February 10, 2012

The Eclipse VLJ

How do small jets compensate for time and cost?Anyone who has flown out from a busy airports knows this - arrival at the airport to board you flight is certainly no joke, then parking or curbside drop-off is another issue. Obviously, if you're lucky, you can check-in quickly (thanks to e-Check-in), if not, this can be longer and even annoying process.TSA clearance is a bit of a hassle,depending on the airports like Reagan National, TSA processes  is definitely not a joke... and then finally boarding, If you're time conscious like me, all of these processes can take at least 75mins.

After that, by the time you're boarded, airplane taxi's, depending on day and time of travel and what airport you're traveling from, it takes another five to 10minutes. In fact, there are scenarios of repeated delays at bigger airports which can last up to 30minutes.Technically, by the time you're actually in the air, you will see that you've spent close to two-hours on the ground. This is from the time of the arrival to the airports to the time of take-off; no wonder that airlines often advice their passengers to arrive "at least" one hour prior to boarding.

It is important to note that if flights will last for at least 2.5hours or more , then such waits, hassles and inconvenience is justifiable due to the cheap tickets; however, I am of the opinion that if it's less than that that, there should be viable alternatives.Like most experts have suggested, a sound viable alternative is the train. Although in this case, we are not discussing about the train , what we're talking about the future of air transportation that's quicker, faster and more efficient ONLY IF it garner more patrons to its service.

The idea with VLJ's that is unlike other small planes within its class, VLJ's use jet engines as opposed to propeller engines. This gives it a greater edge to crusise faster at almost 0.50+ mach speed. Just like airlines that have different DOC, VLJ's have different operating cost. Unfortunately, their cost fluctuate more often due to several factors such as their demand. For instance, the Eclipse 550 according to their economics, will make less viable sense if used on a 250nm distance than if utilized on a 1,000nm journey.

Although I do not concur with this fact. The reason for my objection is because on a short trip, you're more likely to carry more passengers (greater revenue), as opposed to the later where you carry less passengers and more fuel (lesser revenue) ONLY IF the demand is there for the further distance.

The Eclipse 550 estimates that it will cost an approximate of $1.99/nm, therefore in a 200nm distance, that's a $398 cost associated with the flight. This sounds fair enough considering the fact that the Eclipse carries four passengers, however, it's more likely to cost more that 1.99/nm if it's to embark on longer trip, more fuel and less payload including passengers than their opposed $1.76/nm

Working Calculations

The Eclipse claims a
  •  Max speed of 375Ktas (Knot True Airspeed), for every Knot is one Nautical Mile.
  • NBAA IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) Range of 1,125nm with MAX 4occupants (Pilot Included)
  • Maximum Altitude / Ceiling (41,000 ft)
  • Useful load of 2,400lbs 
  • Fuel flow at cruise is 48-59gal/hr (325lbs - 400lbs of fuel/hr )

They estimated on a

600nm mission

Flight Time = 1+48 or 108mins (1hour +48mins)              
Fuel Used = 885lbs (131gallons @ 6.76lbs/gal)
Mission Fuel Cost ($798, based on $6.04/gallon jet fuel)
Cost Per NM = $1.99 (really don't know how they came of this figures)
Specific Range = 0.678 (means for 0.678nm traveled, one lb of fuel is used).
Specific Fuel = 1.474 (means for every 1nm traveled, 1.474lbs of fuel is used).

Now that we have these scenarios, taking a closer look at the viability for both business and personal travelers, is it worth it? Using a specific range sample, a trip from BWI to LGA is 161nm, therefore, it's safe to estimate that 161nm will use (161 x 1.474  = 237.31lbs or 35.10gallons) of fuel used.

Also, it ca also be estimated that since it required 108mins to complete a 600nm trip, therefore it's safe to say that 600nm/108mins = 5.56nm/min or 334nm/hr. In other words, since 1knot = 1nm, I will assume that the true cruise speed is 334ktas. At a max speed of 375Ktas, I conclude that the Eclipse is flying at 88% of the true Airspeed...which is fair to me.In addition, we can conclude that at 334ktas, the overall travel trip of 161nm will be 28.92 or 29mins.

Note that the Eclipse uses 48-59gallon per hr, so I will assume at an average of maximum of 59gph, that's a 0.983gpm fuel rate.Our trip is supposedly to last 29mins, @0.983gpm, the total usage will be 28.52gallons (193lbs of fuel) for the entire trip. Therefore, burning less than 1gpm @ 5.56nm, it's rather safe to say that the Eclipse cost burn by the hour @ $6.10 is $359.77
Thus far we have
  • Using the "Specific Range/Fuel analysis, fuel burn (at cruise) is 35.10, at $6.10/gallon, it's $214.
  • Using the $1.99 scenario, cost is at $1.99 x 161 = $320 (This is likely to include other cost as well)
  • Using exactly fuel flow rate/cruise, it will be 28.52gallons, at $6.10 = $173
 Therefore, burning less than 1gpm @ 5.56nm, it's rather safe to say that the Eclipse cost burn by the hour @ $6.10 is $359.7. Given this scenario, when a VLjet is rented by the hour, for less than a $1,000 for a to NY, given the circumstances, at two or four seats, you know that you're getting a decent deal. If a business executive was to purchase business class tickets and go through airport hassle whereas same deal goes for a VLJ for same or even lesser price, I think they will rather stick with the VLJ option. Although, I must end the note that, unfortunately, VLJ's do not start rent less than a $1,000 although the future is open for more healthy competition.

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