When my mom was hospitalized in New Castle, Pennyslvania, diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism (blood clots in her lungs), I felt helpless. I didn’t know how to get her back to the San Francisco Bay Area without jeopardizing her health. The doctor told me it would be fatal to drive, take a train, or fly commercial. That’s when Michael Flint came to the rescue. Don’t worry about a thing, he said. He would lease a plane and fly my family back home at low altitude.
Michael Flint was Warren Buffett’s pilot, and flew Air Force One and medi vac for the Air Force. He got Mom home alive and well, with only one emergency landing. (I sucked down all of her oxygen as I turned green going over the Rockies.) During our cross-country journey in 2011, Flint and I chatted. “Did you know there’s a landing strip just about every 20 minutes of flight?” he asked. I didn’t until he told me. Most go unused, but Flint said that would soon change. He said we would soon see a significant shift from commercial to private, and that he would be one of the main players.
He’s on his way. This week Michael Flint, along with his team, including Chairman Mark Allen, who is also a CTO of Progress Software, are launching Visionary Airlines, and they’re offering their first flights through an Indiegogo campaign. Visionary Airlines’ first product is Flight Training Adventures, a destination-based flight-training program, which allows clients to earn flight hours towards a pilot’s license while they travel either for business or pleasure. They’re planning to expand to flight tourism as well as broader charter services later this year.
Miss California 2012 got a taste of a Visionary Flight Training Adventure on her most recent trip to Silicon Valley when she met with Ooyala and Vidcaster about streaming this month’s pageant. Miss California Organization CEO Bob Arnym is considering Visionary Airlines as the official charter of his scholarship program. Check out their flight and hear from Flint about why private aviation is taking off now more than ever:
People are fed up with commercial aviation, especially the flight delays, long security lines, and the nickel and diming from baggage to food. The premium cost of private travel isn’t deterring executives throughout Silicon Valley as much as it once did. At least that’s what multiple new charter services that have emerged in the Valley are betting on.
XOJet and Black Jet, the latter touted as the Uber of the sky, are taking off. The most notable, though, is SurfAir, the Netflix of aviation, which has a subscription model to charter. When SurfAir announced its business plan one year ago, more than 1,000 people signed up for 150 slots available for the $1,600 per month all-you-can-travel subscription. SurfAir appears a little more cautious today than it was a year ago, having reduced its beta class from 500 slots, and increasing the monthly subscription from the originally proposed $1,000.
Flint is taking the same cautious approach, testing the market before a full-blown launch. That explains the Indiegogo campaign versus spending thousands on an extensive marketing campaign launching the airline. It’s a good move. He will face marketing challenges as a cross between a charter and a flight school. But he is definitely playing to a large audience in Silicon Valley that loves to be in the driver’s seat.
What’s left to be seen, however, is the scalability of these charter services beyond California. The masses can’t afford it, especially in an economy that’s still struggling to recover from the 2008 recession. If these charter services succeed, it’ll happen in Silicon Valley, which is why all the charters are making it home.
Like any good entrepreneur, Flint has grand visions. He is convinced that within five years small private planes will be the new car. Why take a bus when you can drive? And why take commercial when you can learn to fly and work toward your own pilot’s license?