If you don’t hear a lot about Solairus Aviation, it’s not an accident. The company doesn’t do sponsorships. It doesn’t host parties at Art Basel or the Super Bowl. It doesn’t even have a public relations company. In other words, you may not be aware it’s one of only three major private aviation providers to have an app that allows instant on-demand, online bookings with guaranteed pricing.
Its low-key approach aside, the 9th largest for-hire private aviation provider – that’s combining Part 135 and 91K providers – is seeing its booking app, launched last November, delivering a flow of new customers.
Paul Class, senior vice president of charter sales, says app users find it by searching on the various app stores. In March, he says there were about 20 bookings per month attributed to the app, and since the beginning of the year, the volume has been growing 30% month-over-month growth.
About 60% of app users complete their transactions without using chat, email, or telephone support. Currently, bookings are limited to the Continental U.S. Trip profiles indicate the new users are mainly leisure-focused and are booking light and midsize jets.
Solairus currently has 55 aircraft on its Part 135 certificate, tilted to large-cabin, so about 70% of its charter bookings are off-fleet. While declining to disclose numbers, Class says, the Petaluma, California-based operator is a significant force in off-fleet bookings.
Because app users are going towards smaller aircraft, Class says most of the bookings are off-fleet. Users get guaranteed pricing, and while they can select a preferred aircraft type, pricing only guarantees a cabin size.
All off-fleet aircraft have to meet Solairus’ standards, so Class says it’s working with around 150 operators. Solairus is IS-BAO Stage 3, Argus Platinum, and Wyvern Wingman, the highest level of each organization.
“Our vetting system pares down the number of airplanes we can use. Our app is not a discount proposition. It is about quality and value,” Class says.
Still, cutting through the clutter is not necessarily easy. For example, there is a slew of broker apps and online interfaces which are quoting, not booking. These faux booking interfaces mainly generate PR and capture user contact information for marketing.
The challenge, of course, is the availability may not be accurate, hence the need for the broker to shop operators for a hard quote. In the case of Solairus, Class says it is also a manual process of confirming aircraft with third-party operators. Still, because of the large amount of historical data it has, it’s able to guarantee the price you see.
While declining to say how much its app cost to develop, Class says, “The app we designed has real technology. It’s an impressive (investment) that’s a barrier to entry for most competitors.”
Class says the quote apps which require follow-up emails and phone calls with a salesperson defeat the purpose. “The customers who use the app don’t want to speak to people. They want to book without interaction.”
The Solairus app works for bookings up to 24 hours before departure. You enter the airport you want to depart, and a list of nearby airports also pops up. You can book one-way, multi-leg, and roundtrips as well as search for empty legs.
It also defaults to the lowest-priced option for your selected trip. For example, when I searched for Miami-Opa Locka to Teterboro, it returned a midsize aircraft at $13,720 since it was less than the $17,988 for a light jet.
One confusing part is that while the app does show specific aircraft types, you only are guaranteed that cabin category. You only learn about this after you enter your credit card, and at that point, it’s when you review the entire agreement. Class says in the next few weeks this will be disclosed more prominently. The app does allow you to order catering. There’s a selection of salads, sandwiches, and fruit trays. You can also request ground transportation and enter specific requests.