Fast Air Travel in Small Jets

One of the latest developments in aviation is the Very Light Jet (VLJ). These small aircrafts have a maximum take-off weight of less than 10,000 pounds (4,540 kilograms), carry between one and nine passengers and are certified to be flown by a single pilot. Their operating costs are much lower than other conventional jets and they operate from runways as short as 3,000 feet (914 metres) long which is less than half the normal runway length required for other jets.

VLJs normally have one or two gas turbine engines (turbojet or turbofan), cruise at almost the same speeds as the big airliners and fly at the same heights, but they have a shorter range – normally less than 2,000 nautical miles. With better performance than the piston-powered propeller aircraft being used today (twice the speed and higher altitude capability), they are expected to become popular with time.

The VLJs are preferred by travellers who want to avoid road traffic and congestion in large airports. They are mainly targeted at the emerging air taxi market for ferrying passengers between small general aviation airports. These small jets are also intended for use as corporate planes to replace the business jets which are more expensive and have higher operating costs.

An normal five-seater VLJ costs about $2.5 million which is less than half the price of the least expensive business jet in service today. The cost varies depending on the size, range, type of equipment installed, operating costs and the manufacturer.

Cessna Aircraft Company, which produced the first ever VLJ, the six-seater Citation Mustang, in 2006, is nearing its 300th delivery. Eclipse Aviation received full certification for their Eclipse 500  three weeks after Cessna’s Mustang on September 30, 2006. Other VLJs in various states of design and manufacture include HondaJet by Honda, Phenom 100 by Embraer and Leader by Maverick Jets. Adam Aircraft was in the process of designing the Adam 700 when it when bankrupt in 2008 and ceased operation.

The Phenom 100 by Embraer has received several awards for its comfortable and stylish design. Onboard conveniences include a wardrobe or refreshment centre, an aft cabin private lavatory and satellite communications. With an all-glass, fully-integrated avionics suite, the flight deck offers Phenom operators more advantages than any other in today’s market.

Most of the designs feature advanced avionics with glass cockpit technology – electronic instrument displays driven by flight management systems and computers – which simplifies aircraft operation and navigation, thereby enhancing safety. Latest designs include innovations in green operation, improved fuel efficiency and quiet operations.

The term Very Light Jet had been tainted by Eclipse Aviation’s debacle in 2008 when a number of customers filed law suits against the company for failure to refund deposits for cancelled and delayed orders. Afterwards, other manufacturers started avoiding use of the term to describe their products. Embraer, for example, labels its Phenom 100 an “entry-level jet”. Other terms used to refer to the aircraft are light jet, micro light jet, mini-jet, personal jet and private jet.

More than 3,000 orders have been made for the VLJs with more than 7,000 expected to be in the skies by 2017.  A boom in the VLJ industry will boost access to rural airports while giving business travellers a modestly priced substitute to airline transport. Success of the VLJ in aviation will depend on high demand and low cost projections. But as airline travel becomes more time-consuming and unreliable at times (with flight cancellations and delays), alternative means of fast air travel will be sought and VLJs will be a viable option.