Reno next stop for Silicon Valley airplane ridesharing service?
March 12, 2018
RENO, Nev. — Traveling between Reno-Tahoe and the Bay Area is nerve-wracking.
By automobile, count on heavy traffic in key bottlenecks and excruciatingly slow progress through Silicon Valley. Commercial air travel, meanwhile, involves parking nightmares and time-devouring lines through security checkpoints.
Two-year-old Blackbird Air Inc. offers another option: ridesharing in the air, otherwise known as flight sharing.
Blackbird has been compared to Über for the skies, but CEO Rudd Davis says it's more of a hybrid of ridesharing, charter flights and scheduled flights. The Blackbird app ties them together.
Blackbird does not own airplanes. It contracts with charter airlines to fill seats. Based in Palo Alto, Blackbird offers flights from that airport to the Truckee Tahoe Airport and Santa Monica; and between Sausalito and Tahoe City via seaplane (these seaplane flights are on hold during the winter season, according to Blackbird).
With economic ties between Reno and Silicon Valley increasing, Davis sees significant opportunities for business passengers with regular flights between Palo Alto and Reno.
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Doug Erwin, vice president entrepreneurial development at Economic Development Authority of Northern Nevada, told the NNBW that there's been a perception that technology companies only invest along the Interstate 280 and Highway 101 corridor in Silicon Valley.
Increasing connections among the tech communities will benefit northwestern Nevada, and what Blackbird is doing will enhance those connections.
"I really like some of those out-of-the-box ideas," Erwin said, referring to the Blackbird model.
Less stress, less cost for business execs
The seed for Blackbird came a few years ago while Davis — a serial entrepreneur who sold his last startup, a data analysis company, to Groupon — was training for a pilot's license.
Flying in and out of smaller airports, he noticed charter air companies with planes on the ground just waiting for someone to charter the whole aircraft.
"They're not allowed to sell on a per-seat bases," he told the NNBW. "It's not really their business. They rent the whole aircraft. That's a (financial) barrier to most people."
He saw an opportunity to fill seats in airplanes while providing a cost-effective, less stressful travel option for passengers.
"We went around and found the best charter outfits that had been around for a while and had the best safety record," he said. "We work with a relatively short list of charter partners."
Blackbird contracts with those carriers to fill the seats on regularly scheduled flights. Because individuals or companies buy individual seats, not the whole plane, it's much more affordable. They can also buy blocks of seats to use over time.
Davis said the cost per seat is comparable to the cost of a seat in first class or business class — even economy on some routes — on major airlines operating between San Francisco and Reno.
Another perk is that security lines for charter planes at smaller airports such as Palo Alto and Reno are shorter, allowing passengers to arrive closer to the departure time. Blackbird even arranges ground transportation.
"A car can be waiting for you on the tarmac when you land," Davis said, adding that the time savings is as important to busy executives as the cost savings.
Expanding service to Reno?
Blackbird was among many companies on hand for the inaugural VentureBeat BLUEPRINT 2018 conference on March 5-7 in Reno, which drew about 400 technology leaders from 40 locations across the U.S. Heartland.
Company representatives attended to promote the air service to the heads of technology companies in the Bay Area and Reno.
"We're trying to solicit feedback from companies in Reno and what they're looking for in terms of air service," Davis said. "We're looking for founding partners on a given route."
Interest has been strong. Davis expects to begin scheduled flights into Reno in about a month.
"Feedback has been tremendous," he said. "The only issue we have, quite honestly, is awareness."