AVwebBiz - Volume 12, Number 17

November 5, 2013

Ridolfi Re-Assigned At Bombardier Business Jets

Bombardier has announced that Steve Ridolfi, the president of Bombardier Business Jets, will be replaced with Eric Martel in the New Year. Ridolfi will become senior vice-president of strategy and mergers and acquisitions, reporting directly to Bombardier President and Chief Executive Officer Pierre Beaudoin, according to the Globe and Mail. Martel currently heads up the company's water bomber division and customer services. Bombardier CEO Guy Hachey said Ridolfi, who represented the company at NBAA in Las Vegas last month, "has made countless contributions to Aerospace throughout his career." The still-dominant business aircraft division is showing some signs of strain and Gulfstream is threatening to take over the Canadian company's position as the world's highest-earning manufacturer of business aircraft.

There have been delays in numerous programs, including its Learjet division's 85, 75 and 70 models, and Dassault has added a new competitor to the ultra-long-range market that Bombardier has feasted on in recent year with its 5X, which was introduced at NBAA. Bombardier's challenges are not restricted to the business aircraft division. The much-delayed CSeries has only flown three times since its inaugural flight on Sept. 17 and that's raising questions about even more delays with the program.

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Embraer In Bribery Investigation

Embraer's North American spokesman says the company has been internally investigating "certain commercial transactions abroad" since 2010 and is cooperating fully with authorities in several countries to get to the bottom of bribery allegations involving two aircraft deals. Bob Stangarone told AVweb the company can't comment directly on reports that some of its employees are alleged to have paid bribes to gain sales in Argentina and the Dominican Republic. "Integrity, transparency in its business transactions and ethics in its relationships are the principles that always guided Embraer," Stangarone said in a statement. "The Company requires that all its employees have a conduct of strict compliance with laws and regulations, as established in its corporate policies and in its Code of Ethics and Conduct."

Reuters is reporting that U.S. and Brazilian authorities are investigating allegations that a Dominican military officer received a $3.4 million bribe to secure a deal for eight Super Tucano light attack aircraft. There are also allegedly unspecified irregularities with the sale of 20 E-190 airliners to Austral, a subsidiary of Argentina's state airline Aerolineas Argentinas. Stangarone noted that Embraer went public about the allegations in 2011 and regrets all speculation before the effective conclusion of the process.

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City Sues To Close Santa Monica Airport

The Santa Monica Airport belongs to the city, officials said in a lawsuit filed last week, challenging the FAA's claim that the field must be operated "in perpetuity." The city reportedly would like to close the busy airport, which is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, and the recent fatal crash there has intensified opponents' complaints about safety concerns. The suit says the 1948 agreement between the city and federal authorities was unconstitutional, and asks the court to name the city as owner of the airport's 227 acres. The airport is home to several flight schools and nearly 300 aircraft, and is a popular destination for business jets.

The FAA has said the city must operate the airport at least until 2023 because of assurances it gave in exchange for federal airport improvement grants. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the Defense Department, which invested in improving the runways and facilities. After the war, the field was returned to the city with the stipulation that it remain an airport. AOPA says the suit by the city "lacks any merit" and is simply a "desperate bid" by the city to close the field. AOPA added that it recently conducted a survey and found that 70 percent of Santa Monica residents support keeping the airport open.

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FAA Issues Final Pilot Training Rule

A final rule affecting how airline pilots are trained went into effect on Tuesday, the FAA announced. The rule, which stems mainly from investigations following the Colgan Air crash in 2009, has long been in the works, and recently was delayed by the federal government's shutdown over funding disputes. The rule, which the FAA said will cost the industry up to $354 million to implement, requires new ground, simulator, and flight training to change how pilots address and recover from stalls. "The rule marks a major step toward addressing the greatest known risk areas in pilot training," said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "I'm also calling on the commercial aviation industry to continue to move forward with voluntary initiatives to make air carrier training programs as robust as possible."

Air carriers will have five years to comply with the rule’s new pilot-training provisions, which will allow time for the necessary software updates to be made in flight simulation technology, the FAA said. The new training aims to help pilots to prevent and recover from aircraft stalls and upsets. The new rule also establishes new tracking standards for air carriers to monitor pilot performance and provide remedial training. It also mandates new runway safety procedures and expanded crosswind training, including training for wind gusts. The estimated benefit to the industry is nearly double what it will cost to implement the rule, according to the FAA, at $689 million. The final rule is available online (PDF).

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Videos Emerge Of Skydivers' Midair

When two airplanes carrying skydivers collided above Wisconsin on Saturday, many of the jumpers were equipped with video cameras, and some of that film is now turning up online. The nine skydivers all jumped safely, along with one of the pilots; the second pilot was able to safely land his damaged Cessna 185. The other airplane, a Cessna 182, broke up and caught fire. The debris landed mostly on the airport property and nobody on the ground was hurt. The video was acquired exclusively by NBC News, at a cost of at least $100,000, according to the Washington Post, and has been shown on the evening news. The skydivers have also agreed to appear on the Today show and Dateline.

All of the skydivers on the two flights were experienced instructors or coaches, making the last flight of the day. "We were just a few seconds away from having a normal skydive when the trail plane came over the top of the lead aircraft and came down on top of it," instructor Mike Robinson told local reporters. "It turned into a big flash fireball, and the wing separated. All of us knew we had a crash. The wing over our head was gone, so we just left. … It might've been a lot worse. Everybody, to a person, responded just as they should, including the pilots."

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The Lowly 152: The Once and Future King of Training

At last week’s Redbird training conference, I wouldn’t say the attitude toward using LSAs in training was exactly hostile, but it wasn’t warm and fuzzy, either. During his talk on the Redhawk diesel, Redbird’s Roger Sharp said that LSA resale values are a relative unknown and, at least in Redbird’s view, LSAs haven’t yet demonstrated they’re up to the rigors of the daily training regime. Several of the attendees I spoke to shared this view, without flat out ruling out LSAs as a training option for them.

To be fair, I think this was a biased crowd. While they’re receptive to new initiatives in the training process, they also seemed more inclined to favor traditional piston trainers—Cessna 172s and the Piper PA-28 line. At the opening night reception, Piper’s Simon Caldecott won props merely for recommitting Piper to building training aircraft and recognizing that flight training is the door into future GA growth. This is, I’m afraid, preaching to the choir. It’s fine to verbalize this commitment, but it does nothing to address the exorbitant cost of new aircraft. Yes, the FAR Part 23 revision coming in 2015 may help, but even if it reduces the cost of new aircraft by a third—and I think that’s doubtful—it’s not going to help much. I’ll believe the effect of this promised cost reduction when I see it. Meanwhile, Redbird’s Redhawk is both more immediate and economically more potent. Compared to the regulatory revision, it’s moving at the speed of heat.

So if LSAs are deemed too expensive and not durable enough and new trainers like the soon-to-be $415,000 2014 Skyhawk are too expensive, where does this leave us? It leaves us just past the starting line on a growing industry to remanufacture existing airframes. I’ve reported on this before, but one aspect of it that hasn’t emerged yet but I think should is a focus on the low end of the training market, specifically the Cessna 152.

It seems like every time I report on LSAs used in the training market, I’ll hear from several operators who say they either tried to use LSAs as trainers or considered it, only to return to using clapped out 152s because they’re cheaper, more durable and easier to service. These operators seem mixed on whether it matters that the airframes just look like crap. Some say they desperately need more presentable aircraft, others say they’re willing to tolerate rattiness just to remain competitive. I’m not going to pulp the dead horse by again doing the airplane/Lexus comparison.

This suggests to me that there is or there’s going to be a Redhawk version of the Cessna 152. The airframes are out there, because flight school operators are telling me they’re finding them. I can imagine a refurb that includes a fresh engine—the O-235 is very competitive and its overhaul costs a third what the Centurion diesel does--new paint and an upgraded interior. For now, they can do with steam gauges and digital navcomms, which are easy to teach and more than capable enough for a trainer. If the FAA and the industry aren’t just floating BS about the Part 23 revision, it should eventually be possible to install in them equipment like Garmin’s G3X or the Dynon line. The FAA has publically stated that this is part of the goal of the revision. Just because I don’t believe the bureaucracy will ever allow this to happen in a timely fashion if at all, I’m willing to pretend for the sake of argument that it will happen.

So if it does happen, three to five years from now, could a lively business in 152 refurbishment be part of the training mix and what would such an airplane cost? My guess is it could be done and done well for between $70,000 and $90,000. That would bring refurbed 152s into the market slightly under the price of new LSAs and slightly higher than decent used 172s, but less than half of the Redhawk’s cost. If the industry ever shakes off its irrational bias against mogas, fuel operating costs would be comparable to but probably a bit less than diesel operating costs. And this is exactly why Airworthy Autogas is aiming its efforts at the training market initially. The economics aren’t as attractive with $7 avgas.

Increasingly, then, schools could have more choices. For many, new 172s aren’t ever going to be an option unless Cessna stops dissing the light aircraft segment, in my opinion, and gets its prices under control. New management could address the former, but I don’t see how they’re going to reduce prices much. So I can foresee a market where the Redhawk would be a good choice for some schools, a freshened up 152 for others, LSAs for yet others and ratty old, cheap whatevers for those who think they can sell those to customers. The fact is, some are doing that already. And with the exception of the refurbs, the market already looks like what I’ve described above.

In an airplane-selling market that’s seeing decline across the board, I can see some opportunities here. There are probably some STC and PMA targets for the 152 that could be viable. If the numbers can be made to work, there could be a market here worth seizing by a company or two with a little capital and business savvy. Redbird’s sim-centric training seems to be built around airplanes like the 172, but why can’t it be adapted to the 152? And even if it can’t be or it’s not economically practical to do that, motion-based sim-centric training doesn’t have to be the only game in town. And what the heck, in a hopelessly hallucionogenic moment, I can even imagine Cessna offering genuine factory remanufactured Cessna 152s. Who better to do it? Competition is all about having choices. So let’s have some.

Increasingly, when I attend industry events where speakers say things like “we’ve got to find a way to make flying more affordable” or “we’ve got find ways to attract people to flying,” I have the uneasy feeling I’m amidst a conclave of dinosaurs after the comet has already exploded. We are less angling for a return to GA growth here than we are trying to find brief level outs in the industry’s decline until it regains footing in the future.

The growth is far ahead. To me, this whole refurb idea is lot less of a leaky lifeboat than a promised revision of the FARs. But then nobody ever accused me of owning a pair of rose-colored glasses.

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

Video: Redbird's Game Theory Flight Training Idea

Game theory is gaining favor as a means of training in all sorts of disciplines, and now Redbird wants to try it with aviation.  At the company's third annual Migration training conference in San Marcos, Texas on Tuesday, Redbird's Jeff Van West explained the new program.  It's currently in the experimental and testing phase but could be ready for a more complete rollout in three years or so.

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Video: AVweb's Tim Cole Reflects on China

AVweb's Tim Cole recently completed a trip to China and the China General Aviation Congress at Xi'an.  Here are some closing observations.

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