UK-based low-cost pan-European air taxi operator Blink has taken delivery of its fourth Cessna Citation Mustang as the global economic downturn brings mixed fortunes for Europe's fledgling air taxi industry.

The Farnborough-based Blink - Cessna's largest Mustang customer, with an order for 30 of the very light jets - says its business has remained consistently good since it began operating last June and five more aircraft will be added to its fleet as planned by the end of this year.

"These challenging economic conditions have created considerable interest in our air taxi operation from companies looking to downsize from larger business jets and those wanting to reduce their travel budgets and increase employees' productivity," says Blink managing director and co-founder Peter Leiman. "People still need to travel, but they are now looking at more cost efficient ways of doing so."

Blink Air Taxi fleet
 © Blink

Leiman says the global funding drought has hit many established and start-up operators, but Blink is "fortunate" that it managed to raise the requisite $30 million funding in 2007, when the market was buoyant.

Blink plans to ramp up its fleet and build its European network as soon as it is viable to do so. "We plan to open a base in continental Europe in the first half of the year that will allow us to build up our European customer base and deliver an efficient, low-cost air-taxi model."

Ireland's JetBird - which plans to be Europe's largest pan-European, low-cost air-taxi operator with up to 100 Embraer Phenom 100 VLJs - says it is on track to begin commercial services in June as planned. Chief executive Stefan Vilner says "we have had an overwhelming response to the programme", which will initially focus on the industrial Rhine-Ruhr area of south-west Germany. "Every time there is an economic crisis, people move to a lower-cost alternative. We have already secured a number of customers and haven't even started our marketing campaign," he adds.

JetBird Embraer Phenom 100
 © JetBird

The first aircraft is scheduled for delivery in April, "but it could slip to May", Vilner says, following the three-month delay in the certification of the Phenom 100. Like Blink, JetBird has secured "most of the equity" as well as the finance for first 25 aircraft. "We have already firmed up nine of the 50 options, bringing our firm orderbook to 59 jets so far," says Vilner.

JetBird will take delivery of 15 aircraft this year, 25 in 2010 and 20 aircraft each year until 2013, "although we have the flexibility to alter the schedule as it suits", says Vilner.

In contrast, Netherlands-based Bikkair has been forced to postpone delivery of its third Mustang as the economic downturn slashes its bookings. "We don't have enough business to sustain three aircraft, so we have sold the slot," says Bikkair sales manager Hans Van Hoorn. Rotterdam-based Bikkair, which launched services in March 2008 on the back of an initial order for four Mustangs, is hoping to attract enough business before June when the next delivery is scheduled,

Meanwhile, the picture is unclear for those European operators and fledgling ventures with the Eclipse 500 at their heart - despite having gained European certification in 2008, Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Eclipse Aviation filed for bankruptcy last month forcing many companies to delay their launch plans or switch to Cessna and Embraer's more investor-friendly VLJs.

"We still remain believers in the Eclipse 500," says Conor Neill, managing director of Spanish air taxi start-up Taxijet, which plans to begin commercial operations with a customer-owned aircraft in the third quarter. "In the short term, finding investors and financing is easier for the Mustang or Phenom 100 and we may need to look at these alternatives for our fleet."

Source: Flight International