Jonathan Walter knows that time is money for corporate executives.

He knows some find the offerings of the commercial airlines limiting when they schedule an unusual trip. 

So Walter has expanded his small-plane offerings to base a seven-passenger plane at the Signature terminal at Des Moines International Airport, with four or five smaller planes at the Walter Aviation headquarters in Perry.

He teaches budding pilots, puts together tours, tows advertising banners and carries CEOs around the Midwest, sometimes making several stops on the same trip. That can make the price of a charter worthwhile, especially if the goal is to get three or four people together for a meeting. 

Those execs quickly learn that Walter’s service, and others in what the industry calls general aviation, are outside the TSA security dance that aggravates so many travelers. When you book a charter, you just get on. And your bags don’t get lost. They are the only ones on the plane. 

“Our business model is basically situated around the small to medium-sized businesses and for private travel for anybody,” Walter said. “Just to prevent confusion, we aren’t going for the $300 ticket to Vegas kind of thing, and we won’t beat the airlines in terms of cost effectiveness for just a family trip to Disney World. But what it really comes down to is your time is worth something, and you really need to get there, and maybe you don’t have the option of the airlines. Then a private charter becomes a very viable option.”

Walter started the business in 2012 after he got his start with an aerial advertising business he still runs. He’s a certified pilot and flight instructor. He employs “multiple pilots,” and is looking to add more. He eventually plans to add more planes, too. 

He has found that some groups are key clients. “Primarily that relates to sales teams, small to medium-sized businesses, which can be the executives getting out to a meeting, or maybe they have multiple meetings in a day,” he said. “It’s a tool that meets a certain niche, and it’s underutilized.”

Walter moved his business from Independence to Perry full time in October, and set up the Des Moines plane in June. He saw a void that needed to be filled, and he could see the growth happening in the Greater Des Moines market.

Walter’s planes have taken a family to see a child who was in an accident. He has flown company officials to three or four meetings in a day. Politicians sometimes will use a small plane to get to speech sites. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ staff talked to him about possibilities lately. Coaches sometimes need a ride on recruiting trips. 

“Our primary business is companies that need to see clients and get their whole team out and back in a day,” Walter said. “It’s actually very cost-effective compared to the airlines if you’re wanting to get out and have your meeting and get home and not have everyone out overnight. It’s about quality of life for their people, too.” 

In some cases, the uncertainty of commercial airlines’ schedules comes into play. 

“Yes, you can fly to Chicago and back in a day on commercial airlines, theoretically,” Walter said. “But in practice, really being able to bank on that, especially if you have business the next day,” can be an issue. “We get calls from Chicago where people say, ‘Hey, I’ve been stuck here for a day and a half and they still don’t have an airplane for me. Come get me.’ ” 

“The misconception is that it’s for the rich and famous,” Walter said. “We can certainly tailor to that, but that’s not the staple of our business. A lot of the operators that have been doing this business for the past 10 or 20 years, they have their select people, and that’s all they are doing. We’re tailoring to the middle section that needs to get their business done.”

Other operators are aiming at top-tier customers with jet service. Walter is running the cheaper twin-engine turboprops. “It’s still cabin class, pressurized, very comfortable and economical, but it’s not the fluff. You literally double the price just to jump into a jet. When you are just trying to get business done or go see family, you don’t need that.”

Walter charges a flat rate of $7.50 per nautical mile, total, for up to seven people. The smaller planes cost $4.50 per mile. 

“You can take your dog in the cabin. And, again, your bag will make the trip,” he added.

Walter has a story about that. “We were going out to Vegas. We take off from Colorado Springs, and [the customer] left his bags. We get 20 or 30 minutes out and he realized that he had left his bag with his medication. No problem, we just turned around and went back and got it. We were delayed something like 40 minutes.”

The flights offer flexibility. “If you want the gold platter, and the wine and champagne on board, we will do it. If you just want some light reading or an environment where you can have a meeting on the plane, we can do it.”

On one recent trip, Walter took representatives of a company to Gettysburg, S.D., where they were working on a clinic, then to another stop to see a potential customer. “And they were still back home at the end of the day. If they had gone on the road, it’s all driving, or they fly to Fargo and then have to drive three hours to get there. Then it takes two or three days to do what we can help them do in one,” he said.

Many execs and others appreciate the fact that they can be on their way 10 minutes after arriving, he added.

Kevin Foley, executive director and general manager of Des Moines International Airport, said small-plane charter business varies with the strength of the economy, rising when times are good. 

And for many businesses, the charter can be a big time saver and a smart play, he added.

But Foley, a pilot himself, isn’t against driving if it makes more sense. When the Des Moines airport staff went to Wichita, Kan., to check out a new terminal there a couple of years ago, the team of five drove. Foley found the $10,000 round-trip fare for a charter a bit much for that trip. 

But he said there are cases when a private business comes out ahead by getting team members on a plane, where they can work uninterrupted, and the charter flights let them fly directly to where they are doing business, saving time. “If you are doing a million-dollar deal, spending a few thousand dollars on a plane is nothing,” Foley said. 

There’s also what people in the airline industry call the “divorce factor,” Foley said. By taking a charter, or a well-scheduled commercial flight, business travelers can be back the same day, saving time, overnight expenses — and stress at home.