Mar 17, 2023 - Business

Private jets have become a big business in Eastern North Carolina

A Cessna Citation, the type of plane operated by Kinston-based private jet charter FlyExclusive. Photo: Images Group via Getty Images

One of North Carolina's fastest-growing businesses this past decade is a private jet company operating out of a rural Eastern North Carolina airport.

Driving the news: Founded in Kinston in 2015, FlyExclusive has steadily grown into one of the country's largest private jet charters, with around 100 Cessna Citations crisscrossing the globe.

Why it matters: FlyExclusive has been an important economic win for Eastern North Carolina, a region that has been devastated by hurricanes and a shrinking population. It just completed its fifth hangar at Global Transpark, a state-owned airport in Kinston.

  • The company has around 800 employees. Four hundred and fifty are based in Kinston, where it does 80% of its maintenance. It also has a small technology office in Durham.

How it started: The company is led by Jim Segrave, a Kinston native and longtime aviation executive. He sold his last company, Segrave Aviation, to Delta. He used some of the funds from that sale to start FlyExclusive.

  • Segrave told Axios he picked Kinston to headquarter FlyExclusive due to loyal ties to his hometown, its central location on the East Coast and the infrastructure of the Global Transpark.

What they're saying: At the onset of the pandemic, Segrave feared the lockdowns could sink his company. But after a brief slowdown, the opposite happened. Demand soared as affluent individuals shunned crowded planes and airlines hurt by cancellations.

  • "COVID put a lot of demand on private carriers and brought a lot of new people into the space," he said.
  • Demand, he says, is higher now than it was pre-pandemic, but the growth curve "has flattened out some" in the past few months.

What's next: FlyExclusive is currently trying to join the public markets via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. Originally, the company had eyed the first quarter of the year for the deal to close — but it is now working toward a summer listing, a spokesperson said.

  • Going public would provide a large injection of cash for FlyExclusive, which Segrave plans to use to buy dozens of more jets and improve its tech offerings.

The deal will also maintain Segrave's control of the company, allowing him to dictate its future.

  • "We are sitting here in eastern North Carolina, and this community, this location is important to me," he said. "I don't want anybody to ever decide they want to move it from here."

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