ImagineAir: Not Your Typical Mixed-Fleet Air-Taxi Operator
By Elliot Borin, Air TaxiFlights.com
ImagineAir is not your typical air-taxi-next-door outfit. Headquartered about 20 minutes down I-85 from us at Gwinnett County Airport in Atlanta's southeast suburbs it is one of our air-taxi carriers next door, but that doesn't make it the least bit typical.
Founded in 2004 and sending its first flights skyward just one year ago, ImagineAir already offers Eclipse 500 VLJ and/or piston-engined Cirrus SR22 point-to-point, fly-on-demand service to 600-plus airports throughout the Southeast . Its promotional ImagineFares initiative, which allows passengers to fly to as many destinations as they can cram into one 12 hour day for a single-price ticket, and its $199 "empty-leg" fares on deadheading aircraft are -- in keeping with the company name -- two of the most imaginative discount offers in the industry.
And its 24-year-old CEO and co-founder, Aaron Sohacki, who was once -- among many other cool things -- a flight instructor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is wont to personally pilot customers to their destinations whenever he gets bored with flying his desk.
As is to be expected at an entrepreneurial company whose growth chart is pointing straight up, the first impression we got on a recent visit to ImagineAir was one of high energy, of people who know and appreciate that they're in on the ground floor of something new, exciting, dynamic.
The overall atmosphere of a youthful, enthusiastic culture was epitomized by the not-yet-30-somethings who met us at the door, Co-founder and President Benjamin Hamilton and Director of Public Relations and Sales Haroon Qureshi.
AirTaxiFlights.com: You could have launched ImagineAir anywhere. What made you pick Atlanta, when there are some people who might claim that this area needs more air services like L.A. needs more freeways?
ImagineAir: It's true that the Atlanta area is teeming with airports and aircraft operators, but the air-taxi market is still relatively open and we and SATSair are the first operators to capitalize on it for all levels of customers.
Aside from that, Atlanta seemed logical considering its population, business density and financial resources. An Atlanta headquarters also allows our Cirrus SR22s, which have a more limited range than the Eclipse 500s, to reach a wide variety of destinations.
ATF: Given that the air-taxi market is, as you put it, still relatively open, it seems logical that the really successful companies will have some designed in competitive advantages in either their business model, operating philosophy or service offerings. Some unique selling proposition, as they call it in Advertising 101 classes. What's ImagineAir's USP?
ImagineAir: Our goal is to use everything the major airlines do wrong as the basis for what we do right. Among other things, that means we are tightly focused on ease of use and customer service. It means we want to offer a fast, easy, personalized and pleasurable flight experience for our customers by removing the hassle and time-intensive processes that plague the airline industry.
We also try to cater to the special requests of repeat customers whenever we can. That's not always possible, of course. When customers ask for certain pilots, as they frequently do because they enjoyed the experience those pilots created for them on a previous trip, we have to tell them that FAA rules prevent us from assigning pilots on request . But within those limits we always aim to please. We believe our Customer Care Packs (which contain bottled water and other amenities), for example, are the best in the business.
ATF: One of the most interesting facets of the 21st Century air-taxi industry is the wide variety of business models and fare structures being employed by various operators. How do you price and book your flights?
ImagineAir: We sell the entire airplane, not individual seats, so our customers are never flying with a stranger unless they organize it themselves. Our guaranteed prices are based on mileage and never include overnight waiting fees or aircraft repositioning charges. And we don't nickel and dime customers to death with typical charter price "overruns" like fuel surcharges, taxi and hold times or diversions to alternative airports because of weather and airline "addons" like TSA and airport access fees.
Flights are booked through a proprietary online reservation system that we developed to help us manage our flights in real time based on booking locations. We were, actually, the first Part 135 operator anywhere to deploy a real-time system with the level of sophistication necessary to publish and manage flight information on virtually any web page.
ATF: With a year's worth of operations under your belt, you probably have a pretty good idea where ImagineAir's customers are coming from. What do the demographics look like?
ImagineAir: Initially, our individual customers were primarily involved with commercial real estate, law and other businesses that required daily flights to see clients or attend meetings. Recently. we've had an influx of customers from the health care industry, which is a great thing. We've also been getting quite a bit of business from corporations which need immediate short- to mid-range flights and find it more cost effective to use our aircraft than their own.
More recently, we're being used by vacationers who want to travel without the hassle of major airports, which we hope will become a trend as the air-taxi industry becomes more mainstream.
ATF: Many industry pundits say that the biggest hurdle facing all passenger carriers -- air-taxi operators as well as scheduled airlines -- is the skyrocketing cost of oil. Do you foresee any negative impact from higher fuel costs?
ImagineAir: We chose and will continue to fly the SR22 and the Eclipse 500 because they are incredibly efficient. They weigh less than a full-size SUV and travel at over 200mph at approximately the same gallon-per-hour rate as an SUV traveling at 70. Given those facts, we don't see fuel costs making our service that cost prohibitive once you factor in time saved thanks to speed and ease of travel.
ATF: ImagineAir is obviously off to a great start but it's still, operationally, only a year old. Where do you go from here?
ImagineAir: We want to make the traveling public aware of the benefits of flying with us relative to driving or flying with a major carrier. We want to move away from being considered an air charter service, which sounds elitist and out of the general public's reach.
We want to paint ImagineAir as an air-taxi service designed to provide service to anyone going anywhere at any time.
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