Complex software is one vital component in DayJet's ambitious plans - now the Florida air-taxi start-up just needs its other key ingredient, its Eclipse 500 VLJs

The virtues of very light jets are about to make an impact in Florida, where DayJet will begin its regional per-seat on-demand service, probably by August. The framework is in place, pilots are hired and trained - everything now awaits delivery of 10 Eclipse 500s. The Delray Beach-based start-up has ordered 310 of the VLJs, but technical problems and delivery delays have pushed back the launch date.

Already 700 customers from 140 companies have signed up to be members of the programme and buy tickets and, once 40 jets enter the system, DayJet officials will know if their bespoke software co-ordinates everything as easily as they predict.

Elaborate and exclusive software programs are behind every aspect of operations, with computers monitoring customer habits, aircraft maintenance and readiness and matching flight plans with available aircraft. DayJet president, chief executive and Citrix founder Ed Iacobucci does not write software any more, but the initial investment came from the fortune he made in programming. "This is really a system that lives in disruption right up until we file a flight plan," he explains. "Airlines build the best model they can and pray nothing changes. We build a schedule and then pray that it keeps changing, because it'll keep improving every time it changes."

DayJet's routeing program knows where the jets are and where the passengers are and at least three ways to get everyone where they are going in the most efficient matches possible for the three passenger seats of each Eclipse. "Every millisecond it's looking at other ways to make that happen. That's how we make money," says Iacobucci.


Fuel, pilot schedules, passenger weight and more are all in the mix. "You can imagine trying to do all that with a roomful of people doing it from millions of combinations. It's impossible. It has to be done by a whole bunch of computers," he says. The calculations are based on complexity science, formerly called chaos theory, and so far the nerve centre of 60 servers in Atlanta, Georgia, has run 2.1 million fictional flights.

Everyone who rides with DayJet must be a member of its programme, pay the $250 fee to join and agree to fly at least four times each year. Flights will often be arranged by company travel planners, but never by a charter broker or travel agent. "We want to know who our customers are. We want to know who will use the bandwidth that we allocate for them in the network," says Iacobucci, using familiar computer terms.

When booking a flight, each passenger selects a "travel window" - the broadest possible span of times they can depart. Each trip has a minimum travel time, including security checks, boarding and time in the air. The tighter a passenger's travel window is around the travel time, the higher the airfare is. Broadening the window by a few hours can cut the cost in half or more, but it will always be between $1 and $4 per mile. There are no deals for round trips. In fact, each one-way trip is always arranged independently.

The passenger learns his or her departure time by email at 20:00 the night before the trip, and it can shift by a few minutes until it is permanently set 2h before departure.

Says Iacobucci: "The commitment you make to us is you're not going to book any other hard-schedule items." Besides leaving those hours free around the possible flight time, each passenger needs to be willing "to make one stop, no more than 20 minutes, never a change of planes. That's how we can use your flexibility to match you up with the flexibility of people in locations all through the network."


Destination, departure time and personal weight are significant factors when matching passengers. The company makes money when two passengers ride and loses money when only one of the three seats is filled. Each Eclipse comes with four seats, but DayJet's exhaustive market research suggests that most trips will have either one passenger or three, and the fourth seat is removed.

That leaves a large space for one passenger to recline into, or for the rearmost passenger's legs after swivelling the seat. The interior is designed by BMW, but there will not be any frills. Officials are pondering whether to give out small bottles of water. Large bottles could be problematic, since there are no toilet facilities. "People are not going to close the deal because they can't go to the restroom," assures Iacobucci. Using an empty bottle could be possible, he adds, "That depends on how well you know your fellow passengers." In dire emergencies the pilots would land.

Time in the air will never be longer than a few hours for the regional service. The appeal DayJet has created is same-day travel for business customers, and it is not for everyone -"98% of the time, the other alternatives are better," Iacobucci says.

DayJet finds pockets where customers are concentrated. A market prediction program Iacobucci compares with "Sim City on hyper steroids" (referring to the popular town planning computer game) shows how a two-day trip by car makes sense when commercial airline connections do not match up for same-day travel. When an on-demand option is added to the mix, suddenly the commercial option is favourable for half of the journey. "We were absolutely flabbergasted to find that consistently, in every model, airline travel went up when we introduced our service in their backyard," says Iacobucci.

Expansion of the service beyond the initial five Florida "DayPorts" is already mapped out, but it will mostly be determined by customer demand. "If you ask people where they want to fly to, you get weird answers. It's much better to watch their behaviour," says Iacobucci. Planned growth reaches partially into six states, with Florida and Georgia making the bulk of the coverage zone.


Pilots who have signed on at DayJet say they are drawn by the first real innovation in air travel in decades. Ultimately there will be 1,500 pilots: five for each aircraft. "We have single-pilot type ratings, but we're staffing our aircraft with two pilots," says Bill Thomas, manager of flight standards. A minimum of 3,000h is required to apply for the standard $50,000 a year salary, plus benefits and undisclosed stock options. Crews will be paired based on their experience and weight for what Thomas says will be the most stable jobs available in air travel. "They're going to be home. No overnights. The optimisation system accounts for weather. So it would have to be really unpredicted or a maintenance issue [that would keep pilots away overnight]."

Most pilots hired already live near the DayBases of Boca Raton and Gainesville (along with maintenance crews), and will report for 10h shifts starting at either 04:00 or 13:00. "We anticipate six or so flights per shift, with some breaks in between," says Thomas. Both pilots help passengers on board and explain safety procedures, but in the air everything is handled by only one. "The pilot pulls the gear up, moves the flaps. The non-flying pilot monitors all these things and will be checked with a high degree of discipline." The Eclipse's digitally controlled engines means there are few power-monitoring duties. Even when he or she is monitoring, the pilot-in-command remains in charge.

They will make regular trips to the two DayBases and the DayPorts in Lakeland, Talla­hassee and Pensacola. Staffed desks there will prepare passengers for boarding and check names against the no-fly list. There will be no DayJet presence at dozens of "DayStops", the smaller airports to which the service will extend. "Each DayBase will have a fleet of 10 jets at the end of each day," says Thomas. "Initially, 20% of the fleet will be on standby to pick up after disruption." If there is a delay, those jets will be scrambled to keep the entire schedule on task. "We'll assign some of the pilots to those spares, and we'll assign some to other duties". These include training and book-keeping. With pilots spread across the state, "you'll never feel like you're part of a 2,000-3,000 pilot group. You'll always have that feeling of being part of a small family," Thomas says. Additionally, everyone in the company is never more than four supervisors away from Iacobucci.

Almost 200 employees are on board already, and the headquarters on the first floor of a bank building in Delray Beach will accommodate 300 staff. There, workers busily type at the computers on long rows of desks, while schedules and readiness are monitored and travel data is compiled. The offices "are what they are", says Iacobucci. "We're a start-up. We haven't really spent a lot on facilities. We're focusing on getting the job done."

Iacobucci is ready to get going, but currently DayJet's Eclipses cannot fly through clouds or anywhere near water. The jets need a pitot-tube modification to repair a limitation mandating flight in visual meteorological conditions. The tubes have frozen in other Eclipses and the US Federal Aviation Administration will not give clearance yet.


In addition, the jets have no radar or weather information, no traffic or terrain data and no GPS. Outwardly, Iacobucci shows patience. "We realise we're a start-up working with a start-up," he says. Two DayJet officials are assigned to the Eclipse facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico to monitor production. Vice-president of strategic operations Traver Gruen-Kennedy says the company's growth will include other VLJs. "We've been working with Embraer and Honda all along as they've been finalising the specifications of their airplanes."

Once the company grows there will be full-time principals at the FAA assigned only to DayJet, and it plans to equip its aircraft with RNAV area navigation capability. Iacobucci says: "We don't have to interact with air traffic control nearly as much. We cut down on time in the air, fuel usage and carbons. It lowers the cost of supporting us from an FAA point of view. So we're investing an extra $100,000 to have that on board."

In total DayJet has placed an order for 310 Eclipse 500 very light jets

Source: Flight International