The private jet is an ultimate status symbol – and transportation convenience – for wealthy families, major corporations and big business at airfields like DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. But where do those planes come from?
Johnny Foster is president and CEO of OGARAJETS, an international broker of private jet and turboprop planes based in Sandy Springs. The company buys, sells and finds planes for clients. (For more information, see ogarajets.com.)
Johnny’s father, former Navy pilot John Foster III, co-founded the company in 1980 in Marietta with close friend Ed O’Gara as O’Gara Aviation Company. Johnny Foster was named president in 2005, and in 2013, the company rebranded as OGARAJETS, with the tag line, “Fostering confidence in business aircraft transactions” as a way to keep both family names in the company.
The Reporter asked Foster about piloting the jet-trading business.
Q: Who is the customer base for private planes? Mostly corporations? Individuals? Can you name any prominent customers?
Our client base spans more than 60 countries and is blend of corporate and private enterprises as well as high-net-worth individuals. Of course we cannot name our clients, but the one thing they all have in common is a desire to make more use of their time. Private aviation gives them back that one commodity we all desire, more time — more time to spend with our families, more time to lead our communities, more time to grow our businesses, and of course more time to just relax in amazing places. Private aviation remains the closest tool we have to a time machine.
Q: What are customers looking for in a private plane that they can’t get by flying commercial or charter?
Again, time. Private aviation is a powerful tool allowing our clients to travel one their own schedules and often direct to domestic cities or far away parts of the world that would otherwise we hard to access by the airlines and sometimes only by a combination of “planes, trains, and automobiles.” Private aviation also addresses security and privacy, critical to many corporations and UHNWI [ultra-high-net-worth individuals] alike. Imagine the value of departing Atlanta and flying direct to a meeting at facilities in, say Houma, Louisiana, and then to meet a client for lunch in Mena, Arkansas, and then an afternoon meeting at a facility in Knoxville, and still be home for their daughter’s dance recital and dinner with the family — priceless. This is what private aviation looks like every day, all over the world — something commercial travel simply cannot accommodate, except maybe over two to three days.
Q: If we wanted to buy a new or used jet, what sort of budget should we have in mind? What is the financing like?
That’s a hard question to answer, akin to asking what sort of budget should one have when buying a house. There are so many variables at play; however, in a broad scope, “business jets” can range from $500,000 to $75,000,000. Relative to other pieces of capital equipment, aviation residual values are fairly predictable and buyers are typically very strong credits, all affording strong finance opportunities.
Q: Do buyers typically fly the plane themselves or do they have to find pilots? How does finding a pilot work?
It depends. While we do serve some owner-pilots, most operations engage two or more pilots. Corporations and large private enterprises often run flight departments with a team of pilots, dispatchers, maintenance and management. Other clients opt for a management company to outsource the day-to-day operations of their aircraft.
Q: How significant is DeKalb-Peachtree Airport to your business? Is any of your inventory kept there?
PDK is generally considered the heartbeat of Atlanta with respect to general aviation and local as well as transient business aviation. That said, Atlanta businesses are blessed to be served by five significant airports in addition to Hartsfield.
Over the last 40 years, OGARAJETS has developed a significant number of local client relationships, many have completed several transactions with our team as their needs developed over the years. We cherish our local clientele and their Southern values, where we often still do business on a handshake and appreciate agreeing to deal terms over a meal at Waffle House.
As an inventorying dealer, we do purchase aircraft on speculation. Most of these purchases require investments in refurbishment of the exterior paint and interior cabin, modernization of avionics and systems, and maintenance. We enjoy many trusted local partners in each of these fields. Most of our inventory is stored in private facilities located at Falcon Field in Peachtree City.
Q: Do you own a plane yourself? Do you get to fly in the planes as part of the business?
As an inventorying dealer, we do own aircraft for resale and often fly to prospective clients to personally demonstrate the features and benefits. Most of our team are pilots, but while we all hold a passion for flying, we typically engage professional crew members for these demonstration flights. I spend approximately 200 nights per year on the road and most of my movements are via commercial service, usually making Diamond status with Delta by the end of each summer.
Q: Tell us about how the business came to be in Sandy Springs.
We moved to our current location in Sandy Springs in 2012. We love the community and its convenient location in relation to the private airports throughout the Atlanta area.
I am an Atlanta-native and my wife Laura and I are lifelong parishioner of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church with all three of the Foster children “Alpha Omegas” of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.