Jonny Nicol, Founder and CEO of Stratajet, spent four and a half years trying to make the code that would allow his price comparison app deliver the holy grail of business aviation – instant real-time online booking.

Stratajet’s philosophy is based on the fact that 40% of all private jet flights in Europe fly empty legs: last year around 260,000 private jets flew without any passengers aboard, according to the company.

Data from 2,107 airfields in 44 European countries has been collated by Stratajet (Booth F051) to allow users to access aircraft availability with all the variables taken into account – from landing fees to your nearest airfield suited to the aircraft type – while getting a solid quote in ten seconds. To make this instant, Stratajet’s inventory management software integrates seamlessly with an aircraft operator’s existing system, allowing users to check out 500 operators quickly.

Nicol describes his product as an “adaptive empty-leg engine which optimizes existing empty legs by diverting the nearest aircraft to a customer destination.” This maximizes efficiency while allowing private jet travelers to charter a flight at a reduced price.

Many people said he was mad even to try to make this work, and even if he did, online bookers would never hire anything larger than a Citation Mustang. How wrong they were: Stratajet has taken an ACJ booking each week for the last four weeks.

He compares the “light bulb” moment when it all came right last year with the World War II Enigma code breakers at the UK’s Bletchley Park. Picture the dispirited team late at night: the computer finally stops running, the room goes very still and a team member inspects the result, then doesn’t believe it and has to rapidly crosscheck.

“We were right on the limits of computer science in terms of process and power and it was a phenomenally difficult process,” Nicol says.

As an example of the complexity of the software program, landing fees are phenomenally complicated, with 247 sets of variables within Europe. Landing fees can change several times a day at the same airport for the same aircraft type. Nicol gave an example where a landing fee could vary from around GBP300 to GBP3,000 in the space of a few minutes.

“In the 24-hour period immediately after Stratajet was commercially launched on April 21, we produced more quotes for private jets than the entire industry in Europe had managed to do in the previous year,” Nicol says. “Yes, it’s huge!” So huge in fact that Stratajet is now valued in the tens of millions pounds sterling.

Nicol takes a percentage cut on the front end of all bookings “So operators can up their prices and be as creative as they like,” he says.

Watch out North America: Stratajet is to launch there soon. But first Nicol and colleagues have to meet with more than 400 operators in 48 states in the next nine months.


In Nicol’s Own Words…

“We’d got the search speed down to 20 minutes to look at 500 aircraft around London and Geneva as a test, and over two years we got it down to four minutes by doing incremental changes.

“We ran out of money – we were six guys in a room. None of us had been paid for three months, but we decided we were going to go on until it was done. It was really late at night when we did this relatively simple multi-threading PCU cash system on a bastardization back end, and it came in at 16 seconds. One of the guys said, ‘I must have left the cash things open or something,’ but on checking, sure enough it came back at 16 seconds again.

“There was just total silence and it got very emotional. After four and a half years we’d finally cracked it. I’d spent all my money from the sale of my previous companies and been to the bank for another GBP50,000 as a personal debt. We went from having a completely worthless company to one now valued in the multi millions, with valuations going up at over GBP1 million a day.”