DayJet uses new data to hone air-taxi model

 - February 5, 2008, 11:22 AM

Boca Raton, Fla.-based DayJet last month reached its 100th day since starting per-seat on-demand service in the Southeast with its fleet of 28 Eclipse 500 very light jets. Company president and CEO Ed Iacobucci told AIN that DayJet is still “just getting booted up” and that he remains cautiously optimistic about the air-taxi concept. “What’s really exciting is that the business model now exists.”

Just days before it reached its 100th-day milestone, the very light jet air-taxi firm added Naples, Fla., and Savannah, Ga., as DayPorts, augmenting the five initial DayPorts in Boca Raton, Gainesville, Lakeland, Pensacola and Tallahassee, Fla. In addition, the company added 12 new DayStops in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

“Naples and Savannah are strategic additions to our DayPort service network,” said Iacobucci. “With the growth of our fleet, DayJet will continue to expand its service network, giving business travelers throughout the Southeast unprecedented regional travel options.”

With the new additions, DayJet now serves 45 regional destinations across the Southeast with its fleet of Eclipse 500s, but service to or from DayStops requires that trips begin or end at one of the seven DayPorts. The company is currently conducting localized marketing in an effort to sign customers at its two new DayPort communities.

So far Iacobucci is pleased with how things are going at the company. “We’re seeing some encouraging trends; half of our more than 1,000 members are quoting flights,” he said, “and more than one-third of customers who have booked and flown flights said they definitely will be repeat customers.”

According to Iacobucci, DayJet’s computerized reservation system has generated more than 12,000 quotes for customers, while quotes in the first few weeks of last month have tripled from December. “We’re gathering lots of good data from customers to see where they want to fly and how much they’re willing to pay,” he added.

What’s also being recorded are customers’ windows for booked flights. DayJet’s per-seat fares are inversely proportional to the size of a traveler’s time window; a wide travel window yields a low fare, while a very narrow window comes with a higher price tag.

This data-mining effort is helping the company to develop and hone computerized models that are determining DayJet’s core network expansion. “We’re good at gathering data and determining our course,” he told AIN.

Bookings are typically made three to four days in advance, validating DayJet’s previous customer demand models. The company is also doing weather modeling to keep trip disruptions, which currently affect fewer than 5 percent of all flights, to a minimum.

DayJet’s top customer, who works in the finance industry, has so far made 14 bookings and flown 22 legs with the VLJ air-taxi firm. Load factors are currently averaging 1.5 passengers per flight, which is higher than the target of 1.4.
Iacobucci estimates that DayJet can be profitable at the target load factor (1.4 per flight) with 40 aircraft in passenger service. “We’re not currently profitable, but we never expected to be at this stage of the game,”

Iacobucci told AIN. “So I’m not worried right now, but I will be if we’re not making money a year from now.”

Meanwhile, the company is conducting one more round of private-equity financing, which Iacobucci is confident will be closed early this year. This money will be used for aircraft financing, operations and future growth, he said.

Besides obtaining more financing in a tight credit market, DayJet’s biggest hurdle is attaining the 40 aircraft in service that will allow break-even or better. Of its 28 Eclipse 500s, Iacobucci said only seven are actually flying passengers; the rest of the fleet is being used for pilot training, as hot spares or are down for maintenance.

The in-airplane training requirement is putting the biggest strain on DayJet’s fleet, though Iacobucci expects this to subside now that the Eclipse full-motion Level-D simulator is online. At press time, the first class of new-hire DayJet pilots was being trained in Eclipse Aviation’s new simulator in Albuquerque, N.M.

While DayJet expects to take delivery of about 70 aircraft this year and in-aircraft training is set to recede, it will still be an uphill battle for the air-taxi firm to get to the magic 40 aircraft flying passenger service. This is because the 28 aircraft now on property will be cycled through the Eclipse Gainesville, Fla. service center over the course of this year to be fitted with aerodynamic modifications, Avio NG avionics, new de-icing boots and other upgrades. Meanwhile, DayJet isn’t scheduled to take any new aircraft until May, delaying achievement of the fleet’s critical mass until well into the second half of the year.

To date, DayJet’s fleet of Eclipse 500s has accumulated more than 4,000 flight hours.