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. " />
|Designed to look and perform like an F18, the ATG Javelin has a service ceiling of 45,000 feet.|
Cirrus and Diamond drop out of the VLJ formation when they want to climb up toward FL410.
“When designing an aircraft, you are balancing cost, comfort (i.e., size) and performance,” says Diamond’s Owen. “To us, it makes little sense to optimize an aircraft for part of the operating envelope that, in reality, will rarely be used. Optimizing the D-Jet for lower flight levels and lower Mach numbers allowed us to offer a huge cabin with great comfort at reduced costs, which we feel is important to owner-pilots, as well as commercial operators. Once you operate above 30,000 feet, costs escalate dramatically, due to increased complexity—and this is not just reflected in acquisition, but also operating costs. Of course, safety is the other part of the equation for owner-pilots. There are currently not many nonprofessional single pilots flying at FL410. If you lose cabin pressure, you have just a few seconds of usable consciousness at FL 410. Climb and stall speeds converge as you go higher. You have to be on your game. Eclipse even considers it necessary for their customers to perform upset recovery training in a military jet.
“‘Pilot error’ is the most often cited cause of accidents,” continues Owen. “We agree with this statement, but we also consider the complexity of an aircraft to have a direct relation to the frequency of pilot errors. The fact is that many VLJ pilots will climb into their airplanes after a long business day to get back home, and they may not be as sharp or proficient as we’d like. That’s why we feel the concept of a personal jet, an aircraft with wide safety margins, is right for our target market.”
Cirrus’ Klapmeier weighs in. “I’m not an advocate of flight at 41,000 feet. It’s a very dangerous environment. There is no room for error up there. The time that it takes to come down to a safer altitude if you’ve got a problem is enormous.”
Eclipse Aviation’s Director of Public Relations Andrew Broom counters by saying, “I think that people are missing the point when they say the twin-engine VLJs will operate at 41,000 feet. The Eclipse 500 is most efficient in the mid-30s and enjoys turboprop fuel efficiency at jet speeds in the 20s. But,” he adds, “with our FL410-ceiling capability, operators will have the option to go high over bad weather. Our order book of 2,500 is a testament to our customers’ willingness to pay a little more to have this ability as well as the safety that comes with two engines.” That’s a plus factor for the busy CEO faced with a must-attend meeting.
Pilots may find themselves moving up from their turboprops or twins and buying into the Eclipse/Mustang/Adam/Phenom 100 end of the spectrum (for Mach .70 cruising with the airliners). Or, perhaps, they’ll prefer the personal jet approach, zipping along at a still-respectable 315 knots at a friendlier 25,000 feet. Regardless, training, training and training remains the answer to the question: What three things will make the VLJ soar with owner/pilots?
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