Light at the end of the personal jet tunnel

Washington DC
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This story is sourced from Flight International
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Favouritism is clearly at work as general aviation manufacturers make substantial cuts across product lines. With one exception, the personal jet programmes in progress at six airframers have stayed relatively intact as the companies look to better position themselves for what promises to be a growth market for the fuel-efficient jets when recovery comes. The exception is Eclipse Aviation, whose Eclipse 400 single-engined four-seater has become a victim of the company's bankruptcy and pending liquidation.

Cirrus Design suspended its light sport aircraft offering, the SRS, in lieu of keeping its 300kt (555 km/h) Vision SF50 personal jet programme on track. Although it has pushed back first deliveries of the Williams FJ33-powered five-seat single to 2012, the company continues to test-fly its prototype once or twice a day at its Duluth, Minnesota facility, says Cirrus jet sales co-ordinator Gary Black. He also says the "fully loaded" price for the aircraft would be between $1.3 million and $1.4 million. A "typically equipped" SF50 will cost about $1.25 million, the company has said.

Diamond continues to be the best bet for first certification and deliveries of a personal jet as the 315kt D-Jet, also powered by the FJ33, continues toward Transport Canada and US Federal Aviation Administration certification by the middle of next year. Mark Lee, Diamond's director of marketing and sales for D-Jet, says the company has notified customers that first deliveries will be pushed to the latter half of next year.

piper aircraft
 © Piper Aircraft

Helping to the development was a change in the aircraft's ice-protection system. Lee says the FAA and Transport Canada, based on analysis of industry-wide ice-related accidents, had asked for an increase in the flow rate and operational time of the planned TKS icing protection system, a change he says would have brought the entire weight of the system (including fluid) to roughly 90kg (200lb). As a result, Diamond decided to install pneumatic boots on the wing and horizontal stabiliser leading edges. Engine inlets continue to be protected by bleed air, as before.

There are 360 orders for the five-seat jet, which is priced at $1.5 million in 2009 dollars. Diamond is expected to announce a substantial price increase, perhaps 25%, by the end of May.

Following Diamond, service entry of Piper's $2.2 million, 360kt, five-seat PiperJet is likely to be in 2011. Despite cutting its staff by nearly half, the Florida manufacturer continues to push forward with its first jet offering, for which it reports 200 orders. Flight-testing and envelope expansion tests continue for the first Williams FJ44-powered prototype, says the company, with the second of four total certification aircraft planned for construction next year. "We're heavily investing in the PiperJet," says chief executive James Bass. "It is our future."

Stratos Aircraft continues to develop its $2 million Williams FJ44-powered composite four-seater, the Stratos 714. Company co-founder Carsten Sundin says a full-scale composite cabin mock-up is complete and will be used for marketing this year.

Primary performance targets include carrying four adults at 400kt for 2,780km (1,500nm) with NBAA IFR reserves.

Epic Aircraft continues to advertise its four-seat 320kt Victory single-engine personal jet, although the company continues to evaluate whether the project will move forward to certification.