Dallas Startup Rise Aims to Pilot New Frontier in Private Air Travel

Xconomy Texas — 

Door-to-door, the trip from Dallas to Houston took two hours.

That’s quite a feat considering the two Texas cities are nearly 250 miles apart. But on a flight run by the Dallas startup Rise, there was no need to get through security 30 minutes in advance, parking was just yards from the plane, and a smiling attendant pointed passengers to free Wifi and fresh coffee as I waited the 15 minutes for the flight.

That was my experience last Friday on Rise, an “all-you-can-fly” aviation startup founded last August and approved in early July by the Federal Aviation Administration. “We’re dealing with the most valuable commodity in the world,” says Nick Kennedy, Rise’s CEO and co-founder. “We are saving our members time in a safe and efficient manner.”

The price of admission? A $750 deposit and monthly membership dues that start at $1,650.

The nod from the FAA has meant Rise can get off the ground in earnest. (The company had been operating a limited schedule as allowed by authorities.) Rise now has 40 flights a week from Dallas to Houston, Austin, and Midland, TX, and plans to add service from Houston to Austin, and Dallas to San Antonio and Oklahoma City, in a few weeks. The number of members, is in the “several hundred range,” Kennedy says. They can choose from three rates, the highest being the “chairman” level at $2,650 a month, which includes a greater number of reservations booked at one time and two companion passes.

Two of Rise’s staff are former military pilots—chief operating officer Dan Caine was among the F-16 pilots ordered to the skies to protect Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2001—with deep logistical expertise in aviation, but Kennedy says “everyone else’s focus is hospitality.” Kennedy, whose background is as a serial tech entrepreneur largely in the healthcare industry, says he wants to leverage software and data analytics to bring customer service back to the aviation industry. “This is essentially a technology platform that connects users with unused capacity,” he says.

With a membership model that requires customers to put down $750 and commit to three months (the membership runs month-to-month after that), Rise has developed a stable revenue base compared to ticketing revenue used by most airlines, Kennedy says. He declined to disclose how much investor funding the airline has raised, but says that members’ dues are supporting much of the operational costs.

Rise can better keep costs under control, compared to traditional airlines because it doesn’t own its planes, Kennedy says. Instead, the company has an operating agreement with Monarch Air, a 20-year-old licensed aviation charter operator based in Dallas. So far, Rise has two branded jets—King Air 350s that hold eight passengers—and another jet on call, should the company need it. Kennedy says he expects to have an additional jet in service by the end of this month.

Rise’s target member is the business traveler—road warriors in consulting, energy, and real estate—who are tired of commercial airlines but not quite ready for, or can’t afford, fractional jet ownership or the purchase of their own private planes.

Kennedy says Rise offers access to private aviation’s convenience and luxury—at a lower price, Kennedy says. The idea is to punt the “sharing … Next Page »

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