Airble offers a new way to book aircraft
The Vancouver-based startup lets passengers charter private airplanes on a middle-class salary.
A floatplane flies over B.C. Photo: Unsplash
Picture reserving a private aircraft for yourself and your friends. And then imagine that it can cost less than flying with a traditional airline.
It’s the holy grail for the future of transportation: a way to connect passengers directly with private flights, which could be reasonably inexpensive (when chartering empty legs), and can make use of the hundreds of under-used airports around Canada and beyond. CEO Saeed Golzar might not be the first to chase that technology – but with his company, Airble, he’s one of the earliest to make it a reality.
An airman by trade – Golzar was one the youngest pilots in his home country of Iran – he clocked more than 3,000 hours on planes such as the Airbus A320 and MD-83, all while working on his Master’s degree. Picking up his commercial helicopter license, he flew choppers in Abbotsford, and then floatplanes in Fort Langley. To gain back-office airline experience, he worked for Jazz Aviation to understand what happens beyond the runway. By the time he came up with the idea for Airble, he had a solid grasp on all areas within the aviation industry.
“Airble connects passengers with aircraft owners,” he tells the Vancouver Tech Journal. “It could be a jet, it could be a helicopter, it could be a floatplane, it could be a private tour. It's a marketplace business model connecting two different parties […] And it is live – so whatever [pricing or routes] you see on the app or on the website are immediately available for purchase.”
Other companies have tried to build software that has a similar end-goal to Airble’s: a person requests a flight, and a company provides the plane and pilot. Those asks, however, could be routed through a broker, with a response taking up to a week. Airble, Golzar suggests, is different. Currently partnered with five operators (Kamloops’ Streak Air, Pitt Meadows’ Sky Helicopters, Ladysmith’s Gulf Island Seaplanes, Muncho Lake’s Liard Air, and Campbell River’s Bella Coola Air), the company has a number of aircraft and routes available in its system.
“There are some apps out there in the U.S.,” Golzar says. “You send a request. On the other side, someone is sitting on a desk and they receive an email – ‘a passenger is interested in flying from A to B.’ They have to pick up the phone and call 10 aircraft owners, work out the date, time, number of passengers, and price, and get back to the passenger. But in our app, you see the service right away. You pay, and you book a flight. We can book a helicopter in two hours if you want, based on the air operator’s availability. That's the difference.”
Reserving a private jet feels like it should be the domain of billionaires. But Airble, Golzar stresses, isn’t just a service for the uber-rich. The new company just sold its first flight, a ride to a couple from Edmonton, who rented a private plane to Tofino. This resulted in an empty leg from Tofino to Campbell River, priced at $282 for three people – working out at less than $100 a seat. There are approximately 800 airlines in Canada with thousands of small aircraft available for use, Golzar points out. Of those, a large number are taking off without any passengers on the return journey; a practice called empty leg flights. Jumping on an empty leg – and reserving a whole plane – brings the price down to a dollar amount affordable to those without a house on Point Grey Road.
“You don’t need an Airbus 320 to fly from Vancouver to Kamloops,” Golzar says by way of example. “It could be a helicopter. You and your four other friends can charter a helicopter and fly from Vancouver to Okanagan Valley, do some wine tasting, and fly back. That easy.”
Airble has three target customers. The first is the adventure-seeker. For the many who charter helicopters or floatplanes for heli-skiing, rugged hiking and biking, or fly-fishing trips, the company can connect outdoorsy people with a tailored ride. Next is commuters. For those who own lakeside cottages or off-grid cabins, Airble will be able to drop parties at their door. Lastly, Airble caters to travellers – like those who wish to visit Tofino for the weekend.
“Our goal is to show Canadians, ‘look at your backyard’,’” Golzar says. “There is a lot you can do. People are coming from Russia, from China, to do these activities. You can charter an aircraft.”
Like all areas of the aviation industry, Airble is committed to safety. Every aircraft signed to its app is registered under a company. A private jet is more often than not a misnomer, Golzar suggests; most are commercially registered jets, which are privately used. In order for a plane to become a commercially registered aircraft, it requires a hangar, regular maintenance, a chief pilot, training, and more. The lengthy list of rules and certificates is documented with Transport Canada, and Airble checks each one is compliant to make sure it’s legitimate.
Passengers, the company doubtless hopes, will be quick to understand and adopt the technology. Doing so allows consumers greater choice of aircraft and routes, the ability to fly off-grid, the luxury of leaving from a private terminal, and the cachet of renting a private aircraft.
“We have 2,000 aerodromes in Canada,” Golzar says. “Just in B.C. we have 80 helipads […] We have 124 aerodromes, and 76 water aerodromes, just in [the province]. Let's use them to showcase our beautiful country and hopefully assist in additional revenue to local operators and suppliers for tourism.”