How many “experts” ever predicted how far, fast and high the Very Light Jet-driven Air Taxi Industry would fly in the very first quarter of its existence? How many frequently irritated and inconvenienced non-Floridian fliers in the Southeast, the Northeast, and the Midwest even dared ask Santa to put Fly-On-Demand VLJ access under their 2007 Christmas trees?
The obvious answer to both those questions is “very few.”
Yet, somehow, despite pre-certification delays at the FCC and production and avionics vendor issues at Eclipse, DayJet has spread its wings by 700 percent — serving 35 community airports in five states instead of five locations in one state — since its first commercial flights in October. Meanwhile, Linear Air and North American Jet are operating the first of their Eclipse 500s out of Boston and Chicago, respectively.
And with traditional Part 135 operators like Mercury Air Charter and TWC Aviation having already added VLJs to their California fleets, it’s a good bet that VLJ air-taxi service will be coming to the West Cost long before 2008 turns old and gray.
While the simple fact that it’s almost impossible to stop an idea whose time has really come is part of the reason for the unexpectedly fast adoption and high growth rate of VLJ air-taxi services, the real reason has more to do with the time, effort, study and sheer hard work that went into building this bold new industry’s foundation.
The VLJ service rollout truly is the “tip of the iceberg,” the “overnight success” that took what at times must have seemed to its creators like an eternity to happen.
DayJet, for example, “flew” virtual passengers on a full daily schedule for five long years before carrying their first real one. Yes, they really did. Every day employees at DayJet’s Virtual Operations Center sat in front of workstations and massaged simulated reservation, flight, ground crew and airframe availability, maintenance requirements and weather data into workable daily operating schedules.
Today they’re working through pretty much the exact same process with real planes and people. No wonder they’re more than a full year ahead of the “20 airports in four states by the end of 2008″ schedule DayJet Marketing Director Vicky Harris gave us in our exclusive interview.
Linear also spent years building a strong foundation for its VLJ business. Opting to refine their service in the real rather than the virtual world, it has been operating a fleet of Cessna Caravans using a VLJ-type air-taxi business model since 2003.
Noting that he founded Linear more because he loved the VLJ concept than because of any long-time interest in the air-taxi industry, company CEO Bill Herp explains the decision to begin service with Caravans this way: The VLJs weren’t out yet, but the Caravans operate at similar costs on similar kinds of trips, so it was a good way to try out the business model.”
We would be very remiss, in looking back at 2007, if we failed to note the years of preparation and pride Eclipse, Cessna — whose Mustang VLJ is already being used by charter operators and will probably be in air taxi service by Q2 — and their vendors contributed to making the VLJ Revolution take off more like a skyrocket than a traditional fixed-wing aircraft.
Had this blog been written exactly 12 months ago, it might have said that the vast majority of commercial travelers in the U.S. would have little chance of sampling VLJ air-taxi service before the end of 2009. Thanks in no small measure to the big thinkers and dedicated doers at all the companies noted above, we are delighted to report that we can no longer say that.
VLJ service is here and now. And if it hasn’t come to a community airport near you yet, it almost certainly will by the time the 2008 Flying Aces calendar is ready to down off the wall.