a Chicago startup believes it’s found a way to bring air travel to the sharing economy by connecting passengers to licensed, professional pilots. And it just launched its on-demand service nationwide.
FlyOtto allows travelers to find, book and pay for regional flights on privately chartered aircraft from their phone or computer. The service, which was born out of Chicago startup OpenAirplane, a company that lets pilots rent planes similar to renting a car, says it gets around any potential local issues as it’s governed by Part 135 of the FAA’s Federal Air Regulations, which states that only professional commercial pilots and charter certified airplanes can be used.
Think of FlyOtto not so much as UberX–where you’re connected to any available driver–but rather Uber Black, where you’re matched with a professional chauffeur.
Here’s how it works: Users log on to FlyOtto and enter their pickup and drop off destinations, and they are matched with a pilot and aircraft–usually a piston or turbo prop airplane that seats 3 to 9 people. Users select from the available options, chose their date and time, and pay through the FlyOtto platform. The service works with over 5,000 airports around the country, and is available virtually everywhere in the continental US. FlyOtto takes 7% of the transaction, giving 3% to the credit card companies and the rest to the plane operator.
OpenAirplane founder Rod Rakic said FlyOtto is perfect for the traveler who doesn’t want to spend 4 to 6 hours in the car, or all day in airport terminals. FlyOtto isn’t necessarily for the traveler who wants to go from major hubs like Chicago to Las Vegas, for example, but is better suited for flyers that are poorly served by the airline hub-and-spoke structure and need to get to small and medium sized towns.
FlyOtto is certainly convenient, but that convenience comes at a price. A one-way flight to from Chicago to Traverse City, Michigan, for example, will run you over $1,500 for a three-person plane. But for those who are accustom to paying for chartered flights, Rakic says FlyOtto is cheaper than the typical process of going through a broker or chartering a jet.
OpenAirplane has been building its network of pilots and airplanes since it launched in 2013, and has over 12,000 pilots signed up to fly and 340 aircraft available for rent. Launching a feature for passengers was a natural evolution for OpenAirplane, Rakic said, but he knew he had to get it right to avoid any issues with the FAA.
Rakic admits he doesn’t love the Uber comparisons, but acknowledges that FlyOtto has been inspired by the ride-sharing giant’s business model.