June 11, 2008

Very light jets are designed for small airports

A recent USA TODAY article on very light jets omitted key facts about the impact VLJs will — or most likely, won’t — have on the nation’s aviation system (“Next-generation jets spur concerns,” News, Wednesday).

VLJs are not expected to pose unique challenges to airspace or airports. In fact, they are specifically designed to fly efficiently at altitudes above and below airline flights and take off and land at small, out-of-the-way airports. There is little reason for them to use large, congested airline hubs when smaller airports are available.

Perhaps that’s why a Federal Aviation Administration official told the Orlando Business Journal: “We just don’t see any problem integrating them into the airspace. It’s a new and exciting jet that’s coming on board.”

Here’s the bottom line: VLJs will seamlessly integrate into the aviation system, just like a host of similar small air-craft that have flown trouble-free in the nation’s skies for decades. These new jets will provide yet another means of transport — and the economic benefit that comes with that activity — without requiring changes to the way the nation’s aviation system operates.

Ed Bolen
President and CEO
National Business Aviation Association

Article as published in USA Today,

June 4, 2008

New small jets spur concerns

A new generation of small jets is threatening to clog congested airline routes and is raising safety concerns, according to air-traffic controllers and airline pilots.
So-called very light jets (VLJs) began commercial service in the Southeast last year. Companies using them say they will revolutionize air travel by making it more practical and affordable.

However, the jets have created problems for controllers. The new planes are so much slower than larger airline jets that controllers must keep them out of the normal highways in the skies whenever traffic is heavy, said Steven Wallace, the local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers’ Association at Miami Center.

“They don’t mix very well” with larger jets in the air, said David Cook, a controller who heads the controller’s union at Jacksonville Center.

The 12 three-passenger Eclipse 500 jets being flown by start-up DayJet have not caused major disruptions to the air-traffic system.
Controllers, including Wallace and Cook, say that it has been easy to handle flights. They said, however, that if hundreds of the jets began filling the skies it would be difficult to accommodate them without major delays.

NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration predict there could be thousands of the small jets within a decade.

The Eclipses are only a few feet longer than an entry-level private propeller plane, yet are powered by twin jets and fly up to 41,000 feet.

Their top speed is more than 100 mph slower than airline jets. Their small engines cannot climb as fast as popular airliners such as the Boeing 737 or the Airbus A320.

Capt. Rory Kay, safety chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said flying behind an Eclipse in a large jet would be “a bit like following a farm vehicle.”

Pilots are also concerned because the small planes made by Eclipse and several other manufacturers are exempt from having to carry several major safety systems required in airliners, Kay said. For example, the DayJet planes do not carry the warning system designed to prevent mid-air collisions, even though the planes can be flown at high altitudes with other jets.

Kay said passengers on DayJet should have the same protection under federal law as passengers on large airlines.

DayJet began flying Eclipses last October with a new concept for air travel. Instead of paying thousands of dollars to charter a jet, customers who are willing to avoid major hubs can buy single seats for as little as several hundred dollars. The firm has encountered difficulties obtaining credit to fund expansion this year, forcing the firm to fly only 12 of its 28 aircraft, but CEO Ed Iacobucci said demand for the flights remains strong.

Iacobucci said DayJet does not mind flying at lower altitudes, even though jets are less efficient in the thicker air. Because the carrier flies mainly short routes, it often doesn’t make sense to climb to higher altitudes, he said.

“We’re very comfortable, and we’re not in anybody’s way,” he said.

Both Iacobucci and Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn insist that smaller, more affordable jets open vast new possibilities for aviation, allowing speedy travel from uncrowded small airports. They say that new technologies make the jet safe and will soon allow it to fly into crowded regions without disrupting airliners.

DayJet is expected to announce in coming weeks that it is joining with the FAA to conduct tests on new air-traffic technology, Raburn said.
Iacobucci declined to discuss the agreement.

Meanwhile, aviation regulators in the USA and Europe are watching the new jets closely. The FAA is writing new rules tailored to the new jets, and European regulators have said that new safety standards may be necessary. No serious accidents have occurred on Eclipse jets, according to federal records.