David Rimmer

President, JFI Jets Farmingdale, New York; Long Beach, California; and West Palm Beach, Florida

New York native Rimmer developed two passions by his mid-teen years: broadcasting and aviation. While still in high school, he pursued the former and, after college, rose through the executive ranks in the commercial radio business until ultimately owning his own station in Jacksonville, Florida. Then in his early 40s, he decided to satisfy his second yearning, joining this magazine as a news and feature writer and immersing himself in the world of aviation. Following a successful stint as a wordsmith, he combined his professional experiences to enter the aircraft management and charter industry, rising to the presidency of ExcelAire, a Long Island operator later acquired by Hawthorne Global Aviation. Notably, and sadly, in 2006, he was a passenger on a delivery flight of an ExcelAire Legacy that collided with a Gol 737 over the Amazon, a tragedy drawing international attention. This past January assumed his current position at JFI Jets. He is a private pilot.

JFI has grabbed attention for flights into Cuba. An important market?

Rimmer: There are few occasions in this business to pioneer a new market. I see Cuba as a huge opportunity and offering flights there was among my first initiatives in this position. I believe there’s pent-up demand and interest among Americans about Cuba, and thanks to the Pope’s well-publicized visit there, the curiosity level is even greater now. Damon Danneker, our director of operations, obtained all the necessary approvals from the various federal departments — Transportation, Treasury and State — and figured out how to get trips authorized. As of October, we had flown three trips, had three more booked and others in the pipeline. Currently, licenses to travel there are restricted to certain mission categories such as media, cultural exchanges and such, but that will change in time.

How else can you differentiate from the big operators?

Rimmer: We just agreed to acquire ACP Jets, a well-respected Palm Beach operation, which increases our fleet to 17 jets, ranging from Hawker 800XPs to a G450. That raises us to the second-tier level of operators but still well below the 100-plus fleets of EJM and Landmark, soon to be Signature. While some customers think bigger is better, and there are some advantages that come with large size, a boutique operation like ours can offer a higher level of passenger attention than can a goliath. And while the big operators can realize economies of scale, they’re not shy about charging a lot for their service. On the FBO side, if the big chains start showing favoritism, we get to vote with our feet, or wings, and go elsewhere. Competition keeps everyone honest.

Charter brokers: a bane or a blessing?

Rimmer: We do a lot of work with brokers. They’re essentially sales organizations and I think they do a better job of generating business than most operators can do on their own. Some brokers are perceived as commoditizing our business, making all aircraft and operations seemingly equal, but knowledgeable customers understand the difference. After all, you wouldn’t select a surgeon just based on price. Operators who don’t want to work with brokers would be well advised to rethink that strategy if they hope to continue in business.

Looking back nearly a decade, what lessons did the tragedy in Brazil provide?

Rimmer: I support the NTSB’s conclusions that the primary cause of the accident was an air traffic control failure and that ATC could have prevented it. That said, when planning an international trip, especially to a place with known ATC issues, I strongly suggest having a native speaker aboard. Yes, English is the language of aviation, but a native speaker can help alleviate any inadequacies a controller may have in communicating.

As for communicating, is it harder to sell a charter package or write a feature for BCA?

Rimmer: Without question, writing a feature. Just ask Jessica [Salerno, BCA’s executive editor] about how I did meeting deadlines.