Very Light Jet (VLJ) Market History to 2020

Like everybody connected to the aviation industry, I watched the Very Light Jet (VLJ) market hype (mostly around Paul Allen’s Eclipse 500,) in 2002 and wondered how the market would shake out. After the Eclipse announcement, around 10 competitors announced they would build a VLJ, too.

VLJ’s are characterized by being lower-cost than other private jets, and being certified for single-pilot (SP) operation. However, “lower-cost” increased from $837,000 in 2002 to $3-$5 million in 2020. The key technology in 2002 was a Wiliams cruise missile engine, but that turned out to be under-powered for the Eclipse back then and the engines were upgraded to P&W. A Williams jet is used in the Cirrus Jet today.)

The Eclipse (twin P&W, 370k, ~$1M, 267 made) company was predicted to fail because of the ultralow pricing and company mfg. inexperience. And it did in 2008, although it shipped a few hundred airframes in various stages of completion. Most of the wealthy individual buyers moved on to the Cessna Mustang (twin P&WC, 340 knots, $3.3M, 469 made), which was much more expensive but had the backing of Cessna/Textron.

What’s interesting is that Eclipse reported a major deal with an air taxi, Day Jet. I was skeptical of the deal at the time, but they did receive about 20 jets and provided service until also failing in 2008, although I wonder about the dispatch rate for a v1 jet.

Besides the Cessna Mustang, another successful jet that eventually emerged was the Cirrus Vision SF50.

The Cirrus Vision SF50 (single Williams, 300 knots, $2.7M, 170 made so far) was certified in 2016 and the shipment volume winner for 2018 and 2019. It and the Embraer Phenom 100 (twin P&WC, 400 knots, $5 million) are the only VLJs currently being made, with the HondaJet available at twice the price ($5.5 million.)

(Note that Cirrus (and most small US airplane companies) are owned by Chinese companies as of 2020.)

On Apr. 18, 2019, an FAA AD was issued after 3 incidents involving AOA sensors were reported. Aerosonic, the AOA supplier, shipped bad units to Cirrus, and the SF50 fleet was grounded until replaced. The effect was the same as the 737 MAX accidents, although Cirrus had a hardware, not a mostly software, problem. It’s interesting that a ferry flight was allowed to repair it.

W: Eclipse 500, Cirrus Vision SF50, Cessna Citation Mustang (Model 510), Honda HA-420 HondaJet, Embraer Phenom 100

Textron Ceases Production of Cessna Citation Mustang

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