Here Comes a Zipcar for Air Travel

Private-jet startups are finding ways to make it easier for customers to get onboard

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• Wheels Up, which is amassing its own fleet of planes and has a country-club model for members. For an initiation fee of $15,750 and then $7,250 annually, members have on-demand access to luxury eight-seat King Air 350i turboprops at $3,900 per occupied hour--well below the rate of most jets. Wheels Up has ordered $800 million worth of them, in the process boosting the reorganized Beechcraft Corp., which went bust in the aftermath of the recession. Dichter chose King Airs because the average length of a private-jet flight is a tad less than two hours--most clients don't need bigger, faster, more expensive jets. (The company offers jet service at a higher fee.)

Rotchin figures that there is $50 billion worth of excess capacity of private-jet "lift" available. Tapping into it could increase the customer pool from 6,000 to as many as 10 million. "The demand is there," says Dichter. "The question is, Who is going to solve for that demand?" The answer could make life better for a lot of frustrated flyers.

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