Private flying for the rest of us?

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I dream of flying by private jet every time I lug suitcases into LAX. But it’s a fantasy I’ve always considered way out of reach, a luxury reserved for the richest one percent. Or is it?

The aviation company BlackJet, which recently added L.A. to its list of cities and is backed by Hollywood players like Ashton Kutcher and Will Smith, aims to make private flying more accessible. A little bit more accessible.

Traditional private flying might be affordable for “about a half a percent of the population,” said BlackJet founder and CEO Dean Rotchin. His company, he said, opens it up to perhaps the top five percent. BlackJet achieves its lower price point by selling seats, rather than renting out entire planes. Customers book when and where they want to travel, and BlackJet charters jets to accommodate whoever is on a given route at a given time. Travelers get some of the frills of having their own planes, like skipping airport security. Still, they could end up sitting next to strangers, like on a commercial flight.

Christoph Kohler, managing director and founder of WINGX, a market research and consulting company that tracks the aviation industry, says the private jet market took a huge hit after the recession in 2008 and is still struggling to recover. BlackJet isn’t the only company out there innovating to bring down prices by offering a semi-private alternative. Kohler is uncertain about the long-term viability of that model.

“I think it’s a niche in a niche,” he said. “I doubt this model is working.”

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