The Avocet ProJet was a Very Light Jet (VLJ) introduced by Avocet Aircraft, a Westport, CT., based company founded by Carey Robinson Wolchok and Andrew Chao, two aviation industry private equity investors and entrepreneurs, and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). The Avocet ProJet was officially launched in 2003 but early work on the program began in the late 1990s when Wolchok approached Al Schwimmer, the legendary founder of Israel Aircraft Industries with the idea of collaborating on a VLJ with IAI.
The ProJet was planned as a six-seat, twin-engine turbofan jet. Capable of takeoffs and landings in as little as 3,000 feet, it was intended to fly at an airspeed of 365 knots (420 mph) up to an altitude of 41,000 feet and a maximum cruising range of 1,200 nautical (1,375 statute) miles.
The ProJet had a long list of well-known supporters and investors, including football legend Joe Montana, who was a member of Avocet's board of directors and one of the first customers of the ProJet. Other Avocet board members included Jacob Frenkel, the former Bank of Israel Governor, Gil Amelio, the Former Chairman and CEO of Apple Computer, General Amnon Shahak, the former Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces and Israel's Minister of Transportation, and Joe Edwards, a former NASA Astronaut and the Chairman of the National Science Center. Avocet was headed by David Tait, OBE, the former head of Virgin Atlantic Airways, in the role of Chief Executive Officer, and Mark Biagetti, a senior executive from Pratt & Whitney and McDonnell Douglas, as Chief Operating Officer. Avocet's Israel operations were managed by Jordan Herzberg, a confidante of many Israel politicians with close connections to Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev and US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and Israel Corporation CEO Nir Gilad, who was also a member of Avocet's board.
The Company announced orders for more than 100 aircraft at the NBAA 2003 Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, and expected first flight in 2005. Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson and Formula One Racing Entrepreneur Adrian Reynard provided early endorsements for the project, and Avocet executives even explored the concept of rebranding the aircraft the "VirginJet." with the Virgin Group.
While the concept of the jet started in the late 1990s when Wolchok began discussions with Al Schwimmer, the founder of Israel Aircraft Industries, and several IAI executives, by the time of its official launch in 2003, the ProJet was the third Very Light Jet announced in the aviation industry, after the Eclipse 500 and the Cessna Mustang. The ProJet's proposed price of approximately $2 million and direct operating costs projected to be less than $1.00 a mile, positioned the aircraft to be a direct competitor to the Eclipse 500, which was priced at $1.75 million.
In 2005, having underestimated the demand for the aircraft, Israel Aircraft Industries to seek additional partners for the program. Industry sources also cited concerns from IAI executives surrounding potential product support problems that had plagued some of the earlier business jets manufactured by IAI. Rumors in the press had Avocet and IAI collaborating with Raytheon Aircraft and Embraer on the program, but by December 2005, the Avocet program was officially cancelled and the company returned all deposits to position holders.
Shortly after the Avocet program was cancelled, Embraer introduced its very light jet, the Phenom 100, an aircraft which had design and performance specifications almost identical to the Avocet ProJet, including an innovative oval cross section which had been pioneered at Israel Aircraft Industries on their early model business jets. The Emberaer Phenom 100 has become one of the most successful business jet launches in history, with an order book reported to be worth in excess of $3 billion.
While the program was a blow to IAI and Avocet, Avocet founder Carey Wolchok kept close ties with IAI, and went on to form the Manhattan-based Perilune Group, a private investment partnership which has become one of the leading independent investors in mid-life commercial aircraft and aircraft leases, restructured aircraft and airline backed debt, and other aviation related investments.