OneJet, a Pittsburgh-based airline that caters to business passengers flying between midsize cities, has grown from just two flights per day in May 2016 to 300 flights per week today.

Still, CEO Matt Maguire said the growth trajectory is only upward.

"Our average market has a demand of 50 to 60 passengers per day, with stage lengths between 300 and 700 miles," Maguire said. "We see about 800 routes that fit that profile."

But analysts say the OneJet model, while promising, won't be easy to implement.

"I think he's onto something, but he's creating a new market, not reviving an old one," said Mike Boyd of the Boyd Group consulting firm. "It's really going after people who need to get from A to B quickly. And the challenge is to see if it works on one to two flights per day."

OneJet currently flies 10 routes from Pittsburgh and another two from Milwaukee. Examples of the markets it connects are Pittsburgh and Hartford, Conn.; Pittsburgh and Louisville, Ky.; and Milwaukee and Columbus, Ohio.

In addition, in March, the carrier opened service within New York between Buffalo and Albany. That route launch was momentous for OneJet because it was the first on which the carrier employed a 30-seat Embraer ERJ 135 aircraft. The company had previously operated its entire network with seven-seat business jets.

OneJet plans to have four ERJ 135s in service this summer, and Maguire said the carrier expects to be operating 75% of its flights with the 30-seat craft by the end of the year.

OneJet's core business strategy is to offer service on routes that major airlines don't fly nonstop and that low-cost carriers won't service because they don't offer enough demand to fill a mainline narrowbody aircraft. In many cases, those routes will be ones that major airlines used to offer. OneJet's Pittsburgh hub and its Milwaukee base, for example, once served as hubs for US Airways and Midwest Express, respectively.

The flight schedule targets business customers: OneJet flies weekdays, with departures in the morning and returns in the evening. The incoming 30-seat aircraft offer a spacious 38 inches between rows, better than a flyer typically gets on the extra-legroom seats offered by major airlines, such as American's Main Cabin Extra, and not much less than is usually offered in domestic first-class cabins.

Maguire said prices on the nonstop routes average about $20 more than a major airline charges for connecting service between the same two cities.

"Most of the time our flights are on schedule, and they're saving people four or five hours," Maguire said, adding that customers are saving that time either by not having to drive to a major airport or by avoiding connecting airline service.

Maguire added that while OneJet is today focused mostly on Pittsburgh, from which it received $3 million in launch aid from local and state governments in 2016, long-range objectives are to create more of a point-to-point network by expanding into routes that best fit its market profile. 

One issue that analysts say OneJet will have to overcome with its business customers is its lack of daily frequencies. Business travelers often fly on tight schedules, and while there may be sufficient demand in the markets being served by OneJet to fill a 30-seat plane over the course of a day, capturing that demand on a one-a-day schedule is a different matter, said Bob Mann of the consultancy R.W. Mann and Co.

"The real negative is that he's betting on a single-time-of-day operation," Mann said of Maguire. "The fact is, the marketplace has lots of demands, and expecting it all to travel on single time of day is unrealistic."

He added that another key for OneJet to be successful is signing up corporate accounts. On that front, the carrier is already off and running. Maguire said that OneJet at present has 13 corporate contracts inked, among them Federal Express and, from Pittsburgh, PNC Financial Services and PPG Industries.

Boyd said that contrary to the assumptions some might make, a company such as OneJet isn't necessarily absorbing unmet demand when it launches in a market that was previously serviced by a major airline. As an example, he cited Buffalo-Albany, which he said US Airways used to serve multiple times per day with McDonnell Douglas DC-9 jets seating 100 or more passengers. 

Decades ago, he said, that route was supported by travelers with government business in Albany, New York's capital. But digital meetings solutions, such as teleconferences, have done away with much of that demand.

 

As such, said Boyd, OneJet will have to offer a service that's good enough to induce people to go someplace when they otherwise might have stayed home.

 

"It has to be with a schedule that people can actually use," he said. "It has to be relatively cost effective, and it has to be easily retailed."

 

OneJet sells tickets in the Travelport and Sabre GDSs.

 

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