chartering the sky
Story by Audrey Poff, Photo by Amy Long
Thanks to recent approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, two Jonesboro men are now offering a charter air service that they believe will help area residents and businesses save two valuable resources – time and money.
George Stem, chief executive officer of Viking Aviation, said he and Marvin Baird, chief operating officer and chief pilot for the charter service, originally applied to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the service in June 2008.
Stem, a native of Jonesboro and member of the Jonesboro Regional Airport Commission, has flown since 1979. Baird, a native of Williford, obtained a degree in aviation from Henderson State University and has served as a pilot and flight instructor since 1999. His experience includes multi-engine flight operation, and he has also obtained commercial rating and seaplane rating.
Stem had never met Baird, who moved to Jonesboro from Hot Springs, before he walked into his office in 2008 and told him he was thinking about starting a charter flight service in Jonesboro – something Stem was also considering.
“He said, ‘I’m going to get in the charter air service. I’ll join you or I’ll beat you at it,’” said Stem. “I sort of liked his spunk.”
For the next two and a half years, however, Stem and Baird found themselves in a holding pattern. After many meetings, discussions and assistance from U.S. Congressman Rick Crawford and U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, the FAA approved charter air service for Viking Aviation last December. The service specializes in personalized flights to 48 states, whether for business, pleasure or cargo.
Analysts predict that during the next five years, individuals and businesses alike will increase their use of charter flights as confidence in the economy rises again. Revenue in the charter flights industry, which provides nonscheduled air transport services for passengers and cargo, is expected to grow nearly 5 percent in 2012 as per capita disposable income and corporate profit recover.
Viking’s charter aircraft is a King Air 200 that features top-of-the-line accommodations such as leather seating for up to eight passengers, a heat and air-controlled cabin, fold-down tables for dining or games, ample storage room for luggage, an on-board lavatory and multiple TV/DVD systems.
Using a charter service such as Viking Aviation can be beneficial to the individual passenger or business in many ways.
“Everything is based on what the customer wants,” said Stem. “It’s like having your own limo. If they want certain food to eat on the plane or certain movies to watch, (Baird) can have all that on board for them. If you want us to send someone by to get your bags, they can swing by and have them on the plane for you when you get there.”
Passengers also like the fact that Viking Aviation includes everything in one price, Baird said. Whether the customer needs lodging, a meal in transit or a rental car, everything is included, so the customer only gets one bill.
In addition, the flight schedule is based on customers’ needs.
“We can fly in a moment’s notice,” said Stem.
“We’ll leave when you tell us to leave,” added Baird.
Another benefit of a charter service is that it can often get passengers closer to their destination.
“Commercial airlines are held to about six or seven hundred airports,” said Baird, who noted that Viking Aviation can fly into approximately 5,200 airports.
Stem said that security is also less hectic for passengers on a charter flight because the pilot is responsible for security. Passengers don’t have to deal with the Transportation Security Administration, another time saving feature of the service.
“It’s the cheapest way to own your own airplane,” said Baird.
Whether it’s for flying golfers to Destin to play golf for a day or flying a group of avid sports fans to watch their favorite team play football, using a charter service means that passengers don’t have to stay overnight or miss three or four days of work for travel.
“It’s a time saver, and time is money for most people,” said Stem.
Time is also money for businesses, and Viking is available for cargo flights when standard shipping isn’t an option. For example, Baird said a business in Poplar Bluff, Mo., recently needed to get a part to Grand Island, Neb., in six hours.
“I could have had it there in three,” he said.
“That’s been one of the most amazing things to me – that someone will pay $7,000 to get a 10-pound part somewhere,” said Stem. “But, then when you think about the fact that without that part, it may mean that the entire manufacturing process has to be shut down, you realize that despite the cost, it could still save the business money if they hire us to fly the part in.”
Stem said that Viking Aviation is currently the only charter flight service located between Memphis and Little Rock. Flights do not have to originate in Jonesboro.
As for the future, Baird and Stem say they hope to expand by offering charter service to destinations such as Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas and other popular tourist sites. They also plan to seek medical certification to be able to transport patients. Stem and his son, Sean, and son-in-law, Ryan Kibler, also own and operate Medic One Ambulance Service in Jonesboro, so being able to offer medical transports would be a good fit for both companies, said Stem.
For passengers who are unfamiliar with the rules and regulations for a charter service, Baird said Viking adheres to very strict FAA safety regulations. Safety is the business’ top priority in providing customized flights, he said.
Viking also has a substantial amount of liability coverage, Stem said. The FAA requires Part 135 charter operations to carry commercial aviation insurance, something that all reputable FAA-approved air charter services should be able to document.
To receive a price quote on any charter flight or to get more information about the service, visit vikingaviation.org or call 932-5836.