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Mark Burgess says he probably couldn’t have picked a worse time to get back into the air charter and management industry. It was 2007, right before the Great Recession.
But when a quick sale of a charter business resulted in friends losing jobs, he decided to take the risk. In doing so, he saved his friends’ jobs and built a successful business.
“It was the worst time in the world to do it,” says Burgess, managing partner of Burgess Aircraft Management LLC dba OzAir Charter Services.
That first year, though, revenue topped $1.84 million. By 2020, revenue had grown to $10.25 million, and in 2021, it soared to $20 million.
OzAir now employs 25, operates nine jets and is the largest private tenant of Springfield-Branson National Airport, occupying more than 56,000 square feet of aircraft storage, office and support operations. It also is the airport’s largest buyer of jet fuel outside of commercial airlines.
OzAir provides first-class charter service to Mexico, the Caribbean, Bahamas, Alaska and other destinations.
“We have some aircraft now so we can do one-stop Europe, and Hawaii from San Diego,” he says.
Some of the jets the company manages are owned outright by Burgess while others are partially or fully owned by others.
Burgess says OzAir’s explosive growth in the last year likely is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restlessness that followed lockdowns.
“That’s a lot of pent-up money and pent-up demand,” he says, noting fear of catching COVID-19 on a commercial flight also played a role. “It pushed a lot of people into our market that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.”
Demand keeps rising, he says.
“We’re not enjoying the fact we have to turn a lot of people down. Right now, we rarely take new clients,” Burgess says.
Demand for pilots also soared, so Burgess adjusted employee compensation packages. The company converted its individual retirement account program into a 401(k) plan and overhauled its health, vision, dental and life insurance plans to give employees more options. All insurance is provided at no cost to employees. Burgess also increased salaries and daily pay rates along with bonuses twice a year to retain and recruit talent.
He says he’s also made helping employees with their work/life balance a priority.
“Our goal is to make our employees’ lives better and be a positive impact on the community. Otherwise, there’s not much reason to be doing it,” he says.
The nonprofit moves into its new campus.