Jack Gilchrist has been practicing aviation law since 1989 and with his own firm since 1994. The OU and OU Law alum spent time in seminary before deciding on law school, and after graduation he began working with the widely respected aviation law attorney Bill Boston.
“I had the privilege of working for and learning aviation law from Bill for five years,” Gilchrist said. “I went straight from law school to Bill’s firm, and I’ve been in aviation law ever since.”
What is most surprising for people outside the aviation industry is how central — metaphorically and geographically — Oklahoma is to U.S. aviation. Gilchrist describes OKC as a hub for “everything aircraft,” both commercial and private. One of his earliest clients was Southwest Airlines (they’re a current client too), and he’s worked with other major carriers as well as corporations with extensive private aviation needs. He’s worked with lenders, banks, manufacturers, parts suppliers, cargo companies and virtually every other niche within aviation.
In addition to our hub function, OKC also houses the Federal Aviation Administration’s massive database of aircraft registrations and titles. It’s not a digital database though; in fact, it’s still a huge collection of paperwork.
“They house ownership records and titles for every aircraft in the U.S.,” Gilchrist said. “Our legal practice has certainly grown and benefited from the proximity to those records and the fact that OKC is a touchpoint for all domestic aviation.”
There are plans to digitize the records process, but Gilchrist doesn’t see a comprehensive solution arriving for at least a decade. “For now, the Monroney Center is essentially the same for aviation research as the county courthouse is to energy research,” he said.
As for trends in private aviation — one of Gilchrist’s specialities — he’s expecting growth in the private aircraft lease model. “The appeal is in having someone else to manage the high costs of storing and maintenance,” he said. “Leasing is a great solution for some, but it’s important to sit down with an expert who analyzes needs, aircraft operations and ownership before committing to a model.”
According to Technavio Research, the wet lease market, which is one in which the company leasing the plane also provides a crew, will have substantial growth from 2022 to 2026. They’re forecasting $15.5 billion in growth, with most of that in the wet lease side, but dry leasing has promise too.
Another option is fractional ownership, what Gilchrist calls “the toe in the water of aircraft ownership.” Rather than leasing or buying a personal plane outright, the ownership is split among several parties and usage scheduled based on needs. The industry has seen substantial growth here, too, with an increase of 20% in flying hours over pre-pandemic levels. NetJets and Flexjets are still the industry leaders by a wide margin.
Gilchrist said that once someone flies private, they realize the value. Flexibility is an important component. You’re no longer at the mercy of most delays and cancellations, nor do you have to worry about catching flights at odd times or laying over for too many hours. Boarding and deplaning is simplified, and comfort is mostly better than in commercial airlines.
“You can start with as little as 1/16 of an aircraft,” Gilchrist said. “That’s easier to manage than the $16-20 million price tag for the whole aircraft.”