A new service by a former Santa Monican hopes to revitalize regional air transit by connecting travelers to local charter companies.
Blackbird is currently offering services at several California airports including a route between Santa Monica and Palm Springs.
The company offers three services available to user who download an app for a smartphone.
The first service offers a single seat on a specific route. The company currently flies from Palo Alto to Tahoe, Palo Alto to Monterey, Sausalito to Tahoe City and Santa Monica to Palm Springs. Additional routes are planned between Santa Barbara to San Diego, Palo Alto to Santa Barbara and Palm Springs to Vegas.
The second service crowdsources customers for a custom charter. Potential customers can ask for a destination and departure time and if enough people also buy into the flight, Blackbird will schedule a plane.
The third is a standard charter rental. Customers can use the company’s software to book an entire aircraft at any of their partner airports.
Blackbird CEO Rudd Davis said traditional charter plane companies have business and regulatory hurdles that prevent them from selling single seats on their planes. From the business side, there’s significant effort required to establish individual service.
“It’s hard to sell individual seats without routes and schedules,” he said. “There’s a lot of backend complexity to optimize demand … We figure out a route that is in demand, we figure out when people want to fly on that route, set the route, schedule the flight and the per seat price,” he said.
He said the service doesn’t plan to increase the number of flights at any given airport but does aim to maximize the efficiency of each flight ensuring the planes are full and consolidating operations where necessary into a single larger plane over several small flights.
“We are putting more people on the planes that are already flying,” he said.
Blackbird doesn’t own the planes or employ the flight crew but it works with a network of charter companies that fulfill flight requirements. In Santa Monica, they offer four-seat or nine-seat propeller planes.
Davis said decisions about where to operate were made based on several factors including demand, cost of comparable commercial service and transportation alternatives. He said up to 70 percent of regional air service has disappeared in the past 30 years as airlines transitioned to a hub system. He sees organized charter service as a way to fill the gap covering distances of 100 – 1,000 miles.
“That’s kind of our zone, we want to be comparable to renting a car when you think about getting to say Palm Springs for instance,” he said. “It makes sense to hop on a plane because when you get to the other side, you can hop on an Uber or Lyft.”
Davis said he lived in Santa Monica for seven years and actually lived under the flight path for SMO.
“I lived in Santa Monica,” he said. “I know how miserable it is to get to LAX, that alone is a pretty terrible journey.”
The Santa Monica Airport has been mired in controversy for decades. The City and the FAA agreed to a deal last year that allows the airport to close in 2028 and facilitates shortening the runway. JetsuiteX had previously announced plans to operate a routine service from SMO but those plans were curbed by the prospect of a reduced runway.
For more information on Blackbird services, visit www.flyblackbird.com