Volume 7 | Issue 6 | Year 2004

He remembers the first time he stepped on that plane. It was an F-104 Starfighter. “My uncle was in the Pakistan Air Force back in the 60’s and I got to ride in this supersonic jet. Ever since then I wanted to fly. I just loved the freedom of it,” remembers Tahir Cheema, president and chief executive officer of Grand Aire, Inc., a specialized air charter and cargo service provider located in Toledo, Ohio.

His first company, the airline Grand Aire Express, Inc., was established in 1985. From its inception, the driving force behind Grand Aire has been Cheema. He arrived in the United States on July 4, 1974 with less than $50 to attend the University of Alabama. Putting himself through school he earned his mechanical engineering degree and then worked for several prestigious engineering firms including Chrysler. In his spare time, his romance and intrigue with flying lured him into earning a private pilot’s certificate and purchasing his first aircraft. The hobby quickly evolved into much more. Cheema recognized his need to fly and be around the industry was so strong, that he eventually decided to make it his work.

Taking Wing
What made Grand Aire Inc. take off was Cheema’s “30 minute wheels up” idea: offer an on-demand passenger and cargo air charter that’s in the air in 30 minutes, guaranteed, where passengers could monitor progress and arrival times. “Our worldwide carrier network of available aircraft enables us to find the most suitable aircraft for our customer’s requirements,” says Cheema. “Just one phone call to us allows our customers options they didn’t even know were feasible. With our worldwide Charter Management services, we are able to have access to aircraft already positioned where a customer needs them. Whether there is an emergency need for travel, or they just need to make arrangements ahead of time, we can take care of all the details. And then our Charter Operations team arranges for the passenger’s choice of ground transportation, food and beverages, accommodations and, most importantly, itinerary.”

Grand Aire’s sister company, TriCoastal Air, Inc., operates 20-plus different aircraft from piston-prop and propjets to jets, including Daussault Falcon 20s and Lear jets. The company generally does most of its flying in North America – about 80 percent – the rest in South American, Latin America and Europe. Employing about 25 pilots at any given time, TriCoastal Air is certified by the FAA to fly the entire world.

Traveling by private air charter affords customers the freedom of choice to use the hundreds of airports commercial carriers do not. Cheema notes this is extremely beneficial to time-conscious individuals and groups who find their final destination is much closer to one of the smaller, non-hub facilities. “Even though comparing the cost of a charter to the cost of an airline ticket is a substantial difference, the real comparison is in all the additional time, undependability, hotel stays, meals, and general frustrations that come with, and seem to be required, for commercial travel,” says Cheema. “Through the years we have found that once our executive and family passengers experience the comfort and efficiency of having Grand Aire arrange their air travel, they return again and again.”

Grand Aire also pioneered the idea of bidding for airline services online. Its AireBuy system is an extension of the IBS (Internet Bidding System) system. With AireBuy, Grand Aire allows customers to benefit from the healthy competition of an open auction. This works by permitting vendors who want the opportunity to bid on a trip to participate in a reverse-auction style bidding process. Unlike the traditional IBS, AireBuy vendors can see the prices, timeline and aircraft types they are bidding against. In some cases this allows customers to see a significant savings while increasing bidding integrity and leveling the playing field.

Moving Mountains
Well, maybe not mountains, but when Grand Aire got the call to move an entire factory from Detroit to Brazil over a long weekend, its employees didn’t even blink. “If you call us to move one pound from Detroit to Cincinnati, we can do that,” says Cheema. “If you want us to move an entire factory from Detroit to Sau Paulo, Brazil we can do that too!” he says, and laughs. Grand Aire’s cargo arm, which services major industry, the health care and communications markets and the overflow for the package carriers Fed Ex and UPS, actually successfully moved an entire factory in just five days by brokering three Antanov aircraft and several semi-trucks. “It was a 24/7 job, but we got it done.”

The modern facility of Grand Aire also houses a Fixed Based Operation known as Grand Aire Operations, which is also open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Grand Aire Operations serves all the needs of pilots, crew and aircraft – large and small – at Toledo Espress Airport, including fueling, cargo handling and ground transportation services. “We know time has become the critical factor in keeping things on the move, whether here or anywhere in the world. Luckily, we’re never closed, and our Charter Operations Team is ready to make all the arrangements to ensure that your shipment will arrive on schedule,” says Cheema. “What’s nice about Grand Aire is no matter the size we’ll give you the available options. The other companies may not want to bother with your project because it won’t be profitable for them, but we will take on your project no matter what. We are a family owned business committed to your success and earning your trust and loyalty, so we look for ways to save you money, while achieving your goals.”

In addition to the U.S., Grand Aire provides door-to-door service, ground handling, customs expertise, experience and authorization to operate in Mexico and Canada and South America.

Remaining Aloft
Although he spends much of his time running the business these days and doesn’t fly as much as he’d like to anymore, Tahir holds instrument and commercial ratings and an Airline Transportation Pilot (ATP) rating, the highest pilot certification attainable from the Federal Aviation Administration. He is certified to fly every type of aircraft in the Grand Aire fleet. This unique accomplishment permits Tahir to continuously stay in touch with his employees, customers and the competition.

“Building Grand Aire has not been without challenges, but my genuine belief in the spirit of teamwork, by implementing business ethics of honesty and integrity, utilizing executive-level leadership, as well as the many other requirements for running a successful business, has helped me lead this continually evolving company with positive-minded determination, always striving to please the customer,” says Cheema.

Cheema says the aviation industry has been precarious at best since Sept. 11 and many of his competitors are no longer in business. “Post 9/11, the aviation industry was hit hard. There was a significant downturn. I feel fortunate that we are moving forward. I think it goes back to my philosophy of always trying to satisfy the customer; never settling for anything less than perfect. Every day we meet at 9 a.m. to rehash the past 23 hours and see where we could have done better. I feel that by always reviewing and revising our work we make it that much better and we keep people satisfied and using our services in good times and bad. That’s how we keep flying.”