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November 11, 2005

Business NewsWire Complete Issue

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's Business AVflash is brought to you by … The Bose® Aviation Headset X

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NBAA 2005: You Say You Want An Evolution?

Later today, the doors will close on the 2005 edition of the National Business Aviation Association's Annual Meeting and Convention, held this year in Orlando, Fla. At this writing, the final numbers on attendance and the like aren't yet tallied up, but we can go out on two limbs. One, this year's edition of what is North America's largest indoor aviation exhibit was a success. This is despite the diversion from New Orleans only two months ago and the slight shift in the schedule; this year's show ran from Wednesday to Friday instead of the traditional Tuesday-through-Thursday event. That meant Friday was a lighter day on the exhibit floor than normal. And, while it's unlikely attendance set any records, the number of exhibitors -- more than 1100 -- and aircraft on static display -- 110 -- did. Two, with one possible exception we'll get to in a moment, there wasn't anything astoundingly earthshaking to be seen, heard or flown. So, the 2005 edition probably will be remembered more as an evolutionary show, rather than revolutionary. After all, even Hank Aaron couldn't hit a home run every time he stepped to the plate.

If anyone was hoping for a show like the one in 1983, for example, when Burt Rutan and Beechcraft stunned the bizav faithful with their radical Starship, they were disappointed. Sure, a few airframers announced new variants of existing models featuring enhanced performance. Others gave updates to existing development programs or added names and features to aircraft that still exist only as mock-ups. A handful of manufacturers eyed the home stretch of their races to certification as they toted up even more orders, glancing hurriedly at that date on the calendar by which they promised they'd have a new airplane. So, rather than a flock of new and innovative announcements (again, with that one exception we'll get to in a moment), the action at this year's show was less frenzied, more mature and, perhaps, involved greater introspection -- can the industry's good times last? -- than at any time since the down-in-the-dumps 1990s. There were some neat things said, done and advertised, to be sure -- for proof, just keep reading -- but the 2005 show is not likely to go down as one of the best ever. At the same time, it certainly won't be labeled as the worst. Think of this year's NBAA convention as a long flight through heavy weather where everything on the airplane and in the front office worked as it was supposed to. You'll remember it, it was a good, worthwhile experience, but you're still glad to be home.

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The Next Big Thing? User Fees

With that said, the big news at this year's show was that the industry seems more mature than it has in recent years. For its part, NBAA used Wednesday's opening general session to fire an opening salvo against what many are convinced will be the industry's next big battle: user fees. "There is a growing inevitability of a user fee fight on Capitol Hill," declared NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. "The airlines, and their Air Transportation Association, are growing increasingly vocal in their claim that we're not paying our fair share into the Airport and Airway Trust Fund," Bolen said. He punctuated his warning by reminding attendees that commercial air carriers are advocating a system in which all aircraft pay the same fee regardless of size, whether it is a single-engine turboprop or a 555-passenger Airbus A380. Unfortunately, he noted, "that idea is gaining some traction [in Washington, DC]." And the fight could start in earnest as early as next year, since the current federal legislation structuring the FAA and its programs expires in 2007. But NBAA acknowledged it may be difficult to get industry participants interested in fighting that fight. "Some people have told me that user fees have been debated before, and everything turned out fine. [But] this time, things are different, and the situation is far more serious," Bolen warned. The current proposal for user fees has more widespread backing by airlines, he said, and they "view us as their competition, claiming that their first-class passengers have abandoned them for business aviation," he noted.

And the association was ready to capitalize on Bolen's predictions: During the show, attendees were urged to visit the NBAA booth and use a group of dedicated computers to compose and e-mail letters to their federal elected officials. Dedicated software prepared an electronic letter for attendees and forwarded it off to Capitol Hill. "Our industry is now too large to remain silent," concluded Bolen. "Our visibility and successes have made us a target. We must shape our own destiny. I urge you to take the few simple steps needed to join in our effort this week. There are 30,000 of us here, we all oppose user fees, and Congress needs to understand that." And he's right.

Meanwhile, How Healthy Are We?

But what about the industry's "visibility and success?" Where does it really stand, how does its current status stack up to earlier years? And, most important, where is it going? Those questions are always in the air at each NBAA convention and this year was not an exception. Enter Rolls-Royce, which this week released a formal prediction for continued growth in business jet deliveries through the remainder of the decade. The company, which not coincidentally sells a very popular line of jet engines, said it forecasts an engine market worth $61 billion over the next 20 years, with the value of medium- and long-range jets dominating. Not all of those new aircraft will be in North America, however.

Rolls-Royce said it expects China, India and Russia to become major players over the period, but still not growing to the size of the markets in Europe and North America. Punctuating the company's findings, Alan Stiley, Rolls-Royce Vice President for Marketing, Corporate and Regional Aircraft said, "The growth trend for business jet deliveries now exceeds the pace of narrow body commercial airliner deliveries. The largest segment in terms of engine value will remain the medium, long-range and ultra long-range aircraft." Rolls-Royce forecasts that 48,000 engines, valued at $61 billion, will be needed over the next 20 years to meet demand for 23,000 new corporate jet aircraft from very light jets through business jetliners.


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Spectrum 33: Something New, Something Blue...

Earlier, we hinted at an exception to our theme that this year's NBAA extravaganza was an evolutionary one. Enter long-time industry veteran Linden Blue. Blue, you may know, was in Beechcraft's left seat in 1983 when the aforementioned Starship was born. He also served as general manager at Learjet and was CEO of Learfan. While much has changed among the three Starship players -- Rutan now is very focused on space while Beech is now deeply immersed in the Raytheon empire and all but a handful of the 53 Starships ever made have been grounded -- Blue's heart clearly is still in business aviation. This year, he and his son Austin brought to Orlando news of their latest innovation: a soon-to-be-flying full-scale prototype of an extremely lightweight, all-composite Williams FJ33-powered jet called the Spectrum 33. Like the Starship, Blue and his team at Spectrum Aeronautical developed their jet completely under the radar, this time at a facility in the Utah desert. Seemingly well-financed and obviously determined to bring their project to certification, they have built production tooling and used it to assemble the first example of the '33. What's more, they strongly believe they have solved the bugaboo of just about every all-composite airplane since (and including) the Starship: weight. At NBAA, AVweb sat down with Linden and Austin for an exclusive interview.

According to Blue (and a lot of others), the reason most production all-composite aircraft failed to realize their twin promise of strength and light weight is that manufacturers tried to assemble the advanced materials using methods dating from the Great Depression. "Composites can be seductive," Blue told us. "The devil is in the details; putting them together is the problem." He calls this the "black aluminum" approach: trying to assemble carbon-fiber composites, for example, using methods designed for the too-familiar metal. In fact, the Starship program failed when it was transferred from Rutan's hands to Beech's Wichita facility. Beech "lost control of costs and weight," according to Blue, dooming the Starship to its eventual fate. Instead, Blue says he has spent the last 20 years working on what he calls the "technology of manufacturing" all-composite aircraft to overcome these "traditional assembly" methods. Proof of their theories, Blue and his team maintain, can be found in the Spectrum 33's numbers: Their empty airplane weighs roughly half the empty weight of a Cessna Citation CJ2. One of the keys is the composite material itself, which is dubbed "FibeX." The other key is something called "grid stiffening," which the company says "describes a structural configuration that employs stiffeners or ribs in a pattern which distributes loads widely throughout a given structure." Spectrum says this type of manufacturing is the main difference between its method and the honeycomb core stiffening common in almost all other aircraft composite construction.

...To Fly By The End Of 2005?

The thing that was so exciting about the Starship was not just its all-composite construction. Instead, the whole deal was radical departure: a canard, twin pusher turboprops, tipsails instead of a conventional vertical stabilizer. By contrast, the Spectrum 33 is not at all radical from a distance. It more resembles an unnatural pairing of a baby Learjet with a straight-wing-and-wingletted Citation than a Starship. And that relative simplicity is one reason Blue says he "will be upset if it doesn't fly by the end of 2005." What Spectrum believes it has achieved is "the right combination of proprietary processes and designs to build significantly better and more economical advanced composites aircraft." Allied with Rocky Mountain Composites, Spectrum says it has developed new techniques -- "disruptive technologies" -- enabling lighter and more fuel-efficient airplanes out of advanced composites. Blue and his crew have offered up some exciting numbers for the eight-passenger jet.

Designed to serve the personal transportation, air-taxi, fractional, charter and special use aircraft markets, the Spectrum 33 -- it's named after the Williams engines powering it -- is slated to have a projected selling price of $3.65 million (2005 dollars), be flown by a single pilot and seat up to nine passengers. It will feature a high-speed cruise of 415 KTAS, a useful load of 3,865 lbs. and a payload of 2,000 lbs. With a projected maximum gross takeoff weight of 7,300 lbs, the airplane is slated to weigh only 3,435 lbs empty. By contrast, a Cessna Citation CJ2+ has a typical empty weight more than the Spectrum's gross: 7,695 lbs; its MGTOW is 12,500 lbs. Of course, all of the Spectrum's numbers are very preliminary. The company says it expects FAA certification in the 2007/2008 timeframe. And, no, you can't buy one right now -- Spectrum says it is not accepting orders or deposits. Which is probably a good thing, since a lot has to happen before the company meets its goals, not least of which is that first flight. Will it happen? Blue's been around the block a time or two, and his team seems well-financed, confident and very determined. That they have designed and built a prototype in total secrecy is a plus. But, it's not 1983 any more. And that could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending.

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More Airframer News: Gulfstream G150 Certified Ahead Of Schedule...

Gulfstream may soon be giving Cessna lessons in how to schedule designing and certifying business jets. In recent years, Cessna's new-product development has produced little angst but lots of "mission accomplished" back-slapping as the company seemingly meets each and every one of its rollout, first-flight and certification goals. Now, Gulfstream has upped the ante by achieving both FAA and Israeli certification of its newest offering, the G150 mid-size jet. Receipt of the G150's paperwork came at least 10 weeks ahead of the previously announced "first quarter 2006" timetable and produced an added bonus: The newest Gulfstream is faster than forecast, with an MMO of 0.85 Mach. “The G150’s flawless flight test program allowed us to both satisfy certification requirements ahead of schedule and accurately measure and evaluate its performance capabilities,” said Pres Henne, senior vice president, programs, engineering and test, Gulfstream. “The success of this flight test program can be attributed to the outstanding collaboration between Gulfstream and Israel Aircraft Industries; the availability of two test aircraft to conduct the various performance and systems tests; and the actual G150, which performed significantly better than we had imagined during original development.”

Other performance improvements, when compared to early projections, include an increase in the G150’s maximum gross weight by 100 pounds -- split equally among fuel capacity and payload -- without modifications, an increase in maximum range by 250 nautical miles to 2,950 and better balanced field length of 5,250 feet. The results mean a slightly heavier G150 can take off from shorter runways and fly farther, not a bad deal at all. The Gulfstream G150 was rolled out in Tel Aviv on Jan. 18 of this year and took its first flight May 3. Since then, two test aircraft flew a combined 475 flight hours, averaging 3.6 hours per flight. “We are very excited at the prospect of our first true mid-size Gulfstream business jet entering service next year,” said Bryan Moss, president, Gulfstream. The company had a G150 flight-test aircraft at the static display and a cabin G150 mockup was present in Gulfstream's booth. The mockup will continue its North American tour of GA airports; look for G150s to start popping up on a ramp near you.

...Swearingen Schedules Deliveries, Books More Orders

Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corporation (SSAC) announced its order book for the just-certified SJ30-2 light jet is approaching 300 and will probably exceed that mark by the time you read this. As AVweb previously reported, SSAC got most of its FAA paperwork last month. During a ceremony Wednesday, FAA Deputy Administrator Bobby Sturgell formally presented the SJ30-2's type certificate to SSAC. The company was well-represented this week at NBAA, with two aircraft on static display and one, along with a cabin mockup, on the exhibit floor. Now, with at least 295 orders for its creation, totaling a $1.5 billion backlog, SSAC is concentrating on making and delivering its creation. The company says it has more than 600 employees in four facilities throughout the U.S. working to fill its orders.

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...Eclipse Scores More Orders...

Meanwhile, the fine folks at Eclipse Aviation might be slitting their wrists if they had only 295 orders. In fact, the company announced this week at NBAA that its order book for the Eclipse 500 VLJ now tops 2,350 aircraft. This includes 1,592 firm orders with 765 options; all 2,357 aircraft are secured with non-refundable deposits and the latest sales number was sharply boosted by two recent fleet orders. Massachusetts air-taxi operator Linear Air signed up for 30 aircraft and U.K.-based JetSet Air Ltd. wants 50 copies. "The Eclipse 500 order book is the largest in the VLJ segment, and we attribute this to our ability to deliver the industry's highest-performance jet at a breakthrough price," said Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation.

Linear Air currently operates in the Boston and New York City areas, and plans to significantly expand its fleet into a host of North American markets over the coming years. The company placed 15 firm orders and 15 options; it will start operations in the first 24 months of Eclipse production. JetSet Air Ltd intends to use its VLJs to offer on-demand and scheduled shuttle services from the U.K. to popular European and British destinations. Its plans include 25 firm orders and 25 options, and also will begin operations in the first 24 months of Eclipse 500 production. Eclipse also used the NBAA convention to announce a comprehensive customer care program -- dubbed JetComplete Business -- aimed at business operators. The program is designed to support aircraft flying between 250 and 1,500 hours each year in business or commercial use. The Eclipse 500 is scheduled for FAA certification by March 31, 2006, although company officials informally warned that target could slip.

...Aerion Completes Phase I...

The SSBJ -- supersonic business jet -- is alive and well, says Aerion Corporation Brian Barents. "We are keeping to an aggressive timeline moving toward routine supersonic business jet travel," he said in a statement at NBAA. Announced at last year's show, the company says its ongoing work has confirmed the aircraft's configuration through "extensive" wind-tunnel testing and computer analysis. Additionally, Aerion says the business and engineering objectives it announced last year -- which include 4,000-nm range, a "boomless" cruise of up to Mach 1.1 and top speed of Mach 1.6 -- have been validated by the testing.

"The major questions about the technical feasibility of this objective has been answered and we are now able to present to potential partners a design that is well-researched and quite achievable," Barents added. The company says its market studies confirm demand for up to 300 SSBJs in the first 10 years of production. Aerion says its analysis has included performance, stability, noise, cockpit visibility and other characteristics necessary to ensure a certifiable design. In the process, the shape of wings, fuselage, strakes, nacelles and empennage have been refined and tested. Aerion expects little to change at this point in terms of external configuration. No dates or schedules were announced.

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...And Adam Delivers A500, Rolls Out Second A700

Adam Aircraft this week announced its first customer delivery of an A500 centerline piston twin aircraft, serial number 005, which was delivered to a Colorado Springs business executive on Monday. The delivery comes on the heels of the company’s receiving FAA approval for its production inspection system, a precursor to a full-blown production certificate. Operating limitations on the aircraft -- like a 50-gallon unusable fuel requirement, maximum ceiling of 12,500 feet and a 250-hour airframe life limit -- remain in place. "Our first customer delivery and the APIS certification represent major steps toward our goal of delivering six A500s every month," said Rick Adam, chairman and CEO of Adam Aircraft. "Following Type Certification, the FAA allows six months to achieve APIS designation, and we achieved that goal in under 90 days." Adam added that the company remains on track to obtain a production certificate in the first quarter of 2006.

On the VLJ front, Adam announced the rollout of A700 AdamJet serial number 002, a conforming aircraft made from production tooling by the same manufacturing and engineering team that built the A500. The second A700 is scheduled for its first flight before the year ends. "We will take advantage of the parts, processes, people, and FAA approvals that are already in place for the A500. We will use 65% of the A500 parts, and, since the A700 will be built on the A500 production line, we will take advantage of the A500 manufacturing learning curve," said Joe Walker, president and COO of Adam Aircraft. The company reported that it has 282 A700 orders and 80 A500 orders for a total backlog of $731 million.


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The Wrapper

As we noted at the top, this year's NBAA convention was most certainly a success. Among other kudos, the association's event management crew definitely deserves a few weeks in a sunny clime and serial rum drinks with little umbrellas for pulling off the change of venue in a scant two months. Just as with any major event, though, AVweb saw and heard some concerns among both attendees and exhibitors about the show's value -- especially after the first day – listened in on spirited arguments about whether "regular folks" in the industry found it worthwhile and even participated in a shuttle-bus discussion of why we came. For us, the answer was easy -- to file this report. For some, it was to network, even if that same networking goes on 24/7/365. For others, the exhibit floor and its carpeted aisles, booth babes and bling were much less interesting than the detailed type-specific seminars, for example, or the presentations on everything from security and excise taxes to the ATC system. For the high rollers -- people able and willing to stroke a check for a Gulfstream, and with whom we're not familiar -- the annual NBAA show is their opportunity to do quality window shopping while wheeling, dealing and getting stroked. So, there's a little something for everyone interested in the industry.

Yes, it's too big. No, there's no way to see and cover everything in the three days. But those quibblings are almost beside the point. What is the point? It's this: The NBAA show serves as the bizav industry's annual checkup -- a visit to our general practitioner, if you will -- where our pulse is checked, some blood is extracted and we leave with an armload of brochures plus some detailed advice on what we should be doing until our next annual checkup. Just like a visit to our doctor, it often can be both painful and enlightening, and it always provides food for thought. It's fitting that this year's show lacked revolutionary developments or extremes in good or bad news for the industry. That shows maturity. And if the economic projections for private aviation services are accurate, the industry really has little need to change its habits. But if the gathering storms of user fees, overall economic uncertainty, rising energy costs and unwanted political attention come together in the near future, the introspection and detailed focus of this year's event will be invaluable. And that's the final word.

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Watch Your Inbox...

...the next issue of AVweb's BizAVflash will be e-mailed to you on Nov. 30. In the meantime, look for additional NBAA coverage on other industry segments and photos from the exhibit hall in our twice-weekly AVflash. See you then...

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