July 1st, 2011
“All cars run on used parts” was a favorite advertising slogan for many late-20th Century junkyard operators. But the sentiment could just as easily have been applied to airplanes; they all do fly on used wings.
As long as we’re sloganeering, we might just as well paraphrase General Douglas MacArthur, who once said, famously, something like “old airplanes never die, they just fly away …”
Except that some never do fly completely away.
Generally, the ones that hang around year after year, decade after decade, continuing to do their jobs every day in some corner of the globe far off the beaten flight paths, were enormously successful in their prime. Truly exceptional aircraft. Aircraft like the Douglas DC-3, the Boeing 707, even the Cessna 152 and the Stearman bi-plane.
The Eclipse 500 is the exception that proves the rule. An absolute world-class flop in its original incarnation, the 500 production line was shut down and Eclipse liquidated without a single 100 percent FAA-certified example ever being delivered.
But despite the obituaries that appeared in virtually every aviation publication, including this blog, the Eclipse 500, the extraordinarily pretty little twin-engine Very Light Jet that couldn’t, refused to gracefully fly off into the pages of passenger transportation history.
Today, three years after manufacturing of new airframes ceased, more than 250 are in service around the world. But that isn’t the astounding part. What’s astounding about that fleet of 250-plus previously owned airplanes is that the many of them have a few things possessed by none of them when they rolled off the Albuquerque production lines brand new. Major items like full “any skies, any weather” certification in all the countries – including the U.S. – where they operate and state-of-the-art navigation and flight-control systems.
This miraculous makeover was engineered, in case you don’t already know, by Mike Press and Mason Holland, who bought the bankrupt company’s assets for $40 million (half cash/half promissory notes) at a 2009 auction and established Eclipse Aerospace in the former Eclipse plant in Albuquerque.
The story of Eclipse Aerospace’s successful factory refurbing – including enhanced avionics and new GPS-coupled autopilots, flight into known icing certification, upgraded cabin amenities and new exterior paint – of used Eclipse 500s into $2,100,000 Total Eclipse aircraft has been well documented and is no longer news.
What is news, is Sikorsky’s Aircraft’s recent purchase of what both parties to the transaction called a “substantial” minority interest in Eclipse Aerospace.
For one thing, the Eclipse deal represents a very unusual foray into the world of fixed-wing aircraft by the 85-year-old helicopter manufacturer.
For another thing, Sikorsky, a prime military contractor, has, recession notwithstanding, very deep pockets; the company earned $716 million on sales of $6.7 billion in 2010.
For a third thing, Sikorsky’s corporate parent, industrial technology mega-corporation United Technologies Corporation – the 16th largest U.S. manufacturer and the 112th largest company of any type in the world — has ultra-deep (nearly $55 billion in 2010 revenue) pockets.
So what makes an industry giant like Sikorsky/UTC want to buy a “substantial” interest in a small boutique restorer of used iconic aircraft. First, let’s list a few things that had little to nothing to do with UTC’s decision.
1. UTC’s position as a major Eclipse contractor. Yes, UTC’s Pratt & Whitney division’s PW610F engines power the 500. And, for all we know, the conglomerate’s Carrier division built the cabin air conditioning systems for Eclipse.
Since the Total Eclipse transformation package doesn’t include new engines (or air conditioning systems), the total volume of UTC’s sales to Eclipse Aerospace is going to be pretty much limited to engine rebuild kits and the occasional replacement engine for the foreseeable future. Certainly not the kind of volume the 112th largest company in the world would find it necessary to protect with an equity investment.
2. Sikorsky President Jeff Pino’s affection for the Eclipse he owns and flies. Oh, please, we’re talking about a giant, publically traded, multi-national corporation here. CEOs and presidents don’t make major investment decisions at outfits like UTC, directors and the MBAs and accountants they hire as corporate nannies do.
3. The acquisition PR babble about the deal having “immediate impact” (presumably beneficial) on “current Eclipse owners” thanks to Eclipse being able to draw upon Sikorsky’s robust supply chain, parts distribution and engineering resources. Yeah, well, maybe, someday, a current Total Eclipse owner might be able to get a replacement seat cushion or hydraulic boot a day or so quicker thanks to Sikorsky’s box-packing and UPS shipping expertise, but the net benefit for current owners is negligible to insignificant (or vice versa).
There’s really only one possible explanation for this deal and it is this: Eclipse Aerospace, and most especially its CEO, Mason Holland, is totally committed to the proposition that the Total Eclipse is a transitory product. The real – and far from secret – goal has always been to begin production of brand new Eclipse aircraft whenever the time, circumstances, financing and economy were right.
By buying into Eclipse, UTC may very well be saying:
– That it thinks the time will be right in the very near future. Circumstances? Financing? UTC has more than enough muscle, money and savvy to handle those issues. The economy? How long does it take to design, build, prototype, and certify a new VLJ? Three years, four years, five years? UTC employs a lot economists who have clearly reached a consensus that the market will be ripe for a new (just a guesstimate folks) three-point-something million VLJ concurrently with Eclipse having one to deliver.
– That it believes there will be a substantial demand for a mid-priced VLJ, a twin-engine, high-performance aircraft with a sticker roughly halfway between the $2 million-plus Cessna Citation Mustang and Total Eclipse and the $4 million Embraer Phenom 100 and Hondajet.
– That it is at least a little worried that competition from GE Honda Aero Engines may someday challenge Pratt & Whitney’s Very Light Jet and Light Jet engine franchise. Producing new Eclipse aircraft using P&W power plants would increase production runs and lower per-unit engine manufacturing costs.
There is, of course, one other possibility. Eclipse and its new part-owners might decide to beat the development clock by resuming production of new 500s at a fraction of the cost of developing an entirely new aircraft.
If that’s the plan, we could see brand spanking new second-generation Eclipse 500 aircraft taking to the skies as early as next year. The assemblyline and tooling is in place, the aircraft (assuming it doesn’t deviate from the Total Eclipse specs in any significant way) would be pre-certified, and suppliers of major components such as wings and fuselage sections would almost certainly have no reluctance to resume building and shipping parts with Sikorsky/UTC bankrolling much of the effort.
Predicting when, if ever, any or all of these speculations will come to pass, is a job for a psychic, not a blogger. That said, there are several cards that, if played, would be a powerful indicator that Eclipse/Sikorsky/UTC has picked up the Eclipse Resume-Production Starting Gun and is about to pull the trigger.
Those cards? A further investment by which Sikorsky becomes the majority owner of Eclipse or a full merger of Eclipse Aerospace into Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.
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February 15th, 2011
Say? Wasn’t there supposed to be a time, right about now actually, when air taxi microjets would be flitting from cloud to cloud and community airport to community airport in numbers high enough to make the scheduled carriers blanch and the FAA cringe?
Wasn’t this supposed to be the era when dialing up an airplane to take you safely and sanely home to Stockton after you’ve had three or four too many at the San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day blowout would be virtually as easy as calling a cab to take you cross town?
What happened to the air taxi industry? An industry which seemingly appeared from nowhere and has, apparently, returned to nothingness?
Actually, the air taxi industry didn’t really appear from nowhere. It’s been with us from the very first days of manned flight. Likewise, it has in no way, shape, or form been diminished over the past four or five years. It is still a growing, albeit slowly at least in the United States, vibrant and necessary part of the passenger aviation market.
The apparition that “appeared from nowhere” and has “apparently returned to nothingness” was something Dickens once used as the title of a book: Great Expectations.
The first air taxi service — though perhaps non-service is a better description — took to the skies on September 23, 1870 when the French military, almost totally encircled near Paris during the Franco Prussian war hired some “Gypsy” hot-air balloon air cabs to carry mail and military communications between one part of their besieged forces and another.
Given that there was no way to plot and maintain a flight plan for the wind-powered balloons, the service was quickly curtailed when it became evident that the cabdrivers and their cargo were landing within German lines as often as within French lines.
The first significant date in the air taxi history in the U.S. was January 1,1914 when a Florida businessman hired an air taxi to take him on a 23 min. flight from St. Petersburg to Tampa to visit a vendors factory.
Fast-forward a generation or so to the Spanish Civil War and you’ll find fixed wing and helicopter air taxis being effectively used as air ambulances for the first time. In this context, it should be noted that air ambulances then and now are a very pure expression of air taxi services as we’ve come to defined them. Air ambulances fly only on demand, frequently on very short notice, operate between destinations chosen by the customers and not the air service operators and are a valuable, widespread, and usually profitable part of America’s medical care infrastructure.
The terms “valuable, widespread, and usually profitable,” also apply to the hundreds of small and midsized air taxi services operating between metropolitan area feeder airports, seasonal vacation retreats, and community airports where pilots with proper certificates and a waiting airplane are always available to help people get from an inconvenient point A to an equally inconvenient point B. These unscheduled, fly-on-demand air taxis are also available to carry TV camera crews above flood floods and fires and deliver the occasional “must have” package of vaccine or insulin.
Wonderful. Fine and dandy. But where are those thousands of VLJ air taxis that are supposed to be clogging up our so-called antiquated air traffic control system by now? Where is that vibrant, new, cost-effective method for making three sales calls in the time usually taken to make one while still getting home to sleep at night? Where are those spur of the moment weekend getaways without the time and nerve-crunching stress of scheduled carrier travel?
In our view, those questions can be answered in one word: DayJet.
Had DayJet jet deliberately set out to bankrupt its investors, stiff vendors, and bamboozle the leaders of the communities in which it located its DayPorts (not to mention the leaders of several communities where it said it planned to locate DayPorts but never did), it could not have done a better job.
Yet, DayJet intended nothing of the sort. DayJet was committed to building a far flung, powerful, highly profitable network over which cheap, efficient, very light jet aircraft would take people where they needed to go, when they needed to get there without the expensive of chartering an entire aircraft. Flying DayJet, travelers would pay only for the seat they were occupying.
So what went wrong? Why was DayJet’s failure so devastating that it literally blasted development of what was supposed to be the 21st-century air taxi model out of the skies?
Lord knows, it wasn’t because of lack of funds. Ed Iacobucci and his team probably raised between $28 & $35 million by the time they launched and Lord did they spend them.
DayJet ordered up long-term research studies and ful system-drill simulations from some of the world’s most renowned technical universities. They ran mock drills of typical single day operation scenarios complete with a fully staffed control center for years — literally years — before actually going live.
So what happened? First, let’s boot the revisionist history being peddled by DayJet apologists. DayJet was not doomed, nor never even slightly hampered by Eclipse Aviation’s inability to deliver the ridiculous number of aircraft DayJet was perpetually signing order sheets for
The truth is, more days than not DayJet’s total passenger count for the entire system was five or less. It had plenty of aircraft to handle those underwhelming numbers. DayJet need a huge fleet of Eclipse 500 aircraft almost exactly as much as Eclipse needed huge orders for planes that it knew would never be built, never be delivered, never be paid for. The reason for these orders had nothing to do with expanding the system or filling existing passenger demand. It had everything to do with giving investors, the business press, and financial analysts the impression that business was booming.
So, again, what did go wrong? Who was the real villain in the DayJet debacle? Believe it or not, the demon was neither a person nor a thing. It was a concept, a state of mind, a psychiatric term.
Ed Iacobucci didn’t really want, could never have been satisfied with, merely building a new air carrier operating under a new rather unique business model. He would never have settled for just grabbing the somewhat stodgy air taxi industry by its lapels and shaking it into the next decade. What he really wanted was to level and rebuild the whole industry in his (and DayJet’s) own image. His obsession was not about reinventing the wheel. He also wanted to redefine the way in which it rolled from place to place and the means by which people would access it.
That’s the $25 psychoanalysis version of DayJet at the gates of hell. There’s also the issue of financial accountability, or almost total lack thereof. Running years of simulations and rehearsals to get everything working glitch free before operating day one, is a noble aspiration. There is, however, a question whether launching a relatively small air taxi service covering five airports in Florida needed the level of countdown normally reserved for things like the Normandy invasion, the Apollo moon shot, or even the opening of a McDonald’s franchise in the heart of Kabul.
The cost of running a ghost DayJet for years prior to the arrival of the first operational Eclipse 500 wasn’t cheap and was certainly high enough to raise red flags in front of any accountant whose eyes weren’t completely excluded by stars shining in them.
Another out-of-control spending item was the marketing campaign.
One element of the DayJet launch strategy that can’t be faulted (but of course wer’e lying about that) was its epic, global PR effort. DayJet spent so lavishly to proselytize aviation groups, spin fantasies for city governments and airport authorities and send out reams of press releases, progress reports, and bold predictions all over the world, that the name DayJet quickly became known from Tampa to Timbuktu.
There’s no way to validate this statement, of course, but it’s entirely possible that there are children in the African Rainforest and other places have never seen an airplane but know the word DayJet.
The problem with all this, was that the marketing blitz was aimed almost entirely at the general public, most of whom would never have the slightest need for DayJet’s services.When DayJet did get around to marketing to people for whom the time and money advantages of air taxi made sense, they made the mistake of marketing directly to potential passengers.
The truth was, what all their pre-launch surveys and studies should’ve told them was that, DayJet, unlike other less aggressive air taxi operations, could not survive on a passenger base made up largely of individual business and professional travelers who make their own travel decisions and pay their own bills.
DayJet’s main customer base, if it was to have any hope of prospering, had to come corporate controllers and travel planners convinced that sending their managers to shows, events, meetings, inspections, etc., would save both dollars and increase productivity relative to using scheduled carriers.
In other words, DayJet should’ve hired a group of hungry, successful, corporate salespeople to walk into the offices of large companies with frequent travel requirements — say a law office with 120 attorneys who are always needing to go off to depositions and hearings — and sit down and romance — yes, romance — the dreaded bean counters.
Yes, the dreaded been counters, the people who in any corporate setting are least likely to be influenced by press releases, airport parties, or “launch events.” What DayJet should have invested in was giant spreadsheets with cost-time comparisons, computer-generated best case/wrost case cost-benefit ratio charts, studies showing and how many motel days, nights and per diem charges would be avoided by shifting some business to DayJet.
The bean counters never got these things and DayJet never got the bean counters’ business. The next riddle to unravel is why this saga so totally messed up the rest of the merging carriers.
We’ll tackle that issue next time.
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January 12th, 2011
What does the first flight of the HondaJet conforming prototype really say?
Considering the more than 500 flawless flight hours already logged by the earlier HondaJet prototypes, is December’s maiden flight of the conforming variant really that important?
Does it make a statement that goes beyond “we’re proud to have reached another milestone on the path to certification and production”? Does it, in other words, say anything meaningful that we all haven’t heard before?
You bet it does!
It says an awful lot about Honda as a company.
Remember this, with the HondaJet Honda is doing something no other aircraft manufacturer in this space has even tried: To design, engineer, test, build and bring together at the same place and time an entirely new next-generation airframe and an equally new and advanced VLJ engine purpose-built for that airframe.
True, the twin Honda HF120 turbofans that power the HondaJet are officially products of GE Honda Aero, but the conception, design, and advanced performance/fuel efficiency ratio are all pure Honda (derived from the HF118 turbofans built by Honda prior to establishment of the joint venture with GE.) What GE brings to the party is an awesome ability to manufacture and service what are arguably the best jet engines in every market in which GE chooses to compete.
So while there have been delays and deadline pushbacks along the HondaJet timeline, they have primarily been caused by issues inherent in any attempt to develop two major systems from white paper to fruition in lockstep with each other. The truth is that none of the delays have been caused by either a lack of faith or funding on Honda’s part. To the contrary, Honda has even gone as far as advancing money to subcontractors impacted by the recession to enable them to perform their part of the work on schedule.
To convey the depth of Honda’s commitment to the HondaJet, all you really need to know is that the second conforming prototype is already completed and the third one may be rolling down the taxiway by the time you read this. Not only that, but two other conforming prototypes, one for flight tests and one for structural tests, are also slated to be completed in time to support the certification of the aircraft by mid-2012.
The launch of the first conforming prototype also says a lot about the improving health of the VLJ market. In the five years since the HondaJet first went on sale, the basic list price has escalated almost $1,000,000, from the mid-$3,000,000 range to the mid-$4,000,000 range.Yet the volume of firm advance orders, now totaling more than half-a-billion dollars, continues to grow at a healthy rate.
On another level, the maiden flight says something that may turn out to be of major importance to the air taxi industry. The HondaJet is an expensive aircraft to acquire, but a remarkably economical one to operate. If it meets its design targets of faster cruise speeds, higher altitude operations and 20% more fuel efficiency than competing twin-engine VLJs, it may very well offer return on investment advantages sufficient to cause some operators to reconsider augmenting their fleets with VLJs instead of lower-cost, lower-performance piston-engined aircraft.
There are two other subjects on which the flight of the first conforming HondaJet speaks volumes. The first is the future of passenger aircraft engineering.
Consider for a moment some of the design elements which have gone into the HondaJet. To cite just two, the unique combination of aluminum natural laminar-flow wings mounted above the body to reduce drag and lower perceived noise and an unusually light carbon fiber-and-resin composite fuselage, have resulted in an aircraft in which the sum is not only greater — but much more cost effective — than the parts.
Put simply, the sum of Its 1800-lb fuel-efficient new-generation engines, low-weight, streamlined fuselage and advanced wings enables the nearly 9500 pound maximum takeoff weight (MTF) HondaJet to fly further on less fuel than any other airplane in or near its class.
Since the amount of AvGas carried aloft is a major contributor to any jet’s MTF, range, and performance, the HondaJet’s ability to get from Point A to Point B on less gas enables it to fly faster and higher at less cost than its more heavily fuel-laden competitors.
(Note: Honda has not, to date, revealed the HondaJet’s fuel capacity.)
Will any or all of the advanced mileage-enhancing technologies developed for the HondaJet eventually be adopted by designers of larger business and commercial aircraft? Hard to say. But with many air carriers running flights under-fueled to trim weight and cut operating costs (reducing safety margins in the process), it’s easy to believe that they will.
Which brings us to the final point, what does the launch of Honda’s conforming prototype have to say about the future of business aviation?
Let’s look at two brief laundry lists.
– Passenger/crew capacity: 7
– Total baggage space: 66 cubic feet
– Range: 1611 miles (VFR)
– Cruising Seed: 483mph
– Service Ceiling: 43,000 ft.
– Lavatory: Private and fully enclosed with flushing toilet, washbasin, vanity and coat and magazine storage racks.
– Base Price: $4.5 million (approx.)
– Passenger/crew capacity: 9
– Total baggage space: 65 cubic feet
– Range: 1732 miles (VFR)
– Cruising Seed: 535mph
– Service Ceiling: 51,000 ft.
– Lavatory: Private and fully enclosed with flushing toilet, toilet paper holder, sink with tepid water, lighted vanity mirror, coat rod, belted toilet seat.
– Base Price: $10.2 million (approx.)
The Lear does, of course, have a few things the Honda doesn’t. Such as an optional microwave-equipped galley, an extra $3.8 mil on the sticker price, an additional 10,000 pounds (much of it fuel) that needs to be hoisted aloft and astronomically higher operating costs.
As always, the customers will pay their money and take their choice.
There is, now that we think it, one other thing that the first flight of the HondaJet conforming prototype says. It says, and it says it loud and clear, that Honda, as it did with its first 50cc step-through scooter over half-a-century ago, is once again reshaping — if not exactly reinventing — the wheel.
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June 22nd, 2010
Yes, April Fool’s Day was quite some time ago, and …
No, this is not some kind of a joke.
Jet Ready, which operates out of Valencia, is planning to launch a new air taxi service using a fleet of Eclipse Aerospace’s reborn Total Eclipse 500s within the next 60 days and expects to be able offer fly-on-demand service to approximately 2,000 community airports by New Year’s Day.
The joker in the deck, at least for those of us living under the friendly skies of the Atlanta Tracon district, is that the Valencia in question is in Spain, not California, and the 2,000 community airports within range of Jet Ready’s home base are all in Europe. On the other hand, the aircraft are all made in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA and Jet Ready’s decision to go with them rather than Cessna Citation Mustangs or less glamorous but much cheaper turboprops speaks volumes about the how well Eclipse Aviation’s new owners and management team are doing.
Announcement of the upcoming service launch followed a successful joint Eclipse Aerospace/Jet Ready effort to regain European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification for the 500. (EASA certification for the original Eclipse 500 was granted in late 2008, but rescinded in June 2009 after Eclipse’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.)
According to most European General Aviation experts, the Eclipse E500 as originally configured would not have been legal to fly commercially in Europe even had the EASA not stripped it of its certification.
Commenting at the time of the 500’s initial certification, Conor Neill, Spanish managing director of Taxijet, a Spanish air taxi operator, predicted that upgrading the 500 from private flight to commercial operation certification would cost a minimum of $250,000 per aircraft and two years of research, development and retrofitting.
“But none of the four prospective buyers for Eclipse are looking at investing in this for some time,” Neill noted. “Their business plans call only for maintaining and servicing the existing fleet of 266 aircraft.”
Fortunately for current and future Eclipse owners, Neil was speaking before Mason Holland and his team of veteran aviation business executives, engineers, government relations experts and marketing professionals purchased what was left of Eclipse in summer 2009, holding the “grand reopening” of the Albuquerque headquarters and shop on September 4.
Though most of us, at least most of us sateside, will probably never get to fly on one of Jet Ready’s Eclipse 500s, it is interesting to document just how far the new Eclipse team has come to ready the 500 for EASA commercial operation certification in under eight months.
To start with, virtually the entire avionics system –- always a controversial item in original Eclipses — was chopped out of the cockpit and replaced by an Avio NG 1.5 package with standby attitude, altitude and airspeed indicators to provide pilots with some standard sources of operational data in the event of a total “glass-cabin” blackout.
Relatively minor EASA-requirement-only modifications included the installation of dual-diversity transponders, bias ply tires, and bilingual information placards. More seriously, EASA demanded significant modifications in the 500’s integrated computer software, diagnostic storage database and maintenance tracking and scheduling computer.
In other closer-to-home-news about Eclipse Aerospace first-ever accomplishments, the FAA has approved North American Jet’s request for permission to operate its fleet of ten Eclipse 500s with a single pilot in charter operations.
The FAA action was conditional on North American’s upgrading its fleet to the new Eclipse Aviation’s latest Total Eclipse standards, which include addition of AvioNG 1.5 avionics, an S-Tec autopilot coupled to a Garmin 400 GPS navigation system and upgraded systems to bring the aircraft up to certification in known icing specifications.
Charleston-based North American Jet, which on August 14, 2007 became the very first air service of any kind to operate an Eclipse 500 in revenue service, recently completed reconfiguring its ten E500s and has received FAA approval to fly its fleet of 10 in single-pilot mode for charter flights — a first for the five-seat 500.
With the initial ten aircraft now fully upgraded and in service, NAJ is actively looking for more first-gen 500s to purchase and process through Eclipse’s Albuquerque upgrade and refurbishment facility.
“As managers of the largest Eclipse Fleet in the world to date, we are extremely pleased with the newly upgraded Eclipse 500 aircraft,” commented Jud Wooddy, Managing Member of NAJet charter. “The cost to operate commercial charter flights is now reduced with the single pilot certification. In addition the safety of the aircraft is enhanced with the additional integrated autopilot, GPS and navigation systems.”
Or as Willie Nelson once said in an entirely different context, “If you had not have fallen, I would not have found you, angel flying too close to the ground. And I patched up your broken wing … I knew someday that you would fly away.”
Great song. Maybe it should be the official anthem of the visionary team that looked down at the broken pieces of what had once been the great small hope of American Aviation and saw, not a battered, grounded bird that would never fly again, but a proud survivor that would one day re-assume its rightful position at 40,000 feet.
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April 10th, 2010
Suppose we said that 36 months from now you’ll be able to stroll down to your local “airplane mall” examine the cockpits and kick the tires on not two, three, or four — but seven seven brand new, fully certified, absolutely state-of-the-aviation-art Very Light Jets?
Would you believe us? Or would you double check the date of this entry to make sure it hadn’t been posted on April Fool’s Day. Or would you simply assume we’d gone gaga, round the bend, over the top, nutzo. Just plain crazy.
Isn’t the VLJ revolution on indefinite hold, perhaps forever? Didn’t most “experts” pronounce the VLJ industry dead after Eclipse and Epic imploded and so many other pretenders dropped out before even reaching the starting gate? Wasn’t it all over virtually before it really got started?
As recently as January 1, it would have been hard to argue with that assessment. But January 1 was yesterday. Today, tomorrow and the future look considerably different. The skies are definitely friendlier and the horizons brighter.
Back in 2005, in one of our very first articles, we said that “at least eight air frame makers” including Eclipse. Cessna and Embraer were designing and prototyping Very Light Jets.
So here are, almost five years later, and all three of those once futuristic personal jets are alive, well and being deployed and flown throughout the world. Yes, you read that right, all three of those aircraft. Even the much-maligned Eclipse 500, which has emerged, under its new owners, as the Total Eclipse … total meaning that it is now being offered as a fully evolved, $2.1 million, 21st Century VLJ complete with Flight Into Known Icing certification, GPS coupled autopilot, onboard color radar, electronic moving maps and Jeppesen eCharts.
Like Eclipse, the economic environment that brought the embryonic VLJ market — as well as the rest of the aviation industry — to its knees is also showing signs of significant resurrection.
USB Investment Research’s highly authoritative Business Jet Market Index hit 50% (on a scale of 100) in March, the first time it had reached that point in close to two years and a far cry from its low of 13% at the beginning of the recession.
More “bread-and-butter” evidence of the VLJ market’s revival comes from Cirrus Jet Sales Director Gary Black who reports that the company has gone from writing about five orders a month for its $1.72 million Vision SF50 VLJ during the last half of 2009 to selling a whopping 25 during January and February. We’ll do the math for you — that’s a 250 percent increase over November and December and brings the pre-sold Vision waiting list to just under 500.
Additional good news comes from Piper, which has been using the capital provided by its offshore investors to, in the words of CEO Steve Berger, “ramp up our engineering workforce by recruiting top professionals to provide the essential skills necessary to develop the PiperJet.”
Among those “top professionals” are the 38 engineers hired since January to work solely on the PiperJet. (The company plans to add 12 more high-level engineers to the PiperJet project as soon as it can find qualified candidates.)
Honda is also on a hiring binge aimed at bringing its prototype HondaJet airframes and their Honda/GE HF120 engines up to certification and production trim at more or less — given the abilities of various sub-contractors to deliver components — maximum speed.
As of early April, Honda was busy recruiting dozens of senior engineers (10 years-plus experience) and other aircraft design and production professionals to fill newly created positions in almost 20 key specialties ranging from avionic, electronic and electrical systems, to aerodynamics and performance, to manufacturing and quality control.
With its first conforming prototype — which Honda says is being built to “production-level quality standards” — scheduled to fly this summer and both the Vision and PiperJet not due to go into production until 2013, it would appear that Honda is the odds-on favorite to be the first company to put a fully certified, production VLJ on the flight line next to the Cessna Citation Mustang, the Embrarer Phenom 100 and the Eclipse 500.
But favorites don’t always win and Austria-based Diamond Aircraft which has been slowly, relatively silently, and apparently surely has been incubating its single-engine D-Jet VLJ “for the masses” — or at least those masses who can afford an approximately $1.6 million dollar aircraft — for almost a decade is still hoping to achieve certification (at least in Europe) and begin production of the D-Jet at its Ontario, Canada plant in early 2011.
Can Diamond beat Honda to the starting line? Maybe so. In just the last couple of economically challenged years Diamond has performed some pretty death-defying feats, most notably building and receiving EU approval of its Austro diesel-fueled aircraft engine less than a year after a major supplier of engines for its piston-powered models went suddenly bankrupt.
There’s also the Christian Dries factor. Diamond’s iconoclastic founder, CEO and guiding spirit has already announced plans to produce a military trainer based on the D-Jet and a twin-engined D-Jet spinoff able to cruise cross-continent at 50,000 feet.
So, barring an interruption by the start World War III, another total economic meltdown or some other act of God, it is very possible — though not, of course, certain — that you may have seven VLJs of various prices, configurations, and conceptual visions to choose from a mere 36 months from now.
But before you get overly excited, we must warn you that you won’t be able to simply fill out a credit app and fly one home — all seven manufacturers already have firm order backlogs exceeding at least two — and in most cases more — years of production.
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December 28th, 2009
Mary Schwager of Examiner.com said it better that we ever could:
After the September 11th attacks the TSA, Transportation Security Administration, was created to toughen and regulate airline security. Now that agency gets the Dumb and Dumber award for its “new air travel prevent a bomber security proposal,” which goes something like this:
“Since the Nigerian man who attempted to blow up the Northwest Airlines Detroit bound flight on Christmas Day 2009 tried to do it during the final descent to the airport, a rule should be made that says no one can get up from their seats an hour prior to landing. Yeah ! That’ll show those terrorists.”
Huh? Will that really solve the problem? The bad guys will just detonate whatever they’re packing during takeoff, or in the middle of the in-flight movie. Meantime mothers and four year olds who have to go “potty RIGHT NOW” will be tortured during the last 60 minutes of a flight.
Not only is Mary right about this latest asinine in-flight anti-terrorism scheme, she’s understating the case. A truly well-trained terrorist would not only NOT wait until the last hour of a flight to detonate his bomb, he or she would do it almost immediately after the takeoff when the aircraft was in maximum climb attitude and completely full of jet fuel.
Apparently the dodos at TSA and the airlines have already forgotten that the carnage of 9/11 was largely caused by the terrorists ensuring that the aircraft flown into the Twin Towers were fully fueled flying bombs. Had the terrorists staged the attack towards the end of an inbound flight instead of the beginning of an outbound segment, the subsequent explosions would have been much smaller, the towers most likely would not have collapsed and many lives would have been saved.
Then there’s the other kneejerk reaction to the Christmas Day attack, a severe escalation of the war on carryon baggage. Far from the Washington Beltway’s bureaucratic and industry lobbyist power hubs, it’s hard to be sure who’s really pushing the insane idea that further restricting carryons will somehow magically thwart a suicide bomber with explosives strapped to his legs or hidden in his shoe.
This idea, bizarre as it sounds, could have come from regulatory airheads or airline accountants, but if we had to guess we’d bet on the airlines, since they’re the “stakeholder” with the best motive. For the airlines, fewer carryons means faster stuffing and emptying of their flying sardine cans, faster loading and unloading means quicker turnaround times, which can add up to more flight segments per day for both crews and aircraft. Or, to put it in business school jargon, less carryon luggage improves equipment utilization efficiency and bottomline profits.
There’s also the flip side of the coin, fewer and smaller carryon bags equals more checked bags and checked bags have become a major cash cow for many airlines.
And meanwhile, God help us all — frequent and infrequent fliers alike — precious little is being said about the reality of attacks like that perpetrated on Christmas Day: Once explosive material is allowed on an aircraft the only thing that can stop a disaster is good luck or a failure of the would-be bomber’s nerve.
Which brings us full circle to a point this blog has — on and off — been trying to make since its inception: Scheduled air travel on major air carriers ain’t what it used to be.
Not because it’s unsafe, the sky isn’t falling here. The terrorist attempt failed. The Northwest pilots who recently overflew their destination by 150 miles because they were busy using their laptops to play video games or look at porn or do something else more interesting than flying a jetliner, didn’t — like their spiritual antecedents at Northwest — kill anyone.
But all these things do levy a heavy toll on scheduled-carrier passengers. Virtually every inflight “incident” results in delayed arrivals — delays that can total many, many hours if a plane is diverted to an alternate airport so the police can break down a restroom door to toss some poor diarrhea sufferer up against the wall. Substantial delays when a crew misses the airport and has to turn back and try again. Long delays occasioned by individual FBI interviews of every passenger on a flight where something unusual — like the recent case where a flight crew reported that two passengers were studying suicide bombing training tapes on a laptop when they were actually watching a Hollywood movie — occurred.
And let us not forget that comical, rather than sinister, headline-grabbing Christmas season flight “incident” in which Ivana Trump was dragged off a scheduled flight because she dared complain about a couple of ill-behaved brats running amok up and down the aircraft aisles. (Hey, hey, TSA, shouldn’t it have been the kids’ parents you snatched that day?)
OK. No biggie here. Ivana can afford to buy herself out of virtually any trouble she’s clever enough to get into and most of us who fly a lot have learned to live with the fact that the rules of civilized behavior are rarely enforced in regard to annoying children and their willfully deaf, dumb and arrogant parents.
But the point is that when the cops take someone off a plane, they usually do it before the other passengers are allowed to deplane. If the person being taken into custody objects strenuously, which is usually the case, the process can eat up a reasonable amount of clock time.
End result? Inconvenience, annoyance and possible missed connections for the innocent flystanders.
To conclude with another point we’ve tried hard to make from the inception of this blog: You can avoid a huge percentage of the hassles of 21st Century scheduled carrier travel — everything from the gridlocked freeways leading to many international airports, to delays caused by cattle-car security checks, to screaming child syndrome — by using an air taxi service for your short and mid-range travel needs.
To put it another way, to cut the crap, take the cab.
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November 12th, 2009
On the face of it, the assertion that introducing a nearly $3 million twin-jet aircraft shortly before the start of the nation’s worst recession in 80 years would be a brilliant marketing move is absurd. But it was.
Of course, executives at Cessna didn’t know a crash was coming five or six years ago when they launched the R&D program that would result in the Citation Mustang 510 ’s (aka Mustang) 2007 deployment. Likewise, they probably couldn’t tell you what decisions they might have made differently if they had known that a global economic wind shear was waiting just beyond the end of the aircraft’s development schedule.
Perhaps fortunately, the brass at Cessna who green-lighted the Mustang project didn’t — couldn’t — foresee the unfriendly economic skies looming four or five years in the future. Not being crystal-ball gazers, they pushed full-speed ahead in an attempt to win first “street-legal-VLJ” bragging rights over the Eclipse 500. Such is the microdot-sized synopsis of the Mustang, certified for unlimited operation in 60 countries, and already in service in many of them.
By the time this appears on AirTaxiFlights.com more than 250 Mustangs will have been delivered — a very impressive number indeed. Impressive because we interviewed Cessna program manager David Dell (Cessna Mustang Covers The Globe) right around the aircraft’s first birthday and he told us Cessna had already delivered 55 — an average of just a bit more than one per week in the 12 pre-recession months after its launch.
Doing the really tough math (250 minus 55, duh), we find that Cessna has delivered 195 Mustangs between April 2008 and November 2009 … let’s see … that’s roughly 2.3 per week in the teeth of what many economists believe has been much more of a depression than a recession.
To make a way-over-the-top understatement, that ain’t too shabby a record. Particularly in a general aviation market that saw aircraft sales through the first three quarters of 2009 plummet almost 50 percent ( 48.9% to be exact, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association) below those of the same period in 2008. (Which, with new aircraft deliveries down more than 7 percent from 2007, was hardly a banner year itself.)
How well has the world’s first (lest we forget it, Cessna did win those aforementioned bragging rights) VLJ really been doing? Well enough for Forbes Magazine to headline a September article Cessna’s Mustang Refutes The Decline Of Capitalism.
“New Mustangs go out the door for $2.8 million,” Forbes’ Rich Karlgaard wrote. “In a terrible year for new jet sales, the entry-level Mustang has been an outlier.”
While there are numerous definitions, ranging from the very obscure to the even more obscure, for the word “outlier,” we conjecture Forbes is using it to infer “an extreme deviation from the mean.” In other words, surmising that our speculation is correct, Forbes is rather tortuously saying that the Mustang’s reasonably robust sales make it a standout in the general aviation field at a time when most other recreational and business aircraft, including Cessna’s non-Mustang models, are selling poorly.
So what makes the Mustang such an outlier? To start with, down at the baseline, it’s a great airplane to fly and a stellar performer at the gas pump.
“The Mustang feels like a small business jet, whereas the Eclipse felt like a small twin piston airplane,” Karlgaard reported after taking one for a spin around the block. “It is a very easy plane to fly, yet it is as stable as a larger jet … if the Mustang flies with a full cabin [six people including pilot(s) and passengers], its fuel efficiency at 41,000 feet rivals a Honda Accord with a solo driver at 70mph.”
There’s also the matter of genetics. For more than 80 years, Cessna has bringing military, pleasure and corporate aircraft to market with a minimal amount of fuss, bother and “redos” and a maximum amount of commercial success. Rooted in this environment the Mustang, pardon the pun, flew through its research, development, conforming prototype and certification stages on time and within budget and arrived in its new owners’ hangers fully equipped with all the avionics, communications, comfort and convenience goodies Cessna had promised them.
One final factor. Good times or bad, boom or bust, bull market or bear, inflation, deflation or stagnation, America and its sadly diminished industrial base of core manufacturers now lives, for better or worse, in a global economy.
Figuratively speaking, the Mustang’s designers didn’t start with the legendary clean sheet of paper. What they started with was a sheet of paper with the words “world aircraft” written on it in huge, underlined letters. Given this mandate, it’s no surprise that the first Mustangs to go into air taxi service were based in London. Or that CEO Haytham Azhari of Open Sky Aviation, which operates Mustangs between Beruit, Lebanon’s Rafic Hariri Airport and fields in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, called the aircraft “excellently suited to the Middle East.”
As “excellently suited” for operations in London and Lebanon as it is for those in L.A. and Louisville, it’s no surprise that the Mustang is the only business aircraft in the Cessna line with a roughly 50-50 ratio of domestic to off-shore sales. Cessna’s other models don’t have nearly as high a percentage of foreign sales in their order books, which is undoubtedly a major reason why those books are relatively lean while the Mustang’s order book is quite well nourished considering today’s economic climate.
Which all goes to prove at least one old adage, “build a better three-million-dollar mousetrap and the whole wide world will beat a path to your door.”
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October 29th, 2009
Automobile sales at Honda, the only one of Japan’s Big Three automakers to end its lastest fiscal year in the black, are down and its 2009 third-quarter profits are off 56 percent from Q3 2008, but the company is still bullish — aggressively bullish — on the HondaJet.
Having recently completed an FAA Interim Type Certification Board Meeting and successfully conducted key tests of the twin-jet VLJ’s rejected take-off braking performance, crew and-cabin-seat crashworthiness and other critical structural systems, Honda says development and production of a conforming prototype is on schedule for a maiden flight early next year.
According to Honda Aircraft Company President & CEO Michimasa Fujino, construction of the conforming prototype’s fuselage, wing, empennage, landing gear, and other major structural components was completed in September and FAA-monitored assembly of the prototype is now underway at HondaJet’s world headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina.
That’s the good news.
What’s the bad news?
There isn’t any, but there is some news that’s even better.
The better news is that Honda, despite the overall state of the U.S. and global economy and dismal condition of the aviation industry in particular, has not only kept the Hondajet program going at full speed, it has significantly upgraded it with major investments in more advanced technology, expanded U.S.-based production facilities and strategic initiatives designed to guarantee HondaJet owners and pilots world-class service and support.
Item: Honda recently completed and “flew” its state-of-the-art, Honda-designed Advanced Systems Integration Test Facility, which encompasses both a “real” aircraft test lab and something called a Real-time Test and Simulation System (RTSS).
To use Honda’s words, the RTSS “incorporates actual aircraft systems hardware and software, installed in a spatially-representative manner, and interconnected with actual aircraft electrical harnesses. The RTSS provides systems, environmental and aerodynamic simulation, supported by dSPACE® real-time hardware and Honda-developed high-fidelity 6-DOF aerodynamic and real-time engine models.”
Translated into English, we believe that means it’s a simulator that blurs the line between virtual and reality into near invisibility.
“The HondaJet ASITF has successfully integrated the best attributes of a systems test lab, engineering simulator, and ‘Iron Bird’ in one facility,” said Fujino. “This facility allows thorough evaluation of all systems integration for enhanced aircraft safety and will significantly support accelerated development of both systems and conforming aircraft.”
Item: Honda has opened its checkbook even further by making massive upgrades to the HondaJet’s original avionics suite. The conforming prototype will now fly off with a glass flight deck featuring three 14-inch landscape-format displays, dual control-and-flight-plan-entry touch screens, satellite weather, graphical synoptics, split-screen MFD capability, and — optionally on production models — Synthetic Vision.
Based on a Honda-specific variant of Garmin’s next-generation G3000 system, the HondaJet Avionics Suite “represents a significant enhancement in both capability and user experience.” Fujino said. “The large-format displays, advanced features, and intuitive touch-screen multi-function controllers provide a low-workload user interface that is ideally suited to our high-performance light jet aircraft.”
Item: Honda is continuing to invest heavily — very heavily — in both its still-under-construction 250,000 square foot Greensboro production facility and its fully operational 187,000 square foot R&D lab.
A recently added five-axis CNC milling machine (typical high-end CNC units can only rotate material on three axis) that provides, Honda says, “maximum efficiency and the highest quality in the creation of detail parts for conforming aircraft fabrication” is now in service and a structural test system (STS) designed exclusively for the HondaJet is nearing completion.
Based on MTS FlexTest computer technology, the STS will use 61 hydraulic load-simulating actuators, a 2,600-channel data-acquisition system and a hot-and-wet environmental simulation chamber to evaluate static and fatigue strength and stress levels under numerous in-flight and on-the-ground scenarios.
Item: Honda recently unveiled a ground-breaking program designed to take the sticker-shock out of scheduled maintenance costs.
Customizable to provide owners with a fixed hourly maintenance rate based on their individual usage patterns, the three-tiered Flight Ready program — powered in part by a logistical partnership between Honda and FedeX — also promises to provide HondaJet operators around the world with virtually on-demand factory parts and authorized service.
So much for the progress reports, now for the billion-dollar question. Will the $3.9 million HondaJet be the high-flying success Honda clearly expects it to be?
Will corporations and well-healed professionals line up to buy a $3.9 million VLJ even if, as some analysts predict, the economic skies stay gray for another two, three or even five years? Is Honda’s investment — surely near or over the billion buck border by this point — in high-performance, luxury, personal air transport going to pay off?
Nobody really knows, of course, but from our point of view, the answer to all those questions is a resounding “yes.”
With substantial deposits for more than 100 HondaJets already in the bank, Honda spokesman Steve Keeney says “demand has been so strong that our original workforce estimate may double” by the time the aircraft goes into production. Even today, almost certainly more than a year before HondaJet S/N 00001 is delivered, Greensboro is employing 15 percent more people than were initially expected to be working on site at the start of production.
Another good omen for the HondaJet is the reassuring performance of its closest competitors, the $3.6 million Embraer Phenom 100 and the $2.8 million Cessna Citation Mustang. The Phenom, despite having slightly higher weight and operating costs than early VLJ proponents envisioned for the class, is expected to hit 100 sales in 2009, its first real year of production (two planes were delivered in December 2008.) As for the Mustang, which in 2006 became the first VLJ to earn FAA certification, all it’s done is become what is arguably the brightest star in the business aviation skies.
We’ll talk about the Mustang’s international success story in the next post. In the meantime, visit HondaJet.com and be prepared to drool.
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September 15th, 2009
“Welcome to OpenAir, please watch your step while boarding the aircraft.”
Or, if you’re really busy viewing This Week In The NFL on your Crackberry or trying to create a last-minute iPod playlist on the fly, you can pretty much ignore the “watch your step” part. After all, OpenAir owner Michael Klein, who moonlights — or more accurately daylights — as an ankle surgeon, can always unstrap himself from the pilot seat to render assistance if you stumble and fall.
One caveat: Since the cost of having Dr. Klein shrink wrap your sprained ankle in an Ace bandage might very well be two or three times the price of having Air Taxi Operator Klein fly you from just about any Point A to pretty much every Point B between Texas and Maine, you might want to watch your step after all.
Just kidding. You should always watch your step when boarding or exiting any aircraft, even if the pilot is a physician, which Mike Klein really is. Also, with OpenAir now offering service to approximately 3,000 communities throughout the Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, Gulf Coast and Mid-South regions, the odds of Dr. Klein occupying the left seat on your flight are much lower today than they were when OpenAir launched in January 2007.
In addition to being a physician, a pilot and an aviation entrepreneur, Mike Klein could also be described as a visionary if it weren’t for the unpleasant fact that the word “visionary” has acquired — with some justification — a connotation blacker than a lunar eclipse in the air taxi field. So let’s just say Dr. K thinks outside the cockpit, which, happily, inspired him to redefine “fly-on-demand” to be more than just a marketing slogan.
Specifically, he built suburban Washington-based OpenAir around a literal interpretation of the words “on demand,” looking at them the way a “strict constructionist” judge looks at the United States Constitution. OpenAir does not offer its fly-on-demand service during business hours only. It does not frame fly-on-demand within a polymer window that might stretch for three or four hours on either side of a passenger’s desired departure time. What OpenAir does do, in its own words, is “allow you to fly wherever, whenever.”
Actually, that last statement isn’t quite true. “You” don’t even have to travel to take advantage of OpenAir’s 24/7/365 fly-on-demand service. If you’ve got an emergency cargo shipment — medical supplies, computer repair parts, etc. — that have to get from one rural or remote community to another without sitting in an airport package room, waiting for plane changes, or taking a long, grid-locked drive to or from a major airport, OpenAir will have it on its way within an hour.
That this dedication to doing things the customer’s way has earned OpenAir membership in the very exclusive club of air taxi companies which made a profit on their very first flight and have remained in the black ever since, comes as no surprise to many aviation economists.
As Professor Joakim Karlsson, who holds both Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics (MIT) and Master of Arts in Economics (University of New Hampshire) degrees, says “the air taxi industry was postulated on the idea of providing travelers, particularly business travelers, with a significantly advantageous alternative to the major airport/major carrier model. In far too many cases, for any number of reasons, some internal and some beyond the control of the operators, this failed to happen. In too many cases the only real benefit to the traveler was the utilization of more conveniently sited airports. That single advantage in and of itself was not, in retrospect, enough to entice many fliers to change the air travel habits of a lifetime.”
Karlsson points out that many air-taxi carriers that failed were guilty of committing some of the same sins common to scheduled carriers: poor scheduling, counter-intuitive booking and pricing procedures, and lackadaisical customer communications.
“For business travelers, price is not necessarily as major a driver as efficiency and productivity,” he said. “Once carriers like DayJet started telling customers that the ‘per seat’ price would be one amount for a two-hour departure window, another amount for a four-hour departure window, and a third amount if the aircraft stopped to pickup or discharge another passenger enroute they were doomed. They were demanding that customers consider as many options and make as many decisions prior to a 90-mile intrastate air taxi flight as they would for a cross-country trip.”
Travelers on OpenAir face no such logistical impediments. Rates on one of OpenAir’s seven all-weather, known-icing-certified Cirrus SR22-GTS airplanes are a flat $595 per flight hour for one to three passengers and $25 per waiting hour (maximum wait charge is $100) for same-day return flights. Other user-friendly options include prepaid block-time discounts, door-to-door limo-aircraft-limo service, “empty-leg” specials and pre-packaged New York Theater, Atlantic City Casino and Spa Indulgence outings.
The success of OpenAir and scores of other thoughtfully conceived, well-managed air taxi services from Atlanta to Athens is proof positive that air taxi service, as most of us have believed all along, is an idea whose time has come — but only if and when it’s implemented with 100 percent commitment to changing the air-travel culture to benefit the traveler, not the carrier.
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July 20th, 2009
It’s so sweet it’s almost like a song … White collared canines with bulging briefcases, tennis-togged cats with black graphite racquets… high-flying hamsters with handbags by Hermes, hip-hopping iguanas with iPods on strings… these are a few… a few of… a few of Pet Airways favorite things.
Yes, it’s finally happened. After nearly five years of strategizing, fund raising, FAA-negotiating, and running aircraft from Cessna 172s to Lear 60s past focus group after focus group of poodles and parakeets, pot-bellied pigs and pugs, manxes and minks, scent hounds and shepherds, and, last but not least, owners, breeders and handlers of every nationality and description, Pet Airways has taken wing.
Despite what many may think, Pet Airways, which offers “per-seat” (per carrier, actually) priced service to five community airports in major markets including New York, L.A. and Chicago, is not in the business of transporting animals and their two-legged pets. Pet Airways is strictly an animal-only carrier whose mission is to provide its clientele with the same level of single–cabin, amenity rich service enjoyed by humanoid executive and recreational air taxi passengers.
Actually, to be brutally honest, the amenities field isn’t quite level. Fido, Fluffy and Pork Chop may well be getting a bit better service than passengers on more traditional people-oriented air-taxi flights.
Before boarding one of Pet Air’s fully pressurized and luxuriously customized, 19-passenger (when configured for humans) Beech 1900 twin-engine turbo-prop ExecLiners, canine, feline and other furred, finned or feathered fliers are greeted by their flight crew in an airport VIP Lounge and given ample opportunity for a pre-flight snack, drink or — most important — potty break.
Once on board, each passenger receives individual attention from a specially trained corps of flight attendants who assist in getting guests comfortably and safely buckled into Pet Air’s proprietary animal-carrier restraint system and, presumably, dispense such airline staples as mini-pillows and catnip mice.
During flight, pilots keep passengers informed about estimated time of arrival, weather conditions en route, and ground transportation at destination airports. They also provide updated scores of major sporting events such as the IFCC (International Frisbee Catching Championship) that may be underway.
At least we think they do … AirTaxiFlights.com officially asked Pet Air for a press evaluation flight, but our request was rejected on the grounds that none of our staff members were properly equipped with paws, hooves or trotters.
The brainchild of husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Alysa Binder and Dan Wiesel, Pet Air began — like many 21st Century air taxi services — as a dream based on a nightmare. The nightmare being that traveling on scheduled carriers — for man, woman, beast, or checked suitcase — is continually becoming more of a fight than a flight. A battle about inconvenient schedules, late arrivals, lost baggage, disappearing customer and passenger service and — above all — outrageous price increases not-at-all cleverly disguised as BS surcharges.
Or, as Binder and Wiesel’s Pet Air prospectus probably pointed out, there are many flight segments where some airlines charge higher fares for the three-pound Chihuahua under the seat than they do for the 250-pound dog lover in the seat.
The situation is even worse for pets — even relatively small ones — forced to fly in the cargo hold because they are a.) a tad overly large to meet the airlines’ ridiculously undersized (much smaller than, say, a roll-on suitcase) pet-carrier requirements b.) the airline has already booked its maximum number of cabin-class pets (usually two or three) or c.) the airline is one of the increasing number of major carriers that refuse to transport pets in the cabin at all.
United Airlines, which is pretty much typical of most airlines in this area, was charging humans $47 to fly from Los Angeles to Las Vegas as this was being written in mid-July. The fare for Chihuahuas accommodated under a seat in the cabin was more than 200 percent higher ($125) and the rate for pets unfortunate enough to have to travel rough — and in danger of “early termination” by a pilot forgetting to enable the “dead dog” switch — in the baggage compartment was $250.
Pet Air, by comparison, would transport the same pet in main cabin ease and luxury, complete with a flight attendant courtesy visit at least once each 15 minutes and guaranteed freedom from listening to human children shriek, all the way from L.A. to New York — an additional 2,000 air miles — for the same $250.
Admittedly, Pet Air isn’t for everyone. Some animals prefer to keep all four feet planted firmly on the ground. Others simply won’t go anywhere they can’t turn on their cell and respond to texts and tweets. Also, in these challenging economic times many animals that can afford Pet Air fares for their own vacation can’t handle the additional expense of booking their pets on a people carrier or hiring a human-care service to feed and water them at home.
Fortunately for the Binder-Wiesel family and pet owners from coast to coast, there still seem to be enough inveterate animal travelers to keep Pet Air flying high. As of now, all five of its Execliners are booked solid two months in advance.
And that’s really something to crow (or bark, or yowl, or grunt) about!
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