Virgin Takes on the Charter Biz

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Is there anyone on the planet who hasn't heard of the Virgin brand? Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Records, Virgin Holidays and even space tourism through Virgin Galactic. Now comes yet another Virgin spin off, an air charter company that will trade on the same basic brand. The company is still in the Beta stage, having launched the service in June, but it was being promoted at last week's NBAA show in Atlanta. AVweb readers can get a sneak peek and an invitation to join at www.virgin.com. The concept couldn't be simpler: Virgin will use a slick web-based matching system to connect potential customers with charter operators, some 100 of which Virgin has recruited so far. The would-be charter buyer logs onto the web site, specifies the trip departure, destination and schedule and within minutes—or certainly an hour or two—back comes several quotes from companies bidding on the trip. The customer seals the entire deal right on the web site, including payment, and Virgin takes a single-digit cut to make the effort worth its while.

Virgin says charter customers get competitive quotes—think Progressive Insurance for the jet set—and charter operators don't have to chase deadbeat customers to get paid. The real pot sweetener for the industry, however, may be Virgin's notion that it will be able to market empty legs, a fuel-wasting drag on charter profits.