Small Business Spotlight: Shoreline Aviation Brings Convenience Of Seaplanes To High-End Customers

May 22, 2018 - 7:17 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- Shoreline Aviation Inc. provides a quick and easy way to get people from New York City to the Hamptons and other nearby getaway spots in the summertime, and then moves south to the Caribbean in the winter.

Capt. John Kelly explained that many of his clients use his New Haven, Connecticut-based service as a travel time-saver, ferrying them from Manhattan to the Hamptons in just 37 minutes. Charter flights are also available to other resort destinations such as Martha’s Vineyard, the Adirondacks, and Chesapeake Bay.

Kelly told WCBS 880’s Joe Connolly that the business is enchanting, and great fun.

“I mean, I’m still doing it because I enjoy it, you know, I could have – if I had been flying corporate jets or airlines or something like that, I’d have been out of it and tending my garden a long time ago. But this still remains a lot of fun – you know, in February, I was down in the Bahamas for about 10 days, flying along the Exuma chain and in and out of some of the islands down there – absolutely gorgeous water; gorgeous sun; nice people,” he said. “In New York, everybody’s in a hurry. In the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands, where we operate in the wintertime, everybody’s on vacation, so it’s an entirely different feel.”

In New York, Shoreline Aviation deals with “very high-end individuals” from all walks of the business world, Kelly said.

“They’re people whose time is very valuable to them… and essentially, that’s what we’re selling. You know, it’s a glamorous business. It’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of sizzle associated with it from the adventure point of view,” Kelly said. “But frankly, my New Yorkers don’t care about the sizzle. They care about the steak – ‘Can you get me to the Hamptons in 37 minutes?’ And the answer is yes, we can – 37, 38, 42, whatever the number’s going to be today – and that’s what they’re paying for.”

Shoreline Aviation has already sold 1,200 seats for the summer from 23rd Street at the East River to East Hampton and back again for a weekend, Kelly said.

A commuter book of tickets is about $595 each way. But if someone charters a plane personally, it’s about $3,700 for the trip, Kelly said.

But Shoreline Aviation markets to people who will find the convenience worth it for the price.

“Obviously, people call up who have no sense of what it costs, and, you know, we’ll give them the price, and they’ll go, ‘I don’t want to buy the airplane, I just want to fly in it for an hour,’ you know. But the bottom line is for our customer base, the alternatives really are helicopters, or using their personal jet, which is out of Teterboro, to go 80 miles in an airplane that was designed to go 3,000 isn’t very efficient,” he said. “You know, so the cost of the seaplane and the convenience of the seaplane, you do the cost-benefit analysis, and it comes out very favorable for the people that are in that income bracket.”

Shoreline Aviation has been in business for 38 years. It started at the airport in Madison, Connecticut, and moved to the New Haven Airport in 1987. The company also now helps customers purchase airplanes, which Shoreline Aviation manages for them.

“Some of our customers came to us and said: ‘Hey, we’d like to buy an airplane, but we have no idea how to do this. How do we do it?’ And we’d say, ‘Well, we can do that for you.’ And a big part of our business now is managing airplanes for individuals,” Kelly said. “You want to have a seaplane to get you from 23rd Street to Martha’s Vineyard every weekend in the summertime, but you don’t run seaplanes – you run, you know, a venture capital firm or you run, you know, you run a real estate business or whatever it is. And so we provide that service. We find the airplane. We arrange the purchase. We crew it; we maintain it; we house it.”

The customers who buy the planes then earn money from other customers when Shoreline Aviation charters the aircraft, Kelly explained.

“So right now, we operate 10 of these big caravan amphibians – nine-passenger, turbine-powered, air-conditioned caravan amphibians; great airplanes – and we own some of them ourselves, but the majority of them – 60 percent of them – are owned by other clients who have brought them to us to fly for them, and we provide the pilots and all the services; wrap the whole thing up,” Kelly said. “They make a phone call, the airplane shows up, takes them where they’re going, and they’re done.”

At one time, Shoreline aviation had a fleet of planes that flew around the world. But Kelly said he downsized the business because the company was spread thin, the business was changing, and it just wasn’t fun anymore.

“So we just decided to pick one thing and do it, and that was the seaplanes. It was a niche market. Nobody else was doing it. We knew how to do it. So we decided that this was where we’re going to concentrate our energies, and from about 2001 on, that’s all we’ve operated – same type of airplane,” Kelly said. “We’ve done consulting work in South America and in Africa and in Europe and all over the globe, but our primary business is New York City, and then the Bahamas and the Caribbean in the wintertime, and just specializing in that.”

Kelly said Shoreline Aviation now has about 30 employees, and he is focused on a sustainable business model that his company does best, rather than on growth.

And yet, the company has still grown.

“We weren’t looking for growth. We’d like to stay right where we were size-wise. And yet last year, within the last 14 months, we had three clients come to us with new airplanes, and say, ‘We want to do this, and you are the guys we want to do it with, and we’re like, ‘Oh, do we really want to take that on?’ But how do you say no in a situation like that?” Kelly said. “So we’ve grown 30 percent in the last 12 months without intending to – managing other people’s airplanes and moving into our charter operations, you know?”

Kelly started out as a classical horn player in New York City, and took up flying because he performed frequently in outlying areas.

“Surprisingly enough, a lot of the musicians in New York City are also pilots. The disciplines are very similar. Learning to fly an airplane is very similar to learning to play an instrument,” he said.

Kelly said both music and aviation require a skillset that requires theory, but also a lot of constant practice – and finally, going out and performing.

“And just as you go out and you perform on a stage or whatever it is – whether it’s Carnegie Hall or it’s the East River – that performance has to be perfect on that given day, and that’s what you aim at,” he said. “And it’s literally the same thing from one to the other.”