Eclipse Rival Cessna First VLJ with Full FAA Ticket

The race to develop and sell tiny, cheap jets just got a little hotter.

Cessna Aircraft Co. reported Monday that it has received full Federal Aviation Administration type certification for its $2.6 million Citation Mustang jet. The certification, awarded about a month ahead of schedule, makes Cessna the first company to receive full FAA certification for a so-called "very light jet."

Eclipse Aviation, which is developing the smaller, $1.5 million Eclipse 500 in Albuquerque, received provisional type certification in late July. It has since been completing a handful of "IOUs" to the FAA, such as swapping a composite wingtip fuel tank for one made of aluminum. The FAA also still needs to complete testing of the Eclipse 500 avionics system, which has faced supplier delays.

Full certification is expected sometime this month, Eclipse spokesman Andrew Broom said, adding that Eclipse is confident it will still be the first VLJ company to deliver planes to customers.

Cessna, in a news release, said it would begin customer deliveries early next year.

"Market expansion is what we're all about," Broom said of Cessna's certification announcement. "A new avenue for people to utilize private aviation is nothing but good for the industry."

Many believe VLJs, generally defined as jet aircraft weighing less than 10,000 pounds, will revolutionize aviation by bringing jet ownership and operation within reach of pilots and owners who previously would have been limited to prop-driven aircraft.

Eclipse, which first unveiled its plans in 2000, has been one of the most visible of a handful of companies developing such planes.

Cessna first unveiled its Citation Mustang in 2002. The company plans to build and deliver 50 planes in 2007, and reports it has 250 orders on the books, which will sell out production through 2009.

For comparison, Eclipse says it has about 2,500 orders on the books and plans much higher production - eventually up to 1,000 planes a year. The company has said volume production is key to the Eclipse 500's comparably low price.

The Citation Mustang has a top speed of 340 knots, a range of 1,150 nautical miles and can fly at 41,000 feet - similar to the Eclipse 500's specifications.

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