Airlines, FAA Worry About Impact Of Little Jets

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It's the year of the very light jet (VLJ) and a new set of naysayers has stepped forth to offer their (generally negative) views. Having survived skepticism that verged on outright hostility from within the general aviation industry, Eclipse Aviation, Adam Aircraft and (after it looked like there might be something to the VLJ phenomenon) Cessna are poised to launch their dreams within the next year or so. Now, those accustomed to having the flight levels pretty much to themselves are sounding the alarm. According to an unusually thorough examination of the VLJ phenomenon by The Associated Press, critics say an already overtaxed air traffic control system trying to keep order around already congested urban airports will bear the brunt of a VLJ population explosion. But the architect of the VLJ movement, Eclipse's Vern Raburn, says the fears are unfounded. In the AP story, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) President Duane Woerth and Air Transport Association (ATA) President Jim May all express concern that the 3,000 VLJs already on order will clog up the high-altitude airways on their way to the 35 busiest airports in the U.S., creating an enormous strain on the system. "The question is exactly where they're going to be flying," said Blakey. "How much is in congested airspace? It's probably not knowable at this point." Woerth said he's convinced most VLJs will be headed for the big airports where they'll jockey for slots with his members and May thinks they'll cause a sort of aerial gridlock on the way because, at a cruise speed of about 430 mph, they're substantially slower than airliners. May says that's like traveling 45 mph on a freeway.