July 2008Career Pilot

Very Light Jets

Is there job potential?

Answer this question: Who are Raburn and Iacobucci? Individually and together, they are having a dramatic impact on the future landscape of aviation. A whole new market for professional pilots is developing, thanks to their vision and entrepreneurship.

Vern Raburn and Ed Iacobucci are to the very light jet (VLJ) phenomenon what Richard Santulli is to fractional jet ownership. Santulli developed an innovative paradigm in the 1980s that allows shared ownership of business jets. The fractional jet concept he pioneered brought forth NetJets.

The industry buzz about VLJs is almost deafening. The FAA defines a VLJ as an aircraft that weighs less than 10,000 pounds, is certified for one pilot at the controls, and costs between $1 million and $3 million.

The first serious entrant is Vern Raburn's Eclipse 500, which most agree established the category. Produced in Albuquerque, the Eclipse 500 weighs about 6,000 pounds, will seat up to four passengers plus a crew of two, and will truck along for about 1,100 miles at 300 knots plus. The price tag, nicely equipped, is less than $2 million at this writing.

Cessna's Citation Mustang was the first VLJ to market, and other manufacturers are spooling up with models like Cirrus' The-Jet, the Diamond D-Jet, Embraer's Phenom 100, and the PiperJet.

Some aviation gurus say that the VLJ will revolutionize air travel, while others remain skeptical. The naysayers seem to be based in two camps. Some pundits fear that an air force of VLJs piloted by inexperienced pilots will darken the skies overhead, compromise safety, increase congestion, and cripple the air traffic control system. Others say that the cost of a VLJ, while lower than other business jets, is still high enough that the market will be limited at best.

But there is another side to the VLJ story, and that is where Iacobucci and his DayJet come into the picture. His new air taxi enterprise, barely one year in operation, is pinning its success on a novel marketing plan previously unheard of in the on-demand Federal Aviation Regulations Part 135 charter business. Rather than being compelled to rent the entire airplane for a trip from Point A to Point B, the DayJet program prices a trip based on a per-seat fee in a range between $1 to $3 per mile.

The company launched its services in Florida with a handful of Eclipse 500s between what the company calls DayPorts and DayStops. It serves Naples, Boca Raton, Gainesville, Lakeland, Pensacola, and Tallahassee; recently added stops include cities in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. DayJet hopes to attract not only the high rollers, but also professionals on the next rung down on the status ladder.

In a reminder that all segments of the air transportation industry--and not just the airlines--can be subject to unexpected ups and downs, DayJet in early May grounded all but 12 of its 28 Eclipse 500s and has laid off 100 of its 260 employees after failing to raise an additional $40 million in operating capital this year. Delivery of additional jets scheduled for this year will be deferred. The company says that it will continue to expand from Florida markets into the South, but at a much slower rate than hoped. Despite its financing problems, the company said traffic was about 80 percent of business-plan projections.

Don Osmundson is vice president of operations at DayJet. He talked about customer demographics recently in Airline Pilot Magazine (APM): "There are a lot of attorneys who move around [Florida] doing depositions. There are a lot of executives who work for the state in various capacities. There are a lot of medical people, salespeople, high-tech people, and development people who need to move around the state weekly. So, when you take all of those folks who have specific duties that are regional, we can make them much more productive by operating between city pairs that do not run them through hub airports. We go city to city and, therefore, our customers are going directly from home to the work site."

What does this all mean for the aviator who covets a flying career?

Before the recent layoffs, the company expected to hire 200 pilots in 2008, according to AIR, Inc. projections. Osmundson said the company needs about five pilots per aircraft. The starting salary is said to be a flat $50,000 annually with a full benefits package and retirement savings plan. The company has two shifts per day, and there are no weekend operations.

DayJet's minimum hiring requirements include 3,000 hours total time; 1,000 hours pilot in command; 1,000 multiengine; 500 hours turbojet PIC; airline transport pilot certificate, and first class medical. Pilots are hired as captains. See the Web site.

Linear Air is another contender in the VLJ on-demand market. President and CEO Bill Herp told APM, "We have 30 aircraft on order...Our long-range plan is to have 300 aircraft operating in North America. By then we'll have about 1,400 people working for us and about 1,000 of those will be pilots." Starting salary is in the thirties.

Wayne Phillips is an airline transport pilot with a Boeing 737 type rating. He is a B-737 instructor and operates the Airline Training Orientation Program in association with Continental Airlines. He is an aviation safety consultant in Michigan and speaker for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.