Daniel Randolph knows what it’s like to be a busy executive on the go.
As a serial entrepreneur he’s spent more hours than he cares to count on charter flights, zipping from one city to another to carry out his business.
From his decades of experience, this much became clear: There had to be a better way to provide on-demand flights to time-starved execs like himself.
“They just weren’t getting it,” he said. “There were just so many ways to do it better.”
So Randolph decided to start his own charter service, EliteJets.com, headquartered at Naples Municipal Airport. His vision? To provide new planes with an elevated level of service.
“I always had a strong passion for jet aircraft, and I happened to move down here three years ago — and it was within a number of months that I ordered jet one, which we took delivery of in December 2015,” Randolph said.
His fleet has since grown to five new Embraer aircraft: one Legacy 500 and four Phenom 300s.
“Your typical on-demand charter company flies aircraft that are generally 28 to 30 years old. That’s a fact,” said Randolph, adding that was one of his chief complaints as a CEO riding in them.
His charter service is scheduled to take flight by Monday, May 1.
Before founding his charter company, Randolph said his assistant spent 10 years trying to find him an operator with planes that weren’t “in the Smithsonian” to bid on his business trip requests.
“I said, ‘Just find something manufactured past the year 2000,’ ” Randolph said. “We got next to no bids. They just weren’t out there.”
Randolph has started and sold three companies, so he said he’s in a comfortable place with his latest venture, which he’s funded by himself.
Bed Bath & Beyond bought his last company, PersonalizationMall.com, in November, paying about $200 million in cash. The online company, in business for nearly 20 years, has been a highly successful innovator in personalized products, from mugs and doormats to frames and blankets.
“I’ve always been kind of a computer guy and a mechanically inclined guy, and that particular business played right into my skill set,” he said. “We were just very fortunate.”
Randolph has invested about $60 million in his fleet. One Phenom 300 costs about $9 million.
Elite Jets added its last two aircraft a few weeks ago, taking delivery of two Phenom 300s on March 31 from Embraer’s manufacturing plant in Melbourne, Florida. It marked an important milestone for Embraer, as Elite Jets’ fourth plane was the 400th delivery of the Phenom 300, a larger, lightweight aircraft that first flew in 2008.
The milestone was even sweeter for Embraer because it happened with a sale to a company “that is a neighbor to us in Florida,” said Alyssa Ten Eyck, director of corporate communications for Embraer North America.
For the past four years, the Phenom 300 has been the most-delivered business jet in the world.
“For a business jet, very few make it to 400 aircraft of a given model, and Embraer is on their way to 500, 600, 700 or more,” Randolph said.
Along with new planes, Elite Jets will offer its customers a service “you can safely say they’ve never seen,” Randolph said.
Service will include cocktails with personalized napkins and a thank you gift on every flight, as well as the availability of top-shelf liquors and gourmet snacks.
“Does it cost much? Of course not. It’s just paying attention to detail,” Randolph said.
Companies that offer fractional jet ownership, such as NetJets and FlexJet, have newer planes, including the Phenom 300. However, Randolph said those sharing programs can cost flyers four to five times as much as using his charter service as needed.
“I was a member and got fed up with all of them,” he said.
Randolph isn’t a pilot. He’s hired six pilots and tapped Steve Zerilli as the company’s president. Zerilli, who owns a part-time home in Naples, has more than 30 years of experience in the charter aviation industry.
“He’s been an entrepreneur. I’ve been an entrepreneur, and our beliefs, ethics, morals and ways of doing business are pretty much identical. We shoot straight,” Randolph said.
Randolph Aviation LLC, the parent company of EliteJets.com, has purchased three 12,000-square-foot hangars at the Naples airport, which include two floors of offices next to each one. The space — in the heart of the Naples airport — was previously owned by London Aviation.
Besides taking over London Aviation’s hangars, Randolph Aviation has absorbed the company’s operations, including its employees, its helicopter-based aerial photography and scenic tour services, and its hangar leases to other tenants.
Elite Jets expects to station two of its aircraft at executive airports in New York and Chicago, to bring them closer to its targeted customers.
“We are expecting the majority of our clientele to be just basically shuttling up and down the East Coast,” Randolph said. “We expect that to be over 50 percent of our business.”
He expects much of the demand to come from part-time Naples residents for trips to and from Massachusetts, New York, Boston, Connecticut and New Jersey, especially in the busy winter season.
Randolph anticipates strong interest from busy high-level professionals, such as surgeons and lawyers who aren’t ready or don’t want to buy into a fractional ownership program, and for whom owning a plane “isn’t quite in the cards either.”
Located near the general aviation terminal, Elite Jets promises to get its passengers airborne in seven to nine minutes.
“The pilots are waiting. The engines are idling. They grab your bags and you get in. They know it’s all about saving your time,” Randolph said.
There are plans to add air taxi service on Phenom 300s to and from Naples three times a week with scheduled flight times. Stops could include Boston, Connecticut and Teterboro, serving New Jersey and New York.
“We will be bidding the whole country,” Randolph said. “Our Legacy 500 can go coast to coast, no problem.”
The Phenom 300 seats eight passengers, while the Legacy 500 fits up to 12.
Elite Jets will offer a loyalty program, including every sixth flight for free. On average, a flight will cost $4,000 to $5,500 an hour, Randolph said.
“We’ll bid each trip based on a whole host of factors,” he said. “The software we use grabs the availability of our aircraft every 15 minutes and puts it in a database for other operators and brokers around the country.”
Randolph said he’s confident with “how we plan to position ourselves in the charter marketplace.”
While the name Elite Jets might have a familiar ring, it has no connections to Elite Airways, the Maine-based commercial carrier that recently pulled out of Naples Municipal Airport, abandoning its scheduled service to Maine and New York, with connections in Florida.
The airline, which averaged about 15 passengers per flight from March through December, hoped business would increase during peak season, but the company pulled the plug on its service after it couldn’t fill more than a third of its seats in January and February.
The similarity of the names might not be so bad for business, Randolph said.
“It’s OK with me if they (customers) are a little confused and call us,” he said.