High-flying ambitions

When most people turn 16, the first thing they do is get their driver’s license.

For Benjamin Hamilton, his 16th birthday meant getting his student pilot certificate.

And this was just one of many stepping stones since he was 2 years old — when knew he wanted to be in aviation — that have helped pave the way for Hamilton to become CEO and co-founder of ImagineAir Inc., an Atlanta-based company that aims to serve the more than 900 mostly underused airports on the East Coast.

“In college, I was going to go on the path of becoming an airline pilot, but I wanted to take this to a much bigger level to really make an impact and share my passion with a lot more people,” Hamilton says.

It was that idea that inspired Hamilton and some college dorm mates to create a plan for an airline company that would serve the business commuters who typically drive between three and eight hours and only stay a small amount of time.

“It’s more than just a niche market. This is something that we believe can really change the world in the same way Uber has changed how people think about driving,” Hamilton says.

Since the company started in 2007, it has amassed 11 Cirrus SR-22 aircrafts, 40 employees and in May 2014 merged with Danbury-based Kavoo, making ImagineAir one of the largest air taxi services on the East Coast.

Instead of buying more expensive and larger aircrafts, like jets or airplanes that fit six to eight people, ImagineAir uses planes that fit three passengers comfortably at an average cost of $400 per person one-way.

The key to keeping that price comparable to say JetBlue or Delta is using  “small, modern aircrafts, which are best-suited for the mission,” Hamilton says.

Departures out of Westchester County Airport in White Plains are among the most popular, along with East Hampton Airport on Long Island and Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. But, Hamilton adds, no airport that ImagineAir serves represents more than 3 percent of the company’s departures. His vision of expansion includes nearly 30 aircraft in the next year and 1,000 in the next 15 years.

“The fact that there are five times as many people doing this type of travel as there are flying the airlines, the market justifies it,” he says. “This is our goal, and we’re going to get there faster than anybody else.”

With a goal to expand private flight at an affordable rate through his company, it’s clear that Hamilton is not just passionate about aviation and business but about how many people he can expose to flying.

Becoming a commercial airline pilot “would have been a nice, comfortable, fun lifestyle and I always wanted to do that since I was a kid,” he says. But the bigger picture was appealing to the majority of people and changing the way they think about private aviation.

ImagineAir still has a ways to go in that respect, he adds, “but you only live once, so go for it.”

For more, visit imagineair.com.

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