Eclipse, DayJet Combine On Latest Per-Seat Charter Scheme

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When is a scheduled airline not a scheduled airline? When it's operating as an on-demand carrier along pre-determined routes and selling its transportation services on a per-seat basis, that's when. That basic idea, known as a "public charter" at the Department of Transportation, is what's behind DayJet, a per-seat charter operation announced last month in conjunction with airframe supplier Eclipse. DayJet president and CEO Edward Iacobucci, a prominent high-tech entrepreneur, teamed up with Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation, to make the April 25 announcement. Under a long-term agreement with Eclipse Aviation, DayJet will acquire a fleet of 239 Eclipse 500 very light jets (VLJs), with options for 70 additional aircraft. Deliveries will begin shortly after the Eclipse 500 receives FAA certification, which is on track to occur in March 2006. Profitable per-seat charter operations are the dream of many, but the reality has yet to prove itself. One carrier, Chicago-based Indigo, suspended operations along its route between O'Hare International Airport and Teterboro, N.J., in May 2003. DayJet's proposed service, including what the company calls its "innovative real-time operations system," will be, in part, designed to offer on-demand jet services on a “per-seat” basis. Despite Iaobucci's optimism -- at the joint announcement, he said, “Market and technology forces have combined to make this the right time for ‘Per-Seat, On-Demand’ air travel, and our relationship with Eclipse is a cornerstone to our strategy” -- this is still an unproven market. How many -- or how few -- businessmen and women will be willing to shell out the equivalent of a first-class fare for a single seat in the back of a rather smallish (compared to the front end of a 737) Eclipse 500 simply isn't known. Indigo, which started with Falcon 20s and tried to relaunch service with Embraer regional jets, didn't prove or disprove the business model, in part because it was only operating over a fixed route. Eclipse's collaboration with DayJet dates to 2002, when the two companies first began developing thee concept.