One of the most exciting innovations to hit the private jet industry in the last decade is the very light jet, or VLJ, introduced commercially by Cessna in 2006. These VLJs are named as such because they are lighter and smaller than the standard business class private jet. Their engines are considerably smaller too. So small in fact, that a pair of VLJ engines will fit in the boot of a car. The engine size and lightweight building materials mean that VLJs are also extremely inexpensive to operate, at an estimated $1 USD per nautical mile. A VLJ typically seats four to six passengers and has a reasonable price tag around $1.5 million USD.
Out of the three companies developing and producing VLJs just a few years ago, only Cessna succeeded in meeting production goals and remaining in business. The other two, Eclipse Aviation and Adam Aircraft, failed in their attempts to enter the VLJ market and went under in 2008.
What remains to be seen with VLJs is their appeal to the private jet charter industry. Some industry experts believe the cost-befit ration is such that most charter companies will not bother to invest in these small planes. Yet as of late 2009 Cessna had already received close to five hundred orders for its Citation Mustang. One must ask then, who is buying these planes and for what purpose?
The answer to that question can be found in the wilderness of Alaska. For decades America's largest and most geographically foreboding state has had to find new and innovative ways to travel within its borders. Bush pilots do a healthy air taxi business flying customers to regions inaccessible by motor vehicle, boat, or commercial airline flights. Now, a large number of Mustang owners envision the same type of business model in the continental areas of Europe and the U.S.
If these owner-operators are able to realize their goals, a whole new industry of air taxi service could be the next giant step in commercial aviation. Although $1.5 million is a substantial investment, the plane's ability to utilize runways as short as 3,000 feet means an air taxi service could be available just about any place in the world that has even a modest regional airport. Owner-operators believe they can recoup their investment rather quickly, enabling them to reap higher profits throughout the long life of the plane.
Customers of the air taxi service will have the benefit of dealing directly with the owners, and in most cases, even being flown by them. Fares should be considerably lower than those on commercial flights or business charters as well. VLJs are not the right choice when excessive luggage or freight will be involved, but as the air taxi designation suggests, they are ideal for short, point-to-point flight.
The key to making the air taxi business a success lies in the fact that VLJs are suitable for single pilot operation, unlike business class charters which require two. The addition of the second pilot would add a substantial financial burden to the owner operator, possibly not even allowing the air taxi business to survive beyond a few months. But like the Alaskan bush pilot, VLJ owner-operators are free to fly their planes and passengers as the lowest possible cost.
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