Startup Air Taxi ImagineAir More Than Optimistic

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Startup air taxi ImagineAir flew its first operations in 2007 and in spite of the economic downturn in 2008 doubled its business, flying more than 600 routes between more than 200 airports in the Southeast. Founded in 2005 and operating five Cirrus SR22 GTS aircraft with 15 employees, the Atlanta-based company saw 117 percent more flights year over year from 2007 to 2008. Company president Ben Hamilton, 25, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle ImagineAir will follow that initial success by doubling its fleet in 2009, spacing planes throughout the Southeast and expanding service to Texas by 2010. The company reportedly lists its 2008 revenue at about $800,000 but has a goal to operate 50 aircraft and employ 100 pilots within five years. If the company survives to enjoy that success, it may be due to a business model that makes its cost and convenience perhaps unexpectedly well-suited for the times.

Unlike most charter operators, ImagineAir doesn't charge repositioning fees and burns about 16 gallons per hour en route. That lands pricing near the cost of a last-minute airline flight, which in the real world translates to Atlanta to Nashville for less than $1,000/each with two aboard (less with three). Hamilton says the company's pricing has therefore found its niche among cost-conscious business travelers seeking economic and convenient flight alternatives. He hopes that niche will expand to include wealthier families and individuals as the economy turns up. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, ImagineAir was founded in 2005 and launched operations in 2007 with the support of $2.5 million in startup capital invested in leased equipment and an additional $1 million that took the form of equity investment.