Planning a plane trip? Depending on when and where you’re flying, you may want to consider hailing a taxi instead. An air taxi, that is. Thanks to a fleet of “microjets” set to hit the market, hopping a jet could someday be as easy as hailing a cab.
Air taxis, of course, have been around for years. Geared primarily toward business travelers, most use turbo-prop planes and smaller airports to provide on-demand service for regional travel. Now, though, forward-thinking flyers are hoping "very light jets" (VLJs) may make such services feasible for the rest of us.
The idea is to provide an alternative to the current air-traffic system, where “hurry up and wait” has become the grumbled mantra of millions of frazzled travelers. The pre-dawn drive to the airport to arrive 90 minutes before departure. The curbside congestion at the terminal. The snail-paced search for a parking spot. We converge at the ticket counter, shuffle through security and jam up the jetway, a harried herd with an increasingly bad attitude.
To paraphrase the old tag line from long-defunct National Airlines, “Is this any way to run an airline industry?”
Maybe not, thanks to the first of a fleet of VLJs (also known as "microjets") that may hit the runway over the next several months. Technically speaking, a microjet has a maximum takeoff weight of 10,000 pounds and can be operated by a single pilot. Outfitted with four to eight seats, these jets are designed to provide direct, on-demand service between destinations up to 1,300 miles apart. (Most trips are expected to be 500 miles or less.) Traveling at speeds of 400 mph and up, they’re essentially souped-up air taxis, which may explain why they’ve been likened to SUVs with wings.
And like SUVs, they’re designed to go off the beaten path. Instead of competing for space at major hubs like Atlanta, O’Hare, and DFW, VLJs can use many of the more than 5,000 local and regional airports across the U.S. Often close to both home and destination, they’re the kind of airports where the parking is free, the security’s easy, and the rental cars are right outside the door.
The combination — small, fast planes using small, local airports — has a blue-sky appeal that’s hard to resist: head to Disney World for the day from points all over the Southeast; visit Martha’s Vineyard from much of New England without ferries or connecting flights. Suddenly, those distant weddings and family reunions that you used to drive to could be doable without the backseat soundtrack of "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"
Adams Aircraft A500
Well, no actually, we’re not. While the idea of microjets for the masses is intriguing, the concept is not quite cleared for takeoff. Issues from pilot training to air-traffic control would need to be worked out, and a host of regulatory issues are as yet unresolved. (In mid-July, Eclipse Aviation, an industry frontrunner, was still waiting for FAA certification for its Eclipse 500.)
Then there’s the question of demand. With ticket prices expected to be higher than traditional coach fares, many members of the flying public may find the headaches of hub-based air travel a relative bargain. In the short term, most microjet seats will be filled by business travelers rather than vacationers.