OPENAIRPLANE.

JUST WHAT AVIATION NEEDS.

I always try to fly at least once a week, but this can be difficult to accomplish when traveling away from home. The idea of renting an airplane on the road has often crossed my mind, but the truth is I’ve never actually done it. As much as I love flying, and would love to explore new parts of the country by air, it has always seemed just too much hassle to find a local rental provider and go through their insurance checkout process.

So, the new venture OpenAirplane grabbed my attention when it talks about “making renting an airplane as easy as renting a car.” This seemed like such a great idea that I registered on its website straight away and, apparently, several thousand other pilots did exactly the same.

The thinking behind OpenAirplane rests on its Universal Pilot Checkout (UPC), a standardized checkout taken once a year. With a UPC completed, pilots can rent from any provider in the OpenAirplane network, without needing an additional checkout. A companion website makes it easy to find, book, and pay for aircraft rentals, and the whole system is kept healthy by a reputation management system that works both ways. Pilots can rate the quality of customer service and aircraft they received, while rental providers can rate their customers’ treatment of aircraft.

I recently had a multiday work trip to Los Angeles and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try OpenAirplane. I began on the website and made a reservation with the California Flight Center at Long Beach, where I selected a Cessna 172 Skyhawk from the offerings. Each listing had a detailed description of the airplane’s equipment and condition, along with high-quality photos. It painted an accurate picture of the airplane I eventually flew.

OpenAirplane then took my billing details, emailed a checklist to help prepare me for the flight, and directed me to a briefing about the local environment at Long Beach. This is an important part of the program as every airport has its own idiosyncrasies of airspace, terrain, ATC, security, and fueling. The briefing did a nice job of covering these issues, written in plain language that was helpful.

Arriving at the California Flight Center at the appointed hour, I was quickly recognized and welcomed as an OpenAirplane customer. Chief instructor Rob Grehan did a fine job guiding me through the checkout. It was thorough and professional without being intimidating, more like a healthy refresher than an exam.

And of course, the flying was great fun. The huge variety of landscapes that can be seen in this great country never ceases to amaze me. Against a backdrop of mountains and deserts we saw the mist-shrouded Catalina Island, and even stared right down the funnels of the Queen Mary. During the maneuvering portion of the checkout Rob showed me a few neat tricks to improve my skills as a Skyhawk pilot, too.

Overall, my first experience with OpenAirplane was top-notch from beginning to end.

OpenAirplane is exactly the kind of thing that aviation needs. For pilots, it greatly reduces the hassle of renting an airplane and makes new flying adventures more likely to happen. And the whole industry benefits. It goes deeper than increasing the number of hours flown and gallons of gas pumped. It’s also about finding a fundamentally better way to do business, using ideas and technologies that are expected by modern consumers.

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