Wednesday, November 1, 2006
2007: The Year Of The VLJ
Will the world of VLJ diverge into two distinct markets?
Recently, global superstore Wal-Mart announced that it would sell Eclipse 500s at select locations. Customers will make a deposit, get a demo ride, and if they like it, they’ll ink the deal right at the airport. Wal-Mart will even paint its yellow happy face on the tail. Now there’s a thought. All that will cost a mere $1.6 million or so. " />
The Mustang, rather than a response to the VLJ phenomenon, is “a natural downward extension of the Citation line,” says Doug Oliver, director of corporate communications. “It’s not really a VLJ, although it falls into the category. We spent a lot of time talking to our customers. They told us they wanted something at a price point around $2.5 million. We also heard the desire for single-pilot operations, for pilots transitioning up from propeller planes. Although,” Oliver adds, “we expect corporate flight departments will continue to use two pilots.”
Cessna will shunt its VLJ training through longtime partner Flight Safety. But one nagging question emerges to dog the VLJ concept: Do single, relatively low-hour, nonprofessional pilots need to fly a jet at 41,000 feet in the first place? And should they even be allowed to?
Cessna, Eclipse, Adam, Embraer and others are betting the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Cirrus Design and Diamond see it another way entirely…more on that in a minute.
Sex And The Single Pilot Concept
“The single owner/operator,” continues Cessna’s Oliver, “was foremost in our minds as we designed the Mustang. Our integrated Garmin G1000 flight deck minimizes pilot workload. It’s easier to fly. Our Flight Safety training program will address a variety of incoming pilot skill levels. Pilots will need to earn a Mustang type certificate. Technological advancements allowing ease of workload and our training program should address a lot of the concerns of the insurance industry.”
Training emerges for all the builders as a huge crunch point for success, but how can you guarantee safely trained pilots for these high-tech superships? “That,” says Jeff Owen of Diamond Aircraft, “begs the entire question of high-altitude ops.” When Diamond CEO Christian Dries and his braintrust looked at the VLJ, the question came up: Are miniaturized versions of conventional business jets really suitable for the market they’re going after?
“We concluded,” says Owen emphatically, “‘No, they aren’t.’ Many of the VLJ airplanes have the same level of complexity as larger business jets. High-flight-level ops drive a lot of other things not necessarily conducive to an airplane operated by a nonprofessional single pilot. A large part of type training focuses on dealing with emergency procedures. The less critical the operating envelope and the simpler the systems, the easier it is to become and stay proficient.”
Dale Klapmeier of Cirrus Design concurs, although he predicts success for Eclipse, Cessna and other members of the eight-mile-high club. As he puts it, “There’s a market for personal jets and very light jets as well—a big market. Eclipse, Adam and Mustang should all do very well.”
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