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For Royal Air, Going Beyond the Bottom Line Reaps “Suite” Success

PONTIAC, Michigan—While every fixed-based operator is in the business to make money, Royal Air Freight, a Phillips 66® branded FBO at Metro Detroit’s Oakland County International Airport (KPTK), believes that the intangibles beyond the balance sheet yield priceless returns. 

“We’re not necessarily trying to change the world, but if we can affect people’s lives here, for as long as we can do that, it means something,” explains Brent Kostich, Director of Technology, Royal Air. “We would say we’re family-focused, but more in the sense of understanding that it’s not just about the bottom line. These are people, people’s families and their lives. We try to keep that front and center of our vision as we do things.”

When an FBO’s bread and butter is private jet charter and air freight – like at Royal Air – economic downturns can be devastating. Remarkably, during the 2008 recession and the 2021 epidemic, Royal Air did not lay off one employee. 

“Our chief pilot has a favorite reminder,” says Kostich. “He says, ‘Do you ever think about the number of homes that were purchased because of Royal Air, or the families that were started, or the educations that were paid for?’ That’s always his pitch–that it’s important to keep this thing going. I think that permeates a lot of the culture here.”

That’s a fitting brand ethos, considering the FBO’s humble origins. It came to life 62 years ago inside the family garage of a typical Midwestern suburban home in Royal Oak, Michigan. That’s where William “Bill” Kostich, Brent’s grandfather, began Royal Air as a backyard aircraft salvage and repair business.  

Within two years, a cramped, two-car garage could no longer contain a restless man’s dreams, so Bill built Royal Air’s first hangar at what was then called Pontiac Airport. Maybe because Bill was what some called “a go-fast kind of guy” when it came to flying planes and driving cars, Royal Air soon carved out a reputation around Metro Detroit for expedited air freight where timeliness and adaptability were fundamental. 

Since then, Royal Air has been guided by three generations of the Kostich family: Bill and his wife, Ruth, their sons Kirt and Scott, and grandsons Brent, Aaron, and Ryan.

An Opportunistic Birth

How Royal Air expanded into passenger charter is a testament to taking advantage of opportunities while remaining focused on your brand’s core skills – and, in this case, empowering your employees. 

“A team member went on maternity leave – she’s really ambitious – and wanted to pursue this idea with passenger charter,” explained Brent. “My father said, ‘Go for it if you want.’ So, she game-planned it all, we gave it a go and it worked out.” 

It was a natural birth, born out of Royal Air’s decades-old, Part 135-certified freight operation. With a ready-made infrastructure already in place – line service to clean the planes, maintenance to keep them up and running and storage facilities – it was a brand evolution built on adjacency, explains Brent. In 2013, they put one bird into passenger service, a Learjet. If charter didn’t play out, “we’d just pull the interior and keep flying it for freight,” says Brent. 

The gambit worked. Royal Air’s charter fleet now features a diverse lineup of passenger aircraft, from Dassault Falcons and Learjets to Citations and King Airs, all supported by NATA-certified line technicians. Brent believes the FBO’s razor focus on flight operations as a business – with its intrinsic need for safety procedures, timeliness and adaptability – draws customers. 

Sweet Suites

According to Brent, Kirt recognized that, aside from a few hangars built exclusively for large corporations or wealthy individuals, there were no truly dedicated private spaces in the region for tenants to store and manage their aircraft.

In 2015, Kirt had an epiphany to create a unique experience for the airport, transforming hangars into what Royal Air calls Jet 1 Suites.  

Royal Air shredded the usual shared hangar design, carving them into self-contained suites – each featuring their own private entrance with digital access control, dedicated security cameras and a climate-controlled, customizable space featuring an office, spacious lounge, kitchenette and restroom. Tenants, explains Brent, enjoy transparent “best on the field” fuel pricing, plus a seamless online booking and management platform designed to make requesting FBO services, tracking fuel consumption and managing accounts simpler.

The suites are a unique offering among Oakland County International Airport’s five other FBOs, and Metro Detroit jet owners are lining up to lease them. A waitlist for the Jet 1 Suites affirms their appeal.

The Royal and Reliable Service

For an operation like Royal Air that’s focused on expedited freight and passenger charter services, fuel pricing and reliability are crucial.

“We want to provide a good service that allows people, whether it’s for a vacation or business, to have the confidence that they’re being taken care of and getting the best service at a really competitive rate,” says Brent. “When customers get a taste of our approach, the vast majority of them understand that we’re just doing what we think is right by people, and they support it.”

“With fuel, having stability and competitive pricing, even for our own operations, is really foundational,” says Brent. “Phillips 66 has provided a solid foundation for us as we’ve grown. One of the more attractive things for Jet 1 Suites is we offer very competitive fuel prices for our suite clients. That’s something we’re able to do by virtue of having a nice, long-standing contract fuel relationship.”

Where Family Culture Takes Flight

For his part, Brent says he was never pressured or even expected to join the family business. It was just there as an opportunity if the Kostich family wanted it. Working the FBOs line during high school and college breaks was just that, a summer job. Once armed with a master’s degree in engineering, he began thinking about work as a vehicle for self-actualization. That’s when the culture he grew up around at Royal Air came into full focus. It was a business, sure, but one with a culture built on the family nurturing style of his grandparents, father and uncle.  

“When you talk about fulfillment or purpose, here it feels like more than just a vocation,” says Brent. “When you’re able to see people flourish in life, see them start a family, buy a house, you know you’re at least trying to make a difference. That was really important to me. There was a lot of opportunity for purpose here.”

He believes most people desire fulfillment in their work, to feel like their eight hours a day mean something to somebody, whether it is a customer, a co-worker or a family member. 

“It’s important to us that the people whose lives we touch have a solid foundation,” says Brent. “If people can feel like they have a purpose in what they do, that means more than a bottom line in my opinion.”

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