VLJs (Very Light Jets) have set a new tone that forecasts another technological and marketing revolution in the aviation industry (Kearns, 2010). The uniqueness of these plans employs the latest technologies to incorporate a high degree of automation. Yet, these planes are still expected to retail to the airlines at a relatively affordable price, compared to the cost of other planes on the market. VLJs are potentially more economical to operate compared to those planes already in service. Continued research and further development of VLJs will potentially produce planes that are even easier to operate and maintain. To remain relevant in an aviation market impacted by VLJs; plans have now been laid out by airlines, governments and regulation bodies to accommodate the anticipated changes in aviation. This direction has, for example, seen the establishment and marketing of the taxi travel model, which is precisely tailored to meet the individual travel needs of customers. One of the ways that VLJs are expected to impact aviation is their potential to increase overall air traffic significantly. This change implies an increased strain on infrastructure, traffic control, control of standards for production of VLJs and human resources, and possibly new terrorism threats which can arise from increased air traffic. The aviation industry in general also needs to restructure itself in a significant way to accommodate VLJs effectively. Among the changes that are expected to result from the introduction of VLJs in aviation include: a taxi air model of travel, restructuring of airports and traffic control, restructuring of the human resource base in aviation and changes in aircraft manufacturing.
In the last fifty years, there has been an exponential growth in the aviation industry. Air travel within and between the continents has contributed in diverse ways to alter our lifestyles. For example, the aviation transport network has been utilized to move people and goods conveniently and on time across thousands of miles, allowing integration of economies and cultures across the world. Fully recognizing the importance of this industry and the opportunities that it offers, governments, airlines, aircraft manufacturers and regulation bodies have made many attempts to improve air travel. Important players in the aviation industry include plane manufacturers and airline companies. They continue to strategize and develop new products and industry solutions that will improve and enhance the services that they already provide to their customers, including air travelers and air cargo clients. These efforts have seen the development of VLJs (Very Light Jets) (Kearns, 2010). Because these jets are new products that have not yet been completely integrated into the aviation market, it is vital to study the possible impacts of these products on the future aviation market.
What are VLJs? In general, they are small jets weighing a maximum of 10,000 pounds (Kearns, 2010). They have an advanced technical system that allows the pilot to use automation tools in the cockpit, such as displays that perform many tasks and GPS moving maps and an automated system that monitors, manages and coordinates the engine system and other systems (Kearns, 2010). In addition, the new light jets also possess a built-in system for autopilot (Kearns, 2010).
Besides these technical characteristics of VLJ’s, the jets also have additional common features. Due to their small size, they can only accommodate three to six passengers (Kearns, 2010). Unlike their commercial sisters, they can use short runways and are able to be operated at small airports (Aviation Today, 2007). They are normally operated by only one pilot, unlike commercial jet that requires two pilots. In addition, their market price is relatively low, ranging from slightly less than $1M to about $2M per plane (Kearns, 2010).
Although VLJs are expected to lower maintenance costs and be easier- to- maintain, their potential to meet such predicted low maintenance criteria is arguable (GAO, 2007). Their capabilities have not been comprehensively compared to other planes (GAO, 2007). However, since most VLJs are still at an earlier stage of development, companies interested in their design and manufacturing have been making an effort to develop VLJs that are not only affordable, but easy to maintain as well (Hawkins, 2008). One such company that has come up with an interesting solution is Diamond Aircraft, a Canadian company (Kearns, 2010). Diamond Aircraft is a respected company well known for its unique, efficient products and high safety standards. Indeed, the company has the best record in aviation in terms of the safety of its planes that are well known to possess high safety standards (Kearns, 2010).
Diamond Aircraft has been striving to develop a type of VLJ that will operate on just a single engine, known as the D-jet (Kearns, 2010). This plane is expected to significantly reduce maintenance costs because of high fuel efficiency (Kearns, 2010). Although the D-jet has the capacity to alter the aviation industry in significant ways like the VLJs, some studies like those undertaken by FAA have not classified the D-jet as a VLJ – mainly because it has only a single engine (GAO, 2007). Indeed, one difficulty in analyzing the potential effects of VLJs in the aviation industry has been a non uniformity in the classification of the type (Aviation Today, 2007). It is even arguable whether any definable VLJs actually exist in aviation currently (GAO, 2007). One true aspect, however, is that there are planes in the current market and others at different stages of development with features that are very close to those being described as features of the VLJs.
In general, VLJs are expected to greatly affect, if not completely, alter the shape of the aviation industry as we know it today (Aviation Today, 2007). All aviation from customers, airline companies, aircraft manufacturers, traffic controllers and regulation bodies, among others, will feel the impact of VLJs introduction into aviation (GAO, 2007). As it will become clearer here, there is a need for restructuring on the part of all players in the aviation industry. That restructuring should be tailored to accommodate VLJs, as well as address the challenges that will result from their entry into air travel.
It is obvious that most of the VLJs characteristics are ideal for and will indeed encourage private ownership. This is particularly true because of a relatively low market price, versatility and potentially low maintenance costs. In addition to these cost-saving features, VLJs have been built with the latest technologies, incorporating automation and many other tools ideal for small and large business activities (Kearns, 2010). A good portion of the population, as well as corporations and organizations, will likely buy these fleets. One result of such a change may be the potential loss of a substantial portion of the air travel market for the major airline companies (Hansman et al., 2006). Many of these companies have already been restructuring their services in anticipation of the changes that may occur in the aviation market from the broad introduction of VLJs in the future/over time.
To overcome and mitigate these changes, many airline companies are laying down their own plans for incorporating VLJs into their service. The taxi travel model is an important service that is now becoming incorporated into airline services. The air taxi model of travel would map taxi services offered on road transport, travelers can randomly choose destinations at their convenience to air travel (Straus, 2005). Travel services provided by airlines through commercial jets have held a few disadvantages, the main one being that the service is not individually tailored to the lifestyles of passengers. Passengers have to travel within pre-arranged timelines that have little to do with their own planning. VLJs are poised to allow a taxi kind of travel where customers can choose to travel at their own convenience and schedule (Sara, 2006). This air taxi model of transport will be especially helpful to businessmen and professionals who travel frequently between destinations (Straus, 2005). Blink is one of several companies that intend to introduce taxi air travel in the aviation market (Alcock, 2008). The company has already bought at least 45 mustang type VLJs for the taxi service (Bonnefoy, 2007). According to research done by one of the company’s founders-Peter Leiman, VLJs will save more than 25% of current charter air travel costs (Alcock, 2008). The average number of passengers per charter travels is only 2.3 individuals- making VLJs again an ideal option (Bonnefoy, 2007). The use of VLJs would more efficiently use resources and significantly reduce the travel costs associated with charter travel (Alcock, 2008). Blink Company has stated that their taxi travel costs for customers are at the very least half of what can otherwise be found in the market (Alcock, 2008).
To acquire customers, Blink has targeted corporations that normally transport their workers within Europe and between locations that are not effectively accommodated by existing scheduled flights (Alcock, 2008). For example, there is an information technology company centered in Southern England. This company frequently airlifts its workers to meetings in France and Ireland (Aviation Today, 2007). None of these destinations are served by direct commercial flights. The company (Blink) intends to build a network of at least one hundred destinations within Europe (Alcock, 2008). In the process of creating these networks, the company will be charging negotiated rates depending on the network (Aviation Today, 2007). Once its network is fully stable, the company will allow more flexibility where customers can randomly travel within those destinations (Aviation Today, 2007).
VLJs will definitely introduce some control challenges in the general aviation industry. Control of traffic is a major challenge. A likely scenario will be a significant increase in traffic travel, fed by an appetite for VLJs from individuals, corporations, and airlines. Another traffic control challenge that will be caused by the entry of VLJs into the aviation market will arise from their low cruise speeds (less than 390 knots) when compared to their commercial jet counterparts (over 400 knots) (Hansman, 2006). This variation in speed suggests that the air traffic for very light jets will have to be integrated into the air traffic of faster planes traveling at higher speeds (Hansman, 2006). This issue will lead to speed conflicts where VLJs will be overtaken by other planes that do travel faster (Hansman, 2006). A research analysis done by MIT students showed that VLJs are likely to be limited to flying at a height of no more than 29,000 feet to minimize such speed conflicts (Hansman, 2006). Terminal areas are likely to experience the maximum conflict in this regard, especially because VLJs will fly small distance routes (Bonnefoy, 2007). Although these planes are expected to operate mainly between small airports, potentially limiting increased congestion in big airports, they will likely also contribute to more traffic congestion in that space-manly because commercial gets will be flying at lower altitudes around cities (many airports are located around cities). (Bonnefoy, 2007).
One aspect that has defined air travel in recent years is terrorism (GAO, 2007). Many airports have incorporated complex systems and measures to mitigate the threat and prevent another terrorism attack like that occurred on 9/11. One way of looking at the potential impact of VLJs in this area of concern is to assume that an increase in air traffic will likely lead to an increase in aviation terrorism. Several of the features of VLJs could also lead to an increase in air traffic terrorism potential. Looking at the issue from the opposite point of view, however, it could be argued that VLJs can reduce the danger of terrorism in air travel. The small number of passengers in a VLJ will be easier to monitor (Straus, 2005) The tailoring of travel services to be more individually based will let airline companies offer taxi air travel and obtain complete data profiles of their customers and thus track their activities more precisely than airlines can, with hundreds of passengers a day passing through large terminals. Also there would be fewer long delays with less screening or quicker screening required.
In recent years, the infrastructural needs of the aviation industry have increased as a result of new challenges like terrorism, the need to employ a better/tighter infrastructure that incorporates recent technologies, and the need for greater income/ profits (Straus, 2005). There has also been the challenge of dealing with ever- increasing air traffic contributed mostly by private planes. Entry of VLJs into the aviation market will add to that already existing traffic challenge problem. There will therefore be a greater need for review and control of air traffic by traffic regulators.
Airline companies are already paying very high taxes to sustain and develop the aviation infrastructure (GAO, 2007), albeit that their contribution to air traffic is lower now than that of private planes (GAO, 2007). It is expected that the airlines companies will push for private planes to contribute a greater share of those taxes paid, especially toward expanding the necessary infrastructure (GAO, 2007). However, the FAA estimates that VLJs will significantly increase the amount of revenue that the government, regulation bodies and airports collect from general aviation. Increased revenues are also expected from increased passenger loads generated by VLJs (Aviation Today, 2007). More taxes will also be collected from taxes charged on traveler tickets and fuel taxes (GAO, 2007). It remains important to weigh the value of those revenues against the extra need that will be created in the aviation sector by greater use of VLJs, mainly because of the expected expansion in infrastructural needs in general aviation brought about by VLJs.
The fees charged by airports are also likely to increase, as they strive to provide enough required resources to handle increased traffic activities at their bases. Airports located in metropolitan locations will see a significant increase in air traffic as a result of VLJs (Hansman, 2006). Some of these airports will even reach their elastic limits, such as Teteboro in New York, which is already showing signs of reaching that limit (Hansman, 2006). Airports around metropolitan areas will become more significant, as they accommodate increased traffic (Hansman, 2006). In general, increased traffic from VLJs will lead to an increase in activity at most airports; including those located farther from metropolitan areas.
The major challenge will be to increase the capacity of airports to handle VLJs (Aviation Today, 2007). Construction of numerous small airports to handle the taxi model of travel introduced by VLJs will become a necessity. Since this construction may prove difficult to implement in some areas, the ability of VLJs to completely integrate into the aviation market will remain, for the time being at least, more limited. Among other obstacles that may limit that endeavor are the unavailability of land and challenges in revenue collection due to limited contributions by private planes (Aviation Today, 2007).
Apart from affecting the physical infrastructure like airports, VLJs will also impact human resources in general aviation. With the expected increase in aviation activity, job opportunities may open in an expanding aviation industry (Cobb, 2005). Service providers will need to provide special training for pilots and the other crew needed to operate VLJs. Even private VLJ owners will require the services of professionals, such as pilots, to travel as often as they would like (Cobb, 2005). The unique characteristics of VLJs when compared to existing planes will force existing training institutions in aviation to adjust their training to accommodate VLJs. Already the FAA is developing a computer program that will allow simulation processes that train and update current VLJ staff (GAO, 2007). In general, it Is important for all aviation parties and regulatory bodies to establish and maintain the highest standards for training of VLJ staff and especially the pilots of these new jets, so as to maintain current safety standards and appropriate professionalism.
The package of services offered to the market for VLJs varies in some ways from the services currently being offered. For example, because of their small size, current VLJ models do not accommodate private showers and other comforts normally offered in business class by commercial jets (Private Jet Solutions, 2010). This is ironic considering that VLJs’ current targets are business corporations, who do treasure such amenities while traveling. VLJs are designed to travel mostly small mileage ranges, however. As a positive potential, however, VLJs will be able to offer more individually oriented services where customers can travel randomly at their personal convenience, unlike having to travel on scheduled flights (Straus, 2005). Although VLJs will likely offer new, different, and even better travel experiences to their group of customers, the relevance of traditional commercial jets is likely to remain for some situations/circumstances and certain types of air travelers for a long time to come.
The introduction of VLJs into the aviation market has presented challenges to aviation travel as well as opportunities for aircraft manufacturing companies (Straus, 2005). Traditionally, even before the introduction of VLJs, private planes occupied a special and substantial niche in the aircraft market (Hawkins, 2008). Those companies that have focused their efforts on developing unique VLJs with desirable features for the customer will carve for themselves a considerable size of the increasing future VLJ market (Hawkins, 2008). There is, however, a need for concerned regulation parties to ensure that all VLJs that are manufactured undergo rigorous safety tests and meet expected safety standards now applicable to the aviation industry (Straus, 2005).
Due to these different challenges, some of which include unavailability of necessary infrastructure, marketing challenges, inability to offer certain services, , delayed planning by FAA and other bodies to accommodate VLJs, challenges in the design and production of VLJs, the complete integration of VLJs into general aviation has been delayed (Hojong, 2007). Even the taxi model of travel has not gained a foothold in the market as yet (Sara, 2006). Although VLJs have been projected to alter aviation industry as we know it, that change has not happened yet or at least as soon as was expected to by many aviation and travel experts (Hojong, 2007). One prediction is clear, however. Their numbers (VLJs) will keep increasing. Many companies that are manufacturing VLJs now have a backlog of orders (Starsfield, 2007).
VLJs have been able to enter the aviation market because of their unique features and their utilization of new technologies. Current owners of private aircraft will want to try out VLJs to replace their old aircraft (Cobb, 2005). Many people are increasingly buying VLJs because of their low price when compared to other types of private planes on the market (Cobb, 2005). According to the FAA, more than five thousand VLJs will be flying in American air space by 2017.
Apart from their affordable price, low maintenance costs are an important feature of VLJs that is likely to place them in a better position in the marketplace. Costs associated with air travel include insurance costs, repair and replacement of parts and fuel costs. When compared with other aircrafts, these costs are significantly lower for VLJs (Starsfield, 2007). For example, the cost of operation for the Eclipse 500 VLJ is only about $372 per hour (Private Jet Solutions, 2010). Compare this figure with the average cost for operating the Hawker 400XP at about $1,447 an hour (Private Jet Solutions, 2010). The VLJ economic potential will as the main advantage as they integrate fully into the general aviation market.
The ongoing/future incorporation of VLJs into the general aviation market has been projected by some aviation experts and Bodies such as FAA to alter the aviation industry in several significant ways. That significance includes the uniqueness of VLJs for traveling, their affordability as aircraft, and their relatively low maintenance costs. Some of this implementation has already occurred, as airline companies and other relevant players in aviation have strategized in order to remain relevant in an aviation market being impacted more greatly by VLJs. For example, airline companies have started to implement taxi air travel services that tailor to meet the individual needs of their customers. Several challenges, however, have delayed the full integration of VLJs into the aviation industry. Some of these challenges include unavailability of necessary infrastructure, marketing challenges, inability to offer certain services, delayed planning by FAA and other bodies to accommodate VLJs.
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