New Light Jet Could Save Air Force Money

By Valerie Insinna
A commercial aircraft company is pitching its light jet to the Air Force to replace the service’s T-1A used to train tanker pilots.

Leasing the Eclipse 550 would cost about one-quarter of the legacy trainer’s cost per flying hour, said Mike Press, co-founder and executive vice president of Eclipse Aerospace. That price includes fuel and maintenance.

Press estimates the service would save $12 billion by leasing the aircraft over a 20-year period. The Air Force could also buy new aircraft at less than $3 million each, he said.

The Eclipse 550 is a six-seat, twin-engine business jet that weighs 3,634 pounds empty. It has a range of about 1,125 nautical miles and a maximum speed of 375 knots, according to company information.

Part of the reason the jet is so economical is because of its fuel efficiency, Press said. The T-1A burns 225 gallons an hour during a training mission, while the Eclipse would burn only about 70 gallons per hour.

“Let’s say the current Air Force program flies 80,000 hours a year, just the fuel alone will save 12 million gallons of fuel a year,” Press said. “Over the 20-year lifecycle of this airplane and the current airplane, you’re going to save 250 million gallons and over $1 billion just in fuel costs.”

The Air Force doesn’t plan on replacing the 20-year-old T-1A fleet until at least the 2030s, when the airframes start to wear out. However, the service must modernize its avionics suite by 2020 to meet the Federal Aviation Administration’s NextGen standards, which mandate new equipment for aircraft, Press said. Those upgrades will cost about $300 million.

Eclipse Aerospace pitched its jet to some of the service’s top brass, including Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, during the Air Force Association’s Air and Space conference in September.

The company has manufactured 300 jets since production started in 2006, Press said. Most of those planes have been sold to businesses and individuals as private jets.

Topics: Business Trends, Doing Business with the Government

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