By Clayton Moore
We all know cleanliness is a virtue. So what better place to apply that good habit than on one of your most valuable investments, be it your personal Cessna, a high-class corporate jet or even one of the innovative VLJs?
Unfortunately, most aviation enthusiasts are far too busy with their own high-powered professions to spend a well-earned day off scrubbing down or hand buffing an airplane. For pilots and flight departments who want their aircraft looking like the top-of-the-line machines they truly are, a gifted detailing service, Immaculate Flight, promises to live up to its name.
“We’ll clean anything that can be cleaned on an aircraft,” affirms co-founder Brett Logan from the company’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich. “Just like any service industry, the reason we’re in business is to help our customers streamline their operations and allow them to outsource a need that’s not vital to their operations. To have an aircraft detailed completely and done the right way saves a significant amount of money in the long run.”
Logan and co-founder Dennis Cruz, both college graduates with economics degrees who were just starting out in the aviation industry, met at a paint class in Los Angeles. As they struck up a friendship during the course, they discovered a mutual interest in combining their business acumen with their love for airplanes. During a providential lunch at an L.A. burger joint, they hatched a plan to expand Cruz’ embryonic aircraft detailing business, Elite Aircraft Detailing, into a far more extensive operation. Today, the reach of Immaculate Flight ranges from California to Florida and almost everywhere in between.
Logan and Cruz incorporated Immaculate Flight in 2005 and started setting up satellite operations at the busiest and most diverse airports in the country. Its service is now available at nearly 40 airports across 13 states, as well as many regional and general aviation airports upon request. With mobile services ready to roll anytime, its cleaning services can reach nearly any customer in the U.S.
“People are surprised that you don’t always need a huge crew, especially in the case of corporate aircraft detailing,” Logan said. “You just need a few good guys and the right vehicles, cleaning products and equipment. Our crews cover a lot of ground. For example, our guys in Los Angeles can cover any of the 16 airports around the city from LAX to Van Nuys. We typically have a crew set up in a primary location and then we make ourselves mobile throughout the city.”
To arrange a service appointment, customers will often call their local area manager because they’ve built up a firm relationship. New customers can also call the detailer’s 24-hour customer service line or set up an appointment via the Internet. Each employee carries a Blackberry portable communications device, allowing a manager to scramble a detailing team at a moment’s notice.
“We try to stay on top of the technology and use it to our advantage so that we can service our customers efficiently,” Logan said. “Some planes can be done in an hour and some take multiple days. We’ll do our job in whatever timeframe the customer needs.”
The fastidious checklist of services provided by Immaculate Flight includes a wide range of interior, exterior and detailing duties that make for a dazzling overall effect on an aircraft. Interior cleaning encompasses cleaning and conditioning leather seats; sanitizing galley and lavatory spaces; shining woods, mirrors, table tops and windows; carpet vacuuming or steam cleaning; and specialty cleaning of suede, exotic woods or other unique interiors.
Exterior cleaning can be even more specific and can include dry and wet washing, hand waxing, polishing of brightwork, application of sealant on de-ice boots and the complex cleaning of gear wells. Immaculate Flight extensively researches cleaning materials and uses specialty products. One of the company’s primary tools for aircraft exteriors is Xzilon, a protective material that uses a process called “molecular adhesion” to prevent drag, extend paint life and prevent corrosion on metal surfaces.
“Anyone working in aviation realizes pretty quickly that we have to use products that are aviation-specific,” Logan said. “Different types of aircraft require slightly different processes, particularly the makeup of metal components on different jets. We use aviation-approved products and processes; it makes a big difference when you have your aircraft detailed by someone who really knows what they’re doing.”
The company leaders invest time and effort in selecting good managers and in assuring the teams in the field receive proper support. Company managers and crew members are employees, not contract laborers, and receive medical benefits, insurance coverage and other benefits. The company also carries significant liability, auto, workers’ compensation and other insurance policies to ensure that any unforeseen problems—even one as simple but costly as a scratched Learjet window—are covered.
“We make sure all of our employees are safety-trained and complete our FAA-approved drug testing program,” Logan said. “We also send our managers and some full-time employees to be trained at our operations in Florida and North Carolina, where we have a wider array of customers and can give our employees a wider range of experience and better weather in which to learn.”
Logan and Cruz often demonstrate their appreciation for a job well done, such as a recent nod to a standout employee who received tickets to a Final Four basketball game in recognition of his efforts. At Immaculate Flight, the crews on the ground are valued as the first line of defense and the public face of the company.
“Everybody talks up their team, but our managers and their crews are just unbelievably great,” Logan said. “We put a lot of effort into putting people on our team that love aviation, but it’s still rare to find employees that you can call at 10:00 on a Saturday night and they’re happy to go do their job, and they do it well. We appreciate that kind of commitment.”
The cost of utilizing Immaculate Flight’s experience and hard work varies depending on the aircraft.
“Our quotes are specific to each aircraft,” Logan said. “Our cost structure is very competitive when you take into account our size, availability and infrastructure. We’re definitely not the most expensive operation out there. If you look at the cost of cleaning as a fraction of the overall costs of owning or operating an aircraft, you’ll find it’s a very small fraction. For a typical jet, you can easily spend seven figures just in maintenance and fuel annually. To keep that plane looking completely sharp, a company might only have to spend $20,000 a year.”
The company’s regular customers are diverse, ranging from the busy businessman who wants a quick rubdown of his Cessna 152, corporate flight departments flying executives from Pfizer and SAP, and full-scale, comprehensive detailing of Boeing 747s owned by the royal family of a Middle Eastern kingdom. Immaculate Flight also services many corporate flight departments, as well as the larger fractional operators such as Flexjet, Flight Options and CitationShares.
Logan’s customers often tell him about the difference that Immaculate Flight’s services can make on a business trip.
“At the time they place an order, our customers’ primary concern is image, be it an individual or a corporation,” Logan said. “You don’t want customers or a fellow CEO getting on a plane that doesn’t look its best.”
The difference a thorough cleaning and detailing can make to an aircraft applies not only to its aesthetic appearance but also to the financial bottom line, according to Logan.
“It’s important not just for looks, but also for safety, efficiency and economy,” he said. “Everybody’s concerned about fuel prices these days, obviously, and a clean aircraft will reduce drag and translate directly into fuel savings. It also helps on the back end when a customer wants to sell an aircraft. An aircraft that has been cared for is in better shape and will always command a higher retail price.”
Significant growth in the past three years demonstrates the company’s success and commitment to excellence. Careful expansion and strategic acquisition has allowed Immaculate Flight to grow at a steady but calculated pace. Most recently, the company acquired Plane View Detailing, another aircraft detailing company based in Naples, Fla.
“Right now, we’re just making sure that all of our operations are strong and that we’re providing the best service in our areas,” Logan said. “We’re not going to grow for growth’s sake. We have customers asking us all the time if we can start up operations in different locations, and we’ll look at all those opportunities.”
For now, Immaculate Flight will continue making a clean sweep of airplanes and airports across the country.
“Everybody here is on the same page and moving forward,” Logan said. “Obviously we’re in business to make a profit but everyone involved in Immaculate Flight loves aviation—we’ve all been bitten by that bug.”
For more information on Immaculate Flight, visit [http://www.immaculateflight.com].