Q&A: Jet Support Services CEO Neil Book

His company—whose maintenance programs cover almost 10 percent of the global business jet fleet—has expanded on his watch.

Chicago-based Jet Support Services, Inc. (JSSI), founded in 1989, has long been known for its third-party cost-per-hour engine maintenance plans. But since investor Robert Book bought the company in 2008, and under the direction of his son, chairman and CEO Neil Book, JSSI has expanded its offerings to encompass services from aircraft acquisition to parting out. Today, its contracted maintenance programs alone cover some 2,000 business jets—almost 10 percent of the global fleet—and its consulting and data-tracking services are growing. During a recent interview, we asked Neil about his role at the company and its ongoing evolution.

What led your father to buy JSSI?

It was strictly opportunistic. My father is a remarkable entrepreneur and investor. He had no experience in business aviation but saw JSSI had tremendous potential.

How did you come to run the company?

I was in the cybersecurity field and had built a small player in the industry, competing with multibillion-dollar software companies. We became the market leader in our sector, and I sold the company to Juniper Systems, and after working there for two years I was at the inflection point of what to do next. 

I was on the JSSI board, and after the purchase of the company, my father asked me to come to JSSI for a week and tell him what I thought. There was an incredible amount of talent and an incredible business model. I had no experience in aviation, but leading and growing other organizations…at the end of the day, a lot of the same principles apply. I had some wonderful mentors. Lou Seno [of GE Capital, one of JSSI’s founders, who never worked at the company full time], now a dear family friend, agreed to come aboard and help me make the transition.

When I joined JSSI [in 2012], its situation was very similar to my cybersecurity firm’s: a smaller company competing against the giants—Honeywell, GE. We had to find creative ways to differentiate ourselves.

One differentiator is your expanded service offerings. What programs are in JSSI’s portfolio?

Historically, our sole product was hourly-cost maintenance programs, but today we deliver value across every stage of the aircraft life cycle: an end-to-end solution for aircraft owners and operators. That started with our [2018] acquisition of Conklin & de Decker [a business aircraft operational cost specialist]. Now we engage with prospective aircraft buyers and provide objective tax guidance and operating data to help find the right aircraft for them. Once an aircraft is acquired, they can enroll it in a maintenance program—tip-to-tail airframe coverage, or just the engine or APU. We provide complete budget flexibility: tell us the number of hours you want to fly, we’ll tell you the cost.

If you’re selling, a maintenance plan increases residual value—the value of the coverage transfers with the airplane—and reduces the number of days an aircraft sits on the market. 

JSSI also has parts-supply and engine-leasing services. 

When it makes more economic sense to tear down your aircraft than to repair or overhaul it, we offer end-of-life solutions. It’s a new service. We can buy the aircraft and part it out. That creates more value for customers.

Buyers often enroll new aircraft on a JSSI plan. Why, given that new aircraft are under warranty?

First, our coverage fills a void in many engine or warranty programs. The warranty may cover the engines for only the first 2,500 or 3,000 hours, or, if the engine has to come off for repair, or you need a replacement rental engine. That’s often not covered, and a rental could run hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Additionally, a new aircraft requires a maintenance program from day one, and a banker or lender may require an engine program—often 100 percent coverage. And without coverage, you need to accrue funds during the warranty period for future scheduled maintenance, and that could be millions of dollars. 

Also, when customers enroll in a JSSI program, the administration and management of the manufacturer’s warranty falls to us. If you have an engine issue at 500 hours when the aircraft is under full warranty, we will manage that event, and we’re completely aligned with what’s best for our customers. When warranty issues, reputation, and cost concerns are involved, as an independent, we have the ability to look at the situation objectively and provide an unbiased view.

We’ve seen a massive number of enrollments of brand-new aircraft from day one. It’s our fastest-growing portfolio.

How do you enroll in-service aircraft that aren’t currently covered on a plan—for example, for a buyer of an uncovered preowned aircraft?

Owners can buy in at a prorated cost, essentially based on the consumed life of the engine. Pro rata is unique to JSSI. We introduced it 25 years ago. It gives you more financial flexibility, and there’s a huge value in getting all the benefits of our buying power. We’re also totally aligned on appropriate maintenance and repair steps for our customers, even for engine exchange options. 

We offer comprehensive options on coverage for life-limited parts and other components, too. We advise owners based on where the aircraft is in its life cycle. You don’t need full coverage for an older aircraft flying 200 hours a year. You can get unscheduled coverage only, so you won’t get an unexpected million-dollar repair bill.

What is your relationship with aircraft manufacturers? You compete with them in aftermarket services, a market they’ve been aggressively pursuing.

I don’t view the manufacturers as competitors. At the end of the day, we’re sending all maintenance work back to the manufacturer’s facility or an authorized service center. We’re buying parts from them or through an authorized provider. The manufacturer is getting the benefit of the revenue stream, and we’re great brand ambassadors. We deliver the highest level of service and ensure that asset is operated as efficiently as possible. 

New engines powering new jets from Bombardier, Gulfstream, Dassault Falcon, and others are on the market. How does JSSI price coverage for an engine or airframe with no service history?

We don’t shy away from new makes and models of aircraft and engines. We’ve got 30 years of maintenance data, and we’ve become experts at looking at historical data to make decisions, choices, and assumptions when new aircraft or engines come to market. It’s certainly a risk, but a calculated risk. We try to communicate as much as possible with the manufacturers about what future costs will look like.  

The business aircraft fleet is aging, and airframe retirements are rising. How is JSSI involved in the senior aircraft segment?

We think end-of-life programs are a growth area. We see them as an option for JSSI customers with an engine program and for aircraft coming up on inspections that cost more than the value of the aircraft. If that’s of interest, we can use engines with green time in our exchange and rental pool. We’ll tell owners what the airplane is worth, tear down the airframe for parts, harvest the quality components with lots of time, and sell those ourselves or on a consignment basis. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of our business.

At the pandemic’s outset, your customers couldn’t fly and their assets were endangered, while they also had to pay for continued coverage. How did you address that?

Whether you were in commercial or business aviation, in March and April of last year flying activity stopped across the board. Our customers were hurting, and we provided immediate, tangible financial relief. We held customers to 2019 rates, reduced minimum-flight-hour requirements, and offered extended payment terms. We also provided advice on steps for properly maintaining their aircraft and making sure operators performed appropriate engine runs to keep them airworthy. If aircraft are not maintained properly, that’s when things can get really expensive.

Can you describe your typical workday?

We have approximately 300 people around the world in five business units: JSSI Maintenance Programs, our maintenance group; JSSI Parts & Leasing; JSSI Advisory Services; Conklin & de Decker; and SierraTrax [a maintenance software specialist]. We start the week with a Monday morning meeting with a readout from the five businesses, and during the day I process daily sales reports across the units and spend time managing maintenance. We handle more than 10,000 events per year. I review a snapshot of all aircraft inducted the previous day. 

I try to stay connected with customers, large fleet operators, individuals, banks, brokers, and manufacturers as often as possible. I’m constantly trying to push our team to continue to elevate the performance. JSSI is not a company that manufactures anything. We provide service, and our most important asset is our people. 

The thing I’ve missed the most during the pandemic is being face-to-face with my colleagues. We’re still connected through technology, but a big part of my day is just walking around, trying to be accessible to the team.

In November 2020, JSSI sold a majority stake in the company to private investment firm GTCR. Why, and what impact on your business and customers will that have? 

GTCR has had incredible success, and we’re proud to have them as a partner. They’re Chicago-based—right down the street. We’ve had a relationship for many years, and they share our value system. The partnership gives us the resources and ability to continue our strategic acquisitions to do what we’ve always wanted. Our driving force is to find ways to provide more value to our existing customer base and provide more visibility into aircraft ownership, making it easier. We believe transparency is absolutely critical for smart ownership. This industry has been too opaque for too long.

What was your first exposure to business aviation?

I was 31 years old, still with my software company, and had a meeting with a prospective customer on their corporate jet, flying from New York to Washington. It was a Hawker 800XP. That was the first business jet I’d ever been on, and to me, it looked like the Taj Mahal. I remember the entire experience from walking into the FBO at Teterboro [New Jersey], getting onto the plane, having a productive meeting, no distractions. It felt like a time machine, saving time on both ends. It was also a great relationship-building tool. By the time we landed, we felt like old friends. I was really hooked from that day on.

This interview has been edited and condensed.


Name: Neil Book 

Born: 1977, Rockland County, New York

Position: Chairman and CEO, Jet Support Services, Inc. 

Education: University of Delaware, degree in political science and international relations, 1999

Transportation: Charters with customers when appropriate; fractional share in a Phenom 300 for business travel. 

Personal: Lives in Chicago. Married 12 years to Sharon Book. Father of a boy and girl (ages 10 and 8). Enjoys basketball, boating, and skiing.

Charitable and civic activities: Ronald McDonald House of Charities, Pat Tillman Foundation, Dreams Soar, Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, Autism Speaks, West Michigan Aviation Academy Foundation