by francine Hardaway on March 9, 2004


I fly a lot. Of course I no longer enjoy it, because I have to disrobe and take my shoes off to go through security, arrive at the airport two hours early and wait around or stand in an eternal line, and sit squished up against the obese person next to me in an uncomfortable airline seat. All the elegance once associated with air travel evaporated when Southwest Airlines was founded, and all the convenience disappeared on 9/11. Now you don�t even get to criticize airline food anymore; it has also vanished. Pack a lunch if you�re going to Hong Kong. I am going to India on March 19; I wonder how many legs of the trip will be food-free.

But people are innovative, and they will always find solutions to problems. About five years ago, two friends of mine from the early days of the Arizona Software Association, Vern Raburn and Dottie Hall, cashed it in and decided to follow their bliss by developing �personal� jets that could be bought relatively inexpensively. We thought they were crazy, but since they were early Microsoft employees, they had earned the right to their little experiment.
It turns out they weren�t crazy at all, but merely ahead of their times. Their company, Eclipse Aviation, is creating a luxurious six-place, twin-turbofan aircraft that costs less than most used turboprops. It is more economical to own and operate than most of today�s single engine pistons and all multi-engine pistons and turboprops. For those who don�t want to pilot themselves, aircraft charter and air taxi services with professional pilots, will be competitive with a full-fare airline ticket. You can probably even design your own menu. And you will not have to go through security.
Here�s the technical stuff: The Eclipse 500 cruises at a brisk 375 kts and has a generous 1,280 nautical mile range with 4 occupants, NBAA IFR reserve (1,395 nm with 45-minute IFR reserve). A 41,000-foot ceiling avoids most severe weather and the 67-knot stall speed makes safe landings easier. Excellent performance at high altitudes and hot temperatures builds in an extra margin of safety.
The last time I saw Dottie speak, she said there was a two-year waiting list for these jets, and they hadn�t even come off the assembly line yet.

Why is this important to you and me, even though we may never own an Eclipse Aviation product?

Because the airlines have also figured out that small can be beautiful. The only profitable airlines are the small, regional ones. The old wide body planes are vanishing, to be replaced by smaller commuter jets that fly at the same altitudes. Two of these smaller planes replace one big jet.

While this is good for the airlines, and not bad for us either (they board and disembark quickly and are usually cheaper to buy a ticket on), it creates a problem for air traffic control. Never mind personal jets that can fly at 41,000 feet, these regional jets now fly at the same altitudes the old wide bodies occupied.

So no one is flying at 20,000 feet anymore, where the old turboprops did. This will create quite a traffic problem in the sky at peak travel season. The people in the know already have figured out that one problem (the inconvenience of flying) may have been replaced by another (the decreased safety of flying) as the airlanes become more and more crowded.

Are you old enough to remember �Fly the friendly skies of United?� Well, the skies aren�t going to be so friendly now that each large United plane has been replaced by two smaller TEDs. Pilots have had a quiet confraternity since the inception of the aviation industry, but that might soon be replaced by a form of road rage as everyone struggles to make all these new planes reach their destinations on time. I suspect that for the passengers, things will get worse before they get better, and we can expect big delays as the entire airline industry undergoes a paradigm shift away from the railroad paradigm �herd everyone into the same car and make them all travel at the same time for economies of scale �and arrives at the single occupant automobile paradigm (make it convenient for the individual at the expense of natural resources, other people, the environment, and safety).

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: