Piston Air Limos: Getting the Jump on Pogo

 - October 2, 2006, 8:14 AM

Piston Air Limos Getting the Jump on Pogo
At his press conference at AirVenture, Cirrus president Alan Klapmeier introduced Steve Hanvey, a business aviation veteran (formerly v-p of engineering at Raytheon Aircraft, president of Piaggio and a test pilot for Hughes Helicopter) whose Part 135 charter operation in North Carolina demonstrates that almost by default, the air-limo concept is getting a launch with piston airplanes. Hanvey bought a Cirrus for his personal transport and decided to go to the trouble to have it included on his charter certificate.

He related how, almost by accident, he offered the Cirrus to customers when the company King Air was out of service or on a trip. Customers then started asking for the Cirrus–partly due to the lower price and partly because they enjoyed flying in the light single with its large-screen Avidyne avionics display and its luxury-car-like interior.

“Now I’m up to five airplanes and I can’t keep up with the demand,” said Hanvey. Charging $425 per hour for occupied flight time within a region of about 300 miles’ range, the company plans to be operating 25 Cirrus SR 22s by year-end and might take the program national with a franchise plan.

Cirrus has merged with Hanvey in the company currently known as SATSAir, derived from the acronym for the FAA/NASA/industry small aircraft transportation system program, where Hanvey and Klapmeier first met. Klapmeier suggested that the name might change.

Hanvey is not the only one to use Cirrus aircraft for charter operations. In fact, North Dakota-based Point2Point Airways, a new company spawned by the Small Aircraft Transportation System program, recently obtained its first Cirrus SR 22 GTS for charter operations in sparsely populated northern plains states.

Launched with a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the company plans to provide on-demand charter services for Great Plains businesspeople who routinely drive long distances to avoid commercial air travel.

Point2Point charter customers will pay $350 per flight hour for one of three seats on the single-pilot-flown Cirrus. Low acquisition cost ($445,100 with all factory-installed options), high fuel efficiency, a technologically advanced glass cockpit and Cirrus’ Airframe Parachute System were all factors in the company’s choosing the SR 22. The company cites the availability of the aircraft, allowing operations to begin this year, as giving it “a leg up” on air-taxi operators waiting for very light jets (VLJs) to be certified next year.

“We’re excited about all of the hype that the VLJ air-taxi concept is getting,” said company president John Boehle. “We’re coming to market today [with a similar business model] with aircraft that are already certified. It’s a huge competitive advantage.”

Powered by a 310-hp Continental IO-550-N piston engine, the SR 22 GTS cruises at 185 ktas with a 700-nm range with reserves. Avionics include XM Weather datalink and Stormscope, Skywatch traffic information, engine and fuel monitoring, electronic approach plates, EGPWS, Garmin 430 WAAS-upgradable GPS and autopilot.

At the Oshkosh event, Klapmeier emphasized that the introduction of air-limo operations with piston airplanes does not necessarily have to be competition for the VLJ air limos; it could be a means of increasing awareness about the industry.

He continued, “If we expect to expand the industry, we have to knock off the infighting. If air taxi with SR 22s catches on, there will be passengers moving up to charter larger, faster airplanes with more range. And there will be those sitting in the right front seat who will see that flying isn’t that difficult. That’s [expanding] the industry,” he said.