Admit it! You’ve dreamed of having your own little plane, waiting for you at an airport close to home. There would be no frantic rush to make a flight, no long lines at security, no sitting around for hours because you got to the gate too early. There would be no connections, and no delays caused by missed, late, or cancelled flights. Instead, your own personal VLJ (Very Light Jet) would be available at your convenience. What a concept!
Better yet, suppose you’re stuck in Cleveland, OH because your flight is delayed or you missed the last plane. Your pilot, or better yet your husband, could just fly over to pick you up, and in a matter of an hour or two, you could be home. Or, for maximal economy and utility, business people or good friends could buy the VLJ together, for the modest cost to each of a studio apartment in Manhattan.
These “Very Light Jets,” also called “Microjets,” are little fuel efficient, four-to six-seat aircraft with a range of about 1200 miles and price tags in the $1.2-2.4 million dollar range, far below the current entry-level price for business jets.
Three thousand of the little jets are already on order at several manufacturers. Albuquerque, NM.-based Eclipse Aviation has 2,350 on back order and expects to receive many more orders in the coming months. If the company receives Federal Aviation Administration certification for its E500 by June, as it hopes, the first plane — which takes less than five days to make — will be delivered 10 days later. What that means is if you order now, your personal E500 (at the relatively low cost of $1,295 Million) could be delivered to an airport near you as soon as July, 2006. All you have to do is learn to fly!
The FAA and airline pilots are wary of the sudden emergence of this new class of jets. Big airlines worry they will cause traffic jams around major metropolitan areas. But Vern Raburn, the founder of Eclipse Aviation, scoffs at the notion that VLJs will blacken the skies. The airlines and manufacturers that have been around for decades have the attitude, Raburn said, that “if it hasn’t been done before, it can’t be done or it won’t be done or it shouldn’t be done.” He continues, “What you’re looking at here is the Model T of aviation.”
In addition to personal use, Raburn envisions a national network of VLJ “Air Taxis,” a kind of for-hire “limousine with wings” that will be able to land at thousands of runways where jetliners and executive jets can’t. VLJs can land on runways as short as 3,000 feet, compared with the 4,000 or 5,000 feet required by the smallest jets now being flown.
Serious players are entering the air taxi business, including Pogo Jet Inc. and DayJet, which plan to begin service next year. Air Taxi operators are “going to want to fly into airports where it’s highly likely that when you drop somebody off you can fairly quickly find somebody who wants to hop in the taxi and go someplace else,” says Rick Adam, CEO of Adam Aircraft.
Say you are a business traveler who works in the White Plains high tech corrider and you have an early morning meeting in Nashville, TN. If you fly commercial, you would be forced to leave the day before. “The next day, you have your meeting, but chances are good that you won’t be able to get back that day,” says Adam, “so that’s a three-day trip.” Enter, the VLJ air taxi!
So how much would this convenience cost? Based on current projections, an air-taxi trip would probably cost “two to three” times a commercial flight, according to Mr. Adam, “But you get back two days in return.”
America’s already crowded skies are about to become more congested. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration said in its recent annual forecastthat the number of U.S. airline passengers will rise 45% by 2017. And if the VLJ revolution comes to pass, the FAA predicts at least 4,500 VLJs will be in service by 2016, though FAA chief Marion Blakey concedes that’s a conservative estimate. In comparison, NASA projects 20,000 by 2010.
“If only 2 percent of commercial air passengers move from jetliners to very light jets,” Blakey said, that will triple the number of takeoffs and landings that air traffic controllers have to handle. “Whew, we’re going to have to be prepared for this phenomenon,” she says.
“Counters Adam Aircraft company president Joe Walker, “VLJs will come equipped with high-tech safety and navigation equipment, which will allow them to fly into small airports in less-than-ideal conditions.” Adam Aircraft’s A700, for example, sells for $2 million and has more sophisticated avionics in the cockpit than a $40 million Gulfstream G5.
Adam’s Walker predicted the jets will appeal to wealthy businessmen [and women!] eager to avoid the unpleasant and time-consuming experience of getting to an airplane at a busy airport. “It’s uber-first class,” he says.
Eclipse’s Raburn differed from that characterization. “It’s uber-convenience,” he concludes.
For more information about the “SUV with wings,” check out:
Eclipse Aviation: http://www.eclipseaviation.com and Adam Aircraft: http://www.adamaircraft.com
Please note that other major aircraft manufacturers are also developing VLJs. Cessna has its Citation Mustang in development, and Embraer recently announced a model called the Phenom 100. Please note that the E500 is available for pre-order on the Eclipse Aviation website right now.