Cameron Burr: Pogo-ing Into A New Aviation Age
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The image is irresistible. An executive, immaculate in three-piece suit, French cuffs, Rolex and, for just a touch of color, a Jerry Garcia tie, bouncing from business meeting here, to major conference there, to weekend retreat somewhere else like, like, well, like someone on a pogo stick. Hop, skipping and jumping from one key agenda item to the next without fighting freeway traffic, battling airport gridlock or suffering the cruel and unusual punishments meted out by airline schedule makers.

That irresistible image is one of two reasons behind the naming of Pogo Jet, which, beginning in late 2008, will use a fleet of Very Light Jets (VLJs) to - in its own words - "give people the freedom to move from one place to another as never before." The other reason is a small cartoon possum who lived in South Georgia's Okefenokee swamp and more than once summed up his philosophy this way: Don't take life so seriously, folks. It ain't no-how's permanent.

"The pogo stick represented what we wanted to do, short hops, lots of flights, fast turnarounds."
"First, we thought about the pogo stick," recalls Pogo Jet President Cameron Burr, the son of co-founder and former People Express CEO Donald Burr, "then Robert Crandall remembered this cartoon character named Pogo." What Pogo-cofounder, CEO and former American Airlines Chairman Crandall remembered was a bitingly satirical comic strip in which artist/writer Walt Kelly used his swamp creatures to "afflict the comforted" for over 50 years.

Says Cameron Burr, "the pogo stick represented what we wanted to do, short hops, lots of flights, fast turnarounds. The character Pogo was a very anti-establishment animal. He was a champion of the little guy and very against the status quo, and that's what we are we are a new way to travel, we are not an airline."

What is that new way to travel? What is Pogo, if not an airline?

In an exclusive interview with AirTaxiFlights.com's Elliot Borin, Cameron Burr answers those questions.

ATF: Who are you targeting as your primary customers?

CB: Many people looking at this market think it's all about executive travel, we're not so sure about that. We expect to have a healthy mix between business and leisure travelers. The issue is all about the value of the service in time and productivity. According to our studies, it's very rare for people to want to get in their car and drive 300 miles for a day trip there's Too much wear and tear on them and their vehicles and the fatigue factor at the other end is significant.

ATF: And yet, given traffic conditions trying to get to many major airports, extended check-in time requirements, and waiting for baggage and ground transportation after arrival, those 300-mile a day trips can as long by airline as by car. I've frequently driven from Ventura, California to Las Vegas because I would get to my hotel sooner than I would by flying on a scheduled carrier from LAX or Burbank. If I could fly out of Ventura or Oxnard on my own schedule and without going bankrupt, it would be a different scenario.

CB: If we can maintain - and we're sure we can -- per-seat price points no more than 30 to 40 percent above full-fare and last-minute airline fares, we will be creating a whole new class of travel that doesn't really take anything away from the fractional jet ownership market or the airlines.

"We don't demand any service level-agreements, membership fees, or any other kind of participation fee. All you will pay for is the flight."
ATF: Explain Pogo's pricing and reservation policy a bit. As I understand it, you won't be using the traditional air-taxi model of selling seats to all travelers wanting to go to the same destination.

CB: That's right. We're not pursuing the per-seat-on-demand model. That's Dayjet's model and it's a great one, but from an operating point of view, we think it's going to be a very tough thing to make work.

We're using the Hertz model, the only difference is that you're renting an airplane not a car.

ATF: How will that work?

CB: We don't demand any service level-agreements, membership fees, or any other kind of participation fee. All you will pay for is the flight.

We also intend to drive as much of the reservation business through the Web as possible. You type in a zip code and you get a list of four airports within your area. You tell us which one you want to go out of, where you want to go, and what your timeframe is. The computer will tell you the services available and prices. It's up to you to self-aggregate the seats the airplane is yours.

ATF: What is the "Mogul For A Day" service I've heard about?

CB: (laughs) That's Mr. Crandall's name for it. Basically, what that means is that we pick you up and you own the airplane for eight hours, including four hours of flying time. We think Mogul For A Day will be very popular with engineers and sales directors. It's really just another variation on the Hertz model, except that the customer can visit six or seven clients spread out over hundreds of miles and be home the same night, which can't be done using a rental car. Since that type of service eliminates deadhead moves for the aircraft and enables us to keep a good handle on our flying crews, we can offer it relatively economically.

ATF: When you do begin service, where will Pogo's first flights operate from?

CB: We'll most likely launch in the Northeast with flights operating in a 500-nautical-mile circle around New York City. There are 700 to 800 useable airports in that area and of the 19 million people who boarded flights there last year, two million were last-minute walkups.

ATF: How many aircraft do you think you'll need to cover that area initially? CB: We believe we'll need somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 airplanes before we see a true network effect and can adequately cover the area.

ATF: And those aircraft will be?

"...90 percent of the 5400 airports in the country are suitable for VLJ operations."
CB: We really haven't decided yet. We're involved in every current aircraft offering. We're very intensively studying what all the builders are doing, but we haven't placed any orders. We'd like to see some production models in service first. The big issue for us is which aircraft will give us the highest utilization rate. We don't want our fleet sitting on the ground except to load and unload passengers.

ATF: You mentioned DayJet. They're planning to start service with the Eclipse 500 later this year. Pogo is scheduled to roll out in the third quarter of 2008. Does Dayjet having a18- or 20-month head start bother you?

CB: Quite the contrary. We're very excited they're going to be a year and a half ahead of us. The market isn't available yet, we're happy to let them start building it. We'll be well served by watching them, by letting them create the market by educating people to the fact that 90 percent of the 5400 airports in the country are suitable for VLJ operations and that 92 percent of the population lives within 30 minutes of one of those airports.

Having them break ground ahead of us will also enable us to see how regulators will respond, how the airlines will respond. We'll be benefiting from their experience. Look at the history of the aviation industry, there are always problems the first year.

As I've said elsewhere, this is a long game, not a race. We don't need to be first.



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