Large, luxurious long-range jets occupying the most expensive and prestigious segment of the market have remained in demand since their appearance in the late 80’s. Manufacturers compete in offers of longest range or highest speed, setting new technological standards. Other segments of the market are also developing and time brings its newcomers.
A new generation of jet engines has been developed with the advance of technology. They are more compact and efficient, making light jets comparable to turboprops both in fuel consumption and operational costs. The appearance of a new bizjet at the end of last year marked the birth of a new class – very light jets or VLJ’s. However the definition and prospects of this class are still unclear. The VLJ is claimed revolutionary and yet it is quite controversial. According to NBAA classification a VLJ is a jet with one or two engines weighing under 4.5 tonnes and with a take-off distance less than 1 kilometre. Such aircraft must be certified for single-pilot operation and highly automated. The price for a VLJ is usually between 1 and 3 million USD. Thus VLJ’s are the most accessible of business aircraft. The operational costs are low and comparable to such of turboprops and they possess certain advantages over the latter most importantly higher speed and longer range. There are currently 13 projects of such aircraft with two of them already in operation (Eclipse 500 and Cessna Citation Mustang) and one (the Phenom 100 by Embraer) has left the manufacturing facility on June 2007 and is now being tested.
One of the newest announced models that attracted much attention after being first presented in autumn 2006 is the PiperJet – a VLJ being developed by Piper, the company that has been producing light turboprops and piston aircraft for over 70 years. This airplane betters its counterparts in a range of specs. The PiperJet is fitted with only one engine which drastically brings down fuel consumption and aircraft cost set at 2.199 million USD. Maximum cruising speed will be as high as 670 kph which is comparable and even better than the more expensive two-engine aircraft. With a maximum range of 2400 kilometres this VLJ will be a competitor even to jets of a higher class. Another important advantage is the large passenger door that is one of the biggest in this class of jets. PiperJet is expected to carry 6—7 passengers and the deliveries are scheduled for 2010. The newcomer has already netted over 100 orders.
Another interesting project which may be regarded as a VLJ is the Javelin Executive Jet (MK10) by Aviation Technology Group, although it may be more apt to name it a light personal sports jet. It is a two-seater resembling an interceptor – a resemblance which has more to it than just the looks: the MK10 cruises at 925 kph with a service ceiling of 13175 metres. The maximum range of 1850 kilometres is also impressive for such a small plane.
Potential VLJ buyers range from amateur pilots to companies offering fractional ownership but the bulk of orders comes from air taxi companies. The concept of air taxi may in fact broaden the market in a new direction, attracting clients who are new to business aviation and who cannot afford their own aircraft or private charters. The new service may face some problems. The high intensity of flights may be obstructed by legal instruments limiting the number of charter flights which may be performed on the same route by the same airline (e.g. in the USA). Besides, the substantial number of VLJ’s that are planned for production will require many professional pilots – presumably more that the market can offer at the moment. And these are not the only problems that experts foresee. However the portfolios of VLJ manufacturers sum up to a few thousand orders which means the solutions will have to be found one way or another.
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