Surprise! VLJ activity climbed in downturn

 - May 5, 2010, 6:33 AM

While the industry at large has suffered a severe downturn since 2008, very light jets (VLJs) have enjoyed a “secret boom,” according to German aviation consultancy Wingx Advance. The company based its conclusion on Eurocontrol data showing that over the past six months the number of VLJ flight movements in Europe grew by 100 percent compared with the same period a year earlier. “The best example of this is activity by the Cessna Mustang, which more than doubled its number of flights in the past 12 months and in March reached all-time high of 1,360 flights,” reported Wingx this week.

These figures contrast with activity levels for aircraft such as the Learjet 40, Cessna CJ3/Encore and other light jets, which slumped by more than 30 percent. According to Wingx, the largest portion of customers for VLJs has come from the light-jet market segment. The analyst firm is suggesting that the upward trend in VLJ traffic has been somewhat masked by high-profile start-ups, such as Bikkair and Jetbird, which scrapped ambitious growth programs. However, at the same time more cautious approaches have started to pay off for operators such as Globe Air and Blink. Top airports for VLJ traffic have been Farnborough, Le Bourget, Luton, Rome Ciampino and Linz, Austria, according to Wingx.

“In the light of lower operating costs, and thus more attractive charter rates, VLJs are becoming a serious alternative to scheduled flights for many business travelers,” said aviation analyst and Wingx managing partner Christoph Kohler. “We expect the trend to strengthen as fuel prices continue to rise and the modern technology behind a Mustang or Phenom 100 leads to even lower operating costs.”