VLJ Makers Talk Turkey

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At a very light jet panel at the FAA forecast in Washington, D.C., on Friday, Eclipse Aviation Director of Public Relations Andrew Broom swept aside the myth that VLJ pilots were limited to rich dentists. He said that VLJs are easier to fly than twin-engine pistons, and that the Eclipse 500 was efficient at flight levels “in the 20s,” while its cabin fit and finish matched that of the 7-series BMW sedans. Diamond Aircraft Industries President Peter Maurer said his company's D-Jet targeted the 5-series of BMW with its two-plus-three seating. Maurer defied the conference audience to define "VLJ," saying that, other than flying a new generation of turbofans and an advanced glass cockpit, the weight, thrust, number of engines and cost differed, with more variance ahead as VLJ makers challenge both high-end pistons and downscaled business jets. John Knudsen of Adam Aircraft estimated that per-mile seat cost could fall to $3, compared with $2 for airlines, though there is no direct competition, and VLJs would fly only 0.16 percent of the available seat miles in a medium-level forecast. Steve Hines, Cessna’s director of research, said the VLJ business model requires not just lower variable cost but more utilization, and he recalled that in the 1950s 20 percent of GA hours were for air-taxi/charter, but the category slipped to 14 percent in 2005. Embraer Vice President of Market Intelligence Marco Tulio Pellegrini agreed. He said the Embraer Phenom 100 airframe should withstand 15,000 hours in a 10-year cycle, quipping, “You don’t learn VLJ design from books, you learn by serving the airlines.” Pellegrini predicted that a growing “hassle factor” felt by business travelers will drive demand for VLJs.