Empty-leg charter adds int'l flights

 - September 3, 2010, 6:28 AM

EmptyLegMarket is adding international charter trips to its online marketplace for empty charter legs that are available for charter users to buy at discounted prices. The new service area covers Canada, Europe, the Middle East, South America and the Caribbean.

EmptyLegMarket was launched last year by Elliott Schwartz, a management consultant who spent a lot of time on airliners and thought there must be a way to use technology to help charter companies improve their efficiency. Even during the recession, Schwartz said, people who might fly charter aircraft appreciate the benefits but also want to do so at a reduced price. Selling empty legs–the return flight of a one-way charter–offered an opportunity for operators to earn some revenue by filling those otherwise empty flights. 

Charter customers don't pay to use the service. Charter operators pay a subscription fee to participate and list their upcoming empty legs on the EmptyLegMarket Web site. Operators can list prices for empty legs or ask customers to call for a quote. When a potential customer sees an empty leg that matches an upcoming trip, that customer contacts the charter operation directly. The charter company is clearly listed, and EmptyLegMarket includes a link to Argus's rating information for the operator. "We're giving [the customer] direct control over the sales process," Schwartz said.

On August 9, EmptyLegMarket showed 17 available trips on its home page. Eight of the trips were available from American Jet Charter of Oklahoma City and nine from Valley Air Service of Elgin, Ill. There were no international trips listed, but Schwartz pointed out that trips come and go on the Web site. Some trips in Brazil were on the site recently, he said. And an operator in Europe has purchased a subscription and will be offering empty legs in Greece and Turkey. When a trip available on certain days is no longer available because those dates have passed, the trip automatically drops off the site. 

Jim Hensley, owner of American Jet Charter, said that he rarely sells an empty leg, although he markets them aggressively using EmptyLegMarket, CharterX, his ­company Web site and e-mail blasts to 110 potential sources of business. When a charter customer books a one-way flight, Hensley will try to sell the empty leg to help the customer offset the cost of the flight, but this happens only about 10 percent of the time, he said.

Schwartz is continually im- proving EmptyLegMarket to make the Web site more useful, such as adding an 80-mile radius feature to help show users that a nearby empty leg might fill their needs. Another feature allows operators to sell portions of empty-leg flights instead of the entire leg. For example, an empty flight from Chicago to the West Coast could still earn some revenue by carrying a passenger who wants to fly only as far as Las Vegas. Charter operators can also use EmptyLegMarket to provide empty-leg availability information on their own Web sites.

There were 64 charter ­operators listed on EmptyLegMarket on August 9. Schwartz ­welcomes charter brokers that want to use EmptyLegMarket to fill their empty legs. The benefit for brokers is that if they list empty legs, the customer still would contact them to arrange the actual flight, helping preserve the broker's relationship with the customer.