Online charter service to come from Virgin USA

 - July 5, 2007, 12:17 PM

Virgin USA has launched Virgin Charter, an online marketplace for charter operators and customers.

The Web site will allow customers to enter specific information, such as number of passengers and the amount of luggage; search for flights based on the number of legs, type of airplane or departure points; compare price quotes; and book flights online. It will also allow customers to communicate with operators before booking a flight to specify any special requirements they have. Operators will be able to browse incoming charter requests and, without changing the way they run their business, submit a price quote to the customer via the Web site.

According to a Virgin Charter spokesperson, charter operators will pay “a small fee based on percentage of sales” to use the Web site. “The Virgin Charter business model is based on volume, similar to eBay.” Charter customers will not pay any fees to use the service.

Although some in the industry, such as Air Charter Guide president and CEO Fred Gevalt, believe previous “click it, book it” attempts to expand the charter business “clearly didn’t work,” Virgin Charter founder and CEO Scott Duffy believes the Virgin brand will attract new customers and change the way the charter business is operated.

Quality Standards
Quoting some of the ideas presented at last year’s NBAA Convention, Duffy said, “What this industry really needs more than anything is for Internet entrepreneurs to come in and change the way we think about business. Everyone is always talking about how to buy more aircraft. Nobody talks about how to keep those aircraft full.”
Part of the problem, said Duffy, is that most people don’t trust the information they find online.

“Virgin is one of the most trusted brands in the world. Everyone knows how credible they are in the aviation industry,” he said.

To add to the credibility of the Web site and the business, Virgin Charter intends to create a “Virgin quality standard” to rate operators based on safety information from some of the biggest auditors, such as CharterX and Wyvern. In addition, customers and operators will be able to rate one another, based on personal experiences. Both large and small operators will be rated, Duffy said.

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of the site, according to Duffy, will be the creation of a “large and vibrant active marketplace for empty legs.” He added, “It makes me sick to think that 40 percent of private flights were empty last year.” This site, however, will make it easy for an operator to make empty-leg inventory available to potential customers.

Virgin USA owner Sir Richard Branson hopes to reduce the negative impact that private aviation has on the environment by reducing the number of empty legs. He is also donating 100 percent of his profits from Virgin Charter to help fight global climate change. “Branson looks at this business not just as a business that can solve one of the biggest problems in private aviation, but also as a business that can do good and help reduce the industry’s impact on the environment,” Duffy said.

A private, invitation-only beta version of was scheduled to be online June 12, and the company anticipates the full-scale product launch at the end of the year.