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Very Light Jet (VLJ) / Entry Level Jet (ELJ) Operations

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VLJ / ELJ

Description

The terms Very Light Jet (VLJ) or (particularly in the USA) Entry Level Jet (ELJ) are descriptions currently being applied to small jet aircraft which are approved for single-pilot operation. A typical VLJ/ELJ seats less than 10 people and typically has a maximum take-off mass (MTOM) of less than 4,500 kg9,920.802 lbs
4.5 tonnes
. Such aircraft have become popular both for private flying by owner-operators and for air taxi work. VLJs are lighter than those to which the term 'business jet' is commonly applied; a typical example is the Cessna Citation Mustang.

Pilot Workload in VLJ/ELJ Types

The advent of such relatively complex but single-pilot aircraft has prompted research into the workload issues raised and the human factors issues which underlie these. NASA researchers have completed exploratory studies of pilot performance in high workload scenarios set in busy airspace using a level 5 FFS. These studies also sought to examine how automation might aid (or hinder) single-pilot operations in this type of aircraft. The study concluded that “advanced technology in the cockpit does not necessarily eliminate high workload events during a flight” and noted that such events “can tax a (single) pilot’s cognitive resources to the point that errors in navigation and flight control occur”.

These studies have provisionally identified some 'best practices' which may be conducive to operational safety. In no particular order of significance, they included:

Automation:

  • Maximum use of the AP greatly reduces single-pilot workload in busy airspace.

General aircraft operation:

  • Quietly audible “self-talk” may be beneficial when actioning ATC instructions and during self briefing for forthcoming flight phases.

Speed control:

  • When approaching a level off altitude, placing a hand on the thrust levers promotes speed change awareness
  • When selecting FLC mode to climb at a speed well above the speed desired, a smooth transition predictable to ATC could be achieved by selecting VS mode to begin with and then changing to FLC mode once within 10 knots or so of the desired speed.

Altitude:

  • Calling out loud “one to go” or “one thousand” to go has the effect of directing pilot attention to the intended achievement of a level off.
  • After receiving a new altitude clearance, select the new altitude in the FMS panel and begin the climb or descent as quickly as possible before reading back the clearance.
  • Ensuring that the process of selecting a new cleared attitude in the FMS is completed in one continuous action reduces the risk of error.

Workload management:

  • When completing multiple tasks required following a new clearance, workload management favours completing those tasks which can be completed quickly, such as entering a new radio frequency in the standby selector, and then focusing on other more involved tasks such as route or AP mode changes.
  • If more time was needed to correctly program the FMS in response to ATC instructions, requesting radar vectors temporarily, whilst not always desirable from the an ATC standpoint, is an appropriate response.
  • Temporarily reducing airspeed may be an appropriate response if more time is needed to complete a task (although if doing so, if may be appropriate to advise ATC accordingly) .

Positional awareness:

  • Make use of the opportunity to display the aircraft position on maps and approach charts on the MFD.

Flight path control:

  • Select new radar headings whilst still receiving the clearance concerned from ATC.

Contingency planning:

  • Prior to departure, select the frequency of the instrument approach in use at the departure airport into an unused navigation radio to reduce workload should the need for an immediate return arise after takeoff.

Examples of VLJs

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