On Aug. 14, North American Jet Charter Group, LLC, became the world´s first FAR Part 135 on-demand air charter operator to receive Federal Aviation Administration approval to begin commercial service using the Eclipse 500 very light jet. On Aug. 17, the company achieved another historic milestone: it became the world´s first operator to fly paying charter passengers on the Eclipse VLJ. The aircraft took off from North American Jet Charter´s headquarters at Chicago Executive Airport (PWK) in Wheeling, Ill., landing a little more than an hour later at Martin State Airport (MTN) in Baltimore, Md.
"This was a round-trip IFR flight," said Ken Ross, president of North American Jet Charter, who acted as captain, with Ed Lavigne as first officer. "I´ve flown the Eclipse many times, but I really wanted to serve as captain for the world´s first charter flight on this VLJ. I can´t think of a better way to stand behind my company."
Ross said the flight lasted 1.7 hours each way, with the aircraft reaching a flight ceiling of 33,000 feet, and true air speed was 316 knots. Since the inaugural flight, the company has been flying other business executives in the Eclipse.
"Aug. 20 marked the second chartered flight," he said. "Using the Eclipse for short, air taxi trips is becoming very successful; we´re getting a lot of positive feedback from passengers."
Ross said he and other company pilots were among the first to pass FAA check rides to obtain a type rating in the Eclipse.
"I´m proud of the fact that our pilots, including myself, were some of the first to pass check rides the initial time," he said. "Other pilots had to retake check rides before earning a type rating."
He said for now, all charter flights using the Eclipse VLJ will have a two-pilot crew.
"As the Eclipse is certified for single-pilot operation, down the line, one captain-qualified pilot will fly passengers," he said. "Each type-rated pilot in the Eclipse must have a minimum of 150 flight hours. Outside of the twin Eclipse turbine jet, pilots must have a minimum of 1,000 flight hours in turbine aircraft, plus a minimum of 3,000 total flight hours."
Ross said the company expects to have 15 to 20 Eclipse 500s under management by the end of the year.
"We´re looking at other VLJs and we´re also planning to expand our entire fleet," he said. "Presently, we manage Learjet 35As, a Citation 680 and a King Air F90. We´re serious about growing our charter fleet, aircraft management and aircraft acquisition services. Out of 40 people we employ, 12 are pilots. We´re growing so fast that by the end of September we´ll have 15 pilots; we´ll continue hiring two to three pilots each month until the end of 2007."
Eclipse Aviation Corp., manufacturer of the Eclipse 500, has waited for more than eight years to see one of its aircraft fly under FAR Part 135.
"This is a monumental achievement," Ross said. "Finally, charter passengers can fly on a VLJ they´ve been hearing about for years. This is a boost for the whole general aviation industry."
Ross, an avid supporter of the Eclipse 500´s flying capabilities, says the aircraft´s operating efficiency makes it a good choice for those needing on-demand air charter options.
"The flexibility and productivity benefits, previously available only to company presidents and CEOs, is now available to virtually any business traveler," he said. "Initial pricing has been based on one-way fares, with no daily minimums for aircraft usage or overnight charges. Typical passenger loads of one to three travelers will enjoy all the benefits of first-class travel at about the same rate as a one-way, first-class airline ticket."
Ross said North American Jet Charter´s new "Q" program—its "quintessential" traveler service—will offer air limo service at half the traditional charter rate.
"Eventually, the Q program will expand to offer a wide range of travel services—everything from ground travel to lodging to entertainment venues," he said.
World´s first Eclipse charter passengers
Ben Klein, CEO of Up Stairs Solutions, could barely contain his enthusiasm as the first paying passenger to fly on an Eclipse VLJ.
"We just landed! The flight was so awesome!" he said on the afternoon of Aug. 17, after returning from his round-trip flight. "My company executive, Tamar Abell, who is normally a white-knuckle flier, also thought the flight was great. Both Ken and Ed did a marvelous job; I´ve chartered many private jets and it makes you feel safe knowing you´re flying with very experienced pilots."
Klein said he was elated to be one of the first charter passengers on the Eclipse, and that the entire experience was better than he imagined.
"We can´t wait to do it again, and frequently," he said. "The aircraft was comfortable. I was surprised at how much room we had in the back."
Klein was also surprised about the quiet ride.
"The Eclipse is a tiny jet, so I didn´t expect the flight to be as peaceful as it was," he said.
Klein, whose company employs more than 1,300 people, said he also purchased an Eclipse 500 from N.M.-based Eclipse Aviation.
"When the aircraft isn´t being used under FAR Part 91 for company business, it will be on North American Jet Charter´s air carrier certificate," he said. "My aircraft, though, isn´t expected for delivery for at least three months."
The Eclipse he flew on didn´t have a lavatory, but Klein says his will—for a good reason.
"I have small children," he said. "For business purposes, though, the seat with the lavatory will be removed. For short one- to two-hour trips, not having a lavatory isn´t a problem."
Klein´s pleased that company personnel can fly on chartered Eclipse aircraft now, and he´ll take advantage of that travel option when his company takes delivery of its own plane.
"This aircraft is a more cost-effective way to fly, compared to other general aviation private jets currently available," he said. "It´s certainly better than having to waste time flying on commercial airlines."
Up Stairs Solutions also owns a Cirrus SR22.
"We love it; it´s a great aircraft," Klein said. "My wife´s currently learning how to fly, and she´ll fly the Cirrus. But as a businessman, I don´t have time to get my pilot´s license, so I´m looking forward to the Eclipse. I fit the profile of what Eclipse Aviation has been marketing in its campaigns—a back-seat passenger and happy to be there. What I care about is being able to fly from city to city and get back home the same day, at an affordable price."
Klein has high expectations for North American Jet Charter."I think the company will do well with the Eclipse," he said. "People are fed up with the airlines."