Indigo originally launched its “regular and frequent” business aircraft service between Chicago Midway Airport and Teterboro Airport in New Jersey with a Falcon 20 in February 2000. On March 3 the company relaunched the service with its first 16-passenger Embraer Legacy Shuttle.
According to the company, the original feasibility study had always planned for “a migration from the initial fleet of business jets to a next-generation regional jet platform in a shuttle configuration.”
Last year Indigo began phasing out its long-term-lease, 10-passenger Falcon business jets in anticipation of a relaunch with the Legacy Shuttle. The aircraft with which service was relaunched is the first of a firm order placed for 25 Legacy Shuttles. Indigo also has options for an additional 50 aircraft from the Brazilian manufacturer.
The company has since put a second Legacy into service and expects to have six more flying by July. According to chairman and CEO Peter Pappas, there are plans to add as many as three more routes by the end of next month. “Hartford [Conn.], White Plains [N.Y.] and Philadelphia are possibilities,” he said.
The business plan calls for Indigo to make use of less congested airfields that are at the same time conveniently located and capable of providing adequate service to a large metropolitan area. Pappas said Washington, D.C., is also a possibility, “if the government ever reopens Reagan National to general aviation.”
At Teterboro, Indigo uses the FBO passenger and ground services of Jet Aviation. The company expects to make similar arrangements with FBOs at other airports as it expands service. At Midway, Indigo has its own private terminal and headquarters and shares space with its sister company, Air-Serv.
Not a Scheduled Airline
Indigo, based at Midway Airport, was conceived as and remains a “public charter operator,” authorized by the Department of Transportation to do business under Part 380 of DOT regulations as an “indirect” air carrier. The Part 380 authorization allows it to deal with the public and sell seats. Air-Serv holds the Part 135 certificate that allows it to “physically and directly” operate the aircraft on behalf of Indigo. Chicago-based New World Holdings is the parent company for both Indigo and Air-Serv.
“The idea was to fill a market niche between regularly scheduled airline service and the available corporate, charter and fractional-ownership alternatives,” said Pappas.
The company is currently operating four flights daily, Monday through Friday. Travelers may book seats by telephone or through most travel agencies. Booking through Indigo’s own Web site is expected to be offered in the near future.
Initial one-way pricing for the Midway/Teterboro segment is $749, including taxes and fees. It is comparable to the walk-up, one-way ticket price range of a scheduled airline seat, but considerably below the first-class ticket, which typically starts
at more than $1,000. The company estimates that it will break even by filling eight seats per flight segment.
The single-price structure, said a company source, is simple: “Whether the passenger books a seat three weeks ahead or three hours ahead, it’s still $749 one way.”
“If you value your time at about $300 an hour, this is a compelling service,” said Pappas. He also said Indigo is considering a number of customer incentives and has engaged in talks with companies whose executives make “regular and frequent” trips between Chicago and New York City.
As further incentive, there is no cancellation fee, and passengers may arrive as little as 20 minutes before boarding.
When not in service with Indigo, the aircraft are available to on-demand charter clients. In fact, the first Legacy was actually delivered in early December and on President’s Day weekend–February 15 to 17– Air-Serv flew six charters with the aircraft. And in the two weeks before starting its Midway-Teterboro service, Air-Serv provided the Legacy to fractional provider Flight Options for use as supplemental lift.
“We weren’t initially sure of the acceptability of the shuttle configuration to charter clients,” said Pappas, “but we were pleasantly surprised.”
As configured for Indigo by C&D Aerospace in Huntington Beach, Calif., the aircraft are listed as Legacy Shuttles with the typical centerline drop aisle. The Legacy Executive version is a more typical flat-floor executive/VIP configuration.
The 16-seat layout on Indigo’s Legacy Shuttle is considerably more leg-friendly than the 37-seat layout typically ordered by airline customers of the ERJ-135 regional jet. Indigo had considered an 18-seat layout but opted for “a more comfortable cabin.”
Particular attention was paid to seating comfort, said Pappas. Taller passengers, he said, will not only appreciate the 43-inch seat pitch, but the 26-inch seat width and the 10-inch recline as well. To provide additional cabin space, overhead storage bins were eliminated. “There’s more than adequate storage under the seats,” said Pappas, “and there is additional carry-on storage forward and aft and a large aft hang-up closet.”
After passenger surveys, Indigo determined that its clients on average segments of less than two hours were primarily interested in the cabin as a workplace or a place to relax, and a decision was made not to include an audio/video entertainment system.
However, aircraft are equipped with laptop computer power ports at every seat. And starting with the fifth Legacy into service they will feature in-flight telephones on the forward and aft bulkheads. Cordless portable handsets will allow passengers to hold telephone conversations in the relative privacy of their own seats.
Other amenities include a forward, self-serve galley for snacks and beverages, and a lavatory aft.
There is no flight attendant. There is, however, a “customer service manager” aboard each flight. It is a fine point, as each CSM is required to meet Part 135 standards for flight attendants, including initial and recurrent training at FlightSafety International. The term “customer service manager” was selected based on ground duties more related to those of a concierge service.
Pappas said that at some point, as Indigo continues to expand, the company may invest in a Legacy Executive version, and may also consider auxiliary fuel tanks to increase the 1,700-nm range and give the aircraft transatlantic legs.
Under consideration in the near term is an interior configuration of the Legacy Shuttle that would allow for four swivel seats forward or aft in a club seating arrangement. Pappas said he expects the average passenger load will typically include groups of two to four individuals from the same company or organization who may prefer the more intimate club seating.
The Legacy Shuttle has an Mmo of Mach 0.78 and a max ceiling of 39,000 ft. According to chief pilot Paul Moore, the aircraft will make the Midway-to-Teterboro flight in less than 1 hr 40 min under normal conditions. “It’s a terrific airplane–easy to fly and easy to maintain,” he told AIN following a press flight from Midway to Teterboro on February 25.
Light maintenance for Indigo’s Legacy fleet is being handled at the Air-Serv facility. Heavy maintenance and parts support comes from the Embraer facility at Nashville International Airport, Tenn.
Pappas said Indigo received more than 500 applications for the first 10 pilot positions and is continuing to hire. Pilot training for the initial aircraft type rating is included in the Embraer contract. “We pay for recurrent training,” said Pappas.