LABACE Convention News

Flapper Technologies Extends Its Horizons

 - August 12, 2019, 12:00 PM
At around U.S. $200 per seat, Flapper’s charter service between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro costs less than commercial carriers’s flights. Flapper is shifting to using Beechcraft King Air 200s, configured with seven passenger seats for the service.

Flapper Technologies soon expects to widen its range as a Brazil-based online booking service for shared business--aviation and helicopter flights and charters. Plans call for adding new routes and service offerings and launching its booking platform in additional Latin American countries.

But Flapper believes its most high--profile move in the near future will be the planned announcement in the third quarter of a cooperation agreement with an as-yet-unidentified developer of an eVTOL aircraft. Flapper and its prospective partner intend to stimulate development of the eVTOL industry and market in Brazil by establishing an eVTOL research and development center, which Flapper CEO Paul Malicki told AIN is likely to be located in Belo Horizonte.

Malicki said Flapper is already collaborating with four eVTOL developers—two of which AIN understands to be XTI Aircraft and Alaka’i—to collect and share data on the potential for eVTOL usage in Brazil. This data is provided by Flapper itself and by its clients and the helicopter and fixed-wing air taxi operators whose aircraft are available for the whole--aircraft and per-seat charters Flapper’s booking platform offers.

Near-term Service Additions

While in the longer term, Flapper intends to become strongly involved in intra--urban and inter-urban eVTOL transportation, particularly in helicopter-rich São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (rather like Uber Copters plans to do in New York), its nearer--term plans for expansion are aggressive. An almost immediate move—in September—will be to increase from two to four the weekly frequency of Flapper’s per-seat charter flights between São Paulo’s downtown Congonhas Airport and the busy Jacarepaguá (SBJR) bizav-and-helicopter airport, located in the wealthy western suburb of Barra da Tijuca.

According to Malicki, the Aug. 24 to Sept. 20 closure of the main runway at Santos Dumont Airport in downtown Rio de Janeiro for rehab work is pushing most commercial flights in the busy São Paulo--Rio de Janeiro corridor out to Galeao Airport, Rio’s international airport on an island in the bay east of the city. From Santos Dumont, the city financial district is a short walk, but for those going to Rio for the day, landing at Galeão means traveling in the worst of the morning gridlock, and returning with the evening’s. Commercial fares for next-day travel are par with the U.S. $200 that Flapper quotes per seat for its charters, and for anyone going to Barra da Tijuca, Jacarepaguá is far more convenient.

Flapper achieved 80 percent load factors for its Congonhas-Jacarepaguá charters in June and the route is one of its busiest, said Malicki. In concert with its São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro service expansion, Flapper is migrating to a seven-passenger-seat configuration in the King Air 200s that it uses for the Congonhas-Jacarepaguá flights, choosing the higher seat capacity “so we can monetize [the flights] better.”

The company also uses Pilatus PC-12s for São Paulo-Rio charters, and Malicki said Flapper is adding more PC-12s to its platform, intending to sign agreements with operators so that some or all of the aircraft will be made available exclusively for Flapper flights. Flapper also is about to launch a customer loyalty program, which he said would be the first for a business aviation company in Brazil.

Although the fleet of Brazilian-registered aircraft and helicopters Flapper has available for charter-booking has grown from 115 in 2018 to 250 now, the company’s six-month foray into offering bookings in the new regional air-taxi market with the operator Voe Minas in Minas Gerais state ended in June. It did so when the new Brazilian government ended the entire regional air taxi program—which the previous government had intended to establish in at least 17 states throughout Brazil—because “it had different priorities,” according to Malicki.

Withdrawal of official support for the program, which relied heavily on the government subsidizing the services, made the Voe Minas-Flapper cooperation “very costly for us to maintain,” he said. But Flapper has no regrets about the experiment. “We did it as a validation of the [online booking] hypothesis and we’re very happy we did it,” said Malicki. “But we are a private-aviation company; we don’t want to be a regional-aviation company.”

Having accumulated a great deal of market data, Flapper now plans to bolster its presence in São Paulo. “Around 60 percent of all our flights have São Paulo as an origin or destination,” said Malicki. “The brutal truth is São Paulo is just so big that, whatever we do, looking forward we want to have São Paulo as a destination.” The company’s next two charter-flight routes will originate in São Paulo: in September Flapper is launching a leisure traffic-based service to the coastal destination of Paraty (SDTK), presumably with other equipment for the 2200 ft (701 meter) runway. It plans to offer business traffic-focused charters between São Paulo and Belo Horizonte starting in January.

Charter Is the Future

Flapper sees business-focused charters, including jet charters, as largely representing its future, and plans to expand its offering in various ways. One is to increase the visibility of its flights on Avinode’s global bizav charter-sourcing platform by serving as the agent for Brazilian air taxi operators on the platform. Flapper recently became the exclusive marketing agent for air-taxi operators TwoFlex (dba Two Taxi), Tropic Air, and Uni Air on Avinode, and now all of their charter availability is bookable as Flapper flights on the platform, said Malicki.

Second is Flapper’s plan to launch its booking platform in Argentina in January for domestic bizav charters. The company will follow that by launching bookings in “a couple of [other] Latin American countries and then eventually going to Mexico” with the platform, said Malicki. International-charter bookings within Latin America eventually will be on the agenda, and in fact, Flapper completed its most expensive, longest-range charter yet in July, when it arranged the $140,000-plus charter flight of a Gulfstream business jet from Croatia to Brazil.

Additionally, Flapper is looking to emulate Blade by launching a crowdsourcing capability for per-seat or part-aircraft charters. Flapper already offers empty-leg charters but it does each such booking manually. However, having taken three years to collect, perform regression analysis on, and understand the pricing model and structure of every air taxi and bizav charter operator in Brazil, Flapper now feels it can launch a largely automated crowdsourcing charter-booking capability, which Malicki said it might brand as “Flapper Pool” or “Flapper Share.” Flapper’s staff will need to be involved in the process only to confirm the availability of the aircraft for each charter. ν