Former Sunset now  has 180 employees,  42 aircraft available

NORTH BAY – Charter aircraft company Solairus Aviation (link) has nearly doubled in size under its new name.

The 180-employee company was born out of the closure of Sunset Aviation, a 16-year-old venture that was closed last year in the wake of its parent company’s bankruptcy.

It was just a year and a half ago that Sunset Aviation, then under Jet Direct, expanded out of the region and started being a more nationally recognized brand.

But in early 2009, Dan Drohan, founder of Sunset and current Solairus chief executive officer, left Jet Direct, which bought Sunset from him in mid-2007.

“We had indications that things were not going well at Jet Direct,” said Mr. Drohan. “The wheels were falling off rapidly.”

Jet Direct filed for bankruptcy in early 2009 and let go of all of the employees. Mr. Drohan saw the opportunity to create a new company. On March 2, after Gregory Campbell, chairman of JetDirect Aviation Holdings LLC, announced all employees of Sunset Aviation Inc. were on furlough, the newly formed Sunset Aviation LLC offered all but 10 percent of the employees their jobs back.

“I wanted to create an industry leader,” Mr. Drohan said. “There was the opportunity to create a leading industry company.”

He said the companies that had come together to create Jet Direct were some of the best in the industry, and there was an opportunity to fill the market gap.

“I figured, build the right team and the market will follow,” he said.

At the time of the sale to Jet Direct, Sunset Aviation had 23 aircraft under management and 80 employees. The company focused on light jets.

Now, Solairus, the new name he gave to Sunset Aviation LLC in July of last year, has 42 aircraft under management located in 14 states and two countries.

The company focuses on executive jet management. The planes that it services fly between 20 and 700 hours per year, and each plane has its own pilot, flight crew and maintenance supervisor.

“Our growth plan for 2010 is ambitious and aggressive, but we do not want to lose sight of being the best in terms of quality,” he said.

He said the industry has gone from revolving around availability to being price driven.

“This is difficult in an industry in which safety is such a big deal,” he said.

The 37-year-old chief executive officer began Sunset Aviation at 20 doing air tours over San Francisco in a twin engine Baron. He expanded over the years into Sunset but is thrilled with where he is now.

“With my old company we were a regional player, we were not a national operator,” he said.

Solairus received International Standard for Business Operations certification. The International Business Aviation Council introduced this certification in 2002 to “foster standardized, safe and highly professional aircraft operations."

The Solairus certification is a “fitting capstone to a remarkable first year,” said Mr. Drohan.

“Since March of 2009 we have grown to a fleet of more than 40 business turbine aircraft nationwide, earned our Aviation Research Group/U.S. Platinum rating and obtained international operations approval for large aircraft carrying 10 or more passengers," he said.

He said the international standards audit ensures that the management and charter clients will have “safe and uninterrupted access to airports the world over.”

The certification required a complete third-party audit. Solairus selected Aviation Research Group/U.S., one of the leaders in aviation safety auditing.

This standard mandates that “safety will not be compromised under any circumstances,” said Argus President Joe Moeggenberg.

The IS-BAO Certificate of Registration is valid for two years.

One of only 71 Aviation Research Group/U.S. Platinum-rated charter operators in the world, Solairus has also received the NBAA Commercial Business Flying Safety Award in recognition of six years and more than 27,000 consecutive flying hours without accident.