Matt Liotta is a serial entrepreneur who cut his teeth in Silicon Valley before taking his vision to everything from agriculture to human resources and telecom. He looks for mature markets “ripe for disruption.” The formula is growing the company “until appropriate for exit.” Welcome to Volato, which plans to have 10 HondaJet Elite S very lights jets by 2022. The first one was delivered in August. A second will come in December and three more in the first quarter of next year.
Volato aims to provide a “NetJets experience” in very light jets using HondaJets configured with … [+]
Liotta says the idea for his new venture came after owning a share of a NetJets Phenom 300, the best-selling light jet. Most of his flights were for personal use and with one or two passengers. When he used the jet for business, he says he couldn’t justify the cost unless he brought enough people along.
During a visit to NetJets’ Columbus, Ohio headquarters, he learned his travel was typical. Flights on the Embraer jet average just two passengers, he says. Thus, the idea of a fractional jet program on a smaller jet.
“Depending on your actual usage, owners can earn a return from their share, and fly private for free.”
-Volato marketing brochure
But why not just buy a share with Jet It, another start-up HondaJet operator? “I don’t see them as a luxury offering as comparable to NetJets. I see them as a value play. As a NetJets person who is used to NetJets, I wanted NetJets in a HondaJet,” he says.
While other small jet operators maximize seating, Volato is focusing on experience. That means instead of a fifth seat in the cabin; his aircraft will have what a marketing brochure says is “the only full galley in its class.” For example, there’s a fresh brew coffee system.
In terms of where you can fly, there are no repositioning fees for flights within two hours of its current bases in Atlanta, St. Augustine and Fort Lauderdale. Additional bases will extend that primary service area to pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi by year’s end.
The hourly rate within the PSA is $3,200, plus an estimated $500 per hour for fuel, a direct passthrough. Domestic call-out is 24 hours; international is 48 hours and peak days are 72 hours.
In addition to its first HondaJet, there is one more on lease. Since availability is guaranteed, Volato will go off-fleet as needed as it grows capacity.
However, the big twist isn’t a high-end coffeemaker. Liotta says Volato is “decoupling” ownership from flying, solving what he believes is the Achilles heel of fractional programs – stressing out about making sure you use your hours each year but don’t overfly.
The plan is to use the fleet for charters and launch a jet card to increase utilization when owners aren’t in the airplanes. Owners get a share of the charter revenue driven by buying more hours than they need or flying fewer hours than they purchased. There will be a charter sales team actively working the wholesale market. Of course, there are no guarantees. Instead he points to the current record-setting market.
Another twist is the way the deal is structured, Liotta says you gain accelerated depreciation tax benefits even if you use your hours for leisure.
The Volato promotional deck offers, “Depending on your actual usage, owners can earn a return from their share, and fly private for free.”
Assuming no charter revenues, no tax benefits, the monthly management fees, and a 58% residual value after five years – the estimate in the deck provided to me, my math brought me to a $4,756 hourly rate all-in for a quarter share – 200 hours per year.
James Butler, CEO of Shaircraft Solutions, advises fractional share buyers. While he wasn’t familiar with Volato, he tells me, “Most people are looking for an executive airline they want to call, get a plane, and go where they want to go. They are not looking to be in the airline business.”
For now, Liotta says his family office is putting up $3 million of a $5 million raise.
Liotta says his target is Phenom 300 flyers, particularly fractional owners who only need four seats or less. Whether Volato can be the NetJets of very light jets or if any owners will end up flying for free remains to be seen.