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How Art Basel and Uber-style apps are helping fuel Miami's private jet industry

Rob Wile, Miami Herald on

Published in Business News

MIAMI -- Art Basel's Miami Beach fair brings booming business for many high-end service providers. Think $500-per-night hotels, celebrity-chef restaurants, caterers, chauffeurs.

Add private jet travel to the list. Spurred by Art Basel and the dozens of other art fairs opening this week, this once-sleepy South Florida industry is taking off.

And it's not just the art crowd taking to their own personal skies. As well-heeled businesspeople flee tax-heavy states -- and cold weather -- in favor of South Florida, more private flights are taking off and landing in South Florida.

Two decades ago, flying private meant chartering by the flight -- or owning a plane outright. Today, travelers with means can join jet-sharing programs that allow them easy access to private flights. The services don't come cheap. But custom flight schedules, minimized security hassles and app-enabled booking add to the appeal of a bevy of private jet membership or ownership service companies. These include NetJets, Wheels Up, XOJET, Sentient Jet, JetSmarter and BLADE. Together with the on-the-ground terminals that facilitate private flights, called fixed-base operators, it all adds up to more than 8,000 jobs and a local industry valued at about $800 million.

"There are a couple of things at play with South Florida," said Brian Proctor, president and CEO of Mente Group, a Texas-based private jet consulting firm. "First, of course, is the weather. But it's also a fairly healthy state economically, and the income tax law continues to be a draw for people from more highly taxed areas," he said. "We've had several clients that have moved there from Chicago, New York and Connecticut. And that's where they've moved their airplanes to."

The surge has helped vault Miami Opa-locka Executive Airport into the top-20 busiest private-aviation strips in the U.S., according to FAA rankings. Just a decade ago, it was 63rd.

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Overall, according to private jet search engine PrivateFly, South Florida airports are seeing 35 percent growth in private travel versus last year, excluding hurricane-related disruptions.

Andrew Collins, president of Sentient Jet, one of the world's largest jet card providers, ranks Art Basel alongside the Super Bowl and the Kentucky Derby in event-driven traffic. As a result, Sentient's South Florida membership has climbed to 240 cardholders, up from about 160 in 2015.

Doug Gollan, founder and editor of PrivateJetCardComparisons.com, a site comparing more than 250 private jet membership programs, moved to South Florida six months ago to take advantage of the region's new wave of private-aviation users.

"South Florida has always been a hub for private aviation," he said. "It's not only a wealth center, but also a location for second homes."

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