June 4, 2013 -- A California teenager has figured out a way to do what plenty of adults wish they could -- turn a hobby into a money-making business. Sean Burris, 18, sells flights on vintage jetliners to fellow aviation history buffs.
His company, Classic Jet Tours, has sold two flights so far.
The first, in 2011, was aboard a British Aircraft Corp. business jet from the late 1960s (a BAC 1-11-400), described by Forbes.com contributor Matthew Stibbe as having a retro, Howard Hughes-style interior. Stibbe, noting that there were only eight such aircraft still flying, described the charter as perhaps the last chance most aviation fans would have to fly onboard this historic plane.
And not just fly: Burris tells ABC News that customers on his charters get more than just a seat. "It's a social event," he explains, "with the plane as its centerpiece. They get to do a meet-and-greet with the pilots. They go into the cockpit and get to see all the instruments, which, on older aircraft were more complex, because there was less reliance on computers."
They can, he says, walk around the plane on the ground, taking pictures of things passengers on commercial flights can never get close to, including the wheel wells and the engine cowlings.
Burris says his first charter went more or less as he'd imagined, except that he lost money. "I wasn't really aware of all the limits and the rules," he tells ABC News. "It cost $8,000 an hour for the aircraft, and I figured, OK, that would be a couple of hundred dollars per person, for an hour." Later, though, he found out that there was a four-hour minimum, plus costs he hadn't figured on, such as having to pay for flight attendants. Even though he charged $880 a person, he had only 17 passengers, according to the Sacramento Bee.
His second charter, in May 2012 aboard a 1968 Douglas DC-8, not only made money but made enough to make up for his earlier loss, Burris says. He told the Bee he pocketed a profit of about $1,000.
Burris says his idea for the business grew out of his boyhood interest in the history of airplanes, especially ones from the '50s and '60s, which he says he found "really interesting." He wondered if there were any still flying, and found out there were, mostly for executive charters.
"I couldn't afford to charter them for myself," he explains. But if he could find other people who wanted to fly, and if he could split up the cost, he could get what he wanted. He suspected there were enough serious hobbyists to make the idea work, and it turned out there were. His parents, he says, supported the venture from the start. His father, a manager of construction companies, helped him with the business details.
What's next? As far as future charters go, Burris says he has no firm plans. But he's got his eye on a 727-100 in Asia that used to be owned, he says, by Donald Trump.
"It's the only one able to fly passengers that's left in the world." His "dream-flight," he says, would be on a Lockheed L-1011. The only ones still flying, he says, are in Pakistan.
Burris, who lives in Lincoln, Calif., northeast of Sacramento, says after he graduates from high school he will attend Northeastern University in Boston, and plans to major in business administration, with a concentration in entrepreneurship and new venture management.