OSHKOSH, Wis. — A new fleet of very light jets that could redefine the way Americans travel received preliminary certification Thursday from the Federal Aviation Administration.

It's the first step in getting 2,500 of the planes skyward to help reduce congestion at major airports, Acting Transportation Secretary Maria Cino said.

The FAA granted Eclipse Aviation of Albuquerque, N.M., the certification for the Eclipse 500, a cheaper and faster type of flying SUV, during a ceremony at the Experimental Aircraft Association's 54th annual AirVenture fly-in in Oshkosh.

The federal approval — meaning most of the aircraft's technical performance and safety issues have been resolved — allows the company to begin training pilots and continue building the planes, pending final approval, called "type" certification, Cino said.

"Thousands of new jets like this are going to redefine the way Americans travel, help cut airport congestion and drive economic growth in cities and towns across the country that today only dream of commercial air service," Cino said.

The new light jets, costing less to buy and operate, will be able to affordably fly travelers from thousands of small airports across the county because they need less room to land and take off, giving travelers new options, Cino said.

Very light jets weigh 10,000 pounds or less, feature twin engines and automated cockpits and have room for five or six passengers, aviation experts said.

Eclipse Aviation already has 2,500 orders for its $1.5 million jet, the transportation secretary said.

Vern Raburn, president of Eclipse Aviation, said the company expects to receive the final FAA approval by Aug. 30, allowing its first 50 new jets to be delivered to customers this year.

"We have looked forward to this monumental accomplishment since Eclipse was founded nearly eight years ago," said Raburn, a former Microsoft executive whose venture is being backed by Bill Gates.

Six other very light jets are in the process of being certified by the FAA.

Honda Motor Co. announced this week at AirVenture that it will start accepting orders for its very light jet, the HondaJet, this fall.

The FAA predicts 4,500 of the very light jets in service 10 years from now.

Raburn predicts the new jets will be used as air taxis — limousines-with-wings that will take off and land at the more than 5,000 small, underused airports in the United States.

Eclipse Aviation has hired 560 new employees in the past year and now employs more than 820 at its Albuquerque headquarters, Cino said.

Billed as the world's largest gathering of recreational aviators, AirVenture, a fly-in and EAA convention at Wittman Regional Airport, attracts more than 10,000 airplanes — many of them homemade aircraft — and nearly 250,000 aviation enthusiasts from throughout the world.