Kenn Ricci’s self-confessed love affair with Gulfstream dates to his first flight in a Gulfstream as a GII type-rated pilot. Yet it was his first experience at the controls of a GIII that cemented his commitment to the brand.
“It was all about the windows,” says Ricci, an aviation entrepreneur who heads Flexjet, a luxury fractional ownership provider and the exclusive fractional ownership operator of new Gulfstream aircraft. “The GII cockpit had six windows, including two small ones. With the GIII, they took out the little ones and put in a big one. That was great because all my friends could see I was flying a Gulfstream.”
Gulfstream has stood as a status symbol for decades, and not just in the pilot community. The company invented the purpose-built business aircraft to meet the needs of passengers, and Gulfstream’s reputation as the travelers’ private jet of choice results from a 57-year history of exceeding expectations.
Ricci calls Gulfstream the iconic brand in business aviation and points to the ramp at most fixed-base operators as proof. The best parking spots are reserved for Gulfstream aircraft, “and not just because they are pretty airplanes,” he says.
“Gulfstream has earned that over time,” Ricci says. “One of the easiest sales pitches in the world is to tell potential customers you have the new Gulfstreams.”
Flexjet can claim exactly that. The company recently took delivery of two Gulfstream G450s, the first of up to 50 Gulfstream aircraft Flexjet is adding to its fleet over the next several years. Flexjet will start operating Gulfstream G650s early next year and Gulfstream’s newest model, the groundbreaking G500, in 2018.
The Flexjet Fleet
The new aircraft promise to boost Flexjet’s reputation for operating the newest, most luxurious and most capable fleet in the fractional ownership community. The long-range G450 and G500 give fractional owners overseas reach while the ultralong-range G650 can move customers between far-flung world financial centers or distant destinations, such as New York City and Tokyo or Seattle and Dubai.
The Gulfstream aircraft feature customized interiors designed with input from Flexjet owners. Unique touches and aesthetic themes reflect style and sophistication, and state-of-the-art cabin technology enhances the flight experience.
“This ushers in a new era of fractional ownership opportunities of our G450, G500 and G650 aircraft,” says Scott Neal, senior vice president, Worldwide Sales and Marketing, Gulfstream. “We are pleased that Flexjet will be able to provide the Gulfstream travel experience for its customers who desire its unmatched performance, comfort and safety.”
The relationship with Gulfstream signals a makeover for Flexjet, a company founded and operated for 13 years by another aircraft manufacturer. Ricci’s Directional Aviation Capital acquired Flexjet in December 2013 and incorporated the fractional ownership operator into its portfolio of private air travel service providers. And then set about improving the customer experience by adding top-tier Gulfstream aircraft to the fleet.
Known collectively as OneSky, the group is reshaping private aviation in the United States and is focused on expanding its reach. OneSky’s divisions offer charters and jet cards as well as two levels of fractional ownership—one for light aircraft, operating under the name Flight Options, and the other, Flexjet, targeting those who prefer the premium large-cabin jet experience.
Differentiating Flexjet from Flight Options addresses what Ricci deems the bifurcation of the private air travel service market. Growth in the sector has been limited to value proposition buyers on one end of the spectrum and luxury clients on the other. Expanding the Flexjet fleet with Gulfstream aircraft signals the company’s commitment to providing those luxury customers with top-of-the-line jets.
“Most of our competitors are focused on the middle,” Ricci says. “The growth opportunities are at the ends. As an investor, that’s where you want to be to get ahead.”
Ricci has spent his entire career in front, and not just because as a pilot he sits in the aircraft’s front office. He purchased his first aviation company as a 25-year-old law school student and enjoyed his side job so much he never took the bar exam. He’s proven adept at recognizing value, quality and a superior product ever since, buying or founding companies specializing in maintenance, fuel and aircraft support, aircraft management, remanufacturing, engine parts and aircraft consulting and financing assistance.
Such a range of experience speaks to Ricci’s passion for aviation, one that dates to his childhood. His father worked for the late George Steinbrenner, best known as the cantankerous owner of the New York Yankees but a man who also organized air shows, including one in Ricci’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Ricci was first exposed to flying by working summers at the air shows, and he pursued aviation through the United States Air Force ROTC program at the University of Notre Dame.
His piloting skills led to his moonlighting as the owner and operator of Corporate Wings while in law school. He gradually built that business from a two-aircraft operation to one with a fleet that included several jets, including a trio of Gulfstream GIIs. One of those GIIs, with Ricci as lead pilot, ferried then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton around the United States during Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.
“I even flew him to his inauguration,” Ricci says.
Ricci also piloted a GII on two around-the-world trips—one eastbound and one westbound.
The best parking spots are reserved for Gulfstream aircraft, “and not just because they are pretty airplanes.”
Flexjet wants to grow its prime service area from the continental United States to around the world. The company is based outside of Dallas but positions aircraft strategically to best serve its customers. Ricci says research has identified Europe and South America as growth markets, with corporations and other business users desiring intercontinental reach as key prospects. Fractional owners increasingly use their aircraft to do business internationally and they value range and speed—both Gulfstream hallmarks—above all else.
Customers have expressed enthusiasm about flying Flexjet with Gulfstreams anchoring their fleets, says Flexjet CEO Michael Silvestro, and “as aviators, nothing fulfills us more.”
“The initial response has been, ‘Give us the Flexjet experience in a Gulfstream aircraft, and we’ll be with you for a long time,’” Ricci says. “Feedback doesn’t get any more positive than that.”
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