NORTH CANTON, Ohio — Ultimate Jetcharters has been around since 1984. It has survived tough economic times, including the fallout from the September 11, 2001 tragedy and the 2009 economic crisis. Both situations impacted the company greatly, but nothing has been more dramatic than the pandemic of 2020.
"Aviation has been at the tip of the sword during the pandemic. It happened very quickly," said Rick Pawlak, the company's senior vice president. "Even the best business plan couldn't be ready for this."
Pawlak said revenue is down 97 percent since the COVID-19 crisis hit home.
Ultimate, which is based at Akron Canton Airport, runs both a public shuttle division and private charter flights. It has ten jets which hold 30 passengers.
As the pandemic widened, more and more passengers began canceling both personal and business trips, forcing the company to temporarily suspend the public side.
"We were about two weeks ahead of commercial aviation winding down their route maps. We just had to make that decision to conserve as much resources as we could to save our employees," Pawlak said.
As part of the CARES Act, Congress approved $32 billion in aid for the aviation industry.
Through the Payroll Support Program (PSP), Ultimate was awarded $2.8 million, which helped the business keep more than 100 employees in place.
"That gets us through the end of July. We received about 76 percent of our ask and that was across the industry. I don't think there was enough money through the Payroll Support Program," Pawlak added.
The company has also applied for a multi-million dollar loan, also through the CARES Act. Pawlak is hoping to have an answer on the loan within a week.
"We want to get enough to make sure that we have enough capital to get through 2020 and 2021."
In recent weeks, Ultimate has seen an uptick in customers booking charter flights. The hope is to resume their public flights in the summer.
In the spirit of social distancing, there will be more space between passengers initially. An "X" will be placed on aisle seats so that everyone is sitting by a window.
Eddie Moneypenny, the director of sales and marketing, said extra sanitation is taking place after every trip and that will continue as more flights resume.
"We have actually implemented a more thorough process under the current circumstances, making sure every single contact-- potential contact-- is wiped down with disinfectant," Moneypenny said.
Despite all of the challenges, Pawlak is confident the aviation industry will bounce back.
"I think you have to have a healthy aviation system for a healthy economy. Aviation is very important for the United States economy and it's gonna come back."