- November 2, 2018
The dream of becoming a professional airplane pilot nearly ended at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for Kristin Incrocci.
That was in the 1980s, when Incrocci was the rare female student at Embry-Riddle, one of the top aviation colleges in the country. A third-generation flyer who says her best memories of childhood were in a plane, usually by her dad's side, Incrocci knows her way around a cockpit. But the hardcore training at Embry-Riddle, in Daytona Beach, brought Incrocci to tears and kept her up at night. “It was like the military,” says Incrocci. “The stress was unbelievable.”
Incrocci survived, and later thrived, at school. It was the start of a 25-year-plus career in a plane, from training students to flying people for a host of companies. That career has now taken Incrocci to a new business geared toward the busy business executive: Sarasota-based Lift Air.
Incrocci founded the firm in October, and now runs it in conjunction with a flight training school. Lift Air flies people, no more than three to a plane, to multiple in-state destinations out of Rectrix, the private terminal at Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. “(Customers) pick the times and the schedules,” says Incrocci. “We do everything else.”
The goal is to fly 10 charters a month, at an average cost of $1,200-$1,500 a flight. Incrocci says business has been so good that Lift Air will soon surpass that goal, and she already seeks to buy more planes and hire more pilots.
Incrocci says Lift Air is one of the only personal air taxi services on the Gulf Coast. The model is to simplify private jet travel, which sometimes is bogged down through scheduling hassles, contracts and fees. Lift Air is also considerably less expensive, says Incrocci, than either a private jet trip or flying first class on a commercial airline. For example, most Lift Air trips run about a third of the cost of chartering a private plane for the same trip.
Lift Air will fly to virtually any place in Florida with an airport. A roundtrip Sarasota-to-Orlando ticket for three people starts at $1,150. That's for all three passengers, plus light luggage. The roundtrip Miami run starts at $1,450; Jacksonville is $1,530; and Tallahassee is $1,850. Prices fluctuate based on how long a customer is in the destination.
Incrocci says she's able to keep prices low for several reasons. She leases the planes, instead of buying outright, and that keeps maintenance and upkeep costs down. Lower fuel prices, combined with low overhead, also help.
But price is only one competitive advantage for Lift Air, says Incrocci. She also sells convenience.
Lift Air, for example, recently flew an attorney and his wife from Sarasota to Miami for a 2 p.m. court hearing, Incrocci says. The couple was back in Sarasota that night for a dinner reservation. Another trip was to Key West, where three passengers went on an eight-hour fishing trip, then flew home the same day — with the catch in a cooler.
Lift Air uses new Cirrus airplane models, including the SR20 and SR22, for its trips. The planes have state-of-the-art flying instruments, says Incrocci, and include satellite radio.
Incrocci, with 7,000 hours of flight time, launched Lift Air by buying a charter company that had the proper FAA certificate to run an air taxi service. The biggest challenge, so far, is marketing and branding, in getting the word out to potential customers.
While Incrocci works on that, she remains thankful she gets to fly people for a living, going back to her childhood passion. “I think about it all the time,” says Incrocci. “How cool is it that I get to do this?”
Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon