JSSI is adding products to its portfolio at pace, yet it remains resolutely not an aircraft owner or operator. Neil Book, Chairman and CEO, explains the company’s philosophy and reveals that back in 2008, he thought he was only signing up for a two-year assignment
Jet Support Services Inc (JSSI) provides aircraft maintenance programmes; supplies and leases parts, ranging up to complete assemblies, including engines; provides state-of-the-art maintenance tracking tools and aircraft data; and delivers advisory services. With recent acquisitions including Conklin & de Decker and SierraTrax, it has become an aviation services provider of unique capability – and yet there are aspects of business aviation in which JSSI is definitely not involved, aircraft charter and operations among them.
Neil Book, JSSI’s Chairman and CEO, has firm opinions on why the company does not operate aircraft and why it aims to become the definitive source for aircraft data. With no aviation background before he joined JSSI in 2008, Book himself is unusual among industry executives, most of whom profess a deep interest, passion or even infatuation with aviation. So, what’s his story?
“I have an entrepreneurial background and just prior to being at JSSI, I sold a cybersecurity business that I’d co-founded. While I was involved in that and other businesses, I was part of a small group looking at JSSI as an acquisition opportunity. We had very limited knowledge of the business aviation space, but the company founders put it on the market in 2008 and we thought the business model was unique and very attractive.
“We acquired the company and I was invited onto the board of directors. I spent a few years familiarising myself with the business and industry and we felt the company was far from reaching its potential. My life freed up a little around 2012 and at that time the board asked me to step in.
“I told them that was ridiculous because I knew nothing about business aviation, but I agreed to it, thinking it would be a two-year assignment. I saw a company with enormous potential and I fell in love with the business. That was ten years ago and now I realise what makes this industry really special is the people in it. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
Disciplined & opportunistic
It has been said before that the easiest way to make a small fortune in business aviation is to start out with a large one. The fact that Book and JSSI continue to flourish has much to do with the discipline that keeps the company true to what it does best. “We’ve tried to stay in our lane. We never tried to convince ourselves that we should be buying jets and operating them; we’ve remained disciplined while staying opportunistic and expanding.
“When I first arrived in a management position, the company did one thing – provide hourly cost maintenance programmes – in a unique way. It was tip-to-tail coverage and customers could enrol their airframe, engines and APUs. But that was where it stopped. So we scaled from there. We began strategically buying inventory in advance of our customers’ maintenance events so we could offer better value.
“As we built inventory, we also built a parts trading business. That led us to look at what we were paying for rental engines and identifying opportunities to acquire engines for lease. Then we had customers with airplanes coming up for major maintenance events where the cost of the event was greater than the value of the airplane. We started buying those airplanes and parting them out. We’ve been creative and moved into other areas of the business that build on that hourly cost maintenance concept.”
Earlier in 2021, JSSI acquired SierraTrax, the maintenance tracking software specialist. An obvious complement to hourly cost maintenance (HCM), Book says it adds value for JSSI’s HCM customers. “We can track all their maintenance on their behalf, gain insight on future events and acquire strategic inventory to support them. We’re building an ecosystem of businesses that feed one another.”
SierraTrax satisfies the needs of owner-operators and, typically, management companies with responsibility for perhaps three or four aircraft. Book describes it as a ‘light’ system, but since it costs up to 75% less than more complex MRO tracking softwares, it provides a cost-efficient solution that’s leagues ahead of Excel or paper, and brings users into the JSSI network, where there are typically savings of 10% or more to be had on parts and maintenance events.
Tip-to-tail maintenance nonetheless remains the cornerstone of JSSI’s business and Book explains why. “Customers want to place their aircraft in programmes, but can end up with separate contracts and points of contact for the airframe, engines, avionics, APU and so on. It becomes an administrative nightmare. Our approach has always been to provide one source. We don’t build anything, we’re in business to support the great products the OEMs manufacture, with services that are as simple and intuitive to use as possible.”
JSSI is well positioned to support the warranty cover on new aircraft and some owners will sign their purchase up to JSSI rather than the OEM maintenance programme. “We also provide warranty gap coverage,” Book continues. “Oftentimes, for example, an engine repair is covered by an OEM programme but a rental engine is not, while our programme covers both.”
After just 10 minutes of conversation, it’s clear Neil Book thinks fast and likes to move decisively, which ought to make the heavily regulated and often slow-moving world of aviation his antithesis. He admits that it can be frustrating but says: “It’s often that way because it has to be, but that slow pace can permeate other parts of the industry and we try to act carefully and strategically to make decisions and act before our competitors.”
Book believes it is incumbent upon JSSI to provide data that enables its customers to make the best decisions. Transparency is key, he says, because the customer base is often conservative and cautious in its decision making. “That’s one of the reasons we’re announcing the integration of the Conklin & de Decker performance and operating costs guide with every maintenance programme we sell. It will provide access to benchmark operating costs for the same aircraft type and others in the category, helping people understand whether are they are paying above or below market rates for everything from pilots, through fuel to maintenance. We believe the democratisation of data is critical for customers and if you provide that, they’ll come back for more.”
Like its CEO, it seems JSSI is never still, and never rests on its laurels. A relationship with Avfuel, enabling JSSI customers to offset their carbon emissions through the fuel supplier’s programme, was among a raft of recent announcements. There are other fuel companies out there, so why did JSSI choose Avfuel? “I’m a relationships person,” Book explains. “When I first came to the industry, Craig Sincock [President & CEO of Avfuel] was gracious enough to sit on our advisory board. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years and admire him greatly, so although we were open to partnering with other companies, Avfuel was the place to go.”
After almost a decade and a half in the industry, has the entrepreneur been bitten by the business aviation bug? “I really do love it,” Book admits. “There are enormous opportunities and, right now, a lot of challenges to address. There’s so much demand, with many new entrants to the market, and the system is strained. Utilisation is high and there are only around 20,000 business jets flying around the world. There are lots of challenges and we’re working hard to address them.”