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VLJs – The shine might be getting dull.

"The first time a VLJ has an incident that is even remotely pilot error driven, the screams will be loud and clear from all walks of aviation and civilian ranks."


December 27, 2007
By Rob Seaman

Dec. 27, 2007  – 2007 marked the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Boeing 707 jetliner. It is also, depending upon your view, the point in commercial aviation history when propellers gave way to the jet age and air travel became affordable and available.

Now those of us with British and Canadian roots will think of the Comet and AVRO Jetliner before the 707 when talking the dawn of the jet age and may take exception to this claim. Regardless of your view, we must acknowledge the importance of the Boeing aircraft in the bigger picture.

In a recent media release from Boeing they paint the story by saying that December 20, 1957, was a cold and rainy afternoon. The crew sat on the drenched runway and checked weather reports, waiting for the chance to take the new airplane up for its maiden flight. At 12:30 p.m., the decision was made to go. The 707 climbed over the city of Renton and weather immediately closed in, forcing landing at nearby Boeing Field after just seven minutes. Later the sky cleared and a 71-minute flight ensued.

Boeing President William Allen and his leadership team had "bet the company" on a vision that the future of commercial aviation was in jets. Today we see the advent of a new age in jet aviation. The Very Light Jet – or VLJ – is starting to appear on ramps. This category of aircraft represents a significant advancement equal to that of the 707 in aviation.

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VLJs mean that with the right money and training, any pilot can fly with the big guys. Some see a VLJ in the back hangar/garage of your fly-in park estate home. They offer fast, high altitude, modern travel for 4 or so passengers and pilot. They are designed to operate out of just about every improved airfield you can image. The bottom line, VLJs can get from local flying club to the international hub. And they cost a lot less than a small entry level corporate aircraft. So this makes them very attractive.

On the negative side is the issue of how and where will these aircraft actually fit into the aviation community at large – yet alone the general aviation arena. Start with noise management. They have new and efficient engines but to the farmer adjacent to the airfield – it’s a jet – not a little prop job. It is noisier (at least to his ears).

Then there is handling. Many smaller fields where a VLJ can and will travel will – at least initially – may not be familiar with the type nor able to service it professionally. In fact many may not even have jet fuel on site. And sooner or later we just know there is going to a be a miss-fueling incident which in itself could be catastrophic.

Then there is training. Certainly the insurance world – and in Canada POC programmes – require a certain level of training and indoctrination. That said, the first time a VLJ has an incident that is even remotely pilot error driven, the screams will be loud and clear from all walks of aviation and civilian ranks.

Also watch this evolving market to see how many of the concepts – and there are a lot – make it to market. With Cessna you know you are dealing with a solid firm. Initial reports on the VLJ Mustang are everything you expect from that group. Kudos!

The Eclipse is now in service too. However you can’t say it has been doing well. Flight operational issues and in some cases limits were imposed while things were sorted out. Eclipse’s Vern Raburn has been in the news defending the Eclipse while disagreements,  hold-ups and legal wrangling become more public. Some good news though as the year comes to a close is that Eclipse has now announced FAA certification of the Avio NG (Avio NG Total Aircraft Integration system). This provides centralized control of virtually all Eclipse 500 systems and avionics functions. Hopefully news in 2008 will continue to be more positive.

The Adam A700, Diamond D-Jet and Embraer Phenom 100 will be ready some time in 2008. The expectations are that these three firms will come out with a first rate product that should rival the success of the Mustang.

Unfortunately there is still bad VLJ news to close out 2007. The ATG Javelin – without question the hottest looking resembling an F18 – is not healthy. The programme has been completely grounded. Some 80% of the company’s work force was sent home on December 17 as the firm failed to secure the funding it needed to continue. Certification is not expected until 2010 or later and there is still some hope, tied to a deal with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). IAI partnered with ATG for producing a trainer/light attack variant for the global export market.

ATG may not be the only ones facing this fate. Only time will tell. And just when we thought that VLJs were where it is hot – the recent Dubai aerospace show announced the signing for the first SST corporate jet. Now that should be fun. Remember the Concorde?