If Rudd Davis’ vision comes true, the days of the road trip will be over—or at least massively curtailed. The former USA Today and Groupon executive wants to make flying private as affordable as driving and have it become the go-to option for any 50-to-500-mile trip. The biggest challenge, he says, is getting people to buy into the belief.
“If they think luxury air travel, they shouldn’t think about us. There are no couches on our planes,” Davis toldForbes.
Instead, Davis has spent the last three years buildingBlackBird, a startup that connects passengers with private planes and pilots. Passengers can join an existing flight plan and purchase open seats on the flight. Or customers can charter a plane to travel from, say, the San Francisco Bay Area to Lake Tahoe, and then pick a pilot from BlackBird’s preapproved list of commercially trained pilots. “BlackBird has become an alternative to driving,” Davis said.
BlackBird founder and CEO Rudd DavisBLACKBIRD
It’s not just Davis who believes in this vision. On Tuesday, BlackBird announced that it had raised $10 million from Silicon Valley venture firm NEA. Jonathan Golden, a partner at NEA and a former Airbnb director, will join the board.
BlackBird’s growth reminds Golden of the early days of Airbnb and Lyft, when people had to learn a new behavior like sharing a car or sleeping in someone’s house. A private driver used to be something only the elite could afford. Now hailing a ride whenever you need it is commonplace. Golden sees BlackBird repeating the same thing with private air travel.
“The initial reaction may be kind of a question mark, but when you really dig in, it’s more of a perception vs. reality,” Golden toldForbes. “It’s really been demonstrated by the appetite and demand for the product.”
Still, whether BlackBird can amass enough demand to drive down prices remains an existential question. Prices for flights from Oakland to Las Vegas ranged from $99 to join a prearranged flight to over $1,100 a seat for customers to charter their own. Plus, passengers may want a car when they reach their destination, meaning rental car fees could challenge just how affordable flying private really is.