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Would You FLOAT To Work? New Startup Would Fly People To Work To Avoid LA's Traffic

Los Angeles

On a good day, Arnel Guiang’s travel from his home in Diamond Bar to work at Northrup Grumman in El Segundo would take roughly 45 minutes each way. 

But on bad days with heavy traffic congestion — and there were plenty of bad days — it would take the former engineer up to nearly two hours one way to get to work and maybe another hour and a half to drive home. 

He did this drive for more than three years.

Cessna Caravan fits 10 to 12 people comfortably

The 39-year-old Guiang left Northrup Grumman almost 15 years ago, but the time he spent in traffic made a lasting mark. 

Guiang has co-founded a new transportation startup called FLOAT (Fly Over All Traffic) that uses existing general aviation airports to fly super-commuters to work. Super-commuters commute at least 90 minutes to work and have grown increasingly common in California, often as people move out of job centers seeking more affordable housing.

“Think of it as a van pool in the sky,” Guiang said during an interview at a coffee shop at Brackett Field Airport in La Verne. Small Cessna planes took off nearby and the sound of a whirring helicopter could be heard in the distance.

“Everyone knows how bad traffic is in Los Angeles,” Guiang said. "This is a way for people to drop their car off or get dropped off at one of these airports, jump on board and fly 15 to 20 minutes to work. This will save people a lot of time."   

While Elon Musk is building underground tunnels to avoid Los Angeles’ infamous traffic woes, Guiang’s company will fly above it. If FLOAT takes off, it could reshape how people travel to and from work and make better use of underutilized regional airports, Guiang said. Guiang is hosting demonstration flights from Brackett Field to Santa Monica round trip Feb. 25.

With a population of 4 million and 503 square miles, Los Angeles' sprawling area is known as one of the worst places to commute in the nation with many workers living outside of Los Angeles.

In a study released Feb. 11, mobility analytics company Inrix ranked Los Angeles No. 5 in its Most Congested Urban Areas In The U.S. category. Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York City rank ahead of Los Angeles.

Los Angeles residents lost 128 hours sitting in traffic and cost the city $9.3B, or $1,700 per driver, according to Inrix's 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard.

“Congestion costs Americans billions of dollars each year. It will continue to have serious consequences for national and local economies, businesses and citizens in the years to come,” Inrix Transportation Analyst Trevor Reed said in a news release. “If we’re to avoid traffic congestion becoming a further drain on our economy, we must invest in intelligent transportation systems to tackle our mobility challenges.” 

FLOAT (Fly Over All Traffic) co-founder Arnel Guiang

The study coincides with other reports about the rising number of super-commuters.

Census records show the share of super-commuters nationwide rose to 4 million from 2005 to 2016, Apartment List reports. Los Angeles has about 227,000 super-commuters, according to Apartment List's 2018 study.

Guiang partnered with a fellow tech entrepreneur, Tom Hsieh, and received backing from Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines President Rob McKinney to create FLOAT. McKinney is also a co-founder.

The subscription-based model would provide round-trip commuter flights for $1,250 a month, or $30 to $45 each way. Passengers ideally would be dropped off at one of the general aviation airports on the outskirts of Los Angeles or in Ventura, Orange, Riverside or Northern San Diego counties and fly into one of the airports around major job hubs, such as Santa Monicadowntown Los Angeles or Burbank.

Passengers would ride in a 10- to 14-seater Cessna Caravan. Just like a van pool, the plane would leave at a specific time, say 7 a.m., and get to the destination near work by 7:30 a.m. On the way home, the passengers would go back to the airport at 5 p.m. and arrive back at the home airport by 5:30 p.m.

FLOAT's Caravan goes only 3,000 to 5,000 feet in the air so passengers won't feel cabin pressure.

"It almost feels like you're floating," Guiang said.

Inside, there are no wireless or tech features yet in the Caravan, said McKinney, the president of Mokulele Airlines. Even though the plane looks small, it is very comfortable, he said.

"The seats are leather," McKinney said. "There are no middle seats so it's either window or aisle. You'll have plenty of leg room almost like sitting in first class and there's space for baggage. We [Mokulele Airlines] also have an excellent safety record." 

And, like a van pool, passengers who are late or miss the flight have to call someone to pick them up or take a ride-share home. 

An interior of a Cessna Caravan

Guiang said the goal is to partner with companies to have them offset the cost of transportation for their workers and have the company provide a shuttle to ferry workers to and from the airport.

Guiang said FLOAT has already discussed the idea with SpaceX, Sony, UCLA and The Walt Disney Co.

McKinney said he is providing the crew and four Caravan planes to start the company. He hopes to have as many as 20 planes in the coming years if the venture proves successful in Los Angeles.

Though not a subscription-based model like FLOAT, Mokulele Airlines has experience ferrying business travelers around the various islands in Hawaii. 

"We'll take passengers from the Big Island to Honolulu," he said. "We're not going over traffic, but these Caravans take passengers above the water."

Santa Monica Airport Association board member and pilot Edward Story said he likes FLOAT's idea and if it does well, could help promote business in and around the regional airports in Southern California. 

There are a little more than 35 general aviation airports in Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, Orange and San Diego counties, he said.

Story said in the 1940s and 1950s there were as many as 66 of these airports. Many of these airports shut down and have become prime real estate for housing. 

A new idea could keep these airports in business, he said. With Uber, Boeing, Airbus and others investing heavily in air mobility, flying people from one point to another seems to be the next great mobility venture, Story said. 

"Los Angeles is overbuilt and the transportation system on the ground is underbuilt," Story said. "The net effect is that one of the best ways to get around is through the air. FLOAT is going provide a critical element in the transportation of people in the Los Angeles area."

More than 1,000 people have already signed up as interested in taking a FLOAT aircraft. Many of the people interested are commuting from as far away as Riverside and northern San Diego County to Los Angeles, Guiang said.

There are even some people who signed up that just want to travel from Van Nuys to Santa Monica — normally a 25-minute trip on the road but with traffic congestion could take as long as an hour, Guiang said.

Guiang said unlike commercial planes, FLOAT won't have a plane ready at an airport and sell tickets for that flight. It will take reservations from people for a specific airport and a common destination first before creating a route. 

He is aiming to launch FLOAT this summer.

"No one likes to be stuck in traffic," Guiang said. "All we want this to be is just another option for people to go to work and go home."