“We want to make it as simple as booking an Uber.”
These are the words of Paul Malicki, CEO at Flapper. In terms of customers, Flapper is the number one private jet charter app in the world with 350,000 users. And the Brazilian business has its sights set firmly on the future.
Since launch in early 2016, Flapper has been steadily growing, building on its base in Latin America with newer operations in Florida and Portugal as well as a plan to expand into Europe. At present, the online aircraft charter broker has a proprietary inventory of 1,200 aircraft in Latin America and, over the past year, has boosted business revenues by two and a half times.
Six years ago, however, the doom-mongers were out in force, as Malicki explains.
“Back in 2016, the first speech I did as CEO was with one of the largest business aviation operators in the world and the director of operations told me that it [Flapper’s mobile app] was never going to work. That was the first feedback I ever received. Funnily enough, within two years the same company had launched their own app. They saw our rapid growth and they launched an app to compete with us.”
Paul Malicki, Flapper CEO. Image credit: Flapper
Malicki adds that initial conversations with other operators, especially those based in the UK, have followed a similar path.
“The feedback is ‘oh, this is not going to work here, people still prefer to be called’. But if it works in Latin America, which is our main market, and more and more in the US, then eventually it will pick up in Europe as well.”
Even though the aviation sector is technologically advanced, Malicki believes that it is very conservative. “People do not like too many new things. They want it their own way. So when the disruption comes in, they are a little bit afraid, they are very skeptical.”
The disruption by Flapper came about after a group of entrepreneurs based in São Paulo, Brazil saw a gap in the market.
“None of us had a pilot background but living in São Paulo, the world’s largest helicopter city, we wondered why it was so difficult to charter a helicopter,” recalls Malicki. “So, let’s just build a product for that.”
AS350 helicopter. Image credit: Flapper
Malicki and his colleagues made good on their idea. “Soon we realized that rotary wing has a relatively small, average ticket and it is way more laborious as a service. So we added fixed-wing, including pay-per-seat deals, and that was during the Rio 2016 Olympics and it worked out very well. We saw lots of seats going directly to the area where the Olympics was taking place in Rio de Janeiro. That was our MVP [minimum viable product] starting in 2016, then receiving first funding and scaling up from there on.”
The resulting charter marketplace is considered the first of its kind in the Latin America region, an area where high-end business aviation is traditionally thought of as the preserve of the ultra-wealthy. The firm’s presence in Florida complements Flapper’s existing footprint, according to Malicki.
“In addition, Florida is the world’s largest business aviation market so it’s important for Flapper to be there. As for the rest of the US, there are no plans to expand further north, not least because that market is already very competitive and also because Flapper wants to be present in places where the likes of Directional Aviation or VistaJet aren’t.”
Europe is a different story.
“The more fragmented the market the better [for our product] and Europe is extremely fragmented. So, in a way, Europe is a perfect platform for us to continue expanding Flapper. But everything requires time. We are currently in Brazil, we are in Mexico, we went up to Florida, and we have our first representative in Europe in Lisbon. As you can imagine, there are some synergies in Portugal and, with time, we will be moving more towards Central Europe.
“The idea eventually is to become a global marketplace but today we have a regional focus. That’s where our main revenues come from.”
As for the nuts and bolts of Flapper’s processes, while all of the aircraft have been through the standard safety checks and vetting processes, Flapper has its own proprietary system for registering aircraft.
“Every single company outside of Flapper, you will find them using Avinode, the world’s most popular procurement platform, and that’s where they search for aircraft. We do use Avinode in certain cases, but we have our own system. So, every single aircraft is registered photo by photo, every single detail is in our own system.”
In terms of potential customers searching Flapper’s app for suitable aircraft and journeys, just who is the target audience?
Malicki says: “People use business aviation for two main reasons. Number one is because they want to go to places which are not available on the commercial aviation market. And number two is they want to do it fast. Who are my customers? Well, 30% of Flapper customers had never flown private before. We are proud of that. And here we are mostly referring to people who would take an individual seat on a pre-scheduled flight or on an empty leg flight…And if they become successful in the future, they become frequent flyers within the private aviation space as well.
“But the type of clients that sustain the business are high net worth individuals, those people who often even have their own jet but they still need another option in certain circumstances when, for example, they are abroad or when they need a helicopter transfer.”
While Flapper has proved its initial skeptics wrong, there are still people who believe that booking private flights via an app, whether it’s one ticket or an entire plane, will never truly catch on. Not surprisingly, Malicki disagrees.
“You just have all the options in one single place. If you consider that in a place like Europe, the average operator has 2.3 aircraft, imagine how many operators you would need to get in touch with in order to have a decent array of options for a given flight…Because we aggregate all the options available in the market, it makes it easy.”
Malicki believes that, before too long, people will routinely book executive flights in the same way they order a taxi or a takeaway meal. With Flapper estimating that the global air charter market is worth in excess of $10 billion, that’s a lot of potential app users.
Meanwhile, in addition to the $2 million Series A investment announced in 2021, Flapper has raised a further $6 million in a Series A extension.
“The future is mobile,” says Malicki. “But I think we are early. As we proved here in the Americas, the market reaction was positive. The next steps are Europe.”
Find out more about Flapper here.