DayJet gears up to begin service

 - July 3, 2007, 6:08 AM

After five years of study and planning and spending and simulating, DayJet is within weeks of flying paying passengers on its small but growing fleet of Eclipse 500s. DayJet founders Ed and Nancy Iacobucci developed the DayJet idea after running a traditional charter operation and deciding that very light jets (VLJs) offered a unique opportunity. The result was DayJet, a Part 135 charter operation that sells individual seats in Eclipse 500s for relatively short flights in the Southeast.

“This is the real deal,” said Ed Iacobucci during a mid-June press event. DayJet, which had taken delivery of five Eclipse 500s through June 15, plans to begin flying FAA proving runs as soon as Eclipse finalizes a fix to the jet’s pitot/angle-of-attack probe (see story above) and receives its 10th airplane. While the Iacobuccis had been hoping to be operational by the end of last month, the launch is now scheduled for late this month or early next.

DayJet, which adopted the charter certificate of the Iacobuccis’ Wingedfoot charter service, is a Part 135 on-demand charter company that will use Eclipse 500s as the core fleet. What is thus far unique about DayJet is that it will sell individual seats on an Eclipse configured for three passengers and allow passengers to select a price and a time window to match their preferences.

Users will first have to become DayJet members, filling out required paperwork and paying a $250 membership fee. All travelers must be members, and there are currently no family discounts. Corporate users can get administrative rights to manage their travelers’ use of DayJet, but each passenger still must be a member. In mid-June, DayJet had 700 members representing 140 companies.

After joining DayJet, members can log on to DayJet’s Web site and choose a flight between DayBases and DayPorts in the Southeast U.S. Members can request a flight to airports (DayStops) that aren’t DayPorts and DayBases, but that will cost more. Two DayBases, staffed by customer service representatives and mechanics, will open with launch of the service. One is located at DayJet’s Boca Raton, Fla. headquarters, and the second is in Gainesville, Fla. The DayJet service will eventually grow to five DayBases, 40 or 50 DayPorts and 400 DayStops.

Instead of quoting a fixed charter price and asking the passenger when he would like to travel, as in a traditional charter setup, DayJet offers “time-value pricing,” allowing users to trade a lower price for time flexibility.

During the press meeting, DayJet planned to fly reporters from Boca Raton to Gainesville in a DayJet Eclipse. The flight normally takes about one hour versus a five-hour drive. A typical charter in DayJet’s (formerly Wingedfoot’s) Learjet 60 would cost about $4,000 to $5,000.

In DayJet’s system, a member who has a meeting in Gainesville at, say, 10:30 a.m., might pick a two-hour window for the departure because the member would rather pay more and spend less time away from home and arrive closer to the meeting time. This DayJet seat costs $858.07, including all taxes. If the member is willing to select a four-hour departure window, the price drops to $452.52. A six-hour window cuts the price further, to $334.88. The lower price is lower because the flexibility makes it easier for DayJet’s complex computer system to optimize the use of the fleet, the pilots and other necessary resources.

Once the member decides on the flight and accepts the quoted price, he clicks on the “purchase” button and receives a confirmation e-mail for the trip. The actual time of the flight is still not determined, however. DayJet promises to fly within the requested window, but it’s not until the evening before the flight that the computer system reoptimizes the schedule and sends an e-mail to the member advising when he should show up for the flight. The time of the flight won’t be final until two hours before takeoff.

DayJet says its business model allows the company to make money even if only one of the three passenger seats is occupied. The computer system constantly juggles the way the fleet is used to meet members’ requests most efficiently. If, for example, a flight is departing with two empty seats, then the computer may have determined that this is necessary so that another paying passenger can be picked up at a different DayBase on the way to the destination.

On the day of the press flight there were broken clouds over Gainesville. Because the Eclipse 500 was restricted to flying in VMC, we were not able to land in Gainesville and diverted to Lakeland, Fla.

Our Eclipse was S/N 6, N109DJ, with 161.7 hours of flight time and 196 cycles. The DayJet Eclipses have a third ADI mounted on top of the glareshield to meet Part 135 regulations, pending Eclipse’s development of a third Part 135-qualified ADI as part of the new Avio NG avionics suite. With three passengers on board and two pilots–DayJet operates with two pilots on all flights–we took off at 5,500 pounds (260 below maximum in this early version of the 500) and carrying 880 pounds of fuel. Don Osmondson, DayJet vice president of flight operations, flew left seat, and DayJet pilot Rick Hemphill flew right seat. Both are type rated in the Eclipse and each had about 30 hours in the airplane when we flew.

I sat in the right-hand passenger seat, which is behind the copilot and in front of the rearmost passenger seat. The third passenger seat is positioned aft of the cabin entry door and offers the most legroom and reclining space. The rear passenger can also recline fairly far back into the baggage compartment. There was about nine inches between the front of my seat and the back of the copilot’s seat, comfortable enough legroom for a one-hour flight. I didn’t want to slide my seat back and reduce the rear passenger’s legroom.

The BMW-designed Eclipse interior is functional. Seats are comfortable, and while the pilots compared the Eclipse to a Beech Baron on steroids, the Eclipse seemed to afford passengers more space than the Baron. The best part of the interior is the low noise level. We were all able to converse comfortably without having to lean toward each other to be understood. The wind noise coming from the front of the airplane seemed much louder than the engine noise. During occasional bouts of mild to moderate turbulence, the Eclipse barged through the bumps solidly and without any pronounced tail wagging.

A major disappointment with the Eclipse interior is the plastic trim. Pieces of plastic that cover junctions where larger pieces meet were loose and appeared to be held on by Velcro glued onto other parts. It surprised me that Eclipse is delivering new airplanes with such an obvious flaw visible to passengers. Nancy Iacobucci said that Eclipse is aware of the problem and is working on a fix as part of the company’s continuous improvement program.

Because of the VMC restriction, we changed altitude frequently to try to find clear air, so we burned more fuel than would be normal on this flight. DayJet’s Eclipses don’t have RVSM approval yet, and radar, GPS, moving-map display, TAWS and traffic functions are awaiting Eclipse’s certification of the new Avio NG avionics suite.

We took off at 9:43 a.m., rotated at less than 90 knots and climbed initially at 180 kias and 1,500 fpm, burning 366 pph per engine. The 5.7-psi pressurization differential kept the cabin at 1,550 feet during the entire flight, which topped out at nearly 20,000 feet. At 15,000 feet, the Eclipse cruised at 230 ktas with N1 set at 63.3 percent and fuel flow 167 pph per side. At 17,000 feet, N1 was 76.4, fuel flow 205 pph per side and true airspeed 225 knots.

At 10:31 we diverted to Lakeland, dodging scattered clouds during the descent. The left windshield fogged up at about 3,500 feet but cleared shortly afterwards as we descended through 2,500 feet. Visibility through the front windshields is fairly limited, not untypical for a jet, but something that pilots moving up to the Eclipse will have to get used to.

We slowed to 98 knots over the fence and touched down firmly at Lakeland at 10:46, having burned 520 pounds of fuel and leaving 360 pounds in the tanks. Although this isn’t an accurate measure of the Eclipse 500’s fuel consumption because of the low altitude of this flight, Iacobucci said that in DayJet’s flying thus far, fuel costs have run lower than expected.

Pilot Opportunities
In mid-June, DayJet had 140 employees–26 of them pilots–and 110 open slots for new-hires. Plans call for DayJet to employ 300 by the end of the year and 3,000 by the end of 2009. Half of the employee roster will be pilots, to maintain a ratio of five pilots per airplane. Pilots must have at least 3,000 hours total time and 500 as PIC in a jet.

DayJet pilots will work either of two daily shifts, from about 4 a.m. to about 1 p.m. or 1 p.m. to about 9 p.m., flying up to six flights per shift. Initially DayJet will operate Monday through Friday, and flights are short enough that pilots should never have to overnight away from their DayBase.

All flight dispatching is done using tablet computers, which are connected via the Internet to DayJet’s system. No airplane will be dispatched unless all compliance factors are met, including pilot duty times and qualifications, airplane maintenance requirements, weather, weight-and-balance and so on.

DayJet’s air carrier operating certificate is being managed from the FAA’s Washington, D.C. FSDO, an unusual distance for FAA inspectors to oversee a charter operator. But DayJet is opening its books to the agency–electronically in a real-time surveillance system–so appropriate FAA inspectors can view DayJet’s operation online and verify that the company is complying with all FAA requirements without an inspector having to travel to Florida to paw through reams of paper.

Iacobucci expected to receive another five Eclipse 500s by the end of last month and 50 by the end of the year. Before launching service to paying members, DayJet will test the system using three airplanes and DayJet personnel playing the role of customer.

The company has raised $68 million thus far and the “burn rate” (cash spending) is appropriate at this time, according to Iacobucci. “We’ve planned it carefully,” he said, “and I think we’re good at managing our burn.” He and Nancy have invested about $9 million of their own money in DayJet.

The DayJet model could work in other areas, even outside the U.S., according to the founder. “This is not just a Florida service,” said Iacobucci. “There’s no reason this wouldn’t work in other places.”