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Chartered flight company wants to ease Md. business travel

An ImagineAir plane. (submitted photo)

An ImagineAir plane. (submitted photo)

Data shows that around 30 percent of travel in the United States is business-related. Contrary to the common image of high-rolling business travelers in suits getting on planes, about 80 percent of business travel is done in personal vehicles.

An Atlanta-based company wants to change the way people travel for business and is eyeing Maryland as a place to expand its service.

“It’s really about making private air travel especially convenient,” said Ben Hamilton, CEO of IMAGINEAIR. “We’re trying to bring private aviation to a much larger scale.”

Hamilton was a flight instructor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he found that he and his peers took the ability to fly 200 miles at a low cost for granted. That prompted him to look at the private air travel market, where he saw an opportunity to provide the service at a lower cost.

On average in this area, a chartered flight can cost about $7,500 for an hour flight, depending on the size of the plane, according to online price quotes. IMAGINEAIR’s air taxis cost under $2,000 for a similar length flight.

The company keeps its costs down by maintaining a large fleet with flexible routes and reducing the number of empty legs, which also lets the airline offer flexible pricing and lower cost options, said Hamilton.

The airline uses a fleet of Cirrus SR-22-GTS planes, described by the company on its website as an aircraft with the comfort level of a Mercedes or Lexus sedan. The airplanes hold three people.

The airline’s goal is to save people from a three- to eight-hour drive by offering them a one- to two-hour flight.

“Our business is about getting our customers home for dinner,” said Hamilton.

The company is not competing with other chartered flight services, or even commercial airlines, said Hamilton. IMAGINEAIR’s primary competitor is cars.

“Ninety percent of the time, if our customer doesn’t fly IMAGINEAIR, they get in their car and drive,” said Hamilton.

While it seems like an odd leap, Hamilton said, the comparison isn’t just between the cost of flying on a plane and driving a car. The employee’s time is also a major factor, especially in the case of lawyers, doctors and politicians.

“The car is very expensive if you factor in the value of the travelers time,” said Hamilton.

The airline completes 25 to 30 trips a day on average and has done about 27,000 flights. In Maryland, where the airline has been offering flights for two years, IMAGINEAIR has completed 215 flights.

The Baltimore market in particular is enticing to the airline because it can help business travelers get faster access to regional cities. IMAGINEAIR offers flights from seven airports in the state including Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Frederick Municipal Airport and Carroll County Regional in Westminster.