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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

New Jet May Change Dynamics of Travel

The Eclipse 500 is the size of a sport utility vehicle, seats six but there is no walking around while it flies to its destination. The single pilot doesn’t use a yoke, or steering wheel, but instead uses a keyboard to guide it through the skies save for the side stick used for takeoffs and landing. Welcome to the new generation of private aircraft the very light jet. Smaller, quieter and more fuel efficient than available private jets, the very light jet opens the door to business people who otherwise suffer the indignities of commercial flights. “People of modest wealth and smaller businesses can now afford ownership of a private jet,” said Randall Sanada, the chairman of Jet Alliance, the first company in the San Fernando Valley area to take delivery of one of the new generation of jets, on Dec. 31. The Teal Group Corp., an aerospace consulting firm, estimates the jets will number 2,310 by 2015. Eclipse is looking at producing 500 of their aircraft this year. “This is a product that has captured the public’s imagination but when it gets down to specific numbers we need to watch what happens in the market before making any of our own projections,” said Dan Hubbard, spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association. Clogging the skies? There are questions of whether a large number of these small jets will add to an already taxed air traffic control system the FAA said they won’t and whether pilots will be adequately trained to fly them. “The thing I cannot get my arms around is how economical this transportation is for the travelers or the operators,” said Robert Rodine, a Sherman Oaks consultant who has clients in the aviation field. The very light jet will be a legitimate part of the aviation marketplace but they are not the be-all and end-all their loudest supporters make them out to be, said Mark Schmaltz, the chief operating officer for the western region of Direct Jet Aviation, owner of Spirit Aviation at Van Nuys Airport. “Where’s the benefit? There is none,” Schmaltz said. “It’s a tremendous administrative burden to put an airplane in the air and track it and monitor.” Westlake Village-based Jet Alliance will keep the aircraft it co-owns at Camarillo Airport although having additional planes at Van Nuys Airport is not out of the question. Owners buy in to the $1.5 million Eclipse at a fractional cost. Jet Alliance has packages available ranging from a one-sixteenth ownership allowing for 50 hours of annual flight time at $95,000 to a half ownership at $760,000 for 400 hours of flight time. Production backorder Eclipse has a backorder of 2,500 of the jets while rival manufacturer Cessna has 250 orders for its Citation Mustang jet. “There’s not going to be enough VLJs available for charter to be a viable option,” Sanada said. One application is to allow for the upgrade from a turbo prop or piston plane. The heaviest anticipated use is in the emerging air taxi business. The only way the Eclipse jet will be a success is if the air taxi boom takes off, Schmaltz said. “People are not going to pay a per-seat charge to fly around in some little bitty airplane,” Schmaltz said. Regardless how the planes are used, Sanada does not foresee a day when the VLJ is a threat to the larger private jets. “The only difference is they will want something bigger,” Sanada said. “People will gravitate toward larger aircraft.” Mike Skelly, senior director of sales at Elite Aviation, based at Van Nuys Airport, said that firm has a proven business model that works. But if the purchase or management of very light jets speaks to the convenience and demand of existing customer or new customers and makes good business sense it is something Elite would seriously explore, Skelly said. “We don’t see ourselves being a pioneer in the VLJ field,” Skelly said. “Our plans are to pay very close attention to this new market as it develops.”

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