OpenAirplane and FlyOtto ceased operations on December 29, 2019. The aircraft rental and charter services sought to make processes easier and with less hassle for pilots and prospective passengers. Co-Founder and President Rod Rakic cited a discrepancy between the stated desire of pilots to use the OpenAirplane service and the numbers that actually showed up as the cause of its closure. On the charter side, FlyOtto needed far more capital to get to sustainability than the company’s leadership had first assumed—and lack of access to growth capital made it “impossible to get there,” according to Rakic.
OpenAirplane was the first of the services launched by Rakic and his colleagues. The service focused on delivering an aircraft rental experience that pilots could take with them as they traveled, minimizing the frustration of making multiple checkouts in aircraft of the same model from different providers. Key to the service was getting aviation insurance companies on board—and key to that was creating a consistent checkout across widely varying flight schools. Rakic used his experience with the Civil Air Patrol to craft a checkout similar to those used by the CAP.
Response to OpenAirplane came in very positively, reinforcing Rakic’s belief he was onto something. “In our case, pilots we spoke with got very excited about the concept of OpenAirplane, but most were quick to tell us that the insurance industry would never support us.” With that obstacle out of the way, Rakic found that the pilots surveyed were, in fact, overestimating their annual utilization.
Rakic notes that he’d left his “day job” in mid-2013 when the beta platform for OpenAirplane launched, and it has been his daily raison d’etre ever since. “Obsession is the level of commitment,” he said in an interview with Flying. Co-Founder Adam Fast was “the smarts behind the curtain,” while Rakic provided the “hustle” he gained fame for around the GA industry. “This was my B school,” he said, and he reflected on how much he has learned since pitching the concept at AeroInnovate at EAA AirVenture in 2011. A 2011 survey of MyTransponder participants drove the numbers the team estimated would enjoy the ability to rent from a wide range of facilities while traveling—but industry is rife with examples of people overestimating their commitment to a cause. Partners and customers alike have expressed regret. “Like Apollo 13, it was a successful failure,” was one comment from a customer.
All the flights booked forward—some into February 2020—have been cancelled—at least through the OpenAirplane platform. Flight schools can make a business choice to honor the checkout; collaborative renters may not have this option because of the way the insurance is written. In the end, customers should still walk away fairly whole, having generally received a flight review endorsement with the OpenAirplane rental checkout. “We always tried to make this fail-safe,” said Rakic. “If we are the failure point, it won’t adversely affect anyone to a large degree.”