AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 26a

December 30, 2013

Textron Fleshes Out Beech Deal

Textron expects to gain $65 million to $85 million annually with the "synergy" of combining Cessna and Beechcraft into its new airplane company but it's not yet saying exactly where those savings might be realized. As we reported Thursday, Textron is buying Beech for $1.4 billion. In a conference call with analysts on Friday (recording available by calling (320) 365-3844, access code 314378), Textron CEO Scott Donnelly said it's likely most of the money will come from savings that result from overlap of functions and premises but there have been no decisions on if and where cuts might be made at either company. He acknowledged that cuts are coming. "The majority of the restructuring work is still to come but you're probably talking about an awful lot of costs that are severance-related," he said in answer to a question about when the synergy savings might be felt. Donnelly said that will take three to six months. Donnelly told the analysts that Beechcraft is a good fit for Textron by filling product gaps in Cessna's line with industry-leading aircraft like the King Air and T-6. He gave passing mention to the Bonanza and Baron lines but was clearly focused on what the King Air will do for Cessna. He also left no doubt that Beech's Hawker jet line will not resume production.

He said Beechcraft's decision to stop building jets made the company more attractive to Textron because it eliminated any kind of competitive overlap for Cessna and created a whole new world of customers for Citations. Part of the deal includes type certificates for Hawker Jets and the continued maintenance and support of that fleet. About a third of Beech's income comes from servicing the fleet of almost 36,000 Beech and Hawker aircraft still flying. Donnelly said Textron won't necessarily close service centers based on geographical overlap, noting that if Cessna and Beech service centers in the same area are both busy, there's no reason to close either of them.

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Legacy 450 First Flight

Embraer flew its Legacy 450 mid-light business jet for the first time on Saturday and all went well, according to the company. “The flight was a success,” said test pilot Eduardo Camelier. “The full fly-by-wire system, with side stick flight controls, made the flight very smooth. With the advanced avionics suite, the aircraft operation was very easy and intuitive.”  The first hop of the multi-colored aircraft lasted about 1.6 hours and explored the basic flight characteristics. Production versions of the aircraft will explore Cessna's dominance of this market segment.

The 450 takes on Cessna's mid- to upper-range products and does it with fly-by-wire controls and other features like Rockwell Collins's new EVS-300/HGS-3500 head-up display. As we reported in October, the 450 will be assembled in Melbourne, Fla. In the meantime, certification is expected to take another year but the first flight was on schedule. The aircraft has 2,500-nm range and seats up to nine passengers.

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Real Estate Companies Challenge Drone Rules

Photo: New York Times

Despite the risk of thousands in fines by the FAA, some realtors are using drones to take photos and create marketing videos of high-end houses and condos. The New York Times is reporting that after gathering no offers on a $6.1 million-dollar Connecticut estate, realtor Halstead Properties had its director of web marketing and drone operator, Matthew Leone, make a promotional video of the home and grounds to showcase its setting. The video, and another shot from a drone of a $7.6 million beach home in Darien, Conn., have had more than 500,000 views to date, according to the Times.

A developer, Alchemy Properties, used a drone positioned at the heights of various floors of a condo it is building in New York City to show potential buyers the views they would have. The FAA currently prohibits commercial operation of drones, although it is expected to propose operating rules for drones under 55 pounds in 2014. Developers and realtors argue that so long as they stay under what they consider the ceiling for model airplanes, 400 feet AGL, and are solely over the property owned by the client, they should be allowed to freely operate the drones and have not been applying for approval from the FAA. Thus far, the FAA has only fined one commercial drone operator, and that was in 2012. The $10,000 fine is under appeal.

Alaska Pilot Grounded By Bootlegging Laws

An Alaska pilot who was convicted of bootlegging will get to keep his Cessna 206, a judge ruled this week. Air taxi operator Ken Jouppi was convicted in August for letting a passenger load alcohol onto an airplane in April 2012 to fly into the remote village of Beaver, home to fewer than 100 people, where alcohol is banned. The case "serves as a precautionary tale for pilots," according to the local Alaska Dispatch. There are 77 communities in Alaska that ban the importation and sale of alcohol. The passenger who loaded the beer onto the airplane served three days in jail and paid a $1,500 fine. Jouppi also was fined, and his airplane was locked up for more than a year.

The case raises concerns for commercial pilots and air carrier/air taxi operators in Alaska, according to the Dispatch, but Gustaf Olson, an assistant district attorney for Alaska, said the pilot's knowledge is key. "The question ultimately hinges on 'knowingly,'" Olson wrote in an email. "If the pilot or charter has actual knowledge of the alcohol transported (or attempted to be transported) obviously he is liable. However, the pilot is also liable if the pilot 'turns a blind eye' to the bootlegging and through willful blindness chooses to ignore signs or obvious indicators of bootlegging activity." Jouppi said he plans to appeal his conviction.

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Super Bowl Fliers Face Winter Challenges

Photo: NJ1015.com

The Super Bowl is always a big event for general aviation operations, and this year, with the game set for Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, weather could potentially become a major factor. The FAA said it expects an additional 1,200 GA flights to the New York/New Jersey metro airports during Super Bowl XLVIII. TFR already has been designated, with three restricted zones extending up to 30 nm from the field, which sits not far from both Newark and Teterboro airports. ATC will separate Super Bowl traffic from normal traffic and assign departure slots for flights operating at GA airports within the TFR, the FAA said. Extra staff and expanded hours of operation will be added.

Pilots may need to worry about winter weather, but they don't need to worry about sharing the airspace with blimps. Greg Poppenhouse, chief pilot for Goodyear, told NJ.com blimps are not equipped to cope with winter weather like snow and sleet. Even MetLife, which operates two blimps in the U.S., said the aircraft will be deployed in southern states during February. GA fliers into Newark Liberty Airport will find a brand-new FBO built by Signature Flight Support, which opened just in time for the game. The new 11,000-square foot facility cost $11 million and the company rushed to get it done after the game was designated for MetLife Stadium, in 2010. The FBO can handle about 75 aircraft overnight. The FAA said it expects the exodus of aircraft from the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area airports to begin at Super Bowl halftime, and extend through Monday, Feb. 3.

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Video: Two New Satellite Receivers for Cockpit Tablets

The internal GPS receiver in some tablets doesn't always provide reliable lock-on in all aircraft cabins.  Two new satellite receivers -- from Bad Elf and Global Nav Systems -- solve this problem.  Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano has a look at them in this AVweb video.

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Short Final

This afternoon, my six-year-old son and I went out to the airport to check on things at the hangar.  The weather was rainy and IMC.  We watched a Cherokee land after shooting an instrument approach.  I made some comment about being able to fly instruments soon, when I finish my instrument rating.

My son turned to me with this puzzled and concerned look.  "Dad, how do you turn the airplane when you are playing an instrument?"


Patrick G. Bramlett
via e-mail

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Maybe Man Wasn't Meant to Fly

Remember the movie, Wall-E, a Pixar animated tale whose subtext was that technology eventually evolved to be so all enveloping that humans were reduced to quivering mounds of fat conveyed in bins attached to a mechanical belt? If that future awaits us all, are airline pilots leading the way?

In the midst of its investigation into last summer’s Asiana crash at San Francisco, the NTSB has once again raised concerns about airline pilots relying on automation to the extent that their hand flying skills diminish. If this is true, I think it’s been going on for a number of years but maybe we’re just now reaching some sort of critical mass. Whatever the case, it’s alarming to me to hear anyone supposedly qualified to sit on the flight deck of an international 777 say he’s really uncomfortable hand flying a visual approach. The only rational response to that is: seriously?

In general aviation, we have a related problem, but it may be due to too little automation rather than not enough. Bluntly, some people just fall apart at the man-machine interface and simply lose control of the airplane. And I’m not talking about, say, skidding off a slick runway or botching a crosswind touchdown. We’ve all done that. I’m talking about flat out losing control of a perfectly functioning airplane on a clear, VFR day and driving it into a smoking hole. Or losing it on landing and taking an excursion through a line of parked aircraft before coming to rest in someone else’s hangar, co-habitating uninvited with the current resident.

This sort of thing isn’t rare. In fact, it happens every week, if not every day, in some form. Just the ground chaos is enough to fear for the future of civilization. Every time I go to the airport, it seems, something else has happened. Last winter if was the runaway Malibu that sheared off its legs in a ditch after the owner decided it would be okay to prop it with the throttle open, the mags on and no chocks. The other day, I’m told, a pilot lost control of a golf cart—yes, a golf cart—and ran into the wing of a turboprop. And we haven’t even gotten to the flying part yet.

Not that I’m claiming any immunity. While I’ve never lost control of an airplane seriously enough to bend metal, there was that incident with my truck on the way to the airport to fly an early a.m. charter. I needed gas and the pump was situated on the wrong side of the nozzle, so I backed into the slot, not seeing one of those big heavy steel bumpers they bury in 30 tons of concrete to protect the pumps against… people like me. I backed into  it unseen and smashed the left tail light. I pulled forward to get a better position and hit one on the other side, smashing the right tail light. This was being observed by the kindly Indian owner of the store who I suspect was soon online booking one way tickets back to New Delhi. When I got to the airport, the line boy asked if I was aware that both my tail lights were broken. Yes, I was, but thanks for asking.

But back to the airplanes. In general aviation, loss of control is by far the most common cause—or perhaps result—of GA accidents. The Society of Aviation and Flight Educators recently sent me a link to a resource page devoted to educating pilots about loss of control with suggestions about what they might do about it. While I’m all for education and awareness and parting the curtains of ignorance, I’m doubtful that we’re going to move the needle on this in any noticeable way.

First of all, this problem has been with us forever, even during periods when pilots were averaging more than 100 flight hours a year. Now that we’re averaging half that, how can we rationally expect to do any better? While SAFE is doing good stuff, I’m not sure the will is there in the pilot community to do the training and currency necessary to build the skill base. And I definitely think it’s skill deficiency. Some pilots will run into stuff no matter how much you train them; they’re just inept with machines.

But I suspect most of us are inept only in certain circumstances and increased awareness and more practice—you know, actually flying—would reduce the odds of catatonia in the cockpit when the slightest novel situation arises, say the airplane veers a little left when the power is applied or that noisy damn gear horn makes it so hard to think. 

The automation part is interesting. I think it’s different for GA pilots than for airline pilots. GA pilots tend to lard the cockpit up with more digital stimuli than they could possibly ever need and so the problem may be distraction. The airlines have achieved a remarkable safety record partly because relying on automation can reduce errors like busting altitudes or wandering off headings. And we all know a coupled approach will almost always be more precise and safer than a hand flown one, which is why airline training emphasizes the automation. The NTSB questions whether that’s gone a beat too far.

A couple of weeks ago I reported on the research done by Carolina Anderson at Embry Riddle that revealed some interesting points in the accident scatter plot. She concluded that older aircraft certified under CAR 3 are overrepresented in loss-of-control accidents, quite possibly because the FAA has made it too difficult and expensive to install autopilots in those airplanes. In other words, regulation has retrograded safety. I don’t doubt the theory. As explained in our previous coverage, the ongoing revision of FAR Part 23 is supposed to make it easier to install avionics in general and autopilots specifically in older aircraft. If that eventually leads to installations of Garmin’s new line of experimental autopilots in certified airplanes, that might represent meaningful progress against loss of control by GA pilots. But it may be years before we can measure the results.

In the meantime, my strategy is two fold: I’m flying as much as I can with an emphasis on landing skills and I always use a guideman when backing my truck for fueling. It seems only prudent.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: Clay Lacy and the Amazing Human Fly

In 1976, famed aviation businessman and movie pilot Clay Lacy was asked to fly one of the strangest stunt acts in aviation: The Human Fly. In this exclusive AVweb video, he explains how the project came into being.

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