Karl Treier, FlightHike

FlightHike is like Airbnb for air travel. This soon-to-launch startup matches fed-up travelers with general aviation pilots for quick, convenient flights.

When did you start FlightHike?
Just six months ago, so it’s a very early start-up. It’s in its concept phase at the moment.

How does it work?
FlightHike leverages an underutilized asset in the U.S.: general aviation. General aviation is everything that flies that isn’t part of the commercial airlines structure: a private pilot with a four-seat plane, a business jet, a helicopter.

There are significantly more assets in the general aviation system than in the commercial aviation system. There are 15,000 general aviation airports, compared to 500 active airports, say, that commercial airlines fly out of. And the general aviation fleet is significantly larger—there are 250,000 smaller aircraft, and there’s a huge body of general aviation pilots.

At FlightHike we’re trying to connect that national asset with people who want to go places, through an online marketplace.

Why is traveling via general aviation—small planes, private pilots—better than using commercial airlines?
Think about commercial air travel. it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience. Consolidation in the industry means that when you fly commercial airlines, you’re faced with long drive times. You have to be there 45 minutes early, ostensibly because of security, which can be quite invasive and a hassle. And if you need to fly a relatively short distance between two smaller cities, you can find yourself rerouted, so you fly out of your way to a hub before you can get to your destination.

You’re an IT guy. Why start an aviation company?
I am also a private pilot, so that’s why this business is so exciting to me. It allows me to combine my love of entrepreneurship with my love of aviation.

Imagine I’m going to be flying from the Clermont County airport to Detroit. I would go to the FlightHike website and log that I’m going to make this flight—this is when I’m going, how long, when I’m going to leave—and this is how much it would cost for you to go with me. If I’m a passenger, I’d search on FlightHike, and any flight that matches those criteria would pop up. The net of using a service like FlightHike and the benefit is that, typically, you’re going to save a significant amount of time and cost.

I’m having mental images of crashing in a tiny plane. Is this safe?
The safety record of general aviation is better than riding in a car. There’s a greater risk of you sustaining an injury driving to Cleveland than flying general aviation.

We do plan to put on the site some videos that show a typical flight. When people come to book a flight, we want to make sure they have as much information about what they’ll travel on. People who’ve taken a flight will be encouraged to rate their experience. There’ll be information on the pilots, like how many hours they’ve flown and what their accident rate is like.

Say I hate the TSA enough to try FlightHike. Where can I fly?
FlightHike works best for 600-1,000-mile flights in which there’s a significant time savings. I don’t anticipate offering transatlantic flights. From Cincinnati, it would be trips to Chicago, Nashville, Atlanta, etc. 

You’re something of a serial entrepreneur. What have you learned in launching this business?
Fundraising is always the most challenging aspect of startup life, particularly if you’re trying to convince investors around an idea that’s disruptive. I’m sure Airbnb had struggles convincing people, and we’re finding the same thing—a reluctance to believe that the general public will leverage these flights to get from A to B. 

In general, there’s the balance of bootstrapping a startup with normal daily life and the need to make a living. Every entrepreneur faces the challenge of when to commit full-time to something that isn’t yet making money. At the moment, I do IT consulting during the day and FlightHike at night.

Interview by Robin Donovan