Want to buy a plane that won’t break the bank? You need a ‘caroplane’

Editor’s Note: The 49th Farnborough International Airshow takes place in Hampshire, England between 14-20 July 2014. Considered one of the biggest aviation events in the world, CNN will be there talking to all the big industry names.

Story highlights

Car-plane hybrid looks to make aviation affordable amidst private jet slump

SkyRunner debuts at Farnborough this week with price tag of $80,000

Regulations to be resolved before caroplane really takes off

CNN  — 

To wander the Farnborough airfield during trade show week is to be dwarfed by the big beasts of global aviation, from the epic Dreamliners to the needle-sharp fighter jets, and all for sale.

But with even the cheapest models costing many millions of dollars, is there any prospect that owning an aircraft could follow computers and cars in becoming affordable to the masses?

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The figures indicate otherwise. Private jet sales slowed to a crawl following the global recession, falling 3.4% to 682 in 2012 in the U.S. and rising just 0.9% the following year.

Even this minor growth has been concentrated at the top end of the market, with sales contracting toward the lower end. Bombardier airline President Eric Martel was candid about the prospect of an upturn, saying Monday: “It’s no secret the light segment has been difficult over the last couple of years.”

An enthusiast could still fulfill their dream through a fixed kit plane, or a discontinued antique. But looking ahead, their best bet might be the emerging field of the car-plane hybrid.

This week at the Farnborough International Airshow, Parajet is showcasing the SkyRunner to potential aviation distributors with a price tag of $80,000.

The design combines an all-terrain vehicle with a light sport aircraft capable of soaring 15,000 feet at a speed of 55mph, with a flying time of three hours.

Powered by an innovative low-carbon petrol engine, the hybrid is presented as “the next generation of recreational aircraft…designed primarily to make aviation easily accessible and fun.”

The vehicle has undergone testing over five years, including a voyage from London to Timbuktu flown by inventor Gilo Cardozo. It builds on the motor design of the company’s signature product, a propeller-powered jetpack already established on the market.

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Parajet manager Tom Prideaux-Brune believes the new concept is ready and is now being fine tuned for specific markets.

“We have built it and proved it works so now we can take it forward to manufacturing. We can launch when we have the distributors.”

Classified as a light aircraft, SkyRunner must overcome regulatory hurdles.

“It’s about planning and registering it, so that the authorities know who is operating it and has had sufficient training. The Civil Aviation Authority has been very positive.”

Courtesy of SkyRunner

Once a fantasy only seen in films like “Back to the Future,” the ‘caroplane’ has become an increasingly robust reality in recent years.

The Terrafugia also made its air show debut recently and is set for sales next year. New competitors are also emerging.

The existing market for private planes is “not dynamic or growing”, says Charles Alcock, Editor-in-Chief of Aviation International News, suggesting there could be an opportunity for innovators to steal a march, as occurred before the crash.

“A decade earlier we saw new designs that made planes significantly more affordable…very light jets more like sports cars with wings that bought prices down from $75 million to $1 million. It seemed they might take off before the recession.”

Alcock highlights that the initial outlay can pale beside other costs such as training, licenses and parking.

He adds that regulations could derail the hybrid models: “You have to go a long way to convince the authorities.”

So hardly a cloudless sky. But if the SkyRunner design is not yet cleared for take off, it provides an exciting and plausible glimpse of a future of aircraft ownership we can all aspire to.

Read: What you need to know about Farnborough Airshow 2014

Read: Farnborough airshow through the years