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Private Jets for Business Travel: Part 2

"It takes a while to introduce new planes into the system," said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, a trade group. Adam Webster, co-founder and chief executive of rsvpair, an air charter directory, agreed. "The jets are still a million dollars a pop," he said.

One cheaper option for both companies and wealthy individuals is fractional jet ownership. At Berkshire Hathaway's NetJets, a leading fractional-ownership company, one-sixteenth of a plane (or 50 hours of yearly flying time) starts at about $400,000. A recent innovation called fractional jet cards can be had for around $100,000, but come with a limited number of hours and restrictions on when they can be used. The new jets also may mean viable air-taxi service. DayJet Corp., based in Delray Beach, Fla., has ordered 309 Eclipse planes and plans to start flying point-to-point service this year. Chief Executive Ed Iacobucci said passengers could pay $1 to $3 per mile.

The new jets could pose financial challenges for commercial airlines, which are suffering financially. Already, business jets tend to siphon away first-class passengers and those who buy full-fare tickets at the last minute. The FAA said last week that the mainline carriers lost a net $10.3 billion in 2005, after losing $6 billion in 2004. Low-cost and regional carriers also lost money -- $2.5 billion -- in 2005, the FAA said. The coming of very light jets also poses potential problems for air-traffic control. FAA officials worry about congestion on some runways and in the skies, where more planes may be crowding the same airspace.

While these planes are small, they can fly at high altitudes alongside commercial carriers. And they require the same amount of attention from air-traffic controllers as do larger aircraft, particularly if they fly through congested air space.

To handle the demand from small planes -- coupled with rising demand from the commercial carriers, expected to carry 1 billion passengers by 2015 -- the FAA says it must upgrade technology to allow more planes to move through the air at once.

"It's time to invest in a new system," said Russell Chew, chief operating officer of the FAA's Air Traffic Organization.

Vern Raburn, chief executive of Eclipse Aviation, said planes like the Eclipse 500 are likely to fly into small, underused airports and therefore won't clog the system. The Eclipse needs only 2,200 feet of runway to take off or land, opening up community airports.

GAMA, the manufacturers' trade group, says the U.S. has about 19,800 landing facilities; commercial airlines, which need much longer runways, use fewer than 500 of those.

"What excites airports about light jets is that their price and size opens up general aviation to airports that couldn't handle the larger jets," says Barbara Patzner, airport director of Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., which has a 5,000-foot runway and a 7,000-foot runway. "If you are an executive and you need to get to Augusta, Maine, you can fly a very light jet and be up there in 20 minutes."



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