Embraer is emerging as a dominant manufacturer of light jets as deliveries of the Phenom 300, the Brazilian firm's second, purpose-built business jet, now top 120 units. Operators say the aircraft is fast, fuel efficient and reliable, along with having a roomy interior, offering excellent runway performance and being easy to maintain.

It's been especially attractive to the light jet owner-operator group that historically has flown Beech Premier I/IA or Cessna CJ-series aircraft. One appeal for single-pilot operations is the fact that a typically equipped aircraft can carry 1,140 lb. with full fuel. It can depart a 3,138-ft. runway at MTOW, assuming sea-level standard day conditions. Up at BCA's 5,000-ft. elevation, ISA+20C airport, the aircraft needs only 5,114 ft. of pavement to launch. It can fly 1,891 nm at an average cruise speed of 420 KTAS and land with 100-nm NBAA IFR reserves.

“Range is this aircraft's trump card. I never have to worry about fuel reserves. I've actually flown it from San Diego to Manchester,” says Dean Kamen, founder and CEO of Deka Research and Development in Manchester, N.H.

Before buying his Phenom 300 in December 2011, Kamen flew a Premier I/IA and says he was constantly concerned about range versus fuel reserves. He would have been a launch customer for the Hawker 200 (aka Premier II) if it had offered an additional hour of range over the Premier IA.

The Phenom 300 also is a logical step up for Phenom 100 owners needing better runway performance, more speed, more range and more payload. The two models share a common pilot type rating, but differences training is required when upgrading because of the larger sibling's systems, size and performance differences.

“This could be the last aircraft I'll ever need to own. In fact, I fly this airplane more than any airplane I've ever owned,” says Jay Obernolte, founder and president of Farsight Studios, a family video game development firm based at Big Bear Lake, Calif. Obernolte routinely operates out of Big Bear Airport (L35), which has an elevation of 6,748 ft., flying considerably longer trips than he could in the Phenom 100 he previously operated because of the Phenom 300's vastly superior hot-and-high airport performance.

Corporate operators also are choosing the Phenom 300 over other light jets, particularly Citation CJs. “It was an easy decision,” said one flight department manager who flies two Phenom 300s plus a Dassault Falcon 50EX and a Falcon 2000. “The CJs were too tight, they had turboprop-style, internally serviced toilets, most don't have single-point pressure refueling and they're just too small compared to our Falcons. The two Embraers also have metal work on a par with Dassault's.”

The Phenom 300 has received strong endorsement from fleet and fractional ownership operators including Executive AirShare, Flight Options and NetJets. “This aircraft offers comfort, including a wide air-stair door and a wide oval cabin cross-section, efficiency, range and a quiet interior, all things clients like [pro golfer] Tom Watson appreciate,” says Keith Plumb, president of Kansas City, Mo.-based Executive AirShare, which operates five Phenom 300s. Plumb also noted that the aircraft is reliable and it was designed with airline-inspired maintenance scheduling. Basic inspection intervals are 600 hr. or 12 months, whichever comes first.

“This is our first new light jet in the fleet and it's 'phenomenal.' It has great runway performance, it's quiet, the air conditioning works great and it has large baggage volume,” says Joe Kainrad, Phenom 300 program manager at Cleveland-based Flight Options, which operates more than a dozen such aircraft and has 100 firm orders plus 50 options. “I love the ease of maintenance. It's as if mechanics had inputs to the engineers,” says Melanie Nehez, Flight Options Phenom 300 fleet technical manager. The airframe has a fully MSG3-compliant maintenance-friendly design that speeds scheduled maintenance tasks and expedites parts removal and replacement.

In early May, Columbus, Ohio-based NetJets took delivery of the first of 50 Signature Series Phenom 300s it has on order. The fractional provider also has options for another 75 units, representing a total potential investment of $1 billion. This is NetJets' first foray into the light jet market in five years and its first acquisition of an Embraer jet. Industry analysts say that the move represents a strategic shift for NetJets, which had been a large-scale purchaser of Wichita-made business aircraft before it retrenched with the deepening of the recession.

The Phenom 300 has a 28,000 cycle/35,000 hr. economic life that's more in line with jetliner design standards than the 15,000- to 20,000-hr. design life of a typical light jet. Such a comparatively long service life is attractive for charter and fractional ownership operators that typically trade out of their aircraft when they've amassed 8,000 to 12,000 hr. of flight time.

Cessna's CJ4 is the light jet that's the Phenom 300's closest rival. But Phenom 300 operators said they chose the Brazilian jet over the one made in Wichita because of cabin size, superior fuel efficiency and higher ramp presence, along with longer service life, lower maintenance costs and its jetliner heritage.