Atlanta-based ImagineAir is hoping to double its fleet over the next year as it moves to expand its short-hop air-taxi service throughout the East Coast and ultimately move westward. The operator has developed a service designed to compete with automobile travel, rather than airline operations, with its current fleet of 14 Cirrus SR22 piston singles.
“Regional travel is highly inefficient,” ImagineAir CEO Ben Hamilton told attendees at Aeropodium’s November 17 U.S. Corporate Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C. “It takes almost as long to drive from Alexandria, Virginia, to Atlantic City, New Jersey, as it does to fly from Washington Dulles International Airport to Dublin, Ireland.”
Saying short-range travel is the “pain point,” Hamilton added, “we get our customers home for dinner by flying them over traffic.”
ImagineAir, founded a little more than a decade ago, has slowly grown over the years. “We struggled for a while to figure out the best way to add aircraft to our fleet,” Hamilton said. But the company has developed tools such as dynamic pricing to help spur growth. When booking, a customer may be presented different options for times and associated pricing as part of its dynamic pricing model. “We use price as a tool to shift demand,” he said, saying the model “allows us to pack in flights pretty tightly.”
Dynamic pricing has enabled the company to more fully use its aircraft, reducing empty legs and increasing availablity. This in turn has enabled the company to keep costs and ultimately pricing down—which is critical to the success of its services. And it paves the way for expansion.
ImagineAir has five bases currently, mostly in the Southeast, but also in New England. Hamilton sees additional bases in the mid-Atlantic and in Florida as the company moves to saturate the East Coast before moving west. Part of this expansion is not only for organic growth, but also to open up new pilot pools to ImagineAir, Hamilton said.
The company offers a membership program for its frequent fliers, but membership is not a requirement. Some of its customers fly only once a year, while others fly several times a week, he said. The common denominator among its customers is the value they place on time, he said. “We are tackling the road warriors. There’s a lot of potential for this market,” Hamilton said.
To attract customers, he added, “booking has to be extremely easy. There can’t be any hurdles.” A few years ago, booking required phone calls and faxes. But now, a majority simply book online.
Hamilton called the SR22 the best airplane “that exists today” for its services, providing the combination of advanced safety features with the feel of a luxury car. “We found this to be very successful in getting new people in a small airplane for the first time,” he said, noting most of the company’s first-time customers have not flown private before.
While Cirrus has recently brought its single-engine jet to market, Hamilton said ImagineAir wants to remain focused on the piston and the shorter-range flights, at least for the time being, rather than compete with airlines for longer-range routes.