'Empty legs' is the Uber of private jets

Nabbing a seat on a private jet is set to become as easy as ordering a movie from Netflix.

In the US, a number of companies are trying to be the Uber of private planes by letting fliers book an 'empty leg' flight - one without scheduled passengers - with the tap of an app.

"Instead of putting unused cars on the road or filling unused beds, we're putting sleek King Air 350s in the air," says Nick Kennedy, founder and CEO of Rise, a US-based fly-all-you-want membership air travel company. "And we're filling them with business travellers who would otherwise be stuck in long lines at a commercial airport."

Rise, which launched in south-west US eight months ago, plans to expand to the UK in early 2016. US members pay between $US1650 and $US2650 per month for unlimited flights between destinations such as Dallas and Oklahoma City.

ClipperJet, set to launch soon with flights between New York City and Los Angeles, seeks to democratise private air travel with a country club-like membership model - at country club prices. For $US9700 a month, each member will get four one-way legs between cities. But there's an opportunity for a deal: If there are open seats on the Gulfstream IV planes within 24 hours of departure, members can book a seat for free.

'Attainable luxury'

ClipperJet president Matt Morchower says that despite the steep monthly fee, the company is not just targeting the wealthiest of executives.

"We're not going for the $10-million-and-above net worth individuals," he says. "We're selling attainable luxury with the same customer service, time savings, private airports, perks and on-the-ground treatment ... we want to return to the glory days of travel."

Melanie Adams, vice president of construction at Dallas-based Knightvest Management, which joined Rise in May to cut down on travel time and improve efficiency, notes that the the apartment management company's senior executives are not even signed up - it's reserved for those employees who travel the most.

"You just have to fly about three times a month to easily justify the cost," she says. "And when you factor in the value of our time it's even more compelling. We save hours of non-flight travel time each round trip."


Time is money

Tooey Courtemanche, founder and CEO of Procore, which produces construction management software, says that at least 40 of its 250 employees use the company's corporate membership of California-based Surf Air.

Procore is based in Santa Barbara, but has offices in San Diego and San Francisco.

"Since time is money, Surf Air is a huge money saver," she says. "(It) allows the team to essentially time travel between offices in a way that we could have never done before. Santa Barbara has a limited number of commercial flights, which made this impossible before. Now, when an issue comes up, we can go right to the airport, get to our other offices and be home for dinner that evening and to sleep in our own bed."

The CEO of East Coast-based subscription service Beacon, Wade Eyerly - who also co-founded Surf Air - says improving the quality of life of frequent business travellers is a huge impetus for offering the service.

Members board their flights in private terminals with concierges, who will respond to requests such as renting a car or ordering flowers.

Buying back time

"It's a low-stress, low-impact experience," he said while waiting for a Beacon flight to Boston's Logan International Airport at Westchester County Airport in New York. "We are a way for you to buy back time in life."

UK-based service Victor is trying to help customers buy back more time by offering a true on-demand private jet charter service. In Uber fashion, users download the free app and can select the times, locations and airports, and types of jets they want from a fleet of more than 7000. In real time, they get a quote and an estimated time of availability.

Alan Bender, professor of aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, says finding a viable alternative that is more affordable than a privately-owned jet and more convenient than commercial airlines "has been the absolute holy grail of commercial aviation for decades".

Uber convenience

But every attempt to bridge that gap has failed, he says. "Uber-like apps may work with cars and lodging and other inexpensive and very basic services, but it will be much harder for such apps to be successful in an industry where operating costs are astronomical, and where operator skills as well as operator safety and security regulations are - and must be - the most stringent in the world," he says.

William Bauer, managing director of New York City-based Royce Leather, says that for now, the on-demand service is working for his company, which manufactures technology-enhanced travel goods.

The company began using Victor three months ago after demand for its products increased among British and other European retailers.

"Given the high volume of flights and the need for a few hours of relaxing sleep, I recognised the compelling need to use Victor," he says. "Plus, it's a nice incentive to my team to get to fly like the rich and famous."

USA Today

Want to find a seat on a private jet within Australia? Try Empty Jets, Paramount Business Jets, Elle Jet or Light Jets.