JetSmarter, the once high-flying private aircraft-booking app backed by Jay-Z and the Saudi royal family, is being cleared for emergency landing.
Valued at $1.6 billion two years ago, the so-called Uber of the skies is deep into “rescue talks” that could result in a sale for as little as $20 million, two industry insiders told The Post.
Both insiders identified roll-up artist Vista Global as the likely acquirer. But if talks between the two parties fail, they warned, JetSmarter could be forced into bankruptcy.
“People in the industry are already calling it the Fyre Festival of aviation,” one insider said.
The other source asserted that JetSmarter’s financial condition has gotten so bad that “a lot of operators are no longer flying for them.”
It’s hard to imagine a bigger comedown for the six-year-old private jet service, which after a third round of investing in December 2016 emerged a fully formed “unicorn.”
That meant its valuation exceeded $1 billion — enough to make 30-year-old Sergey Petrossov, JetSmarter’s Russian-born and Florida-raised founder, the flight-sharing economy’s fastest-rising star.
Since then, however, Petrossov’s business model has done nothing but burn cash.
In a meticulously reported story last month, CNBC noted that JetSmarter members usually paid $50,000 a year for their all-you-can-fly private jet privileges.
Then it did the math: “A G4 typically costs more than $6,000 per hour to operate, so a one-way trip from New York to Los Angeles would typically cost more than $30,000.”
The numbers suggest members could break even on their investment before completing a coast-to-coast round trip. But they also suggest members could put JetSmarter in the red just as quickly.
Granted, members didn’t always have a plane to themselves. But the economics were such that CNBC, citing former employees, said JetSmarter’s 10,000 or so members were costing the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company up to $5 million a month within four years of its launch.
For fresh capital, JetSmarter turned to Clearlake Capital, a Santa Monica private equity firm, in 2017.
Although Clearlake did not respond to The Post, CNBC estimated the firm and a banking partner invested about $75 million for a third of JetSmarter’s equity, slashing the valuation by more than 80 percent.
Yet the hemorrhaging continued, causing JetSmarter to revise its terms last June. “Members say they were no longer able to book free flights,” according to CNBC.
The revision triggered outcries of bait and switch and a flurry of lawsuits.
The most recent suit, filed in Pennsylvania federal court by Florence Zabokritsky, contains language common to all of them: “JetSmarter reneged on its promises by reducing and/or terminating the services it promised to provide and demanding additional substantial payments.”
JetSmarter, which doesn’t own planes but charters them or buys seats from others who do, has also alienated fleet operators.
The industry insiders said it was common knowledge that XOJET — a 43-plane fleet acquired in September by Dubai-based Vista Global — is about the only operator still willing to serve JetSmarter.
“I’d say it accounts for about 98 percent of JetSmarter flights,” said one insider, who then estimated those services currently have JetSmarter owing XOJET between $20 million and $40 million.
The other insider not only confirmed the range of debt owed XOJET but also called it “so much money that XO’s best chance of recovery is to take the company.”
A spokesperson for JetSmarter said the company does not comment on “rumors and speculation.”
Vista Global also declined to comment but acknowledged being “contacted by many companies regarding opportunities in multiple markets and across the value chain.”
Jay-Z could not be reached, although a source familiar with his investments called his JetSmarter stake “modest and passive.”