Thousands Of Little Jets And The Airspace System

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As David Crowe's Eclipse 500 was beginning life, there were some furrowed brows in Washington wondering what his future flying activity, and that of thousands of others in the very light jet (VLJ) fraternity, will do to (or for) the aviation industry. "We're on the cusp of a new business model," FAA planner Nana Shellaberger told hundreds of aviation industry leaders at the agency's annual Forecast Conference last Tuesday. "We think this growth is more than somebody's pipe dream," added Sharon L. Pinkerton, another FAA planner who said the agency predicts about 1,650 mini jets will be sharing the flight levels by the end of the decade (others say it could be double that). As long as they generally steer clear of the big hubs (as the VLJ industry fully intends to do) it shouldn't be much of a problem. Eclipse and its competitors insist their planes are an alternative to the hub-and-spoke system that has actually reduced the speed of travel in the last decade. The manufacturers say private owners of VLJs will seek out the uncrowded suburban airports and that satellite navigation will make it possible to use them in marginal weather. Air taxis will whisk customers from point to point, rather than through the hub and spoke, reducing travel time, while the relatively inexpensive aircraft allow ticket prices in the range of a business-class fare. But at least one purveyor of little jets says the numbers being thrown around are optimistic. Cessna CEO Jack Pelton said in a speech to the Aero Club last week that a training bottleneck will be a limiting factor. And we'll all find out how the neighbors like the noise, later.