Coronavirus has put the travel industry into critical condition. With many commercial air routes closed, and people avoiding airports, carriers and travel agencies are hurting.

Against this bleak landscape, private jets are becoming an attractive alternative for transporting passengers and cargo. But most booking agencies can’t make such arrangements.

For Israeli-American startup Imperium Jets, it’s a classic case of being in the right place at the right time.

Its software platform, introduced in August 2018, enables agencies to book private charter and cargo planes and even air ambulance flights for clients.

“There’s been a 214 percent rise in demand for private business aviation from Hong Kong to North America after coronavirus, and about a 25% rise in the United States,” says Imperium cofounder and CEO Lidor Revah.

Private jet operators register for free on the Imperium website. Travel professionals pay a monthly subscription for the end-to-end service.

Working with 2,600 private operators worldwide – including 1,700 in the United States, which accounts for 73% of the business aviation market – Imperium automates the whole process.

“You decide the price range you want to sell to your client and the system will help you compare the different options to find you the best deal,” says Revah.

“The main power we give travel agencies is they don’t need to learn how business aviation works,” he explains. “It’s nothing like booking commercial flights. For example, the weight of the passengers matters. And the process of flying is different; you can come seven to 15 minutes before departure. We guide them through this, so all they have to do is manage customers.”

By the seat

While several other companies enable clients to source private aircraft on a business-to-business basis, Revah says he knows of only three others in the world that work similarly to Imperium.

That will change soon, as Imperium plans to offer a unique option of buying single seats on private planes.

“Our vision is to help big organizations like Expedia and sell by the seat,” Raveh tells ISRAEL21c.

“This is not just for epidemics and war,” he adds. “Regardless of corona, business aviation is on the rise year over year. This is a tool to connect people and do it faster, safer and easier.”

Most of the time, of course, it’s also more expensive. For example, a commercial business-class seat from LA to Las Vegas costs $250 to $350 compared to $6,000 to charter a six-seat aircraft.

“But in some situations, it can be cheaper,” says Raveh. “We recently showed one company that during a high-demand season, a flight from San Diego to New York was almost $1,000 cheaper on a private jet than flying first class on a commercial jet.”

Graphic courtesy of Imperium Jets

Shuttling cargo

While high-end clients may want to book a private jet for a company golf outing or a family ski weekend, the current pandemic has many businesses looking to private planes for moving cargo.

“For example, we can safely send a cargo flight to pick up materials in China, even though 21 commercial airlines have canceled flights to mainland China,” says Raveh.

Private operators simply apply for a route, get approved and fly.

“If a passenger wants to fly to an infected area, the private jet company has to consider if they want to risk being out of business for two weeks afterward while the staff is quarantined,” notes Raveh.

Most cargo inquiries are coming from the United States. “But with coronavirus, we see that Israel, for example, has started to give us a lot of cargo work,” says Raveh.

“We work with three private operators in Israel. Some that don’t usually take cargo are willing to remove all their seats and help out to allow cargo to come in.”

Based in Los Angeles and Herzliya, Imperium has 10 employees – mostly veterans of elite IDF special forces and intelligence units.

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