More than once, the nascent microjet industry has come close to being stillborn, and a successful birth and growth to maturity is still far from assured.

The problems have been mainly financial, but also technical as very light jets - as manufacturers prefer them to be called - are a design-to-cost challenge.

Eclipse Aviation, as the poster child of the microjet industry, has drawn the greatest scrutiny from the sceptics. But the company's sometimes rocky path towards certification of its Eclipse 500 very light jet is smooth compared with the progress of most of the other hopefuls in the market.


Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Eclipse has raised the hundreds of millions of dollars required to get its aircraft into production - and survived a highly public change of engine supplier after the one and only flight of its first prototype, in August 2002, confirmed the planned Williams EJ22 engines were woefully inadequate.

Changing engines delayed certification three years, to 2006, but Eclipse's choice of Pratt & Whitney Canada's PW610F engine generated new confidence in the programme. A version of the same engine, the PW615F, was selected by Cessna to power its Citation Mustang - the only light jet not viewed sceptically.

Despite Eclipse's pioneering spirit, the first microjet scheduled for delivery is Adam Aircraft's A700 AdamJet. A 75-aircraft order placed in May by Pogo, the new US air-taxi company formed by low-fare pioneer Don Burr and former American Airlines chairman Bob Crandall, would seem a good start.

But Englewood, Colorado-based Adam has yet to certificate its much-delayed A500 piston twin, on which the A700 is based, making promises to begin AdamJet deliveries by March next year seem optimistic.

Safire Aircraft, which had been snapping at Eclipse's heels, suffered a setback in June when it was forced to suspend operations for a month while it secured additional funding.

The Miami, Florida-based company is back on track, it says, with funding to see its Safire Jet through to certification in 2006, but Eclipse has leapt at the chance to capitalise on the setback by offering Safire's customers the opportunity to transfer their deposits to an Eclipse.

Although Eclipse already claims an orderbook for 2,100 aircraft, many still doubt the size of the very light jet market. If demand is limited to the replacement of piston twins and older light jets, sceptics argue, the market is unlikely to be more than 2,000-3,000 aircraft. Any larger estimate depends on the much-touted, but still-unproven air taxi market becoming a reality.

Avocet Aircraft is targeting the air-taxi operator with its ProJet, and believes it can overcome the sceptics by using Israel Aircraft Industries to design and build its very light jet. But, almost a year after its unveiling, the programme has yet to be formally launched. Meanwhile a host of other would-be microjet manufacturers are still struggling to raise the funding.



Source: Flight Daily News