Why own your own aircraft? Well, if you subscribe to the old adage that time is money, then Europe’s antiquated transportation system is probably costing you a small fortune. Let’s face it, surface transport in Europe is becoming ever more impractical. The roads are reaching gridlock while the rail network is suffering from years of under-investment; so will the solution be found in the sky?

Well, if it is, it clearly won’t be found with the airlines. A recent study revealed that, due primarily to inefficiencies within the ATC system (although, incredibly, many modern jetliners are actually slower than their immediate predecessors) the average flight time for London-Paris is actually greater than it was in the 1960s.

NASA and the US FAA are actively investing in a number of new technologies that will (hopefully) make small personal aircraft a viable proposition for safe, reliable all-weather transport. Time apart, owning your own aircraft also offers greatly increased security and flexibility. Not only will you be able to fly when you want to fly, but you can also fly where you want to fly. The airlines hub and spoke system is nothing less than risible, and as pointed out earlier that it actually takes longer to travel around Europe than it did 30 years ago.

So, what to own? Well, most light fixed wing aircraft (well be looking at helicopters in another issue) can essentially be sub-divided into three distinct categories, based on their engine type. Irrespective of whether they are single or multi-engined, these three categories are piston, turboprop and jet engines.

One of the most modern piston-powered aircraft I’ve flown over the last few years is the Cirrus SR22. This ultra-modern four seater is powered by a 310hp air-cooled Continental engine, and can carry four adults and their baggage over a respectable range and reasonably high speeds. This aircraft is unique in that it has a Ballistic Recovery System (BRS) as standard. Should a real in-flight emergency develop, the pilot can pull a T-shaped handle set into the roof. This fires a rocket that deploys a parachute, lowering the aircraft to the ground. The Cirrus is also fitted with an all-glass cockpit that wouldn’t look out of place in an Airbus.

Probably the most impressive turboprop I’ve flown lately is the TBM-700. This French built aircraft is powered by a 700hp Pratt & Whitney PT6 engine, and is a truly remarkable aircraft. This is not only because it is an extraordinarily capable aircraft, but that you dont have to be a professional pilot to make full use of its extraordinary capabilities. Bearing in mind that this aircraft can carry six people while cruising at Mach 0.5 and is certified to 31,000 ft, yet comes over the fence at 85 knots. That really is a triumph of very clever design. The TBM-700 essentially created the high performance single engine turboprop class, a class that it continues to dominate more than 15 years after it first flew.

In the jet market there is a surprisingly wide range of aircraft, either flying or approaching certification. In fact, an entirely new class of Very Light Jets (VLJ) have recently appeared, all of which are aimed at the owner/pilot. These include the Cessna Mustang, Adam A-700, Beechjet Premier, Diamond D-Jet and Eclipse 500, and the interesting thing about all these aircraft is that they’re all designed to be flown single pilot.

However, the most interesting light jet has to be ATG Javelin, which I was lucky enough to experience in the simulator last year. This has the potential to be the personal aircraft and not only for fun flying. Of course, the real aircraft will have an all-weather capability, although the combination of pressurisation and its prodigious climb rate means that all but the very worst weather can be surmounted in a matter of a minute or two. Once at its optimum cruising altitude of around 40,000ft, a Mach number of 0.92 (around 530kts TAS) means that the per mile costs actually make very good economic sense. Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that this machine is within the ability of everyone, but if the simulator really is a reasonable representation of how the real aircraft will fly, then clearly it will be well within the capability of quite a few.