Indigo relaunching bizav service with RJ shuttle

 - May 7, 2008, 11:12 AM

Indigo, which originally launched a “regular and frequent” business aircraft service with a Falcon 20 in February 2000, was scheduled to receive its first “upscale shuttle” version of the Embraer ERJ-135 late last month. The Chicago-based company ceased operations earlier this year and now expects to relaunch operations on January 6 next year with the new ERJ-135 on the run between Chicago’s Midway Airport and Teterboro (N.J.) Airport previously served by the Falcon 20 fleet.

Indigo was created to fill a market niche between regularly scheduled airline service and the available corporate, charter and fractional-ownership alternatives. It was, and remains, organized as 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. The sister company, AirServ, holds the Part 135 certificate that allows it to “physically and directly” operate the aircraft on behalf of Indigo.

Aircraft scheduling is relatively simple. Flights are available from Chicago for a morning, early-afternoon and evening departure. Travelers may book by telephone or through Indigo’s Web site. Pricing is comparable to unrestricted business-class pricing on scheduled carriers, according to marketing manager Marie Cabo, and has been initially set at $749 per person, one way. It is a simple, single-price structure, she added, “whether the passenger books a seat three weeks ahead or three hours ahead, it’s still $749, one way.”

The initial Indigo fleet had grown to four leased Falcon 20s by late last year, when the decision was made to phase out the smaller business jets in favor of the ERJ-135. At press time, Indigo’s fleet of four Falcon 20s had been reduced to one, which is now engaged in on-demand charter with AirServ pending the relaunch of Indigo on January 6.

Indigo has firm orders for 25 ERJ-135s and options for an additional 50 aircraft. According to chairman and CEO Peter Pappas, the company expects to have nine aircraft in service by next April, operating four flights daily, five days a week linking Chicago and Teterboro. “We expect to be serving three or four additional markets by the end of May,” he added.

East Coast Expansion

Pappas said no firm decision has yet been made with regard to which cities would be served, but he noted that there were at least three new destinations on the East Coast “that fit our airplanes’ capabilities very nicely.” Among the cities being considered are Boston; Hartford, Conn.; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C., “if the government ever reopens Reagan National to general aviation.” As for airports to be served, Pappas said Indigo would make use of less congested airfields that are conveniently located and still capable of providing adequate service.

As it did with earlier service using the Falcon 20s, Indigo will continue to use the FBO passenger and ground services of Jet Aviation Teterboro. The company expects to make similar arrangements with FBOs at other airports as it expands service to other destinations. Indigo has its own private terminal at Midway Airport.

Heavy maintenance and parts support for the ERJ-135 fleet will be handled by Embraer at its facility at Nashville (Tenn.) International Airport. Light maintenance will be done by the AirServ subsidiary at Midway Airport.

As delivered by Embraer, Indigo’s green ERJ-135s are listed as Legacy Shuttles, with the typical center drop-aisle. Embraer delivers two versions of the Legacy–the drop-aisle Legacy Shuttle and the flat-floor Legacy Executive. The interior completion work for Indigo’s fleet is being done at C&D Aerospace in Huntington Beach, Calif., with custom seating for 16 passengers. Cabo said Indigo had considered an 18-seat configuration, but the company decided 16 seats offered a more comfortable cabin.

Particular attention was paid to seating comfort, said Pappas. Taller passengers, he said, will not only appreciate the 43-in. pitch, but the 26-in. seat width and 10-in. recline as well. To provide additional cabin space, overhead storage bins were eliminated. “There is more than adequate storage under the seats,” said Pappas. There is also additional carry-on storage forward and aft and a large hang-up closet forward.

Each seat is equipped with a laptop computer power port, and in-flight phone ports are installed at the forward and aft ends of the cabin. Cordless portable handsets will allow passengers to hold conversations in the relative privacy of their own seats.

As for entertainment, passengers will be expected to bring their own. Pappas said that in a client survey Indigo passengers had expressed little or no interest in such features as video monitors, preferring a working environment.

There will be a galley/kitchen forward, but snacks and drinks will be available self-serve. Rather than a cabin attendant, each flight will carry an “in-flight concierge,” who will assist passengers in making telephone calls or arranging flight connections or ground transportation. “We found that on the Falcon 20 flights, passengers rather liked being able to serve themselves,” said Cabo. But she added, “That doesn’t mean the cabin attendant wouldn’t be happy to refresh someone’s drink.”

When news of Indigo’s intention to move to a larger aircraft was made public, it aroused concern among citizen groups in the Teterboro area, which expressed concern over safety, pollution and noise. Asked if objections voiced by concerned residents around Teterboro Airport had been dealt with, Pappas said one of the first things he did after taking over as chairman and CEO was to go to Teterboro and talk with the airport manager and citizen representatives. There were some misunderstandings that Indigo might create a major hub with scheduled service. “That is not a goal or an interest of Indigo,” he told AIN. And he noted that with regard to noise, the ERJ-135 is essentially a Stage 4 aircraft and much quieter than many of the business jets serving the airport.