When national candidates need national travel, CSI Aviation is there to provide it. Michele Martinez shares with C&E some of their in-flight stories.C&E: Tell us a bit about your company and what services you provide for your clients?
Martinez: Our experience is in aviation services. We have been in business since 1979. We offer a variety of services for candidates and local governments. We started in 1984, with the Gary Hart [1988 Democratic primary] campaign. We have done campaign charters for [1988 Democratic Presidential candidate] Michael Dukakis, [1996 Republican Presidential candidate] Bob Dole, President George Bush Sr., President George W. Bush, [2008 Republican primary candidate] Fred Thompson and [2008 Republican Presidential candidate] John McCain. We have provided small aircraft when [these candidates] were starting out and eventually expanded to dedicated aircraft which was exclusive to their campaign.
We can reconfigure aircraft, manage schedules and prepare all catering. We also do all the security in order to get a charter where it needs to go. We have done specialized catering. – George W. Bush requested only peanut butter and jelly on at least one flight, McCain requested only McDonalds on another flight.
We can do anything the candidate needs; we provide all amenities, space configurations and data ports so that the candidate and their team can stay connected. Our expertise is 135 Aircraft, which has fewer than 30 seats [for the primary season]. We also go up to 757s which can seat 50 to 200 people, depending on how the candidate wants [the aircraft] configured.
One of the problems we encounter is damage; say a plane gets a ding on the runway. We have 5000 aircraft world wide if there is mechanical or weather delay or any other kind of delay.
We had a flight for Lloyd Benson [former Senator and Michael Dukakis’s Vice Presidential candidate] from a small town. There, a ground handler had damaged the air stairs, so he was stranded. We found another aircraft and got him out of there that day. We promote the backup availability of aircraft we can provide if something goes awry. It is part of the business.
We also strive for confidentiality. We were the second person to know that McCain’s running mate was Sarah Palin. We picked her up and flew her in from Alaska. No one knew about it, not even the press until she landed at her destination. We take pride in making sure things are confidential. We don’t disclose any information on candidates or commercial customers.
C&E: Are your services strictly national, or do you also get reservations from state-wide campaigns in large states?
Martinez: We have done both. We get some state-wide candidates and they usually take turbo props around a state or two. We have aircraft chartered to get to special events, but we mostly work with candidates on the national level. We are a 24-7-365 company; we can locate an aircraft immediately.
We deal with a scheduler or travel coordinator. We try to keep that part of operations with the candidate’s staff so they can focus on other things. Thos are things we can do (scheduling, explicit depart and arrival times) where there is no commercial service.
C&E: You have a military component as well; do you operate in combat zones or unstable international environments?
Martinez: We do. We do a lot of work for federal government. We service regions of the world that are under war-time conditions, and we extract or insert various personnel from agencies in relief. We assist the Department of Defense that moves troops to and from training exercises or we provide lift to the Department of Defense to move troops in and out of theater. We also provide lift for the Secret Service, the State Department and the FBI when they need to be in a certain part of the world.
C&E: All these agencies charter private aircraft?
Martinez: The military has their own airlift but it is not enough so they reach out to Department of Defense-approved air carriers to provide supplemental lift.
C&E: That must be the most comfortable transport into a theater of operations that enlisted personnel can get.
Martinez: It is probably better than military aircraft. They do get seats.
C&E: When does campaign season ramp up for you?
Martinez: We will probably see the primary races pick up in the next 12 to 18 months prior to the election. Then you start to see the demand for small aircraft. As we get into the last part of the election, say someone is the chosen candidate, they want a dedicated aircraft about 6 to 12 months before the election. There is a lot of ground to cover. Typically in the spring of the election year, we see a candidate lock in a dedicated aircraft to assist them in their travels. Prior to then, they usually have an on-demand air charter.
C&E: What request do you get most from campaigns?
Martinez: The press often flies with us as well. That is one of the biggest hassles for a campaign – how to charge the press and do billing to press [for access to the aircraft] during a campaign. That is a unique thing that we offer. We have an allocated system for press billing, it is an easy process so [a campaigns staff] are not burdened with that aspect of things.
C&E: Any final thoughts for our readers?
Martinez: Our CSI campaign website will be up shortly for the 2012 season.
Michele Martinez is the vice president of commercial and military operations with CSI Aviation Services, Inc.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at email@example.com