KinectAir Prepares To Launch Charter, Frax Programs

 - July 7, 2020, 5:48 AM

Private aviation startup KinectAir has launched a crowdfunding campaign to support its plans to provide a mix of on-demand, per-seat charter and fractional ownership. The company, which intends to offer a mixed fixed-wing fleet before later adding new hybrid electric and eVTOL aircraft as these enter service, is in the process of establishing air operator certificates in both the U.S. and UK.

KinectAir is aiming to launch charter operations through its Together program with a mix of leased aircraft in the second quarter of 2021. This fleet might include larger aircraft such as Bombardier Dash 8 twin turboprops seating up to 80 passengers that could be used for group travel.

In September, the U.S.-based company intends to offer new customers the chance to buy fractional shares in its Anywhere program, offering aircraft including the four-seat Cirrus SR22 and the eight-seat Pilatus PC-12. Owners will be able to give back hours from their allocation to be offered for third-party charter flights and earn rebates on their operating costs, with Kinect Air claiming they will have broken even on these after 20 hours are resold.

KinectAir is working on the assumption that each aircraft will operate around 750 hours per year and with five owners per airframe. It aims to have a minimum of eight aircraft available in each region where it operates, with plans to start in Washington state, the San Francisco Bay area, and also in the UK.

Nick Rogers, cofounder and chief commercial officer, acknowledged that the company’s plans to market flights on a per-seat basis will require some regulatory changes. He told AIN that he expects UK authorities to show a willingness to support new air transport business models to plug gaps caused by a widespread failure in the airline sector. In his view, KinectAir’s Together offering could replace services lost with the collapse of regional airlines such as FlyBe. He added that the company plans to “crowdsource” seat availability.

KinectAir is the latest in a long line of private flight providers claiming that it is ready to revolutionize the market using artificial intelligence-driven technology and advanced software to support dynamic pricing and targeted marketing of available capacity. A key to making KinectAir work is the technology platform that it will run on.

Unlike many startups that aim to disrupt the air charter industry, KinectAir's plan to obtain its own operating certificates sets it apart. Most other attempts at disrupting the charter space have involved charter brokers arranging flights with existing charter operators.

Quite a few companies have tried this. Virgin Charter, for example, burned through $25 million to $30 million from 2007 until it shut down in 2009. JetSmarter built a business around filling empty seats, but it ended up being purchased by Vista Global Holdings in 2019 only for its technology.

BlackBird Air tried to put together a service that allowed passengers to hire an airplane and a pilot separately and then fly to a particular destination, all under Part 91 regulations and not Part 135. After the FAA halted that activity, BlackBird pivoted back to arranging real charters, then was purchased by Surf Air. And Surf Air has its own unique business model, a regional all-you-can-fly membership service, using Pilatus PC-12s operated by charter companies.

Another failed attempt at democratizing the charter brokerage space was FlyOtto, which aimed to leverage underutilized charter aircraft, especially smaller ones that can provide a reasonably priced service.

KinectAir estimates that it will be able to deliver seat-mile costs of between 60 cents and $1, based on a fully occupied four- or eight-seat aircraft. It said this compares with costs of between $15 and $20 per passenger mile in typical chartered jets.

According to Rogers, KinectAir is now in talks with prospective leasing companies and also with developers of hybrid and electric aircraft. He indicated that the company might be fairly close to committing to introduce a hybrid, fixed-wing aircraft to the fleet by 2024.

On June 9, KinectAir launched a Wefunder “regulation crowdfunding” campaign to raise investment funds to help the company reach its goals and begin serving customers. As of late June 15, 38 investors committed $145,000 towards KinectAir’s goal of $50,000 to $1 million. Before the Wefunder campaign, KinectAir raised $66,000 consisting primarily of loans from company officers. It intends to launch a wider fundraising round at a later date.

KinectAir has 13 employees and five of these are focused on software development. CEO Jonathan Evans is a former U.S. Army pilot who sold his Skyward drone airspace management software company. Rogers is a former British Airways pilot who ran a drone operating business called Sky-Futures.

Chief technology officer Ben Howard has a background in software for unmanned aircraft and AI and machine learning applications. U.S. Marine Corps veteran Anneke Tucker is the company’s director of aviation development, with a background in aviation maintenance, certification, and technical documentation.