Entrepreneurs Set Their Sights on Flight

After an ambitious entrepreneur strikes it rich in the computer industry, starting yet another software company or dot-com may not be exciting enough.

For some industry veterans, the future is in the skies.

Esther Dyson, longtime host of the PC Forum conference, responded to this trend with a new event focusing on progress in the aerospace business.

Her inaugural Flight School conference was held March 22 and 23 in Scottsdale, Ariz., with a day split between aviation and spaceflight sessions.

In the morning session on the emerging market for air-taxi service—a blend of business aviation, charter flights and commercial service—entrepreneurs talked with representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA.

This market is being built around a new class of aircraft, the VLJ (Very Light Jet).

VLJs typically weigh less than 10,000 pounds at takeoff, carry up to eight passengers, and are designed to be flown by a single pilot.

They cost from less than $1 million to about $2.5 million—well below the price of most corporate jets today.

New VLJs are being designed by companies such as Adam Aircraft, Diamond Aircraft and Eclipse Aviation.

Eclipse was founded by former Microsoft and Symantec executive Vern Raburn; its investors include Bill Gates.

The Eclipse 500 Jet, now undergoing FAA certification testing, is a six-place twin-jet aircraft that weighs less than 5,700 pounds fully loaded, half a ton lighter than a Cadillac Escalade.

The 500 is powered by Pratt & Whitney’s new PW610F, one of several new small jet engines designed for VLJs.

Next Page: The consequences of the computer revolution.

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