation and many other consulting services.
The deal originated about a year and a half ago when Betlyon’s team began working with Walter D. Lamon, the founder of Wyvern, to integrate safety information into CharterX’s products.
“I got to know Walt when we were working on that aspect of our site,” Betlyon said. “As we looked forward to where we want to take our business and examined the kind of information we want to supply, the safety aspect kept coming up first and foremost.”
Wyvern will continue to operate as a separate, unbiased safety evaluations entity, providing ongoing operator, aircraft and crew analysis and consulting services. CharterX will move to highlight Wyvern-recommended operators in order to better inform air charter buyers about safety data, but Wyvern’s standards will not be altered because of the merger.
Although the companies will continue to operate separately, CharterX and Wyvern will be collaborating on a new product, Safety Intelligence, the air charter industry’s first integrated information system designed to provide in-depth safety analysis data to air charter buyers worldwide.
“Having information about different operators, airstrips, pilots and aircraft is a real augmentation to the complete set of information that a buyer or seller wants when they are purchasing air charter services,” Betlyon said. “We’re talking about having a broad set of information available to you so that you can make an intelligent decision.”
The CharterX network currently processes more than 2,000 aircraft requests each day and more than 65,000 trip requests per month. Its database includes information on more than 15,000 aircraft worldwide. Despite its heavy use, CharterX has an average of 3,000 aircraft available at any one time.
From talking to charter operators and customers, the leadership at CharterX is also very aware of customers’ demand for safety information.
“I talk to a lot of brokers who tell me that the first question a customer asks is, ‘How do you know if the aircraft you’re putting me on is safe?'” Betlyon explained. “The people sitting in the back of these planes are very cognizant of this issue. Safety Intelligence is going to become a useful set of online capabilities where clients can make assessments and compare operators, aircraft and crews as they’re making their buying decision.”
Safety Intelligence joins a host of products supplied by CharterX that combine technology, online marketing, distribution and data services to create a complete platform that fosters the relationship between air charter operators and buyers. They include CharterX’s XQuote online trip inquiry program, its Industry XChange program that creates an online marketplace for buyers and sellers of air charter, and other directories of aviation information.
Betlyon explained that Safety Intelligence will be made available to customers through a number of channels.
“It will come in a few ways,” he said. “If you’re already a subscriber in our system, there will be more safety intelligence available to you within the relationship we have now. But we also envision a number of higher-value products that will be available as well to provide complete reporting and comparisons of aircraft, operators and pilots.”
Lamon will continue as president of Wyvern, and says he sees the merger as a tremendous opportunity for his company.
“For more than 15 years, Wyvern has been the industry leader in safety standards and methodologies,” he said. “CharterX has a successful track record of developing and delivering services that enable the air charter industry to operate profitably and efficiently. Operators who have met Wyvern’s stringent safety standards will further benefit from the CharterX distribution platform because it will enable them to market their operational soundness to air charter buyers around the world.”
Lamon is a 31-year industry veteran with significant piloting experience including more than 9,600 total flight hours in both turbojets and helicopters. He holds both ATP and CFII certifications and has type ratings in the CL-601, IAI-1124, SK-76, BH-222 and BH-212. Prior to founding Wyvern, he held high-level positions at Aetna and CIGNA as director of safety and ran CIGNA’s flight operations. Additionally, he was a U.S. Marine Corps standardization pilot and served in the Marine Corps reserves.
The acquisition is a significant deal for both companies. Combined, CharterX and Wyvern facilitate more than $6.5 billion in air charter transactions annually. But for Betlyon and his team, it’s about more than money.
“It’s one of the biggest deals we’ve ever done,” he admitted. “But while it’s definitely a financial and growth opportunity for the company, I believe in these services. There have been one or two high-profile incidents in the last couple of years that have really raised customers’ consciousness of safety issues. By bringing this safety information to the forefront of a broader audience, I hope it heightens the safety level of the entire industry.”
In the meantime, the CharterX network continues to grow daily as air charter operators continue to join the company’s matrix.
“Our goal is to aggregate more and more information about pilots and aircraft and make it available to a much broader universe,” Betlyon said. “People are understanding now that the way business is transacted is changing. Almost every type of buyer now wants access to this level of information at their fingertips.”
For more information about CharterX, visit [http://www.charterx.com]. For more information about Wyvern, visit [http://www.wyvernltd.com].