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barit1
20th Oct 2005, 20:52
Microjets new business class?
Pratt & Whitney has sky-high hopes
Aimed at smaller firms, 'taxi' services
By David Bruser, The Toronto Star

Sizing up the Pratt & Whitney 600 series turbofan engine, designed
and tested by hundreds of engineers in Mississauga and Montreal, it's
at first difficult to fathom how it could revolutionize business
travel.

"It's almost as if you can pick up the engine under your arm and walk
away with it," says Dan Breitman, vice-president of the P&W Canada
facility near Highway 401, birthplace of the 600 series.

Only 50 centimetres wide and 127 centimetres long, it's a small
engine for a small plane with big ambition - and also some skeptics.

Dubbed microjets, or very light jets (VLJ), the twin-engine,
six-seaters will start at just over $1 million (U.S.) but offer
commercial jet speed at commercial jet altitudes. That means Toronto to
Montreal in less than an hour in a plane that could weigh as little as
2,540 kilograms.

The price tag would make private jet travel no longer the exclusive
luxury of executives at the wealthiest companies. That rarefied air
would open up to firms with more modest revenues - and perhaps even to
middle management.

Microjet builders - one aviation analyst says more than 10 could try
to enter the market in the next few years - also believe the planes
will appeal to small aircraft owners and operators looking for a
high-powered upgrade.

The microjets could also populate fleets of what proponents are
calling air taxi services, which will use smaller airports such as
Buttonville, and offer travellers the option of bypassing the lengthy
wait times and hassles of big-city airports. Simply call up the taxi
service a day or two in advance and order a time, destination and
plane.

"It's a market that was born because of the aggravation of commercial
travel at big airports," Breitman says. "If you're flying Toronto to
Detroit and they tell you to show up 21/2 hours before your flight,
(you) might as well drive there."

But first, the planes - being designed and built for Cessna, Embraer
SA and Eclipse Aviation - need certification from an aviation authority
like the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. And Transport Canada
must certify the Pratt engine.
Eclipse, based in New Mexico, hopes that by March its $1.3 million
six-seater is approved by the FAA and the Pratt engine that powers it
is certified by Transport Canada.

Eclipse is eager to fill its 2,300 orders already on the books and
continue to tap into what CEO Vern Raburn figures to be a sizeable
demand.

"A good friend of mine used to say you can invent a better mousetrap,
but you're going to have to find people who want to murder mice," says
Raburn, a former Microsoft executive. "We think there's a lot of mice
murderers out there."

About 10,500 companies operated nearly 16,000 aircraft in the U.S. in
2003, according to the Washington-based not-for-profit National
Business Aviation Association. But with a more affordable option, more
than 10 times the number of companies could be in the market for a
plane with operating costs of $300 to $350 per hour. Eclipse notes
there are 125,000 U.S. companies with revenue of $10 million per year.

Analysts don't doubt the appeal.

"People with money do buy toys like this," says Richard Stoneman of
Dundee Securities in Toronto.

Another, Cameron Doerksen of Versant Partners in Montreal, says, "You
can get performance at a pretty low cost. There are a lot of people out
there flying turboprops and for not a whole lot more money, they can go
out there and buy a jet."

Pratt & Whitney hopes they're right. Pratt spends $200 million
(Canadian) on research and development annually in Mississauga and at
any given time has 300 engineers working on the 600 series. Production
is to start next year in Montreal.

"It's the smallest turbofan engine we have ever done and that in
itself creates problems because things don't always scale nicely,"
Breitman says.

And because the microjets will be considerably cheaper than some of
the larger business jets, such as the Bombardier Global Express, the
engine cost must reflect that scale.

"It's got to be a very, very affordable engine," Breitman says. "It
means we had to reduce the parts count. We had to think about it
differently."

That included making a one-piece engine fan. By comparison, the fan
on Pratt's larger 300 series engine used on Gulfstream and Lear jets
comprises more than 20 parts.

But for some industry watchers, there are uncertainties that might
slow the acceptance of the microjet.

How will an influx of these planes affect small airports? What about
noise pollution in neighbourhoods surrounding smaller airports? Will
our skies be safe as recreational weekend pilots accustomed to older
planes and more pedestrian speeds start flying 700-kilometre-an-hour
jets?

"If you take a guy who owns two car dealerships, if he plants one off
these things into a town somewhere in Kansas in the first three months
of the microjets arriving, the industry would be dead on arrival,"
Stoneman says. "Can you imagine the legislative furor? The industry
can't afford to have a screw-up early."

But Raburn is weary of this "standard whine" about safety and wants
to debunk the "mysticism of jet pilots. This is the dirty little secret
in aviation: Jets are the easiest airplanes to fly. They're more
reliable. They're actually simpler to operate."

Part of the purchase price includes a trip to Eclipse's Denver
training facility where a United Airlines crew trains customers.

As for noise concerns, Breitman says the 600 engines are quiet, even
quieter than some of the turboprops they seek to replace.

But Stoneman wonders how seamlessly microjets will fit into our skies
and on our tarmacs.

"We're not going to wake up tomorrow and see 3,000 of these things
buzzing around without various airports having an interest in it. One
of these things landing at Pearson Airport takes up as much (runway)
space as a 747." >

NAV Canada spokesperson Louis Garneau says that while the microjets
will be in the same weight class as many propeller aircraft, the
aviation authority will look at whether it will need to devise a new
fee structure for microjet operators in part to pay for additional
radar control services.

Stoneman also asks: Just how convenient is a microjet for the
executive on the move?

"You can get on a Global Express and it will fly you to Hong Kong"
while the Eclipse has a range of 2,400 kilometres.

The high net-worth CEOs will stick with their bigger, fancier planes,
Doerksen predicts.

"The microjets are probably going to be a little bit too small as far
as doing work. You can't hold meetings on it."

While the microjet builders worry about how to stake their claim,
Pratt stands in a fairly good position as supplier to three serious
contenders, Stoneman says. But, he cautions, cheaper engines mean Pratt
will need high sales volume. "It's going to take an awful lot of these
to move the dial on revenue and earnings."

London, Ont.-based OurPLANE has ordered 20 Eclipse microjets for its
"fractional" ownership business that sells shares of planes to
companies or individual operators. The company manages and maintains
each plane for its owners and could be the first to introduce an
Eclipse to Toronto's airspace.

Though Breitman knows the market will ultimately decide whether Pratt
was right to sink so much into the future of microjets, he's confident
the plane is more than a flight of fancy. It is a product that fills a
gaping hole in customer service, Breitman says, and might spur a
sophisticated network of small airports to accommodate the microjet's
rightful place in aviation.

"When they invented the automobile, there were no service stations.
Now there's self-serve on every corner beside Tim Hortons," he says.

"History tells you, you put it there first, the infrastructure will
follow."

Empty Cruise
20th Oct 2005, 21:46
Aaaand - what mach no. will these things do???

If the answer is less than .7 - :rolleyes: Indeed, the seamlessness of fitting them into the aviation infrastructure will be comparable to fitting SUVs into congestetd city centres.

My question is - should we give up space on airways to fit in aircraft carrying 1 pilot & 2 passengers - if that same space could have been utilised by 2 pilots & 400 passengers? Not saying there is a foregone conclusion either way - but I think it should be debated. If they can operate below FL300 or above FL410, then no problem - but...

Secondly - there is the problem of the GA safety record vs. airline safety record. Despite all the best intentions & all the best training, most people have a very clear perception of how GA works. I think that many CEOs will be led to believe that they can have the flexibility of GA and the speed & safety of airlines. Further, it puts a new type of aircraft into the hands of "owner-operators".

Again - no foregone conclusion, and no intention of being negative. But it should be debated.

Go ahead - make my day, punk! :D

Brgds Empty