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Can you believe it? The new group of developmental jets populating the so-called ‘micro’ or ‘very light’ jets now numbers nearly 12! Is an even dozen far off? Could we see a Baker's Dozen before year's end? It’s hard to say- but nothing attracts more flying-machine dreamers and schemers than the emergence of a new niche in aviation.

Dave Higdon   |   1st February 2004
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Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
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Better by the Dozen?

Avocet’s ProJet ups micro-jet field to nearly 12 - depending- that it is- on where you set the scales.

Can you believe it? The new group of developmental jets populating the so-called ‘micro’ or ‘very light’ jets now numbers nearly 12! Is an even dozen far off? Could we see a Baker's Dozen before year's end? It’s hard to say- but nothing attracts more flying-machine dreamers and schemers than the emergence of a new niche in aviation.

As evidence to support my contention- witness the recent addition of Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) and marketing partner Avocet to the potential field of micro-jet contenders. We also have Honda's December first flight of its own new-jet design - powered by its own new engines- and Toyota's ongoing light-plane development research. Moreover- evidence abounds indicating that more investors remain ripe for new places to risk their fortunes- and you have the makings for the major development boom that pushed this new class from one to nearly a dozen in only five years.

Since none are yet certificated or in production- the end may not be near where class membership is concerned. It happens in aviation every time. Humanity spent eons before accepting so much as the premise of human flight. No wonder aviation seldom accepts anything new as a sure thing; sometimes ideas and developments spend years just winning the idea of conceivability.

However- once the Wrights proved the potential- entrepreneurs literally came out of the woodwork - and out of the agriculture- railroads- coal mining and petroleum industries. So no surprise that even today- years into the concept's public awareness- few in aviation still refute the basic idea of a ‘micro’ class of jets - and many newcomers are drawn to the potential of working in a new and fertile field of aviation.

Three distinct market prizes hang in the balance for competitors in this class- two of them already in existence: Owner/pilots- moving up from prop-driven aircraft; and charter and air-taxi operations in need of replacement for larger piston twins and smaller twin turboprops.

The third market- a new generation of on-demand air-taxi operators- is anticipated to grow from the combination of these new- high-speed- high-value small jets and the utility expected from NASA’s Small Aircraft Transportation System.

Two contenders already build and sell business jets- Cessna Aircraft and Avocet partner IAI. Pretty much the only remaining questions are these:

1. Are we talking one group or two? On the issue of drawing a line for the class; does 9-000 pounds represent too much?

2. Which design will actually land first in the operating market?

With so many qualified contenders- however- the prospect of a new class of owner-oriented business jets seems assured.
Although not the earliest out of the gate- not the best funded or from the biggest shop- the advanced interest shown and the manufacturer's track record have observers already counting among the likely winners the intriguing ProJet.

The ultimate skills-based partnership
As a manufacturer in its own right- IAI has a long record for building high-quality business jets. The Astra stands among the quality business jets manufactured and sold by the Israeli company.

IAI also established itself as a supplier for other manufacturers- notably Galaxy Aircraft and the company that purchased the Galaxy product line- no less than Gulfstream Aerospace. Today- IAI supplies the airframe for Gulfstream's G100- G150 and G200 light and mid-size jets. Indeed- IAI’s relationship with the Savannah-based planemaker required the Israeli planemaker to receive permission from Gulfstream before entering into the partnership.

Avocet Aircraft- based in Westport- Connecticut- unveiled its existence- its partnership with IAI- and the ProJet back in August 2003. It is their division of labors that sets apart the ProJet partners from other new-entrant companies populating the micro-jet class.

While a new product and entity- the ProJet partnership is- as noted before- similar to IAI's role in Galaxy Aircraft. In this partnership- IAI bears responsibility for the design- development- engineering- certification and production of the new small jet- with final assembly in the U.S.

Avocet carries the burden for the ProJet’s marketing- sales- delivery- training- customer relations and product support – plus- the all-or-nothing job of raising the capital needed to carry the program to fruition. That task would appear to be in good hands. The Avocet team includes former head of Virgin Atlantic US- David Tait- OBE- Football legend Joe Montana (also a customer) and Merrill-Lynch International Chairman Professor Jacob Frenkel (among others).

The aircraft concept and the partnership gained considerable credibility at the October 2003 National Business Aviation Association Convention in Orlando with the announcement of a single triple-digit order. Member-based charter provider UltraJet ordered 105 ProJets and placed a refundable deposit on the block of aircraft. Highly apt considering the company claims that the ProJet is the only jet in this segment being “purpose built” for the high utilization needs of the charter- air taxi- and fractional markets.

A giant among the micros?
For decades- six- to eight-seat cabins dominated the light-jet class- excluding crew seating. Among the growing field of single-engine propjets - and even the older realm of entry-level twin turboprops - the six-seat cabin also reigns.

For this (and other reasons) it's no surprise that most designers behind these new micro jets designed cabins for six- flight deck included. Yes- there is a four-place and a two-place- but by-and-large- the micro-jet realm is a six-seat world. Among these- the new design from Avocet and IAI stands as a giant among micros- thanks to cabin dimensions which favor the passengers.

The jet conceived by the partners sports a cabin measuring 57 inches high- 58.3 inches wide and 176 inches long - or- four feet- nine inches high- four feet- 10.3 inches wide and 14 feet- eight inches long. Feet or inches- these measurements work out to 257 cubic feet of cabin volume- the biggest and best in its class.

In fact- according to Avocet's numbers- the ProJet's cabin measurements not only beats Cessna's competing Citation Mustang by 27 cubic feet - nearly 12 percent - the ProJet outsizes even Cessna's ground-breaking CJ1 entry-level light-category business jet by nine cubic feet.

And the ProJet gives up only 11 cubic feet of luggage space to the CJ1- beating both the Mustang and the Eclipse by 2 to 4.5 cubic feet.

ProJet performance:
Space may be the ultimate frontier for the back-cabin occupants- but for both passengers and the pilots - with many expected to be owner/aviators - the name of the game is performance- and where the wing meets the airways- the ProJet should be a solid contender with plenty of game to call its own.

For example- according to Avocet's preliminary specifications- the ProJet will boast a cruise speed of 365 knots - about 100 knots better than the typical speed of the best single-engine propjets and nearly 140 knots better than some of the best-flown twin propjets and light piston-twin class models.

With a range of 1-200 nautical miles- crossing the continent comes down to a one-stop trip on a typical day. However- for the typical business class mission of 350 to 500 nautical miles- the ProJet actually offers the potential for both out and return legs on one fueling- a measure of its expected efficiency.

The 7-160-pound maximum gross take-off weight allows the ProJet to carry a maximum payload of 1-400 pounds - exclusive of the pilot - that means the ability to make most trips with seats full.

The power and fuel efficiency behind these enviable capabilities remains an unanswered question as of this writing- but according to the company power to the ProJet will come from a pair of 1-300-pound-thrust class powerplants. The two top candidates- according to Avocet- are Pratt & Whitney Canada's new PW615 or Williams International's FJ33. However- a third un-named candidate is also thought to be in the picture.

Avocet and IAI do plan to give the ProJet a fully integrated glass cockpit- pretty much an absolute necessity considering the embrace of such technology by every contender announced to date.

Class consciousness
Given the progress made by Avocet and IAI- few doubt the viability of the ProJet program. The partners say all is on track to make the first flight of the ProJet sometime in the latter half of next year- with certification and initial deliveries planned for the fourth quarter of 2006. In the interim- questions will remain about which and whether.

Depending on where you make the cut- the micro-jet class - or- if you prefer- the very light jet group - currently counts as many as 11 members. This burgeoning group now encompasses: the Adam A700; the Aerostar FJ-100; the ATG Javelin; the Chichester-Miles Leopard Six; the Citation Mustang; the Diamond D-Jet; the Eclipse 500; the just-flown-but-not-launched HondaJet; the Maverick Jet; and the Safire Jet. As of a bankruptcy sale late last year- the thought of VisionAire's innovative single-engine Vantage jet returning seems once again viable. Plus- of course- the ProJet profiled here.

Some would dismiss the Javelin as an executive toy- citing its fighter-like looks and two-place tandem cabin. Likewise- others see the four-seat Maverick - heretofore available only as a kit for owner building - as another design misplaced in this group. No one outside the company really knows whether Honda's jet will join the competition - but even fewer would bet against the prospect.

Suffice it to note that as these programs ebb and flow- as some fall by the wayside and others emerge- all questions of class membership- of potential and prospects- will eventually be resolved - most likely by the market rather than by marketing.
In the meantime- Avocet- IAI and their new ProJet appear destined to make a mark on the market with a competitive combination of size- performance and price - and where the wallet meets the sales contract- value remains the leading factor in landing customers.

• More information from Avocet; Tel: +1 203 454 5656; Website: www.avocetprojet.com

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