I flew on a $2 million 'personal' private jet that needs only one pilot and saw why it could be among the most in-demand jets for post-pandemic travel

tpallini@businessinsider.com (Thomas Pallini)
Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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  • The Cirrus Vision Jet is one of the newest personal private jets on the market, requiring only one pilot to fly with maximum seating for seven.
  • The $2 million entry-level aircraft allows private pilots to fly farther and faster in a jet with minimal additional ratings required.
  • Both the manufacturer and an operator of the Vision Jet say it's the perfect alternative to commercial travel because of its low operating costs, ease of use, and versatility.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Most perceptions of private aviation revolve around chartering an expensive plane flown by a two-person flight crew and spending thousands of dollars an hour. But a growing market in aviation is for personal private jets, planes that are small and simple enough to be flown by one person and are cheaper to operate than larger jets.

One of the newest personal private jets on the market is the Cirrus Vision Jet, debuting in 2016. At 30.7 feet long and 5.1 feet wide, according to Cirrus, it boasts being one of the world's smallest private jets and one of the cheapest.

The base model of a first-generation Vision Jet costs just under $2 million with direct operating costs under $1,000 an hour, including fuel and maintenance costs, according to Nassau Flyers, which operates a Vision Jet on Long Island, New York.

The single-engine entry-level aircraft is a jack-of-all-trades. The aerial equivalent of a luxury SUV, it's ideal for loading up the family and flying down to Florida for the weekend, while for a road warrior it can be used to reach multiple remote destinations in a single day and be home before the end of the business day.  

I went for a ride in and saw why it's the perfect plane for the post-pandemic world.  

Nassau Flyers, a high-end flight school at Long Island's Republic Airport, operates a Cirrus Vision Jet for a local businessman.

Nassau Flyers flight school in Farmingdale, New York.

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It's the flagship of the flight school, which prides itself on an all-Cirrus fleet on training aircraft for its clients as a Cirrus Training Center. Cirrus' propeller aircraft are widely considered to be among Cadillacs of piston aircraft for their speed, comfort, and safety.

Nassau Flyers flight school in Farmingdale.

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Source: Nassau Flyers

The tiny jet just barely stands out amid the school's fleet of Cirrus aircraft, and that's part of its appeal. The Vision Jet doesn't require a large hangar to be stored in and can easily fit in the individual hangars used by Cessnas, Pipers, and other small aircraft.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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Cirrus built the Vision Jet as the next step up for flyers of its piston aircraft. There are numerous similarities between the two types, including the cockpit configuration and the aircraft's wings.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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Most pilots at Nassau Flyers who set their sights on the Vision Jet often start off on the Cirrus training aircraft before making their way to the jet. The owner of this one uses it for business, visiting multiple remote cities in a single day.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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The Vision Jet is unique since it's a single-engine aircraft. Most jet aircraft have two engines, one on each side, but the Vision Jet only has one engine, on top of the fuselage, which lowers operating and maintenance costs.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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Our pilot for the day, Sean, normally files the jet by himself, as the owner is still in training.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The owner previously used an SR-20 series aircraft to fly around the region for business but was able to expand his business up and down the Eastern Seaboard and beyond once he acquired the Vision Jet.

A Cirrus Vision Jet and a Cirrus SR-20.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

In addition to the pilot, the jet seats three people in this configuration, with two passenger seats in the back and one in the cockpit next to the pilot. Three more seats can be added in the back, bringing the total to six (not including the pilot).

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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With only two seats in the back, there's plenty of legroom and room for luggage, golf clubs, or a pair of skies to fit in the cabin. This is with the copilot's seat all the way back.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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There's even enough room for a makeshift bed on longer trips.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The cabin is 4.1 feet tall so there's not much room to stand up but the curvature of the fuselage makes the cabin feel larger when sitting as a passenger.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Source: Cirrus

An exterior-accessible storage compartment can also be found in the back of the aircraft.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

A carry-on bag can fit back here or a few smaller bags.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Powering the aircraft is a Williams International FJ33-5A engine, offering 1,846 pounds of thrust. It's not a lot compared to an airliner but will get the jet to a top speed of around 300 knots with a range of about 800 miles.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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Unlike traditional two-engine jet aircraft, pilots flying the vision jet need only a private pilot's license and an add-on instrument rating. To fly a twin-engine aircraft, a multi-engine rating would be required.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Once pilots earn their private pilot license and instrument add-on rating, training on the jet is quick and can be done at one of Cirrus' facilities, where it's about a two-and-a-half-week process to get a type rating. Some choose to build more hours in the piston before moving to the Vision Jet.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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And like all Cirrus aircraft, the Vision Jet is equipped with a parachute to be deployed in case of an engine failure or other extreme circumstances where the aircraft cannot land safely. The chute is in the nose and totals the plane when deployed.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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Newer models also offer a "Safe Return" add-on wherein the autopilot will land the plane if the pilot is unable.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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I hoped in the copilot seat for the short hop north since the best views are from the front. There are two seats in the cockpit, but the plane needs only one pilot, so anybody can sit up there.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Our initial flight plan was to go from Long Island to Martha's Vineyard, but shortly before the flight our pilot noticed that there was bad weather and we changed our destination to Glens Falls, New York, near Lake George, at the last minute.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The speed at which we were able to change our entire plan for the day without delay was a testament to how versatile the aircraft is. With the possibility of a second wave to this pandemic, some states may go back into lockdown and travel plans may need to change at a moment's notice.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Sean would be doing all the work this flight including flying and talking to air-traffic control. The plane is designed with this kind of flying in mind, evident in the fact that starting the engine on this $2 million plane is as easy as starting a car, with just the press of a button.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Nearly everything in the cockpit is controlled by touchscreen, and all checklists, charts, and airplane systems can be displayed on the two high-definition screens. There's also a full autopilot system with everything except auto-throttle, which is available on newer Vision Jets.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Unlike commercial airliners, the overhead is rarely used on the Vision Jet.

Inside a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The jet is flown using a side stick, a popular Cirrus feature. Buttons on the stick can disengage the autopilot, control the trim, and activate the radio when it's time to talk to air-traffic control.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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It took less than five minutes from hoping in the plane to taxing out to the runway.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

It was a rainy day on Long Island, so we filed an instrument flight plan to head north. The Vision Jet doesn't have windshield wipers but any rain quickly flew off as we accelerated forward.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Take-off speed was 100 knots, and then we climbed at a rate of 1,500 feet per minute. It wasn't before long that we were above the clouds on our way to 19,000.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The flight time to Glens Falls was only 45 minutes. By car it would take four hours.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The display screens showed our elapsed flying time, estimated time to the destination, and how much fuel we were burning per hour. For this flight, it was 90 gallons an hour with the Vision Jet holding just under 300 gallons.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As the Vision Jet climbed into the upper altitudes, we encountered some icing on the wings but the aircraft's boot system quickly got rid of it.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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The skies were empty for our flight, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, so we were given clearance to head straight to Glens Falls. After 20 minutes in cruise, it was already time to descend.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

There's Lake George just off of the wing.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Glens Falls doesn't see commercial service, so the only option for a business traveler heading there would be to drive or take an Amtrak train. The closest commercial airports were an hour away in Albany, New York, or Rutland, Vermont.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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Commercial airports account for only a fraction of the total number of public airports in the US. According to Don Vogel, the owner of Nassau Flyers, there are about 500 commercial airports compared to 5,000 public-use airports, and all the Vision Jet needs is jet fuel and a few thousand feet of runway.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The low speeds that the Vision Jet is capable of meant we could make a close-in approach, about two miles from the runway. Whenever Sean turned the plane, a blue curved line would show the new direction of flight.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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And just like that, 45 minutes after we left Long Island we were a world away. Case in point, Upstate New York had begun opening weeks prior while Long Island was only a week into the first phase.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Another perk of flying private is getting to use the private terminals, which are normally empty and don't require going through security checkpoints.

The private terminal at Glens Falls Regional Airport.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I sat in the back for the next flight, a quick 25-minute hop to Worcester, Massachusetts. Flying commercial between these two cities is impossible.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The seats are narrow but comfortable leather nonetheless. There were all the creature comforts including USB charging ports.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

110v AC power outlets.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Personal reading lights and air-conditioning.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

There was even a drop-down monitor that a laptop could be connected to, or even loaded up with Netflix.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

WiFi wasn't installed on this plane but newer models can have it. SiriusXM Satellite Radio is also a popular add-on.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

We quickly departed Glens Falls for Worcester without delay or need to refuel. The three-hour car journey between the two cities was reduced to 25 minutes of flying at 15,000 feet.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Though there was no flight attendant to serve snacks, there was plenty of legroom on the flight and the cabin is automatically pressurized. At the aircraft's top altitude of 28,000 feet, the cabin altitude is 8,000 feet.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

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The windows on the Vision Jet are also oversized, allowing for great views from the back of the plane.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

They don't have shades but are UV-tinted, a feature found on newer aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Worcester was below the clouds, so an instrument approach would be required to access the airport. For the Vision Jet, it was nothing the autopilot couldn't handle.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As the autopilot brought us down to the minimum altitude for the approach, the outline of the runway was shown on the primary display so that Sean could hand-fly if needed.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

At 600 feet, the runway came into view and it was smooth sailing all the way down.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

After a smooth landing in Worcester, we headed back to Long Island. Visiting those three cities in one day would've meant at least 10 hours of driving and we landed back in New York before lunchtime.

Flying on a Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

"It's really the availability of flight and the availability to go places, like the experience that we had today," Vogel, a licensed pilot, told Business Insider referring to the benefits of having a Vision Jet and flying it yourself.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

"The big issue with the pandemic and with the airlines is that they have cut back," Vogel continued. "If you're going to Madison, Wisconsin, or someplace ... Morgantown, West Virginia, or even down to Knoxville, those flights are disappearing."

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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Airlines are reducing frequencies as they can't fill the same number of flights they once could.

A departure board at Hartford's Bradley International Airport on June 2.

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"We definitely see an opportunity that I think more and more people are going to be looking at personal transportation," Matt Bergwall, Cirrus' director of the Vision Jet product line, told Business Insider.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

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"We are already seeing a little bit of a demand for people who are just calling us up and saying, 'Hey, I don't want to actually learn how to fly. I see that you have this airplane. Tell me a little bit more,'" Bergwall said.

A Cirrus Vision Jet.

Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

With the pandemic creating uncertainty over travel plans, Cirrus is hoping that more people will want to take control of their travel by either getting pilot licenses or purchasing planes to be flown by reliable operators like Nassau Flyers.

Airlines are adjusting their schedules to the point where convenience is lost, especially when flying to remote destinations outside major cities. And while the hassles of flying on a commercial airline previously only included going through security and potential delays and cancellations, the concerns of health and safety now have to be considered.

As a true entry-level jet, it's possible for a new pilot to be flying the Vision Jet with less than 100 hours of experience, though most prefer to build more hours on piston aircraft before doing so.

For business travelers who can't afford to fly extensively on traditional executive aircraft, the Vision Jet is a more cost-effective alternative and can accomplish most of the same missions, even if it takes a little more time on longer hops.

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