VLJ? What VLJ?

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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.

Comments (7)

Eclipse was an unmitigated disaster for thousands... The wake of pain from depositors to suppliers to employees and the industry in general is wide and deep. To call their business plan flawed would be like calling the Titanic a “boo boo”, but let's not trash what they created; I recently raced a Cessna Mustang in my Eclipse on an hour and 10 minute flight, and beat it by nearly 5 minutes while burning just over half the fuel! It burns 20% less Jet A than my King Air, and travels 40% faster!

In this brave new world where all aircraft and aircraft owners are being demonized and marked by excess, aircraft like the Eclipse has created justifiable transportation for small business without stigma of Heavy Iron Corporate excess. If the CEO's of the big 3 automakers had showed up in Eclipse's, I am guessing we wouldn’t be having another conversation that seems to be doing even greater harm to the industry.

Eclipse; love the plane, hated the company!

Posted by: Mark Leavitt | October 22, 2009 10:15 AM    Report this comment

I agree that the industry is ready for a new descriptive term other than VLJ.
Perhaps VEJ: "Very Efficient Jet"
BTW, at JetAlliance we operate Eclipse, Mustang and Phenom aircraft and have had good results with all three. These aircraft need to be brought into the light as part of the travel solution to these economic times for busy executives in a way that demonstrates frugal use of company resources.

Posted by: Randall Sanada | October 22, 2009 11:10 AM    Report this comment

The problem here is not, as a marketing ploy, change the name to side-step negetive or "old" impressions. It is simply that the term VLJ is not a "class". Is it a single place? How about a 6-10 place? Is it a FL pressurized coast to coast rocket or a family X-country sport jet. The main thing it is, is, a money eating but classy display of wealth. The ego boost must be over the top. Certainly the envy is. "There is the rub". I really have no problem with conspicuous consuption. Yes I do. I would love to have a "fancy" car but a "pimp mobile" leaves a bad taste. I question how the term "frugal" can be tossed around so looesly. Ask the guy who lost a good salary and earned benefits to two part timers with no benefits if he is glad his boss is frugal.

Posted by: Larry Fries | October 22, 2009 2:14 PM    Report this comment

as sad as the eclipse debacle was, who it to blame. I would say the FAA is responsible for as more blame than Rayburn. The FAA adds multiplied millions of (mostly) ridiculous requirements and dollars to the cost of anything aircraft related. The FAA is strangling US aviation. We are becoming more like the other countries of the world daily, where the beauracracy grinds business up into small pieces and spits them out. We must reclaim our country. I think Rayburn' ideas MIGHT have worked without the years of delays and cost imposed by the Feds Against Aviation. They never produce progress, they can only hinder progress. Sometimes progress is dangerous, but sometimes is it fabulous.

Posted by: Roy Zesch | October 22, 2009 5:53 PM    Report this comment

Roy, easy boy. It IS true that the FAA's regulations and SOPs are costly, time consuming, and archaic. However, smart people plan for all of this and come to market with a product that is as safe and viable as possible. Investors who are mislead or blinded by unrealistic expectations always suffer from hindsight. What does paranoia have to do with it?

Posted by: Larry Fries | October 22, 2009 6:31 PM    Report this comment

There is a list miles and miles long of every type of aircraft company coming out and then dying in a spectacular fashion. There are even examples of once tried and true companies that had a good thing and lost as the world past them by or they made poor decisions. In truth, typically the most innovative and revolutionary companies and products don't make it first. It's the guy after them (thus the term "first followers" that's the winner. In this case, I know a business man who got and then sold his place in line for an Eclipse switching to a Mustang. He saw the writing on the wall and wasn't willing to gamble. The only real tragedy in my eyes would be if the industry didn't take the technologies and products created by Eclipse and their failure and turn that into new products with a business model that works. Fortunately (yet sadly) I will never have the bucks to take the risk at this level anyway!

Posted by: ANDY KURITZKY | October 26, 2009 9:33 AM    Report this comment

There sure are a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks here. How many issues of Flying, Pland and Pilot and AOPA did we read about VLJ's. Let's look at all the avweb artilces to boot. Dick Karl was going to buy one. We endured the Williams fallout and still dreamed of flying in the jetways. Eclipse created a jet market, period. They may have failed and who knows if the company will make it but the VLJ or "entry level jet" is here to stay and we're all better for it. We pilots can sure get on our high horse. Good job Eclipse! We need companies with vision.

Posted by: GREG KLOSTER | November 4, 2009 7:09 PM    Report this comment

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