So I Flew In An “Uber For Tiny Planes”

Comment

unnamed-1

The first line of the email in my box read, “This is UberX for small planes.” Yet another Uber for X mystery startup in my inbox. Yay! (not really).

But the idea of skipping the traffic to Tahoe was attractive enough to bite on this one. So four days later I found myself 2,000 feet high in a tiny plane with Flytenow founder and licensed pilot Matt Voska as the company’s first ever Bay Area customer.

So what was it like? I’ll get into that in a bit. First let me explain how this all works.

Say you want to go up to wine country with a friend or two for the weekend. So you go to the search option on the site to find someone flying up to Sonoma. Lucky for you, a Flytenow pilot has posted that he is headed up that very way.

Unfortunately, I was not so happily bestowed with such fortune:

Flytenow

In fact, there didn’t seem to be any flights I could go to anywhere. No way to search for a certain day or for a more amenable price, either.

Thankfully I had that initial email with which to contact this “Uber for planes” organization. Voska emailed me back the next morning and plans were set.

What’s supposed to happen is you go to the site and see a list of pilots’ upcoming adventures. Then you, the flight “enthusiast” (as Voska prefers to call a passenger) book and pay to go to there.

Turns out it’s actually more “Zimride for planes” than “Uber for planes.”

unnamedVoska actually started the company not from a love of flying (which he definitely has a passion for) but because solo flights on his then student budget were expensive. Voska realized getting others to hop aboard and pay for the gas was a much easier way to fuel his pricey hobby. Gas for a short flight, for instance, could be around $100. That was hard to justify on his then student budget. So he put college on hold and moved himself from Boston to the Bay Area.

Voska developed his love of traveling into the blue when an uncle first took him up on his private plane at the age of 10, by 17 Voska had his license and now, at age 20, he aims to baptize the rest of us into the joys of affordably accessing the friendly skies in private planes.

Back to my nascent Flytenow voyage…did I mention my fear of flying? It’s not bad, really. It’s just that little thought in the back of my head every time I board a plane that I am putting my life in some other person’s hands and this could be my last day on Earth and there’s nothing I can do about it. But mostly it’s a thought kept way back there and barely recognized – until I found myself in a tiny plane.

Fatal crashes by private plane are way higher than they are for commercial airliners.

Matt Voska from FlytenowA little turbulence around the side of Mount Diablo over in the East Bay and I was doing some heavy lamaze. To add to the fun, Voska handed me the wheel for a good minute.

All fear factor aside about putting your life in some 20-year-old’s hands that you don’t really know at all but says they have a license and would like to take you with them way up thousands of miles into the wide open sky in a tiny vehicle… is this whole operation even legal?

Flytenow believes that it is.

Under current FAA regulation 14 CFR 61.113 private pilots can’t accept payment for taking passengers on previously unscheduled flights.

The way Flytenow works around this is getting passengers to pay them and not the pilots. Pilots do receive money for the flight, but it’s simply for splitting the cost of gas and maintenance on a flight the pilot was already going to take anyway. Think of it like getting a ride with someone and paying some gas for the lift.

Current acting legal advisor for Flytenow, Greg Winton agrees with the team’s interpretation of the law. Winton is a current aviation legal expert and former attorney for the FAA and U.S. Department of Justice.

As Voska told me, he’s already submitted all the legal paperwork to the FAA so they should be already aware of his intentions.

Former CEO of SurfAir, and the godfather of subscription aviation services Wade Eyerly also agreed Voska’s plan probably meets the intent of the law. He had his own battles to face in an industry that is not very open to change.

“The regulation is always a challenge and every time you create something new in an industry that is not used to change is good,” said Eyerly.

Mike Flint, Warren Buffet’s former pilot, attempted something similar to Voska at one point. His Indiegogo campaign helped him launch Visionary Airlines back in 2012. The idea was to create a destination-based flight-training program, which would allow clients to earn flight hours towards a pilot’s license while they traveled. He even took the likes of Miss California around Silicon Valley. But his attempt, like dozens of others, was soon shut down.

unnamed-4

We landed safely, and actually I calmed down after those few turbulent minutes. I even briefly (briefly) entertained the idea of getting a license. Being way up like that makes you feel that way, I guess. And honestly, I could do it again.

Voska tells me it’s just $120 to Monterey and back or $250 round trip to Tahoe. But before I can plan on either of those scenarios, the site needs a few more (one, even) flights posted so I can book something…

Update: Voska informed me there was a glitch in the system that’s now fixed. There are now several scheduled flights posted. 

Here’s a brief bit of our adventure in the air:

More TechCrunch

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’