Traveling to Florida with JetBlue out of Boston about 6 or 7 years ago, I read JetBlue CEO David Neeleman’s book Flying High
The whole culture and business plan of JetBlue fascinated me and I could not help but think, why Worcester Airport (ORH) could not be part of JetBlue’s future? Effective November 7, 2103, Worcester became JetBlue’s 80th city changing the entire attitude and culture at ORH.
I also learned that there is a lot more to an airport then just commercial service. General aviation is a huge business. At that time, every aviation magazine had stories about the VLJ (Very Light Jet), the latest innovation in aviation that was going to propel a new air taxi business. Many companies (Cessna Mustang, Embraer Phenom 100 and the Eclipse 500) were in a rush to produce these VLJ’s for this new industry that would enable point-to-point service-on-demand to airports with runways as short as 3,000 feet.
DayJet, based in Florida, was the leader in this new air taxi business and had ordered over 1,000 of the Eclipse 500. The sky was the limit (excuse the pun). Things did not work out and by the end of 2008, Eclipse had filed for bankruptcy and DayJet was out of business. To date, the projected demand for the VLJ and the air taxi business has never materialized.
Locally, I became aware of two companies with similar plans as DayJet, one based out of Hanscom Field called Linear Air, while former chairman of Amercian Airlines, Robert Cranndall, was behind POGO based out of Chicopee. POGO never had one flight, while Linear has not only survived but seem to be thriving This week, I would like to introduce you to William Herp, CEO of Linear Air.
A conversation with William Herp
BR: A few years back air taxi was the future of the airline business. The one most people were familiar with was the failed DayJet. What did they do wrong?
WH: Unfortunately DayJet was ahead of its time. They were attempting to aggregate passengers to circumvent the constraints of FAA regulations that prohibit selling seats on charter jets while earnestly lobbying to get the rules changed. They launched with a model promoting a lower price if travelers provided a wide window for scheduling a flight, but in fact, this was a means negotiated with the FAA to stay in compliance with the rules. DayJet would offer a lower price if you gave them a larger window in which they could ultimately schedule your flight, but the window could never be smaller than four hours, and the final time could be provided to the customers no earlier than the night before.
As a business traveler who needed to, say, get from Boca Raton to Gainesville for a meeting at a particular time, this was a very poor solution and DayJet suffered from understandably weak load factors. But they almost succeeded in getting the FAA to change the rules but for the economic meltdown of 2008, which led to the bankruptcy of their primary supplier, Eclipse Aviation, and the subsequent bankruptcy of DayJet itself and the shelving of its proposal to change the regulations on selling seats on charter jets.
[Note: this same problem has led to the inability of other shared seat models to get traction, including, most recently high profile BlackJet]
BR: The DayJet fleet was to be comprised of the Eclipse 500, which has seen some problems. You use the Eclipse 500 along with the Cirrus SR-2. Are you happy with the performance of the Eclipse 500?
WH: Yes! Our customers love the Eclipse Jet. Whereas DayJets planned to utilize the Eclipse for their per-seat aggregation model, our model was whole-plane. When Eclipse went bankrupt, we were able to restructure our business into a traditional charter model, with the Eclipse filling a niche between turboprops and larger jets.
Since emerging from bankruptcy under new owners in 2009, Eclipse Aerospace has done a very good job improving and supporting the airplane. It is very capable and offers unbeatable economic value in a twin-jet aircraft. The new company has restarted production of the airplane, calling it the Eclipse 550.
The Cirrus 22 is actually operated by partner companies, with whom we contract to provide service for our customers who come to us primarily through travel search channels such as Kayak.com and Hipmunk.com.
BR: Right now, besides the air taxi business, you have scheduled service between Boston and New York? How has that gone for you?
WH: Since launching in November, we’ve doubled month over month and the customer response has been overwhelming—all 10 out of 10 on our customer feedback surveys. We offer our scheduled per-seat service via Kayak.com and Hipmunk.com utilizing partner Cirrus 22 aircraft, which are not subject to the prohibition of scheduled per-seat service like charter jets are.
BR: Have you considered offering this scheduled service out of other airports; for example, ORH?
WH: We would absolutely consider scheduled service out of ORH!! Our New York/Boston scheduled service is gaining a lot of momentum. We are gathering data on what other routes our customers would find useful. As some commercial airlines are halting their regional service, there is a strong need for scheduled Air Taxi service.
In closing I would like to thank Bill and Alanna for their time for this interview. If you would like a better understanding of the Linear Air Experience or price flight, travel agents attending the Chamber of Commerce Travel Show in March should stop by and talk to Linear Air, which has committed to attend.