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New issues concerning interiors of VLJs in the completions industry.

With 2007 recording the first significant numbers of VLJ deliveries- many are asking how Spectrum- Eclipse- Cessna- Diamond- etc. will handle the ongoing concerns being voiced about capacity issues- customization- delivery positions and service centers. Let’s begin by taking a general view of this interesting market and some of its latest developments.

The concept of the VLJ was first introduced in the 1960s with Paris Jet. Around 30 years later- Eclipse re-introduced the concept when it proposed to develop a relatively simple light jet that could easily be flown and utilized by the Fortune 1000. Previously- jet travel was basically available to the Fortune 100 or extremely high net worth individuals.

But developments after 9-11 initiated a rapid change in general aviation due to increasing security concerns and exasperated travelers. Of course- it is not fair to only uphold the “since 9-11” scenario as a cause- because the issue had been occurring for a few years before- due largely to the decreasing profits of the airline industry.

As with any industry- decreasing profits resulted in decreased services that in turn affected customers of which the most sensitive is the traveler requiring short notice travel arrangements- who ended up having to beat the path with the not-so-regular traveler or vacationer. Needless to say that customer satisfaction fell to an all-time low- and many people were desperate to seek other travel solutions.

Many of these business travelers had started to use the various jet cards or utilized the fractional operators prior to 1999 and have increased steadily since. By using simple accounting- if an individual is spending around $250-000 yearly with an initial investment of between $1-000-000 and $4-000-000- then the VLJ market is a niche ripe for growth. Thus it has come as no surprise that numerous VLJ manufacturers have emerged in a relatively short time span.

Many operation scenarios have come and gone and some are still around. When the VLJ concept was first initialized- the idea was for the owner to become the pilot and operate a relatively easy-handling jet to wherever they desired. As time progressed the concept is still the same in that the idea is to provide a low cost jet for aviation transportation.

What has evolved since the concept is how the jet will be operated. Even today it is still hotly discussed by various groups - some of whom think the sky will rain little jets on people’s lawns.

The reality is that the FAA is still an ongoing concern- and will examine all the issues concerning operations of VLJs- not forgetting the insurance industry which will also have a huge impact on how these aircraft are operated. The reality is that most of the VLJs will operate as current Part 91 or Part 135 entities with professional pilots at the controls. Many will be the owner- but many - if not the majority - will not be the owner.

Of concern to the airline industry are operators such as DayJet- Pogo- MagnumJet- YourJet- JetBird and others to come which will further erode from their sensitive customer base (one wonders if this is why the airlines are crying foul over the FAA funding- and wants general aviation to pay more for a system the airlines are abusing with their hub and spoke system…).

INTERIOR MATTERS
Thus we get to the ‘meat’ of this series: How will the VLJ manufacturers address the ongoing concerns of completions- customizations and servicing? My objective for the next few articles will be to present a cross section of VLJ manufacturers along with the various interior configurations- layouts and options they plan to offer.

Since the original concept of the VLJ was for the pilot/owner- not too much emphasis was placed on the cabin interior. But since it appears that the majority of the VLJ owners will be sitting in the cabin section then additional details and comfort features will go a long way to help a buyer distinguish the best option between Brand A and Brand B according to their personal needs.

One of the interior considerations of concern to all manufacturers no matter the size of aircraft is customization. Of course with a large aircraft the options are much greater than for a VLJ- but nonetheless there are many options available to the new VLJ market as a result of the larger aircraft industry.

The relatively small volume space of a VLJ aircraft will possess many challenges- but with many new light weight materials and technologically advanced electronics- the VLJ cabin should be a showcase of the newest and latest.

The advent of the themed interior will certainly carry over to the VLJ cabin as well. Already Eclipse interiors are designed exclusively by BMW Group Designworks. It will only be a matter of time before the other VLJs announce interiors by Versace and other design entities. Seating comfort and basic amenities will remain important traits for a VLJ cabin. Even though the VLJ aircraft is smaller in size the owner will want to remain productive during the flight if they are not busy flying.

Of major interest to the owner will be communication systems such as SatCom airborne telephone and data link for Internet access. One advantage of the VLJ is the relatively short duration of a flight- expected to typically be around two hours- but no more than 3.5 hours - thus- many luxury items found on the larger aircraft will not be required on the VLJ.

Our next article will be more aircraft specific and will discuss layouts- amenities- options- plus any other useful information. This is a rapidly changing market with the demise of some VLJ manufacturers already. With early deliveries of the Cessna Mustang and the Eclipse 500 underway- this is just the start of the VLJ timeline.

Looking forward- the future VLJ buyer will want to have as much information as possible to make an educated decision on which aircraft to purchase in order to fit their profile and mission requirements. This is a bold new frontier in general aviation and will certainly be intriguing to watch mature and develop.

John Brodeur specializes in Completion Management and Interior Design of business aircraft. Mr. Brodeur can be contacted at Tel: +1 647 448 4748 (Cell) or by email at john@avbro.com


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