Very Light Jets: Very Nice Cabins

 - September 14, 2006, 10:01 AM

The very light jets (VLJs) are coming. Smaller than what have thus far been regarded as entry-level business jets, most VLJs offer a passenger capacity of about six, a range of a little more than 1,000 nm, cruise speed of about 350 knots, and price tags ranging from about $1.3 million to a shade more than $2.25 million.

The VLJs were initially hailed as everyman’s business jet, and many in the industry agree there is a large pent-up market for such an airplane, primarily in owner-operator service or for an air-taxi operation.

One thing seems evident: for both markets, the cabins are going to be much closer in style and quality to the interior of luxury automobiles than to the cabins of larger, more luxurious business jets. Travelers won’t find seatback video monitors with on-demand video or a moving map display. There will be no electrically operated, fully reclining swivel seats, and no galleys with microwave ovens, espresso makers and refrigerators.

A Spacious Cabin Sells the Adam A700

Adam Aircraft at Centennial Airport in Denver has two A700 VLJs in its certification test program and a third is due in late summer. The company is expecting FAA approval before year-end.

Adam did the A700 cabin design in-house, and Adam is also building all the interior components, including 26-g seats and cabinetry, in-house. The company is also certifying and installing these components.

The A700 cabin is smaller than that of the Spectrum 33 but larger than those of its other competitors. It can be configured for four, five or six passenger seats in a club or all-forward-facing seat arrangement. The side-facing lavatory is included in the standard five-passenger layout. (Adam, like other VLJ manufacturers, has made provisions for enclosed lavatories. After all, when nature calls at 25,000 feet, the answer is not the next roadside rest stop.)

A belted lavatory seat provides for a seventh passenger, and a small refreshment bar can replace several of the cabin seats, using the same attachment points.

The Jimmy Durante nose contains 25 cu ft of baggage space, enough, said Adam Aircraft president Joe Walker, for four complete sets of golf clubs and bags.

Walker said Adam Aircraft is not inclined to offer installed entertainment systems that might quickly become obsolete, but he added, “We might provide electrical outlets at every seat for personal entertainment devices or laptop computers.”

An air-taxi interior allows for eight forward-facing seats, including a belted lavatory seat as a $10,000 option. Walker emphasized that in the air-taxi version, the seat pitch is a leg-saving 42 inches, about 10 inches more than the seat pitch in economy class on a typical airliner.

Adam plans to roll the finished A700s off the assembly line and perform an initial test flight before installation of the cabin interior, “which will take two people about four hours.”

The list of cabin options for the A700 is short, “only about an inch long,” said Walker, adding that focus-group studies indicated that, “This was what customers prefer–comfort, durability and reliability.”

Give Them What They Want and Options Are Unnecessary

Cessna made a departure from its typical approach to the cabin interior with its Mustang VLJ. The company has in the past gone to outside vendors for cabinetry for its Citation line. For the Mustang, virtually all the cabin components are outsourced, with DeCrane Aircraft of Columbus, Ohio, the interior integrator. “We look at DeCrane as a partner in the Mustang program,” said Cindy Halsey, Cessna v-p of interior design, engineering and development, “which says a lot about them as a supplier.” The interiors are shipped by DeCrane as a basic kit for installation by Cessna at its Independence, Kan., plant.

Cessna’s customer survey efforts regarding cabin entertainment received much the same response as those of Adam Aircraft. “They said anything we installed would be outdated,” said Halsey. Cessna did, however, wire the cabin for XM Radio to ensure its availability to customers. “It’s a good, simple entertainment solution with a lot of variety,” she noted.

In terms of options, they’re minimal. “Our customers were very much a part of the design process,” Halsey explained, “and they said, ‘Just give us a well equipped airplane.’”

The Mustang is also an exception to the Citation completion process in that it was designed from the start to allow installation of cabin interior components during aircraft assembly at the company’s Independence plant.

Eclipse Choice: Standard or Deluxe

Eclipse Aviation expects its Eclipse 500 to be the first VLJ with FAA certification, probably by the time you read this. The cabin design is the brainchild of the Albuquerque, N.M.-based company’s engineers and design specialist Ideo of Boston.
Eclipse plans two cabin editions for its customer base–a standard and a deluxe LX. The standard interior comes with highly durable polyvinyl fluoride (Telar) lower sidewalls, a combination of leather
and fabric seat covering, a thermal/acoustic barrier, enclosed pleated window shades, cut-pile wool carpet, a baggage compartment light, cockpit dome light, LED cabin lighting, one work/dining table with cup holder and two-zone (cockpit and cabin) air conditioning. The standard cabin comes in three basic color schemes.

While the appearance of the LX cabin is similar to that of the standard cabin, there are numerous upgrades. These include fabric covering on the lower sidewall and aft pressure bulkhead, a wood accent strip and metal bead trim, two AC power outlets in the cabin and one in the cockpit, a stowable privacy curtain between the cockpit and cabin and two additional dining tables. The LX also has lower wash lighting in both the cabin and cockpit, and the cockpit has padded knee supports and sheepskin seat covers.

In terms of cabin entertainment, Eclipse pushed the envelope a bit to include an MP3 player and XM Radio, standard in the LX cabin. To reduce weight, engineers integrated the system into the aircraft avionics. Single-stream MP3 reception is standard, and both the MP3 and XM Radio are controlled through the cockpit multifunction display. An optional upgrade increases both MP3 and XM Radio capacity.

LED backlighting is standard for both interior versions, with an optional blue-light version.

The LX cabin is available in four color schemes, one more than the standard cabin. A cayenne color scheme is optional in the LX and according to the company has proved particularly popular with European customers.

The price of the LX cabin adds $52,995 to the $1.295 million base price for the aircraft itself. According to marketing director Clint Clouarte, C&D Aerospace of Huntington Beach, Calif., is providing the interiors, shipping them as kits to the Eclipse plant in Albuquerque, where a crew of six can install them in an hour.

Phenom 100 Owes More to the Auto Industry

Of all the VLJ interiors, perhaps Embraer’s Phenom 100 owes the most to the automotive industry. BMW DesignworksUSA was responsible for the entire interior and oversaw the construction of the Phenom 100 cabin mockup that was on display at the NBAA Convention last fall and the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in May.

“Embraer felt that the owner-operators of the Phenom 100 would be car guys, and that they would expect an interior equivalent to that of a premium automobile,” said Gerhard Steinle, director of transportation design for DesignworksUSA. There is no wood veneer on any of the cabinetry, but the center drop-aisle floor is a bamboo veneer. “It was initially controversial,” admitted Steinle. “But at the shows, it’s been a great success.” The floor was also designed so that it would be easy to remove for maintenance or refinishing.

The Phenom 100 will carry up to eight passengers, and an enclosed aft lavatory is standard.

According to Marco Tulio Pellegrini, v-p of market intelligence for Embraer’s executive jets division, the company is evaluating “several interior alternatives” based on the initial design and customer input. But whatever the decisions, said Pellegrini, “It will be a high-end interior.”

For the Legacy 600, an executive version of the Embraer ERJ 135 regional airliner, the Brazilian manufacturer uses three sources for interior components–Nordam, Duncan Aviation and Embraer’s own cabinetry shop. The components from Nordam and Duncan are shipped to Embraer’s facilities in São Jose dos Campos for installation. Whether the company will adopt the same approach with the Phenom 100 remains to be seen.

Spectrum Makes Weight

Spectrum Aeronautical’s Spectrum 33 is a very light jet by virtue of a projected mtow of slightly less than 10,000 pounds. However, the cabin is as large as that of the Citation CJ2+ light jet. The initial executive cabin layout concept calls for club seating aft for four, and one full-size seat forward. The company is still considering whether to certify a belted lavatory seat for taxi, takeoff and landing. As a corporate shuttle or air taxi, with the enclosed lavatory
removed and all the seats facing forward, the Spectrum 33 will accommodate as many as 10 passengers. Those are the only two configurations, according to v-p of
marketing Austin Blue.

The company plans to produce the major cabin components–cabinetry and seat upholstery–at the aircraft
assembly site.

To date, most of the focus has been on the airframe, avionics and engines, “but the interior is rapidly moving up on the list in terms of priorities,” said Blue. “We do know that we want to include as standard a lot of things that have in the past been considered optional in a cabin of this class.”

Blue said Spectrum is shooting for a “tastefully understated” cabin that is practical as well as comfortable.

Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Calif.–based Spectrum is working with Infusion Design of Bonner Springs, Kan., to do the initial cabin design and hopes to have a cabin mockup ready in time for the NBAA Convention in Orlando this fall.

The Spectrum 33 first flew on January 7, and the company anticipates certification next year or in 2008.