New Tiny Jets Aim to Revolutionize Air Travel

Will a whole new form of commercial air service emerge - one seat, on demand - as DayJet and Eclipse imagine?

Just a fraction become charters or other kinds of air taxis, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Records show there are nearly 220,000 general aviation planes in service with about 6,200 used as air taxis.

FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said at a recent air show that she expects 5,000 very light jets in service for all uses by 2017.

The Business Aviation Association's Bolen said that the jets - quiet, fuel-efficient and zippy - are "capturing the public's imagination." And a broader taxi industry could result from the sales, but it's not clear how much broader.

"There is a lot of excitement in the aviation community about the new planes," he said. "How exactly it's going to be used, how big is the market, is the subject of a lot of speculation."

An Eclipse spokesman said officials understand that their goals sound sky high, but they believe they have "disruptive technology" - a plane so new and advanced that it will not only sell like no other but create a large new market nationally and internationally. Air taxi businesses, he said, account for two-thirds of their 2,500 planes on order through 2010.

"Analysts," said Andrew Bloom, the spokesman, "are always wrong. They didn't think personal computers or cell phones would sell well at first."

DayJet's Gruen-Kennedy said air taxi services would expand the general aviation market with the vast untapped business traveler who now drives.

They may be more accepting of the plane's lack of bathrooms than the average big corporate chief executive. And they may be less bound by company policies that ban executives from flying on planes certified to fly with only one pilot, although DayJet plans to have two.

Day-trippers would log onto the DayJet portal, say where they want to go and at what time and their return. Costs go down if passengers share the ride. With enough planes in the fleet, one should always be available at the nearby airport.

The new jets require far less runway space to land than larger corporate aircraft and can use any of the nation's 5,600 regional, public use airports, which typically have easy parking and no congestion.

Eclipse's Bloom acknowledged that all of the new planes could burden air traffic controllers, but he said by the time that happens the Federal Aviation Administration will be well into a planned overhaul of the system to make it more efficient. The FAA, however, can't provide a timetable for its new satellite-based system.

A more immediate concern, Bloom said, is safety. A prototype of a rival very light jet crashed last month at an air show, killing two people aboard.

The National Transportation Safety Board reports that most airplane accidents involve general aviation planes. Preliminary data from 2005 show that per 100,000 flight hours, the privately owned general aviation planes reported 6.83 accidents, while those operating as charters or other kinds of air taxis reported accidents at a rate of 2.02 per 100,000 flight hours. In contrast, the rate for major U.S. air carriers was 0.17.

To counter small planes' image as unsafe, Eclipse says it has undergone more testing than required, built in redundant systems and implemented an extensive pilot training program.

But Eclipse and DayJet believe what business travelers care most about is convenience and price.

That's what may turn Ishmael Rentz into a customer. He's president of a $9 million commercial contracting firm, SL Contracting & Remodeling Inc., that limits its work to a two-hour driving radius of its headquarters in Gainesville, Fla., so managers can go to job sites but be home for dinner.

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