Monday, October 16, 2006

Roundup on Latest VLJ and Air Taxi Developments

Archive (Friday's Post) Here

Quarterly (4 months actually) Update on Very Light Jets & Air Taxis

After I posted a few items on how VLJs and Air Taxis look to be part of an emerging paradigm shift in air travel earlier this year, the Very Light Jet Market has heated up. Several direct competitors and ‘niche-fillers’ have made progress in many technological and regulatory compliance areas. To bring people up to speed on the major developments since I last reported, here is a roundup of news to-date. If you’ve been keeping up with the subject you may want to skip to the latest developments at the bottom of the post.

I’ve noted that with the increasing number of technical mileposts reached by the VLJ contenders, there has been a corresponding increase in ‘legal’ and ‘business’ articles on the subject. This is partly due to the fact that as the VLJs have become more ‘real’, the contenders are focused more in on the objective of getting their product to fit in the market – while the market is being defined - and the environment in turn is beginning to determine how Air Taxi aircraft will be integrated into the Air Transportation System.

I'vs collected these links over the past months. The articles are not comprehensive but I believe they do fairly well represent the thrust of developments since May :
It was a horse race to be first with FAA certification, and in these past few months, some of the contenders crossed the finish line, while others reminded the market that they were very close.

"Very Light Jet" is a term that is pretty loosely defined at this time. Use of the label spills over into describing jets much larger than the Eclipse or Cessna entries.

A ‘dark-horse’ jet company suffered a major setback.

A Surprise ‘Big Business’ player appeared

‘Safety’ and ‘Capacity’ articles started appearing more regularly. Part in response to the challenges ahead, but also in response to the airline trade industry’s group, the ATA jockeying to ensure VLJs don’t create any more instability for their industry than already exists. (Good luck with that!)

Sweeping speculations on the relative safety of different forms of air travel have started making the rounds, in part because of the involvement of high profile pilots and passengers in some corporate jet incidents the last few years.

People are suing over reserved spots for delivery orders. I take this as a positive development as nothing attracts lawsuits like ‘success’!

31 May 06
Eclipse nearing FAA certification

…The Eclipse 500 -- a twin-engine, six-seat jet aircraft that will cost about $1.5 million -- is on track for FAA certification by the end of the quarter, Eclipse said Tuesday in a news release.

…Eclipse said its test fleet has exceeded 2,000 flight hours.

…The FAA has estimated 100 "very small jets" -- also called VSJs, ultra light jets or microjets -- will be produced by the end of the year and that in a decade nearly 5,000 such airplanes will be flying, an estimate the FAA says is "relatively conservative."

14 June 2006
Eclipse building jets, hiring staff

...After years of work, and building five test jets to win Federal Aviation Administration certification, the first production jet is being built for delivery to a real customer. That customer is one of more than 2,000 people or companies who have already ordered their own jets and made deposits with Eclipse.

...“We'll be exiting the end of this year with production aircraft of just over one aircraft per day,” Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn said. “So we'll build about 86 planes this year and then about 606 airplanes next year.”

...The company plans to hire more than 300 more employees by the end of the year.
27 June 2006
FAA announces next-generation air traffic control

…The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced that it is backing plans for new satellite technology to improve the safety and capacity of air transportation systems.

…The aviation industry as a whole welcomes the move, but the system will be introduced slowly in order to fully integrate processes and ensure a smooth transition, with passenger safety at the top of the agenda.

16 July 2006

Lots of developments in one:
There's A BRS Chute in D-Jet's Future

…During a lavish and ornate Saturday night public unveiling of Diamond Aircraft's single-engine Williams FJ33 powered D-Jet GA jet, Diamond CEO Christian Dries (pictured below) confirmed to ANN that they have entered into an agreement to develop a BRS emergency aircraft parachute system for the D-Jet.

…First announced by Diamond Aircraft in January 2003, the single-engine Diamond "D-Jet" is powered by a single Williams FJ-33 turbofan, an engine also used in the upcoming twin-engine Adams A700 and ATG Javelin. The five-passenger D-Jet is expected to cruise at a maximum speed of 315 knots, at an altitude of 25,000 ft while offering a range of 1,351 nm -- which translates to a decidedly un-jetlike fuel burn around 34 gallons per hour.

…..The composite aircraft features a Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, which in basic configuration features a dual screen PFD/MFD with integrated GFC 700 autopilot. The optional enhanced avionics package adds a massive 15" MFD to the two 10" PFD's, a glare shield mounted autopilot controller for the GFC 700 and a center console mounted FMS controller.

24 July 2006
Eclipse successfully tests first customer aircraft

…Eclipse Aviation has successfully tested the first production aircraft that is slated for delivery to a customer.

…Until now, Eclipse has operated a fleet of five test aircraft, accumulating more than 25-hundred flying hours. F-A-A certification was expected by late June, but delays by suppliers have pushed the date back twice this year.

25 July 2006
Honda has been testing an aircraft prototype as a technology demonstrator since 2003 and everyone was wondering what they were going to do with it. Now we know....and it was a 'gut' decision. Who knew Honda management was sentimental?
Honda to Sell Commercial Jet

…The HondaJet cruises 10 percent faster, has a cabin that is 30 percent larger and a range that is about 40 percent greater on 14 percent less thrust than Cessna's CJI+ model, according to Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's AOPA Pilot magazine.

…The company began studying aeronautics to honor the memory of founder Soichiro Honda, who dreamed of building aircraft before he died in 1991, Koichi Kondo, chief executive of officer of Honda's North American unit, said in a January interview.

…"There was no grand strategy. It was kind of an emotional decision,'' Kondo said.

26 July 2006
Experimental plane crash kills two in Spanish Fork

… An experimental plane crashed at the city airport Tuesday after takeoff, killing two people who worked for a company building the lightweight aircraft in Utah County.

…"This was the only one. We have to determine what went wrong," Blue said. Spectrum employs about 80 people in Spanish Fork. Blue said it was too early to know the impact on future production. Rocky Mountain Composites, Inc. of Spanish Fork and Spectrum Aeronautical in June celebrated the first public flight of the plane.

…The plane's composite carbon-fiber skin, produced by RMC, is what makes it different from other similar planes.

…Comparable jets weigh around 13,000 pounds, while the Spectrum is about 7,000 pounds. With the cost of fuel, the lightweight spectrum will be more appealing to pilots than similar planes.

Victims In UT Spectrum Jet Crash Identified

...Austin Blue, president of Spectrum Aeronautical LLC, identified the two victims of Tuesday afternoon's crash of the Spectrum 33 prototype as Glenn Maben, director of flight operations at Spectrum Aerospace LLC, and vice
director Nathan Forrest.

...The plane that was lost was the sole prototype of the very light jet, introduced last November at the NBAA Conference in Orlando, FL.

…About the same cabin size of Cessna's Citation CJ-2+ and offering up to 10-place seating, Spectrum Aerospace told ANN in January its VLJ entry offers top speeds in excess of 415-knots, non-stop range of 2,000 nautical miles yet weighs in at a low 7,300 pounds gross takeoff weight. At maximum weight, the 33 can reach its typical cruising altitude of 45,000 feet in a direct climb of only about 20 minutes.

…Linden Blue, CEO of Spectrum Aeronautical, told ANN at that time he had high hopes for the Spectrum 33 commenting, "Citations are out of my range, and Lears are certainly as well. So is the King Air. I figured if we could make something significantly different in terms of weight and cost, it was worth doing. If all we could do was make a Citation that was maybe 5 or 10 percent better, that's just beating your head against the wall -- you've got to make a substantial improvement or it's not worth doing."

...It is not yet known what impact Tuesday's loss of two valued members of the Spectrum team... and the prototype... will have on the program.

Update: Preliminary Report Identifies Improper Maintenance

Honda Partners With Piper!

…Not only has Honda committed to production of the innovative Honda TwinJet, but Piper has been named a a partner in a venture that will in part, result in the production of that aircraft in the United States.

…Honda confirmed their plans to enter the innovative HondaJet in the growing very light jet market, with the process of accepting sales orders expected to begin in the U.S. in fall 2006. Toward this goal, Honda will establish a new U.S. company to hold FAA type certification and production certification. Honda's goal is to complete type certification in about 3-4 years, followed by the start of production in the U.S.

…"Aviation has been an important dream of Honda for more than four decades," said Satoshi Toshida, senior managing director of Honda Motor Co., Ltd. "Our goal is consistent with the philosophy of other Honda products -- to provide convenient and efficient transportation that will make people's lives better. We are excited now to enter a new dimension of mobility."

….To date the prototype six-to-seven seat HondaJet has completed more than 240 hours of flight-testing since December 2003. So far, the prototype HondaJet has achieved an altitude of 43,000 feet and a speed of 412 knots and is on course to meet or exceed all of its design specifications.

More information on the Honda Jet here.
1 September 2006
Eclipse Expects Fed Blessing; Full FAA Certification To Let Buyers Claim
Their Jets

...Eclipse Aviation expects full Federal Aviation Administration certification of its twin-engine jet within the next two weeks, president and CEO Vern Raburn said Tuesday.

...The company, which received provisional certification from the FAA in late July, had expected full certification of the $1.5 million Eclipse 500 by today.

...Since July, the company has been working on a handful of "IOUs" with the FAA, including the design and installation of new aluminum wingtip fuel tanks to replace composite tanks that failed a lightning test. The FAA still needs to complete testing of the Avio avionics system from Eclipse supplier Avidyne, which Raburn has said faced software development delays.

..."We're done except for one last thing," Raburn said.

...Upon full certification, customer delivery will begin "almost immediately," he said.

15 September 2006
Cessna's more conventional design at least gets 'bragging rights'.
Eclipse Rival Cessna First VLJ with Full FAA Ticket

...Cessna Aircraft Co. reported Monday that it has received full Federal Aviation Administration type certification for its $2.6 million Citation Mustang jet. The certification, awarded about a month ahead of schedule, makes Cessna the first company to receive full FAA certification for a so-called "very light jet."

..."Market expansion is what we're all about," Broom said of Cessna's certification announcement. "A new avenue for people to utilize private aviation is nothing but good for the industry."

...Many believe VLJs, generally defined as jet aircraft weighing less than 10,000 pounds, will revolutionize aviation by bringing jet ownership and operation within reach of pilots and owners who previously would have been limited to prop-driven aircraft.

...Cessna first unveiled its Citation Mustang in 2002. The company plans to build and deliver 50 planes in 2007, and reports it has 250 orders on the books, which will sell out production through 2009.

...For comparison, Eclipse says it has about 2,500 orders on the books and plans much higher production - eventually up to 1,000 planes a year. The company has said volume production is key to the Eclipse 500's comparably low price.

19 September 2006

Not a VLJ, but a prop cousin to their jet project. Given the high commonality between the two projects this has to be considered a step forward for the jet as well.
Adam Aircraft Receives FAA Production Certificate

…the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a Production Certificate to Adam Aircraft, giving the company approval to manufacture and deliver its A500 aircraft under an FAA-approved type design. This allows Adam Aircraft to accelerate production of the A500 by being able to inspect and apply standard airworthiness certificates under a system approved by the FAA. The FAA Production Certificate substantiates that Adam Aircraft's Quality System and manufacturing procedures meet the Federal Aviation Regulations.

…The A500 twin-engine piston aircraft has been Type Certified by the FAA, and the
A700 AdamJet is currently undergoing flight test and development.

27 September 2006
Honda to Start Taking Orders for Small Business Jet Next Month

…Honda Motor Co., the world's largest engine maker, starts taking orders next month for a new small business jet as the Japanese company diversifies from its main auto, motorcycle and power products businesses.

…Sales of the seven-passenger HondaJet begin Oct. 17 at the National Business Aviation Association show in Orlando, Florida, spokeswoman Alicia Jones said today. Honda will announce the price and specifications for the jet then, she said.

…``It will be priced under $4 million,'' said Jones, with Honda's U.S. unit in Torrance, California.

…Competitors include Textron Inc.'s Cessna, Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica
SA and Eclipse Aviation Corp.

29 September 2006
FAA, GA Leaders Agree On Impact Of Very Light Jets

…Jack Pelton, Chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and Chairman, President, and CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company, addressed recent concerns regarding the effects of the introduction of VLJs.

…"The introduction of VLJs will be at a rate in which they will be transparently and smoothly absorbed into the system.”

…"FAA officials, Nicholas Sabatini, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, and Michael Cirillo, Vice President of Systems Operation Services within the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, agreed. They told the committee that the FAA has the capability to safely introduce all aircraft into the system, no matter the size, speed or performance. “VLJs will be assimilated into the system in an orderly fashion,” said Sabatini. Cirillo added, “Major airports will not be inundated with VLJs.”

…"This hearing has also completely discredited the myth propagated by the airlines that VLJs will place an undue burden on the national airspace system.”

1 October 2006
Eclipse Aviation Gets E500 Certification

…Eclipse Aviation Corp. said its E500 "very light jet" has been fully certified by the Federal Aviation Administration - meaning the small aircraft are cleared for delivery to customers.
3 October 2006
NBAA's Bolen Blasts ATA For 'Unfounded' Comments On VLJs

…Disputes Assertion Jets Will Be "Significant Burden" On NAS On Monday, the National Business Aviation Association came out swinging against allegations made by the Air Transport Association the emergence of very light jets (VLJs) would impose a burden on the nation's aviation infrastructure.

…As Aero-News reported, an official with the commercial airline lobbying group contended last week VLJs would be a "significant burden" in the aviation system, interfering with the operations of the commercial airlines. NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen (right) says ATA's statements simply don't hold water -- and what's more, several government officials have already said as much.

…"The unfounded comments by the ATA fly in the face not only of public statements by Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Marion Blakey but also congressional testimony by top FAA officials," said Bolen. "The fear-mongering by the airlines may be part of their broader strategy to pay less for air traffic services even as they try to seize control of the system."

…"The development of VLJ aircraft is good news on many levels," Bolen said. "Their introduction produces high-skill manufacturing jobs. They will help make many small and mid-sized companies more competitive. And, they will strengthen aviation services for many small communities. Those benefits should be the focus of discussion about VLJs."

5 October 2006
Eclipse Aviation Sued By Swiss Customer

…Says VLJ Maker Delayed, Then Cancelled Order Despite great news from Eclipse Aviation in the past few days... there are a few flies in the ointment at the Albuquerque, NM-based planemaker. Aviace Limited -- a Swiss start-up jet charter company, and what would have been one of Eclipse's first big customers -- is suing the company, after it says Eclipse first delayed, then cancelled, a 112-plane order supposedly made four years ago.

...Aviace alleges the situation is all about money -- that Eclipse deliberately cancelled the order, so it could sell the same planes to another customer at greater profit.

...On Tuesday, US District Judge Christina Armijo denied a request by Aviace
for a temporary restraining order, according to the AP.

6 October 2006
A comprehensive rundown on business jets (including supersonic projects!) and an update on the future of the Spectrum 33:
New Bizjets

…Calif.-based Spectrum Aeronautical is vowing to press ahead with the Spectrum 33 program, despite the fatal crash of its sole prototype on July 25.

…The NTSB found no evidence of any pre-existing failures of the airplane’s structure. However, “examination of the translation linkage on the aft side of the aft pressure bulkhead revealed that it was connected in a manner that reversed the roll control…the linkage was connected such that left roll input from the sidesticks would have deflected the ailerons to produce right roll of the airplane, and right roll input from the sidesticks would have deflected the ailerons to produce left roll of the airplane.”
…“The nature of the accident didn’t call the Spectrum 33’s design characteristics into question,” Blue said. The next test aircraft will be closer to a “production configuration” and will be designed to ensure that the controls can never be misrigged, he noted. This aircraft is expected to fly next year.

…Spectrum plans to release more details at the NBAA Convention this month, where it will begin taking orders for the $3.65 million twinjet.

10 October 2006

A very good summary of Air Taxis and VLJ developments, with special emphasis on the variety of business models and strategies.
NBAA 2006: Meter's running - The air-taxi era in the USA

…At next week’s National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando, Florida, the potential of the air-taxi sector will be one of the biggest themes, as the most talked about air-taxi operator and air-taxi aircraft – Florida’s DayJet and the newly certificated Eclipse 500 – get ready to begin service.

….The “air-taxi” epithet is convenient, but confusing. Each of the major services so far operating or planning to launch has a distinctive business model. Not all even call themselves air taxis. Only DayJet – which has 239 Eclipses on order – intends to immediately offer services on a per-seat basis. Although all of them plan to eventually operate VLJs, SATSair has built a successful regional business around the Carolinas and Virginia using SR22s. Linear Air, based near Boston, Massachusetts, has launched its service with Cessna Caravans, although it has 15 Eclipses on order. Some shun the air taxi moniker: Magnum, in Stamford, Connecticut – which has ordered 110 Adam A700s and 50 Embraer Phenom 100s – markets itself as an “air limousine” service; Point2Point of Bismark, North Dakota, another SR22 operator, insists it is a “personal airline”.

…Of all the new air-taxi business models, DayJet’s is the most radical – and risky.

…Iacobucci – a former associate of Eclipse Aviation founder Vern Raburn – has no doubt he has his sums right. Announced in 2002, DayJet plans to set up bases at a network of underused local airports, called DayPorts, from where it will try to match travellers who want to go from one to the other at roughly the same time.

11 October 2006
href="">16 October 2006

Spectrum Aero has some good news! I like what they're doing at the 'larger-VLJ' (for the lack of a better term) This is a pretty positive development from them that only adds to their credibility…
GE-Honda Venture Gets First Customer for Jet Engine
…GE Honda Aero Engines LLC, a joint venture between General Electric Co. and Honda Motor Co., said plane maker Spectrum Aeronautical will be the first customer for its small, Honda-designed jet engine.
….Spectrum begins taking orders for its Freedom jet and the smaller, $3.65 million Independence model at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando, Florida, starting tomorrow, Blue said.
….Honda will use the convention to start taking orders tomorrow for the HondaJet, its new entry in the light-jet market. Tokyo-based Honda also has said it may sell a small engine for propeller-driven aircraft.

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