A Jacksonville company is test marketing a ridesharing program for air travelers which would enable them to split the cost of chartering small planes with others. Called Whooshfly, the company -- currently in the Tampa Bay WaVE early launch program -- is making plans to move to Tampa next year, potentially in the spring.
“This is not for everyone pricewise. If you were to share the flight ... with a bunch of people, it would still cost you a little bit more than a first class ticket, but it’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg,” explains Joel Relova, Founder and CEO.
The service, being tested in Florida, Georgia and Utah, relies on smaller aircraft with 3 to 12 seats. It is available in beta as an Apple iphone app, with Android and web-based apps anticipated later. “You can fly anywhere as long as you can afford it,” he says.
People can defray the cost of a chartered plane by sharing a flight with friends, relatives and co-workers attending the same event, or with other people in their network. Or they can open the flight up to others who are flying to the same destination. They also could choose to book a private flight.
People download the app from the Apple Store and make a request for service, which is submitted to operators who respond with price quotes. The users can then choose a veted provider and book their flights.
Co-founded with Wendell Chindra, Whooshfly currently has about 400 users and 12 operators, who have access to 60 airplanes in the Florida/Georgia region. Users pay a service fee in addition to fares. “Once you use it, you don’t want to go back to any other means,” Relova says. “The value there is really the experience.”
He explains users can avoid lines while enjoying the perks of a small airport, like having the airplane parked 50 feet from the door or being greeted by a pilot who knows them by name.
“That’s what people love,” he says.
The idea started about 10 years ago when Relova noticed a smaller jet at an airport, and learned it cost less than a million, far less than other jets. Things took off about two years ago after a presentation on the concept in Jacksonville. Since being admitted to the WaVE program last spring, Whooshfly has been utilizing the co-work space at the WaVE periodically.
“The WaVE has been very good to us. I love the people there. I love the energy. I love their passion for startups,” he says. “They’ve opened a lot of doors for us.”
What sets Whooshfly apart is travelers’ ability to pay as they go, without encountering membership/subscription fees or having to become one of the plane’s owners.
Moving to Tampa is part of their plan once the platform passes the market-testing phase. “We believe Tampa is the right fit for us. They have the environment, the ecosystem, that would support a tech startup like us,” Relova explains. “I understand there’s a lot of things going on from a tech and from a startup business perspective. We want to be part of that."