Interview With Transcend Air Founder Peter H. Schmidt
Peter H. Schmidt is the COO of Transcend Air, an aviation startup that he co-founded with CEO Gregory Bruell. He grew up in Wisconsin, and he loves the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. Currently, his main hobbies are flying aerobatics and singing.
NYC to Boston in just 30 minutes?
Mr. Schmidt began his years at MIT as a physics major but graduated with a computer science degree. He returned to MIT Sloan for a management degree. Describing himself as a "problem solver," Mr. Schmidt has been an entrepreneur his entire life. During high school, he aspired to create his own company. In his early career, Mr. Schmidt successfully exited several technology-based startups. He eventually switched to aviation, where he has served as the COO of multiple companies, including Linear Air and Jet Advisors. Mr. Schmidt says that being a generalist has helped him serve as an effective startup COO, and that his ability to "supervise other people doing their job at a high level of quality is a direct outcome of my management experience and engineering training."
Transcend is a product of both founders' visions. Mr. Schmidt labels his as the "airline perspective," while CEO Greg brings the "passenger perspective.” Transcend's COO and CEO are using their career experiences to not only build a successful aircraft and airline, but most importantly, to understand consumer's preferences. The founders estimate that there is a $20 billion market for Transcend's services across major city pairs such as New York and Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Montreal and Toronto. This estimate aligns with the Bureau of Transformation Statistics reported air travel already existing between those cities. Mr. Schmidt remarks that, “In reality, the potential market is much bigger because our services will attract people who use cars or trains as well."
Transcend plans to capture the $20 billion market with their sleek VTOL aircraft, and their dedication to customer safety and satisfaction. Although VTOL technology (for "vertical takeoff and landing") was first developed in the mid-1900s, Mr. Schmidt explains that modern technology advances have allowed VTOL aircraft to become accessible and safe for commercial flight. Transcend aircraft, including the Vy 400, are considered to be the "ultimate refinement" of successful tiltwing designs that flew in the 60s and 70s. Its architecture incorporates artificial intelligence, so Mr. Schmidt suggested that AI could eventually pilot the plane, but added that they will start with human pilots at the controls and are in no hurry to replace them. The aircraft uses arguably the most reliable engine ever made, of the famed PT6 family, and also includes a complete airframe parachute. In the event a significant problem arises, the parachute will allow the aircraft to descend to the ground slowly, ensuring passenger safety.
The airline primarily targets people looking to travel from city to city for business. Transcend will have a morning and evening rush hour schedule, with flights taking anywhere from 18 minutes to an hour. Compared to trains and cars, Transcend trips will be three to five times faster for around the same price. Mr. Schmidt depicts his vision of a person traveling from their office to another city for a morning meeting and getting back for lunch. Also, the flights have larger seats and more legroom than first-class, with other features like air conditioning, WiFi, and snacks and drink. Transcend hopes to give people a fast, cheap, comfortable, and safe means of transportation.
Transcend is also committed to environmental protection. The airline has designed a zero-emission vertipad infrastructure for the planes' landing zones. Powered by solar panels, the vertipads will capture all fluids so that there is no fuel or chemical runoff into the ocean. Mr. Schmidt explains that traditional airports have difficulty expanding now because of the substantial environmental costs. Not only would growing airports take away land and ocean, but according to Mr. Schmidt, "concrete production now generates as much CO2 as all the trucks worldwide.”
With more people moving into major cities, air travel demand there will continue to rise. Schmidt explains that Transcend and VTOL technologies provide the perfect means of expansion for aviation services in major cities. Vertical liftoff from barges takes up little space compared to airport runways. Transcend offers a way to address increasing consumer demand while being environmentally sustainable.