OpenAirplane simplifies aircraft rentals for pilots

June 18, 2013

Chicago-based OpenAirplane is betting it can change the value proposition for pilots renting aircraft outside their home fixed-base operators and flight schools by offering access to aircraft around the country.

The idea behind OpenAirplane is to allow pilots to find available aircraft at partner companies, see detailed information about the aircraft, request a reservation, and pay for the rental after they fly. Pilots who complete the universal pilot checkout at one of OpenAirplane’s participating operators reset the clock on their flight reviews, earn a discount on their renter’s insurance, and get access to the same model of aircraft at bases around the country.

Founder Rod Rakic, a pilot, said he has always been frustrated by the fact that his certificate turns off when he leaves his home base. “The FAA says that I can fly anywhere on the same type of aircraft I regularly fly from my home base. But there is too much hassle, expense, and friction on how people do business,” he said. “We’re solving a problem so pilots can fly more.”

OpenAirplane was inspired by the innovation seen in markets around the idea of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy, said Rakic. “There are companies disrupting traditional businesses, like what Uber does for black cars and taxis and what Airbnb does for hotels,” he said.

The first step in launching OpenAirplane was getting permission from the insurance industry, working with them on a standardization program, said Rakic. “Once we did that, we announced OpenAirplane seven months later at Sun 'n Fun in 2012,” he said.  “Pilots gave us permission to move forward by signing up in droves. Nearly 5,800 gave us their email addresses before our final launch.”

Once OpenAirplane had so many pilots express interest, it allowed Rakic to approach FBOs, flight schools, and flying clubs. “We started with six bases around the country to get started, with commitments for another nine,” he said.

Pilots and operators can access the service though any Web browser on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. OpenAirplane is free for pilots to join and free for operators to list their aircraft, ranging from two-seat light sport aircraft to high-performance piston singles. It makes money by taking a percentage of incremental revenue generated through any aircraft rental, he added.

OpenAirplane is currently available in six locations: Academy of Aviation, New York's Republic Airport; California Flight Center, Long Beach Airport; Chicago Executive Flight School at Chicago Executive Airport; Trade Winds Aviation at California's Reid-Hillview Airport; SunState Aviation at Florida's Kissimmee Gateway Airport; and Aviation Experience at Michigan's Oakland/Troy Airport.

It is all about offering operators a better way to do business, said Rakic. “Most flight schools have done business the same way since [the] 1950s. But now, we’ve got the opportunity with new technology to where customers’ expectation have evolved, where it’s time to try something new,” he said.  “I’m happy to see a critical mass of operators willing to try it and walk this road with us.”