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Entry Level & Light Jets

Light Jets only in name- ultimately where performance and value reign as dominant factors it is worth remembering there’s nothing lightweight about the value and flexibility of this category of corporate aircraft.

Jack Olcott   |   1st March 2013
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Jack Olcott Jack Olcott

Possibly the world’s most recognized advocate, if not expert on the value of Business Aviation,...
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Entry Level & Light Jets:
Flexibility at Lower Cost Levels.

Light Jets only in name- ultimately where performance and value reign as dominant factors it is worth remembering there’s nothing lightweight about the value and flexibility of this category of corporate aircraft.

As business jets increase in size from Entry Level and Light jets to the low-end of the Large Cabin- purpose-built models the stated seating capacity tends to vary only slightly; six to eight seats dominates the standard configurations of many of the offerings across size-category lines.

It is true that as aircraft increase in size- headroom and leg-room similarly increase- even if available seating does not. It is also true that for many models- full-fuel payload doesn’t seem to grow proportionally- although a model here and there does defy this typically true generality. Additionally- stillair range also seems to increase as you move up the categories. But ultimately- steps up in size and range also tend to reduce flexibility in an important- notto- be-overlooked way; airport access. As jets get bigger and heavier their runway needs increase- often dramatically- with no appreciable gain in how many people can fly or how much equipment the jet can carry. Does that make bigger better? Not where value and flexibility are important.

We know many feel an emotional aversion to aircraft too small for their sensibilities; people want to equate ‘bigger’ with ‘safer ’ in a way that the physics belie. The realities of the physics aside- however- the next step up in size seldom results in a major improvement in seating capacity- let alone in fullfuel cabin load. In reality- the larger jets need more power- which means more fuel to cover the same ground at about the same speed- so cabin capacity changes minimally where maximum-range trips are concerned. And that returns us to that maximumrange leg fixation…

Why do we so covet range capabilities seldom needed? A light jet fully-fueled and flying a typical Business Aviation mission departs with fuel for the mission- including reserves- in some cases sufficient fuel to return home without adding more. And that maximum-fuel jet can often barely carry the typical passenger load of three persons making the trip- unless one or two of them also doubles as a crew member.

With the average mission length under 750 miles and the nominal maximum-range of light jets around 1-200 miles- the crew enjoys the option of flying lighter- saving fuel. (Note: The lower the total weight of the aircraft- the less fuel it consumes on the mission- all other factors being equal).

Fueling for the mission- with NBAA reserves- allows a larger cabin load- making three or four- plus crew- possible. In most cases where a fuel stop is not required- the speed difference between a light- a mid-cabin and a large-cabin jet results in a leg taking only slightly longer to fly- but at the trade-off of higher direct operating costs of the larger jets. Any time gained in a bigger jet - we’re talking a few minutes in most cases - is certainly insufficient to offset operating costs running 50-100 percent higher- or more.

So for most people- the question comes down to this: Is a bit of headroom for a 100-minute typical mission really cost-justifiable? That brings us to the aspect of light jets in which they not only excel but cannot be beaten on- namely accomplishing the needed mission at the lowest overall cost.

Five hundred to 750 miles at a maximum cruise speed of around 400 knots while carrying four passengers will generally cost less in a Light Jet than making the same trip in a Medium Jet at a 480-knot maximum cruise; even more so than a Large Cabin jet. The time difference between heavy and light business jets on a typical mission is small- about 10 to 12 minutes- overall- and is not a large time saving for costs that may be considerably higher for the larger aircraft. Further- beyond these speed-rangepayload operational basics- airport fees tend to be larger for heavier aircraft.

With airports and FBOs increasingly turning to weight-based ramp fees for revenue- a larger jet incurs a higher ramp fee- and even if a large-enough fuel purchase can bring a waiver of the fee- you’re still buying far more fuel. Additionally- the Light Jet crew will have the option of far more airports- often closer- more convenient and less expensive than what’s needed for the Medium and Large Cabin jets. It’s hard to escape the heavyweight value edge of Light Jets.

It should be noted- however- that ride qualities are impacted by the aircraft’s wing loading (the aircraft’s weight per square foot of wing area). The higher the wing loading- the smoother the ride in turbulence- all other factors such as the aircraft’s inherent stability being equal. Light Jets achieve their lower take-off and landing distances- compared with heavier jets- by virtue of their lower wing loading. Workspace while traveling is another consideration. Decisions related to aircraft size are impacted by the needs of passengers to use their travel time productively.

Today we consider a jet “light” when it’s Maximum Take-off Weight falls between 10-000 and 20-000 pounds. About a decade ago the Light segment represented the bottom rung of the business jet ladder… that was before the Entry Level Jets entered the market- differentiated by weights below almost everything ever built at less than 10-000 pounds. Ultimately- where performance and value reign as dominant factors- remember this: there’s nothing lightweight about the value and flexibility of these Light Jets.

The following Entry-Level and Light Jets Retail Price Guide (overleaf) represents current average values published in The Aircraft Bluebook – Price Digest. The study spans model years from 1993 through Winter 2012. Values reported are in US$ millions- with each reporting point representing the current average retail value published in the Bluebook by its corresponding calendar year. For example- the Citation CJ3 values reported in the Winter 2012 edition of Bluebook show $4.4 million for a 2004 model- $4.6 million for a 2005 model and so forth. Aircraft are listed alphabetically. Aircraft specifications for the following models can be found in the Specifications and Performance section in this issue ( page 106 ).

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