Turkish venture set to offer air taxis in 2008

LONDON (Reuters) – Turkey will beat Western Europe in the race to offer air taxis using a new breed of smaller, cheaper business jets under a deal announced yesterday which aims to fly up to 180 of the planes starting in early 2008. Turkish luxury goods firm Atasay and Luxembourg-based firm ETIRC Aviation have agreed to form a venture which will offer on-demand, direct flights within Turkey and into neighboring countries. «The two companies will establish a joint venture which will see the purchase of 120 very light jets (VLJs) such as the Eclipse 500, with options for a further 60,» they said in a statement. «We will have access to the right fields, the right slots,» ETIRC Aviation Chief Executive Roel Pieper, a former executive at computer firm Compaq, told Reuters in a telephone interview. The idea of air taxis is to take small planes typically carrying four passengers and tap into the many airports where larger planes cannot or do not land, thereby avoiding crowded major airports. Pieper said there were more than 1,000 such airports in Europe alone. «Flights from any local airport can be booked to any other local airport in the region at costs in line with current business class travel, but at times and locations of (the customer’s) choosing,» the companies said. The business will provide airlines and entrepreneurs with the infrastructure required to roll out jet taxi services across Europe rapidly. «The company already has substantial financing in place to purchase up to 300 VLJs,» Pieper said. He stated that the Turkish government would be a customer along with business people criss-crossing Turkey using smaller airports, including military air fields. Atasay Chief Executive Cihan Kamer said Turkey would be getting a jump on Europe and provide a boost to its economy. «I believe that the introduction of on-demand jet taxi service in Turkey will be as revolutionary for business as the introduction of the cellphone,» he said in the statement. Pieper told Reuters that ETIRC took delivery of Europe’s first Eclipse 500 jet last week. VLJs are a new type of plane that are a fraction of the cost of traditional, larger business jets, with some models expected to sell for less than $2 million. Florida-based firm DayJet took delivery of three Eclipse jets in March and expects to begin air taxi services in the second quarter of this year. It has placed orders for 239 Eclipse jets with options to buy 70 more over the next two years.