Could This Private Plane Service Be the Uber of the Sky?

Your Private Jet

Photo courtesy of FlyOtto

FlyOtto is a new on-demand flight service that can take travelers to more than 5,000 U.S. airports on their own schedule.  Does this transportation mode sound familiar? But don’t wait for Fly Otto co-founder and CEO Rod Rakic to call his company the Uber of the sky.

Rakic, a commercial pilot, noted while the airlines are only located in 300 airports across the U.S., travelers can book travel to more than 5,000 airports, many of which are closer to city centers or are more easily accessible. The platform allows travelers to easily find, book, fly and pay for regional trips on privately chartered aircraft.

FlyOtto launched in September 2016 as what its founders claim is the first of its kind online experience for booking on-demand private flights. It is easily searchable and provides instant quotes on trips and bookings with departures possible in less than 24 hours.

Rakic came up with the idea for FlyOtto as he built his other business, Open Airplane, which allows pilots to rent aircraft. “Many of the flight schools and rental network for Open Airplane also have charter operations associated with their businesses,” he said. “They said that it was nice that pilots were renting aircraft, but they said we also have aircraft that need better utilization.”

The aviation community has been working for years trying to solve the same needs, said Rakic. “With FlyOtto, we finally came up with a way to talk about it to people who don’t know about aviation. It’s simple -- FlyOtto matches travelers with pilots and planes on demand. You don’t have to sign up for FlyOtto,” he explained. “I don’t say that this is the Uber of air service.  But you also don’t have to pay money to Uber to book a car ride. You sign up and book a trip, and money is only exchanged after the ride.”

FlyOtto is in the business of matching travelers with air service providers that offer more flexible travel options, said Rakic. “We capture a credit card in the beginning so it’s easy to book a flight when you’re ready to travel. We’re not creating a complicated structured membership.”

What is FlyOtto’s competition? “My competition is the travelers who are stuck on a highway driving four to six hours or spending all day on major and regional airlines,” Rakic said. “Airlines are great at moving people from airport hub to spoke. The hub-and-spoke system was created to drive efficiency, with the airlines treating travel like a logistics puzzle.”

FlyOtto does not compete with an airline flying from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport, said Rakic. “There are a bunch of options there with multiple flights,” he said. “The problem for travelers is going from spoke to spoke, like Tampa to Tallahassee. If you want to travel between these two cities, you have to either fly through Atlanta or drive, because there’s no direct flight. There’s no direct flights between Las Vegas and Palm Springs, California. You have to connect through Los Angeles.”

How much does it cost to use FlyOtto? “If you look at cost per seat when  traveling from non-hub airport to non-hub airport, we will be in the vicinity of a first class airline ticket or even beat that price,” said Rakic. “But under our model, you can fly on your schedule, so we always beat the airlines when it comes to flexibility.”

On flights under 800 nautical miles, FlyOtto can also beat the airlines on time, said Rakic. “The average time from gate to gate has risen by 20 percent, according to NASA,” said Rakic. “The reason why is congestion. With FlyOtto, you can bypass crowded highways and large hub airports by using local and municipal airports.”

Large commercial airlines can reach 300 airports, said Rakic. “We can access 5000. The only ones who used to have access to these airports were celebrities and titans of of industry,” he said.

Because of FlyOtto, many more travelers can bypass the hub-and-spoke system and fly spoke to spoke, said Rakic. “For example, we have customers who fly from Boeing Field to Spokane,” he said. “They can drive, but it takes three hours, so they can skip that, hop into a Cessna 206 and fly past the traffic because they are professionals whose time is valuable.”