Sharing economy takes to the skies matching passengers with eager pilots

French start-up looking for passengers willing to cover costs and light aircraft pilots wishing to pursue their hobby

 

Fancy a quick jaunt across the English Channel for some moules-frites? Or how about a trip to over the Wicklow mountains and home again in time for dinner? We’ve become accustomed to apartment sharing, peer-to-peer lending and carpooling among other things. Now a French company is hoping to bring the concept of the sharing economy to the skies, and is looking for Irish passengers and pilots for its new flight-sharing venture.

Founded in 2015, Wingly connects pilots and passengers, allowing pilots to cut the costs of planned trips by taking on board passengers who pay a fee to cover the costs of day trips and discovery flights. It started in France and moved to the UK in July 2016, and is now targeting the Irish market.

Co-founder and flying enthusiast Emeric de Waziers (he started flying planes at the tender age of nine) says the goal of the platform is two-fold. Firstly, it aims to provide a platform for pilots to pursue their hobby cost-effectively.

“Often people are passionate about flying, and say they want to fly as much as possible but it’s expensive,” he says, adding that it typically costs about €200 an hour to fly a small plane and pilots must fly a certain number of hours annually – typically 12 – to maintain their license.

“Already it costs €2,500 just to keep the license,” he says.

But it’s also about democratising the world of aviation.

“Aviation is seen as the preserve of the lucky few who have big private jets. We want to break the cliché that private aviation is for the elite,”he adds.

Indeed, Wingly sees an opportunity to change how we travel. So just like Ryanair started bringing people to previously unheard of airports such as Girona in Spain or Beauvais in France, Wingly believes it can introduce a new generation of flyers to smaller airstrips dotted around Europe.

“For us, our aim is to really have as many people discovering private aviation,” De Waziers says. “It’s a new way of travelling”.

So far, Wingly has had about 100,000 people registered on its platform, with 5,000 of them already having taken to the air. Users to date have predominately been leisure travellers, with De Waziers pointing to a challenge of flying in light aircraft for business users and commuters – the weather.

“In the UK the cancellation rate is around 20 per cent for weather reasons,” he says – and of course given the vagaries of the Irish weather, it could be higher here. Passengers are fully reimbursed in such events.

While Wingly’s main focus is the UK, France and Germany, it’s also now looking to Ireland.

“The aim for us is to expand in Ireland in the next 12 months,” says De Waziers, noting that the platform is looking to entice Irish-based pilots onto the platform, as well as UK pilots who could offer flights across the Irish Sea.

The typical range for a light aircraft is about 700km (435 miles), with De Waziers noting that this generally amounts to a flight time of about three hours.

“Three hours in a small plane is a good amount ,” he says.

But will it work in Ireland? Michael Traynor of the Airport Flying Club, based at Weston Airport in Leixlip, says it’s a “super” idea, but cautions against any suggestion that pilots would be paid for their efforts.

“It’s a very grey area,” he says, noting that any hint of commercial recompense could draw the attention of the Irish Aviation Authority.

“We’re not allowed carry passengers for hire or reward,” he says.

Where it could work well, he suggests, is with regard to those who aspire to be commercial pilots. With 200 flying hours required before they will be considered by a commercial airline, getting to this point can be an expensive endeavour. But if they could cut costs along the way through a venture such as Wingly, it could make the process more manageable financially.

How it works

The platform works in two ways – pilots can post routes they like to fly and wait for passengers to contact them, or passengers can submit a request and see if a pilot agrees to take it on.

The platform has drawn up an etiquette code for both passengers and pilots, calling on the former to be precise about the weight they are taking on board and to obey the pilot, and the latter to ensure that the pro-rata share of the cost won’t be exceeded. It’s an important point; pilots get to share the cost of their travel,but they can’t make a profit on the journey.

“All flights that do not fit the pro-rata share of cost can be qualified as commercial and leads the pilot, his aircraft and his passengers not to be covered by insurance anymore,” the company says.

Indeed the company has received confirmation from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), stating that flight sharing and the advertising of flight shares is totally legal – so long as the pilots do not generate profit on the flights. To ensure this is abided by, Wingly’s policy is that the pilot pays the same share of the flight as the passengers. Pilots can include a number of costs, including rental and fuel costs (rental plus fuel for “dry rate” planes, full rental cost for “wet rate” planes), as well as airport landing and tie-down.

“Pilots are not allowed make a living, it’s about sharing the costs,” says De Waziers.

Passengers pay their pro-rata share of the costs, as indicated on the website, plus a service fee of 15 per cent of this to Wingly. There is no charge for pilots to list a flight on Wingly, but they have to submit their license details which are then verified by the company.

While a quick spin in your own plane, thereby foregoing queuing to check in and the trauma of the luggage carousel, putative passengers need to remember that they’re not travelling on a commercial flight.

Planes are small, and it may not be for the faint of heart; the planes advertising their services on the platform are light aircraft ranging from two to six seaters, while the qualifications of the pilots also vary. You might hook up with a pilot with some 2,500 hours flight experience – or you could choose an 18-year old pilot with just enough hours to qualify for a license. Flyer beware.

Where can I fly to . . . and for how much?

Where: Brighton, England, to Le Touquet, France

How much: £121 (€137) per person both ways

How long: 1h 15min

Where: Biggleswade, London, to Sligo (refuelling west Wales or Isle of Man)

How much: £358 (€405) per person one way

How long: 4hr 30 min

Where: York to Newtownards

How much: £141 (€160) per person both ways

How long: 1h 30min

Where: London to Rouen

How much: £110 (€125) per person each way

How long: 1h 30min

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