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November 12, 2003

Business NewsWire Complete Issue

By The AVweb Editorial Staff

This issue of AVweb's Business AVflash is brought to you by …

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At What Price Safety?

NPRM Affects Hundreds Of Sightseeing Businesses...

As the aviation industry is pummeled by a weak economy and staggered by the 9/11 hangover, it might seem like curious timing for the FAA to write regulations that it believes will cost $238 million over ten years and drive 700 enterprises out of at least a portion of their business. That's the agency's own assessment of the effect of National Air Tour standards it is proposing and which are at the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) stage. Comments will be taken until Jan. 20, 2004. The rule package, if adopted, would force Part 91 operators to upgrade to at least Part 135 status to continue sightseeing flights. "The FAA estimates that about 700 Part 91 operators currently providing sightseeing flights would elect to stop providing the service," the agency concludes in what it calls its "Business Closure Analysis." The document goes on to say, however, that sightseeing is a small part of their overall business, less than 10 hours per year, and that these operators would remain in business and obtain revenues elsewhere. It's all in the name of safety, of course, and a direct reaction to an NTSB report on the air tour industry published eight years ago. But Business AVflash's sister publication AVweb has been told by some of these small operators that they rely heavily on tourism flights for their business and they can't afford the equipment, documentation and procedures upgrades that moving up to Part 135 entails, which is estimated at $11,200 by the agency for each single-pilot aircraft. The agency admits the cost seems high, but it also says the savings, through improved safety, in bent metal and lives lost (assuming its projections are met) will be about $490 million over 10 years.

...Higher Costs, More Hassles...

Although it can be argued that Part 91 operators will be the hardest hit, larger companies are also counting up the costs. Jim Cruson, president of Air Vegas, one of the biggest air tour companies in the country, says some of the proposed regulations will hit his firm squarely in the bottom line. For instance, his company's fleet of 10 Beech 99s routinely flies over Lake Mead and the new rules would require all passengers to be wearing an inflatable flight vest for the duration of each flight. "It's ridiculous," said Cruson. Besides the added expense, there is also the time lost showing people how to wear and operate the vests. The life-vest rule would apply regardless of the size of the body of water or altitude and gliding-distance criteria. The water overflight rules will cost helicopter operators even more, however. The agency proposes that helicopters used for sightseeing be equipped with emergency floats that will keep them upright in an emergency ditching. The agency's own estimates peg the cost for each helicopter at between $19,000 and $39,000.

...Altitude Minimums Raise Safety Concerns

Cruson said new minimum altitudes for tour operators could actually create safety problems. Currently, sightseeing aircraft operate between 500 and 1,000 feet AGL depending on aircraft type and the areas over which they are flying. The new rule would set the limit at 1,000 feet for all sightseeing aircraft. And since the essence of sightseeing is to get as close to the sights as possible, that means all aircraft will operate right on that limit. "It will decrease the level of safety because it focuses more aircraft in less airspace," he said. Cruson said his company is still studying the 62-page document before sending its comments to the FAA. At least one industry group has tried broaching the topic with the FAA, but with little success. At last week's meeting between the GA Coalition, made up of the leading alphabet groups and the FAA, the group was briefed on the NPRM and tried to let agency officials know they were worried about it. The outgoing chairman, EAA President Tom Poberezny, said the FAA officials could not legally discuss the group's concerns because the NPRM is at the comment stage. "EAA and a large number of the coalition members have strong reservations about the rule, which will likely be reflected in their individual comments to the docket," Poberezny said.

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Embraer Stays On Course

Puts Finishing Touches On The 170…

Embraer finished certification of its 170 model in late October. Luis Carlos Affonso, Embraer's vice president of engineering and development, told reporters that completing the documentation was the most important part of the certification process. Affonso said more meetings with regulators will follow as the world's fourth largest aircraft manufacturer seeks certification for Brazil, the United States and Europe. The 170 model is part of Embraer's new family of regional jets and will seat between 70 and 118 passengers. Will it follow the same corporate shuttle modification route the Canadair Regional Jet, Beech 1900D and Saab 340 have taken? What we do know is that Embraer had hoped to finish certification more than a year ago. "It was a very aggressive timetable," Affonso said. Certification came about 53 months after the project began, 13 months behind schedule. Affonso said the company expected to deliver three to six of the new 170 models this year with deliveries up to 60 of the new aircraft next year.

...Signs Legacy Deal With Flight Options

On Oct. 27, Embraer signed a memorandum of understanding with Flight Options for the purchase of up to four Legacy Executive business jets. Deliveries of the aircraft are expected by the end of this year. Embraer said the average price of the Legacy Executive in the company's backlog was $20.8 million U.S., but declined to put a value on the Flight Options deal. Embraer says the jet's latest range has been boosted by increased fuel capacity, aerodynamic improvements and higher engine thrust. Aerodynamic improvements include the removal of windshield wipers, redesign of fairings and air inlets, leading-edges polishing, and surfaces smoothing resulting in significant drag reduction, fuel economy and extended autonomy. The Legacy family consists of the Legacy Executive, with a range of 3,250 nm (8 pax, 0.74 Mach, NBAA reserves) in a 13-seat configuration; the Legacy Shuttle (16-19 seats, 1,840-nm range) and the Legacy Shuttle HC (30-37 seats, 1,840-nm range). The company is projecting to sell 110 jets this year but has to sell 39 jets in Q4 to meet the target after falling short of its Q3 target by 10 jets.

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Business Jet Deliveries Fall 32 Percent

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) says deliveries of business jets were off 32 percent from the same period a year ago. According to the organization's shipment report for the third quarter of 2003, the fall in business jet deliveries contributed to an overall 9 percent decrease in shipments of general aviation aircraft for the quarter. The industry delivered 338 business jets compared to 498 in the same quarter a year ago. Other sectors fared better. Deliveries of turboprop aircraft also dropped 4 percent, from 170 to 163, while piston single sales actually increased, albeit by a tiny .2 percent, from 1,101 against 1,099 in Q3 2002. "We hope that (the single piston sales) is a harbinger of better days for the entire industry," said GAMA President Ed Bolen in a statement. Sales by the major companies broke down this way: Cessna, 42 Citations, 14 Caravans, 136 single pistons; Raytheon, 21 jets, 18 King Airs, six Barons, 16 Bonanzas; Bombardier, 16 bizjets; Boeing, three BBJs.

FAA Issues RVSM Rule

In late October, the FAA issued its long-anticipated Final Rule on Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums (DRVSM) decreeing that on Jan. 20, 2005, the required vertical separation between aircraft from 29,000 to 41,000 feet over the U.S. will be reduced from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet. That means more available routes, which the FAA says will actually result in greater separation between aircraft. It also means that aircraft that fly at those altitudes must have more accurate altimeters and enhanced autopilot systems, costly items that might cause some financial hardships. The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) was quick to announce it was "disappointed" in the rule. NATA complained in a news release that the FAA failed to take into account the impact on small charter operators who can't afford the required equipment. But the FAA said the upgrades will cost $800 million, while more efficient routing will save $5.3 billion in fuel costs by 2016. "Implementing RVSM is an important initiative within the FAA's strategic five-year Flight Plan to increase capacity," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in a news release. "RVSM aids the agency's goal to improve global aviation harmonization." NATA, however, finds that harmonization a bit jarring. "We remain concerned that the FAA has not yet met the spirit or letter of their obligations to the regulated parties, in particular small Part 135 on-demand certificate holders," NATA President James Coyne said. The wait until 2005 gives operators time to install the upgrades, the FAA said. About 3,900 aircraft, or 44 percent of those affected, have already been made compliant, leaving about 4,900 yet to be modified and tested, according to an FAA estimate. Canada, South America, and the Caribbean countries will implement similar rules at the same time as the U.S.

Little Rock Business Aviation Association Takes Flight

The Little Rock Business Aviation Association has taken flight as a new trade group. The nonprofit organization says it represents the interests of business aviation at Adams Field in Little Rock. The group is composed of representatives from several prominent companies that operate aircraft at Adams Field. The new association's officers are Jerry Cook of Stephens Inc., chairman; Jim Brown of Dillard's Inc., vice chairman; and Elizabeth Glasbrenner of Smiley Investments, secretary/treasurer. Board members include Bob East of East-Harding Inc., group spokesman; John Ferrari of Acxiom Corp.; Carl Finch of Smiley Investments; Larry McKinney of Lexicon Inc.; and David Paul of Alltel Corp. Walter Smiley of Smiley Investments and Bill Goff of Stephens Inc. also are founding members.

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Light Jets Manufacturers Address Flying Barriers

As of this moment, some seven manufacturers promising a new generation of light jets sit on a collective order roster tallying well more than 2,000 aircraft. But who is going to fly them? The light jets promise certification for single-pilot operations from nearly all GA airports. Some offer acquisition costs below that of a brand-new light twin, operating costs similar to light twins and performance well beyond that, but speakers at AOPA Expo 2003 made it clear you won't find any light-twin pilots flying them, not without a lot of work, anyway. The problems include placating insurance brokers, finding time for recurrent training, and magically convincing airline pilot groups that squalls of "non-professionals" sharing airspace traditionally occupied by their own well-defined (and well-regulated) group is a good thing. The hurdles are so huge that companies are now coming to the front with plans to resolve the problems. Guardian Jet announced at AOPA Expo consulting and management solutions designed to take the owner/operator from light-jet hopeful to light-jet PIC. The soon-to-boom light-jet market is still led by Adam Aircraft's A700, the only one example flying with production engines. With the A500, a piston twin, and the A700, a twin-jet, the naming convention leaves room (at least numerically) for a third intermediate aircraft. The right A600 could allow Adam's customers to transition smoothly (without jumping from piston to jet), keeping insurance brokers happy, while keeping customers within the Adam product line. While the jets have the potential to facilitate aviation and air travel for the masses, it may be quite some time before it does much for the pilot/owner/operator.

Walter Extra Survives Midair On Way To NBAA

The folks at Extra Aircraft claim NBAA was a success but they also found themselves with a scary scenario on the way to the annual event. The prototype of the company's entry to the high-performance touring/business market very nearly became a tragic NTSB statistic, taking the celebrated founder of the company, Walter Extra, with it. Extra, whose German company is synonymous with high-performance aerobatic aircraft, was at the controls of the EA-500 when a wingtip passed through the propeller arc of a Cessna 182 accompanying his and another Extra aircraft to the convention, held Oct. 7-9 in Orlando. Extra's U.S. President Ken Weaver said Extra "heard a noise" and advised the other aircraft he was turning back to St. Augustine, where the trio had left a few minutes earlier. All three aircraft landed safely and a nick was discovered on a wingtip fairing of the Extra 500. Weaver said the fairing is a cosmetic part made of composite. He said technicians "mixed up some goop" and had the fairing fixed in minutes. With a little blast of paint, the aircraft was airworthy (and show-worthy) again and the entourage headed for Orlando the next day, presumably with a little more separation. Weaver said the incident occurred while Extra was moving from one side of the 182, piloted by a company official, to the other and he simply misjudged the distance. Weaver said he couldn't explain why the trio was in such tight formation. "We aren't the Blue Angels," he said. The mishap was reported to the NTSB and German authorities (where the 500 is registered) and no further investigation is anticipated. According to Weaver, the 182's propeller was nicked with minor deformity on the outboard blade tips. Also, per the engine manufacturer's recommendation following any impact or sudden engine stoppage, the engine is being torn down and inspected for any internal damage.

NBAA Seeks role Naples' Stage 2 Ban Appeal

On Oct. 21, NBAA filed papers in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., asking the court to allow it to participate in the appeal involving the Stage 2 ban at Naples Municipal Airport. The organization claims, as a recipient of federal funding, the Naples Airport Authority "is required under federal law and a contractual grant assurance to make the airport available for public use on reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination." The FAA investigated Naples' Stage 2 ban, which began March 1, 2002, and on Aug. 25, 2003, issued a decision finding the ban unreasonable and thus a violation of federal law and the grant assurance. NBAA participated in that investigation, arguing that the ban is unlawful. The FAA agrees and will refuse to approve federal grant assistance for the airport as long as the ban remains in place and enforced. In September, the Naples Airport Authority filed an appeal of that decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. NBAA -- now joined by GAMA -- wants to rejoin the noisy battle, claiming it has been involved "both before and after the ban was enacted, and should be permitted to participate in the court appeal as well."

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Biz AV's AD Watch: Beech 400A and 400T NPRM

The FAA is proposing the adoption of a new Airworthiness Directive (AD) that is applicable to certain Raytheon Model Beech 400A and 400T series airplanes. This rule would require an inspection to determine the part number of the A194 roll trim printed circuit board (PCB), and replacement of certain PCBs with improved parts. The FAA claims action is necessary to prevent intermittent sticking of the relays on the PCB in either the open or closed position, which could result in an out-of-trim condition that could require using considerable control wheel force to keep the wings level, and consequent reduced controllability of the airplane. Comments must be received by Dec. 19, 2003.

Biz AV's AD Watch: Eurocopter France Model EC120B Helicopters

This amendment adopts a new Airworthiness Directive (AD) for the specified Eurocopter France model helicopters that requires operators to either temporarily or permanently secure the electrical bonding braid that is installed on the left cyclic pitch control stick base within 10 hours time-in-service (TIS) and, if temporarily secured, installing a permanent attachment system for the bonding braid within 500 hours TIS or 12 months, whichever occurs first. The FAA claims this amendment is prompted by a report of a bonding braid twisting around the attachment nut installed on the bolt that connects the roll channel torque link to the left-hand cyclic pitch control stick. The agency says the actions specified by this AD, which becomes effective Dec. 10, 2003, are intended to prevent an unsecured bonding braid from restricting travel to the cyclic pitch control stick, and subsequent loss of control of the helicopter.

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We Welcome Your Feedback!

Business AVflash is a twice-monthly summary of the latest business aviation news, articles, products, features and events featured on AVweb, the Internet's Aviation Magazine and News Service. http://www.avweb.com

Have a comment or question? Send it to mailto:newsteam@avweb.com.

Today's issue written by News Writer Arturo Weiss:
AVweb's editorial team: http://avweb.com/contact/authors.html.

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Let's all be careful out there, okay?

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