ImagineAir Brings SATS to Life in Southeast

By Scott Spangler on March 16th, 2009

In the spirit of my last post, Share Thumbs-Up Moments With Everyone, I just discovered a new air taxi company, ImagineAir, founded by two flight instructors who met at Georgia Tech. Based in Lawrenceville, just outside of Atlanta, ImagineAir made its first flight in early 2007. With a fleet of five Cirrus SR22-GTSs and 15 employees, the company nearly doubled its business in 2008, and in 2009 it hopes to double the size of its fleet. Not bad for a couple of 25-year-old pilots.

JetWhine_ImagineAir_SATS Originally, Aaron Sohacki and Ben Hamilton thought about starting a flight school. And then they discovered the air taxi model that grew out of NASA’s Small Aircraft Transportation System. You remember SATS, don’t you? In efficient airplanes, travelers avoid hub-and-spoke delays by flying directly to and from the GA airport closest to their home and destination. So the duo started making their business plans in 2004, while still in school. (Several other companies also fly the SR22 using the SATS model, there’s SATSair, South Carolina’s “air cab”, and Hopscotch Air, New York’s “air limo.”)

The SR22 provides the efficiency. Using ImagineAir numbers of 200 mph cruise at 16 gph, the Cirrus delivers 12.5 mpg, much better than your Escalade, and passengers travel in the same level of luxury. In the SATS model, the average American business trip is one to three people driving several hundred miles. Deciding between an hour flight or three or four hours on the road isn’t a difficult choice, the founders knew.JetWhine_ImagineAire_Service Area Business travelers–doctors, lawyers, and musicians–have been 80 percent of the company’s customers. The company has flown 600 different routes to 200 airports, just a third of the 600 airports in its southeastern U.S. service area. All of the company’s pilots are full time, and they average 9,000 hours and 25 years of experience. A number of them used to be captains for Delta and United.

JetWhine_ImagineAir_Cirrus Some might say ImagineAir is just single-engine charter, but the difference is more than semantics. Like a ground-bound taxi, ImagineAir charges a flat fee for travel between two points, with no hourly charges or fees for waiting or repositioning an aircraft. And, like a cab, the air taxi fare does not change with the passenger count (up to three, as weight allows). ImagineAir says its fare is, on average, a quarter of charter costs.

It seems to do well against last-minute airline tickets, too. If three people must attend a spur of the moment meeting, a same-day one-way airline ticket from Atlanta to Nashville will cost you $550 a head. Plugging the airports into the ImagineAir “Quick Quote” box returns a $876 fare, roughly half of the total airline ticket tab.  Customers can hail an ImagineAir taxi with a slick online booking tool that gives the total fare with four easy questions: departure, destination (both with a slick Google map mashups and pull-down airport lists), date & time, pax & bags (and their weight).

As the company grows, its service area will expand west, into Texas, said Hamilton in a recent article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. If all goes as planned, in the next four or five years the company should have a fleet of 50 aircraft (according it its website, it’s coveting the TBM 850) and 100 pilots. Thumbs-up to that! — Scott Spangler

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