EBACE 2008: Hope springs eternal

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No-one provides a better very light jet reality check than Teal Group vice-president Richard Aboulafia.

"The best way to get funding for an extremely risky new start-up aircraft is to greatly inflate the market prospects," says Aboulafia. "This is the most over-hyped market in a very long time. There's an exceptional ratio of hype-to-reality here."

By contrast, no one is more bullish on VLJ potential than Eclipse Aviation president Vern Raburn, who sees a worldwide demand for VLJs and personal jets reaching 3,000 a year "within the next couple of years".

The US Federal Aviation Administration is less ambitious on the potential, predicting 8,145 VLJs in the skies by 2025, representing an average production of 400-500 aircraft from all manufacturers.

The hype factor would seem to be in play already, in that the FAA had predicted 350 new VLJs in the US fleet in 2007, whereas only 143 entered service.
Teal Group and Aboulafia are far more reserved - compared with Eclipse - estimating a production rate of about 350 VLJs a year from all manufacturers.

While Raburn admits that the twin-engined VLJ sector has turned out to be "not as big as I thought it would be", he says the emergence of single-engined VLJs will ignite a huge untapped reservoir.

"I think what is going to happen is that single-engined jets will reinvigorate even more the low end of the market, with Mooney and Bonanza drivers moving up to single-engined jets," he says.

Currently, there are roughly five turbine-powered twins delivered for each turbine-powered single. Raburn says the ratio will reverse, becoming 15 singles delivered for every twin. "People have become comfortable from a safety standpoint with one engine," he says.

It just so happens that Eclipse might have a product to scratch the market's itch. "If we go down that path, it will be an aircraft very similar to the concept jet," Raburn says, adding that before deciding on a launch, "we have to make a decision now on funding and resources”.


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