Thursday, May 1, 2008
The Day Of The Personal Jet
No one can guess if the personal jet market will be as robust as many entrepreneurs think, but here’s a look at the current and projected crop of contenders
It’s a new world. VLJs and personal jets are on their way. Despite naysayer predictions, Eclipse Aviation is actively marketing its model 500 twin jet, with more than 100 aircraft completed and 50 delivered (as of mid-February), and there are at least another 10 models of small jets set to debut in the next three years.
Failure of the Maverick and, more recently, the ATG Javelin and Adam jets, hasn’t damped what appears to be a more vigorous market for mini jets than anyone could have predicted a few years ago. Major manufacturers like Cessna, Piper, Embraer (of Brazil), Diamond, Cirrus and even Honda have joined upstart Eclipse in lending credibility to VLJs, creating a whole new market segment where none existed before. Some of the new-generation jets, specifically the Embraer Phenom 100, HondaJet and Cessna Mustang, will probably qualify as light jets rather than VLJs.
Notably, many of the new turbine aircraft will be singles rather than twins. The trend away from multi-engine airplanes has been progressive. Between 1962 and 1987, a significant 16% of all general aviation airplanes sold were multis. Piper, in particular, was a leader in twin production, with nearly a dozen different models. Today, only 3.5% of current production airplanes are twins.
In the turbine arena, buyers have progressively embraced single-engine models to the extent that today’s singles are actually outstripping twin-turboprop sales. In 1995, only 41% of turboprops were singles. By 2006, turbine singles were commanding 62% of the propjet market.
That’s partially in recognition of the near-bulletproof reliability of turbine engines. Williams International, for example, one of the up-and-coming manufacturers of light jet powerplants (for Beech Premier, Cessna CJ1/2/3 and Mustang, Swearingen SJ30-2 and others), has realized an impressive in-flight failure rate of only 1.54 per 100,000 hours of operation. That’s all the more phenomenal when you consider that most of those were precautionary shutdowns in multi-engine aircraft.
Before you can even consider discussing the present and the future of personal jets, it’s important to define the term. As the name implies, a personal jet is generally regarded as smaller than a VLJ. Though “personal” might allude to a one- or two-seater, there are essentially no single-/two-seat jets aimed at this market available or on the drawing boards. The semi-military configuration Javelin was planned as a super sporty, two-seat aerobatic hot rod, but that project recently died, and it would hardly have been an entry-level airplane anyway.
In fact, defining a personal jet is a fairly daunting task. Virtually every published parameter varies widely: four to seven seats, 300 to 360 knots, cruise between 25,000 and 41,000 feet, prices between $1 million and $2.3 million. This makes it nearly impossible to pin down the type.
For that reason, we’ve confined this analysis to new (or proposed), production, single-engine pure jet with more than two seats. Most of these aircraft are intended for the owner-flown market, rather than charter, as insurance requirements can adversely restrict some affluent clients from riding in singles for hire, even if they’re jets. Similarly, charter operators typically fly with two pilots. That means a long mission profile may limit passenger load and demand extravagant seat prices.
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