New charter flight company in Albemarle County

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- Road trips can be fun, but if you live in Charlottesville and you want to go somewhere like Myrtle Beach for two days, you have to fly.

For the vast majority of people, commercial flights are the only option, but Albemarle County pilot Eric Walden is hoping to change that by making private flights an option for people who aren't among the richest in the world.

"There's a whole lot of other people that have the need and the desire to travel privately, but a lot of them don't know that it's available," said Walden.

In 2014, he launched Little Hawk Logistics. It's based in Albemarle County and operates under the charter of another private flight company called Meridian Air Group.

Walden has one plane, a turbo-prop Daher TBM 850 that can carry up to five passengers.

Anyone nervous about flying in a smaller plane might be comforted by Walden's 25 years of flying experience, and in fact, he's a fourth-generation pilot.

His great-grandfather built and flew the first American monoplane in 1909, and his grandfather founded FlightSafety International, the largest flight school in the world.

Walden learned to fly at 15 and became a flight instructor after he graduated from the University of Virginia, and he was captain of a commercial airplane by age 25.

The plane he flies now is very different from those larger planes, and Walden says it has the lowest cost per mile of any plane in the world.

"It will do 360 miles an hour, which is about 80 percent of the speed of most jets out there, for one third or less of the cost of those jets," he said. "You're dealing with a metric that it doesn't have any competition."

A charter flight is definitely more convenient than flying commercial.

"You don't have to show up an hour and a half early, you don't have to wait for your bags, you don't have to do any of that," said Walden.

While his fee is lower than a private jet, it's still not exactly budget travel. The flights cost $1,250 for every hour the plane is in the air.

That means, with five passengers, it would cost about $400 per person to fly the 35 or 40 minutes from Charlottesville to the Outer Banks and back.

For $750 a person, you could go to and from New York City, Charleston, South Carolina or Martha's Vineyard, which are all about 90-minute flights.

Single day or one-night trips are most affordable since Walden usually charges $300 per night if he stays overnight. If he flies back to Charlottesville and then returns for a pick-up, the passengers pay for two round trips.

Walden says there's no shortage of people in Charlottesville who can afford his service thanks in part to UVA, Darden and the law school, as well as various tech start-ups.

He hopes prospective customers will understand they're paying for the time they save.

"If you want to be there and spend the entire weekend where you want to be instead of traveling, then you pay a premium for that," Walden said.

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Correction: Eric Walden's great-grandfather first flew the monoplane in 1909.



 
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