The idea of creating a technology enabled marketplace is one of the biggest trends among startups today. However, how does that work for something like the highly fragmented, negotiation heavy business of charter jets? Los Angeles-based VolJet (www.voljet.com) is looking to solve that puzzle, with its online system for booking charter jets, just as you would a commercial flight. We caught up with CEO Susan Sloan to learn more.
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo, from Socaltech.com, 12/7/15
What is VolJet?
Susan Sloan: It’s very similar to a commercial, online booking system, like Expedia.com. It’s very user friendly, and will be a familiar experience to users. You go on to the site, put your city paris in, and you get back several results. You can also get commercial results for commercial bookings. We’re the only system for private jets, which also offers up commercial airline operations as well. Once you go in, you have several options, from taking a commercial airline, to chartering your own jet, joining another charter, and even opening up your own charter to share with others, if you don’t mind sharing with one or two other people.
Who are your customers?
Susan Sloan: The market segment that we are going after, is the market that pays full fare first class, but has never chartered a jet before. If you have ever tried to charter a jet, it’s a real hassle, and it’s very negotiation intensive. You never get a “buy now” price. All of our pricing is buy now, and the price you see is the price you pay, versus many of the extras you have to pay for when you charter your own jet normally. There’s no negotiation, no haggling, no back and forth. The current system is very labor intensive, in that you’ll call someone for a quote, and they call you back maybe 24 hours later, and you have to go back and forth several times. With our service, it’s very simple, you don’t have to self identify until you book a flight. You can go onto our site, cruise around the site, and only when you decide to book a trip do you have to put in your credit card information and name. It’s also non-membership, so you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars to get access to information on the site or to book a flight.
What’s your background?
Susan Sloan: I’m a mechanical engineer, and have been in aerospace for 35 years as an executive. I’m also a private pilot. My other founder also is a private pilot. I had been flying private jets, and I realized they were going one leg of the flight back empty. That’s not good for the environment, it’s not goo for the jet, and it’s not good for the customer, or the industry. There are three of us, and my co-founder, Rabe, and I decide there has to be a business here. Plus, we thought it shouldn’t be so hard to charter a jet. That’s how we created this thing.
What areas can people book flights to?
Susan Sloan: It’s all of the U.S. We have our own database we’ve created of 921 airports, and we have created algorithms to make sure the right aircraft is being used for the right city pair and distance. Also, each of the airports have different runway lengths, and offer different services at those airports. Right now, we’re in the U.S. Only, but we’re looking at Europe for our next launch, probably by the end of next year.
The market for charter flights is very fragmented, and there are a lot of charter operators – how have they reacted to your service?
Susan Sloan: It’s been a great benefit to charter operators. Our idea is to be a win-win-win for all around. It’s got to be a win for the customer in terms of ease of booking and saving time, and we want to be a win for operators, by bringing them more revenue and filling more planes. It’s also a win for the industry. The aviation industry is a great industry, and we want to make sure it has a good growth trajectory. On our site, operators have their own portal. There’s both a customer portal, and an operator portal, where they can sign up. They don’t have to pay a membership. Those operators can see all of the groups requesting flights, and where they want to go, what their revenue will be with taxes and everything split out, and they can select a group and assign a plane. That approach is 180 degrees from everyone else. It’s on our tagline, we are bringing people to planes, rather than planes to people. We’re trying to get those empty legs filled. We have a patent pending on our system and methodology, which is definitely unique.
What’s the hardest part of making this business work?
Susan Sloan: It takes time. It takes time to actually get the system perfect and right, with all of that programming. We have several programmers on board who are working on that. It takes a lot of tenacity, you can’t give up. Obviously, we love this business, we love aviation, we love traveling, and we love flying. If we didn’t have that, we would have given up. It’s been a long road, but it’s pretty exciting as we’ve launched and are now getting good feedback.
Finally, what are the next steps for you?
Susan Sloan: Our next step, is to really ramp up the number of flights, and get the word out about VolJet.