May 19, 2007

DayJet prepares for takeoff

Promising that on-demand air taxi service is just over the horizon, DayJet Corp. invited potential customers to Boca Raton Airport on Friday to view one of its new mini-jets and chat with company pilots who will fly the five-seat aircraft all around Florida.

"This is an exciting start-up with a new concept that should become very popular with business travelers," said Guenn Stevenson of Coral Springs, who piloted Boeing 737s at US Airways for 15 years before coming to DayJet as program manager. "The aircraft are light but very responsive, and the state-of-the-art computer systems are just amazing."

The arrival of an Eclipse 500 jet signaled that DayJet is getting close to starting operations, using the first 10 of its aircraft to serve Boca Raton, Gainesville, Lakeland, Pensacola and Tallahassee. Company officials predict the first flights will come by the end of June or early in July -- many months behind schedule because of delays in aircraft deliveries.

Company officials also confirmed Friday that DayJet had signed a lease to house its corporate offices at the Florida Atlantic University research park -- within view of the runway its planes will use at Boca Raton Airport.

To date, DayJet has received three jets from Eclipse Aviation of Albuquerque, N.M., and they are being used to train pilots and receive required certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration. Several other planes are close to completion, DayJet spokeswoman Vicky Harris said.

Despite not having a track record, the so-called air taxi service is attracting a lot of interest around the state. Company officials say they have signed up 700 people for annual memberships at $250 apiece. As part of the deal, customers agree to make four one-way or two round-trip flights a year at fares to be determined.

"There probably are 1,000 more potential members with whom we're in discussions," Harris said.

Created by Citrix Systems founder Ed Iacobucci, DayJet wants to appeal to business travelers frustrated by the time it takes to use major airports and their inability to fly directly to many cities within the state. Depending on how much leeway those travelers have in their schedules, they could pay anywhere from $1 to $4 a mile for a DayJet flight.

Whether the idea will fly and bring Iacobucci hefty profits is still a big question. Industry analysts have been skeptical.

"I just don't think [air taxis] are going to be a big seller," Michael Boyd, of the Colorado research firm The Boyd Group said recently. He said, however, he thinks the Eclipse 500 program will be successful for other uses, including corporate aviation.

And Richard Aboulafia of the Virginia-based Teal Group, also expressed skepticism.

Very light jets "might let a few charter operators make some cash, but we're talking a few score aircraft, not thousands," he wrote on his Web site in March.

But for a DayJet pilot like Rick Hemphill, of Pompano Beach, who formerly flew Boeing 777s for American Airlines, "this is a great idea being implemented with a great aircraft. I think it will become very popular."

By Glenn Singer, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Contact: or 561-243-6612


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