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Business Air News
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.
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Me & My Aircraft: Fresh contenders will bring the best technology to the light jet arena
By all accounts smaller jets are suffering the effects of economic slowdown more acutely than their larger, long-range counterparts. Owners and charter customers in this sector are perhaps more likely to reduce their travel requirements or consider alternative modes.

By all accounts smaller jets are suffering the effects of economic slowdown more acutely than their larger, long-range counterparts. Owners and charter customers in this sector are perhaps more likely to reduce their travel requirements or consider alternative modes.

You might expect the specific sector which we consider to be 'light jets', squeezed between the entry-level very light jets such as the Mustang and Phenom, and the more comfortable mid-size aircraft, to suffer especially badly. However, our survey this month finds the fleet in good health, with new models under development and total number only just shy of a thousand across Europe and the Middle East.

Thierry Huguenin, director of aircraft sales, lease and management at light jet operator FAI rent-a-jet, offers a global overview: "It looks to me that light jets are becoming more and more private aircraft and less and less successful in charter. Charterers want stand-up cabins these days with individual seats," he says.

For this report we asked all EBAN readers responsible for light jet operations to answer a few simple questions and give us their opinions.

We have two further 'Me and My Aircraft' reports during 2012, covering cabin class piston twins in September and super midsize jets in November, so if these feature in your day-to-day operations please look out for our email invitation to take part or simply log in to your private page any time at www.ebanmagazine.com.

CITATION 525 CJ SERIES

Cessna has always dominated the light jet sector with its Citation range, starting with the original 500 and 550 series, and now with the extensive 525 CJ range. This uses the same fuselage cross section from the five-seat CJ1 up to the seven-seat CJ4.

The CJ range is extremely popular in Germany and Austria, but present in virtually all countries, now including Russia and Ukraine. It is most commonly operated as a single aircraft fleet, but is not uncommon in fleets of four or five. Air Charter Scotland has the largest roster, with nine, while Ixair in France has seven, and Opera Jet of Slovakia, Eisele Flugdienst of Germany and Lufthansa Flight Training each have six.

About a dozen CJ4s have now entered service in Germany, the UK and Saudi Arabia.

Taking an overview of the responses received to our survey, overall satisfaction is high with many noting that they were very satisfied with dispatch and operating reliability. Corrosion is clearly a problem that may need to be addressed at some point though.

Switzerland's Jet Circle has two CJ1s and the company's Kohler Werner is happy with the maintenance suppport provided by RUAG and Altenrhein Aviation. Value, dispatch and operation all get the thumbs up and its short runway capabilities are a definite plus, although Werner feels a little more range would help a lot.

One anonymous private owner of a CJ1+ was equally impressed with maintenance support. Dispatch reliability could not be bettered and, although an extra 40kts would be welcome, our respondent could think of no negatives at all, adding: "It has the ability to go almost anywhere in Europe and has low operating costs and good reliability/backup."

At Star Wings Dortmund Luftfahrtgesellschaft mbH, the company's CJ1 and CJ2 give little cause for complaint, according to Captain Frank Achner, with operating costs the best aspect of ownership. He is among those who highlights rust as a negative, and also mentions insufficient hydraulic lines in newer models. His most desirable upgrade would be to the CJ4.

Long delivery times for spare parts, the landing gear and, once again, corrosion are listed as minus points by Jaroslav Malinsky of VR Jet against the CJ1 and CJ3 in the fleet. However, the Slovakian company is otherwise satisfied with the aircraft and appreciates their flexibility.

The CJ2 and CJ3 aircraft in the Atlas Air Service fleet offer a good combination of cost and performance, according to sales director Hans Doll, and the company is satisfied or very satisfied with most other aspects – although better protection against corrosion would be desirable.

Overall, Torben Andersen of Danish headquartered Nilan A/S is content with his CJ3, citing its best aspect as performance and the worst, a lack of thrust reversers and poor anti-skid provision.

Richard Joy of Sleepwell Aviation would like to upgrade to the CJ4, but for now he is satisfied or very satisfied with almost every aspect of the CJ3, except the corrosion. Single crew operation is a definite plus.

Andrew Lee, UK sales director at Unijet UK, says: "We operate a CJ2 and three CJ3 aircraft from our Paris base and have done so since 2003. They were brought in to replace ageing Falcon 10 aircraft that were being retired. They operate around Europe, sometimes venturing as far as North Africa." He adds: "Our passengers like the spacious cabins that the CJ2 and CJ3 offer; we only configure them into six seats and they all have a separate toilet and washroom at the rear of the cabins."

Lee points out that the market remains highly competitive and it is very expensive operating to most European airports. "We also operate into London City airport with the aircraft," he says, adding that Unijet was one of the first operators to fly into LCY with the Falcon 10s back in the early 1990s.

Air Hamburg operates a CJ and two CJ3s throughout Europe and all three are available via Avinode. The company's Mike Ulka says: "The CJ3 flies to similar destinations to our XLS+ with up to six passengers, if they don't mind not having a stand-up cabin or hot catering. People that don't usually use a business jet have been booking the CJ3 for flights to the Ukraine during the football due to its affordable price."

German company MACH Fluggesellschaft mbH operates a CJ1 offering onboard internet, which the company says makes it the only light jet in the world allowing broadband internet access with WLAN. Passengers can use mobile phones, iPads or laptops to connect to the internet, check emails or surf the web. Managing director Karl-Helmuth von Heesen says: "The voice transmission is excellent and with the fast internet connection, the business jet has a unique feature." The CJ1 is based in the Rhine-Main region.

A new addition to MACH's fleet is a CJ2+, that has been in operation since February 2012. "The jet has been in high demand since we added it to the charter programme," says von Heesen.

The number of long-standing, regular customers is increasing and MACH is ready to add more aircraft to its fleet. "The old saying 'time is money' is seeing a revival," explains von Heesen. "More and more business people recognise the added value a private jet offers."

CITATION 550/551

The venerable Citation II/Bravo is best loved in the UK, where no fewer than 27 different, largely private, owners can be found. However, almost 150 model 550s and 17 551SPs in total span the whole continent.

NetJets is by far the largest operator, with 12, but there are half a dozen in the hands of Grafair in Sweden, four each with Aero Vision in France and the government of Saudi Arabia, and several charter fleets featuring two or three of the type. German owners are particularly fond of the single-pilot 551SP model. It was last manufactured in 2006 and is most comparable in size to the current CJ3 model, albeit with shorter range.

North Flying A/S operates a Citation II which Bruno Sørensen reports is satisfactory, offering good short field performance, although it does now look old. New engines would be a desirable upgrade but he says the price is too high.

Daniel Martinez, charter sales manager with Clipper National Air, reports that a Citation S550 has very recently been added to its fleet. He says that charter demand in Spain is not high at the moment, but adds: "Let's see what happens during summer time…"

London Executive Aviation has been operating Cessna Citation II aircraft for the past 15 years and maintains two of the jets in the company's 23-strong diverse charter fleet. As such, managing director George Galanopoulos describes the Citation II as a good, reliable aircraft that still appeals to entry-level owners on a budget.

Galanopoulos says: "With diligent refurbishment, Citation IIs can continue to look good and, while maintenance costs inevitably rise as time passes, intelligent sourcing from our purchasing team means we still maintain the aircraft at an acceptably low cost."

BEECHJET/HAWKER 400

The Hawker 400 first flew in the form of the Mitsubishi Diamond in 1978, coming into Beechcraft ownership in 1985 and rebranding as the Hawker 400XP in 2003. Today the manufacturer has brought the aircraft fully up to date in the form of the 400XPR upgrade.

NetJets has the largest fleet in Europe with about 20 400XPs on the Portuguese register, but its greatest fanbase is in Italy where there are about a dozen owner/operators. The most prolific XP model can be found as far afield as Egypt, Hungary and Lebanon, while Saudi Arabian Airlines has six of them.

Dennis Ronneburg of Bluesky Air Service is very satisfied with the maintenance support, dispatch reliability and operating capabilities of the Beechjet 400A, pointing to its greater speed and larger cabin than those of the CJ series. Ronneburg does not like the lack of pressure refuelling and is looking forward to the 400XPR upgrades: "New Williams 44 engines, Pro Line 21 and the Hawker Beechcraft winglets – all that will increase range to approx. 2,000nm and make that model unique," he says.

Skyline Transportation & Trade Inc has a Hawker 400XP that gets an all-round thumbs up from Yener Erden, who had no negative comments or upgrade suggestions.

The aircraft's latest European customer is Nordic charter and aircraft management company JoinJet, that has recently followed the purchase of a Hawker 4000 with an order for a Hawker 400XPR to expand its charters services. Certification is expected for September 2012.

Hawker Beechcraft offers customised XPR upgrade packages for existing Hawker/Beechjet 400 owners as well as XPR factory completed aircraft for those who do not currently own one.

CITATION 500/501

Some 27 years after the last example left the production line, the Citation I and I/SP continue to ply their trade around Europe and there is just one in the Middle East with the government of Qatar.

Italy accounts for the majority with 13 owner/operators, and for two of the three companies having more than one of the type. Icaro and Unifly have two each, the latter reducing numbers down from the four it had when EBAN last reported in 2009, as does Daedalos Flugbetriebs of Austria. It is quite common for the Swiss and UK examples to be registered in the US or other overseas registries.

Private operator Colin McGill finds the Cessna 500 a reliable aircraft for European operations and is very satisfied with all aspects of operation, although more engine power would not go amiss. He also enjoys the aircraft's simplicity, reliability and load carrying capabilities.

BEECHCRAFT PREMIER

The Beechcraft Premier 1/1A fleet has its greatest footprint in Germany and the UK. Most are single examples of the type or in pairs, although Manhattan Jet Charter and Sirio in Italy each have three.

The type is notably absent from the Middle East countries, but does have operators in Latvia, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.

VR Jet's Jaroslav Malinsky is not happy with the operating capabilities of the Premier 1A, singling out its payload and range as particular negatives. But the big cabin is a bonus and maintenance support, value and dispatch reliability are all satisfactory.

Gama Support Services in Farnborough, UK, has been appointed a Hawker Beechcraft Corporation service centre, to provide maintenance for the King Air business turboprop series, Premier 1/II jets and piston engined aircraft.

Gama's engineers are fully conversant with all HBC products, offering a depth of knowledge gained from more than 30 years of hands-on engineering by the senior management team, assisted by a growing team of skilled engineers. "Gama's success in achieving Hawker Beechcraft service centre status means that we can further enhance the service we offer the HBC customer base," says engineering director Paul Bristow.

CITATION 560

The original Cessna 560 Citation V was also later known as the Ultra and Encore, and can still be found in 16 European countries, although not in the Middle East.

Most popular in Germany and Spain, it is most often operated as a single example of its type or in pairs, although the Spanish police do have three. Norwegian business charter operator Hesnes Air recently added a second Encore to its fleet. Hesnes has operated its first Encore for over four years now, and has been pleased with its performance during that time.

A Cessna 560 Citation V operated by Tiriac Air is, according to the company's Victor Ivan, satisfactory for dispatch reliability, operating capability, maintenance support and value but is not comfortable and would benefit from a datalink upgrade.

LEARJET 35

There may be a modest scattering of Learjet 35A/36A aircraft around Europe, but Germany is where the great majority of the fleet can be found. As was the case when we last reviewed the light jet sector in 2009, GFD in Hohn has the largest fleet of Learjet 35A/36A aircraft, with no fewer than 11 in military target simulation service. The largest commercial roster is the four 35As flown by Air Alliance.

The type is popular for aeromedical services, and is in use by DRF in Germany, European Air Ambulance in Luxembourg, and Saudi Aeromedical Evacuation.

AirMed is the largest UK-based fixed-wing air ambulance company and started operating its first jet, a Learjet 35A, at the end of July 2009. Almost three years on and following the purchase of a second Learjet 35A in April 2010, the company feels it made the right decision. "We chose the Learjet 35A following a comprehensive research programme that included aircraft which were still in the design stage," says director of business development Jane Topliss. "This model of Lear was the only one which did the job that we wanted, while keeping us competitive within the specialist air ambulance market."

AirMed were doing a lot of flights to and from the Canary Islands with their turboprop fleet and nearly every time they lost the job to another operator it was because speed was required. An aircraft that could operate out of Oxford airport, with the capacity to carry an intensive care patient, the appropriate medical equipment and personnel, with the speed and range to get to and from the Canary Islands in one crew duty day was sought. In the light jet range, the Learjet 35A was the only one capable of doing this.

"While these aircraft are no longer manufactured, we were in a position to purchase the newest available aircraft on the market. One of the concerns that we had was the age of the aircraft and being able to build in the cost of renewal, however by being able to purchase these newer models we have given ourselves an advantage over our competitors as we will not have to renew within the next five years, where some other operators are already having to go through that process," Topliss reports.

LEARJET 40/45

The Learjet 45 and its smaller cousin, the model 40, can be found in many countries around Europe (although strangely not in France) but they are undoubtedly most popular in the UK, where there are more than 20 owner/operators.

Abelag in Belgium has three 45s including one XR, DC Aviation flies a mixed fleet of four 40s and 45s, Omni in Portugal has four, Hamlin Jet in the UK has three, and Air Four in Italy has five.

SABRELINER

Geneva's Sonnig Aviation has the only civilian Sabreliner in Europe, while the Swedish Air Force flies two. The now elderly Sabreliner 65 has the cabin size of the Learjet 40/45, but at a third of the price and with far greater range.

One of the few European-based Sabre 65s, operated by Sonnig, showed the model's capabilities in 2010 when it gained the round the world speed record – during the Icelandic ash cloud incident.

The Test Establishment of the Swedish Defence acquired its two Rockwell Sabreliner 40A as flying laboratories. The Sabreliner is often known under the US military designations T-39 and CT-39, but the two Swedish machines were bought in secondhand from civil operators in the USA.

In Sweden, the Sabreliner has the designation TP 86. The first aircraft was bought in 1981 and was flown to Sweden by a Swedish Air Force crew, with the second arriving the following year.

Both aircraft are used as flying platforms for testing various equipment, including target detecting systems for missiles and meteorological investigations. The TP 86 was also used during the test of the Carabas radar system that detects targets underground level using a kind of x-ray technique.

The top ten by numbers

  1. Citation 525 CJ series 386
  2. Citation 550/551 175
  3. Beechjet/Hawker 400 77
  4. Citation 500/501 67
  5. Beechcraft Premier 59
  6. Learjet 45 50
  7. Learjet 35/36 48
  8. Citation 560 42
  9. Falcon 10/100 26
  10. Learjet 40 23

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