Avocet gets boost with order for 105 ProJets

 - November 26, 2007, 7:02 AM

UltraJet, a membership-based charter company, has ordered 105 ProJets, the proposed very light twinjet from Westport, Conn.-based startup Avocet Aircraft, a U.S./Israeli joint venture. Announced at last month’s NBAA gathering in Orlando, the order is secured by a refundable deposit.

The proposed six- to eight-seat, $2 million ProJet is the eighth serious minijet contender to enter the scene since Eclipse launched its Model 500 twinjet in June 1999. What sets Avocet apart from the rest of the startup companies in this category is its relationship with cash-rich Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), which will assume responsibility for the ProJet’s design, engineering, development, production and certification.

Avocet will handle marketing, sales, customer relations, training, delivery and product support. While IAI will produce the single-pilot twin-engine ProJet, final assembly will take place somewhere in the U.S, according to Avocet CEO David Tait, a long-time Virgin Atlantic executive and an investor, among others, in the project.

Preliminary specifications include a 365-knot cruise speed, 1,200-nm range, a mtow of 7,160 pounds and a max payload (including pilot) of 1,400 pounds. The ProJet will be powered by two 1,300-pound-thrust engines–most likely the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615 or Williams International FJ33. It will have an integrated glass cockpit and side-stick controllers (connected to a mechanical control system). First flight is scheduled for mid- to late 2005, with deliveries planned to start in early 2007 (already a smidgen delayed from the “fourth quarter of 2006” Avocet said when the airplane was announced in early August).

UltraJet is a Cleveland-based company whose fleet includes Gulfstream 200s, Citation IIIs, Vs, VIIs and Learjet 31s, 35s, 45s and 55s. These aircraft are operated for UltraJet by Avbase Flight Services. UtraJet offers block charter with a twist. For example, the company has just introduced a program that gives its members up to 50 percent off flight-hour rates Friday through Sunday.

The ProJet is a “perfect complement to our long-term business goals,” said UltraJet founder and chairman John DePalma. “It is the one airplane that is being purpose-built for the demands of operators like UltraJet.”

DePalma was “specifically impressed with the flexibility of the cabin configurations and the operator-friendly progressive maintenance program that’s been designed right into the airplane.” Deliveries to UltraJet are slated to start in 2007.

Meanwhile, Avocet introduced at the convention an “NBAA Double Your Money” promotion to stimulate sales. The promotion allowed customers placing a “pre-order” deposit of a minimum $5,000 to a maximum of $25,000 to receive down-payment credit double that amount toward the purchase price of the ProJet. For example, a $10,000 customer deposit placed during the convention at NBAA would result in a $20,000 down-payment credit.

Avocet’s advisory board consists of some impressive names. Its chairman is Jacob Frenkil, chairman of Merrill Lynch International. Other members include: Gil Amelio, former chairman and CEO of Apple Computer; Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, chairman of Tahal Corp. and former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces; football legend Joe Montana; former NASA astronaut Joe Edwards; and venture capitalist Isaac Applebaum.