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Will social media air service take off in Revelstoke?
Technology-enabled charter service plans to succeed where other attempts have failed
Anyone who’s spent some time networking online or in the flesh in Revelstoke business circles in the past few years will likely remember their first encounter with Jean-Marc LaFlamme.
The flamboyant dresser is a social media proselytizer who advocates for social media’s ability to provide transformative solutions to society’s problems. Society, in this case, is an isolated Revelstoke which has never enjoyed a successful passenger air service, and desperately desires one to compliment its growing tourism ambitions.
LaFlamme didn’t disappoint at an Oct. 2 Revelstoke Airport Committee meeting. The meetings usually discuss the slow, steady progress of the rural airport; a new fence here, improved fuel pumping capacity there, capital budget planning for improvements to the runway, a review of the bird management program – that kind of thing.
LaFlamme joined the half-dozen local and regional government officials and politicians for their quarterly get-together in the lounge at the Revelstoke Airport Terminal. A metal plaque on the cedar tongue-and-groove wall panelling commemorates the lounge’s 1982 dedication by then Minister of Transportation Alex V. Fraser. The blue Naugahyde lounge chairs are complimented by wood-veneer furniture and accented with a plastic plant in a macrame hanging basket. The dated decor is actually in OK shape, a testament to fact the lounge has been under-utilized by passengers in the intervening 30-plus years since its dedication.
With his trademark mutton-chop sideburns, wavy salt-and-pepper bouffant, and quirky wardrobe choices (DayGlo motorcycle helmet, turquoise checkered socks, olive sneakers with Velcro straps), LaFlamme’s brings a spark to the otherwise moribund room.
Entrepreneur LaFlamme is there to pitch a social media-driven charter air service to Revelstoke Airport called Jump On Flyaways, and he believes the social-media enabled airline can succeed at bringing regular flights to the Revelstoke Airport.
LaFlamme, who has extensive experience in the travel industry, including working on big airline industry websites like WestJet, works on social media and business development for Jump On Flyaways. The company has integrated the social media technology into the core of their unconventional charter business.
Here’s how it works: It’s based on oil patch airplanes that sit around unused on the weekends. Founder and CEO Roger Jewett has past experience in the airline field, where he served as chief financial officer for Enerjet, a Boeing 737 charter service. He developed the Jump On concept of utilizing the airplanes during their downtime, sending them to vacation spots over weekends.
Jump On schedules regular flights and posts them on their website. You can book a flight at a set price, then wait to see if the plane fills up. If it does, your payment is processed and you fly. If it doesn’t get a threshold number of people, the plane doesn’t fly.
In addition, the website provides customers with social media tools that enable them to market the flight for the company. In the context of Revelstoke, that could mean filling up a 30-passenger plane with like-minded outdoor enthusiasts. A group of sledders from Fort Mac, or an expedition of backcountry skiers from Calgary.
LaFlamme explained to the committee: “We’re a marketing umbrella, we’re an air service, we’re starting something that’s certainly going to be profitable off the bat because we’re sending full planes of people.” They avoid one of the bottom-line pitfalls of a charter service by not taking losses on empty or half-full planes.
This, said LaFlamme, allows them to set cheaper fares. He said it was too early to put a dollar amount on a flight from Calgary, or Fort McMurray – two target markets. Their target price is much cheaper than past charter flights to Revelstoke, he told the committee.
LaFlamme said social media tools, “enable most of [Jump On’s] marketing to happen with people. It’s not with me, it’s not with us; it’s everyone else spreading the word and incenting people.”
Currently, Jump On offers service from Alberta to destinations like Las Vegas and Vancouver.
LaFlamme emphasized the effort is collaborative, with the goal of creating a “community” service. In his presentation, LaFlamme underscored he’s working with local and regional tourism operators to learn more about the service they need.
LaFlamme expects to partner with regional and provincial organizations for funding help to bring the service here.
After the meeting, the committee voted, opting to support the idea in principle. When asked, committee members and the airport manager, Ed Wozniak, couldn’t think of any rules stopping Jump On from flying into Revelstoke tomorrow.
Chartered service is allowed at the Revelstoke Airport, but regularly-scheduled airline service is not. Regular airline service will require extensive upgrades. Airport manager Wozniak explained if a regular service is proposed, Transport Canada becomes involved, researches the plan, then lays out exactly what improvements and upgrades must be done before the service is allowed. As a charter, Jump On avoids that process.
It’s been a year since the Revelstoke Airport switched on its new navigational equipment which greatly improves a pilot’s ability to land during cloudy conditions. That new satellite system helps the pilot navigate down past the high clouds to about 1,200 metres.
The rest, however, is up to the pilot. Anyone who’s ridden the gondola up Mount Mackenzie in winter may experience the frequent combination of high and low clouds above the Columbia River in winter. The low cloud will remain an issue, and there’s not really a viable technology fix for that on the Revelstoke Airport’s horizon.
Wozniak said there are no stats on the number of days of cloudy conditions prohibiting landing at the Revelstoke Airport. Some years it’s better than others.
LaFlamme said Jump On would mitigate the low-cloud barrier. If it looks like the plane can’t land, it won’t take off, or perhaps divert to a nearby airport. They’ll have alternate ground transportation in place.
“We’ve got a wonderful airport here that can be used more effectively,” LaFlamme told the committee. He’s continuing his efforts to spread the word amongst tourism partners in Revelstoke and the region. He hopes arrangements can be made to get the service running by this winter, although it’s not for sure yet.