July 5, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Just about each week these days, anyone perusing the general media can come upon yet another news item reporting the recent growth of non-scheduled aviation operations. Generally, those media reports portray that growth as some modern miracle of science and technology. News coverage goes on to attribute the post-9/11 airline security hassles well-heeled travelers must endure as one of the major reasons for that growth. To be sure, non-scheduled operations have experienced a well-deserved boost in numbers and in new-aircraft sales over the past few years. But with that growth has come the inevitable slew of problems, not least of which is -- in some segments, at least -- safety. According to the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, a "decrease in GA accidents in 2004 continued a downward trend of overall and fatal GA accident rates, which are down about 25 percent over the past 10 years. This reduction in accidents continued even as the FAA estimates that GA flight hours have increased by about 200,000 hours in each of the last three years." But that's not good enough, especially as U.S. scheduled carriers are coming up on a five-year anniversary since their last major fatal accident.
If general and business aviation will ever truly be thought of by the general public as an attractive alternative to getting aboard a 737 or an Airbus, not only does safety need to improve but with it the perception of GA's safety. For now, to avoid being unfavorably compared to the airlines, general and business aviation must constructively battle the widespread public perception that anything lacking an airline logo isn't safe. And that's not always easy. For example, a spate of accidents involving U.S. turbine-powered business and personal aircraft over the last few weeks prompted even a trade-press headline involving the NTSB's investigation and concern. Most recently, however, the general media may have "discovered" GA not just as a safety issue but also as a scapegoat.
As evidence, AVweb offers Exhibit A: a lengthy article from the Orlando (Fla.) Business Journal slugged with the catchy phrase, "Central Florida seeing a rise in aircraft, pilots, runways -- and accidents." That article focused mainly on the lighter end of GA, and especially the high and growing level of flight training being conducted in that state. But, since it noted that "[m]ost general aviation flights do not require a flight plan," its value as a tool to pressure state or federal officials to "do something" about those scary little airplanes shouldn't be underestimated. Exhibit B comes from none other than the Air Transport World Daily News, which noted the "[n]umber of passengers willing to pay premium fares has dropped by half over the past five years, giving business aviation a major boost, according to a study by The Velocity Group.... Business aircraft now account for passenger levels equal to nearly a third of the number flying first, business and full-fare coach combined, according to the study."
The Orlando (Fla.) Business Journal piece came on the heels of last month's announcement by "per-seat, on-demand" DayJet that its first service area would be wholly within -- you guessed it -- Florida. DayJet makes no bones about its attempt to siphon off from the airlines those middle managers who would either drive or overnight on a business trip, with an airline connection or two. But the real game being played here seems to have nothing to do with safety. Instead, it's about whether the scheduled airline industry will succeed in its push to foist user fees on general aviation, thereby achieving the hat trick of making private aviation more expensive, more bureaucratic and a less-attractive alternative to buying an airline ticket. With news stories like these, it could be a long, hot summer.
Australian ATC provider Airservices Australia last week said it has canceled plans to purchase a large quantity of ADS-B-compliant avionics it had planned for use in that country's lower-level airspace. The plans involved buying and paying installation costs for some 1,500 aircraft. However, saying that use of ADS-B below FL300 is "a significantly more complex matter than [in] upper level airspace," the company retracted a Request for Proposal it had issued. In a prepared statement, Airservices Australia said the plan to install and use ADS-B in lower-level airspace "raises a number of operational and policy issues that require resolution before a decision to proceed can be made." Exactly what those issues were, Airservices Australia isn't saying. At least publicly, where we in the U.S. can figure it out. Whether the ATC provider's decision will have an impact beyond Australia -- say, to the U.S., where the FAA has taken steps to transition its air traffic control system to one based at least in part on ADS-B -- is not yet known. "There remains broad stakeholder support for the benefits of ADS-B technology, however deferring the introduction of ADS-B technology in lieu of en route radars is necessary to allow additional time to ensure full understanding and backing for the extension of this important new technology," Airservices Australia said in its statement.
In the U.S., many observers see the FAA's recently renewed emphasis on Mode S transponders and ADS-B as yet another agency attempt to implement "pay as you go" user fees. The ADS-B architecture, for those of you just joining us, moves much of the navigation, communication and collision-avoidance technology from the ground to the cockpit. A fleet of ADS-B-equipped aircraft is much more autonomous and free of ATC requirements than is currently the case in U.S. airspace. The thing is though; ADS-B -- at least as it can be configured -- allows any government agency wishing to tap its data a very seamless and detailed flow of information on a specific aircraft's activity.
Eclipse Aviation last week confirmed the industry's worst-kept secret -- it wasn't going to achieve FAA certification of its very light jet (VLJ) by its self-imposed target of June 30. In a June 25 statement, the company formally announced the delay and, as predicted, said "continued supplier delays have pushed the schedule back." The company said it was close to certification -- very close -- but that major milestone would have to be pushed back a few weeks. We are on the verge of achieving FAA certification, and are thrilled to be gearing up to begin delivering airplanes to our customers, said Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse. While the majority of our certification program has been completed, we have faced ongoing supplier delays to obtain TSOs for their systems that have pushed back our projected late June certification by another several weeks." In the bargain, however, Eclipse reminded industry its airplane would be the first VLJ to achieve FAA certification and used the opportunity to announce final performance numbers for the new jet.
According to the company, the Eclipse 500 will offer a maximum cruise speed of 370 knots, a stall speed of 69 knots, a useful load of 2,400 pounds, a two-engine climb rate of 3,314 fpm and a range of 1,125 nm (with four occupants, NBAA IFR reserves, 100-nm alternate). Although the announcement didn't include single-engine rate of climb, the company's published performance numbers include a 708 fpm value with one engine turning and one burning. Admitting that speed and range are slightly off the numbers his company predicted in 2003, Raburn added that useful load and rate of climb performance will exceed previous estimates. But, that's not all. Our customers will be getting a stellar aircraft, and one that features significant upgrades that exceed their original expectations, commented Raburn. These include a major engine enhancement, unprecedented aircraft integration, airline-like reliability, an unmatched training experience and an unrivaled product support plan that will set a new standard for general aviation."
Cessna last week said it delivered the 500th Citation Model 560, or Citation XL/XLS, noting that more Citation XL and XLS aircraft have been delivered than any other corporate business jet in the world since deliveries began in 1998. The 500th example went to European Flight Service AB, the largest jet charter operation in Sweden. And it was a fitting customer. European Flight Service was the first commercial company in Europe to put an XL into service in 2003, said Cessna Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Roger Whyte. There have been many others that have followed suit. We took orders for 36 XLS aircraft in Europe for 2005 alone. The operator's fleet includes a Citation XL, Citation VII and Citation Sovereign. European Flight Service has an additional XLS and Sovereign aircraft on order. According to Cessna, the XL/XLS worldwide fleet will near 1 million operating hours in October.
The XL we have is a workhorse for our short-range charter operations, said European Flight Services Owner, Managing Director, Flight Operations Director, and Chief Pilot Stephen W.S. Diapere. It flies an average of 550 hours per year. Our customers like the standup cabin, and our company likes the economy, purchase price, operating cost, ease of maintenance and field service support. Our experience with the XL leads us to believe this new XLS will be a complement to our fleet. Cessna's 560 series began with the Citation XL, which was granted FAA type certification in April 1998. The XL received a block point change in 2004 and became the XLS. The XLS can cruise at up to 434 KTAS, has a range of more than 1,800 nautical miles, climbs direct to FL450 in 29 minutes, and can land on runways as short as 3,560 feet.
Sierra Industries late last month said an airframe incorporating its newest set of modifications to the venerable Cessna Citation 501 models made its first flight on June 14. The new modification, dubbed the "Stallion" by Sierra, features uprated Williams FJ44-2A engines offering greater speed and higher climb rates, among other benefits. The Stallion offering fits between the stock airframe and the Sierra Eagle II set of modifications in the company's product line. In addition to uprated engines, the Eagle II mods include a longer wing and greater fuel capacity. Company CEO Mark Huffstutler piloted the Sierra Stallion's first flight, noting, The tradeoff between the higher performance of the Stallion against the longer range of the Eagle II is the perfect sweet spot for many of [our] customers.
According to the company, preliminary data from the Stallion's first flight indicate the new engines will allow the modded Citation 501 airframe to achieve a range of about 1400 miles, a value some 350 miles less than the longer-legged Eagle II. However, time to climb, maximum cruising speed, and specific fuel consumption will likely exceed that version. Sierra says it will be able to convert a customers Citation 501 to a Stallion with a lower investment in time and money than required for the Eagle II mods. Even so, a Citation 501 upgraded with the Stallion mods can be further modified to the Eagle II configuration at a later date. The Eagle conversion adds 730 pounds of fuel capacity to the aircraft. The Stallion conversion is priced at $1.6 million.
Pilatus Aircraft last week said it made a number of changes to its senior management during a scheduled meeting on June 27, 2006. Oscar J. Schwenk, formerly president and CEO, was elected as the new chairman of the board of directors. He takes over from Peter K pfer, who is stepping down after eight years. Schwenk has been with Pilatus Aircraft in various managerial functions for some 25 years and has been a managing director since 1994. Members Gerhard Beindorff and Peter Ruof were re-elected to the board of directors; the new members are Gratian Anda, who was also elected vice chairman, and Björn Bajan. The board of directors further elected Thomas Bosshard as the new CEO of Pilatus Aircraft Ltd., effective July 1.
Pilatus said it has performed very well under Schwenk's leadership and will continue to benefit from his experience and relationships with customers, suppliers, regulatory authorities and employees. His new position was effective July 1, 2006. Bosshard, 46, has been a member of the Pilatus team for the past 12 years. He holds degrees in both Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration and originally occupied a managerial position in production before helping set up the company's U.S.-based subsidiary, Pilatus Business Aircraft, Ltd., USA, which he has managed as president & CEO for the past four years.
Adam Aircraft last week said it appointed Chris Naro as its new chief financial officer with responsibilities for all finance and accounting functions within the company. In his new role, Naro will focus on raising capital and financial planning, as well as ramping up production of the A500 piston twin and A700 AdamJet. Naro also will join the company's executive team, helping to prioritize future markets and product development initiatives for Adam Aircraft. "We welcome Chris as an integral and timely addition to our team," said CEO Rick Adam. "As we enter a period of rapid growth and expansion, Chris' depth of experience in managing critical finance, manufacturing and strategic initiatives with high-growth enterprises will prove indispensable."
Prior to joining Adam Aircraft, Naro served in senior finance and business roles over a 22-year career, including a stint as vice president of finance and strategic analysis for the Aerospace Business Unit of Honeywell International. At Honeywell he was involved in the post-merger integration of the aerospace businesses of AlliedSignal and Honeywell. Mr. Naro has also served as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. and has extensive international experience, including several European and Asian assignments. Naro holds a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Delaware and an MBA in finance from The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
Cutter Aviation Phoenix late last month said it named 22-year industry veteran Roger McKay as its new regional sales manager of aircraft services. McKay began his aviation career in airport operations with America West Airlines in 1984. He was promoted shortly thereafter to the position of Western U.S. Sales Manager. Throughout his 19-year tenure with America West, he served in many sales management capacities, including responsibility for airline contract negotiations with small to midsize companies and many Fortune 500 corporations.
Most recently, he served as director of charter sales for pinnacle aviation, where he was responsible for new business development and sales for Pinnacle's fleet of Lears, Gulfstreams and Citation Excels. The Cutter chain of FBO facilities is one of the oldest in the U.S. and has seven locations at major airports in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.
...the next issue of AVweb's BizAVflash will be e-mailed to you on July 19.
See you then...
AVwebBiz is a twice-monthly summary of the latest business aviation news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.
Today's issue was written by Joseph E. (Jeb) Burnside (bio).
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