Business NewsWire Complete Issue

July 20, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

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Are Pro Pilots Pros?

You're a pilot. You stopped counting hours long ago; now you count engines, instead. Your FAA certificate comes with page numbers and looks like a list of every ticket and rating the FAA hands out. Flying is your main source of income. You fly as a professional, act as a professional and get compensated as a professional. But, unless you fly for an air carrier, you may not be a professional in the eyes of the federal government. That interpretation comes from a rule issued in April by the U.S. Department of Labor that attempts to define who is and is not exempt from the department's wage and hour requirements. The rule's impact affects how employers treat pilots when considering minimum wages and overtime, among other considerations. Of course, being a "professional" in the eye of the federal government may not be a good thing if you depend on overtime to make ends meet. The new rule, published April 23, 2004, and scheduled to go into effect Aug. 23, 2004, has created a lot of uncertainty within the corporate flight department, at charter operations and elsewhere. In other words, everywhere "professional" pilots work. Both the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) recently were forced to look at the new rules and determine if their constituencies were affected. That jury is seemingly still out, however. A quick read of the new rule shows that the essential problem has to do with the department's outdated understanding of how pilots are trained and compensated.

For example, the department states that "aviation is not a 'field of science or learning,' and that the knowledge required to be a pilot is not 'customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction,'" an interpretation sure to generate comment at, say, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. That said, the department acknowledges that recent litigation has had the effect of modifying long-held understandings of the training and educational requirements imposed on pilots -- it's a shame they can't pick up the phone and call the FAA to figure out such things. Nevertheless, the department concluded its discussion of how it treats pilots by saying, "Because of the conflict in the courts, and the insufficient record evidence on the standard educational requirements for the various pilot licenses, the Department has decided not to modify its position on pilots at this time." Among other ways in which this situation might be resolved is for the department to look at the combination of education and training requirements, coupled with pay scales. If nothing else, the huge responsibility balanced against the paltry pay -- for most pilots, anyway -- may well tie up in the courts the whole question for decades more. Nevertheless, look for the NBAA and NATA to try to clarify what the heck's going on in the near future. Be assured the federal government will be of no help.

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Bombardier I: Hey, Buddy. Wanna Buy A Learjet ... Company?

It’s all a rumor, say company officials. Nevertheless, it’s a rumor gaining visibility. "It" is the concept that Canadian aerospace giant Bombardier is trying to sell its Wichita-based Learjet subsidiary. But, like Mark Twain’s death, rumors of Learjet’s pending sale are premature, according to the parent company. Published reports quote Bombardier Aerospace spokesman Leo Knaapen as saying, "It's absolutely untrue." According to The Wichita Eagle, Knaapen added, "Bombardier is committed to corporate aviation, and Learjet is part of the Bombardier family." But the rumors seem to have traction, having first appeared last week in The Montreal (Canada) Gazette and later confirmed by the Eagle with numerous industry participants. Bombardier presently manufactures the Model 31A, the Models 40, 45 and 45XR, and the Model 60 Learjets. Regardless of Learjet’s immediate fate -- which might not be decided in the near term -- the rumors seem to confirm that industry analysts believe the first purpose-built business jet’s brand is not doing as well as Bombardier would like. If the parent decided to divest its child, it would be the latest in a series of ownership changes for William Lear’s distinctive planes since the Model 23’s first flight on Oct. 7, 1963. In fact, Learjet is perhaps second only to Mooney as the most-acquired general aviation airframe manufacturer in modern times: First begun as Swiss American Aviation Corporation in Sweden in 1963, the Learjet name has been owned by Gates Rubber Company, was then converted to a private company, was bought in 1987 by Integrated Acquisition Inc., and was then acquired by Bombardier in 1990.

Bombardier II: Going Up Against Boeing, Airbus?

Even as the rumors of a Learjet company sale swirled around Bombardier, the company may also be getting into the "real" airliner market. Already manufacturing one of the world's most popular regional jets, Bombardier officials say a new plane designed to compete in the airliner market for 100- to 150-seat jets may soon take shape. Dubbed the CSeries -- for Competitive, Continental, Connector -- the newest ride in the company's stable would target those air carriers currently operating aging DC9s, Fokker 100s, Boeing 737 Classics, BAe-146s and MD80s that are beginning to need replacement. Also targeted, of course, are similarly sized offerings from Boeing and Airbus, the 717 and the A318/A319, respectively. Also involved in that low-end market is the 98-seat Embraer 190, which has not yet entered service. "The market for the 100- to 150-passenger commercial aircraft segment is estimated at $250 billion U.S., or roughly 6,000 aircraft over the next 20 years," said Gary Scott, president of the Bombardier New Commercial Aircraft Program. Perhaps even more interesting, said some observers, is the potential for a "CSeries" Bombardier to be placed into traditional business and corporate aviation use. "There is a huge potential customer base in the lower end of this segment, especially among existing main line and the fast-growing low-cost carriers. We are very excited about the prospects of developing a new family of aircraft that is optimized to meet their needs. And I’m pleased to say our customers are telling us the same thing," Scott said. The company will be conducting a yearlong feasibility study, it said earlier this week in a press release. The intent will be to develop a family of aircraft meeting the market's needs while operating at costs 15 percent lower than current-production competitors. The CSeries aircraft family will be designed in two basic five-seat-abreast versions. One version will be designed to carry 110 to 115 passengers, while a larger version will seat 130 to 135 passengers. Each of the two variants can be configured for either short-haul travel with a 1,800-nautical-mile range or for transcontinental flights of up to 3,200 nautical miles.

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Bell Rings In With New Line...

Bell Helicopter this week announced the first flight of Bell’s MAPL (Modular Affordable Product Line) tail-fan demonstrator at the company’s new XworX research center in Arlington, Texas. The company said its new aircraft on July 15 was test-flown, briefly, including hover, low-speed maneuvers and pedal turns before safely landing. Bells says its tail-fan-equipped demonstrator will be used to research applications for its new product line. That new line could include the tail-fan technology as well as an advanced rotor system, the demonstrator for which is planned to fly later this year. Bell said it expects the first new aircraft in its MAPL family to be available in 2008. The company added that some of the new technologies are already mature and ready for market. They are being incorporated into Bell’s 427i model, which was announced earlier this year. After the flight, Bell pilot Jim McCollough said, "This aircraft is easy to fly. The workload in hover is very low." Observers described the tail fan as practically inaudible, according to the company. The demonstrator is an experimental Bell 407 with a 40-inch-diameter fan and duct, which replace the 65-inch-diameter tail rotor. The tail fan incorporates technology "covered by new patent disclosures," said Bell. A test program will be conducted at the XworX facility and at Leadville, Colo., to obtain high-altitude performance data.

...Plus Model 427i Launch Customer

Air Methods Corporation will be the launch customer for Bell Helicopter's new Model 427i twin-engine helicopters, the manufacturer announced this week. Fifteen of the new 427i aircraft are scheduled for delivery to the aeromedical operator, beginning in late 2007. The agreement between Bell and Air Methods provides for a minimum delivery of three aircraft per year. Bell Chief Executive Officer Mike Redenbaugh said, "The 427i is an aircraft that will have tremendous performance capability. To have it operated by the largest provider of air medical transport services for hospitals in the business is a testimony to the acceptance the 427i has already received in the marketplace." Added Aaron Todd, Chief Executive Officer of Air Methods Corporation, "We believe that the Bell 427i aircraft will offer an attractive option for our current Bell 222 customers that require two-patient, cabin-class capability, while maintaining cost sensitivity." The sales agreement gives Air Methods, as the launch customer, a trade-in option for up to 15 of its 22 Bell 222 helicopters currently operated. The Bell Model 427i is expected to receive FAA certification during the fourth quarter of 2006, with initial deliveries expected during the final quarter of 2007.

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Eclipse Update: Training...

One of the industry's major concerns about the forthcoming flood of light-light jets like the Eclipse and the Safire Jet is training. Turning loose, say, a Baron pilot in a jet cruising 150 knots faster at much higher altitudes is not something to be taken lightly. Just ask the insurance companies. Perhaps recognizing this, Eclipse Aviation Corporation this week took the cover off its new six-phase pilot training program. The company also announced the first module of its self-paced study course and revealed that it recently purchased an L-39 Albatross for use in upset recovery training. "Our commitment to innovation extends far beyond the design and manufacture of the Eclipse 500 jet," said Vern Raburn, president and CEO. "We have defined a six-phase program that will train customers of various experience levels to be safe and successful in the Eclipse 500 jet. These latest milestones demonstrate our progress in delivering on that promise," he added. Eclipse’s "Jet Basics Self-Paced Study Course" is a five-part series of CD-based modules providing an overview of jet aircraft and their operating environment to assist pilots transitioning to jets. Just what the Baron doctor ordered. Meanwhile, the L-39 Albatross jet trainer will be used to demonstrate to each Eclipse 500 customer how to recover from upsets. Eclipse’s six-phase training program includes pilot qualifications review, the just-announced jet basics self-study course, an altitude-chamber session, upset recovery training in Eclipse’s L-39, a seven-day Part 142 Eclipse 500 type-rating transition course, either certification to fly single-pilot or requirements to fly with a mentor pilot, and regular recurrent training.

...And Component Progress

Meanwhile, Eclipse inked a long-term deal with Compass Aerospace Corporation calling for Compass to manufacture structural components and sub-assemblies for the cockpit, fuselage and doors on the Eclipse 500 jet. Compass is currently supplying the structural components and assemblies for Eclipse’s pre-production, certification-program aircraft and expects to begin its production ramp in 2005 and achieve full-rate production levels soon thereafter in support of Eclipse’s delivery of production aircraft, Eclipse said in a press release. Compass' work will initially be performed at the company's facilities in California, Kansas and Washington. "We have been working with Eclipse Aviation since 2002 and are extremely proud to be one of the long-term team members that will soon deliver the breakthrough Eclipse 500 aircraft," said John R. Reimers, chairman and chief executive officer of Compass Aerospace. With an estimated value in excess of $400 million based upon projected delivery rates, this agreement represents one of the largest single contracts ever awarded to Compass, according to Eclipse.

GAMA Media Guide Gaining Ground

The recently announced media guide from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) -- long overdue, in AVweb's opinion -- has already seen pretty significant exposure. According to the association, more than 10,000 page views were registered since it went online last week, with more than 4000 hits to the guide's home page. The association told AVweb that "overall feedback from the public has been very positive thus far. Since going live a week ago, we have made very few changes/corrections." The Web-based product, available on GAMA's site, is one of the more comprehensive tools available to mainstream journalists. Since going online, major additions GAMA has added to the glossary include terms like Amateur Built Aircraft, Kitplane, Experimental Aircraft, Homebuilt, Sport Pilot, and Light Sport Aircraft. Here's hope we'll all be reading fewer newspaper stories about the twin-engine Piper Cub that crashed because there was no flight plan on file.

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NetJets Tweaks Flight Operations Department

NetJets announced changes to its flight operations shop. Senior Vice President of Flight Operations Dave MacGhee, Maj. General U.S. Air Force (Ret.), who has joined the company to assume the position, will take over the company's flight ops. Among other challenges MacGhee will face are preparations for FAR 91K/FAR 135 operations. MacGhee is a former U.S. Air Force command pilot with 3,700 hours in more than 20 types of high-performance aircraft. Gary Hart will also join NetJets as Vice President of Flight Operations/Director of Operations. According to NetJets, Hart was a key participant in the FAA's recent rulemaking effort to draft the new FAR Part 91K fractional rules under which NetJets will begin operating early next year. The company said all of its chief pilots will report to Hart. NetJets President Bill Boisture noted, "The past organizational structure has served us well; however, as we continue to add aircraft types and move toward a FAR 91K/135 operation, we are making these changes to ensure a professionally managed approach to our most important job."

Agusta Goes Grand

Italian manufacturer Agusta this week announced its forthcoming A109 Grand helicopter during the Farnborough 2004 air show. The new light twin helicopter fits at the upper end of the light twin FAR/JAR 27 segment, according to the company. The A109 Grand will have a maximum takeoff weight of 3,175 kg./7,000 lb. and be powered by an 815-shp Pratt & Whitney PW207C and an uprated transmission. Agusta says the new copter's capabilities will include full Class 1 operation. Meanwhile, Pratt and Whitney Canada announced the A109 Grand's powerplant, saying the PW207C is a growth version of the company's PW200-series turboshaft engine family.

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Safire Update

There is little new or definitive in the ongoing saga of Safire Aircraft Company's struggle to find new financing to bring its planned light-light Safire Jet to market. As AVweb reported, the company suspended operation on June 10 and set off to find new financing opportunities. However, some good news for the company may be announced as early as next week. AVweb spoke to company officials earlier in the week about published reports that it was close to closing a deal with Middle Eastern financiers. However, neither that nor any other deal is ready for announcement, according to the company. Some news may be available next week, however.

TSA Watch: AOPA And The "Dumbbell" TFR

As the nation's political season approaches with a fury, so do new, larger and more prevalent temporary flight restrictions (TFRs). As President Bush and presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry hit the road, TFRs will follow them everywhere they go -- kind of like a homing beacon. And now, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), comes the "dumbbell" TFR: two circular areas connected by a narrower corridor. Even though the FAA's TFR Web site isn't even close to being up to the task of plotting these in real time, you're still expected to avoid them. Meanwhile, AOPA says the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has asked it to remind pilots that they must be alert for TFRs and possible interceptions. Said NORAD, "Non-compliance may result in the use of force." You've been warned.

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Watch Your Inbox...

...the next issue of AVweb's BizAVflash will be e-mailed to you on Aug. 11. AVweb is changing our production schedule during July to avoid potential conflicts with the 2004 edition of EAA's AirVenture. As of Aug. 11, we'll be back to our regular schedule. See you at Oshkosh!
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