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March 14, 2003
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New "airline" takes off for execs

Several executives who helped launch the now-defunct Aspen Mountain Air have regrouped to start Aspen Executive Air, offering direct, upscale service into Aspen.

The new airline should begin operation this summer, with links between Aspen and the West Coast, according to founder Pat Imeson, who was president of Aspen Mountain Air.

Not a typical commercial airline, but not a charter jet service either, Aspen Executive Air will offer something in between: premium class, nonstop flights for passengers whose destination is a city served by the airline.

The intent is not to serve travelers trying to make connections with a major carrier, so service between Aspen and Denver, for example, is not in the plans, Imeson said.

To start, Aspen Executive Air plans to offer service between Los Angeles and San Francisco, using nearby airports in Burbank and Oakland, and between the two West Coast cities and Aspen. Starting next winter, a daily link between Aspen and Dallas is also envisioned.

Year-round daily service into Sardy Field's ABO, the terminal for private aircraft, could be bumped up to two or three flights on high-season weekends, when business travel is light, but resort travel picks up, Imeson said.

"We're really targeting the executive and upscale leisure passengers," he said. "We think, in the Aspen market, there's a growing number of business people who've moved their families here, and they're flying in and out to go to work.

"The market we're going after with this is not so much the tourist traveler," Imeson said. "It's the second-home owner, the business executive who's here."

Aspen Executive Air is acquiring three Embraer 135 jets to provide the service, with one slated as a backup. Normally a 37-seat aircraft, they will be downsized to 16 seats, arranged in single file so that each is on both the aisle and a window. Each seat will have a computer hookup and a television.

"What you really have is each seat is a first-class seat," Imeson said.

Passengers will be served by someone who functions more like a concierge than a flight attendant, assisting with ground transportation and hotel reservations, as well as in-flight needs.

"We want this experience to be commensurate with the service you get at The Little Nell or the Ritz-Carlton," Imeson explained. "We will know what kind of scotch you drink when you get on the plane."

Set fares won't change for a particular flight, whether it's booked a day or weeks in advance, though a frequent flyer-style program is planned. Imeson anticipates the cost of a flight to be comparable to a walk-up, full-priced coach fare on a major airline. A one-way ticket between Los Angeles and Aspen, for example, would cost something in the range of $600 to $750, he estimated.

The airline expects to fill a niche serving those who would like to avoid the hassles of commercial airline travel but who can't justify owning a jet or a share in a jet.

"I don't think anybody's going to throw away their jet," Imeson said.

Imeson is the managing director of Calim Private Equity LLC, the founding investor in Aspen Executive Air. He formed the private investment company in 1998 with John Calamos, president of Calamos Asset Management Inc. of Illinois.

Imeson helped start Aspen Mountain Air, which operated from 1995 to 1998, serving 21 cities in the United States and Mexico as a regional carrier working with American and Frontier airlines. Aspen Mountain Air filed for bankruptcy in 1998 and ultimately folded.

Imeson said he has been watching for other airline opportunities ever since. "There's something about this business that doesn't let you forget about it," he said.

He reassembled the former management team for Aspen Mountain Air, including Ronald Stone, who was its chairman and CEO and will be president of Aspen Executive Air. He has 36 years of experience in operations and management within the airline industry.

Bradley Nelson is vice president of marketing and planning for the startup airline. He directed the Crown family's investment in Aspen Mountain Air and served as that airline's vice president. The Crowns, owners of the Aspen Skiing Co., are not investors in Aspen Executive Air.

Joseph Rose, former chief pilot for Aspen Mountain Air, is the director of operations for the new venture, and Joseph Perino Jr. is director of maintenance.

[Janet Urquhart's e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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The Aspen Times Updated Mar 14, 2003 12:57AM Published Mar 14, 2003 12:57AM Copyright 2003 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.