Plane addiction

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Moon Jet Group CEO James Moon and COO Jas Hawker enthuse about business, flying and planes, with a refreshingly positive spin on the future.

I’m addicted to aviation! I’m plane crazy and our clients see that passion – I’m told it’s infectious!” If passion were a prerequisite for success, Moon Jet Group (MJG), founded by CEO James Moon in 2015, definitely has a bright future. Specialising in aircraft remarketing, MJG is also moving into aircraft management and charters, and recently filled key executive posts as its expansion continues.

​Today the company has aircraft worth more than $450 million on its books, having grown from humble origins in just two years. Moon recalls: “I formed MJG after I was asked to sell a Citation for a US owner. I sold it and discovered I was quite good at it, but sat on the MJG idea while building relationships with owners and airlines worldwide. I decided to launch the company because I saw a massive niche for an honest, trustworthy and genuine aircraft marketing firm that was client success driven, not just money driven. I was tired of hearing of nothing but bad experiences from aircraft owners.

​“We soon had Airbus A330 and Gulfstream V owners approaching us to sell their aircraft and I quickly deduced that we were doing something right. Our competitors either deal only in high-end corporate jets, or small single-engine pistons. We offer a variety of aircraft types, but focus on airliners, private jets, turboprops, helicopters and classic aircraft with sale prices in excess of $250,000, since there’s a strong niche and demand for our service offering in that sector.”

​Moon’s young, dynamic approach to business is winning clients globally and he’s rarely found working from his Newcastle, UK office. “I’m always on the move, meeting new clients and aircraft owners worldwide. When they meet me they see how passionate I am about aviation – it’s why we win so many owners over, they’ve never come across anyone like me before! You can’t just be a sales drone using cheesy techniques to close a deal in this industry. Aircraft owners want to see drive and passion for their aircraft. Anyone can sell, but in aircraft sales you need that love for planes and all our employees have it in abundance. It’s part of our culture.”

Moon Team

According to Moon: “The key to building a strong business is to recruit the right people.” Jas Hawker joined MJG as Chief Operating Officer in February this year. His 25 years in the Royal Air Force included three as leader of the renowned Red Arrows aerobatic display team. “When a former ‘Red 1’ and RAF wing commander gets in touch, you listen!”

​“Since day one we’ve got on extremely well and I’m looking forward to building a good long-term partnership. Jas’s military and commercial experience is hugely beneficial to the business. His military strategic thinking, rigour and planning add so much value on a daily basis and he’s massively helped MJG get where it is today.”

​Alongside Hawker, MJG has placed ex-fast jet pilots in two other critical roles. Most recently, Mark Whitney was taken on as a senior associate, based in Las Vegas. His 25-year RAF career included flying and instructing on the Eurofighter Typhoon, plus an exchange tour with the Royal Canadian Air Force on the CF-188 Hornet.

​With just a little more MJG experience under his belt, Daniel Ingall is the company’s France-based senior associate. Moon explains his appointment: “Jas introduced Dan to MJG. Another former RAF fighter pilot (Jaguar and F/A-18), he was also an aide to HRH the Prince of Wales and an Air Attaché in the French Embassy, so he brought a wealth of diplomatic, aviation and business experience. We decided to establish a full-time presence in the Monaco/Nice area because of the concentration of high net worth individuals and aircraft owners living there. Dan’s role is to establish and then grow MJG in this pivotal area.”

​Although well known within the aviation fraternity for his Red Arrows work, Hawker brings considerably more to MJG than strong leadership. “On leaving the Red Arrows in 2009, I was sent on a one-year master’s level course in Australia, covering policy, strategy and planning. Then I spent six months in Afghanistan as the senior air adviser to land forces, where I restructured the Afghan airspace among other tasks, making it more efficient and safer for air operations.

​“Two years in the Ministry of Defence followed, advising ministers and senior officials on capability requirements. I left the RAF in 2013 and worked for the Mission Excellence consultancy, showing FTSE100-level companies how to improve performance, teamwork and leadership. Meanwhile, the entrepreneur in me started an online gift business called MyGiftGenie, which has nothing to do with aviation but teaches me something new about business every day.”

​As a former military officer with three years’ high-level consultancy behind him, did Hawker have reservations about working alongside Moon, a man by far his junior? “James might be younger than me in years, but that’s just a number… he certainly doesn’t lack experience or gravitas. I like to think I’m a good judge of character and I only work with people who share similar values and that I get on with – life is too short to do anything different. James impressed me with the concept of MJG and his significant achievements, but we identified areas where I could add considerable value to the business. I can honestly say that the relationship has ‘clicked’ and I think that’s because we share a passion and challenge one another to ensure we deliver the service our clients expect.”

​Hawker’s demanding COO role brings a diversity of challenges, as he explains: “No day is the same and although we’re UK-based, we have clients and associates all over the globe, so it’s a 24-hour business. We recently re-branded and launched a new website, but my responsibilities are to oversee day-to-day operations and work with the management board on growth opportunities.

“To remain client-focussed we have three clear priorities: Sales, Business Development and Everything Else. This might sound too simple, but the importance of knowing what it is you’re trying to achieve (and why), was the main lesson I learned from consulting; it’s often also the single biggest barrier to organisational performance.

​“When it comes to clients, they’re all different and each is treated individually. Normally they have a requirement and we suggest aircraft that will suit them, although a client recently asked whether we could supply a King Air 350i and an L-39 Albatros jet trainer… we had both and things are progressing well! We ask for and value client feedback, since it’s the only truly objective measure of how we’re running the business.”

Stratus Flying

Driven by his aviation enthusiasm, Moon finds time for Stratus Flying. “It’s my non-profit organisation, which I run in my spare time. I organise flights for disabled and terminally ill children, from their local airfield in the UK or US.

​“I formed Stratus because of my own experience in overcoming serious life trauma; I know first-hand the benefits flying can offer – freedom from life on the ground and its daily struggles. I suffered a broken spine when I was 16 years old. I was doing my PPL at the time and devastated to hear that following the injury I was unlikely to get in a plane again. But I wanted to prove everyone wrong. The freedom that flying offered pushed me on, and six months after the injury I got my PPL.”

Over the Moon

MJG’s success to date has been meteoric. “We are a young company, but even before we were 12 months old, we won a $168m deal to remarket Airbus aircraft for an airline,” Moon says. “It certainly turned heads, but I’ve built a worldwide presence for MJG by finding like-minded aviation professionals and experts who can help us. We do all our aircraft valuations based on market trends and patterns; our aim is to accurately price the aircraft to sell, getting maximum value for our client, not just to win it onto our books.”

From his position as a relative newcomer to a nascent company, Hawker observes: “Moon Jet Group has achieved much in a short space of time. We have more than $450m of aircraft on our books and we’re bursting at the seams with potential, both in terms of the service we offer and the people joining the team.

​“We just opened a permanent office in the South of France and another in Las Vegas – others will follow soon. Our aim is to further develop the sales, chartering and management areas, but we realise we have to remain agile to our customers and the market, and continue to innovate. Moon Jet Group has a strong future and I’m not planning on going anywhere. I feel fortunate to have a second career that I love, where I get to work with like-minded people, have interesting clients and plenty to challenge me.”

​Reflecting on the company’s short history and looking to its promising future, James Moon says: “It’s been tough getting MJG to this stage, with long days and lots of tiring deals. You have to have a passion to succeed and delivering on our long-term vision at MJG keeps me going.

“In ten years we’ll still be the world’s largest aircraft marketing firm based on inventory, but I also want us to be the largest charter management firm in the world and to have acquired aircraft of our own to lease out. I’ll still be at MJG. None of this selling a business early and retiring to a beach somewhere!”