For years and years now -- nine years, to be precise, since this 1999 article in the NY Times magazine and my subsequent Atlantic article and book Free Flight -- I've been arguing that the mounting hassles of airline travel, and the emergence of radically cheaper, safe small planes, would make "air taxis" increasingly popular.*
DayJet, the best-funded and most widely-known of these services -- plus the one I have found most interesting -- ran into setbacks this summer during the credit and fuel-price crunch, but it now is expanding again. SATSair, which uses new, small Cirrus SR22 propeller airplanes for routes on the East Coast, has seen a significant rise in business this year.
Now comes Miwok Airlines, run by a software entrepreneur and Israeli AF air traffic controller named Gad Barnea, which will provide short-haul service using Cirrus airplanes in and around the LA basin. LA Times article on Miwok here; analysis by my friend Chet Richards here. The company plans to serve 40 small airports from roughly Oxnard to San Diego. According to a Calt
Tech professor quoted in the LAT, "It's not competition to the airlines but a competitor to driving."
What makes it like a taxi service, and unlike a scheduled airline, is that Miwok needs to send a plane to Oxnard -- or Torrance or San Bernardino -- only when a customer wants to go there. That is, it can "serve" 40 small airports but not necessarily go to any specific airport for days at a time. What makes it different from DayJet is that the Cirruses, while very comfortable, cost much, much less to buy and operate than even small jets. (For six years before coming to China, I owned and flew a less-fancy CIrrus SR20.)
Any airplane-related business is a challenge. Any of
these companies might or might not make it. But every year, more people
are choosing to travel this way, which is a sign of the even greater challenges for the airlines.
* If you missed the book: These services would use small airplanes to allow non-rich travelers to do what people rich enough to have private jets have done for years: go direct from the airport nearest their home or office to the airport nearest their real destination, rather than driving miles to DFW and then changing in ORD. (The United States is packed with these small airports, capable of handling small jets.) And it would allow them to travel when they wanted, rather than by the airlines' schedules.
By the way: if you think these little airplanes are going to clog up the skies for the already-delayed airlines, you really need to read one of these articles or books. The point hard to understand unless you've spent time flying to little airports is that most U.S. airports, and most routes through the sky, are not congested at all. The guiding idea of any air taxi service is: if an airport already has airline service, air taxis have no business going there. The airports they're looking for are the ones with no airline service now, and their goal is to stay far away from the one crowded part of the sky: the approach corridors to big, crammed airports like LAX and JFK.