...Next-Gen Cockpits On Display...

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Next-Gen Cockpits On Display The Maryland SATS lab demonstrated a combination of technologies in a modified Cessna 402B with a new lightweight heads-up display (HUD) combined with synthetic vision from a camera system mounted in the nose. The final system will qualify under the new FAR 91.175 (l) and (m), eventually allowing pilots with enhanced flight visibility (viewed on a cockpit display) to descend to 100 feet AGL -- with no outside visual references. Below 100 feet you need (as currently written) the required visibility with the unaided eye to land. "That's by the regulations," says Dr. Noris Krone Jr. of the Maryland SATS team. "The truth is that I've landed [the 402] over 200 times using nothing but the display ..." See AVweb's NewsWire for full coverage, including challenges still facing the SATS program and the bridges being built to meet them. Krone had "the window blocked so I couldn't see ... I can do a better landing with the display than without it. And I can do a pretty good landing." In Europe, transport-category aircraft will soon be able to start approaches even if visibility is below minimums if they have enhanced vision systems. The FAA has stated it will allow this in the United States in the near future. Other technologies included a device similar to an AWOS celiometer that looks up the glidepath to determine actual flight visibility on the approach and a "Cockpit Associate" that monitors aircraft systems, progress of the approach and ATC information to provide advisories and recommendations to the pilot. Of course, whether or not pilots want something that reveals actual flight visibility or a digital copilot that's smarter than they are is another story.

...Grounded In Reality, Education...

...Grounded In Reality, Education... Despite glowing estimates of a $1 billion-per-year air taxi industry business by 2025, some real issues remain. Morton Marcus of the Indiana SATS Consortium, who directed the research on the economic feasibility of SATS, notes that "there is no management plan, no education plan in place. We need an education plan." The Indiana team conducted market research and focus groups and found that the idea of a taking an airplane instead of a car was too foreign a concept to get any immediate acceptance. "There needs to be a 'got milk?' campaign of public awareness." Morton also points out that the focus seems to be on rural communities but there is a huge potential benefit to urban dwellers near a major airport who only need to travel a few hundred miles. This may be a bigger (read: more profitable) market than trying to service small airports worldwide. The consensus is that the market for SATS aircraft and technologies is replacing trips currently made by car rather than trips currently made by air. "To change public perception of air travel would be like trying to boil the ocean," says Bill Michel "If the success of SATS is dependant on changing the perceptions of the American public, we don't stand a chance. Business leaders, other individuals, sure we can do that." DayJet, which plans to sell individual seats on Eclipse 500s, sees their market as early adopters and "true road Warriors," says Brad Noe of DayJet. "We could succeed serving only this niche market," he added, although he wouldn't say how large DayJet thought that market was. DayJet will soon have a cost-comparison system on their Web site that will compare for any day and city pair what it would cost on DayJet vs. the airlines or driving.

...And Seeking Real-World Answers

One answer to the challenge of mating comes from SATSair (www.satsair.com), operating out of Greenville, S.C. SATSair took the flight-school concept and sold 10-hour block time in a Cirrus SR22 for charter operations to destinations within two hours flight time (about a 350-mile radius). Steven Hanvey, president of SATSair, explains to customers that traveling within the two-hour circular area is "like taking a taxi around the city." It seems to work. Building strictly on word of mouth, SATSair operations have doubled each month and they expect to be operating over 20 SR22s in six months. As of mid-April they have approval for part 135 IFR operations in a SR22 -- yes, that's right, single-pilot, single-engine IFR charter in a Cirrus. No, the parachute was not a factor in making this happen, but the glass panel, real-time weather and traffic-avoidance systems were. So was an engine trend monitoring program. The parachute is a big attraction to the passengers though. "I would have underestimated the importance of that. We have people who say they swore they would never fly in anything smaller than a King Air C90 flying in the Cirrus." The cost is a big motivator too. For $350 per hour you can move 3 people at 175 knots. Still, educating the public is an issue. "Communities must utilize it or it will get into the price point," says Hanvey. Translation: If you built it and they don't come, you'll go broke.