A Delray Beach company hopes to make business air travel as convenient as calling a taxi, and the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport will be among the first laboratories for the new concept.
DayJet Corp. has chosen Lakeland and four other Florida cities -- Boca Raton, Gainesville, Pensacola and Tallahassee -- for its initial flight hubs, which it calls "DayPorts," Vicky Harris, the company's marketing director, said Monday.
The company will offer charter flights from each DayPort to the other four locations for as little as $1 per mile per person on a three-seat jet, she said. It expects to start service sometime in the fourth quarter this year.
"DayJet chose Lakeland as one of its first Florida DayPort locations because it represents a strong and growing local economy and business environment that is underserved by the airline 'hub-and-spoke' system," the company said in a statement. "Lakeland is projected to receive a total annual economic impact in excess of $14 million from the arrival of DayJet within its first three years of operation."
DayJet will serve frequent business flyers and not the casual tourist, Harris said. Before booking the first flight, customers must pay a $250 annual membership fee and sign a contract that commits them to flying DayJet at least four times a year.
The company hopes to capture the smaller urban markets abandoned by the major airlines that went to the hub-and-spoke system in the 1980s. Citing U.S. Department of Transportation statistics, the number of commercial flights of less than 500 miles declined 29 percent since 2000, according to a company statement.
DayJet's research shows that, because of the difficulty in finding convenient, short-term flights, businesspeople drive on 86 percent of the 592,000 business trips taken among the five DayPort cities.
In place of hubs, spokes and flight schedules, DayJet will offer "per-seat, on-demand" charter service at the cost of $1 to $3 per mile.
Per-seat means the customer pays only for a single seat instead of the entire plane, as with traditional charter service. On-demand means customers fly at their own schedules instead of the established flight schedules used by the major airlines.
The cost of each flight depends upon the flyer's flexibility, Harris said. Flights can be booked online or through an agent by telephone.
Members will be asked to pick the flight day and destination along with a range of departure and arrival times, she said. DayJet travelers may also be asked to make one or more stops at other DayPort cities before reaching the final destination.
The airfare will be based on how much flexibility members give DayJet regarding arrival and departure times and number of stopovers, Harris said. The most flexible travelers will fly at the $1-per-mile rate while the least flexible will pay at no more than $3 per mile.
DayJet will notify customers of the specific flight schedule the night before the departure date, she said.
The company will also offer the opportunity to book all three seats for flights to 70 airports in Florida, Harris said.
DayJet has signed an agreement to purchase at least 239 Eclipse 500 jets from Eclipse Aviation Corp. of Albuquerque, N.M.
The new $1.5 million, three-seat jet will play a key role in DayJet's success, Harris said. The Eclipse 500 is a new generation of "very light jet," or VLJ, aircraft that promises to halve operating costs compared with traditional private jets.
DayJet will operate 10 jets when it begins flying in the fourth quarter, she said, but it plans to expand quickly by October 2007, when it will have 20 DayPorts in Florida and other Southeastern states. The company also plans to operate in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.
Local officials greeted DayJet's announcement enthusiastically. The Lakeland airport has been looking to attract a commercial airline for decades.
"DayJet gives business travelers a powerful new way to reach destinations while saving time," said Lakeland Mayor Buddy Fletcher in a company statement. "When local businesses become an easy day trip from other cities, everybody wins with economic development, increased productivity and more time to focus on the community."
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