Hailing down a plane

Schleissheim Airport is a strip of concrete and bitumen surrounded by open fields of green. Rollerbladers cruise down the small road crossing the threshold of the main and only runway.

Located in the greenbelt looping the north of Munich in Germany, the airport was built in 1912 as the base for the long-defunct Royal Bavarian Flying Corp. Today, much of the once expansive grounds and terminal is devoted to an aviation museum. The rump airfield is used for civil flights. In summer, sheep look up from long grass with vague interest as a glider slides down the runway or a light aircraft takes off.

But like many of the other 400 obscure and forgotten airfields scattered through Germany, Schleissheim has experienced an uptick in activity since the launch of Wingly two years ago.

The flight-sharing platform connects private pilots with passengers, so that the high costs of private flights can be shared between them. Unlike Uber, these pilots do not use Wingly to make a living but to save money on flights to be able to fly more. At the moment, the service covers flights in France, Germany and the UK, the three largest aviation countries in Europe.

“Flight hours can be horrendously expensive,” says Bertrand Joab-Cornu, one of the founders of Wingly. “Typically, you are looking at 170 euros per hour upwards. On average, civil pilots spend 15 hours a year flying to meet the mandatory flying hour requirements or to advance their skills. It can be an expensive passion.”

As flight enthusiasts, Joab-Cornu and his friends Lars Klein and Emeric de Waziers knew that 10 million empty seats fly annually above Europe. It seemed logical to try to fill them. That way, the cost of flight hours for pilots is reduced, allowing them more time in the air to sharpen their skills.

Wingly turned to Allianz to insure the program, working through French aviation insurance brokerage SAAM Verspieren Group. Along with the primary insurance linked to the aircraft, additional coverage is available to protect passengers and third parties on the ground. “Wingly is quite innovative in the general aviation space,” says Gaeetan Bareille, General Aviation Underwriting Manager at AGCS. “It works within recent EU regulatory rules that were passed since Wingly pilots operate as ‘not-for-profits’, and it will be very interesting for us insurers to follow the growth of this new collaborative economy in airspace.”

In concept, Wingly works somewhat like Lyft, Uber, SnapCar or any of the other ride-sharing services. It is built around light aircraft – those that seat a maximum of six people and generally come with propellers. Users browse available flights on the Wingly website to identify those that appeal and they are connected directly to the pilots.

However, Wingly is unlikely to be an ‘Uber for the air’ or threaten airlines the way ride-sharing services are disrupting established taxi providers. These pilots aren’t seeking to eke out a living like cab drivers in the sharing economy, but to reduce costs associated with flying time.

“It’s about sharing their passion and saving a bit of money,” explains Joab-Cornu, an aeronautical engineer who is in charge of business development at Wingly. “Pilots cannot make money out of it but only share the cost. Still, a potential 75 percent reduction is highly attractive for pilots as they seek to rack up flying hours.” Wingly is hoping pilots can double or even triple their annual flying hours through the use of their services. In a sense, argues Joab-Cornu, Wingly is part of a “real” sharing economy. “It is a side activity where people save money by sharing the goods and services that they have, and that are not used to the full potential.”

There are 70,000 users and over 6,000 pilots registered on the platform from the three countries. Typically, flights posted on the site involve joy rides over your favorite cities or landscapes. Don’t expect an alternative to your standard red-eye flight from London to Berlin or Paris to Lyon. But if you feel like from a quick jaunt to Le Touquet in France from London or have a spur-of-the-moment desire to fly from Berlin to Usedom for a visit to the botanical gardens, then Wingly might be for you.

More than 30,000 flights are available on the site. From Oberschleissheim, there are flights advertised for Berlin, Hamburg, Kiel and Venice, but most are leisure roundtrips above the spectacular Bavarian Alps, costing around 80 euros.

In a sense, the business model has always existed, says Joab-Cornu. Wingly has merely taken it online. “We have had it confirmed by the European Union that this approach is legal in a digital form, and so we launched the portal.” The team hopes to ‘democratize’ private aviation. “Flying from London to the Isle of Wight is now as easy as visiting Windsor Castle – and not much more expensive – plus you get a more spectacular view than with a standard airline flight.”

Pilots are vetted before being registered. Wingly also checks their medical certificate and licenses as part of the registration process. “Ride-sharing, as a part of the overall collaborative economy, is quite popular in our society, with companies like Uber, Lyft, Bla Bla Car, Zipcar, Airbnb, and so on,” says Bareille. “We are seeing more and more startups adapting this business model. Sure, some people are still reluctant, but this will change as more and more companies come aboard and are successful.”

Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) is the Allianz Group's dedicated carrier for corporate and specialty insurance business. AGCS provides insurance and risk consultancy across the whole spectrum of specialty, alternative risk transfer and corporate business: Marine, Aviation (incl. Space), Energy, Engineering, Entertainment, Financial Lines (incl. D&O), Liability, Mid-Corporate and Property insurance (incl. International Insurance Programs). Worldwide, AGCS operates in 30 countries with own units and in over 210 countries and territories through the Allianz Group network and partners. In 2016, it employed around 5,000 people and provided insurance solutions to more than three quarters of the Fortune Global 500 companies, writing a total of 7.6 billion euros gross premium worldwide annually.

AGCS SE is rated AA by Standard & Poor’s and A+ by A.M. Best.

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Heidi Polke-Markmann
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