By Alex Wilson
Sarah Oberman isn’t exaggerating when she says she was born to be in the aviation business.
Her first official job when she was just 12 years old was washing airplanes at Channel Islands Aviation, a business at Camarillo Airport founded by her father, Mark Oberman, in 1976. After she graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a business degree, the Camarillo native, now 39, returned home to play a variety of roles at the family company including managing the flight school and selling single-engine Cessna airplanes.
But when her parents decided to retire a few years back, both she and her brother Mike decided to set their own courses instead of taking over Channel Islands Aviation, which was sold to new owners about a year ago.
Her brother was hired as a pilot with a major airline while she decided to launch her own company, a private jet charter brokerage business named TruNorth Jets that promises “effortless private jet travel” and has taken off faster than a Gulfstream jet.
“It’s been everything I ever thought it would be and more. It’s been wonderful,” Oberman said about her first year as CEO of her own business.
A family legacy
Oberman said her father started flying at a young age, just like she did, and owned an airplane while he attended Cal Poly.
“And shortly after college he started an airmail company. And so that was the first aviation business that he had,” said Oberman, noting that the airmail business was not successful.
Her dad then looked offshore for new aviation opportunities and found a way to make money spotting fish from the air to guide fishing boats while flying out of Oxnard Airport. Looking to the ocean proved fortuitous: that’s how he met the ranchers who owned Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands. This was, Oberman explained, before they were part of Channel
Islands National Park.
“He discovered that there was a need to provide air travel to the islands. And so that’s how Channel Islands Aviation was born,” she said.
At the time Mark Oberman was starting out in aviation, Camarillo Airport was still in use by the military and known as Oxnard Air Force Base. As the airport was being converted to civilian uses, Channel Islands Aviation became the first business to set up shop there. The business evolved into what’s known as a fixed-base operator, providing a variety of services including fuel sales, mechanical services and a flight school.
Oberman said she was also inspired by watching her mother, Janie, play a key role in running the business alongside her dad.
“She sold airplanes. She did employee management. Everything you do with a small business,” she recalled. “So I was exposed from a very young age and got to travel by small airplane and learned early on the advantages of general aviation and small private aircraft.”
While Oberman was a business student at Cal Poly, she was already planning an aviation career. In fact, her senior project was related to the family business.
“I did a business plan on what I wanted to change at the flight school when I came on board,” she said.
Some of the ideas in her senior project actually came to fruition. Channel Islands Aviation developed an FAA-certified flight school, and fostered relationships with local colleges to get students interested in aviation careers. The business even received authorization to issue visas to international students so they could learn to fly at Channel Islands Aviation.
Oberman ran the flight school for 10 years and performed many other jobs such as selling airplanes. But it was when she started working on the charter side of the business that she realized it was her favorite aspect of the aviation industry.
“That got my exposure to the jet business. And that’s what I found is my true passion,” she said.
A business with global reach
Oberman’s knowledge of the capabilities of various jet aircraft and familiarity with operators worldwide is what’s led to her success as a private jet charter broker.
“I source flights for my clients and I help them make decisions based on the different needs of their flights and the different complexities of their flights, how many seats they need, what kind of performance they need, and make recommendations on aircraft types and then steer them towards operators I know and trust,” she explained.
About 80% of the flights she arranges are for business travel including trips to locations near small airports that can’t be accessed easily by commercial flights, or when busy executives need to be somewhere on extremely short notice.
“For example, they can be in many different locations in a short period of time, and their time is really, really valuable,” Oberman said. “If they call me right now and say, ‘I need to go to Seattle today. I need to be there by seven o’clock,’ I can get them there.”
For the 20% of her business involving leisure travel, Oberman says she arranges custom itineraries for clients to luxury vacation spots in Europe and elsewhere, and can monitor their progress around the clock.
Luxury, speed and convenience
Chartering a private jet is far more expensive than even first-class airline tickets, and thus is an aspirational dream for most travelers. But sometimes groups of friends decide to all chip in for a unique private jet trip that might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“I have people who might want to celebrate a birthday, or a special event, or graduation or whatever it might be,” she said. “It’s always worth looking into. You never know unless you give me a call.”
Oberman said she had a client recently who had never chartered a jet before and may never again, but decided it would be helpful while his family and their dogs were moving to a new home far away.
“He just wanted it to go really smooth and easy,” she recalled. “And they were going to some remote place on the East Coast. And it was way more than any first-class [airline tickets] of course, but it was a great experience and they loved every minute of it. It was stress free, hassle free, no big deal. And for them, it was worth it.”
Another thing Oberman enjoys about the private jet charter brokerage business is meeting interesting customers.
“I love working with the people who have made it and can afford to fly private, who have the need and who are successful. They’re fascinating people. And I just love hearing their story and how they get there,” she said. “Every day is fun. It’s exciting. It’s interesting to see where my clients are going and I just love what I do.”
Oberman operates her business out of a home office — or really anyplace she happens to be — which is convenient since she’s a divorced single mom with a 7-year-old son named Bradley, who’s already learning about the airplane business and might even follow in her footsteps someday.
“He knows a lot about airplanes. His dad’s a professional pilot as well and then he’s got his grandfather and his uncle who are professional pilots. So he’s surrounded by it and he’s gotten to fly and he loves it, absolutely,” Oberman said. “So he’ll come with me to the airport and see off clients. And, you know, he’s learning what it’s like to work hard and have a business and be responsible and talk to adults and all that. So it’s good.”
5235 Mission Oaks Boulevard, Santa Rosa Valley