If people like sharing cars and apartments, why not flights?
That’s what Lars Klein, thought when he first toyed with the idea of developing a professional flight-sharing program. When Mr. Klein, a passionate pilot and computer programmer, shared his idea on an investors’ exchange, he quickly found two French investors with a similar passion for aviation, Bertrand Joab-Cornu and Emeric de Waziers, who had studied at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique in Toulouse, also known as “Airbus university,” and were similarly interested in aviation.
And the group was up and away.
The flight-sharing platform, Wingly, allows certified private pilots to sell empty seats in their small aircraft. The service, which allows them to share the considerable costs of flying, launched last summer in France and has been operating in Germany for the past two months. Nearly 700 pilots are now registered and offering flights on the Wingly portal.
“We mainly offer recreational flights and have hardly any business customers.”
It’s a simple system. The registered private pilots enter their planned flight and the number of seats available into the electronic flight-sharing exchange. Whoever wants to fly with them must first register with Wingly as a customer and can then book the flight.
Prices are affordable, and payment is made through Paypal or with a credit card. A seat for a sightseeing flight over Bonn, for example, costs €80, or $91. A seat for a flight from Bremen to the Frisian Island of Wangerooge in the North Sea is available for as little as €60.
“We mainly offer recreational flights and have hardly any business customers,” Mr. Klein said, noting that his company didn’t want to compete with airlines catering to that clientele. “(Our model) is really about sharing the costs of an expensive hobby.”
But not everybody sees it that way. Air taxi operators in France complained to authorities, claiming the portal needs to have the same Air Operator Certificate they are required to have. The complaint is under review and business in France is more or less grounded as a result of the legal uncertainty. Mr. Klein expects the situation to improve after August 26 when a new E.U. aviation regulation for flight sharing kicks in.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration declared flight sharing centers illegal in 2004, forcing service providers including Airpooler and FlyteNow out of business.
In contrast, in Great Britain, the platform Victor has been active for several years. But the exchange mediates flights between professional charter companies and customers – its focus is not on certified pilots hoping to cut their costs.
The legal situation in Germany, on the other hand, is clear. Private pilots here have been accepting passengers for years. According to rules implemented by the German Federal Aviation Office LBA together with the German transport ministry, certified private pilots are allowed to carry passengers for money but only for the amount they would have to pay themselves for the flight. That means they can only divide the costs for the flight among the number of passengers, including the pilot. This is Wingly’s business model.
Wingly isn’t the first portal of this kind in Germany. Flyt.club has been offering seats in private aircraft for nearly a year, and Mitflugzentrale has been active for 20 years.
Wingly has ambitious growth plans. Austria and Switzerland are to be added this summer.
To distinguish itself from the competition, Wingly reguires piolots to upload their license and flight fitness details. Evaluations from passengers and flying clubs are posted on the site. Passengers are insured through the aircraft’s insurance.
So far, the founders have been financing their idea with their own money, government subsidies and additional support from the French incubator, Agoranov. They are in talks with investors about another round of funding and plan to end the free introductory service. “We want to start charging passengers a 10 percent fee this summer,” Mr. Klein said.
Wingly has ambitious growth plans. Austria and Switzerland are to be added this summer. In Germany alone there are over 40,000 certified private pilots, and more than 300,000 in the European Union, according to Mr. Klein. All of them must verify an annual minimum flight time for their license.
“That’s expensive,” Mr. Klein said, “so why not share the costs and the experience of flying?”
Jens Koenen leads Handelsblatt’s coverage of the aviation and space industries. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org