April 25, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Aerial taxis preparing for takeoff
Starting in mid-2006, DayJet (formerly Jetson Systems) plans to transport people between regional airports in the United States whenever passengers want. Need to get from Palo Alto in Northern California to Bakersfield in the southern part of the state and back the same day? For a moderate premium, DayJet, which calls itself a "per-seat, on-demand" air service, will do it.
The idea is to cater to business travelers who don't want to drive, but who also want to avoid the delays and stopovers that can plague jaunts between secondary cities on conventional airlines.
Start-up DayJet is ready to launch a low-cost aerial taxi service for travel between midsize cities.
Charter air travel isn't cheap, and it can be a hassle, factors that create an opening for new on-demand airlines. New technology helps the upstarts, but how much lift can they really get?
"This is a transportation system that adapts to your needs," said Ed Iacobucci, founder of software maker Citrix Systems and the man behind DayJet. "It is not about serving New York to Atlanta. It is more about serving the secondary and tertiary markets with a point-to-point network."
On-demand airlines have emerged as one of the buzzwords and potential opportunities in the field of aviation. Last month, at the Flight School conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., People Express founder Donald Burr discussed Pogo Jet, which will provide similar services, while Corporate Clipper will aggregate and book seats on these new types of airlines. (Flight School is owned by CNET Networks, publisher of News.com).
Currently, charter services provide on-demand flying services, but the expense--about $4 to $10 a mile--has put those services out of reach of most consumers and business travelers. The price, Iacobucci said, "tends to be $1 a mile for these regional flights" on conventional carriers.
DayJet (and, to a similar degree, its competitors) hope to exploit two technological achievements--lightweight components and scheduling software--to bring down the cost of these type of flights to around 75 cents to $3 a mile, somewhat close to the cost of tickets on conventional airlines today.
These new airlines will likely have to overcome consumer skepticism, said Henry Harteveldt, an analyst at Forrester Research. Will people be scared to fly in small planes? Will they miss conveniences, such as bathrooms? Will corporate travel offices spring for the transportation?
Still, "if the price is right, it might take people off the road," Harteveldt said. "It could even compete against people like JetBlue and American Eagle."
The first technological breakthrough is a new type of light airplane that's comparatively inexpensive to manufacture and fly. The Eclipse 500, from Eclipse Aviation, for instance, can hit a maximum speed of 375 knots, carry five or six people (including pilots) and fly for about 300 to 600 miles.
The plane will sell for $1.3 million, less than conventional small planes, and weigh less, which cuts down on fuel costs. The advantages in weight and cost come in part from the use of semiconductors to replace many mechanical controls. The two Pratt & Whitney engines that power it measure only about 14 inches long and weigh less than most engines of their type. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates is an investor in Eclipse.
"We live and die by grams," Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn said.
DayJet has an order with Eclipse for 239 airplanes, with an option to buy 70 more. The planes will be delivered
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