Is 2007 the Year of the Very Light Jet?

Several airplane manufacturers are expanding into the very light jet category, a type of plane that requires only one pilot and can transport between three and nine passengers. Even more companies are sitting on the fence without yet committing or walking away from the prospect of joining their competitors. Their wait-and-see attitude may be short-lived.

It seems likely that with aviation’s increasing operating costs, especially with that of fuel, many manufacturers will be forced to develop alternative products in order to remain competitive. The industry’s collective backlog of orders for very light jet models is the closest thing to a sure bet for companies looking for a consistent profit in an uncertain market.

On December 31, Eclipse Aviation delivered the world’s first very light jet aircraft, the Eclipse 500. With a current backlog of 2,500 airplanes, and a production schedule of 1,000 aircraft a year, that’s a lot of job security. Cessna delivered its first Citation Mustang in November 2006 and expects to deliver another 40 of the very light jets in 2007. Its current backlog is around 300 orders. Adam Aircraft has a backlog of almost 300 for its A700. It expects to receive full FAA certification for its prototype sometime this year. Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer is also getting into the mix. They expect to begin production of their Phenom 100 very light jet by mid-2008. Numerous other manufacturers will have their own very light jets on showroom floors in the coming years.

There are several reasons for the interest in very light jets. For one thing, their sticker prices are dramatically lower than traditional jets. Using cutting edge technology and old-fashioned assembly lines first developed by Henry Ford for production of the Model T automobile, manufacturers can produce airplanes faster and cheaper than ever before.

Another reason many existing and first-time airplane investors are signing on the dotted line for a very light jet is their increased fuel-efficiency. No one in their right mind expects fuel prices to ever dramatically decrease, and in fact, they’re likely to climb higher. For corporations and airlines needing to upgrade, expand, or replace aircraft, if a very light jet fulfills their needs but has a lower operating cost than other models, it’s an easy sell to stockholders.