Airports are crowded again. And in cities like Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago, just getting to the airport can take a couple of hours at the wrong time of day.
Now there’s an alternative, says Richard Kane, a computer scientist who founded Verijet, a startup private charter flight company based in Boca Raton, Fla., that offers relatively affordable private jet service with sustainability in mind.
In the 1990s, Kane created a telecom firm and developed expertise in high-performance computing and artificial intelligence. The experience and knowledge he gained from that business was the inspiration for Verijet, which Kane says takes advantage of market inefficiencies and technological advancements to develop a network that’s been referred to as “air Uber.”
More than just an entrepreneur, Kane knows quite a bit about changing the aviation paradigm.
A native of suburban New York City, Kane has been intrigued by aviation since he was a child. In addition to his business activities, he’s a pilot who once set a new speed mark for flying three kilometers at a low altitude, a record previously held by Amelia Earhart—one of seven flying records he holds.
Since its creation in 2019, Verijet has made more than 7,000 flights, mostly from one small airport to another. With a fleet of more than 20 Cirrus Vision SF50 aircraft, better known as the Vision Jet, Kane’s company averages 20 to 30 flights per day.
Verijet will never compete with a bargain $59 flight to Florida offered by an ultra-low cost commercial carrier, for example, Kane said. But at rates around $3,500 per hour, with four passengers, Verijet can compete with, or even out-price, first class travel on a brand-name airline.
Small is beautiful
Verijet—which employs about 100 people—will fly to major airports like Chicago’s Midway or New York’s JFK for a premium price. But its best deals are found when flying in and out of their smaller brethren.
Among the more than 5,000 airports in the U.S. are hundreds of regional airports that sidestep most of the traffic, security lines and long walks from parking lots that come along with commercial air travel.
“It depends on where you’re going,” Kane said. “Many smaller airports can eliminate long and congested drives.”
In the Boston area, for example, there are five regional airports. Everyone has heard of Logan International, but almost no one has heard of Norwood, home to a small airport that’s much closer to Boston’s South Shore and Cape Cod.
In the busy New York City area, there’s Teterboro, a well-known reliever airport in New Jersey, 12 miles from Manhattan. But Kane says the Essex County Airport, 15 miles from Teterboro, is cheaper and has similar access to Manhattan and the heavily populated suburbs of northern New Jersey.
“Smaller airports are cheaper and often have amazing facilities,” Kane said.
For the Pittsburgh area, Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, just southeast of Downtown, serves as the primary general aviation facility, handling thousands of corporate and private flights each year.
How it works
Like most private air travel companies, Verijet does not operate on fixed schedules. In fact, the company needs only a day’s notice to schedule a flight, and Kane hopes to cut that down to only a couple of hours in the future, when customers will be able to summon jets from their smartphones.
VeriJet is currently focused on service areas in the Southeast and the West – not Pittsburgh yet – but expansion for full national coverage is the ultimate goal.
The key to making the economics work is the Cirrus Vision SF50, a single-engine light jet designed and produced by Cirrus Aircraft of Duluth, Minn.
The lightweight jet burns about a quarter of the fuel of most private jets and is the only one that can use biofuel. In 2018, the Vision Jet was awarded the National Aeronautic Association’s Collier Trophy for the “greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America.”
Private charter aviation often relies on airplanes that are too big, too heavy and not fuel-efficient, Kane said. With the Vision Jet, he can carry four adults and two children on a flight for a fraction of the cost of his competitors—VeriJet will even accept pets onboard.
Between his business model and the state-of-the-art aircraft, Kane says all of VeriJet’s flights are 100 percent carbon-neutral, a claim backed by 4AIR, a company that rates the sustainability of private air travel firms.
Kane’s advocacy for and use of the Vision Jet has caught the attention of some prominent supporters of carbon-free travel, most notably Erik Lindbergh, grandson of iconic pilot Charles Lindbergh, who serves as a Verijet board member. And Kane serves on the board of the Lindbergh Foundation, which aims to decarbonize aviation.
For now, Verijet is being funded through private equity. Last month, former Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg decided to wind down the special purpose company designed to take the company public.
But Kane remains optimistic.
“There will be demand for this kind of travel. It’s about the journey and the best way to do it,” he said.