Meet the Desert Jet Team!
Denise Wilson, CAM, President and CEO
Denise Wilson founded Desert Jet in 2007 with the intent of bringing the desert’s corporate flight departments together as a cooperative to reduce the cost of aircraft operating expenses. This cooperative expanded to fill the need for a quality private jet charter service in the region and soon resulted in Desert Jet landing on the Inc. 500 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies multiple years in a row.
Denise’s experience prior to forming Desert Jet includes both flying and management positions for several airlines, charter companies and corporate flight departments. Her expertise is in aircraft acquisition and management as well as in the implementation of programs to enhance the safety of flight operations. She provides turbine transition, initial operating experience and standardization training for pilots new to aircraft type, specializing in the Citation family of aircraft.
Denise is qualified by the National Business Aviation Association as a Certified Aviation Manager (CAM). She has approximately 7900 hours of flight experience, with substantial pilot in command and single pilot experience in Citations (Citation Encore, Bravo, Ultra, Excel, 501, II, S/II, V, CJ, CJ1, CJ2, CJ3). She has type ratings in the Citation 500 and 525 series, Gulfstream III, Boeing 737, Hawker 1000, Westwind and the Saab 340. She is the company’s Check Airman on the CE500 and CE525 series aircraft.
In 2014, Denise was one of six selected globally to participate in EY’s Ready, Set, Grow program held in Monaco concurrently with the Entrepreneur of the Year event. Denise was named a national winner of 2013 EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program and was named one of 2013’s Enterprising Women of the Year. Denise was a finalist in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Entrepreneur of 2010 contest, in the Emerging Entrepreneur category.
Denise is a frequent guest speaker. She was the keynote speaker at the American Express CEO BootCamp in Los Angeles in 2014, the Women in Aviation, International Conference in 2010 and a presenter on the topic of vetting business jet providers at the National Business Aviation Association’s Annual Conference in 2011.
Denise is active in leadership roles as a member of the Enterprising Women Advisory Board as well as a Director on the National Business Aviation Association’s Certified Aviation Manager Governing Board.
Denise has been featured, published, and quoted in publications such as Inc. Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Business Jet Traveler, Forbes, Fox Business, Palm Springs Life, Barron’s, the Wall Street Journal, and Aviation for Women Magazine. She is the author of “The Definitive Guide to Supplemental Lift”, a publication written to assist consumers in choosing a private aviation provider.
Denise attended the University of Southern California where she majored in Music Performance (Oboe), and attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree and minored in Aviation Safety. She is a member of Angel Flight West, Women in Aviation, Women in Corporate Aviation, Women Presidents’ Organization and the National Business Aviation Association.
Nicole McLeod, Chief Financial Officer
Nicole McLeod joins the Desert Jet team with a decade of experience in executive leadership and business aviation. Nicole specializes in the collaboration of the administrative and operational aspects of the business through improved efficiencies and solid metrics. Strategic cash flow management and forecast modeling facilitate growth and enhance awareness and progress. She is passionate about maximizing opportunities, both with business and team members, and champions a “can-do” attitude.
Nicole holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Management and is currently finishing a Masters in Accountancy. She also is preparing for the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exam.
Nicole, her husband, and two children are excited to explore Southern California as transplants from Colorado. If not hanging by the pool, you may find this clan at the park throwing Frisbees, ATV’ing the desert terrain, or watching a Broncos football game.
Clair Burke, Director of Charter Sales
Clair Burke joined the Desert Jet team in 2010 and quickly earned her reputation for excellence. She brings a long history of customer service and sales experience to her role in the charter department at Desert Jet. Clair schedules client flights and coordinates specialty services such as passenger ground transportation and inflight catering. She provides the classic Desert Jet “above and beyond” service in an amazingly effortless manner. Clair’s professionalism, charming voice, and quick wit serve her well as she synchronizes the multitude of details needed to ensure a perfect trip for our clients.
Kelly Mason, Charter Coordinator
Kelly Mason joins the Desert Jet team in the charter department with years of professional experience and community involvement that make her vital to the success of the operation. Originating from the San Francisco Bay area before relocating to Palm Desert, Kelly has committed herself to a career in customer service as well as sales and public relations. This experience along with her participation in community organizations such as the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce shed light on her determination to make every customer’s experience a positive and rewarding interaction.
Ashley Brown, Charter Coordinator
Ashley joins the Desert Jet team having completed the FAA approved CTI program for Air Traffic Control, accumulating degrees in Flight Technology, Aircraft Dispatch, and Air Traffic Control, as well as her FAA Aircraft Dispatcher License. She was also nominated for the Outstanding Woman Leadership Award in 2013 and graduated with Highest Honors. Beyond her love of aviation, Ashley has an extensive background in customer relations and brings a tireless work ethic to the Desert Jet team.
Rob Wilson, CAM, Pilot
Rob Wilson has over 25 years of flying experience and is qualified by the National Business Aviation Association as a Certified Aviation Manager (CAM). His previous experience includes the positions of Director of Operations and Chief Pilot for several charter and corporate flight departments. Previous to beginning his corporate flight career, Rob was a Captain, Check Airman and standardization pilot for a large national airline.
Before he started his flying career, Rob was a producer, engineer, consultant, and on-air talent at a number of radio stations across the country, including KIFM and KGB-FM in San Diego and WNUA-FM in Chicago. Rob produced “A Touch of Jazz”, a syndicated weekly radio program on over 90 stations that featured contemporary jazz and was hosted by radio legend Allison Steele, New York’s “Nightbird”. He also ran his own production company, recording jingles and background music for radio station’s musical logos and commercials.
Rob has over 11,000 hours, over 9000 of this as pilot in command. He has type ratings in the Citation 500 and 525 series, Citation Mustang, Saab 340, Hawker 1000 and the Westwind. He is the company’s Check Airman in the Mustang.
Rob attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where he majored in Professional Aeronautics and was on the Dean’s List.
Chris Howard, Director of Safety
Chris Howard joined the Desert Jet team with a long love of aviation, inspired by his first flight on a Boeing 737 with his father, who was also a pilot. He is originally from Australia and has gained experience teaching international flight students as well as flying charter and aeromedical flights in various turbine aircraft. Chris holds both FAA and Australian pilot certificates and currently crews our Citation Mustang and CJ3.
When Chris is not flying, he enjoys spending time with his family and watching his favorite Australian sports, rugby and cricket. He also finds time to go hiking, play volleyball, and catch up on a good novel.
Elena Monroe, Pilot
Elena is copilot on our Citation 500 and 510 series aircraft. She attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and majored in Aeronautical Science with a minor in Meteorology. Aside from her passion for teaching and fostering the pure joy of flying, Elena is always looking for ways to give back to the community. She has a history of volunteering at local animal shelters and the Children’s Hospital in her native San Diego. Excited to be apart of the team, she aspires to make the most out of every flight for the customer in terms of service, safety, and adventure.
In her free time she enjoys decorating, hiking, and is learning to golf the Palm Springs way!
Alan Hunt, Pilot
Alan is a copilot on our Citation 500 and 510 series aircraft. He first pursued his interest in aviation after completing his degree in Jazz Trombone Performance at the University of Denver. He moved to Arizona to complete his aviation training and achieved a position as a Flight Instructor at a Part 141 flight academy in Phoenix where he remained for several years serving several roles including Director of Operations.
Apart from his passion for aviation, Alan also enjoys writing music, hiking, meeting new people and spending time with his family.
Najib Atwi, Pilot
Najib is a captain on the Citation 500 series for Desert Jet. He has over 8000 hours of flight experience including several years as the Director of Flight Operations for a Part 91 flight department. Najib is a world traveler, having lived in Asia, Europe and Africa.
Najib is viewed by his peers as a problem-solver and a great communicator. His hobbies include anything and everything aviation, watching and playing sports, traveling and classic cars.
Adam Dwyer, Pilot
Adam is a captain on our Citation 500 series aircraft. A Florida native, Adam grew up around airplanes and knew that he wanted to fly at a very young age. After earning a finance degree from the University of Central Florida, Adam gained experience flying at fractional airline on the East Coast. Prior to joining Desert Jet, Adam acted as the Chief Pilot of a corporate operation in Atlanta flying throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Adam’s exceptional experience ensures an unparalleled level of service and safety for his passengers.
When he’s not flying, Adam enjoys working on his house, scuba diving and spending time with his wife and three fur children.
Tony Merck, Pilot
Tony has been flying for over 38 years. Tony was a senior international trip captain and Citation demonstration pilot for the Cessna Aircraft Company for over 16 years. His previous experience includes single pilot charter operations, other pilot positions including line captain and Chief Pilot for various corporate flight departments.
Tony has over 15,800 hours of flight experience, 12,000 of this as pilot in command, with substantial pilot in command and single pilot experience in Citations (Bravo, V, Ultra, Encore, Excel, XLS, XLS+, CJ/CJ1/CJ1+, CJ2/CJ2+, CJ3, VII, Sovereign, Citation X). He holds type ratings in the Citation Mustang, Citation 500 and 525 series, Citation Excel, Citation VII, Citation Sovereign, Citation X, Lear Jet and Sabreliner 80.
Tony has extensive worldwide experience including Europe, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Middle East, Africa, The Far East, Australia, and South America. Tony Merck has broad oceanic crossing experience including the North Atlantic Track System (Mustang, Ultra, CJ2+/CJ3, Excel, Sovereign and Citation X), WATRS (all models), North Pacific (CJ2/ CJ1+) and Hawaii (Citation Sovereign and X).
Prior to pursuing a career in aviation, Tony served 6 years in the US Air Force as an Emergency Room Medic with assignments in California, Spain and Florida. Tony attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where he majored in Professional Aeronautics.
Jeffrey Irvine, Pilot
Jeff was born with a love of aviation. He has a passion for all aspects of aviation – from piloting the plane, to instructing future aviators, to ensuring his passengers have the best flight experience possible. You can always expect a firm handshake and a smile when you meet him.
Jeff attended Utah State University where he graduated with a BS degree in Aviation Technology. From there, he became an independent flight instructor for a small company in Ogden, UT where he was able to start a “Education in Aviation” program in local schools. This program helped to educate high school students on possible career choices in aviation, and gave them an opportunity to discover flight. Jeff enjoyed teaching so much that he secured a full-time position at a flight school in Phoenix, AZ where he taught for three years.
Jeff was a captain and check airman for a large cargo operation prior to joining Desert Jet.
Jeff speaks German fluently as he lived in Germany for a couple of years doing service for his church. Jeff enjoys the outdoors and has spent many hours volunteering with the Boy Scouts of America as a Scout Master. He has even been known to slip in a few opportunities to earn the Aviation Merit Badge. He loves the game of golf, watching movies with his family, and finding ways to make someone’s day brighter.
Jeff is married to the love of his life, a German red-head, and together they have two amazing boys. You could say his hands are full, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kay Creed, Accountant
Kay brings over 25 years of accounting and human resources experience to her position at Desert Jet. Kay handles all aspects of the financial tracking for all the managed aircraft in Desert Jet’s fleet, as well as accounts receivable and payable. “Numbers are my thing,” admits Kay. A Southern California native, Kay previously worked in public accounting, juggling over 60 different company accounts simultaneously.
Kay is an avid supporter of many local organizations, such as Relay for Life and the Soroptimist House of Hope, where she volunteers as Treasurer. In addition, she runs Desert Jet’s employee efforts to raise funds for a different employee-chosen charity each month and regularly donates her hair to organizations that provide free wigs to cancer survivors.
Max Vivacharawongse, General Manager, Desert Jet Maintenance
Max was influenced by aviation at an early age, growing up near an Air Force base in Thailand where his father flew the F-5E and accompanying his mother on flights she piloted in the family’s Cessna 152.
Max attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University majoring in Aviation Technology with a specialty in Avionics for his undergraduate work and earning his Master’s degree in Aeronautical Science with a specialty in Maintenance Management. Max’s love of learning also led him to attend law school and earn a Juris Doctor degree.
Max’s maintenance experience includes working his way up from an avionics technician for the Orlando Citation Service Center to becoming part of the crew completing heavy inspections on CitationAir’s fleet. Max eventually became the Aircraft Maintenance Controller for CitationAir where he oversaw their entire fleet of Citation aircraft. Max also worked at JetSuite as their Aircraft Maintenance Controller where he developed the company’s maintenance control department before being promoted to the Manager of Maintenance Control.
As General Manager for Desert Jet Maintenance, Max oversees the entire operation and ensures total customer satisfaction. As Accountable Manager, he ensures the company complies with all FAA regulatory requirements.
Max is an avid fan of BMW automobiles, enjoys scuba diving in his free time and spending time with his young, growing family.
Larry Gase, Director of Maintenance
Larry is a Quality Control Manager and Maintenance Technician for Desert Jet Maintenance as well as the Director of Maintenance for Desert Jet’s charter operation. He holds inspection authorization and has 18 years of experience maintaining Citations at a Citation Service Center and working in the Citation factory. Larry attended the Spartan School of Aeronautics where he obtained his Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) certificate.
Larry’s love of aviation goes back to his childhood when his father took him to see a DC-3. He has been hooked on the beauty of flying ever since, also pursuing flying lessons and becoming a private pilot.
Larry is a proud father of two beautiful teenage daughters and in his free time enjoys traveling and experimenting in the kitchen.
Daniel Fell, Maintenance Technician
Daniel began his career in Aviation as his father did, by enlisting in the Air Force on 27 August 1980. He retired from the Air Force on 1 November 2000. During his 20 year Air Force career he served in numerous countries and capacities, including the United Kingdom, and the Middle East. He was responsible for maintaining Avionics Systems on KC-135 and KC-10A Refueling Tanker aircraft as a Guidance & Control Systems Technician, Specialist Expediter, Quality Assurance Inspector, and Assistant Production Expediter.
Upon retirement from the Air Force, his vast expertise and system knowledge on the KC-135 aircraft enabled him to become one of the lead Avionic Technicians for Raytheon Contract Field Team, at March ARB, California performing the PACER CRAG modifications on KC-135 Avionics Systems, and the installation of Glass Cockpitsand certification of these aircraft prior to return back to their associate military organizations. After that he continued his aircraft and Avionics career working for several companies in Southern California, and his abilities enabled him to become qualified and maintain Avionics Systems on Lear 40, 45, 60, Challenger 604/605, B727 & B767, as well as Airbus A319/A320 Aircraft.
Upon completion of those job opportunities, he began working and maintaining all Cessna Aircraft utilized by Netjets as an Avionics Technician, and aircraft mechanic for another Southern California aircraft maintenance facility. He has obtained his A&P License, and continues to maintain our Aircraft Fleet as a vital member of Desert Jet Maintenance.
He is married, and the father of 5 children; 3 adult children, 5 grandchildren, and two small children. He enjoys spending time with his family, staying up on current events and technology improvements, as well as downloading and maintaining his digital music collection.
John Fore, Parts Clerk
John grew up in his father’s machine shop building industrial engines for the agriculture industry. Recognizing his natural ability for organizing and developing systems, John’s dad put him in charge of the family business’ parts department.
His creative talent for marketing and design led him to pursue a degree in communications. His love of aviation came later as a developer of training materials for FlightSafety.
His attention to detail, keen eye for organization, and his love of all things that fly are perfectly suited for the Desert Jet Maintenance parts department.