Of all the precious cargoes that move around the country by air, 29-year-old Al Dellentash specializes in one of the most unusual: rock groups. In less than four years he has built a multimillion-dollar plane-leasing business, in addition to acting as broker in the purchase and sale of used aircraft. Among the acts that have chartered Dellentash's three Convairs, two helicopters and a Boeing 707 are the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, the Doobie Brothers, Kiss, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and John Denver.
It's not exactly no-frills flying—the fare averages $7,000 a day plus expenses, and the planes themselves are elegantly appointed. Bought originally from airlines, they have been refurbished with thick carpeting, plants, phones, telex printer, electric typewriter, bedroom and bar. Not all of Dellentash's clients can be found in the pages of Rolling Stone. When an Arab oil sheik ran out of films and TV cassettes to show at home, Dellentash "flew over boxes and boxes of them from the U.S.—with no passengers aboard." The cost: $100,000. Paramount guaranteed nearly one month's rental—some $200,000—to fly celebrities to the opening of Foul Play in San Francisco. They also taped comedy bits on the way for a related TV special. And a wealthy European wanted a plane converted quickly into an airborne playpen to keep his child amused during an 18-hour trip. The renovation alone cost $25,000.
Luxury and convenience are not a client's only concerns. Recently Stones manager Peter Rudge sent safety consultants to look over Dellentash's planes before signing on. His caution was understandable: Rudge previously managed the group Lynyrd Skynyrd, which crashed in a chartered plane last fall.
Although rockers have been known to misbehave on flights, Dellentash insists he will "take 'em all. Usually the ones with the worst reputations turn out the best." When one rock star claimed the pistol he was waving around on board was unloaded, Dellentash put up with it—though later a box of ammunition was discovered under the man's seat. Dellentash has only one inflexible rule: He will not allow cockpit crews to wear street clothes in the air, although rock groups frequently request it. "It's unprofessional," he explains. "Once they take off that uniform, they start to mix."
Al doesn't mind mixing, but then he's a would-be musician himself. The son of a contractor who "moved the family every four years," he was a habitual truant in high school. "I was a solid D student—in my good years," recalls Dellentash, who preferred playing keyboard for local rock groups. Finally graduating from high school on his 20th birthday, he went to Daytona Beach to study aeronautical engineering.
He paid his way by cleaning apartments and working on construction jobs while performing at night in local lounges. In 1974 he began his career in the charter business by wangling a loan to buy an $18,000 Cessna.
Dellentash lives in a big stone house in Montvale, N.J. with his wife, Doris, and their children, Michele, 5, David, 2, and adopted son Timmy, 10. Lately Dellentash has decided to branch out from transporting rock groups to managing them and possibly into movie financing. "I got great contacts with film people, TV, rock promoters and managers. I got a lot of money and a good business sense. Hey," he smiles, "this business has been a good vehicle for me."
Rock stars may trash hotel rooms, but they behave on the planes