A man washing a late-model Mercedes Benz isn't all that strange, unless it's inside the soaring 15,000-foot space of an airport hangar at New Castle's Wilmington Airport. But at flyADVANCED, the aircraft management and charter services company owned by Regis de Ramel, the unexpected is "¦ what he expects.
"If you haven't surprised the customer, then you really haven't done your job," he said. "We're paid to look after the little details."
De Ramel is a longtime airplane enthusiast who is branding flyADVANCED as the only integrated aircraft management operation in the state. The Newport, R.I., native purchased the former Aero Ways Inc. business in 2014, and has added a range of services as part of his fixed-base operation that includes charter, aircraft management, maintenance and flight training services.
De Ramel calls his operation a "boutique" player in the world of private aviation services, offering competitive prices and fees. But he said he's certain that as corporate industry and others lean heavily on point to point travel, Delaware would do well to consider the benefits of accommodating growing corporate enthusiasm for flying.
"Companies and CEOs that own jets are the ones every business wants or should want in Delaware," said de Ramel. "Where those CEOs and decision makers base their jets is where they will settle. And where they settle is where they will bring their companies."
According to Delaware River and Bay Authority officials, more than 4,000 flights originate at the Wilmington Airport (ILG) each year, with 203 aircraft, including military planes, based at the airport's 1,250-acre site.
Frontier Airlines, the area's most recent bid at Delaware-based passenger airline service, vacated the airport in June, after gradually reducing services since 2014.
"We got an e-mail late June," said Jim Salmon, public information officer at DRBA. "They're done completely and we're disappointed about it. The flights were substantially full. But it's obvious that Frontier thought they could improve their margins at other facilities."
While private point-to-point travel may be limited to the top two percent of the population, officials from the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) said 85 percent of companies that rely on business aviation are small and mid-size companies, but that top management is only aboard the airplane about 15 percent of the time.
"It's a great time to be in aviation," said de Ramel, who lived in Monaco until he was ten years old, and earned his pilot license before he hit his 20s.
He invested $5 million in the ILG location and owns two other mid-Atlantic locations, in Lancaster and Blue Bell, Pa. "And this is a return to where aviation started."
The trio of aircraft management services owned by deRamel comprises the largest Cirrus Authorized Service Center in the United States.
Customers of flyADVANCED include individuals, share owners or companies that own aircraft and enlist de Ramel's company to manage the details that tend to be too consuming to take on: operations, compliance and maintenance.
For most, the time-saving benefits of air travel simply trump the costs and inconvenience of flying. According to the NBAA, business aviation may not make good economic sense for every trip, but for companies that need to jump shorter distances or who need to move products and equipment that can't be taken on an airline, it's a good option.
[caption id="attachment_14594" align="aligncenter" width="680"] The compact Cirrus SR22 can be chartered for $550 an hour.[/caption]
De Ramel said fixed-base operators like his can help companies add significant dollars to their productivity and bottom line. ILG is home to four fixed base operations, although de Ramel's is the only to offer the wide range of services that includes flight training.
"We enable a business to use their time better or to help them do business better," said de Ramel. "It's that kind of value. What we really do is create a geometric change in their resources.
"Time is an issue in all parts of their lives and they realize that they can actually save money and optimize their own schedules through the advantages of having a plane on call and having that plane managed by an outside company," said de Ramel.
"They also have experienced buying services "˜a la carte' and have come to the conclusion that doing it that way is inefficient.
Charter and privately owned planes can fly to 6,000 airports across the country.
De Ramel's roots in aviation date back to pre-World War I, when his great-uncle and great-grandfather helped found the Lafayette Escadrille in 1916, a group of 38 pilots who flew for France and later the United States as part of the country's first U.S. Army Air Service. His twin brother, Gillaume is also a pilot.
"People like you to think it's elite, difficult, but the truth is, it's not," said de Ramel. He flies back and forth to Rhode Island frequently and happily shows his own DSC 0029 Cirrus, starting its engine to showcase the avionics, which display more like an interactive video game.
De Ramel worked in commercial real estate and as a regional salesman for Cirrus when he decided to launch flyADVANCED at two airports in Pennsylvania. Since he added the Delaware location, he's increased the charter business by focusing on the seasonality of his customers, who head to destinations like Nantucket in the summer and southern destinations in the winter.
Charter rates range from $450 per hour for a Cirrus to $5,800 for the jet.
As the flyADVANCED brand continues to generate customers, de Ramel said he's on the lookout for opportunities to add additional locations to the mid-Atlantic region. He said he's also appealed to the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which operates the Wilmington Airport, for additional expansion possibilities. Nineteen plants are managed or hangared at ILG.
flyADVANCED Wilmington, which has 88 employees, turned a profit not long after de Ramel's purchase thanks to an operational management revamp that focused on specific market segments, the addition of aircraft to their management fleet as well as other business lines. But he said he sees more opportunities as corporations seek the tax and flight advantages of Delaware.
"The communities where they bring their companies benefits all of the businesses and people there," said de Ramel. "It's a simple but effective equation for growing prosperity."