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Hidden Gem

One Elkhart company has more aircraft than some regional airlines, and while you probably haven't heard their name, you've heard of their famous customers.

Posted on June 27, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — This look at the hidden gems of Elkhart County business may surprise area residents, since this large company has managed to, well, fly under the radar of most people around here.

While the name “Travel Management Company” may sound like a standard travel agency, it's anything but that. In fact, it's a local company that has carved out a niche in luxury travel by investing huge amounts of money in its business, buying nearly six dozen aircraft so far. “People have no real idea we're here, what we are and how big we are,” said Scott Wise, general manager.

COMPANY NAME

Travel Management Co.

FOUNDED/WHY THEY'RE HERE

Pete Liegl, founder of Forest River, was unhappy with the service he was getting from charter jet companies. When Scott Wise approached him about buying the corporate jet CTS decided to sell in 2006, Liegl didn't want a private jet, Wise said, but decided to build a charter service. From false starts trying to imitate the rest of the industry, they struck out on their own path and made changes to the business model that their competitors now follow.

Liegl owns the company, and Wise is general manager of the growing flight operator. He works along with Scott Henely, operations director, to manage the fleet and their roughly 300 employees, about 50 of them working at their Elkhart headquarters.

WHAT THEY DO

The company provides luxury jet service from point to point, with dozens of aircraft scattered all over the country at all times. “We're the largest pure charter company in the country,” Wise said. “We don't market. The brokers do it for us.” Their fleet is Wi-Fi equipped and all the cabins are consistent with each other, and has an average age of six or seven years.

WHAT YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU KNEW

The RV industry and Notre Dame both have an impact on Travel Management, too, with Notre Dame games and the Elkhart RV Open House bringing their planes to the company's home neighborhood.

WHERE THEY REACH

They reach all over the U.S, plus the Caribbean, Mexico and Canada.

COMPETITORS

One of the biggest names in the small- to mid-size jet charter industry, they have competition like XOJet, but they also work with some competitors to complement each other's services. About 10 percent of their business is direct to the customer, and the rest is wholesale, Wise said, providing flights booked by outside agencies like Netjets, Flexjet and Flight Options, “all these big companies, we're their added lift as they get busy.”

INTERESTING FACTS

Ÿ Their fleet size of 70 aircraft is larger than the fleets of Frontier, Spirit, Hawaiian and Allegiant airlines.

Ÿ “Typically we fly about 3,500 hours a month,” Wise said. At the average cruising speed of 500 mph, that's 1.75 million miles, or the equivalent of about 70 trips around the world.

Ÿ They use 6 million gallons of fuel a year. “You can imagine at $5 a gallon, fuel's important. We've got huge fuel deals. I've negotiated huge deals,” Wise said.

Ÿ They have a lot of famous clients. “On a daily basis we fly pro athletes, movie stars, anybody and everybody. It got to be where anymore I don't even pay attention to who we fly, we fly so many different well-known, famous people it's crazy,” said Wise.

Ÿ When the Super Bowl was in Indianapolis, Travel Management had 27 planes in Indy for the event. “Any time there's a major event, we've got airplanes going.”

Ÿ They're still hiring, planning to have 210 pilots by October. Retired airline pilots hired by Travel Management have to learn to work in a different environment. Adjustments include talking with passengers and getting them set before the flight.

Ÿ They have a full-time maintenance facility in New Jersey, just outside New York City.

Ÿ Their most popular route is from New York to Florida and back.

Ÿ Over the last three years they've added a lot of aircraft because the economy meant there were a lot of good deals out there. “I can't believe how big we are,” Wise said.

Ÿ The company gets its aircraft painted in Sturgis, Mich.. “Sturgis Aviation. They're the best in the business,” said Wise.

Ÿ “I was told you're never going to make money in aviation. When Pete hears something like that, he's going to go out and prove everybody wrong, and I'm telling you he has. We're making money,” Wise said.

Ÿ “I expect major growth in the future,” with more than 100 aircraft and the business adding larger classes of private jets, Wise said.

NEXT TIME

We'll introduce you to a local company who has a familiar brand of sound in a wide range of applications, from RVs to boats to farm fields and off-road vehicles.

Do you know of a hidden gem in Elkhart County? Contact jleighty@etruth.com




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