What were you doing at 23-years-old? Embarking on the dreaded job hunt? Scrambling together rent money? Partying like there’s no tomorrow?
While many people in their early twenties find themselves diving, often begrudgingly, into the big wide world without a map, the same can’t be said for James Moon who, at the tender age of 23, already has a CEO title under his belt and a reputation as one of the region’s most successful young entrepreneurs. He’s a guy who definitely knows where he’s going.
Moon Jet Group is his baby – a now internationally-acclaimed business born out of boundless ambition and a passion for aviation that has been a part of him since day dot. After leaving school, James went on to become one of the UK’s youngest pilots at just 17-years-old, opting for a life in the clouds over A-Levels and University.
“Aviation has always been my focus – even when it shouldn’t have been,” says the former Dame Allans pupil. “When I was doing my GCSEs, I was revising for my pilot’s licence instead – which my parents hated. But it was the only thing I was scoring 100 per cent in.”
“Nothing else – no other career – appealed to me, which is why I decided to leave school at 16 and focus solely on my pilot training at Newcastle International Airport.”
“At the time I had broken my spine playing football – a real eye-opening experience that made me realise how precious life is – and I just decided to go for it. Even back then, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else – and don’t regret a second of it.”
Becoming an airline pilot was the dream and after a few years spent building precious flight time and forging connections with airlines, James was well on his way to making it a reality – until opportunity came knocking on the cockpit door. A chance encounter that, unbeknownst to James, would later propel him from pilot newbie to high-flying businessman.
“I was having the time of my life as a newly-qualified pilot, until one day an aircraft owner, who I had met while flying in Florida, approached me and asked if I might be interested in helping them sell their aircraft,” James recalls.
“It took me back a bit as I knew nothing about aircraft sales at the time, other than a few websites that could help with their advertising. After all, I was only 20-years-old. But they could see how dedicated I was to aviation and how enthusiastic I was about it, so they gave me a go. Long story short, I bit the bullet, ended up selling it for them and the rest, they say, is history.”
James soon began helping fellow aviation addicts sell their planes free of charge, gaining valuable, first-hand experience and an insight into an industry that he would later take by storm.
Realising just how much profit there was to be made, he spent the next two years carefully creating a business model in mind; building connections with airlines and rubbing shoulders with decision-makers, before putting his flying career on standby to launch Moon Jet Group in May 2015.
And it’s certainly been a leap worth taking. After a somewhat slow start, come Christmas 2015 the firm fought off stiff competition to land a $172 million deal with an Asian airline for two Airbus A330s.
“The first seven months of business were quite slow – we only had two or three aircrafts on our books – which, in my eyes, wasn’t good enough. But by the end of the year, that all changed.”
“Winning the Airbus deal meant people started taking us seriously and business just took off. I like to think of it as a little Christmas miracle. It really set the benchmark for us and showed others what we were capable of.”
Today, Moon Jet Group proudly represents 95 aircrafts for sale, from small engine planes and turboprops, to private helicopters, speedy airliners and luxury corporate jets. A vast selection that not only reflects the firm’s international appeal, but its unrivalled success as now the world’s largest aircraft remarketing firm. Take a look at its online portfolio and if you do your sums right, you’ll discover the collection is worth a very handsome $410 million.
“I’m very proud of our selection of aircrafts – none of our competitors can offer buyers such a variety,” says James. “Out of 95, three are on British soil, while the others can be found overseas in the likes of America, Canada, Australia and parts of Asia. I love them all and it’s crazy how much the collection has grown in such a short space of time.”
“Becoming the world’s largest remarketing firm is something I never expected to happen – especially within less than two years’ of business! But it’s all about standing out from the crowd, seeing what we can do differently and ultimately turning the industry on its head. It’s a title I’m determined to keep.”
Remaining client-driven is the name of the game for James, who operates from a small office hub on Newcastle’s Quayside, and his team, who are based in the firm’s Sydney and Michigan-based offices. A third will soon open in Denver, Colorado, to help manage the firm’s blossoming success in the U.S.
Even when the big bucks are concerned, there are no upfront costs when selling an aircraft through Moon Jet Group, no matter how big or small. Meaning nobody – not even James – receives a dime until it goes to a new home.
Sound crazy? To some, yes. But not to this rising business star. Saying so-long to hefty upfront fees and eye-watering percentages, he tells me, is what makes Moon Jet Group unique and only fuels his and his team’s excitement and determination when faced with new clients.
“Put simply, we have an interest to sell each and every aircraft because we don’t get paid until it sells,” he explains. “A lot of our competitors ask for obscene figures – sometimes up to £50,000 – before they even help you. But I ask, where’s the motivation to sell it properly after that?”
“Gaining clients’ trust is important – especially when you’re dealing with high net-worth individuals. It’s not about taking advantage of how much money they have and scamming them out of hundreds of thousands. It’s about having the confidence to take on a challenge because you’re passionate about what you do – and having your clients see that.”
“If an aircraft does sell, we get between one and 10 per cent. Though I usually just ask for one. And although I could, I don’t charge for my time either. I’m not in it for the money – hard to believe, I know, for a 23-year-old lad, but building lasting relationships with clients is my priority.”
With 2017 already underway, James is looking forward to another prosperous 12 months for Moon Jet Group, setting his sights on aircraft charters and venturing into the world of airline leasing, all the while remaining committed to increasing aircraft sales. He even dreams of creating his very own airline. Big plans for a guy who’s yet to reach his 25th birthday.
“Chartering aircrafts is a really exciting prospect,” says James. “I’m in touch with a lot of aircraft owners at the moment who have assets going to waste – beautiful planes sitting un-used, rusting away. So I thought, why don’t we do something about it?”
“Let us manage the aircraft, get it in great shape, fly it for customers worldwide from Newcastle, say, and help generate revenue for both parties. It’s a win-win. Most people don’t realise how cheap it can be to charter an aircraft – it’s a market that’s virtually untapped here in the North East and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.”
And with that, conversation quickly turns to what many twenty-something-year-olds chat about; why ‘older’ people always ask if you’re thinking of marriage yet (he isn’t), if you actually like your surname (he does – and it is real), how many siblings you have (he has three older brothers) and whether or your parents prefer you over them (he likes to think so) and why, in God’s name, is it that once you enter your twenties you’re constantly knackered (he doesn’t know either). Ah, to be 23 again.