A New Take on the Chartered Jet: Pay by Seat

DayJet CEO Ed Iacobucci stands next to one of his jets. i i

DayJet CEO Ed Iacobucci stands next to one of his jets at the company's Boca Raton DayPort. Greg Allen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Greg Allen, NPR
DayJet CEO Ed Iacobucci stands next to one of his jets.

DayJet CEO Ed Iacobucci stands next to one of his jets at the company's Boca Raton DayPort.

Greg Allen, NPR

Air Taxis Take Off

  • According to the Federal Aviation Administration, air taxi traffic — described as on-demand passengers and cargo operations — made up about 10 percent of general aviation flight hours in 2006.
  • Approximately 2,500 air taxi operators in the United States have operating certificates from the FAA. About 2,000 offer service in airplanes and 500 in helicopters.
  • The Air Taxi Association is a trade group for the "next generation" air taxi companies, which use high-tech small aircraft and aim to offer lower prices. The group has 15 members, with six in operation. By the end of the year, ATXA says it will have 45 members, with 15 in operation.
DayJet uses the Eclipse 500, a very light jet. i i

DayJet has ordered 300 of the Eclipse 500, a very light jet. Greg Allen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Greg Allen, NPR
DayJet uses the Eclipse 500, a very light jet.

DayJet has ordered 300 of the Eclipse 500, a very light jet.

Greg Allen, NPR

A new kind of airline recently started flying in Florida. DayJet offers something not previously affordable for most business travelers — direct flights to and from mid-sized markets that are scheduled where and when you want to go.

It's a business plan that relies on the latest in computer technology and a new generation of very light jets. Many in the industry say it can't be done, but DayJet CEO Ed Iacobucci has had skeptics before.

As the founder of Citrix, he developed a product nearly 20 years ago that at first, few companies thought they needed: software that would allow many computers to share a single application. In Citrix, Iacobucci says, he created not just software, but a whole new market. He is looking to do something similar with DayJet.

"The concept is very, very deceptively simple," he says. "Our vision from day one has been to provide commercially viable — and by that, I mean affordable — commercially viable transportation, point to point on a regional basis — direct."

Reclaiming Time

Seven years ago, Iacobucci left Citrix. After a few years, he realized he wasn't ready for retirement and turned his attention to another interest: aviation.

When he was with Citrix, Iacobucci bought his first private jet. He was very busy and suddenly, he says, he found a way to reclaim what had become a precious asset: his time.

"It was like a drug," he says. "You know, I was addicted to the notion that I would travel on my schedule instead of someone else's and that I could organize my travel around my commitments."

His idea was to make flexible air transportation available to travelers who can't afford to buy or charter their own jet.

A big guy with a beard and a baseball cap, Iacobucci dresses Florida casual, but he's busy. He has spent the last five years developing his concept and has raised more than $200 million to get DayJet off the ground.

Taking to the Sky Instead of the Road

In Boca Raton, at one of the company's seven "DayPorts," Iacobucci stands out on the tarmac to watch the takeoff of a plane that has made his vision possible, the Eclipse 500.

"The operating cost is low," he says. "It's modern aircraft, twin turbo-fan. We run with two pilots. And this particular airplane can do the missions that we're doing perfectly. Two to six hundred miles. It's great for that."

Each jet costs well under $2 million. Iacobucci likes the Eclipse so much, he has firm orders in for 300 of them, and he plans to buy several hundred more.

DayJet's marketing director, Vicky Harris, climbs into one of the Eclipses. She's flying from Boca Raton to Lakeland, Fla., for a meeting and then back. Those are the kinds of trips DayJet is designed for: business travel to and from mid-sized markets, trips typically made by car.

Inside, the jet isn't luxurious. There is room for two pilots and just three passengers — and forget about a bathroom. But Harris says she will have a 40-minute flight instead of a 3 1/2 hour drive.

"It's very comfortable. It's like sitting inside an SUV," Harris says.

Company Betting on Software

It's something like an air taxi, a small jet that is chartered to fly when and where you want. But with DayJet, you don't charter the whole jet, just the seats you need.

First, you become a member. Then, Iacobucci says, you book your flight online, much as you would on Expedia or Orbitz.

"They say, 'I want to go from A to B on such-and-such a day, and I need to be there by 4 o'clock.' We don't present you a schedule, you just say, 'I need to be there by 4 o'clock,'" he says. "Now of course, there's another part of the equation, and that is, how early are you willing to leave? And that's where the magic happens."

The earlier you're willing to leave, the cheaper your ticket. DayJet calls it "per seat, on demand" jet service. Making it possible is real-time logistics software that allows the company to respond immediately to customer demand.

It's all brand-new and exciting, but will it make money?

Analyst Vaughn Cordle of Airline Forecasts says DayJet's business plan could work if it can get a couple hundred planes flying and keep prices below $1,000 per hour. But he sees problems with the reliability of a jet not designed for commercial use and the less-than-glamorous appeal of a flight that's like riding in the back of a van.

"I am quite skeptical that they can reach those volumes that they need at the price they need to make that a viable business," Cordle says.

It may be risky, but DayJet has lots of company. More than a dozen other new air taxi companies are struggling to get off the ground in markets around the U.S. and a similar number are starting up in Europe.

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