Not long before its September 2007 launch, DayJet’s than director of corporate communications, Vicki Harris, told AirTaxiFlights.com that “By the end of our first operational year we should have 20 DayPorts in at least four states.” (A New Day(Jet) Is Dawning)
The good news is DayJet exceeded that expectation by 300 percent, ending its first operational year with service to approximately 60 airports. The bad news is that less than three weeks after celebrating that first anniversary, DayJet abruptly ceased operations, fired virtually all its employees, told pre-paid ticket holders and members seeking refunds to go fly the ultimate ultra-light aircraft — aka a kite — and left at least one FAA spokesperson noting that it really would have been nice if the company had notified the agency before abandoning ship.
Given the nature of the DayJet saga, which in retrospect seems like an endless series of triumphant firsts and service expansions punctuated by fund-raising failures, observers can be excused for wondering if the financial meltdown which erased Dayjet from the skies is merely a negative blip in a generally upward-climbing graph or a harbinger of a systemic problem in the VLJ segment of the air-taxi industry.
Trying to answer any questions about DayJet with the body still warm and the post mortems barely begun is, of course, an exercise in pure guesswork, but it does seem like the real culprit may have been a business plan calling for an unsustainable rate of growth fueled by essentially unlimited amounts of venture capital.
Or maybe the model, written over half a decade ago, wasn’t flawed. Maybe the fault lies with company directors and executives unwilling or unable to modify a bull market-based business plan totally unsuitable for an economy in which venture capital is almost as scarce as major oil deposits in Rhode Island.
Maybe DayJet’s failure was based on something even more simple, a corporate culture developed in the pre-dot.com collapse, late-’90s, high-tech go-go days in which DayJet founder Ed Iacobucci made his “bones.”
A corporate culture which believed that companies which can fly needn’t bother learning to walk before they run. Which believed 60 DayPorts were better than 20 even when each new pushpin puncturing the system map generated more red ink on the bottomline of the ledger. Which believed growth was more important than profit and that issues like not having enough aircraft or money to support that growth were irrelevant.
But enough carping. To steal one of Shakespeare’s most over-quoted lines, we come not to bury Ed Iacobucci but to praise him. Like his recently deposed counterpart at Eclipse, Vern Rayburn, Iacobucci is a visionary without whom the development of a highly flexible, cost-effective, jet-powered American air-taxi industry might have been delayed by decades, if not generations.
Like Edison frantically searching for a better way to banish the night, Iacobucci and Rayburn were visionaries fixated on offering business travelers like themselves an escape from the seven rings of airline hell. Both men were dreamers in a hurry who shared a common background in computer technology, where the line in the sand between customers and beta testers is notoriously invisible (as any early adopter of a new Microsoft operating system can attest.)
Aviation is different. New aircraft all have teething problems (just check out the history of the de Havilland Comet, for example), but the post-delivery criticism of the only non-Eclipse FAA-certified VLJ, the Cessna Mustang, has been almost silent compared to the sound and fury accompanying such Eclipse issues as revolving-door avionics suppliers.
The difference is that Cessna is old-school in their approach to bringing product to market; its standard operating procedures were written in the Iron Age. Eclipse’s business rules were developed in the Silicon Age, where everything happens at hyperspace speeds. Which reminds us, since the Mustang did, in fact, achieve FAA certification before the Eclipse 500, that even in the 21st Century the tortoise frequently outruns the hare.
In the DayJet case, a slew of more conservative VLJ air-taxi operators throughout the United States, Europe and various other corners of the globe are doing just fine, thank you, by adding planes and routes incrementally as cash flow, seat demand and common sense dictate.
These companies, the air-taxi operators who haven’t been grabbing the headlines for the past couple of years, are the turtles in this particular race and as in the classic fable they are now passing and pulling away from the stranded hare. But let us not forget that had it not been for Ed Iacobucci’s hare setting the pace and blazing the trail, many of the turtles might never have started at all.
One side note, before figuratively scattering DayJet’s ashes to the wind, we should consider the possibility that the little airline which showed the world that pay-per-seat microjet service could work operationally and might work fiscally in the right time and place may yet live to fly another day.
As of this writing, DayJet had not surrendered its operating certificate to the FAA and until that happens if could, at least in theory, resume service as soon as someone — perhaps even a major air carrier interested in hedging its bets for the future — writes a check large enough to buy some avgas, pay a few pilots and cover the accrued interest on the aircraft fleet.