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The big idea: the all-knowing app

One of the Private aviation’s glaring shortcomings is the lack of an industry-wide app that provides guaranteed prices and real-time information. Half a dozen of the larger companies have invested tens of millions in developing apps for their own fleet. But most airline companies use a private label version of generic software from Avinode or FlyEasywhich provides all subscribers with the same data and displays estimated costs rather than final prices, often with some delay.

A perfect storm of unprecedented demand, a shortage of planes and a highly fragmented mom-and-pop base has kept most companies from developing their own apps. Most carriers have less than 10 planes, according to data service jetnet, while only 10 have more than 50 jets in their fleet. These small businesses are unlikely to have the resources to invest in new technologies.

“Many of the smaller businesses run on spreadsheets or some outdated Windows desktop tool,” said Gene McKenna, chief product officer at Wheels Up, a former Groupon executive who now oversees a more than 100-plus development team. “We focused on scheduling optimization on these platforms to make it easier for them to get real-time information from us.”

“The more data points we collect, the more robust our algorithm becomes,” added Vinay Roy, Chief Product Officer of Vista Global Holding. “As our user base grows, these artificial intelligence capabilities will become even more sophisticated, further reducing response times and competitive pricing.”

Sentient Jet president and CEO Andrew Collins admits converting the mom-and-pops to 21st-century technology will likely be slow and expensive, but believes it will happen “in a fairly short period of time.” “This is an incredibly complex and dynamic market,” he says. “But it’s also not big enough, unlike the commercial aviation industry, to easily handle the permutations that go through it.” Permutations such as real-time planning and instant pricing, inability to order catering online and expenses such as fuel surcharges.

But industry leaders are determined to have an app that bridges the very torn aviation gap. Sentient Jet, Wheels Up and Vista subsidiary XO offer instant pricing. They’ve all invested in both technology and brainpower to make their apps faster, more accurate, and more useful to private pilots, many of whom are new to the industry. Sentient’s app, for example, has a trip tracker and flight day information in the latest update.

The most recent version of Wheels Up has similar features, with plans to add luxury resorts and yacht charters for seamless travel – aiming to become the Expedia for high net worth individuals. It also hopes to introduce a social networking component between members.

In addition to the advantage a cross-industry app offers over less-funded competitors, leaders see it as something that should fit with the personal digitalization that is revolutionizing the rest of society. “We want our customers to have our experience with white gloves, but we also want them to feel like they’re in control and able to solve their problems online,” says McKenna. “That only works with an app.”

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