Verijet Aims to Become Uber for Air Travel in Tuscaloosa
A fascinating new company flew into the Tuscaloosa National Airport Friday morning to announce their intention to become the Uber of air travel for the Druid City, the southeastern US and eventually the nation.
The company, Verijet, will offer small-scale private jet travel powered primarily by artificial intelligence for passengers looking to fly 800 miles or less, especially in areas like Tuscaloosa where there is no pre-existing commercial air service.
Verijet's Chairman and CEO Richard Kane joined Stephen Wagman, its COO and CFO, to present the company to the Tuscaloosa community at the airport Friday.
Kane said at the center of their business plan is the idea of democratizing private air travel.
"We're designed to be able to serve a family looking to get away for their next vacation. We're designed to carry the business traveler that on short notice needs to be face-to-face with other members of their company or their partners to get a deal done. We're designed to help people on Saturdays and Sundays make it to the games," Kane said. "You tell us what you need and give us a shot at it because we're going to come through."
The model is financially viable because of the design of the plane Verijet will use to ferry passengers, a Cirrus SF-50 Vision Jet. First built in 2016, Wagman and Kane said the Vision Jet is the safest, quietest, most energy- and cost-efficient private jet in the world.
A single human pilot backed up by advanced AI systems cuts the cost of a copilot for each flight. Its carbon fiber frame and single-engine power uses a fraction of the fuel required to fly other private jets. Safety measures including a complete AI takeover of the flight and a parachute for the entire jet have led to 44,000 dispatches of the Vision Jet with no major accidents or incidents.
Now, with FAA approval finalized and a business model in place, Verijet is finally offering commercial flights. Kane said ideally customers will give the company a day's notice to schedule a flight but said in the near future, Verijet aims to be able to dispatch an SF50 to the runway within two hours of a request.
"What is amazing about what we're doing is we're going to bring the ability to schedule your flight right down to your smartphone," Kane said. "The same way you're hailing an Uber, you can be hailing a Verijet -- it's that simple."
Suddenly, Kane said, you can get directly from Tuscaloosa to Pensacola in around 40 minutes instead of taking a several-hour drive or flying out of Birmingham or Atlanta, at a price point of around $600 per passenger, with room to carry four adults and two children in each jet.
Wagman said the company wanted to establish itself in Tuscaloosa because of the opportunities provided by the University of Alabama and Crimson Tide football, Mercedes Benz US International, Stillman College, Shelton State and more.
"You have a very vibrant community, you have serious football fans, you have people who want to get to Gameday, you have enterprise here that needs and deserves a good level of air service and there's no commercial service here," Wagman said. "We need to fix that for you."
The representatives from Verijet were joined by Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox and Jim Page, the President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, among other area dignitaries and businessmen.
"When we talk about companies investing in our community, people traveling here to enjoy the University of Alabama and everything else we have to offer, air service is essential to that," Page said. "As we continue to work in this community to take everything to the next level, this is fundamental."
Page asked those gathered at the airport for Verijet's presentation Friday to consider just how different the Tuscaloosa area looks since the last time scheduled commercial air service was offered at the airport in 1997.
"That was the same year the first Mercedes rolled off the assembly line, obviously we've seen an explosion of growth at the University of Alabama and everything that's happened at Stillman and Shelton," Page said. "It's time we put an emphasis back on air service for this community and this is a fantastic first step."
Maddox said modernizing and evolving the Tuscaloosa National Airport is a top priority for his administration. He said at the end of this football season, the runway there will see $10 million in improvements as the first step to achieve that, and in the near future, the Elevate Tuscaloosa tax program and federal partnerships will fund the construction of a brand new terminal there.
"We have all the ingredients between business, higher education and industry to really be something special, and Verijet being here today really validates where we're going as a community," Maddox said. "We're excited about it, and on behalf of the city, we welcome you here and we look forward to evolving with you into something that's going to be really special for your company and for our city."