Thursday, August 22, 2013

Guest post: VLJs yet to take off in the private jet business

VLJs are intended for a wider market, offering lower operating costs than current private jets2006 saw the introduction of very light jets (VLJs) on to the aviation market, with the expectation of turning the air charter industry on its head. Industry experts predicted as many as 20,000 VLJs would be in operation by 2020. However, half way towards that time frame, there are only approximately 1000 currently in the skies.

These aircraft are specifically designed to make private jets more affordable through the use of more than 5,000 small community airports throughout the United States. VLJs are intended for a wider market, offering lower operating costs than current private jets.

The inadequate growth of VLJ manufacturing is largely down to financial backing. The air charter industry is not for the feint hearted; it requires deep pockets and a solid customer base. Many manufacturers have struggled to deliver their new business jets; notably Diamond Aircraft Industries are reported to have suspended the development of their D-Jet aircraft, which was scheduled to hit the market in 2010.

With all of the promises from the aircraft charter manufacturers, only three companies have successfully put their aircraft into the skies; the Embraer Phenom 100, Cessna Citation Mustang, and the Eclipse 500. However, with further charter aircraft models awaiting certification, the industry may be set to pick up.

VLJs are equipped with the latest in jet engine technology

These smaller, lighter, charter aircraft are equipped with cutting edge jet engine technology that offers a more cost effective fuel efficiency. They have the ability to take off and land on much smaller runways than other private jets. This allows them to use smaller airports, and avoid the time delays that are often present at larger, busier airports. Yet despite this much needed advancement in the industry, it is yet to reach the expectations of industry analysts.

In a recent interview with Alex Berry, Sales and Marketing Director at Chapman Freeborn, Alex explained how the economic advantages of VLJs are not as "game changing" as some people expected. Whilst VLJs represent a cheaper entry level option for twin engine jets, and their operating costs are slightly lower than their larger alternatives, much of the cost of fuel, landing, and handling remain more or less the same. Coupled with the similarities in the cost of crew for a small aircraft, it is easy to see why these aircraft aren't as popular as first predicted.

However, whilst supply and demand for VLJ's hasn't quite hit the levels that were expected, Alex remains hopeful that these smaller jets will have their place in the market. Alex explains that VLJs provide a solution that meets the customer's needs at a lower cost. The trade-off of course is a reduced level of comfort, but this is unlikely to deter those on a budget. There is also a perception that once a customer has tried a VLJ at a relatively cheap expense, they will understand the true value of chartered flying, and pull away from the commercial airlines. This ought to result in an increase in demand for business aviation.

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