By Jim Pitman
OpenAirplane is on a mission to help pilots get more utility out of their pilot certificates. In most instances, pilots are only able to rent airplanes from the flight school or flying club where they trained. Completing an aircraft checkout typically involves several hours of ground and flight instruction—which often doesn’t make sense for pilots who may only want to rent occasionally when traveling to different locations for business or pleasure.
OpenAirplane is the solution. Co-founder Rod Rakic explained, “We had a vision that started with a simple question: What if we could make everyone’s pilot certificate more valuable? It has taken several years of hard work, but we’ve done it. Whether traveling for business, on a family vacation, or just to create fun new adventures, OpenAirplane pilots now have the ability to easily rent airplanes at numerous locations all over the country.”
OpenAirplane works with flight schools, flying clubs, and individual owners. Each is simply referred to as an operator. Anyone who has an airplane that needs to fly more is invited to become an OpenAirplane operator. There is no cost to join or list your airplanes.
At the end of a successful rental, OpenAirplane pays 90 percent of the listed wet rate to the operator, 3 percent to its credit card processing company, and keeps 7 percent as its share. In other words, OpenAirplane doesn’t make money until you make money.
“We wanted to keep the payment system simple and predictable. We also wanted to remove any barriers to entry,” Rakic said. “This isn’t another subscription service for flight schools to pay for and hope it generates business. OpenAirplane is built to help pilots fly more, which helps operators turn more props more often, which makes their planes more profitable. We’re not fighting to get a piece of the pie. We’re working to grow the pie for everyone. The flying we see in the OpenAirplane network is almost 100 percent incremental. It’s flying that would not have happened otherwise,” he said.
Rakic said it’s important that operators understand they have full control over their pricing and profit margins. “It's OK to advertise airplanes on OpenAirplane at a higher hourly rate to cover some or all of our fee. OpenAirplane renters understand how the pricing works and they don't mind paying a small premium for the convenience of using our service,” Rakic said.
One important key to the success of OpenAirplane is the Universal Pilot Checkout, or UPC ( http://pilots.openairplane.com/#the-checkout ). This is the primary quality control mechanism developed to ensure every renter pilot is well qualified to operate your airplanes safely and proficiently. The UPC is conducted by a flight instructor in the OpenAirplane network. That checkout is then good for 12 months at every OpenAirplane operator. Unlike a traditional flight review, the UPC is treated as a pass/fail event. Pilots must demonstrate they have the knowledge, decision-making, and flying skills required to be safe and proficient. As an approved operator, the ability to offer this Universal Pilot Checkout adds value for your existing customers.
Each operator also provides a local procedures briefing that includes helpful details about local procedures and practices, airspace considerations, airfield operations, and local flight planning tips. These briefings can be easily viewed online by anyone searching the OpenAirplane network.
Jim Kwasek is the owner and chief pilot at Chicago Executive Flight School, in Wheeling, Illinois, which has been working with OpenAirplane since its inception in 2013. "We love OpenAirplane and fully support their mission to make flying more accessible to all pilots," Kwasek said. "The OpenAirplane renters that come to us are always proficient, professional, and responsible. The program helps fill in the gaps on our flight schedule, which adds real dollars to the bottom line. As a company, OpenAirplane is well-managed and professional. They always pay on time and are easy to work with," he said. Chicago Executive Flight School is located at Chicago Executive Airport (PWK).
Danny Smith is the general manager at Aspen Flying Club at Centennial Airport (APA) in Denver, Colorado. American has been in the OpenAirplane network for about three years. "OpenAirplane renters are always well qualified and easy to work with. The Universal Pilot Checkout does a great job preparing pilots and ensuring us that they are safe and proficient. We also like that OpenAirplane guarantees the rental revenue by charging the pilot and paying us if the pilot cancels on short notice," Smith said.
OpenAirplane’s online review system enhances quality control, according to co-founder Rakic. "We built a reputation system. We give renters the ability to easily review and rate the planes they fly and the operators they rent from. This information is obviously useful to other pilots, but we didn't stop there. We also encourage operators to review and rate the individual pilots that rent their planes. Were they courteous and professional? Did they show up and get back on time? Did they leave the plane clean and tidy?” This information stays in the pilot's OpenAirplane profile and can be easily viewed by each operator when a schedule request is received, he said. The operator then has the option to require additional training or deny the rental request.
It appears that the only thing OpenAirplane is missing is more airplanes in the network. Rakic agreed, adding, "We're off to a good start, but feel we have a long way to go. We're actively looking for more flight schools, flying clubs, and individual owners to add planes to our growing network. With more planes available to rent at locations all over the country, the entire system becomes exponentially more valuable for everyone. It’s a network effect. Our vision is for pilots to have multiple options for planes to rent everywhere in the United States," he said.
Is there anything else flight school owners should consider before signing up? “There's really nothing to lose. We designed our service to be a win for everyone involved," Rakic said
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He currently flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website (FlywithJim.com).