By Mary Grady, Senior News Editor
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First-Quarter 2003: Bizjet Sales Fall, Single-Engine Pistons Hold Steady...
Shipments of GA aircraft decreased 16 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period last year, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association reported on Thursday. Billings in the same period fell 33 percent. Total deliveries for the quarter fell from 531 aircraft last year to 444 this year. Business jets were hardest hit, with deliveries down 42 percent, from 169 to 98. "These are very tough times," GAMA President Ed Bolen said in a news release. "Lost in all the noise about the troubles of the airlines has been the fact that, since 9/11, many general aviation manufacturers have had to lay off workers and slow or even temporarily halt production lines. The only segment of the market that was able to hold its own in the first quarter was the single-engine pistons." First-quarter shipments of piston-powered airplanes remained stable at 315 in 2003, down just one from last year's 316. Turboprop shipments decreased from 46 airplanes in the first quarter of 2002 to 31 this year. Biggest sellers of piston aircraft were Cessna, with 129 shipments, Cirrus with 90, and New Piper with 49.
...As Boeing Follows Airlines' Trajectory
Boeing last week reported a large -- but not its largest-ever -- quarterly loss, down $478 million, as its biggest customers, the airlines, continued their steep downturn. Deliveries of commercial aircraft decreased 35 percent compared to the first quarter of 2002, to 71 airplanes. Boeing said it would deliver about 280 airplanes in 2003. The delivery forecast for 2004 remains between 275 and 300 airplanes, but Boeing said it expects a gradual market recovery to start in 2005. In its press release, the company said: "In the commercial aviation market, the war in Iraq, increased security costs, the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and airline industry restructuring together create a dynamic environment; it is too early to reach conclusions regarding the ultimate impact. However, the downturn remains severe, with trends varying between carriers and regions, and has reduced demand across all airplane models."
Safire Announces Major Changes In Jet Program...
Safire Aircraft, one of the handful of GA manufacturers venturing into the light-jet market, announced on Friday that is has made substantial changes in the design and specifications for its personal jet program. The original S-26 light jet, with a composite airframe, will not be produced, the company said. The new design, called simply the Safire Jet, will have all-aluminum construction and be larger, heavier and faster. The change comes along with Safire's recent selection of the Williams FJ33-4 engine as its powerplant. CEO Camilo Salomon said in a news release that the choice of engine drove the need for other changes in the overall design. "The aircraft's structural weight had to be increased to accommodate the added weight of the engines," he said. "With approximately 33 percent more thrust, other changes were also required. ... In virtually every area of performance and size, these changes have resulted in a faster, larger, more comfortable, longer-range aircraft, with comparable direct operating costs." The new design will have 50 knots more speed, a longer IFR range, and a larger cabin. Salomon also announced a contract with Avidyne to supply integrated flight-deck avionics for the jets. "This will make every pilot's dream of a state-of-the-art-glass cockpit come true," Salomon said. He added that Williams is expected to provide an FAA-certified engine by the end of 2003, and the jet will fly in the first quarter of 2004 and start deliveries in early 2006. "We are confident we will be first to market," Salomon said. Safire presently has in excess of 720 deposits.
...While New Ideas Are Floated...
Undaunted by today's gloomy economy, dreamers and tinkerers continue to pursue their vision. Which designs will survive into the next century of flight, time will tell, but among those ideas that we've heard of lately, the AeroCat "hybrid aircraft vehicle" appears to be full of ... helium. The AeroCat dream "combines the principles of a hovercraft, blimp, airplane and catamaran," a news release from the newly formed California company said last week. The AeroCat, 310 feet long by 80 feet high, would travel 500 miles at 70 knots while carrying 30 tons of cargo. The vehicles would consist of an aerodynamic catamaran-shaped hull made of laminated fabric, filled with helium and pushed along by four 850-hp turboprop engines. The hull would generate lift. The AeroCat would operate anywhere, from land or water, snow or desert, without ground support or airports, the company says. It could be configured for air cargo, passengers, military uses, or special uses such as for the U.S. Postal Service, mobile hospitals or international relief and evacuation. No prototype is yet flying, but the company hopes to complete a scale model by August.
...And Tomorrow's Airplane Could Fly Gas-free
Meanwhile, in Worcester, Mass., a small group of entrepreneurs and engineering students is working to create an all-electric fuel-cell airplane. The ultimate goal: to fly with a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell system by 2004 -- quiet, efficient, emissions-free air travel. "If this were easy, somebody would have already done it," jokes Jim Dunn, executive director of the Foundation for Advancing Science and Technology Education (FASTec), the nonprofit group working in stages to develop the project, with help from NASA. The team is currently testing an electric motor mounted on a modified French DynAero Lafayette III two-seat kitplane, and recently began taxi tests. The next step will be to fly it with lithium ion batteries, perhaps as soon as this summer. The project will be on exhibit at Dayton's Inventing Flight celebration and at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this summer.
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The Paris Air Show, coming up June 15-22, is apparently feeling the freeze from the Pentagon's recent aversion to France. The U.S. Defense Department announced Thursday it will cut back sharply on participation in this year's show. No high-ranking officials will attend, no U.S. aircraft will join the daily flyovers, and static displays will be reduced by half. "This is senior [Defense Department] officials' way of expressing their displeasure with French government policy on Iraq," Joel Johnson, of the Aerospace Industries Association, told Reuters. Other industry analysts agreed that the policy reflects administration pique with the French, but a Pentagon spokesman cited "international circumstances" and the demand for resources to be deployed elsewhere. Others have cited the slow economy for cost-cutting by exhibitors. General Dynamics and Textron will skip the show altogether this year, for economic reasons, The Baltimore Sun reported. The show is held every other year at Le Bourget, France, and attracts more than 1,800 exhibitors and 300,000 visitors from around the world.
Maybe you can see forever, on a clear day, but it's getting harder and harder to fly there -- especially for GA pilots, who have to avoid 16 security-related TFRs scattered from coast to coast and "pop-up" TFRs that follow President Bush everywhere he goes. EAA complained last week that presidential TFRs in Ohio created confusion because they varied in size and location, and pilots were given insufficient notice. "Consequences for such airspace violations can be dire," EAA said, and called for more reasonable security measures and better communication with pilots. AOPA last week wrote to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) about lingering post-9/11 TFRs that affect airspace in 13 states, with details about the impact of each one on local operations. "AOPA is asking the TSA to consider removing these restrictions," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "We want to ensure due consideration is given to the continued need for each one, especially when you consider that these restrictions have been in place for almost 18 months." That's in addition to expanding airspace restrictions around busy airports and growing military operation areas. AOPA argued against a proposal to lower the Class B floor in Houston that would eliminate a busy VFR flyway, but lost that battle (though the FAA did develop additional waypoints to help pilots navigate the area). AOPA is now working to prevent creation of full-time MOAs in Georgia that would impose a barrier to both VFR and IFR traffic and threaten the survival of underlying GA airports.
Pilots are not the only ones raising concerns about security measures -- last week, both the American Civil Liberties Union and Department of Transportation spoke up on behalf of commercial airline passengers. The ACLU Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit in an effort to force the government to talk about its secret "no fly" and other watch lists. The ACLU wants to know how the lists were created, how they are maintained, and how people who are mistakenly included on the list can get their names removed. Friday, the Aviation Enforcement Office of the U.S. Department of Transportation filed a complaint against American Airlines, alleging the carrier discriminated against passengers who were or were perceived to be of Arab, Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian descent and/or Muslim. The allegations in the complaint concern 10 individuals, mostly American citizens, who were either removed from or denied boarding on their scheduled American Airlines flights, even though they were properly ticketed and had successfully passed all security checks. In some cases the complainants were immediately rebooked on American or another airline and not subjected to any additional screening, even though they had been removed from their original American flight as an alleged security risk. The Aviation Enforcement Office filed its complaint after settlement negotiations to resolve the matter proved unsuccessful. The office charged the carrier with violating federal law that prohibits discrimination due to a person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex, or ancestry.
The Transportation Security Administration announced last Thursday it has committed $8 million to train pilots to carry arms by October. Forty-four pilots attended the first 48-hour session, and were deputized as Federal Flight Deck Officers just over a week ago. Training includes defensive tactics, instruction in the use of force, information on how to safely transport their weapons ... and legal liability. Pilots have to carry the gun to the plane in a locked case inside a nondescript bag. When they leave the cockpit but are still on duty, they must keep the weapon in a lockbox. The inaugural group of pilots learned how to use a handgun and apply other defensive tactics in an effort to stop a terrorist or anyone else attempting to hijack an airplane in flight. The new federal law enforcement officers were issued .40-caliber semi-automatic pistols to use in defense of the cockpit. Pilots for the inaugural class were nominated by the Airline Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations and selected by the TSA. To maintain proficiency, they will complete recertification training each year.
A crack started at a half-inch rivet on the left wing of a 57-year-old PB4Y-2 fighting a Colorado forest fire last July. The crack spread, and the air tanker burst into flame and crashed to the ground, killing both pilots. That was the conclusion of a Forest Service investigation, the Associated Press reported last week. The Forest Service identified the cause of the PB4Y-2 crash as fatigue and failure of the left wing's forward spar, the AP reported. PB4Ys have been grounded by the Forest Service since the crash, as have C-130As. A 44-year-old C-130A was also involved in a fatal crash last year. The PBY4 had passed required inspections, but procedures did not require checking that rivet, investigators said, according to the AP. The NTSB has not yet released a final report on the crash.
Ever wanted to meet the controller working your flight face to face? Well, here's your chance to address a room full of them, but don't be surprised if they have a thing or two to say about pilot performance. The occasion is the National Air Traffic Controllers' Association annual conference, Communicating for Safety, April 29 and 30 in Denver. But far from being a gripe session, participants in the panel discussions, Q&A sessions and seminars actually try to solve some of the evolving problems in the National Airspace System. This year, the conference is in Denver and is co-sponsored by the Air Line Pilots Association and AOPA. The FAA will also be there. Moderator Wes Stoops tells AVweb there's plenty for GA pilots to learn from -- and offer -- the conference. "GA makes up the majority of our business," said Stoops, a Florida controller who is one of NATCA's leading safety reps. "This is a grassroots thing. It's first-line service providers talking to first-line users of the system," said Stoops. Of course everyone is talking about the emergence of satellite-based navigation, but there have been some growing pains. Stoops said equipment performance is inconsistent, resulting in some surprises, and inefficiencies, in the air and on the ground. "There is a lot of upside potential to RNAV but we're going to have to go into it more slowly," said Stoops. Other topics include a 10-year technology forecast from the FAA (any bets on STARS deployment?) and a session on interaction between controllers and pilots during emergencies. Keynote speaker is Bruce Landsberg, head of AOPA's Air Safety Foundation. Stoops said he always makes sure there is plenty of time for audience participation. "We want to provide people out in the field with the opportunity to ask questions," he said. And don't be intimidated by all those captain's bars in the room, said Stoops. Anyone with an interest in airspace safety is welcome to take part and the modest ($50) fee includes lunch.
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Sino Swearingen lost its chief test pilot, Carroll Beeler, Saturday morning when the SJ30-2 twinjet he was flying crashed in rugged terrain north of Del Rio, Texas. Beeler, 59, had taken off from San Antonio, and was alone in the airplane. A chase aircraft witnessed the crash and reported it. The jet was flying at 0.9 Mach when it crashed, according to the San Antonio News-Express. The SJ30-2 is being marketed as a high-performance, long-range, single-pilot-certified, seven-seat twinjet. The SJ30-2 will reportedly operate at altitudes up to 49,000 feet and maintain a "sea-level cabin" to 41,000 feet
Orenda Recip, builder of a 600-hp turbocharged V-8 piston engine, has halted their program. Magellan Aerospace, the Canadian firms parent company, made the announcement amid struggles to win multiple STC approvals for the engine and a slumping economy...
Burt Rutan will offer two forums about flight in space at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh this summer....
AOPA invites all pilots to the grand opening of its new Pilot Facility at First Flight Airport, at the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, N.C., on Saturday, May 10....
USPS awarded its first competitive contracts to airlines last week. Previously, all airlines got an equal share of the mail. Now the post office can choose the best price for the best service...
Airbus said Friday it sold 30 planes to Chinese airlines for about $1.7 billion.
After arriving in SLC we checked in with the ground controller. His radio wasn't the clearest. As we were taxiing to the ramp another aircraft asked the controller, "Has anyone else told you your communications are garbled?" Ground replied, "My wife!"
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Cocktails & Cockpit
Flying while intoxicated doesn't happen often, but when it does the results are usually tragic. A single DWI may point to trouble ahead in airplanes. This article appeared in the October 2002 edition of Aviation Safety and is reprinted here by permission.
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