While the chance of an airline starting from scratch to challenge the big four US airlines globally is tiny, it’s no surprise to see airlines trying to find niches with alternative models. Surf Air has been doing that in California for some time, and now we have RISE doing something similar in Texas. But it’s not quite the same. I’m a fan of all these airlines trying to do something different to fill a niche void. They may not all work, of course, but that’s not the point. Some will.
So what void is RISE trying to fill? It’s trying to provide a better private-style experience between Austin, Houston (2 airports), and Dallas with more to come. I spoke with RISE’s CEO Nick Kennedy to learn more.
The idea for RISE actually didn’t come together as a way to help passengers. It came together as a way to help private aircraft owners. There were operators with airplanes just sitting around hangars, getting very low levels of utilization. So was there a way to leverage that and use the downtime?
The answer is yes, but the feds don’t exactly let someone just borrow an airplane and start flying passengers around on a scheduled basis. There are a ton of safety regulations (for good reason), and operators must be thoroughly vetted. So what RISE did was create a platform that would allow companies that operated under Part 135 regulations to start getting better usage of their airplanes.
Nick was adamant in stating that RISE isn’t an airline, it’s basically a technology solution. Companies can get vetted through REOS, the “
ride RISE enhanced operating system” and then begin flying passengers. In reality, this seems to mean that it’s not helping those individual aircraft owners who just wanted to get more use out of their airplanes. It does, however, help those larger organizations that have the ability to go through the certification process to get better utilization.
When Nick and I spoke, they had 5 aircraft doing most of the work but a couple others that would come in when demand was high. There are 5 different operators in the program. For the first couple of airplanes, they used to get a mere 300 hours per year in the air before RISE. Now they’re up to 1,200 to 1,500.
So far, all aircraft are King Air 350s which only hold a handful of people. The plan is to diversify the fleet as they grow. The aircraft themselves are supposed to be outfitted with RISE branding throughout, so it’s a consistent appearance for travelers (at least on the inside).
The end result is a less expensive private option for travelers going between these cities. The program is membership-based with a one-time $750 initiation fee plus as low as $1,850 a month. Members get unlimited flights with that fee. (If you’re interested, you can apparently do a trial flight for $250.)
If it sounds pricey, that just means you don’t travel enough. For road warriors, the price can be a bargain, especially commuters that go between the cities regularly. But the real point is for this to be a time-saver. All of these short-haul alternatives to commercial flying are all about improving the experience. With the security situation adding tremendous hassle for travelers and oil prices sitting well above their 1999 levels, short haul travel has gone down significantly since the turn of the century. But while a car trip may be an option for leisure travelers or those on a budget, it’s not an option for the busy businessperson. And for those people, RISE can make sense.
The basics seem to be working, so what’s next? Well, they’re trying to get New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Midland, and San Antonio off the ground with San Antonio getting regular service in the fall sometime. (Both San Antonio and Midland have occasional service now.) Nick told me they had identified 53 different city pairs that made sense, so they see nothing but opportunity at this point.
Of course, I asked if they were making any money, and Nick unsurprisingly wouldn’t tell me that. All he’d say was that “it’s a healthy business.” Take what you will from that statement.
He did say at the time that they had 750 members. And I know that they’ve flown more than 10,000 passengers so far. More are coming as they expand to new cities, but they do cap membership to ensure everyone who has paid is able to get seats when needed. (No memberships in Dallas are available for sale anymore, for example.)
Will this work everywhere? Probably not. But it might work in a few places. I’m all for seeing these little operations try to solve a problem with a creative solution.