Set Jet bringing inexpensive twist to private plane service

Set Jet LLC, the latest private flight service to land in Las Vegas, has borrowed a cornerstone of its business plan from the seemingly opposite Allegiant Air.

A brokerage rather than a charter operator, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Set Jet plans to start service from both Mc Carran International and Henderson Executive airports on Oct. 18 using planes outfitted with cushy leather seats, lots of wood paneling, an open bar for passengers and no waits at a baggage carousel. In that respect, it resembles the other small jet services based at the two airports.

But the distinction between Set Jet and others comes from a trade off: lower price for less convenience.

Set Jet initially will book four departures a day, said CEO Tom Smith, two each to Scottsdale and a choice of three Los Angeles-area airports, with the schedule set by whoever books the first seat. Most charters go any time the passenger wants.

But at Set Jet, flights will cost $400 one way, on top of a $100 initiation fee and $100 a month regular membership, about double commercial first class but far less than the thousands of dollars an hour typical for private jets.

“The first question we get from people who don’t know us is, ‘How can we do it for that price,’ ” Smith said.

Much of the answer comes from using a plane that has fallen out of favor, the CRJ 200. Normally, the twin-engine jet seats about 50 passengers in the fleets of commuter airlines that feed the industry giants. But they are rapidly being sent into retirement as aviation fuel prices hovering around $3 a gallon have made them money losers.

Even after what Smith said its a $5 million interior renovation, configured with 15 seats, the total cost is just a fraction of a a new private jet. Similarly, Las Vegas-based Allegiant built its fleet by picking up cheap MD-80s that major airlines deemed obsolete, creating a low cost base that allows low fares.

As a result, Smith said Set Jet would break even with planes half full. This takes into account sometimes having to swallow the worst scenario of flying a plane in one direction with one passenger, then returning empty.

“We believe there is enough traffic between the cities that we will get an average of eight people-plus on board,” he said.

Taking a hit during the recession, private jet use has grown slowly at McCarran. The 368,000 people that passed through the two private plane bases marked a gain of only 3.4 percent over four years. However, this does not include the air forces belonging to the Strip heavyweights such as Las Vegas Sands or Wynn Resorts.

Set Jet was incorporated in 2010, then spent three years working through regulatory approvals. In went into operation on Sept. 16 shuttling between Scottsdale and Los Angeles with planes and crews belonging to Maine Aviation Charter Co. of Portland, Maine.

Although the federal government shutdown has raised questions about whether a second plane will have all the paperwork in order by the Oct. 18 launch in Las Vegas, Smith said he would curtail Scottsdale-Los Angeles if necessary to make room for the full Las Vegas schedule.

By the beginning of December, the plan calls for adding San Diego and Orange County, Calif., to the route map.

Set Jet, although having created an unusual business model, borrows elements from others. BlackJet, which started coming to Las Vegas this year, allows members to book seats on jets owned by others through its website or an app. One a Wednesday, for example, that meant a $971 seat from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.

Surf Air, landing at three California airports, allows members to fly as much as they want on single-engine turboprops for $1,495 a month. Surf Air has put Las Vegas on its list of potential destinations but has not set a timetable.

Contact reporter Tim O’Reiley at or at 702-387-5290.

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