January 20, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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If you liked 2003, you'll probably like 2004, say business and charter aviation industry observers. Many of the issues, trends and challenges visited upon the industry in 2003 remain either under continued development or mired in mediocrity as the calendar flipped over a new page. To be sure, the industry's overall outlook is a positive one -- barring any unforeseen blip in the rebounding overall economy, private aviation should follow along on improving economic coattails. As in the past, such a recovery will follow somewhat more slowly than for other sectors, observers believe. Still, other challenges remain, many of them with their roots in perennial areas like bureaucracy, politics, technology or security, independent of the economy. While many throughout the industry are hard at work addressing these challenges, no observers harbor any real beliefs they will be resolved in the coming year. And none of this anticipated good fortune is expected to "unscrew" the "screwing" being given to air tour operators at the lighter end of the business and charter aviation industry by the FAA.
One of the most vexing issues to confront the industry recently is the moving target of general aviation security: how to improve it, how to ensure it and how to convince politicians and the public alike that much has already been done to prevent business and charter aviation from being used by terrorists. The problem was highlighted last week as CBS aired what amounted to an "attack journalism" piece targeting fly-in communities but painting non-scheduled aviation as insecure because it does not feature TSA battle droids, metal detectors and baggage-scanning equipment at every grass strip throughout the U.S. For all its faults -- and industry observers tell AVweb the piece really got nothing right -- it did serve to remind industry it still has a long way to go before the public's opinion of general and business aviation's relative security changes.
Indeed, and for all practical purposes, no significant progress in this area has been made by industry for roughly a year. For example, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport remains closed to non-scheduled flights, no matter how many times industry has asked for a program to allow its reopening. Another example is the continuing bans on Part 91 and 135 operations in various blocks of airspace whenever a security-related Temporary Flight Restriction is created, like during last night's State of the Union address. All of which is despite government-approved security programs being in place for many of these operators and the overwhelming lack of any evidence that terrorists want to use a non-airline aircraft in an attack. Unfortunately, and barring a significant "event" in private aviation's favor, this "stalemate" between the industry, government and the media shows no signs of abating throughout 2004.
On perhaps a more easily understood -- but no less frustrating -- level, the looming Jan. 20, 2005, deadline for domestic reduced vertical separation minima (DRVSM) will have repair stations working overtime in 2004. This high activity level will come at the same time industry and the FAA work to implement new, often-delayed Part 145 regulations. The new regs go into effect Jan. 31, 2004. By that time, all certified repair stations should have submitted their repair station and quality-control manuals to their local FSDO, among other deadline-related tasks. Once their new manuals are submitted to the FSDO, the FAA doesn't "approve" them. Instead, the agency will be simply reviewing the manuals to determine if they meet applicable regulations. Still, there are thousands of airplanes on the U.S. registry that are not now RVSM-compliant. These include 20-series Learjets, early Hawkers, JetStars, Westwinds and the like, as well as many turboprops. Especially for the older fuel-guzzling turbojets, how, whether and how much it will cost to obtain RVSM certification and be able to operate in the altitudes from FL290 to FL410 after the deadline is anyone's guess. Many say these costs can easily reach half of the airplane's value, or more. Repair stations will be heavily involved with their customers in trying to develop answers for those potentially expensive questions.
Some good news came last year in the form of the long-awaited final rule on fractional operations. Known formally as "Regulation of Fractional Aircraft Ownership Programs and On-Demand Operations," the new rule was published on Sept, 17, 2003, and, for existing frax operators, affects flights conducted after Dec. 17, 2004. Still, industry's challenge in 2004 will be to read and understand the 70-page final rule and comments-disposition document and the major or minor changes it makes to FAR Parts 61, 91, 119, 125, 135 and 142. Despite the rule's size and complexity, it was uniformly hailed by industry as a "good thing" when it was released. The trick will be to consistently assimilate it into new and existing fractional and charter operations. Already, a series of joint FAA-industry seminars are underway to help both agency managers and industry executives better understand what is expected of them and where the pitfalls are.
Now that the new fractional-operations rules have a fork sticking from them, naturally the FAA has launched yet another major regulatory review: the Part 135/125 Aviation Rulemaking Committee. This undertaking, for which the Fractional Ownership Aviation Rulemaking Committee was but the opening act, began last summer and has met once more since then. Still, there are many more meetings -- and, perhaps, years -- to go before this rulemaking committee files its final recommendations. Meanwhile, air tour operators and charitable organizations in danger of being regulated out of existence by the FAA will be fortunate to even get face time with the agency. Recently, the FAA said it would conduct a virtual meeting with parties interested in the kind of casual sightseeing operations the proposed rules target but so far has refrained from consenting to a large, in-person meeting of the kind it grants to charter and frax operators and to the repair-station crowd. The agency has agreed to extend the comment period deadline from Jan. 20, 2004, to April 19, 2004 -- but that's the least it could do.
And so 2004 is off and running. Stay tuned ...
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Jan. 8 marked the first flight of Bombardier's second test copy of its new Global 5000, the company's ultra-long-range business jet. The four-hour local flight from Downsview, Ontario, served as a shakedown prior to the plane's planned delivery to the Bombardier Completion Centre in Montreal this month to install a production interior. Flight testing for environmental control system validation and interior function and reliability will begin as soon as the interior installation is complete. It will then join the first aircraft as part of the two-ship flight test program. "Over the next few months, it will be used to validate our interior engineering and manufacturing processes. Each interior system will also undergo ground endurance testing to replicate the expected cycles on the aircraft," said Robert Duffield, director of the Global 5000 program at Bombardier Aerospace. The Global 500 program was begun in February 2002. The certified aircraft is expected to be capable of flying nonstop from continental Europe to central North America at Mach 0.85 with eight passengers and three crewmembers.
Dallas, Texas, was the location, Jan. 8 was the date and Bombardier Business Jet Solutions was the customer. The event? Entry into service of the first completed Bombardier Challenger 300 business jet under the Bombardier Flexjet fractional ownership program. According to the company, the type's first customer flight makes the Challenger 300 the first purpose-built aircraft to enter service in the emerging super-midsize market segment. "The Challenger 300 has been designed with the unique needs of Bombardier Flexjet program owners and the high-utilization requirements of fractional ownership in mind," explained Michael McQuay, president, Bombardier Business Jet Solutions.
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Gulfstream is staying busy by using a new G550 bizjet to set a series of city-pair speed records over the last month. Most recently, the company launched a G550 from New York City to Kuwait City. The record-setting flight departed John F. Kennedy International Airport at 4:51 p.m. EST on Jan. 16, flew nonstop for 10 hours, 56 minutes, and landed at Kuwait International Airport at 11:47 a.m. local time on Jan. 17. The flight covered 5,757 nautical miles at an average ground speed of 527 knots. Earlier, a G550 flew three different flights, including: Savannah, Ga., to Dubai, a distance of 6,554 nm, in 13:47, for an average ground speed of 482 knots; Dubai to Hong Kong, 3,196 nm in 6:06, averaging 524 knots; and Beijing to White Plains, N.Y., 5,903 nm, in 13:45 and 429 knots average groundspeed. According to the company, the National Aeronautic Association has recognized the records. The G550 received its FAA certification last August and is the company's flagship jet. It is equipped with Gulfstream's state-of-the-art PlaneView flight deck, Heads-Up Display and FAA-certified Enhanced Vision System (EVS). The G550 can accommodate up to 18 passengers, fly at a maximum speed of .885 Mach and cruise at a maximum altitude of 51,000 feet.
Meanwhile, Gulfstream wasted no time in welcoming the FAA's recently released rule allowing certified enhanced flight vision systems (EFVS) to be used to determine "enhanced flight visibility" for Part 91 operators landing at the conclusion of an instrument approach. Labeling the new rule a "vote of confidence" for its own Enhanced Vision System (EVS), Gulfstream reminded the industry -- and especially its potential customers -- that aircraft and crews using EFVS can now descend and operate aircraft below decision height, decision altitude, or minimum descent altitude by utilizing the EFVS image to detect the required visual cues and to determine flight visibility. The rule change was issued Jan. 9, 2004, and becomes effective Feb. 9. (See related article, below, on a Canadian-certified EFVS.)
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Cessna's transition to a world without 25-year veteran Russ Meyer continued last week with Jack Pelton being named president and chief executive officer of the airframe manufacturer. Pelton, himself a veteran of both McDonnell-Douglas and then Boeing, replaces Charlie Johnson, who announced his retirement last month after months on medical leave from the Wichita-based company, as president. Meyer will stay on as chairman to focus on "big-picture" issues with Pelton now in charge of daily operations. "We're extremely fortunate to have proven leaders like Jack on board to build on Cessna's rich foundation of success and market leadership. He is a highly talented executive and a natural choice to lead Cessna into the future," said Textron Chairman, President and CEO Lewis B. Campbell in a press release. "As the industry begins to rebound from the downturn in the economy, a long-range competitive product plan will be key to moving Cessna to an even higher level of market leadership. Jack has the experience and knowledge to make that happen." In addition to his service at McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing, Pelton was senior vice president of engineering and programs at Fairchild Dornier in Germany and was responsible for the company's 728JET aircraft family. "As the business jet market regains momentum, Cessna will be well positioned to maintain its market leadership, with a product line and service capability that are second to none," said Textron Chief Operating Officer Steven Loranger. Pelton is a Citation-rated, instrument-rated commercial pilot and flies regularly as pilot in command.
Meanwhile, Cessna CEO Jack Pelton's task of helping the company rebound from the economy's downturn got a bit tougher after industry leader NetJets told the manufacturer that it was canceling its order for 50 Citation CJ3 aircraft. According to Cessna, the canceled order applied to jets slated for delivery in the late 2005-2008 time frame. Almost in the same breath, NetJets announced it has placed an order for 50 new Hawker 400XP light jets and eight Hawker 800XP midsize jets from Raytheon Aircraft Company. With an additional 50 Hawker 400XP jets listed in NetJets' order as options, its potential value to Raytheon rings the cash register at more than $600 million. The aircraft will be added to the NetJets fractional aircraft ownership program. Undeterred, Cessna said the greatest impact will be on other CJ3 customers, who can perhaps expect their orders to be filled sooner. "Market reception for the CJ3 has been tremendous and we are on track to begin delivery in the fourth quarter of next year," Pelton said. "Our current backlog for the CJ3 will allow us to fill out the planned CJ3 production schedule well into 2007." Cessna's backlog has it on track to deliver as many as 170 jets in 2004. The first flight of the CJ3 prototype occurred in April 2003, and type certification is expected by mid-2004 with the first customer delivery presently planned for the last calendar quarter of this year. Cessna has received at least 160 orders for CJ3s.
It won't be registered as N1, but Bombardier Aerospace will soon deliver a brand-new Challenger 604 bizjet to none other than AVweb's Favorite Aviation Agency. The Jan. 19, 2004, announcement by the Canada-based manufacturer says that the aircraft -- for which the FAA also placed two options -- will be used for runway and airway calibration as well as other special missions. [More...] According to Bombardier, the new aircraft will join a fleet of three Challenger 601s and six Learjet 60 jets being used for such purposes throughout the world. After production in Montreal and completion in the United States, the new 604 is scheduled for delivery in November 2004. The FAA took delivery of its first Challenger 601 in 1993. The aircraft are based at the FAA's Oklahoma City facility.
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Jeppesen said earlier this month that it is refusing, so far, to sign an agreement with the Australian government to pay what in the U.S. would be a user fee for the privilege of using public data to compile aeronautical charts and information. According to Jeppesen, it and other commercial organizations are being asked by Airservices Australia to sign a licensing agreement and pay a license fee, the first of its kind. Jeppesen says the amount of the fee has yet to be determined, but it and other companies compiling such data are confident that it will be significant. Furthermore, Australia's precedent-setting initiative could be very costly and have far-reaching effects on the aviation community if the more than 188 countries of the world follow its lead. In a prepared statement, Jeppesen said it opposes license fees for the reuse or redistribution of public aeronautical information. Jeppesen also believes that any license fee imposed on commercial redistributors of such data will be perceived by the end user, pilots and aircraft operators, as a de facto instance of multiple taxation and a violation of fundamental ICAO principles and policies. Details of the proposed initiative are available on Airservices' Web site.
WSI Corporation this week announced it had received FAA certification for its Internet-based weather and NOTAM delivery system, WSI Pilotbrief Online. The service's certification is under the FAAs Qualified Internet Communications Provider (QICP) program, which means that WSI Pilotbrief Online meets the agency's standards in areas like reliability, security and accessibility. The WSI service joins one offered by Jeppesen as the only two commercially available QICP-certified providers. One other provider is the FAA's own, internal, NAS Aeronautical Information Management Enterprise System, which is used at the agency's Herndon, Va., Air Traffic Control System Command Center. According to the FAA, two other applications for QICP certification from commercial vendors are pending.
Could you some day fly your steam-gage King Air down an ILS to a 100-foot decision height without the electronics costing more than the plane? Could be, if recent trends are an indication. The trends in question are the enhanced vision systems first available on Gulfstream's high-end jets (see article above) and now being certified for other airframes. Earlier this month, Portland, Ore.-based Max-Viz Inc. announced the first-ever Transport Canada certification for one of the company's EVS-1000 systems. The infrared-based system was installed on a Bombardier Global Express by Montreal-based ABC Completions Inc. The U.S.-registered Bombardier Global Express received a Canadian Supplemental Type Approval and is expected to receive an FAA Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) this month. Max-Viz and its dealers currently hold certifications for the Bell 212/412, CL-601, CL-604, Global Express and Falcon 50. Airframes for which STCs are pending include the Falcon 900 series, the Sikorsky S-76, the G-IV/IVSP, the Pilatus PC-12, Lear 35 and Beech 200. A Max-Viz system is also available as a standard factory option on the Cessna Citation X and Sovereign.
Should the federal government retire its color-coded terrorist threat warning system? That's the theme of an op-ed piece, "Damage From the Alert System Is Alarming," written by Edward N. Luttwak at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies that appeared in Monday's Los Angeles Times. Labeling the current five-color warning system as "useless," Luttwak decries the bureaucratic tendency for government to cover itself by using the warning system whenever it perceives a terror threat. He notes that, "Nothing prevents the implementation of the security measures associated with each threat level, without any need to broadcast frightening yet meaningless warnings to the public." Doing away with the system would probably be a good idea, at least from the private aviation industry' view point. Every time an orange, or "high," alert level is declared, the next thing that happens is a clamp-down on general and business aviation's access to the airspace, especially around Washington, D.C. It's enough to make one wonder if the tail isn't wagging the dog.
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What do air-show legend R.A. "Bob" Hoover and former NASA astronaut Eugene Cernan have in common? If you answered that they are co-founders of a new corporate-jet buying service known as Jet Fleet International (JFI), you win a free subscription to AVweb. The JFI mission is to bring the same high-volume purchasing power enjoyed by the airlines to the business jet fleet by banding them together under one program. According to JFI, the program allows "members to fully benefit from savings on repair and maintenance programs, safety evaluation programs, pilot simulator training, fuel and weather data," among other products and services. Presently, JFI says it has alliances with CAE SimuFlite, Jeppesen, Breitling, Teledyne Controls and various contract fuel programs. Check the JFI Web site to learn more.
Now that Chicago's lakefront Meigs Field is closed, probably forever, are the industry's warnings of an adverse local impact on air traffic congestion coming true? Although not publicly connected to Meigs' closure, a study conducted by former FAA official Joseph Del Balzo says plans to expand Chicago O'Hare International Airport would create additional airspace congestion in the area, already one of the most crowded in the world. Among the problems Del Balzo reportedly uncovered is that plans omit consideration of the traffic at outlying airports. Whether the report's conclusion will serve as one more indication of the city's shortsightedness in closing Meigs remains to be seen.
If your company is planning to fly the boss or a party of favorites to the Feb. 1, 2004, Super Bowl game in Houston, be aware that not only will you have to deal with a Special Traffic Management Program (STMP), but you'll also be dealing with a security-based Temporary Flight Restriction. The STMP itself is pretty normal, given the amount of non-scheduled traffic events like this attract. And, of course, everyone wants to leave at the same time, right after the game. The STMP, coupled with the likely TFR -- AVweb hasn't seen it yet and doesn't know when we will -- can only make things much more complicated than they need to be. Our advice? Buy the boss one of those new digital flat-panel TVs and park the airplane.
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Let's all be careful out there, okay?