PALM DESERT, Calif.--If you're going to spend the cash to charter a private jet, shouldn't it be easy to book the plane?
You would think the industry would simplify things for the wealthy, but that's not the case, according to start-up FlyRuby, which unveiled its service at the Demo Spring conference here today. Indeed, company CEO Michael Leek says that it can often take hours to figure out a suitable private plane charter between two cities. And that's just not efficient.
That's where FlyRuby comes in, Leek said. A former U.S. Marine with a passion for the aviation industry, Leek said he wanted to identify the inefficiencies in the industry--and he realized that one of the biggest was that there was no simple way to quickly identify the specific plane that makes the most sense for a flight.
Here's the problem, he said: There are thousands of small private jet operators, all of which are vying for business, but there's not been a system that aggregates the availability of all those planes. Now, thanks to a nine-year, $95 million DARPA and Air Force research program licensed by Carnegie Mellon University--and which FlyRuby is incorporating into its software--there's a way. It's an artificial intelligence-based dynamic scheduling system that can pinpoint, what Leek said, is the best available plane that a customer could use to get between two cities, or even make a round trip.
To start with, Leek explained, FlyRuby's system tries to find any jets known to be empty that are flying in the same direction as a customer. If none is quickly identified, the next step is to look for planes that are going to be flying empty back to the destination city. If that doesn't return results, then the next step is to look for planes that are already sitting on the ground in the departure city.
The result of these searches is that FlyRuby can return as many as 5,000 possible flights in as little as 5 seconds, Leek said.
All in all, the idea is to make it as easy to identify and book a private plane flight as it currently is to book a ticket on a commercial airline. And lest you think that there isn't a big enough market to support such a business, Leek said that there is currently about $50 billion a year spent on private jet travel in the United States.
Of that, the flight costs alone amount to about $30 billion, he added. Yet about 40 percent of all the flights are empty, meaning that there are many, many millions, if not billions, of dollars that are being lost to inefficiency, Leek said.
While FlyRuby says it is the first to put together a system for aggregating private jet charters, anyone who remembers Richard Branson's ill-fated Virgin Charter will know that there have been similar efforts in the past. Then again, Branson's initiative couldn't figure out a way to solve the problem.
This isn't necessarily a low-cost play, Leek said. In fact, FlyRuby isn't talking about price, or how much money it can save its customers on the cost of flights, or even if it can do so.
The problem FlyRuby is really solving, Leek said, is how hard it is to identify appropriate charter flights. The company is offering potential customers the ability find the right flight in a matter of minutes, not hours. And while it would seem likely that it's usually the assistants of the people doing the flying who are doing the research, it would probably still be a major improvement for these customers if FlyRuby can do what it says.
This, of course, is a market that most of us won't ever be taking part in. Even if flights are less expensive, or easier to find, than they've been in the past, private jet travel is still going to be too costly for most. But for those who do fly this way, or for those who own or operate the planes, it's certain that finding ways to streamline the process will be a major benefit. So if FlyRuby can in fact deliver on this promise, it's likely to be a plus across the board--in terms of a reduction in lost potential revenue, lost hours of time searching for flights, and even in greenhouse gases.
The next step? To find a way to make this industry efficient enough that even those who fly commercial can take advantage of charter jet travel.