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Emerald photoillustration
Emerald Corporate Jets’ business model calls for customers to charter a 737 jet by the hour. (Emerald Photoillustration)

Seattle-based Emerald Corporate Jets is taking the wraps off a charter jet service that offers flights on 737 jets, priced at $15,000 per hour of flight time.

The startup is the brainchild of Russell Belden, who tried unsuccessfully to get Arrow Flight Club off the ground in Seattle a few years ago. Emerald unveiled its website today, effectively opening for business. Flights have yet to begin, however, and one aviation-industry expert told GeekWire that the startup is likely to face big challenges.

Belden, the company’s president, said operations would start with three planes in the Bay Area. Seattle’s Boeing Field is on the list for potential future expansion.

“We’ll be bringing a 737 to Seattle, probably in Q1 next year, and it’ll be available for charter,” Belden told GeekWire in advance of today’s reveal. “Our goal is, in the future, to offer daily service from Boeing Field.”

He emphasized that Emerald is not an airline, and doesn’t own or operate any of the planes.

“Emerald acts as an agent arranging corporate jet service on fully certificated air carriers possessing appropriate FAA and DOT authority,” he said in an email, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Russell Belden
Emerald CEO Russell Belden. (Photo via Twitter)

Belden said Emerald takes advantage of a mode of operation similar to that used by Phoenix-based Swift Air or Florida-based Miami Air International.

Customers can charter the whole plane, based on a $15,000-per-hour rate for flight time, plus landing fees and expenses. There are extra charges for add-ons – for example, catering, interior branding, on-the-ground services or layovers that span more than a single day.

The 737s have a seven-hour flight range and can be configured to fly 48 passengers in first-class seating, plus an in-flight conference room, or as many as 132 in economy-class seating.

Belden said the clientele could include tech teams who are going to conferences such as the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, musicians who want to fly to their concert in style, sports teams or fans heading to the big game, or an in-flight wedding capped off with a party in Cabo San Lucas.

Scott Hamilton, editor of Leeham News and Comment, said starting up a charter air service is a “tough nut to crack.” Although he wasn’t familiar with the details of Emerald’s business plan, he questioned whether the company’s target market would be big enough to support a 737 charter operation.

“I’m skeptical,” Hamilton told GeekWire.

Belden held back on many of the details of the operation. For example, he declined to name the carriers that are handling the charter flights. But he said Emerald will “only use operators with perfect safety records, and that pass all major sports leagues’ audits.”

He cautioned that the plans for operations at Boeing Field will depend on how much business there is in Seattle. “We’ve got bigger, long term goals, and we’re going to do things right and in a conservative and methodical process,” he said..

Belden also declined to provide details about financing, at least for now. “We don’t like talking about the numbers, as they sound low to most ears, but the capital costs for leasing aren’t very high, and we got a favorable deal,” he said.

A document filed last month with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated that Emerald was looking for $200,000 in financing. “We did the round, and we have secured other capital via credit and debt,” Belden said.

Belden has spent the past 15 years working with aviation and marine engineering ventures, including Harbor Aviation and Zyvex Technologies. Before he started up Emerald, he was the founder and CEO of Arrow, a membership-based jet service headquartered in Seattle.

The concept behind Arrow was to offer no-muss, no-fuss flights to business professionals who wanted to skip security lines and airport parking. Belden got the concept into beta, but he resigned in 2014.

Arrow never did go into full-fledged commercial operations. Today, the company and its website appear to be dormant.

“Arrow is complicated, and unfortunately I can’t say anything about it,” Belden said in his email. “People really liked it, there was great response and I wish it worked out.”

Starting up Emerald has been complicated as well, due to all the regulatory and contractual requirements that had to be met. “It’s been tough putting all the pieces together,” Belden acknowledged.

Despite the challenges, he sounded upbeat about the flight plan ahead.

“My goal, and our company’s mission, is for people to love to fly,” Belden told GeekWire. “It’s not about luxury, or about being the Kardashians. It’s about, ‘Wow, I can take advantage of the power of flight.'”

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