Will VLJs expand role of flight department?

 - October 11, 2006, 10:13 AM

According to the National Business Travel Association, U.S. businesses spend $29 billion a year for approximately 65 million trips on the airlines. But with airlines reducing flights from non-hub airports by 19 percent last year, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for some employees to get from Point A to B using the airlines.

Further, Eclipse Aviation marketing manager Clint Clouatre points out that a third of the Forbes 150 Best Places for Doing Business and Careers “aren’t conveniently served by large and medium airline hubs within a reasonable driving time, meaning an hour or less.” Subsequently, an untold number of rank-and-file employees either drive to their destination or simply don’t make the trip at all, with the latter decision possibly resulting in lost sales or business deals.

However, Clouatre predicts that very light jets (VLJs) will offer these employees–many of them middle managers and salespeople–a new travel alternative. For some time Eclipse has been extolling the virtues of air limos to fulfill this need, but now the Albuquerque, N.M.-based company is pitching its VLJ as a way to expand the role of corporate flight departments.

“Simply put, VLJs will expand corporate flight department fleets, not replace existing jets,” Clouatre said. “We’re well aware that 50 Eclipses won’t replace a Global Express. Instead, the airplane will increase a flight department’s passenger base to include non-executive employees or company customers.”

With a low acquisition cost ($1.295 million) and direct operating costs of about $300 an hour, the Eclipse 500 will be a cost-effective solution for transporting middle managers and salespeople on one- to two-hour trips (about 300 to 600 nm), or even five passengers on a three-hour trip (nearly 1,000 nm), asserts Clouatre. He says this makes the twinjet suitable for efficient point-to-point regional travel, with less reliance on airline service or driving between the points.

“The Eclipse 500 can fly from New York to mid-Virginia in one hour. In two hours the aircraft can reach Detroit, and in three hours it can do St. Louis or Miami. This allows employees to be more productive, and it also improves their standard of living by reducing overnight stays.”

Clouatre admits that only a small percentage of the more than 2,200 Eclipse 500s sold will be used by flight departments. But Eclipse has high hopes for this segment, and it has only recently begun a focused campaign to attract these customers. “The corporate flight department is now a target for increasing our sales, whereas we focused previously on owner-pilots and air limos,” Clouatre said. “Additionally, we see a good market for Eclipse 500s in air ambulance and ab initio training roles.”

t year. According to the company, the next available delivery date for an Eclipse 500 is May 2008.