IRVINE, Calif. — In a nondescript office building near John Wayne Airport, JetSuite chief executive Alex Wilcox plots about how he can change the private jet industry.
Four years after his company’s first flight, he thinks he has the answer. Wilcox, a former JetBlue Airways executive, said it may be possible to get private jet flights listed on a Global Distribution System, or GDS. That’s a fancy way of saying you might soon have the chance to book jet flights on Kayak or Orbitz or Travelocity.
Yes, a private jet ride would cost more than an airline ticket, even one in first class. But perhaps not by as much as you might think. Much of JetSuite’s fleet consists of four-passenger Embraer Phenom 100s, which burn only about 90 gallons of jet fuel per hour. That makes the cost of riding in one a lot less than on most jets. The classic private jet – think G-IV – is considerably bigger, but most of the seats in them tend to fly empty.
JetSuite is way cheaper than most private jet operators, though it is not necessarily inexpensive. Depending on whether you have a short commitment with the company or a long one, you’ll likely pay between $3,228 per hour and $3,528 per hour for your flight.
Let’s say you’re part of a business group or a family that wants to fly somewhere that’s only 90 minutes by air from Los Angeles, flown nonstop. But for many small cities in the West, if you fly commercially, that probably means you’ll make a stop in Denver or Salt Lake City. The whole trip might take five hours. If JetSuite shows up on Kayak for only $1,500 per person with a nonstop flight, you might consider it even if you had not thought a private jet was possible.
For a variety of logistical reasons, Wilcox acknowledged that it could take some time before JetSuite is listed alongside scheduled carriers. But he said that finding a new way to connect travelers and jets could change the way the private aviation industry works. (Private jet companies are regulated differently than commercial carriers, but Wilcox said the rules should still allow JetSuite to be listed.)
“As an industry, we have failed to figure out how to distribute our product,” he said.
This would not be the first time the company has tried to “revolutionize” the jet industry. When it started flying in 2009, Wilcox said the company thought it could stimulate new jet demand by offering low rates. But he said he found that travelers who weren’t used to flying on private jets were reluctant to book, even with low prices.
“We thought for a while that if you offered private jet flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas for $999 there would be unlimited demand,” Wilcox said. “But it’s a very intimidating business for the first time user. We actually didn’t sell a whole lot of them. … You can’t stimulate demand in private aviation the way you can with commercial flights.”
Bonus question: Just like commercial airlines, JetSuite has a call sign used by air traffic controllers. It’s not, however, JetSuite. Do you know what it is?