Logistics is a high-pressure industry at the best of times, even without the mission-critical element of flying emergency medical personnel and vital human organs across the United States or precious automotive parts and other critical freight internationally—all at short notice. That is why Grand Aire, an aviation logistics and charter brokerage leader in Swanton, Ohio, is the airborne service provider of choice for some of the world’s best-known Tier-1 and Tier-2 supply companies, third-party service providers, universities, and hospitals.
After nearly four decades in the industry, this company has all the intricacies of performing aviation logistics down to a fine art. It has two main areas of expertise: its fixed base operations (FBO) provides fuelling and high-tail hangar storage services for aircraft as well as aircraft loading / unloading, and it provides comfortable lounges for both passengers and crews awaiting flights.
Then there is the logistics division, offering round-the-clock charter brokerage services every day of the year with planes for both freight and passengers delivering goods and humans on a same-day, next-day, and second-day basis, depending on clients’ requirements. It also offers an onboard courier service in which a trusted delegate accompanies goods like parts and equipment on mainline flights from their place of origin to the final destination.
“People look at us as an emergency service. We’re here fuelling aircraft and servicing planes. Plus, we have every piece of ground equipment that any aircraft would ever need. If we don’t have something, we get it,” says Zach Cheema, Chief Executive Officer, who runs the company together with his brother Shaun Cheema and sister Rebekah Zimmerman.
The company also has an exclusive-use, ground-freight carrier service for third-party logistics providers. Here, Grande Aire provides road transportation for customers in need of super-fast delivery via road. Its main claim to fame, however, is expedited chartering. This service delivers in record time, making it the star service provider for well-known automotive fabricators, universities, and, most importantly, hospitals in need of transporting vital human organs to new destinations for transplants.
Booking such a specialist freight flight is simple. A single call or email to the company with detailed information on the specifications and timeline required for moving time-sensitive goods or passengers is all it takes to mobilize the Grand Aire team to secure one of the over three thousand aircraft on its books.
Another popular service is its aviation groundwork, loading and unloading as many as twenty airplanes daily. “We understand the importance of getting planes with freight moving. Our FBO [staff does] a lot of unloading of freight aircraft,” says Tony Bass, Business Development Manager, noting that, if the company did not perform logistics, it would not understand how fast freight must turn around. “We have had great success in the past three years because we turn aircraft faster than pretty much any airport in the area,” he continues.
The company was started in 1985 by Tahir and Katrina Cheema. Tahir had been working in the automotive industry when he identified a gap in the market for air chartering parts and equipment. The business grew into what it is today as the Cheemas continued to expand its capacity and services over time. Since it began, its expansion has been significant, doubling its staff and capabilities in the past eight years alone.
A passion for detail and speed are pertinent aspects of growth. Thanks to overall integrity, its devotion to people and excellence, and a solid company culture without staff micromanagement, the Grand Aire team of forty loves its mission, and this culture also explains its low staff turnover. One of the team’s greatest recent compliments came from a client who is also a competitor who let the firm know how reliable and great its people are. Gestures such as holiday activities, appreciation lunches, and other team gatherings outside of work all serve to bring everyone closer together, giving strength to the idea that teams that grow together are stronger.
Naturally, the Grand Aire leadership team could not be happier with its staff’s dedication and focus in all weather and situations. The job “gets into your blood, and then it’s hard to get it out of your head. A lot of people don’t want to quit,” says Ken Walters, Director of Operations.
When COVID-19 hit the scene, the company’s information technology department needed no time at all to set the logistics team up for remote collaboration. Its FBO team, however, continued doing the physical work on the ground to keep its clients’ flights and cargo moving. What spelled disaster for some companies, became a year of growth and advancement for Grand Aire. All because, as a broker, the company had the freedom and was able to obtain appropriate planes from reliable carriers during a time when many air carriers were overbooking and often underdelivering. As a result, the company is now in the process of developing a new state-of-the-art software system that will benefit its staff and customers in big new ways.
However, there are many ways in which this industry stalwart sets itself apart. “Our people are very knowledgeable and very safe. When you blend those two on the fixed base operations side, you get speed, [which makes] everyone happy,” Cheema says.
In addition, Bass tells us that local competitors simply do not offer anytime fuelling and loading services, making Grand Aire unique. Another advantage is its commitment to transparency and clear-cut, regular communication with customers, a trait that often garners high praise from those tired of having to guess where their freight is at any given time when contracting other service providers.
“We call them milestone updates,” Bass says, adding that the company lets the customer know “every time that freight touches base or is moved… kind of like FedEx tracking,” except that the company updates with the exact location status information. It also provides “an itinerary when they book with the estimated time of arrival of each planned leg.”
It is not surprising then that it was named Expedite Carrier of the Year in 2020 and 2021 by one of its third-party logistics carrier clients, Transplace, which was acquired by Uber Freight. The company is also certified as being a service-disabled veteran-owned small business, and as a General Services Administration (GSA) contract holder, it also supplies services to the federal government.
As the industry evolves, Grand Aire has positioned itself to move with the significant changes currently shaping the world of expedited freight. “On the FBO side, we would love to see some growth out there,” says Cheema, also pointing out that expanding the company’s infrastructure and fuel storage capacity is a priority to secure ever-growing numbers of clients.
To this end, the company is close to wrapping up an impressive renovation project on its fixed base operations facility. Earmarked to be completed in December this year, this modern port of call will soon be ready to welcome clients to an entirely new visual and business experience.
“I think our customers are going to… love being here. We’re also renovating our logistics department as phase two of this project. It’s a big deal for us,” says Walters. As Grand Aire continues to hone its services and increase its market share, the team also continues to grow. Because while a large footprint is not all that matters in this industry, bigger is always better when it comes to expedited freight handling.