VLJs not yet the game changer the private jet business predicted
When very light jets (VLJs) first hit the market less than a decade ago it was boldly predicted they would turn business aviation on its head. Optimistic industry analysts were forecasting that as many as 20,000 VLJ aircraft would be filling the skies by 2020.
However, seven years on from the delivery of the first models in 2006, the reality looks somewhat different with less than a thousand currently flying.
Development and production of VLJ aircraft has proved to be a capital-intensive enterprise and financing difficulties have seen some manufacturers struggling to deliver. For example, earlier this year Diamond Aircraft Industries reportedly suspended the development of the D-Jet aircraft – a composite five-seat single-engine private jet originally scheduled for delivery in 2010.
Only those with deep pockets and the security of a large order book have been able to successfully progress with VLJ development programmes.
Currently only three manufacturers have made deliveries – namely the Cessna Citation Mustang, Eclipse 500 and Embraer Phenom 100 jets. The Mustang jet has proved to be the most successful of these with 425 built since 2005.
In the pipeline there are about eight further VLJ models under development or awaiting certification. The key players include Cessna Aircraft, Cirrus Design, Embraer Executive Jets, Honda, Maverick Jets, Spectrum Aero, Sport Jet, and Stratos Aircraft.
Unlike larger private jets which fly at high altitudes and high speeds, VLJs were designed for single-pilot operation with a smaller capacity – typically accommodating just four passengers.
Lighter and smaller than other categories of private jets, VLJs are pitched as having more economical operating costs and are also able to land and take-off on short runways – eliminating time and other inconveniences of larger, busier airports.
Alex Berry, Chapman Freeborn’s Group Sales & Marketing Director, comments:
“These aircraft represent the lower cost, small cabin entry level option for twin engined jets. Their direct operating costs are a little lower than their larger counterparts whilst their capital costs are lower too, however the costs for landing, handling, fuel and maintenance all remain in the same ballpark as their larger, more comfortable and more prevalent siblings.
“In addition the cost of crew for a small aircraft is generally the same as that of a light or even midsized private jet, so overall there is not the game changing economics that some people expected as a result of VLJ development.”
However, while sales haven’t yet soared as high as many predicted, he does still see an important ongoing role for the VLJ in the business aviation market:
“What VLJ’s do give us is another tool to meet the needs of the customer at a lower cost, albeit at a reduced level of comfort. The big positive is that a customer trying a VLJ will very quickly and cheaply realise the true value of getting away from the commercial airlines, and likely not want to return, thus increasing the demand for business aviation.”
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Photos: The Embraer Phenom 100 is an example of a successful VLJ model. Developed by Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, around 270 have been built since 2007.