Not Waiting for VLJs, Two Air Taxis Operate Out of Smaller Atlanta Airports

The air taxi is the latest in a long line of concepts meant to bridge the gap between driving and flying on packed airliners.


ImagineAir plans to charge a fixed rate of $3 a mile and operate a fleet of 50 planes or more.

"There's no reason passengers should pay more if the plane has to go around bad weather or gets stuck in a holding pattern," said Haroon Qureshi, ImagineAir's marketing vice president. "Customers should know exactly how much their trip is going to cost on the front end."

ImagineAir has 10 employees and expects to grow as it adds aircraft.

"If someone has to go from Alpharetta to Nashville, we can get them there and get them home much quicker than the airlines. They don't have to drive to Hartsfield, they don't have to wait in security lines. Even though our planes aren't as fast as airliners, the total trip time is less."

Jimmy Durham, owner of three South Carolina businesses, said he recently flew SATSair to Atlanta, Charlotte and Myrtle Beach in the same day.

"I had important business meetings in all three places, and I was able to get to all of them," he said. "There's no way the airlines could have got me there, and there's no way I could have driven."

200 mph flights

The air taxis typically fly about 200 miles an hour.

Air taxis cost significantly more than driving, but proponents say they can save money by eliminating some hotel stays and other travel expenses.

For pilots of air taxi flights, the job offers a chance to get paid for flying advanced, single-pilot planes at a variety of airports.

Bolves, the SATSair pilot, said she joined the firm because it offers higher pay and a different kind of customer interaction from the regional airline where she flew a 19-seat, twin-engine plane.

"I enjoy the give and take with [air taxi] customers," she said. "I can give them personal attention instead of just making announcements. There's no locked door between us."

Air taxi pilots typically work five days on, two days off, and earn about $30,000 a year.

Dan Williams, 61, a SATSair pilot, said the vast majority of his trips are within the Southeast --- but not all.

"I've been to Texas, Kansas City and Washington, D.C., lately," he said. "But I've had a lot more trips to places like Hilton Head and Southern Pines. They're some of our most frequent destinations."

450 destinations

SATSair officials say company planes flew to 450 different U.S. airports last year. Its planes can use runways as short as 2,500 feet, and that allows them to fly to uncongested fields close to passenger destinations.

"We can go to places like Jasper and Gainesville, Ga.," Quist said. "We bring people to small communities that are trying to attract new business."

SATSair estimates the potential U.S. air taxi market at $4.4 billion a year. A study by Transportation Systems Analysis and Solution predicts 5,000 tiny jets will ply U.S. airspace in 2010 --- most of them air taxis. The study says the U.S. small jet market is likely to top out at 8,000, but no one knows for certain.

SATSair says its planes typically fly about 100 hours a month, and the company expects to earn its first annual profit this year. But officials declined to release financial information.

"We've validated the marketplace, and we've been through a steep learning curve," Quist said. "We've made significant infrastructure investments. Once we achieve profitability, we expect to stay there."

SATSAIR

* Home base: Greenville, S.C., with operations at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport

* Fleet: 26 Cirrus-SR22 single-engine planes; 90 more on order

* Pricing: $400 to $595 an hour for a three-passenger airplane

* Leadership: Stephan A. Hanvey, co-founder and chief executive

* Web site:

IMAGINEAIR

* Home base: Briscoe Field, Gwinnett County

* Fleet: Two Cirrus planes delivered, three on order; three Eclipse 500 jets ordered

* Pricing: $3 per mile, flat rate for a three-passenger airplane

* Leadership: Aaron Sohacki, co-founder and chief executive

* Web site:



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