JetBird still in the nest

 - January 26, 2010, 5:28 AM

Having delayed its launch for the third time (most recently to December), Ireland-based would-be air-taxi operator JetBird is now publicly no more specific in its planning than to say it will start operations this year. The first aircraft were to have been delivered in September but delays then were attributed to production problems at Embraer. Then, at the end of September, JetBird CEO Stefan Vilner said that bottlenecks in the availability of pilot training would once again push back the launch of services until late 2009.

On November 27, Dublin-based JetBird put its 40 staff (including 14 pilots) under “protective notice,” as required by Irish labor laws, that it might have to lay off at least 10 percent of them. A spokesman for the company indicated that layoffs could be temporary, until it is finally able to launch charter services.

JetBird had placed firm orders for 59 Phenom 100 light jets from Embraer, but according to the Brazilian manufacturer JetBird last year was not able to take delivery of the aircraft ordered. “We are therefore working on a new purchase agreement with aircraft deliveries in the future,” Embraer told AIN.

A brief statement released January 14 by JetBird echoed Embraer’s comments. “We are partners with Embraer in this project, and as JetBird was not able to take delivery of the aircraft we had originally agreed to take during 2009, we are now working on a new purchase agreement with a new aircraft delivery schedule for the future.”

The eight Phenom 100s that Embraer had completed for JetBird last year will be reconfigured for other customers who will take delivery during this year’s first quarter, according to a company spokesman. The original schedule had called for delivery of the first JetBird Phenom 100 on December 24 at Embraer’s headquarters in São José dos Campos.

More recently, JetBird notified pilots queuing for preliminary phone interviews that the company had temporarily halted the process, saying, “Due to unfortunate delays in our launch schedule we are no longer recruiting at present.” It added that there was “no clear plan” for when recruiting activities might resume.

JetBird was founded in 2006 by Irish investment group Claret Capital. In September 2008 undisclosed investors, reported to be from Saudi Arabia, paid e10 million ($14.6 million) for a 9.3-percent stake in the company. Around that time it also secured from Royal Bank of Scotland debt financing that was supposed to cover the cost of some of the Phenoms. But evidently, the company still needs further funding if it is to start taking delivery of aircraft and establish its planned first base in Cologne, Germany.