Adam, ATG Making Small Craft that Could Transform Industry

But both Adam Aircraft and ATG face regulatory and competitive hurdles, and some doubt that the jets they and other companies are making will usher in a new age of flying.

Adam Aircraft and Aviation Technology Group are located about 1,000 yards apart, separated by a runway and several hangars at Centennial Airport.

It's somewhat fitting, then, that they are helping pioneer a new generation of planes expected to enhance the market for private and business jets.

After years of hype - and various delays - the companies have taken big steps forward and are nearing the day when they can begin delivering their advanced, lightweight jets to customers.

If successful, they could create hundreds of new jobs here, attract support businesses to the area, pump more money into the local economy and establish Denver as the center of a potentially lucrative industry.

"Adam and ATG have created many jobs here in a very short period of time, and they're poised to grow quickly" in coming years, said Robert Olislagers, executive director of Centennial Airport, where both of the companies are based. "That job growth will cause lots of (economic) spinoffs, where you have more skilled workers and more people buying homes and automobiles and in turn sending their kids to local schools."

On a larger scale, this new generation of aircraft will let more than just executives and wealthy individuals crisscross the country on small jets. Some models will help open up air service to smaller cities and towns.

Lofty expectations, for sure.

But both Adam Aircraft and ATG face regulatory and competitive hurdles, and some doubt that the jets they and other companies are making will usher in a new age of flying. Others fear that the planes will prove so popular that they'll clog the skies around major cities, creating safety and logistical hazards.

Lighter, cheaper, stronger

Adam Aircraft and ATG are developing an emerging type of aircraft called a very light jet, also known as a VLJ.

VLJs are typically defined as two-engine aircraft that can be flown by one pilot, weigh 10,000 pounds or less and cost from about $1 million to $3 million. The planes are meant to be relatively small, capable of carrying from one to eight people.

What makes them particularly exciting is that they're so different from existing business and private jets - in performance, structure and cost.

Some VLJs, such as those being developed by ATG and Adam Aircraft, are made of or contain parts made from lightweight composite material instead of aluminum. And manufacturing VLJs is faster and cheaper.

"The carbon fiber composites (we use) are much easier to shape, and they're much lighter and stronger," said Rick Adam, founder and CEO of Adam Aircraft. "That gives us a distinct advantage."

The lighter the plane, the less fuel it burns. VLJs also gain lift more quickly, meaning they can use shorter runways and access roughly 5,000 airports across the country. The jets employ the latest cockpit technology and software, which is much cheaper than that found in most similar aircraft today.

"Ten years ago it cost $250,000 for digital displays," said Adam, who served in the U.S. Air Force. "Today they cost $50,000, which is down 80 percent."

All of that adds up to a cheaper plane: about half the cost of the lowest-priced jet on the market.

$1 billion in sales

The market for very light jets is in its infancy, but it's expected to take off in coming years as Adam, ATG and other companies win federal certification and ramp up production.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates 350 VLJs will come on line next year, and up to 500 per year will enter the market through 2020. That could mean $1 billion or more in sales each year.

The FAA, which used the middle of high and low projections, believes 5,000 VLJs will be plying the skies in a decade, helping fuel an overall rise in corporate and private jets.

"Adam Aircraft and these other companies are going to have a wonderfully hard time keeping up with demand," said Evergreen-based aviation consultant Mike Boyd, who has done consulting work for Adam Aircraft. "These airplanes are going to totally change the mix of businesses and general aviation."

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