(Daytona Beach News Journal)
DAYTONA BEACH -- Despite two commercial airlines recently leaving Daytona Beach International Airport and a third going soon, one flying company is expanding.
Trans Northern Airways, the charter division of Phoenix East Aviation, recently announced the addition of the first jet to its fleet. The company already has three, propeller-driven planes.
"I hate to say it -- no one wants to see a bad economy -- but, as the commercial airlines pull out of here, it helps us," said Radd Johnson, director of fractional ownership and charter services for Trans Northern.
Hoping to take advantage of the reduced number of commercial flights here, Trans Northern Airways bought a Cessna Citation Mustang in January for $3.2 million. A Mustang was featured at an open house earlier this week, but Trans Northern Airways will not get its plane until January or February.
"It's a very popular plane, and we ordered ours earlier this year as the airline market was seriously declining," Johnson said. "If you ordered one now, you could not get it until 2011 or 2012."
According to the Cessna Aircraft Co., based in Wichita, Kan., more than 500 Mustangs have been ordered since the Federal Aviation Administration certified the "very light jet" classification two years ago. Cessna expects to deliver its 100th plane in August.
More than half of the 45 delivered planes from April through December 2007 went to international owners and operators. More than 100 planes could be delivered by the end of this year, according to Cessna's data, with three of every five being sold overseas.
The compact plane is designed to be lighter and more fuel-efficient than other private jets and prop-driven planes. Many of the buyers are large corporations, charter businesses and air taxi operators.
The Cessna Mustang seats six, including one spot for the pilot. It can be flown with only one pilot.
It can fly at 390 miles an hour and high enough at 41,000 feet to clear most bad weather. Its range on one tank of fuel is about 1,200 miles.
"It's a sexy aircraft, but the charter business is still all about service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year," Johnson said. "If it's safe, legal with the FAA and humanly possible, we do not say no."
Charter and air-taxi businesses account for a small percentage of flyers, but more fuel-efficient jets are coming on line, which may lead to an increase in private, on-demand flights from smaller airports that commercial airlines have ignored or are leaving, said Dawna Rhoades, Assistant Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
"But their success still depends on future fuel costs and how they pick the right markets where there is enough traffic volume to make it profitable," Rhoades said Tuesday.
Potential clients for the new Trans Northern jet are the traditional corporate and private charter users within a 100-mile radius of Daytona Beach, Johnson said. However, the user base is potentially broader with the company offering fractional ownership shares of the Mustang.
Businesses and individuals can buy as small as a 1/16th share for $225,000. The owner gets to use the plane for up to 50 hours a year. Larger shares with up to 400 annual flying hours are also available. Monthly maintenance fees and hourly rates are additional costs.
The program's goal is to provide airplane ownership opportunities at the lowest cost by spreading the operating expenses among several owners. Fractional ownership of airplanes has been around for about 10 years, Johnson said.
"The name of the game is to bring private airline service to the masses. Charters, fractional ownership and air taxis are all a part, but it's still an elite group of society and that may make it a little recession proof," said Richard Aboulafia, senior aircraft analyst with the Teal Group, a Virginia-based defense and aerospace market analysis firm. "But, they make up only one-one hundredth of 1 percent and that won't change much."
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