This week Pittsburgh-based carrier OneJet acquired Ultimate JetCharters and Ultimate Jet Shuttle to expand footprint and size up their fleet. What will the new airline look like?
Who Is OneJet?
OneJet is a small carrier with bases in Pittsburgh (largest presence) and Milwaukee (three destinations). Most of their flights are operated on small private jets seating 6-8 passengers, though flights from Pittsburgh to Albany, Buffalo, West Palm Beach and Kansas City are operated on Embraer 135/145 jets. Their route network is comprised of medium-sized markets that are difficult to fly to from Pittsburgh or Milwaukee because of the need for a connection but are also too far to reasonably drive. For example, Pittsburgh-Louisville is a six to seven-hour drive or a 55-minute flight. Milwaukee to Pittsburgh is a very long nine-hour drive (because of Lake Michigan) or require a flight to Chicago and a further 90-minute drive from the windy city if passengers choose not to connect.
Their scheduled flights on small private jets are of course not private (unless you are the only passenger) but do give some of the same feel. Free wifi in the air, TSA PreCheck, a free checked bag, snacks and a big leather seat are some of the soft product offers with every ticket. However, a direct flight at the cost of the competition who require a connection and saves hours is always welcome and that is how OneJet has carved out a niché in Pittsburgh. They now feature (14) destinations having dropped two (Omaha from Milwaukee, Nashville from Pittsburgh) and dropping Raleigh before it launched.
I am a big fan of their product because it gives me days of my week back and keeps me off the road to destinations near Pittsburgh. Their prices are around the competition but the product is superior, when I have a chance to fly them, I do.
Who Is Ultimate JetCharters/Ultimate Air Shuttle?
With the announcement on May 1st, I began looking into Ultimate Air Shuttle and Ultimate Air Charter. They have a similar operation to OneJet with some notable differences. Based in Cincinnati they serve larger markets that sometimes do have direct flights on major carriers, such as Charlotte, New York City, Atlanta and Chicago often via alternative airports. New York flights land in Morristown, NJ (Teterboro is seasonal), Cleveland flights at Burke Lakefront (far more convenient than Hopkins), Chicago goes into Midway.
The carrier does not fly on weekends, focusing instead on their core business market and allowing for charter work which they do through Ultimate JetCharts, though they do charter during weekdays as well on a bespoke basis.
Ultimate utilizes larger aircraft across the system than OneJet, though they share fleet commonality in the Embraer 135 (one example of the type). A Dornier 328 provides most of the service with nine in the fleet.
What Does This Mean for Customers of Both?
Looking at the route network, the two share just a single common destination, Ultimate Air Shuttle’s home in Cincinnati. In the merger statement, OneJet made clear that they would add new destinations in the near future as a result of the acquisition which will likely coincide with better fleet type management, smaller planes for lower yield markets, larger planes for higher yield markets and new destinations.
At first glance, the merger would suggest that the combined carrier (whose name may or may not remain OneJet) will have three hubs, the largest in Pittsburgh, then Cincinnati followed by two-city service in Milwaukee. While it’s pure speculation (this is a blog and not the New York Times) I would guess that they gravitate to the model that OneJet has developed, flying into major airports with big fuel pool purchase programs rather than small secondary airports in major markets.
In my interview with Matthew Maguire, I had directly asked why he doesn’t fly out of smaller markets like Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Airport closer to the city where passengers could also bypass TSA. He was very clear that both safety and fuel came into that decision. They want their aircraft to be just as safe as any other commercial service – that’s totally fair. Secondly, fuel costs at smaller airports make regular commercial service on smaller aircraft unviable. How Ultimate found enough success to run in the secondary airports with larger aircraft remains unknown to me, but the OneJet business model makes a lot of sense especially using larger aircraft.
We loved our trip to West Palm Beach on the larger EMB-145 with OneJet and I am happy to see the company grow and flourish especially as they add more capacity and new destinations. I hope that others begin to see the benefits, not just in Pittsburgh but farther afield. I hope the carrier tries new spots and pulls them back if they don’t work as they have been good at doing. It’s better to give cities like Omaha, Nashville and Martha’s Vineyard a try and feel comfortable in pulling back from that service if it doesn’t work, rather than make the American Airlines mistake on a loss-leader for years.
I would welcome more international service from Pittsburgh (and secondary city markets) to international destinations like Barbados (not served from PIT) or the leisure market for weekend utilization of those larger assets such as San Juan Puerto Rico, Key West, the Bahamas, Punta Cana, and Havana. With a six-seater jet, most of those options are out of range, but from Pittsburgh San Juan, Key West and Havana all require a connection, added time and costs. For the Bahamas and Punta Cana, local charter service offers some frequencies, but costs are high and service low.
Lastly, in the business market, Pittsburgh (like many cities) is held captive on direct flights by flag carriers with lots of frequencies and big presence. Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, Charlotte and New York can run $400-750 roundtrip. New York City is about 6.5 hours from Pittsburgh, Philly, slightly less. While I understand that the larger capacity aircraft may catch the attention of American Airlines, smaller aircraft will not. It should never be cheaper to fly from Pittsburgh to Barcelona than it is to Philadelphia, but it is with a fair amount of consistency. I think OneJet could offer business travelers a real advantage by serving those markets that even at the same price, the competition can’t match on service.
Read More: Interview: CEO, Matthew Maguire of OneJet
Read More: Review: OneJet Pittsburgh-Louisville
Read More: Review: OneJet Milwaukee-Omaha
Read More: Review: OneJet Pittsburgh-West Palm Beach (with the family and their new aircraft)
What do you think about the merger? What cities would you add? Will Ultimate Air Shuttle switch to major airports instead of secondary ones?