The airvolution – the best is yet to come

  • Business Model Innovation
  • Design Thinking

We spend hours at the airport waiting in line… not to mention any additional time and distance from parking to terminal, baggage drop off to security checkpoints, etc. To most of us, showing up at the airport 2 hours or more prior to boarding is quite common. How might we make this “dead time” more efficient rather than simply standing around and waiting in line? It is far from astonishing that over the years a variety of companies have popped up seeking to revolutionize the air travel market, to find the appropriate answers to the very customer need of providing convenient and, in particular, time efficient travel.


Source: YouTube.com, ‘JetSuiteX – Revolution is in the Air’

Speed, convenience, comfort, exhilaration: revolution is in the air! And JetSuiteX intends to lead the charge. Certainly, all of these attributes sound appealing, but what does it look like in detail? JetSuiteX offers almost private flights for the price of a commercial ticket. You can choose from point-to-point connections between Burbank, Concord, Las Vegas, Oakland, and San Jose. In addition, JetSuiteX offers seasonal flights to Mammoth Mountain and occasional pop up flights to events such as CES, held earlier this year. You can even charter a luxurious JetSuiteX jet for your next company retreat. The value propositions of JetSuiteX shown in the business model canvas below makes the distinction to a common airline pretty much clear. All air, no lines. This is the promise of JetSuiteX, the air travel company that people enjoy flying with.

If you are more of a frequent flyer, the Californian based commuter airline, Surf Air, might be an even better choice. Surf Air flies within California, Europe and, most recently, in Texas, without owning or operating even one aircraft. Sound familiar? Interestingly enough, Surf Air doesn’t sell tickets for individual flights. Instead, the company uses customized memberships to provide comfortable and time efficient air travel in executive jets from convenient private terminals. You can pay a monthly subscription for an all-you-can-fly membership with unlimited access; purchase an annual membership plus per seat flight price to enjoy flexible weekend escapes; or purchase a block of flights that you can share with your friends, family, or colleagues. A Surf Air California member, for instance, can choose amongst 90 daily flights to 12 different West Coast destinations. Looking at the business model canvas of Surf Air points out another interesting fact about the company. Paying Surf Air members become part of the company and can vote on the new routes to be added to the Surf Air network. The company also tries to integrate in vogue trends and technologies. For example, you can now pay for your membership using cryptocurrencies. Ultimately, it also comes down to time efficiency, which Surf Air aims to improve. 30 seconds for booking your ticket (via the Surf Air app), only 15 minutes to get you in the air upon arrival at the airport. That’s what Surf Air promises to its customers.

The JetSuiteX and Surf Air examples show that hopping on a flight in an (almost) private jet is not reserved for the rich and famous any longer. And there are many more companies to offer new and exclusive, faster ways of air travel for affordable ticket prices compared to the “standard” airlines. Just about anyone can now take part in the airvolution economy, whether booking on-demand private jet charters by Jettly, any jet, any time, any place by Bluestar Jets, or JetSmarter which was once named the “Uber of aviation”, etc. etc.

Source: Architectural Digest, ‘Surf Air Now Offers Unlimited Flights on Private Jets Through Europe’

At first glance, the combination of affordable luxury and time saving totally hits the spot for the most of us when it comes to traveling. But frankly, does Surf Air or JetSuiteX, or any of these “revolutionary” air travel companies solve the very root cause of the problem? Do they really provide the proclaimed revolution of air travel? What really needs to be solved – the real job to be done – is maximizing the amount of time that you are able to save when traveling instead of traveling to make travel possible. If you could choose anything, wouldn’t you rather prefer to just step out of your front door, board the aircraft and hop out of it right in front of your final destination? No more additional rides to the airport. No more parking. No more car rental, Uber, taxi, or train to/from the airport.

The technologies required to make this scenario a reality are already here: distributed electric propulsion to enable safe vertical takeoff and landing, batteries with sufficient capacity, fully autonomous flight operations, and so on. Just look back a couple of days, when the Vahana team of A3, Airbus’s Silicon Valley outpost, accomplished an historic milestone in aviation, when its full-scale aircraft, dubbed Alpha One, successfully mastered its first fully autonomous flight reaching a height of 16 feet and lasting 53 seconds. With the aim to “design and build a single passenger electric VTOL [vertical take-off and landing] self-piloted aircraft that will answer the growing need for urban mobility”, Vahana is responding to the megatrends and associated challenges of the future such as urbanization, sustainability and energy scarcity.


Source: Vahana, ‘Vahana’s First Flight a Success’

Though Vahana intends to tackle the challenge of urban air travel first and foremost, autonomously flying aerial vehicles will offer the potential to take air travel companies out of the market in the future. You don’t need to purchase a an airline ticket, or a membership, or whatever. You simply use the fully self-piloted flying car that is parked in front of your house to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco, from Boston to New York, from city to city.

For the moment, there are still some concerns, e.g., how to integrate flying cars into the public airspace. Consider a city like Los Angeles with more than 8 million registered cars, or San Francisco with more than 500,000 registered cars. Assuming we try to lift a significant number of these cars up into the sky will certainly relieve city traffic and reduce congestion problems. But how can you make sure to not transfer current traffic issues (and risk) from ground travel to the sky? And what will the interaction look like with helicopters and planes that are already up there? With flying cars entering the sky, the entire air traffic management system requires a fundamental revision. In any regard, this does not hinder companies such as Uber, with its Elevate project, to start getting ready for takeoff once the regulations will allow flying cars to enter public airspace. And it’s companies like Uber immediately pointing the way that most probably we will never own a flying car in the future; we will simply use it and pay as we fly.

In the meantime, Uber’s competitors also won’t fall asleep. In 2028, Uber’s biggest competitor, Flyft, will be the first company on the globe to lift people up into the sky with its latest, FAA-approved propeller backpack technology without any encapsulating aerial vehicle. As of then, people will be able to transport themselves as locusts – as human swarms that enter the sky. An impossible, unimaginable scenario? Not for us. The maturation of technology will be there at some point in the future and regulatory issues will also be resolved. Looking into the imaginary business model of Flyft highlights the shift in the world of aviation and air travel that will happen and revolutionize the very core of any air travel companies’ business model. The value proposition that really matters to people – which they are willing to pay for – will be the amount of time that they saved while traveling from A to B. And – maybe in ten, fifteen years – we will laugh about ourselves while sharing nostalgic thoughts about how, once upon a time, we were buying a ticket to get a cramped economy seat on a flight with an airline after we have been traveling to the airport to make the actual travel happen, then waiting for hours in endless lines to drop off our baggage, getting our passports scanned, etc.

Flightfit

From our perspective, the revolution of air travel has not yet started. But speed and maturation of technology will ignite the spark in a heartbeat and provide the potential to disrupt the entire mobility industry. From electric VTOL prototype aircraft to small-size intelligent, autonomously flying cars that think and decide for us to futuristic vertical lift technologies… Hopefully this predicted aerial evolution will finally make individual flights affordable for everyone, saving us all the maximum amount of time while traveling. That is what we’ll call the true airvolution.

This post is the second in a series of five business models that we think will change the near future. Our goal is to help you understand tech and innovation trends with a business model and design lens. And of course… we hope you never stop innovating!

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