Chartering a private plane is never going to be cheap, no matter how many startups have promised to make it more affordable over the years. But that doesn't mean it can't become cheaper. AeroVanti Air Club, which is announcing a $9.75 million Series A fundraising round led by Network1 Financial Securities, is betting on the rather distinct Piaggio P.180 Avanti turboprop (you can see where the company name comes from), to offer lower hourly rates for its club members.
Membership fees start at $1,000 per month for an individual membership, $1,500 per month for a family membership and $2,500 for corporate memberships. Hourly rates start at $2,495, about half of what even the most affordable WheelsUp flight will set you back. There are no repositioning fees.
In addition to the nine P.180s that make up the core of its fleet, the company also has three Learjet 31s, one Gulfstream G3 and an MD 600N helicopter. Having a helicopter in its fleet is also a bit unusual, but AeroVanti CEO and founder Patrick Britton-Harr notes that it will allow the company to fly passengers from Miami to the Florida Keys or from Boston to Martha's Vineyard.
The P.180 is an interesting choice. The Italy-built plane with its distinct stabilizers at the nose can seat seven passengers and fly at up to 370 miles per hour. That's slower than most jets, something worth keeping in mind for a service where you pay by the hour, but comparable to other two-engine turboprops. Britton-Harr, who is a pilot himself and also the CEO of AMS Onsite and Coastal Laboratories, says that his family actually first bought a Piaggio for private use.
“It’s safe. It’s light. It’s fuel-efficient and has a remarkable range,” he told me when I asked him why he chose this plane. “It has one-third the carbon footprint as its competitors while out-performing them. It’s one of the fastest planes in its class, beating out the King Air 350 and 360, and is 115 mph faster than the Super King Air 200 — though it’s powered by the same engines. It’s also incredibly fun to fly.”
Back in March, AeroVanti acquired Marjet Aviation, a small single-aircraft operator based out of Arizona, for its Part 135 certificate. This, the company says, helped it upgrade its operations and expand its personnel and pilot roster.
“We’re in growth mode,” Britton-Harr said. “This raise will fund maintenance centers so we can become a full MRO [maintenance, repair, and overhaul center]. We’re also building out our customer service team, expanding our fleet once again, and looking at some strategic M&A activity.”
He noted that the company's members currently include NFL players, C-Suite executives and the occasional family traveling to Disney World. “What they do have in common is an appreciation for value. You have several options when it comes to flying privately. But we’re the only one who can get you there safer, faster, flying 10,000 feet higher with all the amenities and luxury you expect from charter aviation for half the price,” he said.
The private aviation market got a boost during the early pandemic and that demand is still holding steady. Once you've had a taste of private aviation, that United first-class seat from Newark to Miami probably suddenly doesn't seem that great anymore, especially given the overall turmoil in the airline industry right now.