The Next Wave: Microjets: Hottest session at NATA annual meeting keys on infrastructure, training challenges

July 8, 2004

Convention Follow-Up


Hottest session at NATA annual meeting keys on infrastructure, training challenges

John F. Infanger and Jodi Richards

July 2004

LAS VEGAS — During a strategic issues breakfast held during the National Air Transportation Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas in May, panelists discussed issues surrounding the emergence of the compact light jets, including insurance, training, impact on the aviation system, and even what they will be called. It was the hottest issue at this year’s NATA meeting, which is part of the overall Aviation Industry Week trade show, which attracted a record-breaking 5,800 attendees, according to expo host Cygnus Expositions.

The pending wave of microjets from various manufacturers is top of mind with many in industry today, including airports and airport-based businesses who would handle them. However, there is still some debate as to what they should be called.

This year’s Aviation Industry Week attracted an estimated 5,800 attendees to the trade show. The National Air Transportation Association and the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association held their annual meetings in conjunction with the show.

George Adam Jr., chairman of the board and CEO of Adam Aircraft, says he’s not particularly fond of the term “microject.” He explains, “The public doesn’t like getting in small airplanes. Anything that denotes small should be avoided.” His suggestion: personal jet.

Mike McConnell, VP sales and product support, Eclipse Aviation, agrees that “micro” is not the right word and offers “light jet.” Cessna Aircraft Company, according to CEO and president Jack Pelton, prefers the term “entry-level jet,” while Mark Biagetti, COO, Avocet Aircraft, prefers “professional jet,” a term he says denotes safe aircraft.

The Training Challenge
No matter what decision the industry comes to on nomenclature, everyone is in agreement that the jets will have an impact on aviation. All of the manufacturers on the panel agree that training will be a key issue.

McConnell says Eclipse has a VP of training and flight operations to work directly with insurance companies in order to mitigate risk. Additionally, the manufacturer is taking on the responsibility of training and is prepared to give customers their money back if the training is not successful.

Pelton advocates mentoring when it comes to training. Biagetti says Avocet believes the majority of their ProJet users will be charter operators and expects to partner with those firms to provide training. Adds Adam, “Our next generation jet is going to be easier to fly than what they were used to,” which will lead to safer pilots, he says.

Insurance, Airspace
William Welbourn, executive VP, United States Aviation Underwriters, says the company will be looking at key aspects to determine whether insuring these new aircraft will be a good risk, including pilot experience level, pilot training, product support, durability, and airspace. He adds that as with any new product, “the jury’s still out” on what kind of coverage will be available.

As for airspace congestion, Kathy Perfetti, FAA, says capacity is a challenge but doesn’t believe the addition of these jets to the airspace would require a regulatory change. However, she says, the FAA does not have all the answers at this point.

Biagetti says people are concerned that there will be “thousands of these air taxis” that will be “flying in the 20,000- to 25,000-ft. range,” but says there may not be as much congestion there as they think. “We think these aircraft can do for hub operations what RJs have done — reduce congestion.”

Says McConnell, “The skies aren’t crowded, the hubs are crowded.”

Perfetti says, “We fully expect they will be flown under Part 135.” She adds that since it has been some time since FAR Part 135 has been updated, changes are in the offing as FAA and industry go through the Part 135 review process currently underway.