Carrier to operate VLJs alongside Caravan turboprops from Hanscom Field airport

Air taxi operator Linear Air has made Washington DC its third test market in advance of deliveries of 30 Eclipse 500 very light jets, starting this summer. The three-year-old Lexington, Massachusetts-based Part 135 company last week positioned its fifth Cessna Grand Caravan turboprop at Manassas Regional airport, just west of downtown Washington.

Linear Air serves Martha's Vineyard and other Boston area locations with two Caravans based at Hanscom Field, and the New York area with two additional Cessnas based out of Westchester County Airport. The company offers private on-demand charters in addition to limited per-seat roundtrip flights, a practice capped at a maximum of four roundtrips a week by regulation.

"We started in May 2004 specifically to build a business model that we thought would be credible for the VLJ," says William Herp, president and chief executive of Linear Air. "The Caravan is the closest proxy for the VLJs and the Eclipse jet in particular in terms of price and operating cost." The company plans to use two staff pilots per VLJ, with training initially provided by Eclipse Aviation.

Linear Air charges $894 per flight hour for the Caravan, about half of what the Eclipse will cost per hour. Since the Eclipse flies about twice as fast however, the numbers balance out. Asked about how customers accustomed to the large nine-passenger cabin of the Caravan will feel about the small four-seat Eclipse cabin, Herp says data indicating that charter flights typically fly with fewer than three passengers means the Eclipse's interior will be adequately spacious. "We think the Eclipse jet for three-passenger day trips will be the preferred mode of transport," he adds. Linear plans to position its first Eclipse 500 at Hanscom after delivery in August.

The company has carried 1,000 customers since launching at Hanscom in May 2004, grown to 40 employees and raised a total of $6 million in private equity and $4.5 million in debt capital, says Herp. "At this point, we are one of the top companies in the VLJ industry. We're really the only guys who have chosen to create an operating model ahead of the aircraft."

Source: Flight International