The coronavirus has hit the international business community like a hurricane. Sky Quest, a Cleveland charter aircraft service that has flown clients all over the world, has plotted a course through the storm.
Corey Head, president and co-founder of Sky Quest, projected in early April that his business would drop by more than 50 percent, and perhaps up to 75 percent, during the pandemic. But he’s keeping his doors open to save his company, as well as assist the community.
Gov. Mike DeWine, in his March 22 address where he announced the stay-at-home order, listed airlines as essential businesses for limited purposes, such as performing critical government functions, helping other essential businesses and transporting people who need to care for vulnerable family members.
Sky Quest has been flying business executives to their factories so they can increase or begin production of disinfectants and face masks that guard against the coronavirus. It’s also providing transportation for immediate families — those who are already sheltering at home together.
“It’s times like these that good companies can survive and thrive,” says Head, who knows all about thriving. When he started Sky Quest about 20 years ago, he had one plane in his fleet. In his first year, sales totaled $52,000. Today, the company flies 18 jets, employs more than 70 workers and normally serves about 200 clients. Sales last year reached $40 million.
Sky Quest, with offices on Riverside Drive in Cleveland, manages and operates jets for companies and individuals who, when not using their planes, allow others to charter them for a reasonable price. Sky Quest also helps businesses buy their own aircraft and goes the extra mile for customers by washing and cleaning their cars while they’re away.
So, not surprisingly, the company has been noticed. For the past three years, it has made Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead 100 list of fastest-growing companies, as well as The Plain Dealer’s list of Top Workplaces.
“We have a good culture here,” says Seth Spitale, vice president in charge of scheduling, sales and culture. “People can sense that employees enjoy coming to work.”
Sky Quest just added to its fleet a new jet that will be ready to fly this summer. The 10-passenger Challenger 350 is the largest jet the company has ever managed, with bigger seats, a couch and enough cabin room for clients to walk around.
“Other companies have done what we’ve done, but most do it on a nationwide level,” Head explains. “We focus on Cleveland, and we want to keep it that way. We want to focus on what we do well.”
Falling for Flying
Head, a 44-year-old Avon Lake resident, grew up in Jamestown, New York. By the time he was in high school, he knew he wanted to fly. He was inspired by a family friend who was a commercial pilot. After high school, Head studied aerospace flight technology at Kent State University (KSU). It was at KSU that Head first flew an airplane. He says he realized that no corner office in any high-rise could duplicate the views.
“Whether you’re flying over a city at night or over the clouds at 40,000 feet, the view is always different and impressive,” Head says. “It was freedom, the ability to go anywhere directly and get paid to see the world, that was really cool.”
Head graduated from KSU in 1998, landed a job with the Buffalo freight company and worked long and grueling hours. Then, another family friend, who lived in Cleveland, asked Head if he’d like to fly his six-passenger turboprop plane as he explored business opportunities and evaluated properties. Head jumped at the offer.
“I went from working 70 hours a week to seven hours a week,” Head says. “But I still had the drive and ambition.”
Head suggested to his employer that if they rented out the turboprop when he wasn’t using it, they could both make money. His employer agreed. In 2001, they formed Sky Quest as a holding company for one plane. At that point, they weren’t even considering expanding their fleet, but even with one aircraft, their sales rose between 50 to 100 percent annually during the first five years.
In 2007, Head told his partner that if they wanted to keep growing, they needed to enter the jet market. Coincidentally, about a year later, one of their clients bought his own airplane and asked Sky Quest to manage it.
“That’s when the business really took off,” Head says.
Safety & Service
At Sky Quest, safety is everything and one of the company’s core tenets. Co-pilots are qualified as captains. Flight staffers are trained in full-motion simulators as opposed to smaller, less expensive ones.
The emphasis on safety has only intensified with the coronavirus. The company has always kept its airplanes clean, but lately began using a product called MicroShield 360, which forms a barrier or protective layer on hard surfaces where the coronavirus can last for several hours. Head says MicroShield costs thousands of dollars for each cleaning, but it’s worth it.
Sky Quest also has formed worker “pods,” each consisting of two pilots and two co-pilots who fly and work together, but have little — if any — contact with other company employees. If one pilot tests positive for the coronavirus, his or her entire pod is quarantined for 14 days. The company has established pods for maintenance crews as well.
In addition, Sky Quest has implemented a 10-point checklist to make sure, among other things, customers and their family members haven’t tested positive for the coronavirus. If they have, they don’t fly.
Head says he believes Sky Quest will survive the pandemic because the owners of the planes he flies and maintains share in the company’s expenses. As of early April, he hadn’t laid off or furloughed anyone. Head also applied for financial assistance through Congress’s $2 trillion coronavirus response bill. For example, the Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to help small businesses keep their workers on the payroll. The loans are forgivable for companies that avoid layoffs.
Meanwhile, Sky Quest has suspended some services, such as cleaning customers’ cars. Head doesn’t want his employees leaving or picking up any virus in the vehicles.
“Now is not the time for the ultimate customer experience,” Head says. “It’s time for safety.”