A brash young entrepreneur has started operating a sky taxi in Los Angeles in a bid to create an Uber-like flight-hailing service — even though the firm hasn’t quite cleared all the federal regulatory hurdles.
Skyryde has begun using small planes and a federally licensed pilot to fly people on quick hops above L.A.’s notorious traffic jams on shorter notice and at lower prices than one generally finds for commuter air services using turboprops or small jets.
Although the process for booking a flight and getting to one’s destination is still a bit more complicated than it is for ride-hailing services on the ground, the aim of the beta launch is to work out the kinks and ultimately make it relatively easy to order a flight in the L.A. metropolis, the operators say.
“It’s on demand, so nothing is scheduled. It’s simply: Somebody calls, they want a flight, we book the flight, and that’s how we operate,” said Mike Killian, a licensed commercial pilot who has flown several flights for Skyryde.
Instead of the Learjets and turboprops that one often associates with scheduled flights, Skyryde is using small planes, such as the Cessna Turbo 182. The aircraft has four to six seats and instrumentation that allows pilots to fly in everything but the most extreme weather.
“Obviously, there’s some planning involved; we could literally be dispatched within less than an hour — get on the flight and take care of the trip, ” said Killian, 29, the founder of Corsair Aviation, a firm in Van Nuys, Calif., that’s working closely with Skyryde.
The idea for the sky taxi and the drive behind the young company came from Jerome Brenndon “JB” Adkins, a flight junkie who said he has cashed in almost everything except the camper where he and his family now live to launch the venture.
“Skyryde is literally trying to solve the problem of traffic,” said Adkins, who became mesmerized by powered flight as a child growing up in a military family in Georgia. He hung out at airports washing airplanes to make money and obtained his pilot’s license in high school before attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
Adkins said he was in high school when he got the idea to use airplanes like limousines. Instead of driving six hours from his home in Georgia to the Florida beaches over spring break, he realized he could fly there in 45 minutes with friends who ponied up $50 each.
“I did this before Uber — before Lyft — before the sharing economy ever existed,” Adkins, 28, said in an interview.
Unlike Uber or Lyft, however, there’s not even a Skyryde smartphone app yet, although Adkins says one is on the way. For now, users go to GoSkyryde.com, where one of the pitches that shows up says: “Screw Traffic, Fly Above It.”
Adkins said a typical Skyryde flight might take a passenger from the University of California at Los Angeles to Long Beach, arriving there in a matter of minutes instead of the hours it would take to slog through L.A. traffic. The fare isn’t cheap — $300 — but could approach affordability if people shared the flight. He hopes that the same concepts pioneered by Uber — dynamic pricing and a pool of available operators — will lower Skyryde’s price from what might seem exorbitant now to something closer to $100.
So far, only about 16 people have flown with the Laguna Beach-based firm since it took to the skies April 20, Adkins said. He also acknowledged that the firm has been operating in a regulatory gray area surrounding scheduling flights.
The Federal Aviation Administration is aware of Skyryde, an FAA spokesman said. He said the venture appears to have passed regulatory muster in several respects.
Its partner, Corsair, is operating under a part of FAA regulations, known as Part 135 rules, that govern intrastate air taxis and commuter services, the necessary licensing and training of pilots and crews, and the required maintenance for aircraft. Corsair has the necessary operating certificate to transport intrastate commercial passengers under Part 135 and a clean operating record, the spokesman said. He said FAA inspectors have reviewed Corsair’s aircraft and conducted a successful proficiency check ride to its pilot.
Meanwhile, Skyryde appears to be essentially acting as a broker and does not need a Part 135 certificate, the FAA spokesman said. He said, however, that it’s not entirely clear that the fledgling business is fully complying with the murky and byzantine regulations in the Department of Transportation (DOT), not the FAA, that govern flight brokers and whether a flight is truly “on demand” or has become a scheduled route.
Adkins acknowledges that there is some uncertainty regarding those regulations, but he said his firm is working with the FAA and DOT to clarify its role. He emphasized, however, that the venture is fully compliant with operational regulations that directly apply to safety, maintenance, and flight worthiness of the aircraft. He said it’s the business model that, despite being made familiar to people on the ground, remains unusual in the sky.
“There are so many regulatory hurdles involved with this,” Adkins said. “We didn’t want to wait for regulation to catch up. We wanted to get started with this now.”