NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — Don't think you will never afford private aviation.
A quiet revolution is occurring, mainly triggered by the miseries involved in entering most US airports - have you been to JFK in Queens recently? Crowds, long lines, security hassles add up to a big bother that has many of us scouting for alternatives.
Another factor: the stock of private planes available to fly one-off passengers keeps inching up as owners seek to monetize their sizable investments(a Gulfstream G-650 will set you back $65 million plus custom cabin features). That plane is not making a dime parked in an airport and - worse - if it flies home empty that is money lost in pilot pay, jet fuel, and wear and tear.
Enter JetSmarter, a company that bills itself as the Uber of private aviation. Its aim, said the CEO Sergey Petrossov in a Mainstreet interview, is to disrupt the market, mainly by delivering realtime booking info - prices and availability - to an app.
"We are about the sale of empty capacity, that's why our prices will be much cheaper," he said. "We are eliminating the middleman and the lack of transparency. We empower consumers."
Before JetSmarter - and, watch, there will be a stampede of competitors into a market that technology is making possible - the only way to shop for an available private plane was to work the phone, calling up middlemen who positioned themselves between available inventory and would-be fliers. Petrossov's intent is to wipe out the middlemen, use computer technology to better access and organize available flight inventory and make it easy for fliers - using their own smartphones and the JetSmarter app - to sort through the planes that are in their vicinity and ready to make their travels real.
Still too expensive? It isn't cheap. Said travel expert Joe Brancatelli, who blogs at JoeSentMe, "No matter what anyone says, the gap between flying private and going even first class remains huge."
But, then, there are other, powerful benefits involved in flying private.
Imagine a trip from Sedona, Ariz. to Los Angeles. For an ordinary citizen this involves a two-hour drive from Sedona to Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix and an hour flight from Phoenix to LAX. Did we mention the long security lines and the TSA probing ? Allow five hours to get you from Sedona to the gate in LAX. A last minute ticket costs around $500. Bought well in advance, the price will dip down around $200.
Book with JetSmarter and it costs around $6,100 but that will cover up to five passengers. Get this: flight time to Santa Monica Muni is a couple minutes over an hour. There's no TSA check in at Sedona. Roll up to the gate, get in the plane and off you go. Total elapsed time: maybe an hour, ten minutes to Santa Monica.
Yes, that still is more than twice as much dough as buying same day tickets - but what's the time saved worth? And the reduced annoyance?
Petrossov said that a smart, patient shopper can score outstanding deals on JetSmarter by focusing on so-called "empty legs," which are repositioning flights. Say a hedge fund manager flies from London to New York in a London based plane,
After resting up, that pilot - and definitely the plane's owner - wants the aircraft in the air and heading back to London. Petrossov said he has seen empty legs with prices around $25,000 from NYC - generally flying out of tranquil Teterboro airport in New Jersey - to London, and the deal sweetener is that the plane will accommodate as many as 15. "This flight can be cheaper than business class," he said.
That flight will be booked typically with little advance notice.
Note: first class on British Air from New York airports to Heathrow runs over $10,000 when bought at the last minute. Business class is around $7,500. Even coach, one way, is over $1,300.
For the empty leg operator, $25,000 may be found money, because, historically, that pilot would have flown home alone.
"We are democratizing private aviation," said Petrossov, who indicated that his company handled over 100 flights in June. "We are projecting $25 to $30 million in 2014 bookings."
"We really hope this service won't be just for the 1%," he said. "We want it to be more accessible to the overall travel market, as we optimize inventory and bring prices down."
--Contributed by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet
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