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Posted at 01:49 PM ET, 11/02/2012

Everybody gets a private jet! Almost...


Could BlackJet and the new sharing economy disrupt the commercial flight industry? (SUZANNE PLUNKETT - REUTERS)

Building on the early success of Uber, which sought to make hailing a private car service in cities such as New York and Washington as easy as downloading an app, there’s now a similar type of experience, and this one is for private jets.

In short, BlackJet plans to do for jets what Uber did for cars. This is not just about enabling a group of wealthy business executives and celebrities to fly around the country on their own private jets (although some of the initial backers do include Will Smith, Ashton Kutcher and Jay-Z) — it’s about opening up another segment of the American economy to the new, disruptive rules of the sharing economy.

The most powerful insight behind the creation of BlackJet is that there’s simply a lot of excess capacity in the private jet industry these days. According to BlackJet CEO Garrett Camp (a “serial entrepreneur” who also co-founded StumbleUpon and Uber), there are anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 private jets around the country, each of them in the air for an average of 1 hour per day. As a result, the cost of a round-trip private jet flight can be as much as $25,000. What if there was a way to bring that cost down by getting more use out of all those jets? BlackJet plans to bring down the cost of a cross-country flight to $3,500 and a short-haul flight to under $1000 simply by getting more use out of the available private flights.

The other fundamental insight is that air travel in the U.S. — even if you’re an elite business traveler with all the perks — is fundamentally broken. Try as they might with all kinds of incentives, such as faster check-ins and less-intrusive security screenings, air travel has lost most of its glamour these days. And, for business travelers, it still isn’t exactly cheap. BlackJet hopes to change all this not only with the pricing, but by also creating a streamlined customer experience via mobile and desktop Web that makes it frictionless to book an unused private jet. The goal? Any BlackJet user should be able to roll up to the side of the jet in their own car and be airborne within 3 minutes — just like they do in the movies.

There are some drawbacks, however, to this business model. For one, the company still seems to be trying to figure out who the power-users of this service will be. For now, it seems to be top business executives making at least $200,000 per year who don’t own their own private plane and who make frequent unplanned trips around the country. It remains to be seen whether that market is big enough. The other drawback is that, well, people in the “1percent” don’t exactly like to share, and in order to make this service economically viable, it may mean that two or more people will have to share the same private jet for the same flight. Horrors! Imagine sitting next to the scruffy-looking millionaire next door or some hot-shot Silicon Valley start-up founder for hours at a time on the same, tiny plane.

Obviously there are some kinks to work out in the business model — including, perhaps, some legal ones as well — but consider how much headway Uber has already made in the market for private car service. And it’s not just cars and planes where the whole sharing economy concept has come to fruition. Consider a company like Airbnb which has been disrupting the hospitality industry by making it possible to share your home with total strangers. Now imagine an entire transportation industry linked end-to-end by the sharing economy: a user takes an Uber car to the airport, boards a BlackJet private jet and takes another Uber car to the final destination that just so happens to be an Airbnb property.

This may sound like kindergarten logic, but things are just cheaper and more plentiful in life if you’re willing to share with others. There’s a whole concept called Collaborative Consumption that argues we’re already on the way to a new, gentler form of capitalism that works by optimizing all the excess capacity and waste in the system through sharing, swapping and bartering. We may be quite some time away from when Oprah will excitedly announce "Everybody Gets a Private Jet!" the same way she once did for cars, but the possibilities are certainly enticing.

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By  |  01:49 PM ET, 11/02/2012

 
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