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Why JSX Thinks It Is the Right Fit for Small Community Air Service
Facing potential regulatory headwinds, JSX’s CEO sees a future in small communities as other carriers pull out.
So-called semi-private carrier JSX is looking at the next evolution of its business strategy. Following a commitment for over 300 hybrid-electric aircraft from three different manufacturers, the Dallas-based carrier is eyeing service to small and underserved communities across the U.S.
According to the Regional Airline Association (RAA), 14 U.S. airports have lost all scheduled commercial air service as of late 2022. JSX’s founder and CEO – Alex Wilcox – believes his company is well-equipped to reconnect some of these small communities, especially with new hybrid-electric aircraft in its fleet.
Paying the Price
As the cost landscape has increased at major U.S. airlines in a post-pandemic world, small communities have been left to pay the price. Airlines have been forced to operate higher-density aircraft to recoup, but smaller markets often lack the demand to support larger jets.
“The side effect that people are now realizing is that big airplanes require a big market, and the more big airplanes you have, the fewer small markets you can fly to,” Wilcox told AirlineGeeks during a phone interview.
That’s where 20 to 50-seat regional jets like the Beechcraft 1900 and the Bombardier CRJ-200 come into the picture. As is often the case for regional aircraft, short stage lengths coupled with fewer seats lead to lower Available Seat Miles (ASMs). Therefore, higher unit costs in the numerator — otherwise known as Cost per Available Seat Mile (CASM) – create a situation where the smaller aircraft become less commercially viable.
“And so the Beech 1900 era is over. The Saab 340 era is over…This is definitely the era of the  MAX and the [A320] NEO,” he added. “And those are great airplanes, and they do certain things really efficiently. But, they are not airplanes that you can bring to a community like Del Rio, Texas three times, two times, or even one time a day. There’s 40,000 people that live there. They’ve got to travel like everybody else does, too…”
Joining a list of 13 other airports, Del Rio lost all commercial air service as of early 2023 after American Airlines ended its service from Dallas/Fort Worth. The Department of Transportation (DOT) awarded $1.2 million to Del Rio as part of the Small Community Air Service Development Program.
JSX is a part 135 and part 380 carrier, or more simply put, a ‘public charter’ operator. In essence, this regulatory classification allows it to operate in smaller airports and FBOs, lessen security screening requirements, and overall be subject to fewer restrictions when compared to part 121 air carriers. The carrier has built a business model around this classification as a self-described hop-on jet service with the perks of private air travel.
But now JSX is in a battle for its fundamental business model. Regulators – including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – are now taking a closer look at JSX and operators like it following pressure from other airlines and labor unions.
Although JSX currently operates a fleet of 30-seat Embraer aircraft to mostly premium-heavy markets, Wilcox sees some new opportunities with hybrid-electric aircraft.
“These airplanes are custom built for 9, 19, and 30 seats, and they’ll be much more efficient…than the planes we’re flying today. And that’s going to lower costs, and that’s going to make more of those [airports] available,” Wilcox said while referring to small community airports.
He notes that JSX’s experience selling tickets puts it ahead of other regional carriers. “Any of the so-called regionals or commuter airlines, anyone that’s flying 50-seat airplanes, does not sell tickets…with very few exceptions. And we’re one of the exceptions.”
During the interview, Wilcox also emphasized JSX’s existing presence in some smaller communities, including Taos, N.M. and Lajitas in West Texas, However, both of those examples are premium leisure markets, which he notes require a “well-heeled” client given JSX’s aircraft configuration.
Subsidized Air Service
In the U.S., many small communities rely on the federal Essential Air Service (EAS) program to subsidize flights where it otherwise would not be commercially possible. Looking to the future, JSX is keeping an open mind.
When asked if an EAS contract may be in the cards for JSX, Wilcox said, “I wouldn’t rule it out. It’s not our main business. There are others that do a good job of that. But I would never rule it out.”
“Hopefully when these airplanes come to pass, and we are talking many years before they’re really in production in significant numbers, we won’t need subsidies anymore for these markets, because the airplanes will be so efficient, and the business will be so efficient that government subsidies are not required anymore,” he added.
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