Interview: Taking Off With ClearJet’s Clay Curtis
By Ed Bertha
With a quiet intensity Clay Curtis types on his computer, emailing one of the safety rated private jet operators in the ClearJet.net network from across the country. Over the last three years he has researched, tested and built a new online flight booking tool for the private aviation industry from the ground up. As the son of NFL Pro Bowler, “Mad Dog” Mike Curtis, he explains his drive for success and ability to capitalize on great opportunities was heavily influenced by his father’s performance on the football field where he often pushed his body to its physical limits. “I bring the same passion I learned from my father to work with me every day,” says Clay. “After being introduced to the private aviation industry, I immediately saw an opportunity to connect the passenger with the operator and decided to push forward at full speed.” With his innovative concept and personal drive, Clay Curtis is positioned to lead the private aviation industry through its next stage of evolution.
Why did you get into the private aviation industry?
I was introduced to the industry years ago through various clients and friends, and was immediately struck by how difficult and time consuming it was for an individual to book a safe private aircraft charter on their own. The current business models like fractional sales and jet cards require large financial commitments upfront – locking you into a particular program. If you used a broker, you were subject to their individual network and their pricing structure. And trying to call individual jet operators is difficult and time consuming. All of these inefficiencies were in the back of my mind, and three years ago I finally said, “There has to be a better way,” and that was the birth of ClearJet.net. So, I got into the industry to move it forward to streamline the process of finding and booking private jet travel in a cost effective way, not only for the customers, but for the aircraft operators as well.
What is ClearJet.net?
At its core ClearJet.net is an online marketplace that allows you to anonymously submit your flight itinerary directly to ClearJet.net’s vast network of top safety rated jet operators across the country. The aircraft operators then send back their individual quotes for you to easily review and compare. Each jet quote shows you pricing, photos, descriptions, a list of amenities and estimated travel times. It’s that simple.
So, if you want to book a private jet from Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) to Teterboro, NJ (TEB), you would register for free at ClearJet.net, then submit your itinerary, which is sent to our vast network of operators, and then you review and compare the quotes as they come in. Once you find the option that best fits your needs, you accept the quote and you and the operator are instantly connected to work out the final details of the flight — from final payment and catering to ground transportation.
Not only are we looking to simplify how a client finds and books their private jet charter needs, we are also making it more cost effective to do so. Clients not only need a more efficient booking platform, they deserve direct access to those who are providing the charter service.
How do you see the industry evolving?
Similar to nearly every other industry that has been forced to adjust their business model as a result of the ever increasing advances in technology, I believe the private jet charter industry is on the edge of its very own technological revolution. Charter customers see how efficient the commercial travel industry has become and they’re wondering why the same hasn’t taken place to accommodate their needs in the private aviation world. This is where we have stepped in.
When you own a share of a jet, you become a fractional owner and are responsible for that jet. In contrast a jet card is a pre-payment of time (flying hours) to a particular company. Both usually have additional fees, from gas to landing fees, which are on top of your fractional or hourly rate. Booking through a broker means you book each flight individually, but you utilize a third party who can potentially mark the flight up as high as they wish before you see the price. Brokers take your request and call their network of operators to secure a quoted price, then they mark up the quoted price before it gets to you for review.
Our direct access network is innovative because it streamlines the process allowing for direct communication between you and the jet operator. This is the future of the private aviation industry, providing the information and power directly to the decision maker is what customers want and expect.
Does ClearJet.net make a percentage per flight?
We don’t make a percentage, that is the way the industry used to work with high markups. After members review and select the best option from all the quotes they received, ClearJet.net collects a flat $499 transactional fee. So, as a member there are no membership fees, you only pay after you see your charter options and book a great flight. Our flat fee is also very innovative, as you know exactly who is getting what, which is dramatically less than a percentage mark up. Plus you see several different jet options for review at one time. It gives you options, information and control of the process.
What is an empty leg and do you show members the operators’ empty legs?
An empty leg or “reposition” is when a jet operator has booked someone to fly from one location to the next, but they do not have a passenger for the flight back. This is called an “empty leg,” and we actually allow members to tell us if they want to receive notices when there is an empty leg flight leaving a specific location – allowing them to possibly grab a great deal on a private jet. You could say you want to receive an email when an operator posts an empty leg leaving Sarasota.
Who owns the jet I currently fly on?
It depends on how you booked your jet. If you are using a broker, you may be flying on a jet managed by a different company and you don’t even know who they are or if they are safety rated. With ClearJet.net you know exactly who is operating your jet because after accepting their quote you were able to speak to them directly.
What is next for ClearJet.net?
We have an extensive network of the top safety rated operators across the United States, and we are in the marketplace connecting with individuals and companies who are currently flying privately. Signing up our operators went so well, we are eight months ahead of schedule and are immediately moving forward with our consumer-based marketing to introduce this revolutionary new concept to the jet charter community.
Embraer Legacy 650 photo courtesy of Embraer