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Flight schools gear up for arrival of VLJs
Flight schools gear up for arrival of VLJs

The boom in very light jets is about to take off, and flight schools are getting ready to meet the demand - both to train pilots to fly VLJs and to use VLJs themselves for advanced flight training.

"With the onslaught of VLJ orders, and everybody getting into the VLJ market, as a flight training school you anticipate the trend and try to accommodate your students and prepare them the best they can," says Embry Riddle Aeronautical University assistant professor Michele Summers, "So they´ll have a leg up and not only have the latest training, but also the best training."

Deliveries of VLJs will approach 400 annually by 2010, almost double the deliveries of light jets, according to Honeywell´s 2007 business aviation outlook released in September. While a predicted economic slowdown is expected to be lead to a fall in orders for more expensive jets after 2010, VLJs could see the smallest drop and hold steady past 2018, the company predicts.

Production delays have kept VLJ delivery figures from climbing sooner and flight schools will not get their first aircraft until next year. Schools have been placing orders for VLJs to transition students into airline and corporate operations, with an eye on higher efficiency and lower fuel consumption.

"We see tremendous future growth and sales in the ab initio training market for international airlines," says Eclipse Aviation chief executive and president Vern Raburn, who calls the Eclipse 500 "an ideal training aircraft for the new ICAO Multi-crew Pilot Licence".

At November´s Dubai air show the company announced the year´s biggest VLJ order for a flight school, and the 12 Eclipse 500s for Dubai Aerospace Enterprise Flight Academy will mark the type´s inaugural use for ab initio training after the centre opens in March 2008. Operating in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, at the site of a former air force base, a fresh class will start a year-long course each month, with 400 students enrolled in total. They will first fly the Cirrus SR22 piston single, progress to the Eclipse 500, and finish with a type rating in a multi-crew jet transport aircraft. "We want to offer our students the best education available and prepare them to become successful airline pilots," says George Ebbs, president and chief executive of DAE University.

In 2004 SAFERjett saw the shifting tides and switched from crew resource management to focus primarily on the VLJ training market. Adam Aircraft will send pilots and mechanics for its A500 piston twin and A700 VLJ to SAFERjett´s new facility at Alliance airport in Fort Worth, Texas once it opens late in 2008.

With Aerosim and Mechtronix, SAFERjett is building the first full-motion Level D simulator for the A700, which will allow pilots to receive type rating without flying the actual aircraft. No flight schools have finalised orders for the A700, though private customers should give the facility a healthy workload. "SAFERjett has extensive experience in Advanced Qualification Programme training that uses proficiency-based advancement and scenario-based training theory," says chief executive Paul Hinton. "We look forward to making history."

A new joint venture called Embraer CAE Training Services will train pilots and mechanics for the Brazilian manufacturer´s Phenom 100 VLJ and Phenom 300 light jet at CAE SimuFlite in Dallas by the third quarter of 2008. CAE is manufacturing two Phenom full-flight simulators, with the other ready to enter service in 2009 at the company´s Burgess Hill training centre in the UK.

Aviation Technology Group (ATG) already has one customer that plans to use its Javelin two-seat, fighter-style VLJ for pilot training. "We have sold eight to an organisation that plans to use them for military-style training," the company says. ATG plans to begin Javelin deliveries to customers in three years. Before then, "we expect to partner with a national training organisation who will provide training for us".

Futuristic design

Cirrus considers training an important market for its futuristic-looking "the-jet", but there are no training school orders yet as the single-engined VLJ undergoes development. "We´ve already had expressions of interest from schools which do ab initio training for airlines," says chief executive Alan Klapmeier, "to transition to turbine time and higher performance aircraft." Single-engine jets like "the-jet" will enable affordable training of larger classes, which Klapmeier hopes will emerge as airline and corporate demand for trained pilots increases. "Growth of the industry and retirement of the current crew - it´s a bad combination," he says.

Training school Airline Transport Professionals (ATP) is banking on increasing student numbers to fly the 20 Diamond D-Jets it has on order. Placed last year, ATP´s VLJ order is the largest for a flight school and includes five simulators. The first of the single-engine D-Jets is set for delivery soon after certification, which is expected in mid-2008.

A D-Jet should arrive at the University of North Dakota (UND) next October. In March the school is set to receive a Cessna Citation Mustang and the purchase of a Cirrus "the-jet" is possible, says Donald Dubuque, director of extension programmes at UND´s Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. "It´s always exciting with the microjets because it will be a low-cost entry level for people who want to be in corporate aviation," he says. "Something like a D-Jet could get the cost down to something like a Level 6 simulator."

The benefit over propeller aircraft, in simple terms, is that "with a jet you´re moving a lot quicker, so you have to think a lot quicker to keep ahead of the aircraft", Dubuque says. UND´s fleet of 75 singles, 15 twins and seven helicopters formerly included Cessna Citations. "Even when we had Citations before, there were always people who just did it for the experience. To have on your resume that you have the type rating does not hurt." The six-seat, twin-engine Citation Mustang will get more use since it´s a better fit, he says. "With a Citation, we didn´t need that big of an aircraft. The Mustang may fit our profile. For flight training, you don´t need eight or nine seats. That´s where it can become economical."

There was another problem with the larger Citations - attracting sufficient students to North Dakota to make the aircraft pay off. "Back then we didn´t have enough air service. Now, with the lower cost of the VLJs, we´ll find out if there´s a place for them with us." University administrators have their sights on the Mustang, too, and it will do double duty taking staff to official functions.

Type rating

Mustang buyers get their type rating at FlightSafety International´s Wichita, Kansas learning centre under a training programme that began in April after the FAA had certified the simulator to Level D standard. This training is included in the price of the aircraft. "One of the exciting things about getting one of the first Mustangs and one of the first D-Jets is that clients who buy the aircraft are probably going to be required, if they have low time, to have a mentor pilot fly with them," Dubuque says. "Hopefully one of the things we can do is help train some mentor pilots -training the trainers."

That role is encouraged by the National Business Aviation Association in its training guidelines for single-pilot VLJ operations. The detailed suggestions for flight schools begin before enrolment and continue to recurrent training, with emphasis on what owners´ insurance carriers will look for.

"It must be recognised that the mentoring period for each individual may be different," says the NBAA guidance document. "The goal is to use a mentor pilot until such time that the single pilot operator acquires the necessary skills and proficiency for safe operation in all flight regimes."

The new aviation sector carries uncertainty. "The nature of aviation underwriting still does not lend itself to formulating universally accepted minimum candidate credential and experience levels for VLJ operations," the NBAA guidelines say.

Embry-Riddle´s Summers frequently consulted the NBAA document before she completed a new VLJ curriculum in January. Embry-Riddle´s fleet currently includes no jets and the school is weighing a purchase versus leasing. "We are still debating on when we´re going to use that curriculum here," Summers says. The first classes will have new elements for both students and instructors. "You use your avionics a lot more when you have one pilot versus two pilots. You tend to do more of the military pilot training. The crew concept is not trained so much in this type of environment," she says.

It is uncertain how the new VLJs will perform in a training environment. "There is no performance data so we kind of ballparked it," says Summers. "The fuel burn published for the VLJ we looked at was completely different than what we would use for training purposes. We use a lot more fuel when we´re down low. We would use the VLJ for training at 10,000ft [3,000m] or below." This is well below optimum altitudes for a jet. She adds: "You don´t know how long something is going to last until you have one. The performance data that we got our hands on was from a brand new VLJ, but none of the VLJs out there have trend monitoring yet."

Changes are expected for the three-credit course Summers has developed. Over a semester students will have 40h of class time and 10h in the simulator, "with one hour in an actual VLJ with take-offs and landings", she says. "In order to be type rated you have to do so many take-offs and landings. You also have to do one circle-to-land approach in the aircraft."

While VLJs are smaller than regional jets, the training time is longer than for Embry-Riddle´s popular Bombardier CRJ course, which includes two weeks of ground school. "You would have more hours in the sim and more hours in the classroom. The reason is you can fly the VLJ single, so you need a lot more knowledge. We put in things like technique analysis, and high-altitude training," Summers says. "You would actually get high-altitude sign-off in the VLJ. You would not get that in the CRJ because we do not have the aircraft."

Summers previously worked with the Federal Aviation Administration to develop its FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) programme, used by both Adam and Eclipse. FITS is aimed at enhancing general aviation safety, including learner-centred grading, single-pilot resource management for owner-operators and crew resource management for flight department and fleet operators. Meanwhile, the second simulator at Eclipse´s new customer training centre came online in October, and as of early November, 100 pilots had graduated. The Albuquerque, New Mexico facility will accommodate four full-motion simulators produced by Opinicus.

Eclipse graduates

Students at Eclipse´s training centre learn under a new flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programme. Eclipse claims to be the only aircraft manufacturer with a FOQA programme that includes flight data monitoring consistent with the programmes used by commercial airlines. "This FAA-approved FOQA programme reflects our commitment to living up to these ideals by introducing a world-class flight operation strategy to general aviation that will deliver airline-quality safety to our customers," says Raburn.


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