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MORE NEW KIDS ON THE RAMP
Personal Jets further expand jet access.


Only a single Very Light Jet has landed in the hands of the first customers as this article goes to print – and that Citation Mustang is on lease to Cessna Aircraft for use as a demonstrator- so it’s not really in customer service just yet (see World Aircraft Scene). And deliveries of Eclipse Aviation’s first 500 remain “in the future”- or at least they were at the time of writing…

Nonetheless- while the bizav community anxiously awaits the expected onslaught of VLJ deliveries looming in 2007- business aviation insiders already look ahead to the next big wave in jet transport- a category many already call “The Personal Jets.”

The term ‘Personal Jets’ stems from a comment made by Christian Dries- CEO and owner at Diamond Aircraft- who referred to 'Personal Light Jet' in earlier D-JET press releases- while Allan Klapmeier- chairman and co-founder of Cirrus Design Corp.- used the 'Personal Jet' term at the 2005 annual convention of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in Tampa- Florida.

A reporter asked Klapmeier- head man and co-founder of the Cirrus line of single-engine piston planes for the owner-flown market- to comment on rumors that Cirrus engineers were at work on a VLJ. “Categorically- no-” Klapmeier said flatly to the audience. He then paused for effect- smiled at the reporters- and quipped: “Now- ask me about a Personal Jet.”

Jump ahead a year to the 2006 convention of the National Business Aviation Association last October at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center- and Cirrus announced a few details – and precious few – of TheJet as they’ve called it at the company’s Duluth- Minnesota- headquarters.

As mentioned- TheJet- or Cirrus Jet- isn’t really the first of the class- trailing as it is to the development of the D-JET- the current leader of the pack. What defines a Personal Jet- who’s making them- and what’s the portend for business aviation? Read on - we’ll attempt to answer those and other ideas as we look at the cause and impact of yet another lowering of the bar into jet aviation.

All for one – and one for all
So far- at least- the strongest common denominator between most of the various Personal Jets stems from their powerplant configuration: they’re all single-engine… Both the CirrusJet and the D-JET employ the Williams International FJ33 powerplant as the sole source of power.

Maverick Jets’ SoloJet employs a single JT15-5 engine making a whopping 3-190 pounds of thrust. The company’s SmartJet design employs two engines- but still meets the rough guidelines of the jets we’ve seen so far.

Size matters
Prices just above or below the $1 million mark – the CirrusJet comes in under seven figures- the D-JET about $1.3 million – does wonders for market access.

Likewise- these smaller jets and their (predominantly) single-engine configuration brings a wealth of benefits attractive to the owner-pilot population of business aircraft users - a world populated by hundreds of piston singles and twins.

For example- one engine eliminates a source of higher costs – both in purchase price and direct operating costs. Another benefit is that the single-engine jet doesn’t impose the same degree of arduous qualification and insurance requirements that burden pilots seeking credentials to fly multi-engine jets.

And since the FAA imposes a lower stall speed maximum on single-- versus multi-engine aircraft- runway and airport performance also gain from lower landing speeds – another safety-enhancing factor.

The cruising altitudes of the PJ class is lower – the D-JET and CirrusJet are both looking at FL250 – reducing complications of some of the design and engineering challenges and eliminating a high-altitude endorsement from the pilot’s qualification requirements.

Indeed- while the D-JET claims a larger fuselage than an Eclipse 500 VLJ- what distinguishes Diamond’s concept as a Personal Jet- is that- according to Diamond Aircraft “it forsakes high altitude performance in exchange for increased comfort and lower cost.”

Together- these all combine to make the single- four-to-five-seat jet a more attractive option for that pilot thinking about replacing a piston twin or even a new Beech Baron B58- a piston twin priced slightly more than $1 million and much slower than any PJ.

What drives this movement?
Without Charles Taylor’s scratch-built engine- Orville and Wilbur Wright would never have left the ground at Kitty Hawk 103 years ago. And engine advances have remained a driving force in airframe innovation ever since.

Whether the venerable OX-5 V-8- the Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12- or any of the innumerable “round” engines that dominated general aviation in the years between the 1930s- and the ultimate dominance of flat engines in private planes that came in the 1950s - airframe designs follow engine function.

Couple the challenging background noise with the decades-long focus on ever bigger or more-fuel efficient engines- and it’s easy to forget that Williams and Pratt & Whitney Canada both have invested considerable resources into smaller- more-economical turbofans – Williams- in particular.

Williams could have been a sole-source powerplant on a single long ago- save for a company policy that restricted use of its powerplants to multi-engine installations – until late last year. That’s when the company decided that experience with its groundbreaking FJ44 series was finally sufficient to feel confident its engines – including the scaled-down version known as the FJ33 – were ready candidates for single-powerplant designs. Thus- the FJ33 became the powerplant of choice for both the CirrusJet and the D-JET.

Both Diamond and Cirrus see the owner/pilot as the primary target market for their PJ offerings- as well.

And we’ve not likely seen the bottom end to the engine industry’s downward movement. Williams’ EJ22- originally planned for the Eclipse 500- was designed to make 770 pounds of thrust from an 85-pound package. Expect the company to eventually solve the problems that caused its rejection from the Eclipse program – and to further small jet development afterward.

And there’s other small engine movement occurring in Europe. In late November the small start-up company Price Induction announced the successful first run of its new engine- the DGEN380 turbofan. Making 560 pounds of thrust- this diminutive powerplant was just at the beginning of its first 50-hour test run and drawing favorable reviews from its makers.

Maverick Jets- which reportedly has carried out a feasibility study of the engine for its SmartJet design- could become the first airframe company to embrace the new engine. Clearly- with companies new and old working on ever-smaller turbofans- the prospects for other airframe advances is strong.

What does it all mean?
This downscale movement in jet aircraft development holds different meanings depending upon who you ask. But even the negative worries spin off from one inalterable phenomenon: Lowering the bar to entry almost always spurs more growth – as well as upward movement among a percentage of the newbies.

That basic reality is what prompted Cessna’s interest in developing both the Citation Mustang and the Cessna Sport- a new Light Sport Aircraft category piston.

The Mustang is now certified and- as we mentioned- the initial delivery has occurred. But the Sport is still “under review-” according to the company – though almost no one expects Cessna to eschew the little budget two-seater- given interest from Cessna’s own dealers- flight schools and a couple of large flight-training institutions.

Why? To paraphrase Cessna chairman Jack Pelton- Cessna knows from years of experience that growth comes best when cultivated from the bottom up. And Cessna built its long record success from the ground up on two of aviation’s most-stellar entry-level planes- the Cessna 120 and 140.

Ever since the 120/140 helped re-establish Cessna as a pilot’s company in 1946- Cessna has built its customer base on the loyalty of pilots who started with its lower-end products and moved up the chain to ever bigger- faster- more lucrative planes. But lacking an entry-level two-seater – as the ubiquitous Cessna 150/152 long was – has meant the entry into Cessna ownership starts with the 172 – at a typical price near that of the median home in the United States.

The Sport- according to the company- has to be able to sell for under $100-000- equipped- to fulfill its potential as the new entry into all things Cessna. The betting money is on Cessna to find a way to sell a deluxe version of the Sport for just under $100-000 – with the base model priced under $90-000 – thus opening the hangar door of aviation participation to more people than ever.

Following the same example- the Personal Jet category should work a similar influence on the jet segments industry- wide- with a percentage of PJ buyers finding they eventually want more jet and moving up to VLJs- or even Light Jets – and then- another- albeit smaller percentage- moving up to the midsize jets- and another- still smaller percentage moving even farther up the jet ownership chain.

No worries?
That upward movement and the prospect of thousands of new jet pilots plying the Flight Levels isn’t exactly good news to the ears of some at the FAA and the ATA. For the FAA- a proliferation of PJs coming on the heels of the surge in VLJs means even more high-performance traffic using ATC services – though the agency itself and a watchdog organization predict that the VLJs will have a minimal impact on ATC demand- overall.

Why? Primarily due to the expectation that the majority of pilots flying the majority of VLJs – and- if we extend the analogy- PJs – prefer facilities other than the busiest airports on the busiest airways. That undercuts one of the worries of the ATA – that its commercial flights will be competing for runway space with swarms of little jets flown by individuals.

Unless one of the pacing airports is absolutely the only alternative- most individual pilots can find far more convenient- less-expensive and traffic-intensive airports closer to their ultimate destination. Decades of actual operating practice backs up this point.

One worry of the ATA is- however- more likely: the more popular personal flying becomes- the more people with the means to fly privately will eschew crowded terminals- inconvenient security checkpoints- intrusive government tracking systems- long lines and lost-luggage worries- and trade them in for the convenience- reduced hassle ‘my-bags-always-make-it-with-me’ world of private aviation.

Success by the developers in producing attractive- economical- safe Personal Jets – and- by extension even LSAs – can serve only to aid and encourage more individuals to embrace private flying and- in turn- corporate aviation for their business needs.

Once an individual becomes spoiled by the benefits of owner-flown aviation- only the most onerous of circumstances can get them back on the human mailing tubes that are today’s commercial carriers.

And that holds only positive benefits for business aviation- as ever more people encourage more corporate use of more private aircraft.

So to that end- prepare to welcome another new wave of jets- most of them flown by first time jet owners – and watch as they decide their first won’t be their last jet.

Business aviation and the private aviation community have plenty more to gain and little to worry about in potential loss as a result.

Anything that strengthens and expands private flying typically strengthens and expands business flying – and that’s a good thing for the companies- the users and the flying community- at large.

Find out more about the individual aircraft in development: Cirrus Design: www.cirrusdesign.com Diamond Aircraft: www.diamond-air.at Maverick: www.maverickjets.com

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