If you read business aviation news regularly, there is no doubt that new jets are one of the most interesting and exciting reads; especially when it comes to new models. Back in the mid 2000s there was not only many new and exciting business jets to read about, but there was an entirely new category of jet. The Very Light Jet or VLJ. This new category was to revolutionize the way we travel shorter distances on private jets and give jet performance at near turbo-prop prices. So what happened? Are we flying differently now as predicted? What happened to the hype surrounding these “micro jets?”
The category is very much still alive, but certainly didn’t make the traditional light jet obsolete, and turbo-props are often still the best tool for the short haul (or heavy haul if you carry a lot of cargo). Timing of the release of these new models unfortunately coincided with the recession of the late-2000’s, watering down sales and disappointing the aviation industry predictions for the category. But they are out there, and are very popular among charter companies and especially owner/operators.
The jets are also not really referred to as VLJ’s anymore and there were really only three models that made it to production. The Eclipse 500, the Embraer Phenom 100, and the Cessna Citation Mustang. All have a two-pilot, four-passenger configuration and boast the latest and greatest in terms of avionics and new technology.
Eclipse Aviation Corp, founded by former Microsoft executive Vern Rayburn, really started the party when it announced the Eclipse 500. Despite the economy and multiple financial challenges at the company, the aircraft did make it to production and was delivered to over 200 buyers. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, production was halted not long after it had begun and the company entered bankruptcy in 2009. There is a silver lining for this company and its jet. Sikorsky Aircraft recently made a major investment in the assets of Eclipse and recently announced that it will introduce a new model to market called the Eclipse 550 sometime in late 2013.
The Phenom 100 is the first new business jet from Brazilian aircraft manufacturer, Embraer. It is still in production and its popularity has spawned several variants, including the recently announced, much larger Phenom 300. Over 240 Phenom 100s have been delivered. Though it has met its fair share of developmental challenges, this aircraft has a firm hold on market share in this category and is a benchmark. Embraer has also made a substantial investment in the US, building its Phenom 100 and 300 jets at its new assembly and sales facility in Melbourne, Florida. This shows the companies commitment to the business jet line and to the North American marketplace.
Cessna and its line of Citation business jets is among the best and most respected in the industry. When they threw their hat into the ring to produce a small jet, we knew it would be good. And the Citation Mustang did not disappoint. As of July 2012, 400 Citation Mustangs have been built. Popular among operators and owners due to the easily accessible service network of Cessna/Citation, this little jet has established itself as the leader in the category. It is certified for single pilot operation, and has the best cruise, take-off, and landing performance. I recently viewed a “High Sierra Edition” Citation Mustang and was impressed by not only the stylish interior features, but also its comfort and functional passenger cabin and advanced avionics.
Cessna has the advantage of its years of aviation history, familiar Citation brand, and reputation of reliability to keep it the leader in this class for a while, but there are others still on the horizon. The Phenom is gaining popularity and it looks like Eclipse will have something on the market again soon. Honda announced the HondaJet in 2006 and is planning to deliver to the first customers as early as 2013. Though its developement has met many challenges and is currently ongoing, Honda has had the advantage of learning from other’s mistakes and is about to deliver a product that has potential to redefine the category.
These new models may not have revolutionized private jet travel as they were hyped up in the mid 2000s, but they have added yet another choice to your short-haul options when it comes to flying privately. Next time you have a trip that is less than 1000 miles, and with four people or less, ask your charter professional if a Mustang, Phenom or Eclipse might be a good option. Jet performance at turbo-prop pricing can be very appealing!