The First Private Aviation Franchise; Interview with Joel Thomas, Founder and President of Stratos Jets

First Private Aviation Franchise

Joel Thomas is the founder and President of Stratos Jets, responsible for the strategic vision and leadership of the company. Thomas founded Stratos Jets in 2006 after recognizing a need in the air charter brokerage industry for a stronger focus on client experience and mitigating unnecessary flying risks. Since then, he has set out on a mission to the most ethical, client-centric air charter brokerage with his strong moral compass. Thomas has not only stuck to that mission but amplified it with forward-thinking best practices and industry-leading proprietary technology that sets Stratos Jets forward and has fueled several years of strong growth.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Joel Thomas, the founder and President of Stratos Jets, where I guide strategic vision for Stratos Jets corporate and our network of franchised agencies. I established Stratos Jets in 2007 after recognizing a lack of consumer advocacy in the air charter industry. I built the business with the goal of glorifying God in our work and for nearly two decades have sought to raise the bar in the private aviation industry by honoring relationships with our valued jet charter flyers, our network of private jet operators, and each team member.

In Q4 of 2023, I realized that our vision to transform private aviation by aggregating demand through one brand, standardizing industry safety standards, process and best practices could be accelerated through franchising.  Customer experience and safety have always been our focus so in 2024, in efforts to transform this vision into a reality, I decided to franchise Stratos Jets and expand the brand while empowering people to own their own agencies.   

As a thought leader in the air charter brokerage industry, could you give us a statistical overview of the market size and the trends shaping this industry past and present?

The private air charter industry is a niche but significant segment of the broader aviation industry, catering to individuals and organizations seeking on-demand, customized private air travel solutions. 

The private air charter industry is currently valued at around $15 billion and is projected to grow at a CAGR of over 13.92% by 2029. 

Two prominent trends in business aviation are technology and market consolidation. Private aviation is digitally transforming and more jet charter agents will adopt technology that creates a more seamless booking and scheduling process. In 2019, Stratos Jets released its enterprise-level booking and scheduling platform, Stratos FMS. The technology streamlines the booking and coordination process enabling the sales agent to spend more time nurturing client relationships.

We also believe that the industry will consolidate over the next five years in two ways. We see large retail-centric brokers and operators acquiring smaller aircraft operators to complement their aircraft supply, which allows them to provide guaranteed access to aircraft when demand spikes.

Additionally, we’re now seeing existing air charter brokerages move to franchise with Stratos Jets to drive down operational costs, reduce risk, and increase the efficiency of their team. The private air charter industry is made up of hundreds of small brokerages operating under varying processes and safety protocols. Many of these small brokerages operate with limited financial resources, which puts added pressure on them to decide between generating revenue or acting in the consumer’s best interest. Consolidating in the Stratos Jets franchise opportunity reduces tensions by driving down operational costs, reducing risk, and increasing the efficiency of their team

What is Stratos Jets, how has the organization evolved, and what services do you provide?

Stratos Jets is an industry-leading private jet charter organization. Since 2007 it has led the industry with its focus on delivering value through its rigorous safety program, network of verified partners, convenient and personalized booking, and honest advice and transparent pricing.

We realized in 2023 that as one entity we could only grow and positively impact the industry linearly.  While we were meeting our mission of providing an air charter service that educates our clients and helps them to make informed buying decisions, we were far from realizing our vision of transforming private aviation by raising the bar of safety and service. By aggregating demand through one brand we are standardizing industry safety standards, process and best practices. 

As such, we made the executive and strategic decision to franchise.  Franchising allows us to rapidly expand the brand though independently owned and operated agencies, creating an opportunity for those seeking to grow their career, own their own business and build their own team.

The Stratos Jets franchise is similar to the Edward Jones model where their independent franchised financial advisors and wealth strategists are personally responsible for their own success. The same is true for our franchised agencies in the private aviation sector. Our network of independently owned and operated agencies can now provide their private and business clientele an even better jet charter experience and higher level of safety when traveling. 

Stratos Jets corporate provides the full end-to-end operational support services to franchised agencies and maintains our proprietary enterprise-level booking and scheduling platform, Stratos FMS that all agencies use. 

Stratos Jets just launched the world’s first and only franchise program for private jet charter brokers. Please give us a walkthrough of this franchise, who can qualify for the Stratos franchise and how does it work?

A Stratos Jets franchise is the ideal business opportunity for experienced air charter agents looking for career advancement, professional growth, and financial wellness.  This opportunity can also be leveraged by existing air charter brokerages to drive down operational costs, reduce risk, and increase productivity and efficiency of their team.  Other groups for which this opportunity would be a good fit are family offices, sports agents, high-end travel agents, and those looking to expand revenue streams and service offerings to their clients.

All franchised agents are completely set up with training, operations procedures, aircraft vendor connections, safety protocols and certifications, and the Stratos FMS technology to run the business. Stratos Jets corporate  provides end-to-end operational support on a pay-per-use model  so agency owners can focus on growing their business and nurturing client relationships.

Tell us more about your proprietary flight management technology (Stratos FMS), what inspired this technology, how does it work, what are the benefits, and how does the technology helps new franchisees?

We introduced Stratos FMS in 2008 to streamline the quoting, booking, and coordination process of chartering flights. In 2019, we launched an entirely new version of Stratos FMS built on the Salesforce platform. The latest version of the Stratos FMS platform provides end-to-end management of the customer journey, including aircraft sourcing, quoting, coordination, accounting, and flight following.  The technology eliminates transcription errors when coordinating with third parties and provides the client and air carrier with a unique portal to access real-time trip information.

Your company was founded with the industry’s most stringent safety protocols, what were the major safety challenges the industry has faced and how will an overarching standard benefit it?

The Stratos Jets Approved Vendor Program began in 2008 in response to an illegal charter operator based at Orlando Executive Airport. Initially, the program demanded that air carriers prove they were certified Part 135 air carriers and the aircraft they operated be approved on their D085 listing. We also verified active liability insurance and began to audit flights through the ARGUS Trip Cheq System.

In 2009, I took a board position with the Air Charter Association of North America where we collectively established industry best practices.  This exercise gave us standards by which to measure air carriers and deep insights into what makes one air carrier better than another. Shortly after, Stratos became affiliated with the Air Charter Safety Foundation, which further informed our understanding of what to look for in terms of the air carriers’ approach to safety.

By the fall of 2009, we had established a comprehensive criterion for an air carrier to service our clients along with high minimum standards for crew experience and insurance values.  All of this formalized together became known as the Stratos Jets Approved Vendor Program.

The Stratos Jets Approved Vendor Program focuses on three key areas for every company: Verifiable safety outcomes, stability and culture of safety, and a proactive approach to safety for aircraft and crew.

Verifiable Safety Outcomes

  • Participation in the third-party safety auditing program by ARGUS or Wyvern
  • Seven years of operational history with no accidents or major enforcement actions
  • Clear record of key personnel stability
  • An active SMS program that promotes a proactive approach to safety

Company Stability and Culture of Safety

  • Review of key personnel stability records for every flight
  • Evaluation of the company’s financial stability
  • Evaluation of the company’s infrastructure in terms of its personnel, technology and capabilities as it relates to overall customer experience.
  • Regular on-site visits to evaluate the culture and make subjective assessments based on its culture of safety
  • Review of its departmentalization and communication

Proactive Approach to Safety for Aircraft and Crew

  • Required two highly experienced pilots on all flights
  • Pilots meet Stratos Jets standards for total flight time and time in the type of aircraft for each flight
  • Established insurance minimums of $25 million for turbo-prop aircraft and $50 million for jets
  • Routine aircraft maintenance, avionics and cabin

Metrics are tracked daily through our internal systematic review system, known as the Operator Quality Score, to ensure that the carriers we recommend on behalf of clients are living up to the standards we set forth. Data garnered from the system through our size and scale of business allows us to identify the operational performance trends of each carrier.

As more agents join the franchise, the combined influence of the organization will further cement our standards for charter brokers big and small to follow. As a profession we advance, and our clients benefit from the added layers of security. 

With accreditations from credible sources, Stratos Jets has become a proven leader in the Air Charter Industry, what is the importance of these accreditations and how will new franchisees benefit from them too? 

Stratos Jets is one of the first few organizations to become an ARGUS Certified Charter Broker, meaning it voluntarily adheres to established business practices in agent education, emergency response, and quality measures for vetting and approving carriers by ARGUS. It also demonstrates fair business practices, regulatory compliance, transparent pricing, and a culture of safety.  Stratos Jets is further recognized for its commitment to safety as a Wyvern Approved Broker.

This serves as a tremendous advantage to franchised agents who are folded into our established safety program and systems, enabling each agent to provide their customers with a robust suite of services from day one.

Where do we see the future of ethical and client-centric air charter brokerage, what other measures does Stratos Jets have in place to make an impact on the industry?

Stratos Jets is working to transform private aviation by aggregating demand through one brand, standardizing industry safety standards, process and best practices. We are doing this through our franchise opportunity and the Stratos FMS technology.

Stratos FMS optimizes the booking and coordination process, allowing agents to provide honest advice, transparent pricing, and deliver more value to its customers. This provides a consistent customer experience and builds confidence that they are booking their flight with a reputable provider who is actively focused on safe, high-quality operations. It lifts the industry overall through the integration with our rigorous safety program and network of verified partners enables more convenient, efficient, and personalized bookings.  

You have been an outspoken panelist and contributor on several  industry events, platforms, and organizations, could you tell us more about these appearances and what it meant for you? Should we expect you at any event in the future?

I have always prioritized adding value to the industry as doing my part to advance the profession and offer a superior customer experience to clients. I have been involved with the Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA) for over a decade and served as its president where I worked to enhance the professional community and foster best practices for private aviation.

I’ve been outspoken on mitigating risk and due diligence in aircraft and carrier selection in a number of ACANA panels and conferences like the Air Charter Safety Foundations (ACSF) Aviation Safety Symposium. 

Besides the franchise, do you have other available opportunities for career, investors and partnerships at Stratos Jets?

While we’re not currently seeking investment, we are always open to conversations with like-minded people. Our main focus right now is scaling the operations team with people experienced in operations, dispatch and flight coordination to support our franchised agencies and focusing on furthering the development of our FMS Platform to ensure they have the tools necessary to offer the best service in the industry.

In addition I’m working with the team to expand services for the customers of our franchised agencies, which includes a strong fixed rate charter program as well as my personal goal of establishing a luxury air carrier.

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