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One of the most powerful qualities of the internet is how it brings people together. Airbnb unites vacation property owners with travellers, and Uber brings passengers together with drivers. A quick search on a smartphone connects us to just about any product or service provider in seconds, and we’re all doing it.
To long-time pilot Carl Marbach, it makes sense to digitally link people for private jet travel, too. He is the founder and CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based SharedCharter, a new online service that connects business aviation users so they can share a flight while also splitting the costs.
“The idea has been percolating for a few years,” explained Marbach, who really started developing the idea about six months ago. “My thought was that most of the planes I see flying around are not full. I’ve always thought about the fact that if we could share those rides, we’d cut the cost to users considerably. The enabling technology is that everyone has a computer in their hands.”
The SharedCharter website was officially launched in mid-October, and so far, he is pleased with the response. During an interview with Skies on Oct. 22, Marbach reported 32 active users on the site.
“We built a people-to-people database,” he said. “If you want to go from Denver to Philadelphia, for example, you can put the dates in and look to see if such a flight exists. If not, you can put it in there and someone else can come along and find it.”
SharedCharter users must sign up for a free membership, which enables the service to connect them securely and anonymously to potential travel mates. Once a connection is made, SharedCharter helps to make that flight happen and charges a commission for this service. Its customers can be charter brokers with a client, passengers looking to arrange their own flight, or even brokers who connect with other brokers and bring clients together. The site also curates and posts empty leg flight listings.
“One of the ideas we like is that we are neutral, so people can find the best deal at the best time,” said Marbach. “Our goal is to put people together to share a flight, and you’re better off looking at the whole market. How that flight happens could be different every trip. Operators and brokers are free to post their client’s flight on the site, if he wants to save money.”
Marbach, a 9,000-hour commercially licensed pilot who has owned seven private aircraft, believes SharedCharter is a “win-win-win-win service” for passengers, brokers, operators, and for his business.
“When you lower the price of something, the marketplace expands dramatically,” he explained. “In fact, the couple of examples we have already involve multiple sharers. People going from Colorado to Florida have paid more than a first-class ticket, about US$3,000 each, but now they are getting the convenience. If you’re flying first class on a regular basis and want to take it to the next level, this is for you.”
He said travellers will appreciate the experience of driving to a smaller airport, walking directly onto their aircraft, and having a car waiting for them upon arrival at their destination. Additionally, there are obvious benefits of avoiding busy airport terminals and commercial jets during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are plenty of people for whom that would be a game changer.”
Right now, the SharedCharter service is only offered in the U.S. Marbach said the time is right for a peer-to-peer aircraft charter service provider. Of the handful of trips completed so far, he reported, “It has worked perfectly. People have done it and saved money. It works.”
While he believes the pandemic is both good and bad for a service like SharedCharter, “One of the good things that will come from this is that people will be more aware of other ways to travel, rather than going through thousands of people at the large airports.”
Ultimately, the new private travel service is all about facilitating connections within the aircraft charter world.
“If we can do that successfully, we can reduce the price of charter and increase the size of the market — and I think that’s a worthwhile goal,” concluded Marbach. “I do believe everybody wins here.”