By David Learmount in Geneva

Eclipse Aviation president and chief executive Vern Raburn envisages jet air taxis that can be flown legally with a crew of one pilot – in Europe as well as the USA – using an automatic or remote aircraft recovery system in the event of pilot incapacitation.

Speaking at last week’s European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Raburn said that the state-of-the-art integrated cockpits and simple systems designed into very light jets (VLJ) like his company’s Eclipse 500 have been configured to be flown by one pilot. The only reason to require them to be crewed by two pilots, said Raburn, is the possibility of pilot incapacitation.

This problem could be overcome by installed systems that can fly the aircraft to a safe airport either automatically or by being remotely piloted, Raburn predicted. Although he did not claim to be proposing this for early Eclipse 500s, he observed the technology already exists to do it, and it is merely a question of getting it approved and certificated.

The military has been looking for some time at providing incapacitated pilots with a “get me home” button, but the first aircraft that is likely to deliver such a capability could be the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter six years or more from now.

This subject emerged during an EBACE seminar and debate on the influence VLJs will have on aviation in Europe. At the same event, Adam Aircraft president Joe Walker revealed some projections for the size of the European market for VLJs over the next 10 years. He predicts between 500 and 1,000 units will be delivered to European operators by 2016. That looks like a conservative estimate when Walker points out that the European Union generates 39% of the world’s gross domestic product against the USA’s 35%, but only 13% of the business jet fleet is registered in the EU against 72% in the USA. “The European market has a great potential in terms of fleet growth,” he said.

Although many VLJ operators will be owner-pilots, the largest group is expected to be air taxi firms and company-owned business jets, according to the manufacturers. Another debate in the air-taxi sector is whether a lavatory should be part of the cabin fit. DayJet’s vice-president community and government affairs Traver Gruen-Kennedy says that when his company’s per-seat, on-demand air taxi network starts operating in Florida next year flying Eclipse 500s, his aircraft will have two pilots, but “no washroom”. Nobody ever called for them in cars, he says.

Source: Flight International