Corporate India may prefer cheaper Very Light Jets

They're small, sleek, sexy and so-o-o-o much cheaper. Industry experts predict that the Indian market will opt for VLJs rather than corporate jets. Ashwin Tombat reports

If you can afford a Maybach ($885,000, Rs 3.50 crore) to drive around in, surely you can also afford a Very Light Jet (VLJ) to fly around in. This new family of four-to-six seater planes will soon be available starting at just under $1.50 million (Rs6 crore). A VLJ costs less than one-third of a standard corporate jet, which would be very expensive to buy, even for a large corporate house.

They have low operating costs too; a VLJ could fly Mumbai-Delhi for just Rs36,000. In comparison, a single business class or first class seat on a commercial airline could cost as much as Rs14,000. Just as it sometimes works out to as much or cheaper for a family of four to take a taxi rather than a bus, VLJs may make private flying cost effective, compared to its commercial cousin.

What is a VLJ?
Previously known as a microjet, a VLJ is a small jet aircraft approved for single-pilot operation that seats four-to-eight people, with a maximum take-off weight of less than 4,500 kg. They are lighter than what is commonly termed as a business jet.

In the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have encouraged their development, as they foresee wide use of VLJs in point-to-point air taxi services.

They would provide air service to areas ignored by airlines. VLJs not only have lower operating costs than conventional jets, but are able to operate from runways as short as 3,000 feet (900 m). A number of designs are currently in development.

Who makes them?
International companies like US-based Epic Aircraft (in which Vijay 'Kingfisher' Mallya recently picked up a 50 per cent stake), Eclipse Aviation, Embraer, Cessna, HondaJet, Adam Aircraft and Diamond Jet manufacture or are in the process of manufacturing VLJs. And they are all looking at the Indian market.

'On-demand' air taxi services depend on low cost projections and high demand. Their viability has been the subject of much debate among industry experts. Some pundits believes that the VLJ may turn out to be one of the greatest disappointments of the aviation industry, owing to the economic infeasibility of large-scale air-taxi operations.