A new light, cheap and fast kind of jet is expected to be certified for flight Thursday.
Eclipse Aviation's E500 will be the first "very light jet," or VLJ, to receive a provisional certification by the Federal Aviation Administration. Thousands more are expected to take wing over the next decade.
The announcement, at the AirVenture Air Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is one of the biggest things to happen to general aviation in years. Acting Transportation Secretary Maria Cino traveled to to the state to make the announcement.
"These planes have clearly captured the public's imagination," said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association.
The NBAA defines VLJs as single-pilot jets that weigh 10,000 pounds (4,500 kilograms) or less. They generally have two engines, five or six passenger seats, automated cockpits and cost half as much as the most inexpensive business jet now in service.
Six other very light jets are in the process of being certified by the FAA.
Honda Motor Co. announced Tuesday at Oshkosh that it will start accepting orders for another VLJ, the HondaJet, this fall.
The FAA officially predicts that 4,500 VLJs will be in service 10 years from now. FAA chief Marion Blakey has called that a conservative estimate. Eclipse alone has orders for nearly 2,500 of the little jets.
The big question surrounding VLJs is who will use them and where they will fly.
Vern Raburn, the founder of Albuquerque-based Eclipse Aviation Corp., predicts VLJs will be used as air taxis: for-hire limousines-with-wings that will take off and land at thousands of small airports. Businesspeople, he says, will be attracted to them because they will get where they need to go faster and with less hassle than on a commercial flight - and cheaper than on a chartered business jet.
VLJs can land on runways as short as 3,000 feet (900 meters), compared with the 4,000 (1,200 meters) or 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) required by the smallest jets now being flown. The FAA says there are more than 5,000 small, underused airports in the United States.
The little jets will not be rolling off the assembly line just yet, though. The FAA granted it a provisional certification allowing all existing planes to be flown, but new ones cannot be delivered to customers until the FAA grants what is called a type certification.
"It means most of the technical issues have been resolved," Bolen said.
Two other companies hope to have similar jets certified by the end of the year: Englewood, Colorado-based Adam Aircraft and Wichita, Kansas-based Cessna Aircraft Co.
Cessna considers its Citation Mustang an inexpensive business jet, not an VLJ, said Doug Oliver, company spokesman. But, Oliver said, "If the air taxi market comes along, the aircraft is perfectly suited for high utilization."
Cessna, which has produced more than 4,500 business jets for the global fleet, has about 250 orders for the Mustang, Oliver said.
The other VLJs seeking FAA certification, or FAA validation of their home countries' certification, are:
_Javelin, by Aviation Technology Group, Inc.;
_Phenom, by Embraer, or Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA;
_G180 SPn Utility Jet, by Grob Aerospace;
_Spectrum 33 by Spectrum Aeronautical LLC.
A Spectrum 33 crashed in a test flight Tuesday in Spanish Fork, Utah, killing both pilots aboard. The cause of the crash is unknown.
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