A new way to fly | SteamboatToday.com

A new way to fly

Light jets could have big impact at Steamboat Springs Airport

— Imagine no longer having to deal with multiple layovers in crowded airports or nervously standing by luggage carousels wondering if your bag made it to the final destination.

More affordable chartered flights are just one of the things that has those in the aviation industry anxiously awaiting the certification of the “very light jet,” or VLJ. The first VLJs are expected to be certified by the end of the year.

Those closely monitoring the development of the VLJ say air taxi companies could sell the seats on the four to seven passenger planes for as little as what a full-fare commercial airline ticket costs. The VLJ will fill a void in the business travel sector that demands more affordability, speed and convenience. Local aviators say the new breed of aircraft will have an impact on air travel and airports of all sizes — even the smaller airports in communities such as Steamboat Springs.

Improvements in technology and manufacturing techniques along with entrepreneurial vision and access to large amounts of capital have brought the VLJ concept off the ground, said Gary Hay of Steamboat, a former Cessna Aircraft CEO. The VLJ is the “missing link” between piston-powered aircraft and existing business jets.

“It’s a new category of aircraft that has never been around,” Hay said. “It’s a concept that inspires people.”

The cabin of the VLJ aircraft is about the size of a large sports utility vehicle and is anticipated to cost between $1 million and $4 million. But it is the decreased operating and maintenance costs that have prompted 17 companies in six different countries to develop their versions of the VLJ.

“There are a lot of people who have stepped up with a lot of money to get this project going,” Hay said.

Big-name companies like Cessna, Eclipse, Honda/General Electric and Adam Aircraft Industries in Colorado have produced prototypes that fly at speeds approaching 400 mph at 35,000 feet. They require short runway lengths and have a range approaching 1,600 nautical miles. Hundreds have been preordered and sales forecasts call for more than 600 jets to be sold each year.

The aircraft will be purchased mainly as corporate “limos,” charter and air taxi services and by people who use the aircraft for both business and pleasure, such as part-time Steamboat resident Jim Mann. Mann is sixth on the list of 65 pre-orders that have been placed for the AdamJet 700 VLJ, which includes a bathroom, an amenity some of the VLJs will not include. AdamJet is aiming to have its VLJ certified by the end of this year.

Mann, who owns Steamboat Rentals as well as the Mountain Aircraft Maintenance at Steamboat Springs Airport, said he currently uses his Gulf Stream 100 about half the time for business and half for personal use. He plans to replace the jet with a VLJ because of the lower costs. The VLJ will allow him to land comfortably at the Steamboat Springs Airport, he said.

“I can’t imagine that there won’t be a growing population of them in Steamboat,” Mann said.

He believes the introduction of the new plane will affect regional airports.

“I have no doubt that the VLJs are going to impact every airport around the county,” Mann said. “They’re too nice not to.”

The impacts only appear to be positive. Even though the planes are powered by jet engines, they are quieter than many of the large propeller planes.

“It’s almost a whisper, comparatively speaking,” Hay said.

On a scale of one to five, with one being not disruptive and five being extremely disruptive the VLJ is a two, meaning modestly disruptive for airports and air traffic control, Hay said.

Hay said the VLJs will start to appear at the Bob Adams Airport within the next year.

Airport Manager Mel Baker said the new aircraft could have a major impact on the airport and the community.

“It’s the next step with general aviation,” Baker said. “The most valuable thing is time, convenience and transportation costs.”

He said Bob Adams will be a popular destination for people arriving in VLJs because of the airport’s close proximity to the heart of Steamboat.

Traveling in VLJs will be another option for location-neutral business owners and employees who use the Internet to do their work, but will take short business trips by air. VLJ manufacturers have identified this as an underutilized market, Baker said.

“They feel there is a market for those who need to get to a business meeting and back in an hour,” Baker said.

To reach Matt Stensland call 871-4210 or e-mail mstensland@steamboatpilot.com.

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