Aircraft: Hailing A Jet
When developing the Eclipse 500, Eclipse Aviation CEO Vern Raburn envisioned his aircraft and other very light jets, with equally low purchase prices and operating costs, serving as the basis for an air taxi system that would utilize the thousands of regional and local airports throughout the United States. “What air taxis are about is bringing the speed, comfort, safety, and cost of a commercial jet to smaller communities,” Raburn told Robb Report in January 2004.
Ed Iacobucci believes Raburn was on to something. “We think there is a market that is largely unserved,” says Iacobucci, president and CEO of DayJet, which is headquartered in Delray Beach, Fla. “It exists not necessarily in long-haul travel, but in the 200- to 300-mile range, mainly between secondary and tertiary markets.” Iacobucci therefore plans to introduce by June 2006 an innovative per-seat, on-demand jet service that will employ the soon-to-be-certified $1.2 million Eclipse 500. Earlier this year, he placed an order to acquire 239 of the six-seat very light jets over the next five years. He also has an option to purchase 70 more Eclipses from the Albuquerque, N.M., manufacturer.
Iacobucci’s company will establish a network of what he calls “day ports,” located throughout the country. Each port will have a small fleet of airplanes, as well as pilots, mechanics, and support staff. Unlike the conventional charter or fractional aircraft that flies wherever and whenever a customer wants, a DayJet plane will depart from a specific port, fly to one or more other ports during the day, and return to its home port at night. Although DayJet has yet to announce the locations of its ports, hubs such as Atlanta or Charlotte, N.C., will not be on the list; Macon, Ga., or Fayetteville, N.C., are likelier candidates. Pricing for the new service is expected to be considerably less than the cost of chartering and comparable to business-class or first-class fares on similar routes where commercial carriers fly.
DayJet is not the first company to attempt an air taxi service. In 2001, the Nimbus Group, then located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., developed plans for a service that would employ as many as 1,000 Eclipse 500s, but it failed to obtain financing and finally abandoned the idea in early 2003. In early 2000, Chicago-based Indigo introduced flights aboard Falcon 20 business jets from Midway International Airport to Teterboro, N.J. After fits and starts, Indigo ceased operations in May 2003.
Iacobucci is undeterred, noting that DayJet’s business plan creates a “very different venture” from the failed operations of Nimbus or Indigo, and that he can draw on his experience running his own charter operation, Wingedfoot Services of Palm Beach, Fla.
DayJet still faces some of the same challenges that grounded Nimbus and Indigo, and it will have competition: Pogo, née iFly, led by former airline executives Bob Crandall of American Airlines and Donald Burr of People Express. Like the Eclipse 500, Pogo’s proposed jet, the $2 million Adam Aircraft A700, is still under development. The Eclipse 500’s cozy four-seat cabin could deter some travelers who are more accustomed to a Boeing—or an SUV. Also, because the jet is new, the two-pilot crews will have limited experience with it. However, the company’s minimum qualifications for its captains—3,000 hours of total flight time, including a mandatory 500 hours in jets, and training that meets commercial airline standards at the United Airlines facility in Denver—are designed to make DayJet’s service more attractive to skeptical day-trippers.