VLJs? Thanks, But We Prefer Citabrias

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AOPA Expo opened on Thursday morning with a thousand pilots or so attending a general session on the "megatrend" of owner-flown turbines, introduced by AOPA President Phil Boyer and hosted by AOPA Pilot Editor-in-chief Tom Haines. The crowd listened politely as Cessna CEO Jack Pelton and Matt Huff, of Williams engines, talked up the wonders and virtues of the coming owner-flown turbine fleet. But the one time the audience erupted in spontaneous applause? When Jim Robins, a businessman who "operates" a TBM700 to get to his homes and facilities around the country, mentioned the pure joy of "flying" his vintage Citabria in the early morning amid the Santa Fe mountains. Robins also raised some eyebrows in the crowd when he veered from the industry refrain that turbine aircraft are "easier" to fly than pistons.

"'Simpler' I might buy, but not 'easier," he said. "In addition to flying the airplane, you are operating all the systems. It isn't easy." Robins said he had no problem getting insurance -- though it is expensive -- but advised low-time pilots against making too big of a leap into the turbine environment. Get comfortable with instrument flying and complex aircraft first, he suggested, and work your way up. In the end, all parties agreed with the assessment of Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn, speaking on video: The VLJ is a "slayer of distance and a creator of time -- the ultimate magic carpet."