A Florida-based company hopes to take regional business travel to new heights later this summer with the launch of an air-taxi service featuring a small executive jet for people on less than a super-rich budget.
The goal, according to DayJet Corp., is to make the convenience of corporate jet travel — once the preserve of top executives and the fabulously wealthy — more widely available to the general public.
A new breed of planes known as "very light jets," which are cheaper and more fuel efficient than traditional corporate jets, has opened the door to mass-market possibilities.
One of the smallest VLJs, the Eclipse 500 from Eclipse Aviation Corp. of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the model of choice at DayJet.
DayJet's founder and chief executive, 53-year-old technology entrepreneur Ed Iacobucci, has ordered more than 300 of the planes and likens them to the iconic Model T car built by Henry Ford, the pioneer of the automotive assembly line.
"It's really the first business aviation aircraft that's ever been mass produced," Iacobucci told Reuters in an interview. "All the parts are really exchangeable between them," he added, saying precision manufacturing was key for fleet owners. "That is a huge innovation."
He hopes to launch the service in late August.
No bigger than a sport utility vehicle, with just three passenger seats in the configuration ordered by DayJet, the ultra-quiet plane has a top cruising speed of 425 mph (685 kph).
Its range depends on the heft of the two pilots and passengers, all weighed in before boarding. But at somewhere around 1,240 miles, it seems tailor-made for the short-haul service between regional airports in small and medium-sized communities planned by DayJet.
Short hops mean no onboard bathroom, allowing for ample cabin-space legroom.
Initially, DayJet will only fly between Boca Raton, the site of its new headquarters in southeast Florida, and Lakeland, Gainesville, Tallahassee and Pensacola to the north.
But within 12 months of launch, DayJet will offer its service between 20 regional airports in four states across the U.S. Southeast.
‘Per seat, on-demand’
Unique to the U.S. market, according to Iacobucci, is DayJet's "per seat, on-demand" service.
That means DayJet customers, who pony up an annual $250 membership fee, only pay for the seat they reserve, not for use of the whole aircraft as in a charter service.
And there are no fixed flight schedules, so travelers have to pick a time for reaching their destination and say how early they can travel there. You can cut the likely premium you pay over equivalent regional full-fare coach airfares by being as flexible on departure times as possible.
Without schedules, each new booking promises to mean lots of last-minute operational planning at DayJet. It will start its Monday-to-Friday service with a fleet of just 10 planes since the aircraft, with a fair share of initial glitches, have been slow rolling off Eclipse's all-new assembly line.
To manage potential logistical nightmares, Iacobucci, a cofounder and former head of software maker Citrix Systems, said the company had written vast amounts of complex software while delving into chaos theory and an area of science called real-time optimization.
There are skeptics who question DayJet's business model and pricing policy, which could see customers paying as much as $4 for every mile they fly. But Iacobucci said he sees DayJet turning a profit within nine to 12 months of launch and a good possibility he will wind up taking the company public.
"What we're offering is really some significant change," he said, referring to his alternative to what many see as the airline industry's outdated and overloaded system of flying between major hubs.
"It's like quantum travel," Iacobucci said.
"Conceptually it's fantastic, it's a great idea," said Stuart Klaskin of KKC Aviation Consulting in Miami, who counts himself among the more upbeat analysts of DayJet.
"There's a growing market for this type of service, this lower cost, private, point-to-point air travel. There's no question about that." Klaskin said.