Ben Hamilton wants to get you out of your car.
As CEO of air taxi service ImagineAir, Hamilton is focused on transforming business and leisure road warriors into frequent flyers. His service, which he bills as “a smart alternative to regional car travel,” is aimed at offering convenient, time saving, and cost-effective air service to travelers who frequently make drives of between three to eight hours on business or leisure trips. “We are looking to turn a three- to eight-hour drive into a one- to two-hour flight. That’s the value proposition we offer,” Hamilton explains. It’s all part of the company’s plan to “bring private aviation to the masses,” he adds. “Private air travel was always for the rich and famous and we are trying to change that.”
ImagineAir, which is based in metro Atlanta, flies up and down the East Coast and has been operating out of Westchester County Airport for a little more than one year—with impressive results. “We’ve had more demand than we can handle in Westchester,” Hamilton says, calling it “a good problem to have.” (During the summer travel season, the company did approximately five flights per week out of HPN, he says.) The Westchester market is ideal for the company because of its large business community, and affluent population; in addition, Westchester County Airport fits well into the company’s focus on the 900 small, regional airports across the East Coast—what Hamilton calls “the airports closest to where we live and work.” He cites, as proof of concept, the statistic that 85 percent of the population lives and works within 15 minutes of a small airport.
Founded in 2007, ImagineAir has grown to a fleet of 11 airplanes (all Cirrus SR-22s) and 40 employees. Hamilton, a licensed commercial pilot who worked as a flight instructor while attending Georgia Tech, says he knew early on that the convenience of private travel, when combined with the scale and technology that could bring costs down, would be a win-win.
“Lot of airports have local charter operators, but because we have a growing fleet size, we have the ability to mix and match flights which takes out a lot of the cost so we can, in most cases, offer the lowest price point,” he says, adding that ImagineAir was the first on-demand air service to offer online booking. “What we provide to the consumer is convenience, reliability, and price—we can generally beat others on all three and that’s how we are going to take this to the masses.”
Booking a flight on ImagineAir is a simple online process, and prices average $1,200 per flight for the entire aircraft (three seats)—far below the $5,000 price tag Hamilton cites as average for a typical private charter flight. The company now also offers a Platinum Membership Program, which allows frequent travelers to take advantage of unlimited flight travel options by purchasing their own aircraft and leasing it back to ImagineAir. This initiative also serves as a cost-effective way for ImagineAir to expand its fleet.
“We’re excited to unveil the new membership program to our customers as it will allow them to benefit greatly from the perks of our service while increasing our overall offering and fleet size,” Hamilton explains. “This new way to own an aircraft provides access to an entire fleet in addition to the ability to make a return on their investment for anyone that makes two or more regional trips per month.”
Hamilton predicts the company will expand by some 20 aircraft this year, and he expects demand in Westchester to remain strong. He’s not alone in courting our county’s potential “air ninjas,” however; Westchester County Airport is also home to Beacon Air, a subscription-based private jet service, as well as Wings Air, which offers helicopter charters, and Tradewind Aviation, which offers private charters as well as premium scheduled flights to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.