AVmail: Mar. 26, 2007
Where Are the Air-Taxis?
I see no way that the VLJ on-demand air taxi concept can be profitable (Question of the Week, Mar. 7). Too many dead legs, too many fixed expenses. Nice idea, but not practical, not profitable. I give them one year to be out of business.
The success of the VLJ is irrelevant to the problems facing the 10% most frequent, frequent-fliers in the U.S. Last this year this segment spent more than $20 billion with commercial airlines. And got little satisfaction.
If they had flown on private charter jets they would have saved about two months of productive time. Yes, 400 hours in one year! Figure it out: A round trip each week demands a two-hour boarding time and a 30-minute disembarking time frame. And this does not include changing planes. Actually, 400 hours a year looks too conservative.
If time is money, convenience is desirable, and efficiency is of value, what is the premium that these top 10% most frequent, frequent-fliers would spend to reap the benefits of private jet flight? And why are they not presently flying on-demand, point-to-point charter?
The GA/private-jet-travel industry does not need new aircraft to service this segment. The suppliers of lift need to figure out how to get these people to fly charter. This marketing problem faces every vendor in all industries.
There are more than 5,000 jet certified airports in the U.S. These airports offer easier access to ground transportation than the 350 airports that commercial aviation dominates. Another reason not to choose the bus-in-the-sky is that these airports are choked; parking is problematic and too expensive.
Every day almost 200 private jets take off empty, without revenue. Most private jets are not used more than about 700 hours per year. By contrast, Southwest Airlines work their aircraft more than 2,500 hours every year. With over 14,000 private jets in the U.S., this translates into more than 10 million jet-hours available to turn into cash through charter.
So why is the industry asleep at the sales counter?
FBOs, charter companies and owners and operators in the U.S. are a fragmented cottage industry. There is no McDonalds, with a Burger King competing by offering, "Have it your way." There is no national brand like "1-800-FLOWERS" offering an easy solution to getting flowers delivered anywhere. And the GA charter industry has no e-Bay or CraigsList where anybody, anywhere, can sell or buy anything quickly and easily.
Why does a prospective traveler have to fork out a huge amount to buy a card, or have to buy a miniscule share of an aircraft, if all they want to do is take a trip? And why must one always have to charter the entire plane?
Yes, this arrangement does work for the few celebrities and moguls. By contrast, there are thousands and thousands of travelers who would pay a premium, over commercial, to obtain the benefits of private fight yet don't want and can't afford the entire plane. In fact they are quite used to sharing the first-class cabin of commercial airliners every week with other travelers. They don't crave solitude. They crave the time savings!
Why is there no Google's YouTube, or other such web site where one could automatically join others who want to charter a flight? Like at college ... except an automated, internet-based, ride-share, bulletin board. Four passengers (strangers, in fact) decide to share a flight. They pay 25%, of the total cost, each. The same identical flight shared by seven passengers would cost only 15% of the total cost, each. The number of seats does not factor, and has no bearing on the price per passenger.
These are not fixed schedules. Nor are the trips priced per seat. These trips are a direct result of market demand. The passengers are buying prompt transportation: On-demand, point-to-point jet travel.
Imagine wanting to go from city "X" to city "Y" and having a choice other than legacy commercial by logging onto a Website ... then choosing the most convenient airports for departure and destination. Then, choosing a time.
Because of the ubiquitous nature of the internet and the power of computers all it takes is for a half-dozen others to join the proposed flight to bring the cost down to that approximating traditional first class. Or, as it was once thought about aviation, "The sky is the limit!"
Why are air-taxis waiting for new, unproven aircraft, when they have an entire market segment worth billion begging for a ride?
A 70-year-old friend of mine just went through the gauntlet of TSA. She stood for 15 minutes in her undershirt waiting for the agent to "wand" her. There is no one watching to be certain that removed jewelry isn't stolen from the trays, while being removed from the "normal" line. This type of treatment will force more and more people to abandon commercial air travel and look for more charter flights.
I think the VLJ air taxi service is a good idea, but it will serve a very small market. The VLJ aircraft are a great advance for private aviation, but your average airline traveler is used to something much bigger. Airline turboprops and even RJs are considered small "puddle jumpers" by the public. When they walk out to their "tick tack with wings" (read: VLJ) and snuggle up with other random passengers, they might have doubts. Add that to the small useful load and range of the VLJs and I think there may be some issues.
The air taxi business model has a way to go before it will be proven or disproven. There are a number of important differences in the individual air-taxi services' business plans that will make all the differences. Additionally, the potential fleet is not even in production yet. It will take a half-decade to test the variables.
Success for air taxis will be strong marketing coupled with a flexible fleet and operating structure. Cooperative competition will establish and grow the new industry segment. Failure to retain flexibility and weather set-backs will spell doom for an operator -- and possible the whole industry segment.
I fail to see how the DayJet plan can be a success (AVwebFlash, Mar. 7). I was involved in an air-taxi operation at Melbourne, Fla., for a number of years and found it very difficult to create customer demand. The idea of being able to attract customers for an on-demand seat operation to any destination blows my mind.
I wish them luck, but will not be investing in their endeavor.
Improving Rudder Skills
This is easily the best flying article I have ever seen (Pilot Workshop, Mar. 15). Today's tricycle-gear pilots have absolutely no idea how or why to use the rudder. Additionally, the present day flight instructors pass on their ignorance to their students. Problem is, all these same pilots and flight instructors will tell you that they do know and understand this issue. So the problem is: How do you teach someone something that they firmly believe they already know?
I see a lot of understandable nervousness about a "user-pays" funding (AVwebFlash, Mar. 11). Here in New Zealand we have had user-pays systems in place for years and it is great (and fair) because the system and service users pay for them and not the whole aviation fraternity. Why should someone that chugs around in a VFR aeroplane pay for the supply and maintenance of expensive IFR equipment at airports? It will be paid for by airlines mainly, who will pass it on to their passengers. Generally it works pretty well.
Scrapping Historical Planes
My other half and I (both pilots) visited Oshkosh last year to at least experience it once in our lives. We hired a car and drove to Pima Air Museum to experience all the marvelous planes on offer there. I would like to have stayed a couple of days; there was too much to take in.
The Cold War between the U.S. and Russia saw some massive advances in airframe technology in an extraordinarily short time frame. The early jets both fighter and bomber of both sides are fascinating examples of the highest designs achievable at the time: wing fences, vortex generators, fuel tanks slung under wings because the engines were so huge and inefficient ... it was a wonderful time.
The B-47 is one of those aircraft that needs to be seen and enjoyed by those coming after with knowledge of aircraft design. It is a part of American history, and for the Oklahoma City gnomes to consider scrapping an example of this aircraft demonstrates an extraordinary ignorance and stupidity (AVwebFlash, Mar. 11). We are not talking about a basic construction here. Aircraft are incredibly complex machines that took millions of dollars to design, prove and construct. To rebuild any aircraft from scratch takes an enormous amount of money and effort. Something the size of a B-47, even more so.
These aircraft kept the Communists at bay. They ensured that America stayed at the forefront of technology. The value of this aircraft will be incalculable in the future. It is far too important to allow some petty, stupid and asinine pen-pushers to destroy. I would urge all those living in the U.S. to get behind saving it.
To stand beneath a Washington, or a B-52, awestruck by its size and presence, allows one to contemplate the effort, the sacrifices and the brilliance that went into designing and building these machines. They have a smell about them that will never be replicated by a fiberglass copy put in museums to replace the real thing because halfwits allowed the planes to be destroyed. You cannot allow these vandals to do this thing. Were I in the States at the moment, I would happily pull it apart for food and lodging. These planes are simply too important to destroy. We have seen too much of this mindless vandalism by bureaucrats in the past. You people need to take a stand in protecting your heritage.
They All Do That -- Not!
I wholeheartedly agree with Mike Busch's article about not accepting "they all do that" from an A&P (Savvy Aviator, Mar. 14). I was responsible for the maintenance of a C-172 for Civil Air Patrol, and the plane had a propensity for shedding cowl screws. Every A&P we took the plane to (there were probably around five or six different FBOs) just said, "Don't worry, they all do this."
Well, just after we got the plane back from being repainted, we lost two of the cowl screws again. The next flight, more screws came out, causing the front of the cowl to impact the prop, and shredding some of the fiberglass. The A&P who repaired the cowl also checked the prop balance, and reported that it was out of balance.
Guess what? The cowl hasn't lost any screws since that time!
Shelley Rosenbaum Lipman
Pollution and Aliens
AVweb wrote (AVwebFlash, Mar. 7):
"A former Canadian defense minister, worried about pollution of the atmosphere by fossil-fuel emissions, has asked governments around the world to stop hoarding their secret alien technologies and use them to stem global warming."
Maybe the good defense minister has not heard of the "Prime Directive."
Great job. Outstanding aviation news source. Please keep up your fine work.
Best wishes for continued success.
Robert C. Williams