VisionAire Jets is hoping to secure around $20 million funding before the end of the year for its Vantage entry-level jet programme, and says it is also in ­discussions with a Saudi Arabian company to secure further ­significant investment.

The Newton, North Carolina-headquartered company says that the $20 million pledged by an unnamed Chinese investor will provide enough capital to cover the cost of the first year’s lease on a nearby 4,230m² (45,530ft²) facility, build the tooling for the Vantage and restart flight testing of the six-seat design, which was originally conceived in the late 1980s.

“We have spent around $170 million on the Vantage programme to date, and need around $80 million more to bring the aircraft to market,” says VisionAire founder and chief ­executive Jim Rice. “The Saudi investors will be conducting due diligence on the company this month. Hopefully they will be impressed with what they see.”

Rice, a founder of the original Vantage programme, admits it has been “tough” attracting investment for a new light aircraft programme in the current economic climate.

“It is particularly hard when you are developing a product at the lower and more volatile end of the business aircraft spectrum,” he says. “It is a numbers game. You have to see as many potential investors as you can – ideally those with a keen interest in aviation and who can afford to speculate.

“You have to be totally honest with them. Tell them what is needed and what hurdles the programme could face along the line. This business is not for the faint-hearted.”

Rice has been a devotee of the Vantage programme since its ­inception around 25 years ago. The ­aircraft made its first flight in 1996, and the proof of concept prototype had flown more than 500h before the company was forced into Chapter 7 liquidation in 2003. Rice says the fallout of 9/11 hit the company hard.

“Funding dried up. Investors were no longer interested in financing the Vantage, despite the fact we had an 155-strong orderbook and a hugely marketable product. There was nothing and still is nothing else like it on the market,” he says.

The Vantage technical drawings, trademarks and tooling were acquired later that year by US venture Eviation Jets.

The company renamed the ­aircraft the EV-20 and attempted to change the design from a single to twin-engined aircraft, powered by Williams FJ44-1APs.

The project was short-lived, however. The financial meltdown in 2008 once again led to a funding shortfall and the intellectual property was subsequently sold to VisionAire.

The company is sticking to its single-engined design. “At $2.25 million, the Vantage is uniquely placed to fill the gap between high-end piston and turboprop types and light-cabin business jets,” says Rice.

“We are making only minor design tweaks to the aircraft, such as a slightly larger horizontal tail,” he continues. “However, the new Vantage will be powered by an 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].”

The new Vantage will also be equipped with a Garmin G3000 avionics system. ■