The Global Need for Very Light Jet (VLJ) Best Training Practices

By Robert Mark on February 25th, 2008


Bob Barnes used to fly T-38s for the Air Force so the guy’s already one of my heroes. Turns out he and I served in the USAF around the same time during another war when we were both kids.

Today, Barnes focuses his love of flying on VLJs and how we’re going to be certain low-time, or low-turbine experience pilots don’t hurt themselves in these new birds … nor hurt anyone else for that matter.

He runs Robert B. Barnes, Aviation Safety and Training Specialists in Phoenix. A driving concern for Bob and other industry experts is that there are no succinct standards VLJ training suppliers must meet for new customers of the Cessna Mustang or the Eclipse 500. While both aircraft fall under the Technically Advanced Aircraft (TAA) label, training is covered right now by essentially no more than the FAA’s Practical Test Standards (PTS). That’s where Barnes comes in.

A recent survey he posted to his VLJ Training Stakeholders discussion group brought 389 responses from people around the globe who also believe the current system of VLJ training needs tweaking. A few of the gray training areas include who is PIC during training, whether or not a mentor must be rated in the aircraft or should or should not be a certified flight instructor. Some also think a mentor should function as no more than a coach while others think an instructor is a necessity.

One of the requirements that quickly caught my attention appeared on the mentor application from Eclipse. The bare minimums to work as a mentor from the right seat of an Eclipse was 5000 PIC time in a turbine aircraft which seems something less than silly for someone who has spent time instructing in jets that were of considerably higher performing than an Eclipse

“Who developed the minimums Eclipse uses to choose a mentor and what was the basis they used for this number?” Barnes asked. “Was this an airline pilot who simply tossed out a number because it sounded good? And how does this help us produce a better pilot?”

Barnes mentioned that the aircraft manufacturers are taking somewhat of a back seat role in the discussion group although the discussions he’s leading at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London next month and at the upcoming World Aviation Training conference in April should be of supreme interest to all. He says, “no one is really talking much about how they are training their new VLJ pilots,” he added. “But training in a VLJ is a safety issue. It should not be a competitive marketing focus.”

If you have an interest in helping to develop the new best practices for VLJ training, stick around. Barnes has a next-generation VLJ training survey do out soon. We’ll be posting the link here at Jetwhine.


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9 Responses to “The Global Need for Very Light Jet (VLJ) Best Training Practices”

  1. Mark T. Says:

    What hasn’t been widely discussed IMO, is how all of these slow jets are going to fit into the National Airspace System.

    What is the projections on IFR vs. VFR flying?

    Are operators even aware that if they’re flying East of the Mississippi, there’s a good chance they won’t be above FL230? (my opinion).

    You can’t mix a Mustang going Mach .62, with an MD-80 going .78, and not expect to have problems. And, since it’s capable of flying at FL410, it REALLY won’t be kosher with 757/767 traffic!

    If the VLJ’s saturate the skies like the FAA is predicting, they’d better come up with a new way of handling them, or the VLJ drivers better be real good at flying off-set routes.

    Just my .05

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    I think teaching these pilots how to integrate their airplanes into the national airspace system SHOULD be a part of the VLJ training discussion.

    My guess is that many of these pilots, new to the high-altitude spectrum, might simply think they have as much right to the airspace as everyone else. Sounds silly I think.

    Down low, if I’m zipping along in a Bonanza at 150 kts., ATC won’t toss and MD-80 behind me at 10,000 feet. They make one of us move.

    So I think you’re right that ATC is pretty much going to foot the bill to make this all work. The question is whether they have the time with everything else they need to do right now.

  3. Ron Says:

    I don’t think integrating the VLJs into the airspace will be as difficult as some postulate.

    For one thing, we won’t see 2000 of them entering the airspace system all at once. They’re going to enter the fleet rather slowly. Also, they will tend to make shorter flights than the big airliners, meaning they’ll fit into those lower flight level altitudes just fine.

    But the main reason I don’t think they’ll be a problem is because the enroute structure isn’t the bottleneck, it’s the runways. And the whole theory behind the VLJ advantage says that they end up going to the small satellite airports, not the big hubs.

    With the economy where it is, I think the forecasts for VLJs are a bit optomistic anyway.

    Not being a high-altitude jet guy, I was curious about the statement “they might simply think they have as much right to the airspace as everyone else”. Don’t they?

    I’m not saying ATC won’t have a tough time in the years to come, but from where I sit they were going to have it rough whether the VLJs came along or not. There are a lot of problems facing controllers which have nothing to do with light jets.

  4. Bob Barnes Says:

    Both of you make valid points about VLJ airspace concerns. In fact, our recent survey of VLJ Training Stakeholder Perceptions (1 Feb 08) generated 38 specific concerns relating just to airspace utilization.

    Unfortunately, when something in aviation can’t be solved either for technical or political reasons, our fall-back generally tends to be “handle it with training.” Although training for operation in the NAS is essential, it does not provide the complete solution.

    This is an important issue and the time to encourage problem solving is now rather than in a few years when the issue could very well become intolerable if the VLJ marketing people are correct in their projections.

    My suggestion is to get involved and voice your concerns. If they aren’t being heard, find a way to make them heard.

    For example, the Royal Aeronautical Society is sponsoring a conference next month in London about “Introducing Very Light Jets Into Europe.” Alex Hendriks, Deputy Director ATM Strategies at Eurocontrol, will be speaking on “The VLJ Impact on Air Traffic Management.” A few weeks later at an IIR Conference in Munich, Joe Sultana, Programme Manager for Eurocontrol, will be speaking on “VLJ operations in the European airspace network—an ATM perspective. Obviously, there is high level European interest regarding this subject.

    Perhaps readers know of other public discussions that may be going on about this important subject. Can we hear from you?

  5. Jeff martin Says:

    Mr. Marks, ATC can fit these VLJs into the high altitude sectors. It will be a pain but so are the slower Citations and Comair has been flying at .62 for a while [although they will speed up on request]. As long as they are not going to airports that are already over capacity and don’t mind getting forced down early and routed around the major arrival corridors we can find the room in the skies. Room on the concrete is another matter completely.

    Jeff Martin

  6. Rob Mark Says:

    The concrete issue is a good point. And that ability to use other airports is the primary focus for the VLJ movement.

    And going back to look at my earlier post, I guess that comment about who gets what airspace does look a little silly if you read it as is.

    What I was trying to say was that some less-experienced pilots might not have a complete understanding of how they need to fit into the traffic flow.

    If ATC says sure you can have FL330 but we need to take someone off the airway to make this work because everyone else at FL330 is doing 460 kts and you’re at 370, some folks may not understand that.

    And as to Bob’s comments, I agree about talking to people about our concerns. In a small way, that’s what we’re trying to do here at Jetwhine.

    I’d encourage people to pass on this post to others for their input.

    And when Bob gives me the link to the new survey, I’ll be able to add in the link to the preliminary results from the first survey as well.

  7. Mark T. Says:

    “I don’t think integrating the VLJs into the airspace will be as difficult as some postulate.”

    Perhaps you’re right, only time will tell…

    I’ve been an enroute controller for 19 years, in heavily congested airspace. Our sectors are small. Our requirements to provide intrail spacing to 5-10 airports simultaneously; our requirements (read Letters of Agreements) with other ATC facilities on routings, altitudes, etc – have a huge impact on workload.

    The bulk of this traffic is between FL290-FL370. Even if I could get you up above it, at some point, you gotta come down. And with all of the above mentioned obstacles, getting you down through a Beltway of traffic, isn’t always easy. For instance, if you takeoff from FL and land at a IAD satellite, current procedures dictate that you will be either intrail, or underneath IAD traffic. So if you do make it up to FL390, today anyway, you can expect a hefty crossing restriction to get you down around FL 250 somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-200 miles from IAD.

    My concern about that is mainly fuel: if these VLJ’s are remotely anything like a lot of these RJ’s (eg.), then fuel is a huge consideration. If I have to start you down 200 miles out, from FL390, will you have enough fuel???

    We will make it work; we always do. But the other poster is right: ask about this stuff now, not in 5 years.

  8. VLJ Training Means Thinking Differently; Survey 2 Says:

    […] Bob Barnes  is already looking at VLJ training from a different perspective, one way he hopes to prevent a rash of human-caused accidents once aircraft deliveries surge to low-time pilots as I mentioned a few weeks back, […]

  9. VLJ Training Means Thinking Differently; Survey 2 - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinon Says:

    […] Bob Barnes  is already looking at VLJ training from a different perspective, one way he hopes to prevent a rash of human-caused accidents once aircraft deliveries surge to low-time pilots as I mentioned a few weeks back, […]

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