On September 11th, with the intentional crashing of four commercial jet airliners and the subsequent air traffic shutdown, air travel was permanently altered, never to be viewed in the same way by the travelling public, never to be dealt with in the same way by government or industry. It was the opening door to the most chaotic and financially stressful decade in the long history of commercial air travel, ending a period of record profits and growth for airlines.

The terrorist strike brought with it a wave of changes intended to secure commercial skies, but changes which, to the flying public, began to make modern air travel more of a problem than a solution. The financial pressures of imposed regulations, together with an increasingly disenchanted customer base, were soon joined by oil price spikes and bird flu scares. And then came the spreading financial meltdown, prompting dramatic travel reductions by companies all over the world. The perfect storm was too much for some players. Airline bankruptcies and mergers increased, with four bankruptcy filings in April of 2008 alone, a record for the industry.

Today, in spite of an overall industrial outlook that remains dismal, airlines have some hope for improved numbers. While travelers rile over increased fees for almost everything, they are still flying. And airline capacity has not grown during this time, meaning that the supply of seats is about the same or less. The lack of physical growth within the industry, coupled with continued demand and higher charges, suggests a real potential for profit, something not seen in a long time.

While all of this has been going on, there’s been another battle for the skies that will ultimately have its own effect on the future of air travel, one taking place between the two remaining giants of commercial air travel, Airbus and Boeing. Long before the above events, Airbus and Boeing were mapping out strategies for dealing with rising fuel costs, environmental and noise concerns, and growing public demand for cheaper and more efficient transportation. As far back as 1988, Airbus engineers began planning for what would become the world’s biggest commercial aircraft, the A380, capable of holding up to 853 people in some configurations. The idea was that, if a big airplane could fly people cheaply, an even bigger airplane could fly more people even more cheaply. The first A380 was delivered to Singapore Airlines in 2007, with the airline later claiming that the airplane was indeed burning 20% less fuel per passenger than the airline’s existing 747-400 fleet, and with half the cabin noise.

Boeing approached the challenge from a different angle, resulting in the 787 “Dreamliner”, now anticipating delivery in early 2011. Like Airbus, Boeing targeted fuel efficiency and noise, but in a smaller and less expensive package. Boeing says the 787 is 60% quieter, and uses 20% less fuel, but is also smaller and more flexible, with fewer restrictions. Boeing has already gotten over 800 orders for the plane, the fastest selling commercial jet in history, with the first delivery planned for Japan’s All Nippon Airways.

Both Airbus and Boeing make many other aircraft, which, together with the A380 and 787, all target slightly different markets. But these two aircraft give an idea of what airlines will have going for them in the near future – greater fuel efficiency and less noise. And it’s the fuel efficiency component that airlines hope will most help the bottom line. Below are some of the less conspicuous publicly traded airline related stocks.

• AirTran Holdings (NYSE: AAI)
• ACE Aviation Holdings (PINKSHEETS: ACEAF)
• Great Lakes Aviation (OTCBB: GLUX)
• JetBlue Airways (NASDAQ: JBLU)
• Pinnacle Airlines (NASDAQ: PNCL)
• Republic Airways Holdings (NASDAQ: RJET)
• Ryanair Holdings (NASDAQ: RYAAY)
• SkyWest (NASDAQ: SKYW)

But there’s another side to commercial air travel, a rapidly growing niche market catering to those that can afford it. It’s the world of aviation charter, perhaps best represented by the premier aviation charter broker VizStar (OTCBB: VIZS), the brainchild of a group of opportunistic investors who realized there was a vast and unmet market for luxury, hassle-free private travel at reduced costs on an as-needed basis. It’s for people who have no intention of putting up with crowded terminals, baggage check-in, delayed flights, or cramped seating. With VizStar, efficient and appealing air travel for executives makes economic sense to corporations trying to reduce the costs of maintaining their own aircraft.

Imagine scheduling a flight only a few hours before you want to fly someplace, business or pleasure, regardless of where you want to go. A chauffeured limo picks you up, at work or at home, and drops you off right by your own plane, any size plane, along with whoever you’re taking along. No baggage check-in, no lines, no delays. You leave whenever you want, on a luxury plane with plenty of room to stretch, and endless amenities to enjoy. You arrive non-stop, totally refreshed, where a limo takes you to your final destination. You’re already looking forward to the flight back.

You don’t have to own the plane, and neither does your company. It’s all chartered. It’s the epitome of luxury travel, and yet, in the world of chartered air travel, it’s amazingly affordable, with clients saving 20%-30% over traditional air charter companies. There are no monthly fees, no up-front commitments, no membership costs at all. And it’s available 24/7/365.

For a growing number of companies and fortunate people, the VizStar model is the real future of air travel.

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