International Air Bahama
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TIME MAGAZINE June 24, 1966
Four Hours from Anywhere
If executives at Wheeling Steel Corp. suspect that President Robert M. Mor ris is really a set of triplets masquerading as one businessman, much of the blame — or credit — for such a notion belongs to Executive Jet Aviation Inc.
One day recently, a small EJA jet picked up Morris at Wheeling, W. Va., at 8 a.m., flew him to a 90-minute meeting in Washington, then on to a 90-minute conference in Philadelphia, finally to a two-hour session in White Plains, N.Y. By 5 p.m. Morris was home, and EJA, which has the only all-jet, executive "lease contract" fleet in the U.S., had logged in another contented customer.
Playboys & Flyboys.
Though it is only 17 months old, EJA counts 87 customers, and revenues are running at a yearly rate of almost $3,000,000. The company's first client, Norfolk and Western Railroad, last week signed a new contract calling for 235,000 miles on EJA's 16 six-seat Lear jets and three French-built, ten-passenger Falcons. Among other clients are Xerox, Mead Johnson, IBM, General Electric, White Motor Corp., Cincinnati Milling Machine and HMH Publishing Co., whose Playboy Publisher Hugh Hefner flies out to give campus lectures on the philosophy of sex, always jets back to his Chicago pad by bedtime.
EJA has some steady individual customers like Rocketeer Wernher von Braun and the folk-singing Brothers Four, occasionally takes spot orders from others. Last year one of its planes picked up Martin Luther King in Alabama during the Selma march, flew him to a Cleveland speaking engagement, then back to the march. When Trans World Airlines President Charles C. Tillinghast Jr. was unable to get a TWA flight from St. Louis to Washington for a dinner meeting with Lyndon Johnson, an EJA plane picked him up and got him there. EJA got a luminous letter of thanks from Tillinghast.
On the Alert.
Founder and president is O. F. (for Olbert Fearing) Lassiter, 47, who retired two years ago as an Air Force brigadier general after a 30-year military career that took him from National Guard private to Strategic Air Command division commander. Lassiter obtained financing from a Pennsylvania Railroad subsidiary, signed up a board of directors that includes former Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis E. Le-May and Actor Jimmy Stewart, a reserve one-star general. Lassiter's 41 pilots were largely recruited among SAC veterans and former pilots of the Special Air Mission squadron in Washington; three have flown the presidential jet. "In our present group of pilots," boasts Lassiter, "we have the capability of flying any jet now in production."
In some ways, EJA resembles a SAC squadron. It disperses planes around the nation in order to live up to a guarantee that it will pick up passengers anywhere in the Continental U.S. within four hours after a request is phoned in to the control center at Columbus, Ohio. For such service customers pay steep rates of at least 23¢ per passenger mile, compared to 7¢ first-class fare on commercial airplanes, justify the expense by counting the valuable executive time saved, especially getting in and out of small cities. The company keeps crews in various alert stages, has one crew that can be airborne within 15 minutes of a call. About the only SAC idea that Lassiter adopted but EJA has lately relaxed is the practice of keeping pilots in its ready room 24 hours a day. Businessmen fly furiously during the day, but not many have any battle-station urge to scramble in the middle of the night.