VLJs Cause a Buzz on Capital Hill

 - September 15, 2006, 11:38 AM

The Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) vision of providing safe, reliable and affordable air transportation for every community in America will move a step closer to reality later this year when DayJet begins per-seat on-demand operations in Florida.

Speaking at what was billed as a “policy forum” in the U.S. Capitol last month, Traver Gruen-Kennedy, vice president of government and community affairs for the Delray Beach, Fla. company, said the air-limo start-up has ordered 309 Eclipse 500s and expected delivery of the first airplane within weeks.

“Most of our travelers will come off the highways,” he said, “because we will be serving secondary markets from point A to point B. So we’re not going to be flying in any Class B airspace.” Further, DayJet will not be part of any hub-and-spoke system; rather, it will fly from secondary market to secondary market.

Gruen-Kennedy said this is important because DayJet will be serving markets that have little or no commercial air service. “And yet to a great extent,” he explained, “these are growing communities that are seeking economic development opportunities and have a lot of businesses within them.”

The policy forum was sponsored by RTI International, an independent, nonprofit research organization with aerospace research offices in Hampton, Va.; Research Triangle Park, N.C.; and Melbourne, Fla. The organization has worked on a host of flight systems for government and industry, including a recent demonstration of synthetic vision and earlier on the first predictive wind-shear detection system.

Among RTI’s current research are advanced avionics and ground-support systems to enhance the safety and increase the capacity of the National Airspace System and on-demand air-taxi simulation capabilities for modeling alternative transportation options.

DayJet, which is Part 135 certified and Wyvern qualified, plans to use two-pilot crews and will conduct Part 121-style training in conjunction with United Airlines in Denver. It will limit each aircraft to a maximum of three passengers for weight-and-balance purposes and to provide more space for luggage.

Gruen-Kennedy told forum attendees that DayJet has a longstanding relationship with the FAA, including participation in the Aviation Rulemaking Committee that is helping the FAA rewrite FAR Part 125/135 and working with the agency to certify WAAS approaches.

“We’ve been working with ATC on helping them understand our flight plans and how we tunnel and pop up using airspace that is either under-utilized or more or less not used today,” he said. “We’ve invested in onboard technology–about $100,000 to take advantage of things like WAAS approaches and ADS-B, FMS, TCAS and so on.”

VLJs Portend a Bright Future

Former NBAA president Jack Olcott cited NASA studies that the average 500-mile trip on a scheduled airliner is done at about 90 mph or less, door-to-door. The studies also show that 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 20 miles of a general aviation airport, and 98 percent lives within 30 miles of a GA airport capable of using the type of service DayJet will offer.

“Conversely, more than 60 percent of the population lives more than 100 miles from a hub airport served by the scheduled airlines,” said Olcott, now president of General Aero. “The advanced technologies of very light jets and the entrepreneurial spirit that is being unfolded now in companies offering a new form of transportation with VLJs soon will provide the nation with a new dimension in air travel at a reasonable price.”

According to Olcott, service providers and companies offering VLJs have formed the Personal Air Transportation Alliance. He said the 20 companies include Pratt & Whitney Canada, GE Honda, Cessna, Israel Aircraft Industries and DayJet.

Dr. Bruce Holmes, who has been called the father of SATS, said the VLJ “revolution” creates a new level in the cost of personal mobility. “The last kinds of changes that we have seen in our society of this order took place as far back as the move from four-legged beasts to four-wheeled vehicles,” he said. “Before the era of the car your radius of action daily was within the sound of the church bell; that was pretty much where you ran your entire life. After that it was within a day’s drive.”

Holmes, now director of the advanced-planning office at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, recounted a trip that required him to speak in Wilmar, Minn., about an hour-and-a-half drive from Minneapolis, then go to Grand Forks, N.D., about another five-hour drive, and then on to Thief River Falls, Minn., another couple of hours’ drive, then back to Minneapolis.

“What I’m describing to you is a big trip that would have taken me about three to four days if I had to do it on the airlines because one city has no service, one has sporadic service and one has one flight a day,” he said. “So I wound up flying with a little company that just launched service up there, with an on-demand capability.

“They picked me up in Minneapolis-St. Paul, 20 minutes later I was in Wilmar, Minn. When I was finished two hours later they picked me up and took me to Grand Forks, N.D., about an hour and some odd minutes flight. I finished my talk at the University of North Dakota…and then I flew to Thief River Falls, Minn. This is a quality of life game-changer.”

Driving would have taken 15 or 16 hours versus a little more than three hours’ flying, he said, and the cost was less than using the airlines.