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December 29, 2009

Rethinking Air Travel and Air Security and Could Air Taxis Finally Takeoff

Airlines reported lengthy delays on international flights to the U.S. over the weekend amid heightened security after Friday's alleged terrorism incident on a trans-Atlantic flight, but domestic passengers were largely unaffected by the new measures.

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines said passengers and their luggage were being subjected to an extra round of screening at many foreign airports before boarding flights to the U.S., contributing to delays of up to four hours in some instances.

Passengers arriving in the U.S. from abroad cited other security restrictions while in the air -- including not being allowed to get up from their seats or place objects such as blankets or laptops on their laps during the final hour of flights. According to the Justice Department, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect who allegedly tried to blow up a Northwest plane on Friday, went to the plane's restroom for about 20 minutes as the plane neared Detroit. After returning to his seat he pulled a blanket over himself and soon afterward tried to detonate an explosive device, according to U.S. authorities.


New security restrictions swiftly implemented following a botched attempt to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day are making air travel more burdensome and could discourage some business fliers, key customers for the airlines.

Some business travelers could jump from the major airlines to smaller business jets to avoid wasting hours in the terminal every time they fly, said airline consultant Robert Mann. The new security measures are "just going to add to the overall onerous way we have to conduct travel," said Kevin Mitchell, president of the Business Travel Coalition. "No doubt it will dampen demand."


Could Air Taxis / Very Light Jets Finally Takeoff in a Big Way ?


A very light jet study from 2008

Very Light Jet
Weigh less than 10,000 lbs (4540 kgs)
Seat 3 to 6 people
1-2 jet engines
Cruise at 340-420 knots
Operate from short airstrips (3000 ft / 900 m)
Range of 1100 – 2000 nm
Single pilot operation
Cost $1million to $3 million (Boehmer 2006)


Advantages:
Inexpensive to buy and operate
Offers on demand point-to-point service
Utilizes regional airports
More productive use of consumer time

Disadvantages:
Strain on a congested aviation system
Impacts regional airports and the environment
Higher fares than commercial airlines
Possible government user fees and surcharges
Weather problems in certain areas
On-demand scheduling is difficult

* 70% of domestic commercial air traffic is concentrated at 30 major hub airports (Sharkey 2008)
* Over 5,300 regional public-use airports and 19,000 airstrips in the U.S. (Department of Transportation)
* 85% of the U.S. population lives within 30 minutes of regional airports (Craver 2006)
* As many as 16,000 people per day fly out of the regional airports (Loyalka 2005)
* VLJs use more fuel per person
* High carbon output per passenger mile


In the last decade a mix of startup airlines and aircraft manufacturers have torched some $1.5 billion hoping to ferry last-minute business customers among tiny U.S. airports.

Kavoo, an air taxi service launched in April, 2009. A majority of Kavoo's 2,400 competitors (double the 1999 number) are tiny companies with a single plane. Only Satsair in Greenville, S.C., with 20 planes, has any kind of regional presence, let alone a national brand.

Their passengers will fly in single-engine Cirrus SR-22s with four seats and no bathrooms. Customers pay by the plane rather than by the seat; if Kavoo can find flyers for the return flight, the price per leg drops. Assuming no such luck, a 300-mile trip from White Plains, N.Y. to Buffalo would cost $1,500, or $5 a mile. If all three seats are filled, the trip is $500 per person, one way. Chartering a roomier, five-seat Cessna Citation I jet from a competitor would cost perhaps $4,125 (or $1,375 for each of the same three passengers). A last-minute coach seat on JetBlue from nearby John F. Kennedy Airport would be only $140 to $180

After burning through about $240 million, his company, DayJet, went Chapter 7 in November; Eclipse followed a few months later. Another air taxi service, called Pogo Jet, brainchild of former American Airlines ( AMR - news - people ) chief Robert Crandall and People Express founder Donald Burr, shut down in April after its light-jet supplier, Adam Aircraft Industries, went bankrupt and funding dried up.

SATS Air ( air taxi service ) ceased operations as of October 24, 2009.


The vision of very light jets is there are more than 5,000 small, underused airports in the United States. You could fly many small jets at 300-600 mph between those small airports. Security would be less and lines and traffic would be distributed from the large airports. You could fly from Redwood City or Concord, California in the San Francisco Bay area directly to say Glendale in Los Angeles. You could avoid 2 hours of traffic getting to San Francisco International and out of Los Angeles International and avoid security lines. If security was breached any bomb would only kill ten people or less and running a small plane into a skyscraper would not cause the skyscraper to collapse.



Europe air taxis service providers.

Demand for air taxis has been weak in the weak economy

The demise of DayJet had shown that prospective passengers can be quick to say that they intend to use a new service like air taxi but slow to do so.

London Executive Aviation (LEA), has a much more conservative outlook on the VLJ sector two years after integrating the type into its fleet of larger jets. “In 2002, this [VLJ air-taxi] concept was being sold to bankers as the EasyJet [Europe’s major low-cost airline] of business aviation with stunning business plans that saw each aircraft flying up to 1,200 hours per year,” said CEO Patrick Margetson-Rushmore. “But seven years on it is clear that this is wrong because we cannot expect such high hours. We were wrong because VLJs offer lower costs, but they are still not that low, and so their charter rates are lower but not that low.”

In the current climate, he believes that even a target of 600 revenue hours per year is proving to be unrealistic and that most VLJs are actually logging no more time than the larger jets they are supposed to be challenging. LEA’s Mustangs are currently averaging 356 flight hours per year. “The market simply isn’t as sweet and rosy as some have been telling us, but I do hope the start-ups [such as Blink and JetBird] are right,” he concluded.

The LEA chief executive also claimed that the Mustang is not achieving its promised range and performance and that the aircraft needs another 150 to 200 nm in range to serve LEA’s core business area. However, his counterpart at Blink insisted that its Mustangs are achieving greater-than-promised range.Another UK-based VLJ start-up that is due to take to the air before year-end is Ambeo.

Reflecting on lessons learned in the first few years of the VLJ generation, Edwin Brenninkmeyer of London-based investment advisory group Oriens Advisors said that it could take as long as 10 years for a “disruptive business” such as VLJ air taxi to get established. “The last few years have taught us that cash flow is king, as seen when the funding dried up at DayJet and Eclipse,” he commented. “You must be conservative to start because we estimate that it will cost ?27,000 per week [to stay in business] if the aircraft aren’t flying–based on an operator with three aircraft like the Eclipse 500.”


In the future, there is also likely to me be more electric planes which now have performance and range for travel around a metropolitan area.

FURTHER READING
Air Taxi Association and monthly industry updates

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