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Athens-Ben Epps Airport likely site for new regional air carrier
[December 04, 2006]

Athens-Ben Epps Airport likely site for new regional air carrier


(Athens Banner-Herald (GA) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Dec. 3--Very light jets, or VLJs in the nomenclature of the aviation industry, are generating the latest buzz among air travel experts lately, and Athens is on one company's radar to offer regional passenger service from the small planes.



For a cost just more than that of a standard airline ticket plus the price of overnight lodging and meals, Delray Beach, Fla.-based air taxi service DayJet Corp. estimates it can provide on-demand travel between small airports. Hoping to lure regional business travelers from their cars, DayJet is targeting the business person who must drive between 200 and 600 miles for meetings.

Such an air taxi service could eliminate those long drives and overnight stays by business people who must travel between cities such as Athens, Augusta, Columbus, LaGrange, Savannah, Tifton and Valdosta, or even some cities in Florida.


"We are looking at Athens, which is very high on our list of potential cities to serve in Georgia," said Traver Gruen-Kennedy, a spokesman with DayJet Corp., which since 2002 has been developing computer software and plans for a "per-seat, on-demand" passenger service.

Gruen-Kennedy said he expects DayJet to make an announcement around the end of March regarding what cities in Georgia the company will select for air taxi service. The company is targeting small airports that could serve as regional hubs.

The VLJs boost the appeal of DayJet's air taxi service, because the small jets are relatively inexpensive, making the airfare cost competitive, said Tim Beggerly, manager of Athens Ben-Epps Airport. The small jets also are much quieter and burn fuel more cleanly, Beggerly said.

Priced between $1.5 million and $3 million, the small jets weigh less than 10,000 pounds and can fly more than 1,000 miles at speeds approaching 460 mph. DayJet will employ the Eclipse 500, a five-seater (pilot, co-pilot and three passengers) manufactured by Eclipse Aviation. The Eclipse 500 cruises at 431 mph, making those 600-mile trips in 1 or 2 hours.

Gruen-Kennedy estimated that airfare might run between $1 and $3 per mile based on when a passenger booked a flight.

Beggerly said he estimated the costs of driving to Tallahassee, Fla., from Athens and staying overnight and compared them to a DayJet flight based on projected airfares.

"Compared to the (government-paid travel) allowances I'm given for meals and lodging, (air taxi) came out to be about $10 more based on DayJet's estimations to fly a very light jet," Beggerly said. "But instead of missing two days of work I miss only one." Beggerly pointed out that with the air taxi service, a businesswoman could drive her car to the Athens airport, park it, board the jet at 8 a.m., fly to a meeting in Valdosta at 10 a.m., get lunch and return to Athens the same day.

The use of small airports provide another attractive aspect of air taxi service in that passengers can avoid long security lines and the need to arrive at an airport two hours in advance of a flight.

DayJet intends to launch its "per-seat, on-demand" jet services next year (probably at the end of the first quarter) in Florida through a network of airports in Boca Raton, Gainesville, Lakeland, Pensacola and Tallahassee.

Once DayJet gets its Florida network up and flying and then moves into Georgia, the company has set its sights on extending air service to other Southeastern states, including Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, Gruen-Kennedy said.

The Florida towns represent the first national locations offering per-seat, on-demand passenger service, which means that someone can purchase a single seat on a small jet instead of chartering the entire jet, and he can book the flight for his specific calendar, as opposed to booking a flight based on the airline's schedule. Flights are limited to DayJet's network of cities, usually within 600 miles of the departure site.

"The challenge is to lower the cost of a charter, but to do it in a way that's flexible for the traveler," Gruen-Kennedy said. "You book a seat and pay for it and the aircraft will be there to take you on your flight segment." Gruen-Kennedy further explained that someone who wanted to book a flight would call the company and provide a window of time in which the traveler needs to get to another city, and the fare would be based on how large the travel window was.

For example, someone who needed to fly from Athens and arrive in Savannah by noon but could leave as early at 7 a.m. in the morning would be given the lowest rate.

That passenger would be given the lowest price available and would be guaranteed arrival by noon on the flight day, Gruen-Kennedy said. Another passenger looking to get to Savannah on the same day by noon but who could not leave until 10:30 a.m. would pay a higher rate, then both passengers would travel together and depart at 10:30 a.m. After deboarding its passengers at their destination it will board fares from that city and fly them to another airport. Later in the day a jet will be on hand to return the Athens business passengers home.

Athens-Ben Epps Airport represents the typical type facility, DayJet is interested in for its regional sites, Gruen-Kennedy said.

"Athens has a strong regional pull for business travelers and the university, good infrastructure such as fire (protection), runways and terminal and very strong management," Gruen-Kennedy said. "These are all very beneficial and very useful for a carrier such as DayJet." If DayJet does decide to include Athens in its network the air taxi service would benefit Athens-Ben Epps Airports qualifications for FAA revenues, Beggerly said.

"The passengers who fly on DayJet will count toward our commercial enplanement (passenger) count that qualifies us for our federal funding each year," Beggerly said.

Beggerly said that the Athens airport must board 10,000 passengers per year to qualify for $1 million in federal funding. Currently through the commercial air service provided by USAir Express, the airport averages between 9,000 and 10,000 people, qualifying the facility for only $150,000 per year.

"If DayJet can make up the difference, we will requalify for the $1 million," Beggerly said.

The funding is used for airport maintenance and development of runways, taxiways, airport lighting and approach equipment.

The VLJ equipment has been talked up in the aviation business, according to an early November Associated Press article.

"They're the greatest growth market the aviation industry has seen in a long time," Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst with aerospace research company the Teal Group, said in a story by Associated Press writer Stephen Majors.

Athens-Ben Epps Airport manager Beggerly agreed.

"It's the buzz in the aviation world right now," said Beggerly.

ONLINE

For more information on very light jets visit the Web site http://www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/business/15954755.htm. For more information on DayJet, visit the Web site http://www.dayjet.com.

To see more of the Athens Banner-Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.onlineathens.com.

Copyright (c) 2006, Athens Banner-Herald, Ga.
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