UK start-up Ambeo opts for Eclipse running mate

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UK-based air taxi start-up Ambeo is seeking to limit the risk of its planned launch by opting for two aircraft types at the outset.

Earlier this year, founder Frank Noppel said Cranfield-based Ambeo was mulling over all three very light jet contenders - the Cessna Citation Mustang, Eclipse 500 and the Embraer Phenom 100 - with a view to buying 10 aircraft and expanding the fleet to around 30 aircraft within five years.

That was later narrowed down to the cheaper Eclipse as the single-fleet type candidate until its US airframer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which forced Ambeo to rethink its strategy and add one of the more expensive and larger Mustangs.

Executive chairman Andy Black says he wants Ambeo to launch operations by the first half of 2009. The company will test the two aircraft in parallel on its targeted market of corporate and high-spending leisure travellers for 300-600 flights hours for up to nine months.

"We may find that a quarter of the way through one aircraft is a complete lemon and so we will accelerate the process of elimination, opting for the customers' favourite," Black says.

He adds that efforts are under way to establish a tax-efficient alternative investment fund, decoupled from the markets that will own the aircraft, and an equity stake in the business, which will increase as the company expands. "This is an element of future-proofing for a capital intensive start-up. If the operating company does not make it, the fund will still own the aircraft," he says.

Black says Ambeo's launch date is likely to coincide with "the second bounce of the ball", but not before mid-2009, although it is heartened by the European Aviation Safety Agency's recent certification of the Eclipse and optimistic about its survival. "With that amount of sunk costs and EASA certification, someone is going to buy that as a going asset," says Black.