Doubts cast over VLJ overcast

 - September 27, 2006, 11:20 AM

The market for very light jets (VLJs) will be worth $2.52 billion over the next five years, according to a new study by UK-based consultants PMI Media. The report’s author, Philip Butterworth-Hayes, expects six VLJs will make it into service: the Adam Aircraft A700, Cessna Citation Mustang (the first of the breed to receive FAA certification), Diamond D-Jet, Eclipse 500, Embraer Phenom 100 and HondaJet.

Combined production of these types will rise from 155 jets next year to 350 in 2011 (which PMI says will mark the peak level of annual output).

However, the PMI study is not convinced that the air-taxi potential of VLJs will be fulfilled to the extent that some manufacturers have predicted. Butterworth-Hayes told AIN that commercial VLJ operators are more likely to attract and retain people already using business aircraft than complete newcomers. He predicted that the VLJ air-taxi business plan will evolve into various combinations of fractional ownership, aircraft management and charter.

“It is in Florida where we believe the microjet-based air-taxi concept will live or die,” Butterworth-Hayes stated, in direct reference to the DayJet plan to start operating Eclipse 500s for per-seat, on-demand charter operations in the Sunshine State beginning next month.

In the view of PMI Media, Florida offers ideal market and operating conditions for VLJ air-taxi services, so if the concept does not take off there, it will not easily take off anywhere.

The PMI report concludes that VLJ air-taxi operations will be slower to grow in Europe, where operating costs are higher than in the U.S. Butterworth-Hayes said that European operators will likely have to carry at least two passengers on each jet to make any sort of profit on a flight.

The report, titled “The Microjet Market 2007-2016,” will be available for purchase starting October 16 and is available from www.pmi-media.com/microjets.asp. It also analyzes the regulatory challenges to VLJ operations worldwide and their effect on small airports, along with training, insurance and ATC issues.