GAO on VLJs: Impact of Small Jets Is Uncertain

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The Government Accountability Office made a concerted effort this summer to figure out what's up with very light jets -- will swarms of them overwhelm the National Airspace System? Will they rain from the sky, ineptly piloted by untrained amateurs? Does the FAA have a plan to handle the costs of dealing with them? And what they found out is what we could have told them -- for the most part, we'll have to wait and see. The GAO report (PDF) did determine, however, that safety issues are unlikely to arise, since the aircraft and pilots must be FAA certified and insurance companies are keeping a close watch on proficiency requirements. Also, the report concludes that the FAA and the airspace system are prepared to integrate the jets, and that since they will mainly use smaller airports, they shouldn't add to congestion problems.

The study found uncertainty over how many of the jets will be produced, with estimates ranging from 3,000 to 7,600 over the next decade or two. Another uncertainty cited in the report is whether the air-taxi market for VLJs will materialize. Several experts told the GAO that there is nothing new about air taxis. "They argued that if the point-to-point on-demand air-taxi business model were so attractive, it could have become popular already using similar existing business jets and propeller aircraft," the report says.