Mini Jets: Why All the Hype?
With all of the excitement associated with the debut of VLJs, or Very Light Jets, many private jet travelers are left wondering what it’s all really about. Is a VLJ a good option? How does it compare to larger private jets?
Comparing all available VLJs to dozens larger private jets would be overwhelming, so for simplicity’s sake the VLJ Eclipse 500, the light Hawker 400XP, and the mid-sized Citation Sovereign will be the only jets compared.
The most obvious difference between the jets is in size. “Very Light” means “very small cabin.” Eclipse Aviation published the cabin’s maximum height and width as 4’ 2’’ and 4’ 8’’. They did not publish a cabin length. Compare that to the Hawker 400 XP’s height/width/length dimensions of 4’ 9’’/4’ 11’’/15’ 6’’, or the Citation Sovereign’s measurements: 5’ 8’’/5’ 6’’/24’ 3’’. The difference in dimensions in these planes can be partly attributed to their difference in maximum passenger seating – six, nine, and twelve, respectively – but those looking for roomier cabins should opt for larger private jets.
Baggage space is also a concern with VLJs. The Eclipse 500 has the least baggage space of all the VLJs, 16 cubic feet. Others, such as the Citation Mustang, have as much as 63 cubic feet available, but lose a little speed and economy of fuel burn. Baggage capacity in the Sovereign is uncharacteristically high for a private jet of its size at 135 cubic feet; the Hawker offers 53 cubic feet.
But don’t give up on VLJs altogether. They were engineered for their economy, not their size. The variable operating cost per hour of the Eclipse 500 (insurance, maintenance, fuel, and replacement parts) is estimated at $372. The Hawker 400XP costs $1,447 an hour to fly, and the Sovereign costs $1,974.
Furthermore, the new Eclipse 500 is expected to sell for $1.5 million. Maybe that sounds like a lot, but not when compared to the price of a new Hawker 400XP ($7.1 million), or the Sovereign ($15.9 million). That means that once some used Eclipse 500s reach the used private jet market, where jet prices drop between 15 and 40 percent in the first 5 years, it could cost between $1.28 million and $900,000.
Sound too good to be true? The drastically low operating and acquisition costs explain all of the hype associated with the debut of VLJs. There is a definite size-cost tradeoff, but for the private jet traveler looking for an economic option, a VLJ may be the perfect choice.