Turkey is a country market that leading operators believe is exceptionally suited to the VLJ. Redstar Aviation's ceo Mustafa Sevki Atac says: "There is a substantial group of investors in Turkey who are looking heavily into VLJs. This is obviously a very interesting business issue now and in the future."
He adds: "RSA is most interested and will participate either alone or in partnership. The VLJ generated the most interest at the Istanbul air show which is a significant proof of its potential."
Atac points out that there are well established operators of larger jets and feels they have good growth potential now and in the future. But he adds: "There is a substantial potential for the VLJ as well. It is rather like comparing the 'limousine' and the 'cab'! Many of us need both at various times and they have different markets too."
He says: "I would like to stress that there is a complementary fit rather than a competitiveness issue between the business jet and VLJ." It is a view shared by AdoAir. Mutlu Inal, pilot and quality manager, says: "We are planning to operate a VLJ and have made a downpayment on the Citation Mustang."
AdoAir, a subsidiary of one of the biggest companies in Turkey, is operating a Hawker 800XP. He says: "It is a reality that a very high percentage of our cost comes from fuel, but we must focus on the optimum point between the fuel and passenger numbers. Most of our long range customers prefer to have a flight catering for between four and seven passengers. But for the demand from smaller passenger groups our aircraft seems inconvenient. We hope the two different categories of aircraft will fill complementary gaps in the market."
AdoAir, which was founded in 2005, currently focuses on providing a long range service. Inal says: "We chose the Hawker 800XP because it has long range capabilities and one of the largest cabins in the midsize jet category. Its combination of speed, comfort and cabin size make it one of the most popular business jets around. The vip configuration typically seats eight passengers."
Capt. Oezkan Aslan, gm, says: "Our future plan is to expand our services in the commercial aviation market backed by rising quality and training standards where all our crews are trained in accordance with EASA regulations."
The sister companies of AdoAir, launched in 2005, include Adopen Plastik, Adocim Cimento, Adoport Tourism Industries & Trade and Adomining. Its pilots also include Capt. Adnan Bosnali and Capt. Erkan Menekse. There is no doubt that the larger business jets are in great demand in Russia and the Middle East (Middle East focus EBAN June) but operators in the region, including Prestige Jet which is acquiring two Grob spn, believe that the VLJ has a future.
Faris Deeb, md, says: "Prestige Jet plans to cover all aircraft size categories so we can offer wider options and flexibility on charter rates. The spn has the additional attraction that it will offer an outstanding operational performance including landing on restricted runways and offering a short take-off distance. It also has a lavatory, six passenger seats and finally, a VLJ fuel consumption and size, with the midsize jet range of approximately 1,800 n.m."
He does not believe that there is mileage in comparing the cost of a business class ticket with the charter of a VLJ. "However the private jet, such as the Grob in our case, will certainly offer more flexibility and more privacy. The short same day operations on flights less than an hour should be cheaper, but with the scenario of two hours or more, the cost of chartering a VLJ will always be higher, But each category has its own customers and we are certain that we will be able to build a customer base."
Prestige Jet has launched a Russian version of its website. The company projects that 25 per cent of its business could come from the Russian market in the next 12 months
GlobeAir, based in Linz, Austria, has been taking delivery of aircraft since April as it aims to become the biggest European mainland VLJ Mustang operator. It also plans to add several Grob spn next year and launch base Linz is being followed into service by others at Altenrhein and Graz.
GlobeAir promises that between Linz and Parma, it will turn a five-hour-15-minute, door-to-door commercial trip into a two-hour-and-15-minute trip, with the added convenience of choosing when to depart and return, with efficient security procedures.
The website offers a calculation tool, called Radar, to enable prospective clients to gauge the time and costs of their itineraries and locate the closest airport to their intended destination. "Clients can conveniently select and book flights from a list of home bases in central Europe to any destination airport on the continent," according to md Bernhard Fragner. "Our recently published 'MyBooking' system on our website supplies clients with powerful tools like MyFlights, MyPassengers, MyAccount. We are absolutely convinced that the new entry customer on VLJs is expecting to have such tools available for use. In the near future we want to develop a complete software suite dealing from web-booking direct to dispatching and flight planning in real time."
He adds: "Most people are new clients, now discovering the opportunities on such tools. Some are upgrading from turboprop and a few are downgrading from a light jet or a medium jet."
GlobeAir currently has three Mustangs in operation and is opening a base in Florence in close cooperation with the FBO Delta AeroTaxi. "By the end of 2009 we want to have ten Mustangs in operation. We fully concentrate on a homogenous fleet and want to expand our business in Austria, eastern Switzerland and the northern part of Italy," says Fragner.
The company targeted travellers with a €50,000 travel budget offering a five per cent bonus on flights and others with a €100,000 travel budget offering a seven per cent bonus. "We had a very good response to our offer, now closed, to help establish a launch base of customers," Fragner reports. "Our passengers are the typical on-demand charter clients but there are also the frequent users of air taxi services and fractional owners, as well as the owner-operators."
GlobeAir is providing an experienced two-pilot operation as it focuses on business charter and weekend leisure demand within Europe on the basis of up to four passengers. "We are expecting 600 flights a year per aircraft," says Fragner. Globe hires pilots based locally in Austria and its priority is commanders.
Blink, which says its order for 45 Mustangs is one of the biggest Mustang fleet orders in the world, is targeting both the traveller dissatisfied with business class and existing private jet users prepared to sacrifice comfort. Peter Leiman, md and co-founder, says: "There are people who are tired of the hassle and inconvenience of commercial travel (inefficient scheduling, sub-par airport experience) and who cannot afford the larger private jet charter but who are willing to pay the premium to travel on Blink. Equally, there are those who are flying around in private jets that are oversized for their needs - the average load factor for private jets in Europe is 2.3. The Mustang is the right jet and Blink is able to show a considerable cost saving over existing private jet travel."
Blink, whose flights are operated by TAG Aviation (U.K.) from London Farnborough, says its flights are attractive to business class travellers bearing in mind their point-to-point advantages and can be around half the price charged by some operators in the larger private jet market.
Blink, which has raised U.S.$30 million in equity funding, says that many of its clients are "trading up" from business class. Cameron Ogden, co md and founder says: "A big attraction, of course, is that we fly to secondary cities and other locations not currently serviced by scheduled airlines. But what's been exciting for Blink is that our customers are both existing private jet users who have identified the value proposition and those willing to move up from business class commercial travel."
VLJ operators may be attracting worthwhile business but there are warnings that the focus must be on service as well as price.
George Galanopoulos, managing director of VLJ fleet operator London Executive Aviation (LEA) says: "At this stage, we are offering the Mustang on the conventional charter model, but at a price that is up to 30 per cent lower than most light to midsize jets. Although some companies may well prove that you can operate new VLJ business models, with higher utilisation and even lower prices, you need an awful lot of aircraft to attempt that. Until many more roll off the production line, we will have to wait to see."
He adds: "In the meantime, this industry has witnessed countless operators go out of business because of unrealistic pricing. Although customers like a good price, they also expect reliable and professional service across the board, which requires that you can invest on an ongoing basis. We therefore think that using the Mustang to better segment the traditional charter offering is a very good way to proceed."
LEA has five Mustangs in service with another five scheduled to join its fleet by early 2009 and boasts it has the most Mustangs already in service. "We have been very pleased with the market's response to the Mustang. When you introduce a completely new aircraft type, you usually expect the initial months to be quieter, as people become familiar with the model," says Galanopoulos. "However, the Mustangs have all got off to a strong start. Our first one achieved over 150 revenue generating hours in its first two months. We believe this shows that the core message about VLJs is getting through - these aircraft are ideal for Europe, doing virtually everything a larger jet can do, but at a much lower price."
Western Aviation has ordered an Eclipse 500 for delivery in the second quarter of 2009. The VLJ is a bright concept but the concept is still new to the Middle East market and it will take time for the aircraft to be established in numbers, according to Imran Ahmed, marketing executive.
Dr. Hans Hunziker, director of JetBird, which plans to acquire a mix of 100 Embraer Phenom 100 and 300 says the business plan is to fly from regional airport to regional airport. "Our operation will be closer to the passenger and bring him closer to his actual destination. Additionally, we will aim for current business jet users who are looking for better price/value and higher efficiency."
Hunziker says higher fuel prices are good for operators with efficient aircraft and low specific fuel consumption. "They make life more difficult for competitors with old aircraft," he points out.
Cyrus Sigari, president of JetAviva, says the company has chalked up well over 100 VLJ sales and acquisition transactions and scores of technical acceptances, and provides training services. "We have seen a tremendous amount of demand and interest on the VLJ front from the European markets," he confirms.
But, if optimists and analysts do have a concern, it lies in the unfavourable economic cycle. Cian Dooley, chief commercial officer of Genesis Lease, says that the advent of VLJs is exciting. "The concept of bringing new clients into private aviation seems sound. Small groups of three or four executives carrying out regional business schedules have to be very interested in what VLJs have to offer. VLJs do, of course, have an advantage in times of high fuel prices. I hope the time is right for the concept, given the economic challenges that lie ahead."
Operators of VLJs, especially those investing in large fleets and economies of scale, are confident that business travellers disillusioned with scheduled services, will choose point-to-point convenience.