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Richard Aboulafia Downplays VLJ Numbers for Next Decade
Richard Aboulafia Downplays VLJ Numbers for Next Decade

Virginia-based Teal Group Corp. released its 18th Annual Business Jet Overview in mid-May. Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis, authored the report and forecast robust production of business jets for the next decade, despite the rising cost of fuel.

Between 2008 and 2017, it´s estimated that 14,289 business jets and 3,373 business turboprops will be produced. In the very light jet category, Aboulafia reported that 3,365 deliveries would take place within the next decade. That´s a far cry from what some aircraft manufacturers have predicted. Aboulafia predicts that 1,385 Cessna Citation Mustangs and 925 Embraer Phenom 100s will be delivered in the next decade. The report didn´t fill in the gap on 1,055 specific VLJ makes.

During his interview, Aboulafia pulled no punches and said VLJs, used as air taxis, "cost a lot of money for almost no reward."

"There´s been a lot of carnage—six or seven dead manufacturer wannabes—and a stream of quixotic service companies, beginning with Nimbus," he explained. "It isn´t just the money wasted, it´s the lives disrupted—people who changed careers to pursue pipe dreams and poorly thought out windmills."

He said some were "arrogant and greedy ventures that extracted cash from unsuspecting people outside of the industry."

"Some were relatively innocent long-shot experiments," he said. "I´d put DayJet in that camp."

DayJet Services LLC laid off 100 workers on May 5, as $40 million in funding to expand the company´s air taxi service didn´t happen. Although the company has 28 Eclipse 500s listed on its air carrier certificate, only seven to eight planes were used on a regular basis. With intentions to use up to 12 VLJs through 2008, the company is also providing ad hoc, whole FAR Part 135 air charter, in addition to its priced-by-the-seat charter flights. DayJet had plans to expand with several more facilities in 2008, but that is on hold. The company will also wait until it can raise the capital it needs before taking delivery of more Eclipse jets. However, the company is adamant that its per-seat, airline-like business model and reservation system is successful. DayJet ordered 1,400 Eclipse jets, but now plans to sell some of its jet positions, as part of an overall move to raise money.

Because of overstated aircraft productions and exaggerated use of air taxis, Aboulafia said the "billions of dollars wasted" on undelivered promises "could harm investor enthusiasm" for the business aircraft industry.

"Let´s hope the smart money wins," he said.

Aboulafia said that even though Pogo and DayJet "both live in a fantasyland of near-delusional business cases," Pogo makes DayJet look like British Airways.

"DayJet relies on private investors who are more likely to take a risk than the general public," he said. "Pogo has talked about an IPO, which is a complete non-starter for a notional start-up with no revenue and a speculative business plan. It´s very unlikely that they´ll take any of DayJet´s planes."

Aboulafia said that if an on-demand, per-seat business can´t make it in the Southeast it can´t make it anywhere.

"You´ve got a place with great geography, many rich people, great flying weather, many small airports, mediocre airline service and a state (Florida) government that acts like the old Soviet Union in its socialist love of subsidies," he said. "But the only non-ownership jet travel businesses that seem to actually work are relatively high cost and elite, like jet cards and charter."

Aboulafia questions Eclipse´s business plan

Throughout the years, Aboulafia has criticized Eclipse Aviation for not having a feasible business plan. He´s often stated that the aircraft manufacturer´s production numbers weren´t realistic from day one. Additionally, he´s questioned Eclipse´s reports of firm orders for the last 10 years, which have ranged from 2,400 to more than 2,700. In fact, Aboulafia has challenged Raburn to release company records to prove firm orders exist.

During a recent interview, he said Eclipse would keep delivering planes, "but logically, the company should be bankrupt." Looking at the numbers as a market analyst, Aboulafia said Eclipse would "continue to burn cash at an alarming rate," as long as investors stay in.

"But no analyst can forecast irrational behavior by the people (investors) who give them money," he said.

As for Teal´s forecast, Aboulafia said he has no idea who will build the 1,055 non-Cessna/Embraer VLJs in the next decade.

"There´s a good chance that Eclipse might survive as a niche producer, after bankruptcy—probably inevitable—wiping out the upfront investment and investors," he said. "It would need to transition to responsible and competent management. I think pistons have a good chance of staking out a nice, low-cost, on-demand position in the market—probably good for a few hundred planes. It won´t transform anyone´s air travel system, but it´s a nice modest business."


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