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The Citation Latitude, the first in the line of new midsized business jets that Cessna hopes will challenge Embraer in that market, made its maiden flight on Tuesday and it went well according to Cessna. The aircraft, which was announced a little over two years ago at NBAA 2011, flew for 2.5 hours, climbed to 28,000 feet and topped out at 230 mph on this flight. Senior Test Pilot Aaron Tobias said all the aircraft's major systems were tested. “To go out and run the card as we did today amazes me,” Tobias told the Wichita Eagle. "It's an easy-flying Cessna." On its second flight, Tobias said he's going to fly it at 45,000 feet and more than 500 mph.

The Latitude will accommodate up to nine passengers and has a maximum range of 2,500 miles. Although it's loosely based on the Sovereign, it's about a foot wider and has a flat floor with a stand-up cabin. It's designed to take on Embraer's Legacy 450/500 designs, which are also in development.

Click for our video preview of the Latitude at the 2011 NBAA Convention.

Photo: ABC News

An Ethiopian Airlines 767-300 en route to Rome landed in Geneva instead on Monday morning, after the first officer reportedly locked the captain out of the cockpit and hijacked the flight. The airplane, with 202 on board, was in Italian airspace when the captain left the cockpit to use the restroom, according to The New York Times. The first officer then locked the cockpit door and activated a transponder hijack code. Italian fighter jets were scrambled, and they escorted the 767 out of Italian airspace. The airplane landed in Geneva at 6:02 a.m., and the first officer taxied off the runway, opened a cockpit window, and exited via a rope. He was unarmed, and told security officers he was in danger in Ethiopia and asked for asylum, according to the Times. He was immediately arrested but he wasn't in any danger of being shot down, at least by the Swiss Air Force.

The Air Force certainly has the firepower to take out the airliner but it's pilots and support crews likely hadn't had their morning coffee while the drama unfolded. Swiss officials confirmed later on Monday that it had not scrambled any of its F-5 or F/A-18 fighters because the Air Force, due to budget considerations, only works regular business hours. That includes a 90-minute lunch in the the middle of the Monday-Friday 8:30-5 schedule. It asks the French to look after its airspace in the other 15.5 hours but they're not authorized to shoot anything down over Swiss territory. Meanwhile, the passengers were unaware of any problem on Monday morning until they landed in Geneva and police boarded the Boeing, ordering them all to put their hands on their heads. "Everybody was safe from beginning to end, no problem," a police spokesman said. The first officer could be charged with hostage-taking, which could send him to prison for up to 20 years, according to the BBC.

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More used business jets (2303) were sold in 2013 than in any previous year and asking prices are on the way up according to the annual review of bizjet sales by JetNet. The amount of used inventory has also dropped by 0.9 percent to 12.5 percent of the worldwide fleet. "We hope this trend for the pre-owned market, along with improvement in the world economy will continue to push more new aircraft purchase for the new year," the report's authors opined. It was also noted that the 12.5 percent of the business jet fleet up for sale is significantly higher then the norm of about 10 percent. While the trends in the report were generally positive for the business jet sector, other sectors didn't fare as well.

Even within the business jet sector, the light business jet market continues to suffer and sales of jets weighing between 10,000 and 20,000 pounds dropped 4.2 percent. Interestingly, very light jet sales held their own with a 1.8 percent increase in sales. Not surprisingly, big business jets weighing more than 35,000 pounds led the sales figures with a 5.7 percent increase to 689 sales. Medium-sized aircraft were just behind that at 619 sales and in increase of 2.3 percent. Turboprop sales were down 8.8 percent, turbine helicopters 11.8 percent and piston helicopters 13.5 percent but their overall markets are in much better shape. Only 8.3 percent of the turboprop fleet is for sale and helicopters for sale stand at 6.1 percent across the board.

Business jet activity is showing a steady increase in Europe and the biggest jump is being recorded by the smallest aircraft. WingX Advance, a German research and consulting company, says very light jets recorded (PDF) a whopping 23 percent increase in flights in January of 2014 compared to January of 2013. The Cessna Citation Mustang flew most of those. The relatively short distances between European business centers puts the Mustang within easy reach of most of them and it appears charter customers don't mind the small cabin for the short hops. The little jets even seemed to take market share from aircraft in the light jet category, which saw flights drop 3 percent. But even though overall traffic is up by a healthy 4 percent over last year, the analysts noted it's still 16 percent lower than the pre-recession levels of 2009.

At the other end of the scale, super midsize jets are taking business from midsize aircraft and increases there are in the double digits. In what may be a significant indication of the improving economy in Europe, private piston aircraft flights are also posting a healthy increase. Private piston aircraft flew 20 percent more in January of 2014 compared to January of 2013. Europe is always a major business aircraft destination and arrivals trends reflect developments in the world economy. There was a 39 percent increase in flights from India and 16 percent from China and Brazil respectively.

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The General Aviation Manufacturers Association is holding its annual luncheon today to announce the sales numbers of its members from last year but some companies just couldn't wait to spread their good news. On Tuesday, Piper jumped the gun with a news release saying its sales and revenue increases were in double digits in 2013, thanks to its focus on the training market. Piper delivered 188 aircraft  last year, up 30 from the previous year, and reported revenue of almost $169 million. Piston-powered aircraft accounted for 154 of those sales, up 24 percent over 2012 and a direct reflection of the training market. "The economics of our single-engine aircraft and our line of sophisticated and proven training aircraft is compelling to many aviators and pilot training institutions around the world," said CEO Simon Caldecott. Meanwhile, Beechcraft announced its rosy numbers as part of its Singapore Air Show news last week.

Beech, which will soon be owned by Textron, reported a whopping 64 percent increase in deliveries with 205 civilian aircraft going out the door after emerging from bankruptcy early in the year. That included 135 King Airs, up from 89 in 2012, and 35 each of the Baron and Bonanza pistons, which was almost twice as many as the previous year. On the military side, Beechcraft sent 34 T-6 trainers to training units all over the world. “In addition to the impressive full-year delivery numbers, we saw our highest booking rates in years and had solid revenue from servicing Hawker and Beechcraft aircraft in both the commercial and military segments," said CEO Bill Boisture. "It’s safe to call our first year as a standalone company a success.”

The FAA is casting a wide net to find candidates for thousands of air traffic controller jobs -- and in doing so, it's trying some new strategies, which has caused distress among some who were on track to qualify under the old strategies. Students enrolled in any of the FAA-approved Collegiate Training Initiative programs at 36 sites around the country were never guaranteed a job with ATC; however, they were placed in a direct-hire pool of applicants the FAA would mine to fill vacancies. Under the new wide-net hiring policy, CTI graduates compete with everyone else who applies, on an equal footing. "We're a little disappointed that this decision has been made," Doug Williams, director of the aviation program at Baltimore County Community College, told the Baltimore Sun. "We feel that this is the wrong way to go about this, [our students] should be given this preference, as they have [been] in the past."

The FAA says it made the change "in pursuit of continuous process improvement … to be able to select from a wide pool of eligible candidates." Under the new system, applicants complete a "biographical assessment" in which they can provide details about their education and aviation-related experience. Selected applicants then will be invited to take the ATC standard aptitude test, the FAA said. Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told AVweb on Tuesday NATCA has taken the position that it's up to the FAA to set hiring policies.

"NATCA is not involved in those decisions, although we have always maintained that the FAA should hire the most qualified candidates and place them in facilities where they have the highest likelihood of success during their training," according to a NATCA statement. "The FAA has a significant hiring need. We are in the midst of a large retirement bubble and due to sequestration there was an extended hiring freeze in 2013. NATCA has been advocating for increased air traffic controller hiring and will continue to do so." The FAA is accepting applications for ATC jobs for a limited time.

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Red Bull has added Croatia as an eighth stop on its air-racing calendar this year, which starts next week, Feb. 28, in Abu Dhabi. Races also will be held in Malaysia, Poland, Great Britain, the U.S., and China. The new Croatian race will be held in Rovinj, a picturesque tourist resort on a small peninsula that juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. Twelve seasoned aerobatic pilots will compete under new rules that aim to make the competition more about pilot skill and less about aircraft performance. The races also will include a new Challenger Cup for a crop of eight young new pilots who will compete during the qualifying days at each event. They will be tutored by the senior pilots and work toward earning the "Unrestricted Super License" they need to fly in the master class of the air race.

The pilot field will include three former title-winners, Paul Bonhomme of Britain, Hannes Arch of Austria, and American Kirby Chambliss. Also competing are Nigel Lamb (UK), Matt Hall (Australia), Peter Besenyei (Hungary), Nicolas Ivanoff (France), Michael Goulian (USA), Matthias Dolderer (Germany), Yoshi Muroya (Japan), Pete McLeod (Canada) and Martin Sonka (Czech Republic). The 2014 Challenger Cup pilots are Tom Bennett of Great Britain, Mikael Brageot of France, Petr Kopfstein of the Czech Republic, Francois Le Vot of France, Peter Podlunsek of Slovenia, Daniel Ryfa of Sweden, Claudius Spiegel of Germany and Juan Velarde of Spain.

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Call me a glutton for punishment, but I’ve logged more than 4000 hours as a civilian primary flight instructor.  I’ve worked in both Part 61 and 141 schools and owned and operated one in the frozen tundra of eastern Michigan.  Currently I’m an instructor at a 142 school, which means I train pilots to go high and fast, but my heart is in ensconced behind a propeller. 

There’s been a lot of talk about how to fix the dwindling pilot population.  Most of it has centered on the aircraft or potential students.  Build a better trainer and they will come. Throw in the fancy gadgets to attract generation Y. The real problem, in my view is the instructors and that’s something that’s fixable now.

Although the primary focus is the transfer of a tangible skill, the instructor’s secondary job is to sell a product.  Far too many instructors fall short when it comes to lead generation and customer retention.  Many instructors make the argument that the flight school is responsible for marketing and promotion.  Flight school owners have some culpability, true, but imagine if a realtor used the same logic.  The most successful salespeople self-promote themselves and their industry.  Unfortunately, instructors are taught technical skills, but rarely receive customer service training.

A potential student pilot has to be convinced that flight training is a good investment.  One rarely complains about cost when the value is realized. The candidate must feel the benefit outweighs the cost.  Excluding competing interests for the sake of flying has to be justified. Sometimes the benefit is financial-- as in using an aircraft for business.  Other times it’s psychological; shortening travel time and not having to jam liquids in a see-through quart size baggie.  Or maybe it’s just fun-- grabbing an FBO-provided golf cart to drive across the runway for some of the finest barbeque in Texas. 

I’ve trained everyone from high net worth individuals in their brand new glass-cockpit aircraft to zoo keepers in a 20-year-old trainer.  They all had different reasons for wanting to fly. I flew with a preacher that thought it made him closer to God.  Regardless, the person in the right seat holds the key to success or failure.  The attitude and professionalism of the CFI means everything.

Years ago, I noticed a student who was very active and excited about training. He had several thousand dollars on account at my school, but had vanished from the schedule.  When I encouraged my employee (his CFI) to give him a call and book a flight, he dismissed the request.  Further inquiry revealed that the instructor felt the student had bad breath and could care less if he ever booked another flight.  Scratch that future pilot from the books, bad breath or not. 

Recently I ventured into several flight schools in the large metropolitan area in which I live.  It was obvious that a cadre of individuals wandering around were instructors.  I showed no signs of being a pilot and feigned interest in the surroundings.  Yet not a single individual made contact with me.  Thirty minutes elapsed and I left.  Demographically, I’m a 43-year-old married man with a working spouse and no children. I drove up in a luxury car.  Talk about the ideal candidate to learn to fly and buy an airplane!

If I had done the same thing at a car dealership, I would have been mobbed with salespeople.  And those individuals would have gotten me in the car first, not taken me directly to the finance office.  How many times do instructors hand a prospect a rate sheet and discuss cost as the first order of business?  Answering questions while seated in the parked aircraft heightens interest.  It promotes the tangible value over the cost. Excitement is contagious.  Good, quality instruction and utility of use can overcome any objection about cost or the perception of antiquated aircraft.  Creative instructors can make training fun and interesting irrespective of the age or quality of the aircraft. 

CFIs will have to lead the charge to stem the declining population of pilots. Those who have the skills to pass on the knowledge are the best advocates.  How many experienced flight instructors continue to renew their certificate every two years but fail to conduct a single hour of dual instruction?  The last time I attended a weekend CFI revalidation clinic, an informal survey revealed about 95 percent were not conducting any instruction. Why not just give up the certificate and save the renewal fee? The two most prominent arguments seem to be “I worked so hard to get it,” or “I might need it someday.” To stop the bleeding, that someday is now.

Shannon Forrest teaches resource management and is an active Gold Seal instrument and multiengine flight instructor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

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