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Air taxi service taking flight in Florida

DayJet will begin flying on demand between five as yet unnamed cities in the state later this year, and between 20 cities in four states within a year.

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published April 24, 2006


A South Florida company will launch an on-demand air taxi service this year flying passengers in five-seat jets between small cities in Florida and later throughout the Southeast.

DayJet Corp. of Delray Beach expects to attract business travelers willing to pay a premium - but far less than chartering a jet - to fly direct to places with infrequent airline service or none at all.

At a Monday news conference in Tallahassee attended by Gov. Jeb Bush, DayJet chief executive Ed Iacobucci gave an example that got a laugh out of locals accustomed to inconvenient air travel to other Florida cities.

"It's not a hub and spoke system," he said. "You don't have to go through Atlanta to get to Gainesville, okay? That's a promise."

Iacobucci is no stranger to new business ideas. Before running DayJet, he founded the Fort Lauderdale software company Citrix Systems and was a former leader of the IBM OS/2 (software operating system) design team.

DayJet will start flying between five cities in the Sunshine State in the last quarter of 2006, said spokeswoman Vicky Harris. Within a year of the launch, DayJet will connect 20 cities in four Southeast states.

The company didn't identify any "dayport" cities or discuss specific fares Monday. But DayJet won't use big airports, such as Tampa International, which have nonstop airline flights to all major metropolitan areas and most mid-size cities within the state, said Harris.

Operators that service private planes at two general aviation airports - Vandenberg Airport east of Tampa and Plant City Airport - have been contacted by the company as potential locations, said Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Fares for short trips of 200 to 400 miles will range from $1 to $3 per mile. The low end is comparable to cost of a full-fare, refundable coach seat on an regular airline, said Harris.

DayJet will operate differently from air charter operators that charge thousands of dollars for customers to hire a jet all to themselves.

The company will sell individual seats for flights that a customer might share with as many as two other passengers. Depending on the itinerary, the jet could make one stop along the way to pick up or drop off other customers.

A new generation of small, cheap aircraft called microjets are bringing DayJet and a few competitors into the business of "per-seat, on-demand" air service.

DayJet has ordered 239 jets from Eclipse Aviation in Albuquerque, N.M. The manufacturer expects to receive government certification this summer of its Eclipse 500 twin-jet plane that sells for about $1.4-million each. DayJet will have two pilots fly the jet, which carries three passengers.

The idea of getting into a tiny, new plane might give potential customers the jitters. DayJet began talking to business travelers and corporate managers four years ago, said Harris, even letting them climb inside the jet during visits to six Southeast cities.

The "consistent consensus" was that travelers would rather fly the average 50-minute trip than drive 300 miles. The car is DayJet's real competition, says Harris.

Company research showed that nearly 40-million of the 52-million annual trips by business travelers in the Southeast are made behind the wheel.

DayJet expects to employ 800 Floridians by the end of its first year and 2,000 within four years.

The company has agreed to help start a center at Tallahassee Regional Airport to train students, along with the Federal Aviation Administration and aeronautical universities, for work in the field of very light jets.

Tallahassee bureau chief Steve Bousquet and information from the Wall Street Journal contributed to this report. Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813 226-3384.

[Last modified April 24, 2006, 23:22:02]


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