April 27, 2006 12:55 PM PDT

'Cheap' microjets take to the skies

HAYWARD, Calif.--Eclipse Aviation has what must be a pleasant problem: Too many people want to buy its new and inexpensive jet.

When it comes to high-performance aircraft, of course, inexpensive is a relative term. The Eclipse 500 very light jet, sometimes called a microjet, costs about $1.5 million but boasts the same performance as rivals that can cost two or three times as much to purchase and operate.

Translated, this means a remarkable backlog of orders. At a recent aviation expo at the airport here, a representative said the Albuquerque, N.M.-based company already has orders for 2,400 of the Eclipse 500 jets that won't be filled until August 2008 for deposits placed today.

"We've really identified five primary market segments," said Matt Brown, an Eclipse sales manager. Those include corporations that may not want or be able to afford a more expensive jet, pilot training and air taxi services.

The last category is the most interesting--and the most controversial. The Federal Aviation Administration has predicted that the use of private business jets will triple because of microjets' lower costs. In theory, at least, that could mean more crowded skies and increased delays at larger airports where microjets would share space with commercial carriers.

Even without microjets, delays are on the rise. "In the first quarter of 2005, arrival delays were up 17 percent over the first quarter of 2004, and affected more than 25 percent of all flights," Kenneth Mead, the Transportation Department's inspector general, told a U.S. Senate panel.

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Video: Hey, wanna buy a little jet?
Eclipse Aviation is selling ultralight jets for around $1.5 million. Here, sales manager Matt Brown shows off one of the planes.

Mead warned that microjets such as the Eclipse 500 have the "potential to further crowd dense airspace" and predicted that 4,500 of them will be in use by 2016.

One large user could be DayJet, which said last year that it had already ordered 239 Eclipse 500s with an option to buy 70 more. "This is a transportation system that adapts to your needs," Ed Iacobucci, founder of software maker Citrix Systems and the man behind DayJet, said at the time. "It is not about serving New York to Atlanta. It is more about serving the secondary and tertiary markets with a point-to-point network."

Microjet proponents dismiss concerns about congestion as unfounded, arguing that advances in technology will permit planes to depart airports in quicker succession and saying that small jets can land at general aviation airports that larger planes simply can't.

The Eclipse 500, for instance, is believed to be the first jet to fly into San Carlos Airport located just south of San Francisco, during a test flight in December. San Carlos' runway is 2,600 feet long and the Eclipse requires just 2,155 feet for takeoff and landing in normal sea level conditions--a fraction of what a 757 requires. (The Eclipse 500 is awaiting certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, which the company expects by the end of the second quarter of this year. Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn is a Microsoft alum and Bill Gates is a large investor.)

Eclipse is not alone in trying to find ways to tap the $1.5 million to $3 million market for very light jets, which generally means six to eight seat planes that can fly for about 1,400 miles without refueling, at speeds of 400 to 500 mph.

A production version of Adam Aircraft's A700 microjet made its first flight in February and is expected to cost $2.25 million. Embraer's forthcoming Phenom 100 jet will cost $2.85 million and have a range of 1,160 nautical miles.

Cessna, meanwhile, is testing a six-seat microjet called the Citation Mustang. Delivery is expected by the end of 2006 with a cost of about $2.4 million, and specifications include a cruise speed of 391 mph and a takeoff distance of 3,120 feet.

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Expect that market crash and burn in small airports
I live near a small airport that had never had jet traffic in its history until someone tried to start using one of these smaller jets for a charter service. The noise was distressing compared to the mild buzz of prop planes and galvanized a tide of determined complaint from the community. (The operators quietly gave up landing here, but nobody knows the exact reason). If the industry tries to introduce jets into small airports they had better make engine silencers mandatory rather than optional because people living around these facilities don't give a fig about the traditional lack of restriction on civil aviation and will make a determined political fight to restrict their use...
Posted by Razzl (1318 comments )
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No such thing as a "silencer"
Sorry. Jet engine are loud. There is no such thing as a "silencer",
optional or mandatory. Things can be done to reduce the noise
from an engine, but those things usually add weight.
Posted by chabig83 (535 comments )
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Airports != quiet
I know the smaller airports don't have the noise problem of a larger one, but still... airports are not generally known for being quiet...
Posted by Scott956982 (1 comment )
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SQL Airport
The Eclipse was *not* the first jet to come in/out of San Carlos. There has been regular traffic in SQL airport from Citations for years. The notion of GA jet traffic landing within 2500 feet is neither novel nor unusual.
Posted by OmarAhmad (1 comment )
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I'm a pilot based at SQL, never saw any jet take off or land there (including a Citation).

There was a large Lear jet in the traffic pattern behind me last week -- the controller was confused about why it wanted permission to enter the pattern -- but it didn't land, just did a go-around from maybe 300 feet above the ground.
Posted by declan00 (848 comments )
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Oh well
Oh well, at least many specialists experienced debuggers, and locating those hidden cams planted by assorted industrial spies and other quasi agencies, will have plenty of working cleaning out the bugs and other devices installed, and an additional sound proof faraday cage for 6 mobile phones with blue tooth would be a a handy addition as well!(modern technology can easily turn your mobile into a self tracking bugging device *** assinating unit(we have seen a few samples used in GAZA!)

For those that are paranoid, in this modern world of , for sadly one never knows who or whom is listening in and recording even the innocent lambs for the slaughter!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
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Microsoft and Microjets
This seems totally at odds to the Bill Gates new environmental approach at Microsoft HQ.. a slightly confused message?

Surely jet travel is one of the most environmentally damaging forms of travel there is.

Pete D
Posted by PDal (1 comment )
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How biased can you get?
What does "Bill Gates new environmental approach at Microsoft HQ" have to do with corporations buying microjets? This is not just microsoft, this is alot of corporations. Have you bothered
to check out their environmental policies or are you just interested in targeting one corporation out of many for personal reasons? Your post is extremely biased and discriminatory. I, on the other hand, have no problem condemning most of those corporations for thier purchase, which is not only environmentally unfriendly, but economically and energy inefficient when considering alternative forms of transportation. We as a public are just as guilty... the supersonic concord was one of the worst offenders on the planet (every concord flight destroyed a massive amount of the ozone layer in it's flightpath).

Some businesses can justify a corporate jet when it produces benefit in the company's products and services for the cost... i.e. FedEx certainly couldn't deliver packages on time without jets. alot of businesses use them as perks for the executives and those are the ones I dissaprove of.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
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This article would have been more meaningful...
if it were more complete. Almost a teaser in a way. There are a number of other companies doing just as well in development of their microjets. SportJet &lt;<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://sport-jet.com/" target="_newWindow">http://sport-jet.com/</a>&gt; may come in at $1 mil (2/3 the cost of this jet). That makes a compelling pricepoint for businesses on the edge of considering such planes. These things are not about moving lots of folks -- just a handful. Think 'Camry' of the skies rather than stretch limo. Or -- for the wealthy aviation enthusiast.
Posted by afterhours (215 comments )
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When They Get Down to Below the Cost of a Land Bruiser SUV ...
_then_ they'll be "cheap"! This headline is inaccurate in more than one way, since none of the microjets has received FAA certification, much less been delivered in any quantity, and it will be more than a decade before there will be enough of them to impact the 30,000+ flights a day already in the skies over the U.S., or anywhere else. Since one of the purposes of microjets is to provide point-to-point service between locations that are _not_ adjacent to major commercial airports, they could actually help relieve congestion at the larger facilities. Dayjet and other "micro-airlines" have been floating fares that are fully competitive with major airlines', especially when you take into account that travelers won't need as much time-consuming, road-jamming, urban ground transportation to complete both ends of their travels. There are already businesses beginning to establish offices adjacent to GA airports where the costs of operation and living are much lower than in major urban metroplexes, not to mention the quality of life (modulo the jet noise, which is still less and for a shorter duration for a microjet than any commercial jetliner).

It is interesting how Williams figured out how to expand its original business of manufacturing small gas turbine engines for use as auxiliary power units on wide-body jets (look in the tail end of a 747, etc., for the exhaust port) to supplying many of the engines to be used on these small jet aircraft.

As for noise around airports, most airports were around lonnnnng before the stupid buyers of tract houses put down their stakes (I was amazed to find out that there were over 350 airfields in the San Francisco Bay area back in the 20s ~ 30s - most dirt strips, of course). Stupid is as stupid does, as Forrest Gump liked to say. A large number of general aviation airports are under attack, not just by adjacent residents, but politicians who think that, just because an airport is located within their city/county limits, it belongs to them to sell off, even in rural areas. They are chagrined to find out that they have limited, if any, authority on what is done with the land due to perpetual land-use agreements signed long ago with the federal government, and no one complained about the constant stream of federal funds that flowed in over the decades, providing lots of local business and recreational tax revenue, in the bargain. Even large cities have done some amazingly stupid things, like Daley in Chicago, who had city workers bulldoze cuts across a downtown GA airport that has been there since not long after the Wright Brothers were still only bicycle mechanics, and now they're being sued by the feds to give back funding the city had no problem spending on other pet projects. Only about one percent of the money collected from aviation fuel taxes makes it back into GA airport facilities maintenance, much less improvements, and if it weren't for GPS, much of the rural airspace around the country would be difficult to navigate below about 10,000 feet, due to the precipitous deterioration of the older radio navigation aids (non-directional beacons - NDB - and VHF Omindirectional Radio - VOR) outside major metropolitan areas (and even inside them, which is ameliorated somewhat by air traffic control radar coverage - but even it can be spotty in hilly locales like the SF Bay area).

Bill Gates could only care about the environment for as long as it doesn't make anything inconvenient for him. Just look at the 10-story, 50,000+ square foot monstrosity of a "home" he dumped down an entire hillside on the shores of Lake Washington to get an idea of how eco-friendly he is (one of the better uses for Google Earth! ;) ). He even paid off local politicians to get a restraining order against the King County chief building inspector to keep him off his property, because he kept finding gross violations of building codes and county regulations for "residential" property. He eventually did have to knuckle under and build his "house" to commercial structural standards, though, so even 50+ billion bucks isn't enough to get away with everything.

Navigation and communications technologies are making their way into both GA cockpits and airspace infrastructure, with microcomputer-based glass cockpits (backup mechanical instruments are required) becoming standard even in the least expensive commercially-built GA aircraft (e.g., Cirrus, and probably eventually Cessna and Piper), and the rollout of the Wide Area Augmentation Service (WAAS) to increase GPS accuracy down to a few feet, and differential GPS able to take it down to millimeters, if desired. Making navigation and aviation simpler (which greatly helps to reduce accidents, especially in marginal weather GA pilots ultimately wind up in, but only if they remember to look outside the cockpit more than every once in a while) is now mostly just a "small matter of programming" (SMOP, as the hardware guys like to say - much to the dismay of software engineers who actually have to make everything work on the inevitably buggy hardware ;) ).

Me, I'm holding out for something a little more sporty, like a million-plus buck Javelin jet kit (pre-built would cost multiple millions of clams) that can get pretty close to Mach 1.0, but only after they reach "volume" production and the price drops to that of that of an SUV :) Hey, a guy can still dream, can't he?

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
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