US air taxi operator Linear Air is planning to expand its online charter offering, in an effort to exploit the growing popularity of small propeller-driven aircraft among US regional travellers.
“This sector is growing rapidly as increasing numbers of people are looking for low-cost, flexible aircraft to address their travel needs,” says Bill Herp, founder and chief executive of the Concord, Massachusetts-based company
Launched in 2013, Linear Air’s online marketplace and booking platform consists of 650 operators and over 1,700 small turbine and piston-engined aircraft. These include the company’s own Eclipse 500 very light jets, Cessna Caravan single-engined turboprops and Cirrus SR22 piston-singles, which are now the fastest-growing fleet in the US air taxi market, Herp says.
The four-seat aircraft is significantly cheaper to operate than a small business jet or even a turboprop, he explains, and their appeal is widespread among travellers who are looking to fly to towns and cities that are poorly served by airlines.
“In terms of market potential, these small, propeller aircraft have barely scratched the surface,” Herp says.
He points to the US domestic air travel market, where 40 million passenger legs flown each year by scheduled airlines are priced at “a premium or unrestricted coach fare”. The cost, Herp says, is often comparable to chartering a small propeller aircraft.
To bring the price point down even further, Linear Air is launching a new initiative on 11 April that will allow customers who have chartered an aircraft through its online marketplace to sell spare seats on their flight. “Our next step is to offer empty legs on a per-seat basis, and by the third quarter, launch a scheduled shuttle service with our partner operators,” says Herp.
Under US Federal Aviation Administration rules, operators of propeller aircraft, seating nine passengers or fewer, with a maximum payload of 3,400kg (7,500lb), can perform four scheduled round trips a week, Herp says. “The business potential for these operators on high-volume routes is huge,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Linear Air is seeking to replace its pair of Eclipse 500s – of which it was one of the earliest adopters – with managed aircraft from the Pilatus range. Herp says while the 500 business “has been relatively successful” since its launch in 2007, the company is ready to switch.
The PC-12 is well established and very popular in the USA, he says, while the PC-24, with its single-pilot operation, short-field performance and good-sized cabin, is "going to be very marketable”, he says. The superlight business jet is scheduled to enter service later this year, and Herp hopes to add the first aircraft “as soon as possible”.