Very Light Jets: Private Jet travel has previously been reserved for the ultra-wealthy but prices are coming down. The first commercial Very Light Jet (VLJ) flight conducted on Aug 17, 2007 by North American Jet Charter of Wheeling IL in an Eclipse 500 heralded the beginning of a new era of personal air travel. Since then Dayjet, in the southeast US, and Linear Air, in the northeast, have also put the Eclipse 500 into air taxi service. Initial operation of the Eclipse taxijet has been very successful for these early operators and they expect to expand their operations significantly in 2008.
Most air taxi operations will initially be based near high-density population centers such as the east coast and California and will move to more sparsely populated areas as the industry matures. The idea behind air taxi is that there will be enough aircraft available that you'll be able to catch one on short notice without paying for repositioning, overnight or minimum use charges commonly associated with aircraft charter. You'll just pay for the time you actually occupy the aircraft. There are currently over 2,300 air carrier operators in the US with over 20,000 jet and turboprop aircraft that can also fit into the air taxi network and provide services at reduced cost through efficient utilization. Advancements in online scheduling software and global distribution systems such as Taxijet.com make finding an available air taxi or air charter flight quick and easy for passengers and helps maximize operational efficiency.
Start up air taxi companies around the globe are providing services using new VLJs that will be available in growing numbers. With over 2,500 aircraft on order the number of Eclipse 500s sold will be limited only by their rate of production. Other VLJs also enjoy strong order backlogs. Honeywell Aerospace expects VLJ deliveries to range "from 8,000-9,000 aircraft from 2007-2017." That's about 65 new VLJs per month. Honeywell's projection includes the Embraer Phenom 100, Cessna Citation Mustang, Cessna CJ1+ and CJ2+, Beechcraft Premier I, Sino-Swearingen SJ30-2, Eclipse 500, Adam 700, Diamond Jet, Cirrus Jet, Piper Jet and others. Other industry projections from Forecast International, FAA, Rolls Royce and the Teal Group estimate the number of monthly VLJ deliveries between about 25 and 65 per month over the next decade.
The short field take-off and landing performance of these mini jets allows them to access underutilized small airports providing travel options that were not available in the past. Advanced engine, avionics and manufacturing technologies make them less expensive and more efficient, quieter and safer than their predecessors. According to Business and Commercial Aviation Magazine's operations planning guide the hourly variable cost, which includes Fuel, maintenance and miscellaneous expenses, for an Eclipse 500 is $545 and $599 for the Citation Mustang. Both are impressive when compared to older generation jets such as the Learjet 24F with a variable hourly cost of $1,747 and a Citation I at $1,189 per hour.
The price of chartering an aircraft is still high when compared to airline travel but the prices are dropping and new capabilities are becoming available. A pay per seat pricing model is in use now by Dayjet in the southeast US and may spread to other areas and other companies as more air taxis are placed into service. The FAA is considering new legislation that may allow operators to provide scheduled commuter services using VLJs and make per seat pricing more readily available. Air taxi and air charter allows passengers to avoid long drives to busy airports, security lines and inefficient flight itineraries. A few companies like mine, www.taxijet.com, are very knowledgeable of industry and are booking flights today.
By Roger Burton