VLJs -- Pain or Blessing? Too Early to Tell

ORLANDO – As the industry awaits the initial rollout of the very light jets (VLJs), the jury is still out as to how these micro-size, twin-engine jets will impact FBOs and general aviation airports.

One prospective VLJ operator, DayJet, insists that it is developing a “bi-directional” relationship with Florida FBOs.

While the FAA projects that there may be 5,000 VLJs in the next several years, Michael Hodges, of Airport Business Solutions and the author of The Airport Management Paradigm on AirportBusiness.com, thinks the estimate is too high. In a presentation at the 2007 Aviation Industry Expo, Hodges predicted that the impact of VLJs will not be as great. The aircraft will be purchased as replacement craft flown by existing pilots. With the number of licensed pilots declining, Hodges says it is unlikely that these new planes will be inspiring a new generation of pilots.

The fuel-stingy VLJs will not be big customers when flying into an FBO, Hodges says. In addition, the mix of large business jets and the microjets will create challenges for an FBO just as it juggles the movement of business jets and piston aircraft in the hangars and on the ramp. A side-effect of these orchestrated ballets will be potential liability issues, Hodges relates.

In order to maximize the opportunities that VLJs may present, FBOs may have to consider establishing additional fees for handling the aircraft. Fuel sales will not cover an operators’ expenses of handling the plane, he predicts. In addition, an FBO should consider “unbundling” its services and fee schedules in order to have greater flexibility to generate additional revenue, Hodges explains.

DayJet has been seeking FBOs willing to partner with the air taxi operation, says Bill Brown, the DayJet executive who has been recruiting FBO locations. DayJet hopes to have a fleet of 300 Eclipse 500 VLJs within the next two years. Brown explains DayJet’s business plan in a presentation to the NATA’s FBO Leadership Program that was also part of the Expo.

DayJet estimates it will purchase $25 million in jet fuel from network FBOs in the first year. While DayJet is not seeking discounts on fuel, it is seeking adequate parking, good directional signs, and accommodating terminals. Brown says FBOs will be provided monthly scorecards designed to help each provide a better customer experience.

Brown explains that DayJet crunched the numbers from 100 different databases to determine what would be the best markets. The first five destinations -- or in DayJet lingo, DayPorts -- are the Florida cities of Boca Raton, Gainesville, Lakeland, Pensacola, and Tallahassee. The company has developed projections as to the traffic in each market for the first ten quarters of operation, Brown adds.

DayJet will also be selecting one market to serve as a night base, or DayBase, where 100 to 150 employees will be based.

In the course of selecting airports and FBOs, Brown says that some FBOs decided not to participate in the DayJet network because their growth plans and expectations did not mesh.

He notes that DayJet is looking for those operators willing to give the VLJs treatment equal to that given Gulfstream Vs. The VLJs are small sippers when it comes to buying fuel, adds Brown.