October 2, 2013
By Jim Moore
A Boston-area charter operator has teamed up with a New York-area charter operator to launch scheduled (Part 135) service in a Cirrus SR22. The routes, which connect Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., to either Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., or Boston’s Logan International Airport, are priced to compete with “walk-up” airline fares (typically less than 7 days advance booking), with the added bonus of skipping security lines, congested airports, and other conveniences such as having the flight department also arrange ground transportation as needed.
The first scheduled flight launched Oct. 1, bound from White Plains to Logan. Linear Air handles the scheduling side of the operation, and Hopscotch Air operates a small fleet of Cirrus SR22s. Both hope to fill seats by departing from the traditional charter pricing model.
Seats cost $775 for flights to Bedford and $875 on flights to Logan, regardless of actual travel time.
“We’re very evangelical, if you will, on the issue of fixed pricing,” said Hopscotch Air CEO Andrew Schmertz, in a telephone interview. “We think it’s important that the industry move to this model.”
Linear Air has struck a deal with the online travel booking site Kayak to gain a foothold in the booking system used by airlines. Finding these new flights via Kayak requires a little digging—Kayak considers the SR22 a “turboprop,” for example—though Linear has created an easy-access portal to find the new scheduled flights quickly.
Linear Air Chief Operating Officer Peter Schmidt said the company has also forged a partnership with Skyway Air Taxi serving the Washington, D.C., area, and plans to establish partnerships with similar (qualified) operators around the country. In time, customers will be able to book a Cirrus (or a business jet) seat with the same system used to fill airlines: “The goal is to make it as simple (as) and more pleasurable” than airline service.
Schmidt said potential partners include about 50 operators with Cirrus aircraft already offering air taxi service under Part 135 certificates. “We’re planning to build a network across the U.S.”
Arriving at a smaller (usually more convenient) airport a few minutes before departure, with no lines to wait in and FBO amenities to enjoy, then having the shortest possible walk to a waiting taxi or car service at the other end, can shave hours off the round-trip in terms of door-to-door time required, Schmidt said—perhaps eight hours or more between New York and Boston under certain circumstances. Linear Air hopes that convenience, long known to aircraft owners and pilots, will be a major selling point when discovered by business travelers who have never considered, or simply know nothing about, general aviation.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of what private aircraft can do,” Schmidt said. “That is the single biggest challenge that we plan to overcome.”
Schmertz said customer preferences on airports and times may lead to tinkering in the schedules. (Both companies continue to offer traditional charter and air taxi services as well.)
Schmertz said the service—scheduled or otherwise—may help boost the pilot population, along with demand for GA aircraft. Two nonpilot air taxi customers have already purchased Cirrus aircraft of their own, Schmertz said, noting his company has also partnered with Cirrus to provide pilots and flight department services to nonpilot Cirrus customers. Getting an up-close look at the sophisticated avionics, and having an hour or more to chat with the pilot, can make GA buyers out of many customers, Schmertz hopes.
“Nobody is getting on an Airbus and at the end of the flight saying, ‘I want to buy one of these,’” Schmertz said.
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
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