Big plans with small private jets are nothing new. Lookup up DayJet, or for that matter, JetSuite. Both believed very light jets were the skyway to the future. Two decades in the technology side of private aviation have given Richard Kane a first-hand view of failures. The founder and CEO of Boca Raton-based VeriJet says of his venture, “Right airplane, right technology, and right timing.” If he’s right, Verijet may revolutionize the market for flights under 500 miles.
In this case, the right airplane is the second generation Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet. The right technology already powers two of the largest Part 135 operators in the U.S. It comes from Coastal Technologies Group; the company Kane started in 1996. And the timing is now, with regional airlines having dramatically cut and scaled back their service to places that already often lacked nonstop options except to hubs.
The Vision Jet is a single-engine, very light jet, sometimes referred to as a personal jet. Either way, with 217 deliveries over the past three years, it’s the most delivered private jet, period, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.
The cabin of the SF50 can be reconfigured during a stop to pick up passengers. It is certified for Part 135 flights with one pilot. Thirty percent of Verijet clients pay an extra $875 per flight for a second pilot. Depending on layout, it can fit three or four adults and two children up to 90 pounds. By removing seats – Verijet stores them at the FBO when they come to pick you up – you can increase luggage space.
Coastal’s AI technology currently powers fleet optimization for two of the largest U.S. charter operators. In realtime, it runs millions of scenarios taking into account scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, duty time limits for crews, weather, and other factors. The idea is to improve efficiency by reducing empty legs as new reservations come in and existing bookings change or cancel. It also shows them which flights they can’t serve with their own fleets and will need to sub-contract.
With the Vision Jet and his AI platform, Kane launched VeriJet in November and currently has six aircraft flying with 16 expected by the end of the year. With that will come an expansion in California. His base will be convenient Santa Monica Airport, where the shortened runway prevents most jets.
Plans call for a fleet of more than 130 of the mini private jets with Canada, the U.S. Northeast, and Europe all planned to be running in the next several years.
The current pricing is simple. You pay $3,000 per hour, plus 7.5% Federal Excise Tax, based on estimated flight time with a 60-minute minimum. There’s no taxi time charged.
It’s the scenarios where the benefits of private aviation are optimized. There’s more time on the ground making money and less time in the car or connecting on regional jets through Atlanta or Charlotte, then landing at an airport 45 minutes from your meeting.
|Aircraft Type||Hourly Rate||Daily Minimum||Booking Window|
|Cirrus SF 50 Vision Jet||$3,000, plus FET||60 minutes||As available|
A 73-minute flight from Palm Beach International to Tampa is $3,932.35 one-way. Driving is about four hours. Miami’s Opa-Locka Executive Airport to Vero Beach, continuing to Naples on the same day, runs $6,834.85. Flying slices travel time from six hours in the car to two in the airplane.
So far, Verijet doesn’t have any jet card program. It’s strictly on-demand, as available, and can be booked through its website or 1-833-VERIJET.
Kane says he has been able to get customers airborne in under an hour. He does recommend at least 24 hours notice.
Cancelations are 60% of the flight price more than seven days before departure, 80% less than seven days, but more than 72 hours before departure, and 100% within 72 hours of departure.
While VeriJet will fly you anywhere, its fixed hourly rates (no repositioning fees) are valid within a 600 nautical miles radius of Orlando. That means as far north as West Virginia and to the most east edge of Texas. At a cruising speed of around 350 miles per hour, the sweet spot is probably flights of 500 miles or less.
The Cirrus SF50 doesn’t have a toilet, but Kane says with the ability to access runways as short as 3,000 feet in length, “We can just land.” Light jets typically need at least 5,000 feet. In other words, the Vision Jet can get to more convenient airports typically used only by turboprops and piston airplanes. It also provides more options, meaning less chance of weather-related diversions to airports far afield.
VeriJet routinely tests its pilots for COVID. Aircraft cabins are cleaned and disinfected with Ultra Violet C and ozone between each flight. Each cabin is also equipped with a special filters that uses nanotechnology to destroy pollutants at a molecular level.
Kane’s original plan was to raise $16 million from two airlines who would use his VeriJet as a minor leagues for pilots. That was before COVID-19 when there was a pilot shortage.
Neither obstacle stopped him. He pivoted and funded the start-up via family offices and individuals. Series A investors can buy a plane, potentially gaining tax benefits. They then give it to VeriJet on a long-term lease. They get access to the fleet at preferred rates.
VeriJet didn’t buy a Part 135 certificate but literally wrote its own operations manual. It has a provisional Gold rating from Argus. Kane says he has invested in prepaid maintenance programs that will increase dispatch reliability. Pilots fly a typical floating fleet rotation of seven days on and seven days off. There are currently 12 full-time pilots and two check pilots.
Right now, 80% of bookings are coming from brokers. VeriJet has also been performing recovery flights for other operators when they have mechanicals.
Customer feedback centers around the modern cabin, easy access, and all forward seating. “In small jets, you’re facing each other playing footsie,” he says.
The fighter jet gray livery with blue stripes gives it curb appeal. With a cabin height of four feet, you’ll want to stay seated, and after all, the SF50 is made for short hops. While the big windows give you an optimal view, there is WiFi and a fold-down flat screen so you can Zoom during your flight.
In terms of guaranteed availability, Kane said that hasn’t been an issue so far. His technology platform optimizes supply to meet demand.
Kane plans to have VeriJet offered by the online travel agencies and metasearch websites as an option between cities where there is no nonstop service.
That said, if VeriJet ever combines its one-way pricing with guaranteed access at say two or three hours for bookings and cancelations, it could be a real game-changer. Your client up north calls at 10 a.m., and you can be there after lunch. Instead of whizzing up the highway with one eye out for speed traps, you can spend your short flight finalizing the presentation.
On the flip side, if It’s raining this morning on the east coast, let’s go cross-state, and we can be on the first tee by 11 a.m. Right now, there’s no product like that in the market unless you own your own airplane.
Capturing high-powered lawyers, business owners who need to move fast, or the ‘I want to get away now as in now’ leisure travelers with an affordable solution for those last-minute trips would likely win them as regular customers. Of course, doing too much and being too many things too many customer targets is often the downfall of aviation start-ups.
For now, VeriJet is a very competitive option for short hops. With its state-of-the-art airplane, it should be able to attract quite a bit of trial. Of course, like any new venture, particularly aviation-related, there will likely be at least some light chop.
To persuade skittish flyers, Kane says he waited for the second-generation Vision Jet. It has an auto-return feature if your pilot becomes disabled. With the touch of a button from any passenger, the jet will land on its own. That’s in addition to the parachute from the initial SF50. The single-engine mounted behind the bubble cabin eliminates potential birdstrikes, Kane says.