Centurion and an affiliate, Sky Lease Cargo, run neck and neck with Chilean-based LAN Airlines, for the top spot in air-cargo shipments between Miami and Latin America. Rey said his firms generated about $750 million in revenue in 2012, a “bad year” in which the firm essentially broke even. He hopes to hit $1 billion in 2014 and double that by 2016, growing the fleet from the current 11 MD-11Fs and two Boeing 747Fs to 18 MD-11Fs and 10 additional 747-400Fs.
Yet Rey has attracted relatively little media attention. “We’re very low key,” he said. “Perhaps it’s my personality.”
In 2011, he made headlines in Miami when he won a bankruptcy-court auction for the high-profile home at 15 Star Island Dr. for $12.6 million. The bayfront mansion had belonged to since-convicted fraudster Claudio Osorio. Rey has put the property back on the market for $16.9 million.
In 2010, Rey was in the news in Brazil in connection with a political corruption scandal that Rey says had nothing to do with him. The newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo reported that Master Top Linhas Aéreas, a Brazilian carrier that had government contracts for airmail service there, actually belonged to Rey, and was using a Brazilian “ testa de ferro,’’ or frontman, to disguise its ownership. Brazil, like the United States, has restrictions on foreign ownership of airlines.
Col. Eduardo Artur Rodrigues Silva, the alleged frontman, left his post as director of operations at Brazil’s postal service after the report and denied any impropriety. Master Top lost its mail contracts and air license, according to news reports.
For his part, Rey told The Miami Herald he never owned Master Top, but rather had provided the company support, including “airplanes and a sales force.” Rey said Rodrigues had represented him on some aviation issues in Brazil, but was never a frontman for him. “They made a major investigation. Nothing was found,” Rey said. “I never get involved in politics in any country.”
Rey said he gravitated to the hyper-competitive air-cargo industry, though he has no particular fondness for airplanes. He worked initially in Miami for a small Argentine-flagged cargo line — Servicios de Transportes Aéreos Fueguinos S.A., or STAF Airlines — that years later, in 1991, he would end up buying.
“The real story of this business is my father,” says Jonathan Rey, 25, who was born and raised in Miami and is director of sales, charters, and live animal operations for Aerolog, a logistics affiliate. “He started out running a forklift. He’s a workaholic.”
In 1997, Rey and partners launched Cielos Del Peru, a Peruvian-based carrier that operated Boeing 707F and McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30F jets. Rey said he has since sold the company.
In 2001, he bought the air operating certificate of Challenge Air, which had been the biggest all-cargo carrier to Latin America when UPS acquired its assets in 2000. He renamed the business Centurion, marking the beginning of his U.S.-flagged cargo business with U.S. planes flown by U.S. pilots.
Plans for the new MIA headquarters were launched in 2007. Centurion joined with Annapolis, Md.-based Aeroterm to negotiate a 30-year lease with Miami-Dade for 43 acres of airport land along Northwest 36th Street west of LeJeune Road. Much of the space in the northeast corner of MIA once had been occupied by Eastern Air Lines and remained underutilized since its demise in 1991.