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VisionAire sets sights on 2014 first flight for new Vantage jet

VisionAire Jets – the new owner of the Vantage single-engined business aircraft – is planning to fly the first conforming prototype of the modernised entry-level jet in 2014 and is seeking up to $140 million to fund the programme through to certification and first deliveries.

VisionAire chief executive Jim Rice is a founder of the original Vantage programme and managed the company – also called VisionAire – until it was forced into Chapter 7 liquidation in 2003. “We were hit by the fallout of 9/11,” Rice says of the company’s demise. “We could not raise the finance. Nobody was interested in funding an aircraft programme at that time despite the fact we had an 155-strong orderbook and had a proof-of-concept aircraft that had flown more than 500h.”

The Vantage technical drawings, trademarks and tooling were acquired later that year by US venture Eviation Jets, which established a subsidiary in São Paulo to manage the programme, which it dubbed the EV-20. “They set about trying to change the design from a single to twin-engine aircraft powered by Williams FJ44-1APs,” Rice says. “This proved to be a big mistake. Not only is it very costly to redesign an aircraft but it is unwise for a company with no track record to go head to head with an established brand like Cessna – which dominates the entry-level business jet sector.”

VisionAire bought the intellectual property from Eviation about six months ago, although Rice says Eviation owner Matt Eller continues to have a small stake in the new venture. “We are sticking to a single-engine concept. There was nothing like it on the market when the programme was launched [in the 1990s] and there is no comparable aircraft – a single-engine jet with an entry-level size cabin – now,” he adds.

The all-composite aircraft will be priced at about $2.25 million, will seat up to seven passengers and be certificated for single pilot operations.  The new Vantage will be powered by a Williams International FJ44-3AP – replacing the original Pratt & Whitney Canada JT15-B5 engine. “This should boost the range by about 400nm [740km], to 1500nm, and give the Vantage a cruise speed of around 375kt [694km/h],” says Rice. The new Vantage will also be equipped with Garmin G3000 avionics.

The Vantage will be built in Newton, North Carolina, where the company is planning to open a manufacturing facility by the middle of the year. “In the meantime, we are establishing strategic alliances with composite manufacturers to build the tooling for the Vantage,” Rice says. “Our aim is to fly the first of four conforming aircraft within 20 months, leading to certification and first deliveries in 2016,” Rice adds.

VisionAire has received a positive response from foreign investors and is close to securing a letter of intent for “a large sum of money”. “The interest in the programme has come from offshore in countries such as a China,” Rice says. “In the long term this country could be a big market for the Vantage and we may consider setting up an second assembly base to cater for this demand,” he adds