A Manifesto For Mobility

Rod Rakic, co-founder at OpenAirplane, launching FlyOtto, professional pilot, husband, father, nerd. Monday, 26.03.2017.

I want to let you in on a secret. What if you could have access to a whole new way get to where you want to go? What if we could offer you a better way to get around on trips too long for Uber, but too short for the airlines? And we’re working with NASA to make it happen.

What most folks don’t realize is that here in the U.S. scheduled airlines can only sell you tickets to about 300 airports. But we all have access to over 5,000 public use airports across the country. You do have another option beyond being stuck in traffic on the highways for half a day, or suffering your way through the big commercial airport. You can now fly on-demand. Because on-demand mobility isn’t just about hailing a ride across town anymore. Technology is unlocking a whole new mode of transportation for more people, and the future is here now.

Mobility is a critical engine for our economy, our society, and our quality of life.

But here’s the problem… For the first time in the history of our nation, the U.S. has gotten bigger, not smaller. NASA research tells us that travel has actually gotten 20% slower today than it was in 1980. This isn’t because airliners are suddenly flying slower, or that the speed limit on the roads was lowered. We’re slowing down for the first time in our history because of congestion on the roads and major hub airports. It’s a massive problem, and it’s not getting any better.

Access to private air travel was often dependent on either ownership or more recently, membership. The ultra wealthy who can afford to purchase their own private aircraft are a lucky few. For some people, paying up front for a membership to programs that allow them to access private aviation makes sense. These programs arbitrage of the revenue from selling memberships, to the costs of delivering travel, but they are still expensive whether you use them or not.

Private air travel might as well be invisible for most folks. Discovery is the biggest problem. Today the average traveler never even considers booking a private plane, and even if they did, they would usually have no idea where to start. Ask anyone but a pilot where the local airports are, (There’s usually more than one nearby!) and you’ll typically get blank stares. Unless you live in Alaska, chartering an airplane to get someplace sounds pretty exotic. For the most part, it’s an industry stuck in the 1980’s. The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) tells us that the average charter transaction requires 44 emails back and forth between brokers, travelers, and operators to execute. The experience of contacting a broker, waiting on average 45 minutes to 4 hours before even know how much a trip would cost, has limited the market for on-demand air travel to just the ultra wealthy. Most consumers just won’t bother with it. Only people who can afford to have someone else deal with the archaic process of arranging private air travel really ever consider it an option.

Aircraft charter is a broken marketplace that manages to grow despite itself. Today private air charter is a an estimated $20 billion dollar market domestically, despite the creaky legacy business model. Revenues have grown 2.8% annually over the past 5 years, plus demand is expected to pick up dramatically over the next 5 years. On-demand air carriers, there are thousands of them, are based in communities across the country. These are typically small businesses. It’s a very fragmented industry. They are good at the business of flying, but in such an inefficient market, it’s been tough for them to thrive.

Jet charter brokers prosper by creating a race to the bottom. Amazingly, brokers typically take between 5 and 50 percent of the revenue when they arrange a trip. Brokers are why people who charter jets typically end up in the oldest, slowest jet that can be found. Charter operators will close about 30% of the trips they are asked to quote by customers directly, but close only about 10% of the quotes they prepare for brokers. This wastes a lot of time and a lot money, further driving up the price that travelers have to spend.

Fifty percent of all business travel in the U.S. are over distances of less than 500 miles. Yet domestic air carriers keep cutting supply. The scheduled airlines have been cutting flights of less than 250 miles by 5% each year. That’s a reduction capacity of 280,000 seats annually, and that adds up. Unfortunately, the communities most impacted by these cuts are the ones most reliant on air travel to keep them connected and competitive. Scheduled airlines today operate on a hub and spoke system, an idea they picked up from FedEx. Airlines have optimized for efficiency, not utility. So it’s no wonder that when people are treated like packages, their experience suffers. Ultimately, it’s driven down the cost of air travel overall. Scheduled airlines offer a very efficient product if you happen to want to travel from hub to hub. Nonetheless, the experience of traveling from spoke to spoke is uniformly terrible.

We built FlyOtto to match travelers with pilots and planes on-demand. This is a different approach. We didn’t just become brokers, we built a marketplace that streamlines on-demand travel. FlyOtto solves the discovery problem in a couple of new ways. First we’re helping travelers find alternatives to congested hub airports, and then we give them real-time access to pricing. Now a professional pilot, and certified aircraft, can be waiting at the most convenient local airport, wit the tap of a button.

For trips of more than 1,000 miles, the best option is often a jet. But for trips between 200 and 800 miles, a piston or turboprop aircraft is a much more efficient solution, available today at a fraction of the cost. Flying a modern single engine airplane adds only about 8% to the time door to door compared to the comparable trip on a business jet, (which in reality, averages only about 90 minutes) but at a 75% savings in cost! Thanks to the advancements in light aircraft technology driven by NASA, we now have some great choices. FlyOtto offers travelers access to aircraft that can seat anywhere from 3 to 9 passengers, all for a fraction of the price of chartering a jet.

Flying private can be a value, since 3 travelers can, on their own schedule, fly from The Bay Area to Tahoe for less than $1,500, or New York to Martha’s Vineyard for about $1,200.

Now you can have a pilot and plane waiting for you, on-demand. We’ve worked very hard to make booking a trip simpler than ever before. We start by asking just two questions: where would you like to be picked up? And where would you like to fly to? No sign up, no membership fee, and instant results. FlyOtto doesn’t even ask when you’d like to leave initially, because it doesn’t affect the price, so we wait until you’ve selected the aircraft that best serves your needs before configuring the rest of the trip details. Our search results give you everything you need to optimize your trip on a single screen. We draw you a map which shows you the requested route, but also highlights where the nearby airports are located. The algorithm makes the best guess for you, avoiding big commercial airports that would be more costly to use. Origin or destination airports can be changed with a couple of quick taps, and pricing gets updated immediately too.

FlyOtto works on any device, anywhere. Go to FlyOtto.com on any smart phone, tablet, or a desktop computer, and it just works, with nothing to download. We deliver this experience with a responsive web application that’s optimized for mobile. (We use Angular.js on the front end for those of you into that sort of thing.) This consumes APIs delivered from a robust application backend, written in Python, using the Django framework. This is drives our proprietary algorithm that calculates the price and the travel time for each trip. We display that to travelers for a spectrum of aircraft based across the country, in real-time. It’s technology that enables delivery of mobility on-demand. For the first time, this kind of travel can be an impulse purchase.

Our current record from when a trip was requested, to when the traveler stepped aboard the aircraft, is just 46 minutes.

Tapping latent demand tends to create massive markets out of seemingly thin air. Consider the example of black car service. It was an inefficient market, until technology disrupted it and brought on-demand mobility to driving. A professional driver who had just enough clients to get by, enabled by technology, found access to new customers. The driver who used to sit around reading the paper for much of the day waiting for the phone to ring, started getting enough business to not just get by, but to thrive, to prosper. We hope to have the exact same effect on the industry of regional air travel.

We’re not the only folks with a vision for what on-demand mobility can do for us. Did you know the first “A” in NASA stands for “Aeronautics?” So we’re partnered with NASA, sharing anonymized data with their team on the demand we’re unlocking. As part of the On-Demand Mobility project at NASA Langley, we’re helping researchers better understand which technologies to invest in. As technologies such as electric propulsion create possibilities for new kinds of aircraft, new opportunities for mobility will emerge.

We’ll know we’re successful in a few ways. We’ll see existing infrastructure like local airports get far better utilization. This means far fewer communities will waste time and energy debating the value of their local airport. When more people start flying from airfields, fewer of them will be closed only to be replaced by yet another office park or shopping mall. Even better, we’ll see more professional pilots offered more great jobs. With starting pay at regional airlines still less than a city bus driver, a future where we create great jobs with a better work / life balance at scale is something we think is worth fighting for.

The technology powering on-demand mobility can unlock this magic power of travel for more people. 80% of the folks who have booked trips with us, have never flown private before.

Access to this underutilized infrastructure that can significantly reduce congestion on our roads and at our big commercial airports. We’ll help more people get more places. We were inspired by NASA’s vision for air travel becoming more personal, more valuable, less expensive, and more sustainable as well. We hope you’ll be flying with us soon.

We’ve got wings when you want them. Today.

Article source: www.flyotto.com

Contact us

Alex J. Armentano
Partner & Managing Director
+1 202 215 8802
Tamara Bullock
Partner & Managing Director
+381 60 3009035
+971 528069250
Copyright © 2016 Altitude. All rights reserved.