Press & News Features

Eclipse Operator Linear Air Restarts Air Taxi Service

Posted by Abbi Hiller on Mon, May 03, 2010

Originally published in The Weekly of Business Aviation on May 3, 2010

By Benet J. Wilson

Concord, Mass.-based air taxi provider Linear Air has relaunched its point-to-point service from the New York City region, President and CEO William Herp tells BA. “I’m glad to be back on the growth path after all our history with Eclipse Aviation,” says Herp. Linear Air began operating in 2004 with Cessna Grand Caravans and added four Eclipse EA500 very light jets by 2008, he says.

After Eclipse Aviation shut down in 2008, the fleet was frozen at four, Herp says. “But we now expect to bring more aircraft into our fleet by putting aircraft on our certificate from owners and help them offset their costs,” he says. “It’s a modified lease deal, where we lease the aircraft and manage them as well.” Eclipse Aviation produced 260 aircraft, and many of the owners did not get what they signed up for, Herp says. “Owners are looking for alternatives for their aircraft. Warranty support is improving, but an upgrade is a large investment in the aircraft.”

Linear Air has been flying Caravans, and during Eclipse’s bankruptcy, one was kept as a hedge, Herp says. “Last fall, when new owners bought Eclipse, they started doing upgrades, and one of our aircraft has been upgraded,” he says. “We’ve put 100 hours on it already and have been pleased with how it operates.”

The $2.1 million cost of the new “Total Eclipse” refurbishment and completion program may drive Eclipse Aerospace EA500 owners to instead look at the manufacturer’s upgrade program, says Herp. Under Total Eclipse, “Eclipse will take your existing EA500 in trade for between $1 million and $1.5 million and give you an upgraded jet from the Dayjet fleet,” he says. “I don’t know too many owners who will do that when they can spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars for an upgrade.” Herp says he has been happy with the support from the

new Eclipse Aerospace owners. “I feel more confident that they will support the Eclipse fleet and am confident of Linear Air having a year-round business model,” he says. “We felt the time was right to get into the New York market.”

The plan is to expand the fleet, says Herp, who declined to share the numbers. “But I anticipate significant growth in our fleet, because we are the last man standing in the [very light jet] air taxi business. Dayjet is gone, and Pogo returned its money to its investors, so there are no other competitors,” he says. “The EA500 does have a compelling value story, with operators saying the trip profiles offer excellent value.”

The EA500 is 40% less expensive to operate than its competition in the next-smallest jet, Herp says. “The average business traveler can justify an air taxi with one to two passengers to a secondary market not served by the airlines,” he says, adding that the value “makes me bullish on VLJ air taxi service.”

The Eclipse bankruptcy and faltering economy has changed the playing field, Herp says. “I don’t think anyone would make the investments we’ve made in the EA500. We’ve got, in a perverse way, the best opportunity we’ve had because of current circumstances,” he says. Herp says he expects Eclipse to be back in production in the next three to four years. “And that will allow Linear Air to grow and expand geographically, eventually letting us get back to our original plan to have 300 aircraft operating in 15 markets,” he says. “We can’t do that in the three to four-year time frame, but the VLJ air taxi model will have hundreds of aircraft operating.”

Despite the problems surrounding the fallout of the Eclipse bankruptcy, Herp still strongly believes in the aircraft. “It’s in a class by itself,” he says. “Proposed FAA rules could change certification for VLJs. If that comes true, any new aircraft will be harder to get certified. So we’re bullish on Eclipse.”

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