'Sky Car' to give travelers the option of flying instead of having to drive

No, "Sky Car" won't put you in the pilot's seat. But it could help fill a domestic airtravel gap in the United States that has been recently enlarged by cutbacks in major airline flights to some cities. And it offers an alternative to driving when flying would be more convenient.

Unlike Freddie Laker's Sky Train, which provides cut-rate scheduled flights between London and New York on Laker Airways, "Sky Car" is not an airline.

Rather, it is service which gives travelers access to air taxis, corporate jets, and independent air charter carriers which have extra seats available. Its promoters say Sky Car eventually will link 145 major airports like LaGuardia in New York with as many as 1,200 communities across the US that do not have regularly scheduled air service.

Both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) have given "Sky Car" the green light.

By calling a 24-hour toll-free number, a traveler will be able to find out if any of an initial "fleet" of 1,200 participating carriers will be leaving for his desired location.

The cost of the flights will be comparable to average car rental costs, says Jack Gibson, president and chief executive officer of the Daccord Company, "inventor" of Sky Car.

"We're not trying to sell a travel cure-all," Mr. Gibson told the Monitor. "We're offering alternatives to a man or woman if he or she does not want to drive."

He estimates that service, now scheduled for launching May 1, will range in price from 50 cents to 80 cents a mile -- the fuller the plane is, the nearer the 50-cent mark. For example, a trip from New York City to Trenton, N.J., a distance of about 60 miles, might cost $30. That does not include transportation to and from the airports.

Most of Sky Car's business is expected to come from frequent air travelers who rent cars regularly. Daccord board chairman George W. Crook says, "Sky Car was organized to provide a specialized service for people, just as Federal Express was organized in 1973 to provide specialized courier service for cargo. We think the market is just as big and the demand just as great."

William Jackman, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, which represents most of the major airlines, says Sky Car has come along at a time in the airline industry when "anything goes." He explained that "more marketing ideas are coming into the industry than ever before." Many of these ideas are the result of the deregulation of the industry, airline officials say.

There has been no major opposition to Sky Car from the nation's scheduled airlines, since it will provide service into places to which they do not fly.

Some travel agents have expressed concern that they might not be able to get commissions under the Sky Car formula. But Bob Noble, Sky Car's director of marketing, is quoted in "Travel Agent" magazine as saying, "Agents handle over half the air business travel in the country, so they'll certainly be a big part of our business."

Meanwhile, no-frills regional carriers have been luring passengers away from the major "trunk" airlines by offering less expensive fares. Southwest Airlines , for example, saves on landing fees by flying in and out of Love Field in Dallas instead of the regional Dallas-Fort Worth jetport.

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