Magazine article The Spectator

Rich Boys' Toys

Magazine article The Spectator

Rich Boys' Toys

Article excerpt

Ah, the glamour of the private jet. Others may struggle in the misery and chaos that big airports promise nowadays, but here's your own personal captain, welcoming you on board, to whisk you away from a convenient little airfield without fuss. Ah, the expense of the private jet. You can almost see your money burning as the engines turn.

Only those for whom £1 million is a rounding error can seriously contemplate using these rich boys' toys. Well, not for much longer, it seems.

Welcome to the era of the VLJ. You can now buy a tithe of your own Very Light Jet for just £100,000, and if running costs of £800 an hour sound quite steep, it's about the same per mile as a London taxi (and, some might say, rather better value). Lest you worry that at that price the passengers must pedal hard on takeoff, the Eclipse 500 has just won its full certificate of airworthiness from the Federal Aviation Authority in America, and by the time the first model arrives here next year, it will comply with the British rules too.

Oh, and the running costs include two pilots (and two jet engines, for those who worry about such things) to whisk you and your chums at 370 knots to lunch in Nice, or wherever you fancy within a thousand miles of home.

Well, that's what it says on the tin.

Considering that it's half the price of any other jet on the market, it's no surprise to find others trying to knock it out of the sky.

They mutter that it's cramped to the point of claustrophobia, that it won't fly very far if the passengers are fat, and that it's going to be frightfully expensive to maintain. A plane this small and light, they add, will get chucked about something rotten in poor weather and low altitude, so you risk seeing your Nice lunch again.

Better, they say, to spend $3 million and get something more substantial. They may be right, but most of us can still spot the difference between $1.5 million and $3 million, and while we might prefer to travel in a cabin where we can almost stand up, we may not quite have the dosh to go that far.

The Eclipse promises a revolution. The man behind it, Vern Raburn, made a fortune at Microsoft but, like so many before him, was hopelessly in love with big boys' flying toys. Planemaking, he decided, is not much more than a glorified cottage industry, with every manufacturer making everything, or demanding unique specifications from subcontractors. …

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