[Avionics Today 12-11-2014] ClipperJet CEO James Occhipinti is looking to bridge the gap between premium first class commercial airline travel and private aviation. When the California-based private jet operator launches ClipperJet in early 2015 it will feature a new "country club"-style business model, according to Occhipinti, in which aircraft connectivity will be key.
Interior of the Gulfstream GIVs that ClipperJet will be flying. Photo: ClipperJet.
"It’s a brand new business concept in a country club business model with membership-only access to the aircraft," Occhipinti told Avionics Magazine. "You have normal charter operations and then you have high-net-worth individuals spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to operate any given flight. That's not what this is. What we’re trying to do is bridge the gap between folks flying in first class and business class cabins on commercial airlines and providing them with corporate jet access in a shared business model. In essence, as a member you would be sharing the aircraft with other members. Seat availability is on a first come, first served basis."
The new business aviation operator's first target will be one of the most traveled premium passenger markets in the United States: the New York City to Los Angeles route. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in 2012 this route was the fourth most traveled in the U.S., with 4.4 million passengers passing between the two cities.
ClipperJet's aircraft of choice initially will be the Gulfstream IV with a standard Honeywell SPV 8400 cockpit avionics package. Occhipinti says connectivity will be a growing aspect of the operation both in the cockpit and in the cabin.
"It’s our goal for our pilots to use the iPad for charts and planning," said Occhipinti, adding that the management team is currently considering using either Jeppesen or Foreflight. The private travel executive said ClipperJet will also feature an in-house flight dispatch service, a unique aspect for a Part 135 operator.
"Even though we are Part 135, we’re going to have a proper dispatch function like a Part 121 environment so we’ll have a licensed dispatcher," said Occhipinti. "Part 135 only requires flight following and a little more flight tracking, but it doesn’t require full Part 121 dispatch function, however we’re choosing to go with more capability."
Ahead of the 2015 launch, ClipperJet is currently considering which In-flight Connectivity (IFC) solution to deploy in the cabin as well. The company is also currently in the process of developing a smartphone application with some exclusive features for members. Unlike an airline, which charges for cabin connectivity, onboard Wi-Fi access will be included in the membership fee.
"For passengers we are going to have wireless access on the aircraft as well as a file server for in-flight entertainment and we are in the process of developing an app," said Occhipinti. "Any member can download our app, which will allow them to use their own tablet or phone to interface with our file server and Wi-Fi system or we will have iPads on the aircraft and those are already interchangeable to interface with the IFE system and the Wi-Fi on the aircraft. Or they can just access it once they get onboard. In our business model it is in essence a one time monthly charge, so we don't have any separate fee associated with connectivity."
In the not so distant future, ClipperJet will also consider adding in-flight calling as an option, but its membership base will ultimately make that decision. The company wants to leave it up to members because, unlike some private aviation operators where most flights feature a group of friends or a company, some ClipperJet flights will feature different members on the same route.
"Frankly, we are torn with it," Occhipinti said regarding in-flight calling. "The Gogo offering is pretty significant and it allows for a lot of capability on the aircraft, but in the same vein our members are buying a certain level of experience and exclusivity and quality that may be degraded if five out of the 10 people on the airplane are talking on the phone. We are going to let our members decide whether or not we want telephone usage on the aircraft."
Beyond 2015, ClipperJet will look to expand to other city pairs based on demand. That expansion will also feature an expansion of connectivity features in the cabin of their Gulfstream IVs.
"What we plan on doing in the airplane is to take advantage of the latest technology both in the cabin experience and in the cockpit," said Occhipinti. "The stuff we’re seeing to incorporate into the aircraft is pretty amazing from a streaming video perspective [and] from a streaming data perspective. In the future, really just about any capability a passenger can have on the ground, we’re going to have in the air. It will be pretty cool."