Interviews

Published on January 12th, 2020 | by Percy Crawford

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Meet Dirk Vandersterre of Titan Aviation

Titan Aviation has been the source for many celebrity’s private jet experience for over a decade.

Dirk Vandersterre knows the value in building and maintaining relationships and quality service. When flying the friendly skies, Dirk’s, Titan Aviation have mastered the experience of flying privately. Catering to clients needs and around the clock availability have contributed to over a decade of success for the New Jersey based company. Partnering up with NFL great, Tony Siragusa and having NFL Hall of Famer, Ray Lewis as an influencer, skies the limit for, Titan Aviation, (pun intended). They have built a high-flying clientele that has grown to expect top-notch service when calling Titan.

From aircraft sales, charters and acquisitions, Titan Aviation covers it all. I caught up with, Dirk Vandersterre to get a better understanding of just how the private jet industry works and the many services that Titan Aviation offers.

How is everything going on your end?

Dirk Vandersterre: It’s going great. It’s going really well. Starting to pick up some steam here which is nice.

Tell us all about Titan Aviation and how did you get into the private plane business.

Dirk Vandersterre: Originally, we were into real estate. We were real estate developers in New Jersey. We had the opportunity to do some construction and real estate on the Morrisontown Airport in central New Jersey. That was in 2001. We were doing it and we were ¾ of the way done with the first phase of our project and 9/11 happened. As you know, air space shutdown and it was pretty scary. My father and I went into phase two where we were building smaller hangars for smaller jets. All of a sudden, when 9/11 happened, we realized, “Wow, there is a huge demand for larger corporate private jets. So, we decided to build larger hangars after that. We started doing that in 2003-2004 and knocked it out of the park. We filled up real quickly. And then that kind of stumbled into a lot of friends and people I know and a lot of people that people know, “I need to go from here to there,” or “I think I’m going to buy me an airplane. Help me out.” So, I knew the business really well from both sides of it because we started what is called an FBO which is like a terminal for private jets. I figured, why am I just passing these people along to other people when I can just make a business out of it. My business partner who is an ex-ballplayer, Tony Siragusa, he and I just said, “Let’s do this.”

We do aircraft charters, we do aircraft sales and acquisitions and we handle high-end, both celebrity artists and athletes while they travel. I grew up playing ball with, Al Harrington. Al is over in Madrid and Ibiza and Majorca and we put that whole trip together for him. Up and coming artists, Carlos St. John [Saint Jhn], we handle all of his tours and his travel. Fetty Wap, models like, Toni Garrn and Ashley Graham. We do that end of it as well as, we have one of our corporate guys that fly private jets and we buy private jets. We’re not travel agents, but we’re kind of travel concierges. We get the bulk airline discounts. We understand the celebrity. One of our influencers is, Ray Lewis from the Ravens as well. When he was on, “Dancing with the Stars,” and Showtime we had to coordinate everything for him. A lot of out celebrity clients, we basically get into the Google calendar and just track it and handle their moves for them, so that they don’t have to think about it.

When you are offering so many different forms of services, I have to ask, what type of team do you have to establish to pull off the day to day grind of it all?

Dirk Vandersterre: We’re not huge. I handle all of the day to day operations directly with the client. This way they have one person to call. I have a client in London right now, my time clock is set to London time. Saint Jhn is in Vegas right now… literally that’s why I couldn’t catch you at 5. Because he called and they want to switch flights from Sunday to Monday out of Vegas. I’m the front person. I take everything in. We have about six people that work behind the scenes and work directly with our bulk airline fare, they deal directly with our private jet vendors and they handle the behind the scenes stuff as well. It’s a lot of dealing with airlines and different logistics; time logistics. Like I have an airplane going out tomorrow at 3:00 from New York to Vegas, so it’s making sure the catering is there and making sure the car services are there because with all of our clients, we handle their car services as well. We have our own internal team and then we have some fantastic… I call them vendors, but partners of ours that deal with all of the other aspects of it.

It sounds like you had to get very familiar with time zones all over the world.

Dirk Vandersterre: (Laughing). Thank God for the iPhone clock (laughing). That’s how I keep track. It seems to kind of fall… we don’t want to get over saturated. It all seems to fall into place pretty well to where we don’t have more than two or three tours going on. The private stuff, that’s just happening all the time and I handle that exclusively. I have the relationship with the client and once it’s booked and set and negotiated, then our team will come in and they will handle all of the logistics aspect of it. Which is a lot because, listen, these people have money, what’s important to them is saving time, luxury and having the right shit on the airplane when the time comes. They can go to anybody, but you know, privacy is big for us. We built a pretty decent relationship with our client. We’re fair. This industry is… I’ll tell you a real quick story. I don’t want to bore you.

No, this is interesting stuff to me.

Dirk Vandersterre: This industry doesn’t have the best people in it. For instance, Saint [Jhn] was going out to work with a guy by the name of, Kareem “Biggs” Burk. He was one of the co-founders of Roc-A-Fella Records. Kareem’s been dealing with a travel agent his whole life. Back in the day when he was with, Jay-Z and all that stuff. He just started, “Circle of Success,” and he took on, Saint Jhn. They were going to London, Italy, Russia and a couple of other places. It was like four or five stops. This is actually how I earned, Kareem’s business. I priced it out and Kareem’s travel agent priced it out. And with bulk airfare, all of the travel agents are getting… I can get a first-class ticket from here to London for $3,500. If you go online it’s $8,500, right. We do a lot of bulk. The travel agent priced the trip at $102,000 and I was at $33,000. So, the thing is, I’m not looking to make a quick score. I’m looking to build a relationship and gain the trust of the client. The last thing the client needs to do is worry about travel. They ain’t making money if they are worried about their travel. And the small things, Kareem has to have a mini bar in the room, this person likes that. Ray [Lewis] likes peppermint patties on the plane. That’s where our team really comes into play and gets down to the nitty gritty and everything because that’s what the clients like and that makes them feel comfortable.

You are in the business where you are accommodating a lot of different personalities, has there ever been a time where you just couldn’t accommodate a client because the demand was a little out there?

Dirk Vandersterre: You will never hear me say, no. But you’re also never going to hear me say, you don’t have to pay for it. I can get you anything. We can get anything done, the question becomes… like I tell my clients, “Look, I can-do last-minute stuff, but it’s going to cost. It’s going to cost a little more than normal.” I’ll fly out to L.A. myself and make sure that, Nobu catering is set. We just had a guy on a yacht in New York City and the guess wanted, Nobu catering. Nobu doesn’t do takeout, but we got them Nobu takeout. And I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, anybody can do it. But it’s just a matter of, “Hey, no isn’t the answer I need right now.” If it’s going to cost me an extra $300 to make it happen from, Nobu, that’s what it cost me.

It sounds very spontaneous as well. Want to change a flight kind of last minute, need a catering company ASAP, things like that. With that being said, is there a deadline where they have to book for it to even make sense for you?

Dirk Vandersterre: I always tell my clients, the more time you give me, the better off it is going to be for the both of us. I’m going to be able to save them money and they are going to be happy. Understanding that those guys are living minute by minute and second by second. I get it. I get an artist’s life. Fetty [Wap] was one of my first bigger name clients. And I spent a lot of time learning from, Fetty and the way these guys move. A day in the life of one of these artists. He is a phenomenal kid. He is an absolutely phenomenal kid and I know he’s going to hit again. He is a good solid kid that came from nothing and made himself into something. I learned how these celebrities and artist move and how they need to flow. These guys and girls and unbelievable. So, anything I can do to facilitate what they are trying to do… and if it has to be last minute, it’s not a problem. But I do say, the more time they give me the better. But you know how life works. It’s fun. It’s not for my wife at 3:00 in the morning when my phone goes off, but it’s fun (laughing).

I don’t want to even try to understand your sleeping patterns.

Dirk Vandersterre: I’ve learned that 4-hours of sleep is what I need. If I get 4-hours of uninterrupted sleep, I’m good for another 20-hours. It’s tough too. I’m a big guy. I played ball back in the day; basketball. And it’s really hard to dedicate… “Okay, I’m going to get up at 6:00 and go to the gym.” So, I slip too. I’m on a roller coaster. It’s like, I’m healthy-healthy-healthy and then the next day it’s 3:00 in the morning and I’m in the refrigerator starving just trying to get me through the rest of this tour, you know.

You must have been a baller. You were a part of that Roadrunners AAU squad.

Dirk Vandersterre: Yeah, just recently I reconnected with, Al [Harrington] and some of the other kids that we played with. It was so nice. I try to get back to Sandy, the coach as much as I can. Chaz and Luke. I didn’t even know they played until I was talking to, Chaz and I said, “Oh yeah, I played with, Al Harrington,” and he said, “So did I,” and I said, “No you didn’t. I was on the team. You weren’t on the team (laughing).” He was younger than me. I tell you what, that experience in my life has really helped me in business. Definitely more so than college. Just the experience of watching these guys. I mean, Al Harrington couldn’t put one foot in front of the other and that kid just worked-worked and worked. And he ended up going to the league right out of high school.

Chaz and Luke Cervino are two amazing guys. Luke is really building his brand and I appreciate him because he’s put me on with some amazing people. They speak very highly of you and I think it’s cool how you guys are able to assist one another in business matters.

Dirk Vandersterre: Yes! There is one gentleman by the name of, Mark Ciccarelli. Mark is a Morgan Stanley financial manager. I met, Mark through another mutual friend. And Mark introduced me to, Fetty and kind of got me into this avenue. Mark had met, Chaz through a networking event. There was some confusion about a year ago. There is a company out there… I’m Titan Aviation Group, there is another company in the United States called, TA Jets and their DBA is Titian Aviation out of Dubai. They decided to move out of Dubai and open up a satellite location in Morristown, New Jersey. Out of all of the places in this country, for them to open up in the airport where I’m at. So, we had a little back and forth and I thought, you know what, I’m more of a brand. I was always more about brand, but I needed to start really getting the name out. I started getting business because of them; customers that were calling looking for them. I said to myself and I said to, Chaz, because we were rebranding with Chaz and Luke and I said to myself, “You know what, let’s keep this, guys. We will rebrand the logo, we will change up the website which we’re doing right now. We’ll make it look sexy and get this thing going, but you know what, I’m going to keep the name.” So, there is a little confusion, but they just recently moved out of Morristown and are still operating as, TA Jets. At this point, it is what it is. But that’s how I got in with, Chaz and Luke and we just kind of hit it off, Roadrunners and that kind of stuff and now it’s like family. We hit it off, we knew a lot of the same people and they have been great. They’re awesome!

I agree. Before I let you go, where can we locate your services and see all of the great things, Titan Aviation has to offer?

Dirk Vandersterre: It’s https://www.titan.aero/. My cell phone is public knowledge. We have an 855 number, but I think that’s less personable. My cell number is (201)400-3126. Our address is, 67 E. Park Place. That’s in Morristown, New Jersey 07960.



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