Light Fantastic: Flagging Down a Flier

<< Back to Robb Report, January 2004
  • Mary Lou Pickel

Vern Raburn’s expectations are nothing if not dramatic. Raburn, CEO of Eclipse Aviation, believes that the Eclipse 500 will create a completely new method of transportation. If his vision comes true, taking a flight in the Eclipse 500 will be as straightforward and inexpensive as hailing a cab for a ride downtown, albeit without a ratty backseat and a reckless driver.

 

Raburn projects that the operating costs of the Eclipse 500 (and those of competing jets) will be so low—approximately one-quarter the costs of a Cessna Citation CJ1, he says—that companies will place bulk orders for the jets and create an air taxi market. Travelers flying to a common destination would share a plane one way, then, depending on their respective schedules, catch other planes for their return legs. Such a system, says Raburn, would be a less expensive alternative to traditional charter travel because charter customers must often pay for deadhead flights. A network of light jets would utilize the thousands of small airports scattered across the country, and flying directly to such destinations would enable passengers to bypass the time-stealing hub-and-spoke system of commercial airlines. “What air taxis are about is bringing the speed, comfort, safety, and cost of a commercial jet to smaller communities,” says Raburn.

David Wyndham, a partner at the aviation consulting firm of Conklin & de Decker, applauds the idea but gives the system a one-in-four chance of taking off. “These are brand-new aircraft designs,” Wyndham says. “They’d have to work hard to create a new market.” Wyndham estimates that if the Eclipse 500 retains its $950,000 price, the company would have to sell at least 1,000 planes to meet its business model. “In the business jet market, that’s a huge number,” he says.

Raburn has grown accustomed to hearing such skepticism. He insists that air taxis will become a reality because the Eclipse 500’s low operating cost could result in each passenger paying $1.50 per mile. Conversely, Raburn estimates that the average charter flight costs each passenger from $3 to $10 per mile. According to Raburn’s figures, a 200-mile flight in a four-passenger Eclipse 500 air taxi would cost $75 per person. “This is the classic example,” says Raburn, “where new technology is enabling a new product, which is in turn enabling a new market."

See feature article, "Private Travel: Light Fantastic."

From Around the Web...
DesignQ creates new luxury interior concepts for a business jet
Focused on comfort, the interior includes a private lounge, a dining area, and a large shower…
Bliss Jet Gulfstream G450
A one-way ticket for a seat aboard a Gulfstream G450 or G550 will cost just under $12,000…
From Australia to Africa, these private-jet journeys are taking travelers to new heights…
A new online tool lets you calculate the price of being an unproductive airline passenger…
The new planes boast an improved flight deck and wingtip lights that look like they were taken from...
XOJet
The pairing is part of the charter company’s mission to manage a client’s needs across the board…
For commuters tired of traffic, things may soon be looking up thanks to the Airbus Group’s Project...
The aviation corporation’s best business jet continues to distance itself from the competition…
The new interior has high-speed network access and plenty of places to charge your devices…
This concept plane can land on grass, gravel, or sand airstrips…