loading Loading please wait....

If you are a registered, please log in. If not, please click here to register.


The light jet segment soldiers onwards and upwards. You have undoubtedly noticed the trend in jet sales numbers lately if you pay any attention to the typical business aviation professional. We’re in tough times – but not impossible times. We’re showing signs of nearing the bottom of the market- even though the keenly anticipated upturn presently remains elusive. Nonetheless- the appeal of business aviation’s light jet segment remains as well-grounded and value-driven as ever. ...

Dave Higdon   |   1st August 2009
Back to articles
Dave Higdon Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon writes about aviation from his base in Wichita Kansas. During three decades in...
Read More

Still Ticking
The light jet segment soldiers onwards and upwards.

You have undoubtedly noticed the trend in jet sales numbers lately if you pay any attention to the typical business aviation professional. We’re in tough times – but not impossible times. We’re showing signs of nearing the bottom of the market- even though the keenly anticipated upturn presently remains elusive.

Nonetheless- the appeal of business aviation’s light jet segment remains as well-grounded and value-driven as ever. Among the various segments of business-turbine aircraft- light jets arguably remain the value leaders on many levels- and it’s that value lead that holds sway with many customers when considering a business jet purchase.

You can count on the light segment to continue to command a significant share of the market – especially among the many operators for whom mission needs seldom- if ever exceed the practical single-leg capabilities of the average light business jet.

The typical mission is an important consideration often neglected when considering the capabilities of an aircraft. We can tend to fawn over long maximum-fuel legs but wink at the seating limitations that fuel load imposes on most light jets. Yet our typical business mission seldom fills all the seats – three is more typical. Still- we know many feel an emotional aversion to aircraft too small for their sensibilities: “Bigger airplanes-” we hear- “feel safer.”

Of course- the realities of the physics aside- the next step up in size seldom results in a major improvement in seating capacity- let alone in full-fuel 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 max-range trips are concerned.

Why do we covet range capabilities seldom personally needed? The typical business aviation mission leaves a fully-fueled light jet with hours of reserve capacity – often enough to return home with no fuel added. With the average stage length under 750 miles and the nominal maximum range around 1-200 miles- the crew enjoys the option of flying lighter and saving fuel burned. Fueling for the mission- plus NBAA reserves- also allows a larger cabin payload – making three- maybe even four- plus crew- possible.

In most cases- the speed difference between a light and mid-cabin jet results in a slightly longer leg… but not enough to offset the higher direct operating costs of the larger jet – and certainly not enough to make a 50 percent to 100 percent increase in costs easier to justify. If your mission requirements allow- small jets excel in getting the job done at the lowest overall costs. 500-750 miles at a maximum cruise speed- traveling around 400 knots and carrying four will generally cost far less in a light jet than making the same trip in a mid-size jet at a 480-knot max cruise.

Beyond these speed-range-payload operational basics- the runway flexibility of most light jets compared to all other larger segments could also cost more at the airport. The smaller jet may often be able to use an airport closer- more convenient and less expensive than for larger jets. Essentially- it’s hard to escape the value edge of the light jet.

For our purposes- we center our examination on jets weighing 10-000 pounds to 20-000 pounds MTOW. We’ll allow for some small-margin breaks on the upper end to include models that started firmly in the Light segment but edged slightly upward of the limit through improvements and enhancements.

Despite the slight weight-limit violation- however- these jets remain Light at their core. This break also allows us to differentiate from the traditional light-jet class the new arrivals that populate the growing field of Very Light Jets and Personal Jets – all of which fall below 10-000 pounds.


Conceived as the first wholly new Learjet model since the original 1963 Model 23 Learjet- the Learjet 45 quickly caught on- and- in time- inspired a second variant and a host of improvements. Credit for much of the Learjet 45’s success – and- of course that of its cousin- the Learjet 40 – grows out of their cabin.

Proportioned much like a mid-cabin jet- the model was that of the Learjet 60 mid-size jet - only shorter. Essentially- today’s Learjet 40XR cabin stands just a fraction short of 5-feet tall- spans a little more than 5-feet at its widest- stretching almost 18 feet in length; the larger Learjet 45XR’s cabin offers 2.1 feet additional length.

In terms of performance- these jets give up absolutely nothing to larger aircraft where speed and climb are concerned. Both are capable of 450 knots true- and both provide the flight crew with the ability to cruise as high as FL510 – above most weather and virtually all other traffic. Further - the Learjet 45XR can climb directly to FL430 in 23 minutes- saving time- fuel and money.

Power for this performance comes from a pair of Honeywell TFE731-20BR turbofans generating 3-500 pounds of thrust each. These powerplants’ fuel efficiency levels let the 40XR produce a long-range cruise exceeding 1-700 nautical miles- while the 45XR- with its higher fuel capacity- can turn in more than 1-900 nautical under certain operating conditions.

Up on the flight deck- Bombardier this year launched an upgrade and option for the 45/40 family- a WAAS-capable Flight Management System (FMS) from Universal Avionics. The package is an available option for new-production aircraft- and is STC’d for retrofit in the four-screen Primus 1000 integrated avionics system delivered as standard equipment.

Bombardier kept prices for its jets at 2008 levels for 2009 - so the cost of a 40XR is a fraction above $9.2 million. Expect to pay around $11.8 million for the 45XR.

More information from www.aero.bombardier.com


Topping Cessna’s light jet line- you’ll find the XLS+- the most-recent incarnation of a model launched more than a decade ago. The genesis of the original XL started with a Citation X fuselage shortened to meet the mission- then mated to the straight wing of the then-popular Citation V Ultra. Cessna has kept this model on an upward trajectory to the latest variant- the XLS+ certificated earlier in 2008- since delivery of the first XL back in 1998.

The 21-foot-long cabin makes the XLS+ among the longest in its class. The other dimensions are uncharacteristic when viewed against prior light jets - a comfortable 5.7 feet tall and 5.5 feet wide (at its widest). Pratt & Whitney Canada’s continuous improvements of the PW545 engines to make today’s PW545Cs now installed on the XLS+ also contributed to the many improvements over the original XL. With each generating 4-119 pounds of thrust these P&WC powerplants deliver fuel specifics that translate into the 1-700nm capabilities of the XLS+.

Cessna upgraded the avionics panel with the four-screen Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 integrated avionics suite. Enhancements to the flight-deck system include 8x10 inch screens- advanced diagnostics- electronic navigation charts and IFR approach plates- even XM Wx satellite weather datalink- adding an element of weather information to compliment the on-board weather radar.

The XLS+ builds on the strength of the solid foundation established by the original 560 model. And with a price of about $12.3 million- the XLS+ continues to grow in the Cessna fleet.

When launched in the late 1980s- the CitationJet represented a reinvention of the entry-level business jet- and it helped renew the lower end of the market like nothing since the original Fanjet 500 almost two decades earlier. Today the CitationJet has spawned no fewer than one reincarnation and three growth models.

The CJ1+- CJ2+ and CJ3 share flight decks and engine models (though they vary somewhat in output)- each built with a philosophy of making the business jet a personal tool with appeal to the single-pilot business flier. The CJ line came about because of an engine-technology breakthrough- like so many advances in aviation – in this case- Williams International’s groundbreaking FJ44. Williams’ continuous improvements to the FJ44 have helped Cessna grow the CitationJet family down the years.

As their names hint- each successive CJ model represents a bit of growth over the previous incarnation- with cabins that start at about 11 feet in length for the CJ1+- 13.6 for the CJ2+ and 15.7 feet in length for the CJ3. Cessna gave the CJ2 expanded seating as an improvement over the CJ1- but for the CJ3 the company opted instead for increasing leg room and left seating capacity the same.

The three CJ models share in their cockpit panels- all employing Rockwell Collins’ Pro Line 21 system. And all three deliver useful legs- ranging from 1-300 nautical for the CJ1+- 1-600 nautical for the CJ2+- and about 1-875 nautical for the CJ3. Speed is also respectable- at about 384 knots for the CJ1+ to about 413 and 415 for the CJ2+ and CJ3 respectively.

One of the other benefits of the CJ line is their shared common type rating and approval for single-pilot IFR. Prices vary from about $5 million for the CJ1+- $6.8 million for the CJ2+ and $8.1 million for the CJ3.

In May 2008 Cessna test pilots launched on its inaugural flight Cessna’s newest addition to the solid CJ line: the CJ4. This $8.7 million variant is due for certification late this year and should begin arriving on airport ramps in early 2010.

Other than it’s higher-thrust engine- the biggest physical difference between the CJ3 and CJ4 is in the latter’s longer cabin- which measures 17.3 feet long (matching the Citation Encore+). Employing the most-powerful FJ44 made to date - Williams’ 3-400-pounds-thrust FJ44-4A - the excellent fuel specifics of these powerplants provide for the CJ4’s ability to cruise non-stop almost 1-900 nautical miles. The only sad note here is the swan-song that will be sung for Cessna’s long-running- strongselling Encore+ once the CJ4 wins its wings.

More information from www.cessna.com


It’s flying- holding on to its orders and keeping buyers interested – that’s quite a feat in today’s market! If progress on the Phenom 300 continues- sometime before year-end Brazilian planemaker Embraer expects to win certification for its latest thrust into the purpose-made business jet market. Four test aircraft are currently flying with 700 flight hours logged between them.

Embraer designed the $7.5 million Phenom 300 for short-field takeoffs by giving it an advanced wing and plenty of power from a pair of PW535E powerplants each producing 3-200 pounds of thrust. That’s power enough to launch the Phenom 300 to its service ceiling of FL450 and cruise at a maximum speed of Mach 0.78. At lower max-range cruise speeds you can get 1-800 nautical miles from the Phenom 300 carrying six.

The Phenom 300 also lets you fill the cabin with as many as nine and still connect London with Moscow- Tel Aviv- Cairo- or the Azores.

Embraer brought fly-by-wire technology to the Phenom 300 by giving it brake-by-wire anti-skid braking technology. On the flight deck- Embraer opted for a model-specific execution of the Garmin G1000 integrated avionics suite. The panel employs three 12-inch- high definition displays- with full interchangeability from the standard configuration of two Primary Flight Displays and a single Multi-Function Display.

Furthermore- the Phenom 300 provides luggage space of 76 cubic feet and the most cabin space of its class thanks to an interior design from BMW Group DesignworksUSA. Cabin accoutrements include satellite communications- a private lavatory and either a wardrobe or refreshment center.

More information from www.embraerexecutivejets.com

Still in a class by itself among light jets- the Premier IA still stands as the only compositefuselage light business jet in production. As long as it reigns ahead of the Premier II- the Premier IA represents a significant advance in airframe technology and helped restore respect for composites in business turbine aircraft.

Constructed of a carbon-fiber/honeycomb sandwich fuselage- the Premier represents the benefits of high-tech materials when employed cost effectively – in this case- thanks to automation that lays down the carbon fiber over a shape-conforming mandrel.

Even the wing benefits from modern advances in manufacturing technologies- in this case with a low-parts-count aluminum wing made possible with high-speed machining techniques. The power of two 2-300-pounds-thrust Williams FJ44-2A engines give the Premier IA the ability to cruise in excess of 1-300 nautical miles and achieve speeds as fast as 451 knots while flying up to FL410.

That composite fuselage delivers light weight- a parts count of three and space unattainable in a metal fuselage of the same outside dimensions. The cabin stands 5.4 feet high by 5.5 feet wide- stretching a full 13.5 feet long. That makes the Premier IA wider and taller than the company’s Hawker 400XP- although the smallest Hawker is longer inside.

Other benefits of the Premier IA include a fuel consumption rate approximately 20 percent below that of the Hawker 400XP – as well as the single-pilot designation the Premier IA enjoys. At a price just over $6.4 million- the Premier IA offers larger-jet speed with smaller-jet runway and fuel-efficiency numbers.

This follow-on to the Premier IA takes all that’s good about the original and improves on what can be better. In this case- the one better is the Williams FJ44- upgraded from the 2-300-pounds-thrust -2A to the newer FADEC-managed 3-050-pounds-thrust -3AP.

Another upside is the smaller fuel requirement for the same trip- with the Premier II able to fly 355 miles farther carrying the same fuel and payload. The home-field FBO may not enjoy that change- but the company CFO should. Much of the fuel efficiency comes from the Premier II’s higher climb performance and the drag reduction effected by the new winglets designed specifically for the model. Also helping out is a 14-knot cruise increase to 465 knots.

Williams’ new -3AP engines also require less-frequent inspections- coming at 4-000 hours rather than the 3-500 hours of the -2A model engines. And rounding out the improvements of the Premier II is an increased useful load. When certificated and in-delivery around the second quarter of 2011- expect to pay about $7.3 million for this aircraft.

Still going after so many years- the Hawker 400XP – once the BeechJet 400A and- before that- the Mitsubishi Diamond – remains something of a stand-out in the segment as a FAR 25 aircraft. That difference translates into the need for two pilots to fit a different level of equipment and redundancy on the airliner-category-qualified 400XP.

Otherwise- the mature 400XP remains a solidly competitive performer more than able to keep up – and ahead – of many of its category siblings. Credit for that belongs to the 400XP’s 450-knot cruise ability- its 1-400 nautical-mile reach and the strength of its two Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15D-5 engines - a mature and well-respected powerplant.

Up front- the Hawker 400XP is modern and up-to-date with the proven Rockwell Collins Pro Line 4 system. Together- these elements help the 400XP continue to represent good value at about $7.3 million.

More information from www.hawkerbeechcraft.com


Continuing its steady advance toward certification- Spectrum Aeronautical’s S-40 Freedom remains somewhat enigmatic in this class. The cabin volume measures closer to that of a mid-cabin jet (at 6-foot-tall-by-6- foot-wide- the S-40’s cabin stands to be the largest among light jets and is spacious enough to provide an enclosed lavatory) - but weights and costs of the aircraft are squarely in the light jet realm.

The S-40 Freedom shows the potential of Spectrum’s innovative- proprietary approach to carbon-fiber composite-structures construction. Spectrum has tapped the GE-Honda HF120 powerplant and Honeywell’s new- cutting-edge Primus Apex integrated cockpit panel for the S-40 Freedom. The choice of a four-screen Primus Apex panel complements Spectrum’s single-pilot IFR plans for the Freedom and complements the numbers reported for this in-development aircraft.

The combination of power and airframe should produce a jet capable of cruising more than 2-200 nautical miles – a leader among light jets. The combination is also expected to produce this range at a cruise speed of 435 knots. Spectrum’s schedule has slipped- however- with the first Fuselage Manufacturing

Demonstrator article coming out of tooling in June. The fuselage- built with the company’s fibeXTM advanced composite material technology- weighs about 40 percent less than the comparable structure executed in aluminum.

More information from www.spectrum.aero

Related Articles

linkedin Print

Other Articles