Linear Air TaxiAir Linear Taxi
Corporate planes are not necessarily better suited for taking off or land in the winter than airliners, but the fact that they can use smaller airfields - around 5,000 in the U.S. according to the National Business Aviation Association - makes it possible to plan short-term rescue missions for beached air travelers (or those who just don't want to cope with long delay and congested air terminals).
Herp Linear Air's initial intention was to create a family of Eclipse air jets: he persuaded wealthy private customers to buy Eclipse air jumpers - able to fly up to four people - and rent them to Linear Air, which then administers the plane and rents them out to third parties for around $6,000 per trip.
In addition to the charters, Linear Air also offers an air taxi shuttle bus pick-up and drop off services with a Cirrus jet family. Aeroplanes are operated by a small group of Part 135 carriers and not Linear Air itself, but the airline handles merchandising, distribution and support, enabling its clients to make bookings either directly with Linear Air or through on-line reservation channels such as Kayak or Hipmunk for around $2,500 per trip.
The FAA tends to combine air taxi and private-charters, but Herp sees them as two very different types of businesses. In Herp' s words, air taxi is a way to fly domestic travellers from A to B2 with small, high-tech airplanes. As with the Privatjet charters, the traveller hires the plane rather than a seating place, but the airfare is much cheaper than a chartership.
Airtaxi optimizes smaller, shared aerodromes and is aimed at those who need to fly on a route not so well serviced by business carriers. While so many of Linear Air's close rivals have emerged from a similar concept, Herp says that most of them have now gone over to what he calls "traditional chartering" by purchasing larger, more costly planes (such as Jetsuite) or discovering a helicopter that is nearer to a local carrier (such as Surf Air).
On the other hand, Linear Air sees realistic prospects for the future of Air Taxi. Says the air taxi group is three fold the size of the charters group - calculated on available planes - and acknowledges that the airline can no longer derive much value from the operation of Eclipse aircrafts. "It' s no longer strategical for our deal, but there are some strategic reason for maintaining the plan.
I could imagine with optimism that we had left the chart segment this year," he says. Renamed, restarted and revitalized, Eclipse Aerospace begins ramping up its airplane shipments, Herp says the company's operating mode is still problematic for owner and operator. Having established the necessary infra-structure for a sound air taxi paradigm, Linear Air will step up its promotional efforts - both on-line and off-line - to encourage the advantages of using an air taxi.
"The only thing we don't have is the capacity to tell folks in a proactive way that an air taxi is a good choice and they can find us when they look online," says Herp. Within a single weekend, Linear Air saw 118,000 on-line researches for couples of cities between which Cirrus planes can soar. While Herp acknowledges that the possibilities for converting are very limited - this number corresponds to around 1,500 references to the Linear Air website - the actual value lies in repeating the purchase with newcomers.
No matter what happens, this year should be an interesting year for Linear Air. In the past year, the airline has flown 320 air taxi missions and organized a similar number of charter ed charter jets. In this year Herp is expecting the number of air taxi trips to treble, while the charts will remain shallow.