Have you ever heard the term VLJ? If you haven’t, you should. It stands for Very Light Jet (VLJ), and this technology is an up and coming phenomenon in the business aviation community.
In fact, dozens of these aircraft types are currently in design production and flight testing by manufacturers such as Cessna, Honda, Diamond Aircraft, Embraer, Eclipse Aviation, and more. So what is this hype all about? The focus of the Very Light Jet concept is to allow the traveling public a method of travel that will allow them more opportunities in reaching their specific destinations.
Traditionally, the airline industry has been running on the old “hub and spoke system”, because according to them, it is cheaper and more efficient to fly you from say Charlotte, NC to Atlanta, and then back to Washington, D.C. But if you could drive to the airport, and be taxiing out for departure in 20 minutes and fly directly to your destination, wouldn’t you consider that more efficient?
One of the factors driving the business jet market is the growing frustrations that travelers have with commercial airlines. The inconvenience and frequent delays of airline travel may cause individuals and companies to turn to a different method of travel. In fact, even individuals or companies who at one time could not afford to spend millions for on demand jet travel, may now have that opportunity with even less investment than ever before.
The focus of the Very Light Jet concept is to allow the traveling public a method of travel that will allow them more opportunities in reaching their specific destinations.
In fact, VLJ type aircraft typically are small jets that seat 4-10 people, including the crew and utilize advanced avionics such as the “glass cockpit”. The old adage that “higher costs indicate better product” is disproved by the construction of these new aircraft. In fact, companies like Eclipse aviation, who are building the Eclipse 500 and Cessna, who are building the Cessna Mustang have adopted a construction method for their VLJ’s known as friction stir welding. Friction stir welding uses a welding tool that moves along two pieces of alloy metal at a high rotational speed. The action between the tool and the aluminum creates frictional heat, which softens the aluminum but does not melt it. The plasticized material is then, in essence, consolidated to create one piece of metal where there were originally two making it not only much stronger than today’s traditional riveting process, but also much lighter and safer. Cutting costs to build a lighter more efficient jet, does not mean cutting corners on safety. In fact, computer systems in the new VLJs are based directly on modern microprocessor technology. The ultra-bright flat-panel displays and the computers for flight control, engine management, and navigation, are not the same products you will find in your name brand laptop computer, but they use commodity components wherever possible to help reduce costs. These systems run custom software based on real-time operating systems that are specially designed to provide the necessary reliability that is required from mechanical stresses, such as those a jet might endure.
The on demand business jet category has historically been the exclusive domain of upscale travelers. But companies building these very light jets report that these aircraft have list prices between $1 and $4 million dollars, which is significantly cheaper than say a 5 year old Cessna Citation X, which can cost $10 million. Even though the VLJs are less expensive than traditional business jets, that doesn’t mean that safety or convenience has been compromised. In fact, manufacturers are outfitting new VLJs with new technology such as the Garmin G1000 avionics package, which not only sports such functions as LCD multi-function displays, and Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS), but also XM radio entertainment. In addition, Adams Aircraft, who is building the A700 jet has nearly 24 cubic feet of room per passenger, and the EA-500 from Eclipse Aviation has nearly 50 cubic feet of room, which provides even more room than you will ever get while seated in first class on most air carriers.
Cutting costs to build a lighter more efficient jet, does not mean cutting corners on safety.
Since these small jets are brand new to the market, you aren’t likely to find any pre-owned aircraft for sale, and thus you may be wondering how pilots will get certified or trained to operate these aircraft. The manufacturers are covering all the bases. Eclipse aviation has teamed up with United Airlines in order to provide a strict and rigorous training program to make sure that pilots are properly trained to fly these jets. With rising costs of insurance, most insurance companies would likely charge much higher rates for low time pilots, but with training programs like this in place, buyers will have an opportunity to build their flight time through the manufacturer. In fact, Eclipse pilots can receive an initial flight skills assessment at the United Flight Training Center in Denver that will evaluate the pilot’s current skill level. If necessary, the pilot will also complete a supplemental training program. In addition, pilots will complete upset recovery training in Eclipse Aviation’s L-39 Albatross and high-altitude physiology training to learn the effects of hypoxia, which can cause incapacitation without proper training, if the aircraft were to lose pressurization at high altitude. Upon completion of a week-long type rating transition course, the customer may either receive a type-rating certificate or enter a mentor program. The number of hours to be flown with a mentor pilot will vary, but all pilots with no prior jet experience will be required to fly with a mentor initially. Other VLJ manufacturers have indicated that they will follow a similar stringent training model to keep insurance costs down.
Even though companies like Rolls Royce, who has predicted that 8,000 of these VLJs will be flying by 2013, none of this will matter if these aircraft cannot pass certification from the FAA, which is scheduled for March of 2006. However, nearly 2500 customers have made deposits for the Eclipse EA500. The FAA has been involved for the majority of the design process, which indicates that there shouldn’t be any problems for certification. Keep your eyes towards the sky in 2006 for the latest in aviation technology.