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Since launching in 2007, on-demand private jet
service ImagineAir has grown to 11 aircraft serving about 900 airports in the
eastern United States. Aiming to “turn a three- to eight-hour drive into a one-
or two-hour flight” while “making the benefits of private aviation affordable
on a large scale,” ImagineAir has served smaller businesses and now is eyeing
more penetration into managed travel programs, according to president and CEO
Ben Hamilton. Hamilton recently spoke with BTN
transportation editor Michael B. Baker about ImagineAir’s model, distribution
strategy and growth plans.
How does ImagineAir work from the customer
You go online or call in. ImagineAir was the
first to allow online bookings for on-demand flights. You specify where you
want to leave from and where you want to go. Behind the scenes, we take the
closest airplane from the last dropoff to your pickup, and we fly the flight at
the time you want to fly. When you book a flight online, you’re given several
options of price points and times. An average price for a flight is $1,200 for
one way, which is for the entire aircraft, up to three passenger seats. We
simply show up at the airport. You can drive right up to the plane. There’s no
security, lost luggage, layovers or missed connections. There might also be discounted
fares for flights that pair well with others.
What is your customer base?
It’s anybody that’s making a three- to
eight-hour drive. It’s about 70 percent business and 30 percent leisure. Folks
making regional road trips are really the market. Small business owners are our
primary audience. We fly doctors, lawyers, politicians making several campaign
stops around a state in a single day or a construction company doing a site
visit 250 miles away. There are about five times as many people making regional
road trips, as opposed to longer distance airline travel, to give you an idea
of the market size we’re going after. We’re not competing with airlines. We’re
really competing with the car.
Are you working directly with managed travel
Most of our customers are small business owners
that themselves are the decision makers. We have gotten into more small- to
medium-size companies, where it might be a particular individual arranging the
travel or a few individuals arranging travel for CEOs and executives. We’re
trying to slowly work our way in that direction, and it’s an adoption curve.
Once they start seeing the ease and the cost of doing this as compared to
flying in a private jet, that will help it catch on a little bit.
What is your distribution model? Could you be
available through global distribution systems?
There really is no GDS for on-demand aviation.
There are some pseudo-GDSs, but we’ve developed our own proprietary software in
house that looks at our fleet and says, “Is this flight available and how much
does it cost?” It does that within about three seconds because you have to give
the customer an immediate indication. The problems with a pseudo-attempt at
making a GDS system for on-demand aviation is that there is a humongous waiting
period. You go to your broker, the broker bids and posts it on a pseudo-GDS
system, and they bid the trip with a bunch of operators and they take a while
to tell them whether they’re available, let alone the price. It goes back and
forth for hours and hours, and we’ve even seen days. It’s all to the detriment
of the customer. There’s a big need for instantaneous reservations. Give the
customer an instant yes or no and price, and if you can’t do that, the industry
Is there a mobile app for booking?
Right now it’s on the desktop site, but we are
working on a mobile app that’s slated to be out by Dec. 31 with the same online
How big do you envision becoming?
Our 15-year plan is for at least 1,000 airplanes
in the fleet. The market size we’re talking about easily justifies it. Just
that alone supports a fleet size of several thousand aircraft.
What type of aircraft do you use?
We use a uniform fleet of Cirrus SR22s. It’s a four-seat airplane, like a little luxury car with wings. The pilots that fly for us often remark how much more sophisticated the technology is in this aircraft compared with what they flew in the airlines. It’s got a lot of automation and a safety feature, which is a full airframe parachute system that can lower the whole aircraft to the ground if there’s a problem we can’t solve in the air. We’ve never had to use it, but it’s there if needed. It’s been a great airplane for getting folks new to private aviation into a small airplane for their first time.
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