Light Jet May Act as Air Limo

Posted on November 3, 2004 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

As Albuquerque, N.M.-based Eclipse prepares to fly a Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610-powered Eclipse 500 later this year, company founder and CEO Vern Raburn envisions a wide customer base for the very light jet.

With promised low direct operating costs (DOCs) and a price tag of a little over $1 million, the twinjet offers almost limitless possibilities.

For years Raburn has been touting the many uses of the Eclipse 500, from same-day package delivery service to corporate transportation to air-taxi service, and nearly everything in between. But it is the potentially lucrative air-limo concept that’s fueling speculation that demand for these compact jets could be on the order of thousands of aircraft in the next 10 years.

Earlier this year, former American Airlines chairman Robert Crandall and People Express founder Donald Burr announced an air-limo business called Pogo. Raburn claims there are several Eclipse 500 customers who hold multiple orders just for the purpose of starting an air-limo company.

Dampening this enthusiasm, however, are many detractors who say the idea will never fly. Aviation analysis firm, The Teal Group, is probably the most vocal of the naysayers. One of its main arguments is that if the concept is such a good idea, then why isn’t the sky already filled with pre- owned light business jet air limos? After all, there are plenty of inexpensive pre-owned light jets on the market that couldassume this role.

Raburn contends it’s not as simple as buying any available light business jet and pressing it into high-utilization air service. The aircraft must meet the mission.

“When business jets were being designed and built 30 or 40 years ago, no one ever imagined they would still be in service today,” Raburn said.

He pointed out that these aging aircraft are showing their age: “Nowadays, aircraft are designed to be maintained easily. This was not so in years past.”

If the aircraft can’t be easily maintained, Raburn said, then it can’t meet the exacting reliability needed for an air limo. Further, if it isn’t reliable, then the aircraft will likely be in the shop more than it is in the sky.

Raburn isn’t betting his company on the air-limo concept, especially since it has yet to be proven. He wouldn’t say how many of the firm’s orders for 1,400 aircraft and options for 700 more are for start-up air-limo companies.

The big unknown, Raburn concedes, is whether ordinary people will board a small jet, with an interior no larger than that found in a sport-utility vehicle, to fly to their destination.

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