The VLJ Race: Buddy, Can You Spare An Asterisk?

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In the annals of business aviation, it will be recorded that Cessna won the race to be the first to obtain full FAA type certification of a very light jet (VLJ). Last week's achievement doesn't come without an asterisk, however. The footnote will be necessary since it's highly likely that Eclipse will deliver examples of its Eclipse 500 to new owners well before Cessna, which doesn't intend to place Mustangs into owners' hands until early 2007. Eclipse, which received provisional FAA type certification in July, expects to obtain full certification "any day now." And neither airplane has obtained FAA approval for flight in known icing conditions, a hurdle that could severely restrict the airplanes' usefulness until it is cleared. As such, there are probably enough asterisks to go around in the VLJ market right now, with Adam Aircraft, Embraer and other manufacturers waiting in the wings to see how these new airplanes, umm, fly with customers. Nevertheless, Cessna's new-airplane certification apparatus last week was basking in the glow of another accomplished mission. “This is an immense achievement, marking another point in history where Cessna has led the aviation industry into new territory,” said Cessna Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jack Pelton.

The FAA's type certification for the Mustang includes single-pilot operation, day/night operations, visual and instrument flight rules (VFR/IFR), and operations in reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) airspace. By contrast, the Eclipse 500 presently does not enjoy those approvals; its provisional type certificate basically carries the FAA's assurance that the airplane will fly. Similarly, the two airplanes differ somewhat in their philosophies. Sure, they're both targeting the same market and are powered by similar Pratt & Whitney Canada engines, but that's where the similarities end. Aboard the Citation Mustang, a Garmin G1000 does the avionics chores along with an integrated, digital autopilot. The Eclipse 500 could be thought of as an advanced management system -- the Avio integrated system -- in a wrapper that flies. Nevertheless, players in the VLJ market were quick to recognize Cessna's achievement. "The Mustang certification is good for the industry," Eclipse told AVweb; Adam Aircraft added, "We congratulate Cessna on this accomplishment, which validates the continued investment in this segment of the marketplace." Cessna currently has 250 orders for the Mustang, which it says means production is sold out into 2009.