Aviation In Canada

Friday, August 05, 2005

Very Light Jets

Aviation Week magazine published an aritcle on the new segment of aviation that's cropping up, the VLJ, or Very Light Jet. These little jets are in the weight range that is below 10,000 lbs MGTOW, and I believe at least publicly pioneered by the Eclipse 500. 4-6 seats is all you can count on but the performance of most models so far is the Cessna Citation range, with a couple of competitors aiming for higher speeds, closer to Lear Jets. What an interesting thought -- buy yourself a minijet for anywhere from the $3M figure, down to the price tag expected for the Eclipse, a paltry $1.3M.

What does this do for us all? First off, smaller airports might see a little boost in that these jets are often capable of using runways as short as 3,000 feet legally and safely. While many larger jets are capable of landing and taking off on short runways, the big issue is one of failure -- how much runway is needed for a rejected take-off from just below V1? What if the runway surface is contaminated with sluch or snow? Other sorts of what ifs tend to extend legal runway lengths required for the bigger ones, but the little ones may be able to slow down faster, thereby reducing the runway length.

This has potential benefits for the buisness traveller. Those who are often stuck buying full-fare tickets at the last minute, those that spend hours on layovers at airline hub airports, and those who can't fly close enough to destination, even though there is a little airport just over the hill. These jets will be small enough and cheap enough for some business flyers who could otherwise fly themselves to allow them to skip the security delays at major airports and such and get to destination on their own.

Another interesting development is the "Air Taxi" style service. There are a few companies and individuals who now see operators of PA31s and BE100s and the like running small charters, but with the jets, service will be faster, and perhaps cheaper as the hourly rate is liekly to be higher, but the rate for distance flown may end up being cheaper due to the extra speed. There were three operators in the article announcing plans to run this kind of service already with large numbers of airframes on order before they even enter production. They claim they're building their own market and not planning to leech off current charter operations, and their claims are at least plausible at this point. We'll have to see what happens.

The implications for ATC are interesting in this point, too. We are more likely to see less experienced business flyers now instead of professional pilots in the cockpits of the business jets we talk to. Also, regardless of the size of an airplane, it still takes up at least a portion in the skies on radar. Were more of these to be flying around, they still have to be fit in somewhere in the traffic line, and now we're talking about light category for wake turbulence, which means another mile for each of them on the final approach course with many airports servicing a large deal of medium category aircraft.

Personally, I kind of like them -- for now. I can't wait to watch this segment develop as time goes by.