Don't give up on VLJs

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The business aviation world has been giddy about the potentially game-changing arrival of very light jets. Now Bombardier has poured cold water over the excitement surrounding the newest business aircraft category.

The Canadian giant, in its latest 10-year industry forecast, admits VLJs could be significant in terms of numbers in a market it predicts will go on rising until well into the next decade. But in dollar value, they will add little more than a layer of snow on the slope.

Bombardier insists it has no plans to build or acquire a VLJ, and needs to push first-time business jet users into its own, bigger "entry-level" Learjets. As VLJs cost less than a tenth of Bombardier's top-of-the-range Globals, it is no surprise that volumes will not deliver revenues in the way they do with larger jets.

But with VLJ manufacturers preparing to push their products in Europe in earnest at EBACE later this month, the mutterings of those who warned "I told you so" about the limitations of the VLJ model are being heard louder. Delays in certificating the Eclipse 500 and the launch operations of its biggest customer, Florida air-taxi start-up DayJet, have emboldened the sceptics. As our feature next week will show, infrastructure and red tape remain huge obstacles for the nascent marketplace in Europe.

However, we are convinced VLJs represent the biggest step-change in business aviation since the advent of the corporate jet more than 40 years ago, bringing the market within reach of middle managers, small-business owners and the moderately wealthy, as well as boosting under-used community airports and local economies.

There will be casualties along the way, but VLJs will change the way many of us travel for business.