February 8, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The fiery Feb. 2, 2005, crash of a chartered Canadair Challenger 600-1A11 attempting to depart the Teterboro (N.J.) Airport (TEB) is raising a lot of questions about chartered aircraft safety in general and, specifically, how aircraft in the Challenger series are flown. In addition to an NTSB "go" team, official government interest includes a planned Feb. 18 meeting between FAA and industry officials to discuss ways to improve pilot training and decision-making skills. Most important, though, is the question of why there has been a string of highly visible business aircraft crashes in recent months and what can be done about them. While the Feb. 2 TEB crash did not result in fatalities, it was a near thing. The jet -- with two flight crewmembers, a flight attendant and eight passengers -- was attempting to take off from Runway 6. Instead, it rolled off the departure end of the runway, through a fence, across a six-lane highway and into a warehouse. The worst injuries were to the co-pilot -- a broken leg -- and to a motorist, but the airplane was heavily damaged by a post-crash fire and is considered a total loss. Weather at the time was clear but cold, fueling speculation of an icing-related cause. While it will be months before the NTSB issues its probable-cause statement, various unofficial reports include speculation that airframe ice was a factor and that there may have been a pitch-control problem that prevented rotation.
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The Feb. 2 Challenger crash is the latest in a series of other accidents, another of which also involved a Challenger. On Nov. 28, a chartered Challenger 601-2A12 was destroyed when it impacted terrain during the takeoff roll from the Montrose (Colo.) Regional Airport. Two died. Also in November, a chartered Gulfstream G-III crashed on approach to Houston's William P. Hobby Airport at the end of a positioning flight to pick up former president George H.W. Bush; all three aboard were killed. And, in October, a Beech King Air 200 crashed into a mountain while attempting an approach to the Blue Ridge Airport in Martinsville, Va. All 10 aboard the turboprop died. About the only thing these crashes have in common, however, is that they all resulted in substantial press attention, with the general media both critiquing business aviation safety and suggesting that anything other than a scheduled airliner is unsafe. And that kind of media attention gets the FAA involved, which is resulting in the planned Feb. 18 meeting. For 2004, the NTSB's statistics show traditional corporate aviation to have chalked up a slightly worse accident record when compared with 2003 -- four accidents in 2004 resulting in 10 fatalities versus three in 2003, with "only" two people killed. For on-demand charter operations conducted under Part 135, however, the picture is mixed: In 2004, there were 68 crashes, resulting in 65 fatalities. While there were 75 crashes of on-demand charters in 2003, only 42 died.
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The Feb. 2 crash at TEB also raised questions about the Challenger itself. The TEB crash, along with November's in Colorado, had industry observers questioning both the crews' judgment and the airplane's behavior in cold weather. Again, the NTSB has not yet determined the probable causes of either accident, but there is rampant speculation among industry observers that the Colorado crash resulted from an ice-contaminated wing. In the TEB crash, the airplane had arrived earlier that morning without incident but conditions on the ground were conducive to forming frost. Bombardier, maker of the Challenger line of business jets, defended the airplane's record, noting that "over a five-year period between 1999 and 2003, the Challenger 601/604 series has an accident rate of only 1 accident for every 1,000,000 flight hours. This rate is almost five times better than the average business jet fleet accident rate of 4.8 accidents per 1,000,000 flight hours. This rate is better than the average accident rate for U.S.-registered airlines." According to Bombardier, more than 637 Challenger 601/604 aircraft have accumulated in excess of 2.7 million flight hours and logged more than 1.7 million departures since the type entered service in December 1980.
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In Anaheim, Calif., at the Helicopter Association International's annual Heli-Expo convention, Bell Helicopter introduced the company's all-new Bell Model 429 light twin helicopter. Two complete mock-ups of the new copter were rolled out, a wheeled corporate version followed by an EMS version. The category A helicopter will feature a 220-cubic-foot cabin volume, which Bell says is more than 70% larger than its current light twin, the Model 427; have a useful load of 2700 pounds in a single-pilot IFR configuration; and have a range of 365 nm with full payload. For EMS operations, the 429 will include a two-patient capability, a flat floor to optimize mission flexibility and clamshell doors at the rear and sliding doors on each side of the fuselage. A new, state-of-the-art "glass" cockpit will be fitted, along with a fully coupled three-axis autopilot and what the company calls a "pilot-friendly" instrument panel. Using engines providing 1100 shp will give the 429 increased speed over other light twin copters, with improved high-altitude performance and a reduced noise signature, coming in part from a new four-blade tailrotor design. The company's design, engineering and certification plans call for the first Bell 429 deliveries in first half of 2007.
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Pratt & Whitney Canada Corp. (P&WC) this week announced a new-generation turboshaft engine series, the PW210, designed for large single and intermediate/medium twin helicopters. The first model of the series, the PW210S, has been selected by Sikorsky to power its forthcoming S-76D helicopter, which will target corporate, offshore oil, hospital, airline and government operators worldwide. According to the company, the PW210 series will incorporate the latest technology in materials and compressor design, as well as a dual channel, full authority digital electronic control system (FADEC). The company expects the new powerplant will produce 10 to 20 percent more power while burning less fuel than other engines in its class. "The PW210 engine will build on the remarkable success of the PW200 engine family," said Keyvan Fard, vice president of Regional Airline & Turboshaft Engines. "PW200 engines were selected to power more than 75 percent of new light twin helicopters ordered in 2004 and we intend to build our future growth on this great platform." P&WC made the new-engine announcement at this week's Heli-Expo.
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Bombardier last month introduced Skyjet International, which it bills as the first integrated global charter program providing customers with unrestricted and fixed-price access to more than 900 business jets worldwide. The company also said it is expanding into the Middle East, expanding a charter-aircraft network already operating across Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America. Bombardier Skyjet International is scheduled to begin service this month and will combine the company's current Flexjet Europe and Flexjet Asia-Pacific program under one banner. "It is in our corporate DNA to understand market needs and to provide solutions to emerging trends, stated Judith Moreton, managing director of Bombardier Skyjet International. According to the company, Bombardier Skyjet International -- along with Bombardier Skyjet -- is the "only service of its kind to be developed by a business aircraft manufacturer." The operation uses the Bombardier Learjet 31A, 40, 45/45XR and 60; the Bombardier Challenger 300, 601-3R, 604 and 800; and the Bombardier Global Express aircraft.
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The Raytheon Aircraft Company said it reached a major milestone last month when the 400th Hawker 400XP rolled off the company's assembly line. Formerly the Beechjet 400A, it joined Raytheon's Hawker "family" of business jets in May 2003, to help the company maintain brand recognition. Billed as the most successful aircraft in the fractional market, the Hawker 400XP features a 200-pound gross-weight increase over its predecessor and was selected by NetJets to be the backbone of its fleet. "Reaching this major milestone is testament to the quality and performance the Hawker team pours into every aircraft we build, said Brad Hatt, president of Raytheon Aircraft Companys Hawker Business. Their efforts have paid off in making the Hawker 400XP the most popular light jet in fractional service today. In late 2003, NetJets placed an order for 50 new Hawker 400XPs; in June 2004, the fractional operator ordered an additional 20 aircraft for their European operations.
The Cessna Aircraft Company said it ended 2004 with deliveries totaling 179 Citations, 64 Caravans and 654 single-engine piston airplanes, yielding $2.5 billion and $5.4 billion in back orders for the year. In addition to the sales numbers, Cessna also managed the certification and delivery of the Citation CJ3, XLS and Sovereign; certification and delivery of the G1000-equipped 182T Skylane, T182T Turbo Skylane, 206H Stationair and T206H Turbo Stationair. First flights included the Citation CJ1+ and the Citation Mustangs PW615F engine on a CitationJet test bed. "This has been a solid year for Cessna," said Chairman, President and CEO Jack J. Pelton. "We laid the foundation that will help ensure future growth for the remainder of the decade. We also began deliveries of three newly certified Citations and four newly certified single engine airplanes." In 2005, the company plans to deliver approximately 235 Citations against 223 orders.
For decades, industry has lamented NASA's lack of emphasis on its first "A," aeronautics. Now, as the agency's fiscal year 2006 budget request is transmitted to Congress for action, comes evidence that industry was right all along. While space exploration got a boost in funding from $2.684 billion last year to $3.165 billion, the agency's aeronautics budget has been placed on a descent for the next five fiscal years. NASA is requesting "only" $852.3 million for its aeronautics function in the next fiscal year, which is down from the $906.2 million it was allocated in FY 2005. Of that total, some $193 million is earmarked for aviation safety and security with $200 million slated to be used for ATC research. By FY 2010, the agency's budget for aeronautics research is slated to decline to $717.6 million.
...the next issue of AVweb's BizAVflash will be e-mailed to you on Feb. 23. See you then...
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