JSX Is Feeling the Heat
The CEO sounds off about what he says is American's "ham-handed" approach to JSX's expansion. Also: more context about why Allegiant's CEO returned after retiring.
In my years covering aviation, I have not heard a CEO as angry as Alex Wilcox, founder and CEO of JSX, a U.S. public charter carrier that flies 30-seat jets in a premium configuration. I interviewed Wilcox late last month, as his company was facing an existential crisis: federal regulators, under lobbying pressure from some airlines and labor unions, may close the loophole that permits JSX to operate a shared private jet service.
He’s right to be concerned, as a change in regulations could eliminate JSX’s competitive advantage by forcing it to operate as a normal airline. Wilcox founded what was then JetSuiteX in 2016 precisely because he found an opportunity — or a legal loophole, detractors would say — in federal regulations that allows JSX passengers to bypass TSA security checkpoints and airport terminals altogether and hop onto the plane. JSX began operations by flying Embraer 135s on West Coast routes such as Burbank to Oakland at prices only a little more expensive than an economy class ticket. As it has grown — it now has 461 aircraft, most of them larger E145s— it has expanded to Texas and the Northeast, where it does a brisk business with snowbirds traveling to Florida. Many tickets now are priced a little higher than domestic first class.
Few competitors or interest groups complained until 2021, not long after JSX added more routes within Texas, including Dallas to Austin. Still, the chatter was relatively quiet until last year, when U.S. regional operator Skywest, which typically operates under capacity purchase agreements with major carriers, applied to use a similar model for a subsidiary called Skywest Charter. It did not want to sell premium tickets for a private jet-style experience, but rather sought to leverage another loophole in the same regulations: Airlines using this model can hire first officers with 250 hours of experience rather than 1,500, which is an important distinction amid a pilot shortage.
Now, much of the opposition is saying: enough of these loopholes. Pilot unions, including ALPA and Southwest's in-house union, have lobbied regulators to treat JSX and Skywest Charter like regular passenger airlines, as have government affairs officials from Southwest and American.2 Yet no entity seems to rankle Wilcox as much as American, which he believes is specifically focused on putting JSX out of business. He repeatedly brought up American’s efforts during our interview.
"They're being so blatant and so ham-handed about it," Wilcox told me. "And I think that just comes from their total arrogance."
American and the others may get their wish: In August, the FAA said it planned to initiate rulemaking to determine whether Skywest Charter and JSX should fly under the same rules as regular passenger air carriers.