Business NewsWire Complete Issue

March 15, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

The Finer Points - Aviation Podcast

User Fees: GA Wedge Issue?

Are the various proposals calling for new user fees to be imposed on some types of general aviation operations -- turbine aircraft, for instance, but not piston-powered ones -- designed to weaken opposition to them from among the non-scheduled portion of the aviation industry? Is all of this designed to drive a wedge between certain classes of GA operators and make it easier for user-fee proponents to achieve their objectives? Putting aside for the moment the arguments for and against user fees, is this all part of some Machiavellian scheme to further dilute whatever political and policy influence GA has at the federal level? That's what some observers claim as they review recent statements and proposals from the airline industry's major trade association, the Air Transport Association (ATA), and from the federal government. For those of you just joining us, the growing debate about GA user fees got its 2006 start earlier this month when the ATA rolled out a new FAA funding proposal dubbed "Smart Skies" and called on Congress to implement it. The ATA maintains that the user-fee scheme it is proposing will help the FAA slay its modernization dragon -- you know, the upgrade of computers and radars the FAA has been working on since, oh, the early 1980s.

According to the ATA, "Smart Skies is a national campaign ... aimed at modernizing the United States' National Airspace System (NAS), and the system's 35-year-old funding mechanism." Switching on the "way back" machine, the ATA dredged up a 1993 quote from the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry: "[The] FAA is severely limited by the ebbs and flows of the federal budget process, and the ability to build an air traffic control system for the 21st century depends on a stable, predictable source of revenue that can be leveraged for future improvements." To the extent that was ever true, it's certainly not true in 2006, as U.S. Rep. Todd Tiarht (R-Kan.) noted last week in a congressional hearing called to discuss FAA funding. Said Tiarht to Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, "It looks like since 1997 through 2006, you've gotten 99 percent of your budget request." According to some observers, the ATA's program to encourage funding of the FAA wholly by user fees is the industry's latest attempt to do financial harm to general and business aviation. According to AOPA, the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is currently reviewing the administration's FAA funding proposal before it is presented to Congress and released to the public. Whether and to what extent that proposal will entail user fees is not known at this writing.

AS3 - The Aviation Industry Expo

It's All About Control ... And Competition

It's relatively easy for even casual observers to conclude that the reason for the ATA's keen interest in user fees is to somehow reduce competition from the general and business aviation industry. Of course, it's no great secret that non-scheduled aircraft operations have consistently increased in the past few years as airline delays have increased and service has declined. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks did an economic number on the airlines -- leading to rising fuel prices and bankruptcies -- and they are looking for any and all advantages they can get. So, if the airlines can't compete on service, convenience, schedule and security, that pretty much leaves price and access to the ATC system as ways to try to gain some leverage over non-scheduled operators. Since all users already pay fees in the form of "ticket," cargo and fuel excise taxes, among others, one of the few frontiers remaining for the airlines is to try to ratchet up those existing taxes to the non-commercial industry's pain-threshold level while using the dollars they "pay" into the system as that leverage over system access. Of course, any user-fee increases imposed under the current system are merely passed on to passengers, while the airlines get the short-term float before sending it all in to Uncle Sugar. There's nothing to suggest that would change under the scheme proposed by the ATA. With that in mind, the industry segment most at risk -- the coming very light jets (VLJs), combined with NASA's small aircraft transportation system (SATS) technologies -- really hasn't reached its stride. Before that happens, the ATA would really like to make it more expensive.

But the general aviation industry is having none of it, so far. The industry trade associations representing charters, fractionals, corporate operators and manufacturers have banded together in opposition to the ATA plan, while AOPA got right to the heart of the matter: "The airlines' proposal for funding the FAA is nothing more than an attempt to grab control of the air traffic control system and shift costs to other users..." And that's the bottom line in the ATA's user-fee proposals: If the airlines can control the ATC system and how much it costs to use it, they can also control general and business aviation's access to it. The game really has nothing to do with piston-powered aircraft and everything to do with those kerosene-burning VLJs and turboprops, which the airlines figure pose direct competition to their business-class customers. That's the reason they are more than happy to forego any user fees on piston aircraft, with the added bonus of using that position in an attempt to drive a wedge between different classes of GA users. To his credit, AOPA President Phil Boyer would have none of it: "To single out one type of engine or fuel is to ignore the future," said Boyer. Two questions remain: Will the ATA's user fee proposal receive meaningful consideration in Congress? Will the GA industry allow the ATA's wedge to divide and dilute its efforts? For the answers, watch this space.

Raytheon Certifies Hawker 850XP

Raytheon Aircraft Company last week said it had received FAA certification of the newest member in its Hawker business jet family, the Hawker 850XP, a growth version of the venerable marque. The 850XP's major innovation is the addition of winglets to the basic and highly successful Hawker 800 series, which Raytheon says is part of a strategic series of upgrades for the Hawker fleet. That effort began with the Hawker 400XP in May 2003. “The Hawker 800-series, capturing the perfect balance of speed, range, and comfort, has a long history of continual evolution. These upgrades were selected to meet the demanding requirements of today’s aircraft operators ensuring that it remains the world’s best selling midsize jet,” said Brad Hatt, president and general manager of Hawker Business at Raytheon Aircraft Company. The 850's winglets are of composite construction and designed to enhance aerodynamic performance: The new jet boasts a 100-nm increase in range, up to 8-percent improvement in time-to-climb as well as faster airspeeds and block speeds. The winglets also incorporate state-of-the-art LED position lights that have a mean time between failure of 5000 hours. The enhanced "ramp presence" doesn't hurt anything, either.

Other improvements in the 850XP when compared to its predecessors, the Hawker 800 and 800 Xpi, include new scheduled maintenance interval improvements from 300 hours to 600 hours, with only a detailed walk-around inspection required at 300 hours. The Hawker 850XP features an upgrade to the existing Rockwell Collins ProLine 21 avionics suite with IFIS (Integrated Flight Information System) standard, as well as optional features. It also includes a new updated interior and the new Airshow 21 cabin management system. The 850XP has a maximum takeoff weight of 28,000 lbs., seats as many as 15 passengers -- you'll prefer the eight-pax seating configuration -- has a maximum ceiling of FL4100 and can fly as fast as 466 KTAS. Deliveries of the Hawker 850XP will begin immediately and foreign certifications are already being pursued, according to Raytheon.

SJ30-2 Completes Airframe Icing Tests

Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corporation (SSAC) last week announced completion of another major milestone before starting deliveries of its SJ30-2 business jet: completion of airframe icing tests. According to the company, the final flight test was completed on March 1 and included simulating a 45-minute hold in maximum continuous icing conditions. The flight was crewed by Mark Fairchild, John Siemens and Schuyler Horn. After the flight, test pilot Siemens said, “The airplane performed remarkably well in the extreme icing conditions we encountered. It ... performed better in the ice than any other airplane I have previously certified for flight in known icing conditions.” In February, the flight test crew completed artificial ice shapes testing, required to demonstrate aircraft handling characteristics, including stability, control and stall characteristics, with simulated ice attached to the airframe.

Last October, SSAC announced FAA Type Certification for the SJ30, and that two hurdles remained before the initial delivery to a customer. With completion of the in-flight icing tests, only approval of the aircraft’s interior is holding up the type's full FAA approval. The SJ30 is equipped with electrically heated windshields and uses engine bleed air to heat the wings and engine inlets. Pneumatic boots are used to de-ice the horizontal tail. The approval flight resulted in a build-up of more than four inches of ice on unprotected areas of the aircraft. The SJ30-2 will fit into the light jet category once certified. It is projected to have a range of over 2,500 nm and feature the highest cruise speed in the category: Mach 0.83. It will be certified for single-pilot operation.

Eclipse Begins Producing First Customer Jet

Eclipse Aviation on March 1 said it has begun building the first Eclipse 500 jet for delivery to a customer. In a ceremony witnesses by a crowd of employees, the first customer, David Crowe, stepped up to engage the friction stir welding of one of his future jet’s cockpit side panels and to drill window attachment holes in the cockpit frame. According to the company, Crowe will receive his Eclipse 500 this summer. Vern Raburn, Eclipse Aviation president and CEO, joined Eclipse employees to observe the production start. “This is another very exciting day at Eclipse because this is all part of the process of becoming a successful and enduring company,” said Raburn.

Eclipse is continuing Eclipse 500 flight testing as the company moves aggressively towards FAA certification late in the second quarter of this year. The company was recently honored for the development of the Eclipse 500 by the National Aeronautic Association, which awarded Eclipse the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy for the “greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America.”

Adam Names Craig Johnson As COO

Adam Aircraft last week announced that Craig Johnson has joined the firm as Chief Operating Officer. Johnson, who comes to the company from Northrop Grumman, AlliedSignal, McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics, was brought in to meet what Adam Aircraft called "the demand of the company's strong growth" as it accelerates A500 production and starts delivering aircraft to customers in volume. He will also be overseeing the A700 production schedule. Joe Walker, Adam Aircraft's president, who was responsible for the initial A500 production deliveries and who will now be able to focus on his area of expertise by expanding the sales, marketing and customer support activities, formerly performed his duties. The FAA has certified Adam Aircraft's A500 twin-piston aircraft, while the A700 AdamJet is currently undergoing flight test and development.

"We are very pleased to have Craig join our team as Chief Operating Officer," said Adam Aircraft Chairman and CEO Rick Adam. "We have great growth opportunities ahead, and Craig's talent and experience in aircraft development and manufacturing will be a major contribution to our success." For his part, Johnson seemed to be looking forward to his new position. "I'm delighted to be joining such a talented team and to be associated with the A500 and the A700 aircraft," he said. "These carbon-composite aircraft represent next-generation twin piston and jet engine designs and embody extremely strong construction with highly safe centerline thrust. I am excited to lead the transition to production and the delivery ramp up of both of these aircraft."

Gulfstream Reinvigorates Supersonic Programs

Gulfstream Aerospace this week said it appointed Gerard Schkolnik as director of its supersonic technology programs. In his new position, Schkolnik will direct the company’s research of structural concepts and advanced materials, propulsion integration and supersonic aerodynamics as they apply to supersonic flight. He will also continue the company's research into sonic boom suppression and comes to Gulfstream with nearly 20 years of experience in flight research, development, test and evaluation. For the past 15 years, he has worked for NASA at the agency’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Schkolnik's appointment apparently reinvigorates Gulfstream's efforts to bring to market a supersonic business jet (SSBJ). Long-time bizav observers will recall that, in the early 1990s, Gulfstream entered into a joint effort with Russia's Sukhoi Design Bureau to develop a small SSBJ, known as the S-21. Amid questionable market demand, an uncertain regulatory environment and presumed technology hurdles, Gulfstream eventually pulled out of the project, although Sukhoi continued work on the S-21.

“Gerard brings with him impressive experience in supersonic aircraft research,” said Pres Henne, senior vice president, programs, engineering and test, Gulfstream. “I look forward to applying that experience to our research into sonic boom suppression and other technologies supporting supersonic flight.” While at NASA, Schkolnik's service included work as a liaison to the Naval Air Systems Command, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Prior to NASA, Schkolnik served as an aerodynamics, flying qualities and stability control engineer at the Air Force Flight Test Center, also at Edwards AFB, which involved work on the B-2 program and the F-15 STOL demonstrator, among other projects.

Pilatus PC-12 Sales Breaks Records

Citing 2005 as the best year yet for sales of its PC-12 single-engine turboprop, Pilatus Aircraft announced late last month that the company delivered 80 PC-12 business turboprop aircraft to retail customers around the world. The 80 deliveries were comprised of 61 aircraft in North America, 10 in Europe, 4 in South Africa, 2 in Australia, 2 in South America, and 1 in Russia. According to data recently released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, the Pilatus PC-12 was the top-selling model of all turbine-powered business aircraft produced by any manufacturer in the world for the third year in a row.

“In 2005, we were fortunate to see extremely strong demand for the PC-12,” said Oscar J. Schwenk, president and CEO of Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. “The strong economies in nearly all regions of the world helped set a new production and sales record for Pilatus.”

Signature Acquires Again

The latest addition to Signature Flight Support's growing network of fixed-base operations (FBOs) is the former Million Air facility at the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport (TRM) in Thermal, Calif. The newly acquired facility is the chain’s second location in the popular Palm Springs resort area, joining Signature’s operation at Palm Springs International Airport (PSP). The purchase also represents the company’s third acquisition in California in the last four months. As of late February, Signature Flight Support operates facilities at forty-six (46) airports in the United States, nineteen (19) in Europe, one (1) in Africa, and has joint ventures in South America (13) and Asia (1).

“This transaction further strengthens Signature’s position as the world’s leading FBO network, with more locations at major business centers, key reliever airports and – as in this case – high end resort destinations, than any other FBO or FBO chain,” said Signature Flight Support parent company BBA Aviation Services Group president and CEO, Bruce Van Allen. With the new acquisition, Signature continues as the world’s largest FBO chain and distribution network for business aviation services.

Let NetJets Guide Your Customers

Actually, NetJets is trying to grab customers away from its competition and its latest efforts involve publishing two new guides, "Private Aviation 101" and "How to Pay for Your NetJets Share." The new publications "supplement and enhance" -- according to NetJets -- the company's newly revised "Buyer’s Guide to Fractional Aircraft Ownership" and "The Aircraft Selection Guide," which the company says have helped thousands of its customers make the plunge into fractional aircraft ownership. NetJets says it will highlight the guides in a new advertising and direct-mail campaign that will be appearing in publications and hitting mailboxes in the coming days. The guides are also available on the NetJets Web site or by calling 1-877-356-0028.

NetJets says its "Private Aviation 101" answers questions like "how a plane flies and what goes on behind the scenes in private aviation" while the revised "Buyer’s Guide to Fractional Aircraft" helps potential owners determine if fractional ownership can fulfill their business and personal air travel needs. Meanwhile, the also-revised "Aircraft Selection Guide" helps customers compare and contrast the different aircraft in the NetJets fleet. Finally, what should be everyone's favorite -- "How to Pay for Your NetJets Share" -- helps explains a variety of popular financing and leasing options.

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