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Business Jets - A Whole New Fleet

Traditional business jets, from Airbus, Boeing, Grumman or General Dynamics, Lear, or Lockheed could cost anywhere from a few million dollars to nearly $40 million. The average cost was rarely less than $15 million. But that's changing. Even 40 years ago, the cost of a Lear Jet was over $1 million, in dollars that today would be equivalent to $10 million or more.

Today, the Airbus A319 retails for around $35 million, some of the lower-end Lear jets sell for about $3 million, the the Avcraft Dornier 328 Envoy is in the middle range.

Under competitive pressure from Eclipse Aviation, and for other economically compelling reasons, several manufacturers have risen to the challenge of making cheaper biz jets.

Eclipse Aviation is leading the pack with its smaller, lighter-weight entry, the Eclipse E500. Retailing in the neighborhood of a clean $1 million, the six-seat jet is set to take off.

Production is ramping up from a hundred to a planned output of over 1,000 planes over the next two years in the face of back orders of over 2,000 planes. At those prices, assuming continued FAA certification, those sales orders likely to remain healthy for some years to come. Considering that over 500 of those orders are for owner-flown planes, the market is wide open.

At only 10,000 lbs (4,500 kg) these two engine wonders can make 350 knots and travel from Boston to Miami (1,300 nautical miles) in a single hop. At a cost of 60 cents per mile to fly, these VLJ (Very Light Jets) are likely to wind up in a lot of smaller airports over the next ten years.

But the other manufacturers aren't sitting on the runway twiddling their thumbs.

Cessna has a smaller business jet (not technically considered a VLJ), the Citation Mustang, that is part of it's family of 4,500 business jets. The company has about 250 orders for the new model and it is being positioned as an alternative for those looking for something less expensive than the average jet.

The six-person (two crew, four passenger) plane is priced at around $2.55 million. That's the cost of an upscale house in Orange County, CA or Long Island, NY. (Being a millionaire isn't what it used to be.)

Honda Motor Co will be bringing out its HondaJet, another VLJ, over the next year. No price has been set, but with the company's track record of producing less expensive cars, motorcycles, etc, you can bet they'll be competitive.

The FAA predicts there will be 4,500 VLJ in service 10 years from now, but even the FAA chief acknowledges that the estimate is a conservative one. You may not find one in your driveway then, but how far away is the nearest small airport?

When an average home in LA costs over $600,000 it isn't much of a stretch to imagine a few neighbors - tired of the hassle of commercial airline travel - getting together and buying a private jet.

With falling production costs, and the increasing hassle of flying commercial airlines, the air taxi market is likely to zoom up over the next few years. Business jets from Eclipse, Cessna, Honda, and others, are ready to meet the demand.

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