Using an old concept with new twists to increase rentals

We’ve been working on a way to help pilots fly more, help flight schools and FBOs that rent aircraft book more revenue, and get more great rental customers. OpenAirplane will make it easy to find, book, fly, and pay for aircraft rental online or with a mobile device. Last week we started giving the world a peek at what our team has been quietly working on for eight months.

The team behind OpenAirplane started with the hypothesis that if together we reduced the hassle in renting airplanes, all our pilot certificates would become much more valuable. We imagined flying on the airlines from Chicago to Miami, easily booking the same make / model we fly at home, learning about local procedures on our own time, and then showing up to be handed the keys and clipboard to fly down to The Keys for lunch. We imagined renting an airplane like we rent cars. We imagined doing a checkout locally, then using that credential around the country without having to invest half a day and hundreds of dollars in checking out, yet again, every time.

Ninety-six percent of pilots we surveyed told us they would fly more when away from home, if the process was simpler. Fifty-one percent said it was the complicated checkout that kept them away. Twenty-eight percent said it was just too hard to find an airplane. How often would we rent cars if we were required to take the kid from behind the car rental counter around the parking lot three times before we got the keys? We see the hassle in renting airplanes today eroding everybody’s business.

OpenAirplane will offer operators a standardization / evaluation program that everyone can live with. Pilots will have the opportunity to demonstrate they are capable of flying to the standard, but not forced to repeat the performance at every new FBO or school they want to do business with. We’ll give both pilots and operators a new transparency so that both can choose who they do business with. We’ll incentivize good behavior on both sides of the transaction. This will be good for both the pilots and the operators who rent to them.

As we talk to operators around the country, here are some of the top questions folks ask:

Q: Have you talked to my aviation insurance agency? What do they think?

We’ve developed OpenAirplane to help your insurance carrier be comfortable with how our stan / eval program helps you managed risk. Our launch partner Starr Aviation has approved our operations plan, and we’re talking with more providers. If we haven’t spoken directly to the particular company that underwrites your aircraft policy yet, just point us in the right direction.

Q: How much will it cost for us to list aircraft on OpenAirplane?

Participating in OpenAirplane will be free for operators. OpenAirplane will only collect fees when we enable flying that typically wouldn’t happen otherwise. We’ll keep a small percentage of the rental revenue to keep the lights on.

Q: What about the revenue I could lose from checkouts we’re giving today?

Aircraft that fly more are more profitable. Since we know that today’s rental experience may be chasing away 96 percent of your customers, we think participating in OpenAirplane will actually increase your revenue. Operators that participate in the network will be the ones to provide the standardized checkout on an annual basis. This checkout could also be credited as a flight review or IPC that the pilot could then use to fly at other bases across our network. Pilots should end up flying more checkouts with you, because you’ll be offering a checkout which is more valuable than ever before.

Q: What’s the OpenAirplane checkout like?

OpenAirplane stan/eval program will standardize what it means to provide a checkout on the ground and in the air. It will be a pass / fail event that allows the best renters to demonstrate their proficiency to fly as pilot in command of your rental aircraft on an annual basis.

Q: We’ve got a shiny [insert high performance or rare aircraft here] can you help us rent it more often?

OpenAirplane checkouts will be make / model specific. Each pilot will fly an initial checkout in each airframe they choose to fly, and we’ll offer an abbreviated checkout to add additional airframes. For example, a pilot who checks out in your school’s Beechcraft Bonanza would then get access to all similar Bonanzas around the country.

We think that by reducing the hassle, private aviation could be a much more viable business tool or recreational choice for pilots if together we take the friction out of the system. Together we can make it easier for customers to do business with our industry.

Operators who would like to participate in the OpenAirplane are welcome to contact Jason Hoffman at [email protected], Jason’s our guy when it comes to recruiting, on boarding, and supporting our growing network of operators. General questions about OpenAirplane can always go to [email protected].

And please tell us what you think of the concept in the comments section.

–Rod Rakic, co-founder of OpenAirplane

  • Russ

    This is a great idea to allow those travelling to find access to rental aircraft.

    I have a some concerns.

    First, as a rental operator, I really do not trust the average pilot’s flight skills coming off the street. With the high cost of rentals now, few pilots are keeping their skills current. The pilot who thinks they are entitled to use my airplane just because they have a certificate and some time in type is off to a bad start. I’m not Enterprise, Hertz, or Dollar rental car, with a fleet of rental equipment. I bought and maintain my limited fleet with my own money, often at a loss, to make aviation accessible. If you cannot demonstrate competency and display mature decision making on a 30-60 minute flight, then I’m not handing you my equipment.

    Second, the primary reason it’s hard to find a rental is because insurance costs make renting airplanes a mostly unprofitable venture unless your market is high quantity pilot training. The cost to insure something like an old beat up Skyhawk for rental will run about $3,500-5,000 per year. If the basic operating fuel/oil/maint costs are $75/hour and the rental rate is $110 per hour, that’s 100-150 hours of rental per year just to pay the insurance people… no wonder why it’s getting hard to find aircraft to rent at smaller fields?

    If the AOPA really wants to breathe life back into General Aviation, they need to (1) Control fuel costs and smash the ridiculously slow pace of replacing 100LL with something close to 50% it’s cost, and (2) Reform the rental insurance industry so that it’s financially reasonable for small operators to offer rental and instruction to the general public.

    Then you’ll find readily available and accessibly-priced rentals, competition, pilot-friendly checkout procedures, and more a more active pilot pool. Combine this with a good locator resource like the OpenAirplane concept and you might have something.

  • Shannon Forrest

    Russ, you make some valid points. I am a former flight school owner that had a couple of those “beat up” 172s. I feel most operators are eschewing rentals in favor of training. It’s more profitable in the sense that they get the aircraft rental as well as a portion of the dual. Additionally, have you found an operator that does not charge a 3-4 hour minimum per day for rentals on an overnight? A 6 hour roundtrip from Dallas to Houston in a GA airplane for a weekend getaway (fri-sun), gets billed at 9-12 hours of time. Having a dedicated rental fleet might solve that problem and make those types of rentals more attractive. As an independent CFI my belief now (after 20 years as a CFI, freight, corporate, airline) is that most of those that can afford to fly right now fall into two camps – foreign students getting their license and leaving the country, and students that will purchase their own aircraft before, during, or after training. And those aircraft are current production models, not 20+ year old airframes.

  • Mitch K

    I belong to a flying club in Charlotte, have ample experience in Pipers and Skyhawks, in my own 200 mile radius.

    I would love to rent anywhere easily solo, but if I pass a standard check ride for a cat/class/type in rural NC would that be helpful launching from Oakland into SFO class Bravo?

    God help the operator who lets a newbie competent pilot depart into unfamiliar congested airspace and different weather for joy rides. Got to factor in the location location location.

  • Shannon Forrest

    More importantly, we need to generate a need to rent airplanes. Typically people “vanish” once they get their initial certificate. I really hate to say this as a GA lover — unless there’s a business need, it’s tough to financially justify an airplane. Even as a frac pilot at the number 2 fractional we knew that (you don’t make money off operating it, you make $ off selling it and reselling it). We need to change the psychology. What is someone getting in return for the expense? Why would they want to drop $500 on a drivable trip? When I instructed in DET in the early 90’s the vast majority of my students were middle class folks making $50-80,000 a year in the auto industry. The willingness of that demographic to spend on airplane rentals has evaporated in favor of competing interests (or financial necessity). How do we fix it? This may be more about salemanship and psychology than the always high costs associated with flying.

  • Lars J

    I think there are some great points made here. I for one am a general aviation pilot who would like to expand into commercial aviation as a Carrier. Every time i try to go to a new town for vacation, work, family, ect, I find it a nightmare to rent airplanes. My family and friends are always asking if i can give them rides, but I need to repeatedly tell them I cant because i don’t have the time to schedule a check ride with an instructor beforehand.

    Another issue that i agree with completely is the problem of the multi-day rentals. The only way I justify renting an airplane is to go somewhere, not fly around in circles perpetually. I would love to do more of this, but I cant afford to pay the 6 hours I would be charged for a 3 day long trip in which I flew 4 hours round trip.

    And Finally Mitch, I have to agree with the problem of airspace. I learnt how to fly in Roswell, NM. Imagine the shocker i had on my first flight to Houston Texas? If you have a pilot who is perfectly capable of flying a specific airplane but has no experience in class B airspace. that pilot needs more than a check ride. but the proposed system would allow him to rent there anyways.

    Overall, I love the system, I just think there is a quirk or two that need to be worked out before it will work.

  • Barry

    As a retired airline & military pilot, (eight airlines, two Army aviation units, and owned a flight school & FBO, almost two thousand hours of dual given) the only place I have seen this concept work is at an airline. If you are checked out in one type of aircraft and transfer to another base, you do not have to go through the process again until it’s time for your next six month or 12 month check. However, in the airline example you are flying in a very highly controlled environment, with another highly trained professional, and overseen by dispatch, chief pilot, etc. If an airline pilot, flying a B 737 at, say, Delta, were to get laid off and go to any other airline flying the same model, s/he would begin training all over again from the bottom, because details of the cockpit layout and checklists, dispatch procedures etc would differ widely. Even in the military, if you transfer to another unit and are still assigned to the same type aircraft, you go through a flight check before you fly, whether as PIC or SIC, to learn their local procedures.
    Automobiles are very standardized. Airplanes, even within make and model, are not, unless you maybe get into new stuff like the Cirrus – and that’s a very high end market.
    The civilian aviation world is just too fragmented and undisciplined to make this concept viable on a large scale. Time to spare, go by air.

  • Jay

    Lots of valid points above, but I think this still goes back to the car rental analogy. It is ridiculous to have to spend hours and dollars to redo your checkride over and over every time you want to rent. I have rented cars, boats, and U-Haul trucks without a checkride, and I could potentially wreck them too. Never have though. Its very simple, do you want to grow GA, or not?

    If yes, then the industry needs to make some changes.
    (1) Accept some risk.
    (2) The person renting the airplane must accept some responsibility (eg. To not rent an airplane they are not capable of flying. By way of analogy, I only rent small U-Hauls, not 18 wheelers.)
    (3) Eliminate the need for dual insurance (insurance the FBO carries plus insurance the renter carries).

  • Joseph Doubek

    Great idea. As a member of the Civil Air Patrol, I’m required to regularly do what is called a Form 5 test, which is more detailed than any FBO check I’ve ever done.. Since we can’t take nonmembers in CAP planes, I rent when taking friends or relatives up. I definitely would rent more often if it wasn’t for the cost and time involved in check rides. You might check into the possibility of useing the CAP check rides as part of your program.

  • Jim Dulin

    This is a very good idea. The problems of insurance, various models, and various types of airspace and terrain could be handled in a competent yearly checkout. The pilot psychological problems will be much more difficult. We pilots accept that everybody can drive a car, u-haul, or whatever on the surface. Driving on the surface is more complex and more dangerous than flying. Flying is much easier to teach or learn. Most Americans just have more experience at driving. Until we pilots lose the attitude that we are somehow better, and that our airplanes deserve more piled higher and deeper professionalism to operate than a car, we will self limit our market. We will complain about being out in left field, but we generally want to keep it that way.

  • Carlo Sanchez

    I agree with Mitch K:
    I learned to fly in south Florida where the terrain rises no higher that 10 feet msl. All airports are at about sea level. Yes, we have experience with MIA’s class B and FLL & PBI’s class C, but our weather here is relatively benign. I went for a checkout in eastern CT and was shocked at what 3 mi vis looks like. We usually have >10 down here. We flew out to Block Island and realized the temperature of the water could kill me if I had to ditch (unlike Florida).
    How would someone get the whole experience package to rent anywhere? Especially if many of us can’t afford to venture far from our home base.

  • Mark C.

    I doubt this will work, as much as I’d love to see it. Russ’ first big paragraph above illustrates the need for this perfectly. I can reply, I did not suffer instruction at the hands of some instructors with whom I would never fly, more instruction with some who are the best pilots and instructors I could ever hope to find, pay for renters’ insurance, pass a grueling checkride to get my PPL, and log a ton of hours in several different types, only so I can walk in an FBO and be treated with suspicion and told that I have to spend half a day and several hundred dollars proving I’m worthy to rent a beat-up trainer for an hour of DIY sightseeing. Heck, on one two-2week vacation, I considered if it would be more efficient to buy a C152 for sale where we were and then re-list it with the broker when we left.

    That said, there’s a lot of downside to everyone with this plan. If I check out once in a C182 and then do all my flying and annual reviews in a C152, am I really qualified to rent a C182 three years later? Who is responsible for ensuring that I know what I need to about local weather, airspace, and density altitude issues? Does an initial checkout in a C172 qualify me for an abbreviated checkout in a Cherokee 140? If I have to fly 10 hours of checkouts a year to qualify under OpenAirplane, I don’t gain much over going the traditional route. And as was mentioned, the always present problem of daily minimums for overnight rentals forcing pilots to pay for way more hours than they actually fly under those circumstances, will still keep a lot of renters away (although right now some FBO’s seem willing to negotiate on that rather than have the plane sitting in the hangar for weeks on end). I wish you luck with this and will jump right in should you get a working system in place, but I have little hope for it.

  • Doug

    Love the concept of having one checkout being honored at many aircraft rental places around the country. However, in addition to the location issues such as complex class B airspace and TFR’s, I think there must be some provision for vfr vs. ifr checkout and conventional vs. glass panel (G1000, etc.) checkout. Also, I don’t think I would want to launch into hard IFR if I did not have some experence flying that specific airplane I was renting.
    Others mentioned the high cost of insurance. The cost is directly related to the general aviation accident rate which in my opinion needs significant improvement. I think we as a general aviation community need to foster a culture of safety and self discipline because in general aviation, unlike the commercial airlines, we are allowed a lot more freedom to make our own safety decisions. I like Tom Turner’s latest catchphrase: Personal Aviation – Freedom. Choices. Responsibility.

  • D.G. Axtell

    After reading many of the responses to the Open Airplane concept it appears that currency in a given aircraft as well as familiarity of the local airspace is a very big concern.
    I believe part of the future solution to help this situation is an FAA approved flight simulators that has the capability to emulate both a given aircraft as well as the airspace that it would be flying in.
    If an FBO in a given location had such a simulator they would be able to check out a pilot thoroughly in any given airspace throughout the country that the prospective pilot would be flying in. With a properly signed log book that should give the operator of rental aircraft in a different location a good basis for flight approval in his aircraft.

  • Paul

    I think that we should split checkout into four parts:
    1. Airplane engine, fuel and flight controls
    2. Avionics
    3. Airspace
    4. Terrain & weather
    We can easily standardize #1 and #2.
    #3 and #4 are a bit more complicated but for local VFR day flight in good weather these do not matter that much.
    If situation is more complex then any pilot would seek the local knowledge on weather and airspace. Isn’t this the reason why we learn to fly and not just buy certificates online?
    We can look at other areas like boat rentals or dive equipment rentals for ideas on how to make renting easier and safer. We should not be required to pass a checkride every time we want to rent a different airplane.

  • Stu

    As a flight school and rental operator, I think this concept has some great potential. The devil is always in the details. It sounds like OpenAirplane is trying to address some of this with the make/model and glass vs steam checkouts, plus the “local knowledge” database. As was mentioned by Paul, the aircraft systems and avionics aspects can easily be handled by a single checkout. The local airspace, terrain and weather portions are much trickier. The database is a great start, but there will have to be detailed, clear, and illustrated discussions in the database for each area and type of operation. I, for one, am willing to do that for my local area. I hope other operators will be willing to do the same for theirs.

    Once the information is available, it will still be up to the renter pilot to review and internalize that information. Perhaps a 30 minute ground discussion would be warranted before a pilot’s first rentals in an area. That could include a written test or just an oral review of the database information to ensure the pilot is educated and prepared for what s/he is about to face.

    I’m optimistic. I know there’s lots to do to make OpenAirplane viable for all concerned, but at least there’s a team of people willing to devote the time and effort to giving it a shot. Anything we can do to make it easier for people to become pilots, and then to exercise that hard earned privilege, helps the entire industry and pilot population.

  • Buy to Let Mortgages

    Simply a great innovative idea. a big heads up!

  • Gene Stuart

    I think this is a fantastic and exciting idea. Innovative and efficient, this will help reduce the barrier pilots perceive when it comes to renting across the field or at a different flight school. There will need to be a robust system in place to ensure quality control, but it sounds like you’re aware of that and working to find a solution. Terrific idea that will help boost flight school revenue and pilot involvement.

  • Ken

    I love the idea of making rental aircraft more readily available. I also think some form of check out standardization would be beneficial.
    Over the years, as an independent flight instructor, I have found it extremely difficult to get positive responses from other flight schools whenever I was fortunate enough to bring clients over that wanted to advance to acquire an instrument or commercial.
    I had an instrument student that wanted to get his commercial rating. He had worked with me from day 1 and asked me if i would continue working with him on that rating. I knew of another school that had a complex/high performance aircraft. I contacted them and presented the scenario. Initially, they had complained that the plane was not being utilized enough. However, they would not allow me to give the student the training, stating insurance restraints, even though I was a 4000 hr pilot with 500+ as CFI, and over 200 hrs in that make. In addition, it would have provided a decent revenue stream to their school, since he wanted to utilize for 5-8 hrs/mo after he was checked out. My student even offered to provide the difference in the insurance, The flight school was not interested. I tried two other schools but with very similar response. Ultimately, my student just bought his own plane and is now wanting to lease back to concepts like you are proposing. Perhaps some of these schools view that as competition. I always viewed it as Coop-itition, with ultimately helps the client achieve his desire and enhancing revenues for the school. At the end of the day, we all have to think of more creative ways to keep our clients engaged.