VLJ? What VLJ?
One company that's conspicuously absent from this year's NBAA convention is Eclipse. In years past, Eclipse erected lavish displays that tended to dominate the skyline at all of the major shows. This year, it looks as if the new management is focused on getting the company righted, modifying the existing fleet and then hammering out a business plan to resume manufacturing new aircraft. All good as far as it goes.
Even though the current Eclipse management had nothing to do with the billion-dollar debacle that drove the company into the dirt, many believe that Eclipse's antics caused lasting damage to the industry on a couple of fronts. First, it tarnished the very credibility of light jets and second, it made such a hash of the certification process that those working in the trenches are ever fearful of an FAA backlash against all aircraft, not just small jets.
Consider this quote from industry forecaster Brian Foley in the BCA Show News, explaining why "entry level jet" is now the preferred term over VLJ: "The term VLJ was at times tainted by…unrealistic expectations and even failure. The industry would do well to drop hyped words in order to improve credibility with users." Gee, who do ya think he's talking about?
Companies are already running away from the VLJ concept. Cessna never embraced it for the Mustang in the first place and Embraer calls its diminutive Phenom 100 an entry-level jet. When we spoke to Alex Craig of upstart Stratos, he pointedly said "not a VLJ…but a very light personal jet." He also said Stratos isn't selling dreams, romance and overpromise, but a practical personal jet priced right to earn some investors a little money. Personally, I think the Stratos is a long shot, but it's refreshing to hear a new startup acknowledge the level of hype that Vern Rayburn saddled the industry with.
Many things have been said and written about Rayburn, a computer executive turned would-be aircraft mogul. One is that he deserves credit for promoting the light jet concept and lending it a degree of credibility. I doubt if you'd find many people here at NBAA who buy that. The surviving companies can't run away fast enough from the idea—championed by Rayburn—that a small, light jet can be fast, economical and cheap. Actually, elsewhere in the same issue of Show News I saw the term "disruptive technology" used to describe another jet. It's enough to make your skin crawl and probably ought to be banned from use in aviation journalism of any kind.
For if Eclipse taught us anything, it's that in commercial aviation, progress comes in periodic increments, not giant leaps. When you hear things like "revolutionary" or "game changer," just let them flow into one ear and out the other.