Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Xconomy: In California Pilot Trial, AirPooler Offers Ride-Sharing in the Sky

By Bruce V. Bigelow 
April 02, 2014 

How long are you willing to drive for a weekend getaway?

Steve Lewis figures most folks are willing to drive two or three hours each way. If you live in the Bay Area, that means you might get as far as Mendocino. If you live in San Diego, sandwiched between the ocean and the desert, the drive to Las Vegas can easily takes six hours or more.

Lewis, a pilot and software executive in Cambridge, MA, figured a lot of people might be willing to throw a few bucks his way if he could make it easy for private pilots to share their ride with passengers willing to pay their share of airplane fuel and tie-down costs. He is in San Diego and Silicon Valley this week to introduce a beta trial of AirPooler, an online platform that matches general aviation pilots and passengers who want to share flights and costs.

“We’re trying to create a whole new repertoire of regional travel experience,” Lewis said. “In a light plane you can travel three times as far as you can in a car over the same period of time.”

In San Diego, Lewis says AirPooler has struck a partnership with the local flying club Pacific Coast Flyers, which enables local AirPooler users to fly out of the McClellan-Palomar Airport near Carlsbad. In Silicon Valley—AirPooler’s second test market—Lewis is working with the Sundance Flying Club, so passengers can fly out of the Palo Alto Airport.

In a statement, Sundance Flying Club CEO Evan Williams says, “We are excited to be at the forefront of demonstrating how the shared economy can promote general aviation by introducing more people to flying.”

The idea is for private pilots to list their recreational flights with empty seats on the AirPooler website. Passengers who book a trip through AirPooler pay only their pro-rata share of the trip’s cost because federal law prohibits private pilots from transporting passengers for hire.
Because of such prohibitions, the AirPooler idea is not so much of an Über for general aviation as it is Couchsurfing in the sky. The law says passengers can only pay for certain operating costs, but Lewis says general aviation pilots are thrilled at the opportunity to defray the cost of flights they are making anyway for personal business or pleasure.

“The plane as an asset is way under-used,” he explained. “Because of rising fuel costs, the average flight-hours for pilot-owners has declined by 30 percent.”

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