AVwebBiz - Volume 4, Number 20

October 11, 2006

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Run For Your Lives

The coming horde of very light jets (VLJs) will clog the skies, crowd runways, overtax the ATC system, increase the risk of airline delays and curdle fresh milk. Or it won't. That -- except for the curdled milk part -- pretty much sums up the arguments for and against what many are saying will be an unprecedented increase in the number of jet airplanes operated in U.S. airspace and, by extension, user fees. Those arguments, on both sides of the "issue," have been made in a recent hearing before the U.S. Senate and, of course, in the general media. Similarly, a recent hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives discussed various FAA financing options but -- amazingly -- mostly avoided VLJs. Leading the pro-user-fee charge and warning against the milk-curdling dangers of VLJs has been none other than the domestic airline industry, usually with the carriers' trade group, the Air Transport Association (ATA), walking point. The Senate hearing, held Sept. 28, was convened to learn whether the National Air Transportation System will accommodate the coming crop of VLJs -- dubbed "the mosquito fleet" by U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). Jack Pelton, chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), and chairman, president and CEO of Cessna Aircraft Company, pointed out that VLJs will not “darken the skies,” as many have predicted. Instead, Pelton said he believed the VLJ market would develop like every other turbine-powered GA aircraft: in an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, way. “The introduction of VLJs will be at a rate in which they will be transparently and smoothly absorbed into the system,” he added.

Pelton also emphasized that VLJs will not place an undue burden on ATC or increase congestion at busy airports. “Concerns about integrating VLJ operations with other aircraft have been greatly exaggerated. VLJ operators have a powerful incentive to avoid the traffic congestion and delays found at the airports dominated by the airlines,” said Pelton. “In the process, VLJs will provide service to many underutilized and neglected markets.” Also appearing at the hearing were Vern Raburn, president and CEO of Eclipse Aviation; Edward Iacobucci, president and CEO of DayJet Corporation; and Matthew Andersson, senior aviation consultant with CRA International. For its part, the FAA tended to echo Pelton's comments at the hearing. Nicholas Sabatini, associate administrator for Aviation Safety, and Michael Cirillo, vice president of Systems Operation Services within the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, told the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation that the agency has the capability to safely introduce all aircraft into the system, no matter the size, speed or performance. “VLJs will be assimilated into the system in an orderly fashion,” said Sabatini. Not to be outdone, the ATA chose that same day to float a story in the general media contending that VLJs would pose a “significant burden” on the U.S. aviation system, interfering with the operations of the commercial airlines. In response, NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen took the ATA to task, quoting FAA Administrator Marion Blakey as saying her agency doesn't expect to have any problems integrating VLJs into the airspace. “The development of VLJ aircraft is good news on many levels,” Bolen said. “Their introduction produces high-skill manufacturing jobs. They will help make many small and mid-sized companies more competitive. And, they will strengthen aviation services for many small communities. Those benefits should be the focus of discussion about VLJs.” Look for more pushing and shoving on this topic -- from both sides -- as the NBAA annual meeting and convention gets underway next week in Orlando.

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Eclipse To Begin Deliveries "Very Soon"

Even while it was basking in the commendable glow of finally earning full FAA type certification for its Eclipse 500 VLJ on Sept. 30, Eclipse Aviation faced the daunting prospect of transforming itself from a product development company into one that actually has to manufacture that product. The company, saying it used "technologies and business practices forged in the technology industry" to develop the new airplane, now must find ways to translate that "new-tech" way of thinking into actually rolling those airplanes out the factory door. When will the first delivery occur? Eclipse isn't saying, but AVweb can go out on a limb to say it will probably be next week, either during or shortly after NBAA's annual meeting and convention concludes in Orlando. The first aircraft will go to a private individual, David Crow. The second one will go to DayJet, the start-up "per-seat, on-demand" operator, which will initially focus its efforts on city-pair markets in Florida and the southeastern U.S.

The Sept. 30 granting of a full type certificate -- Eclipse received a provisional type certificate in July -- includes FAA approval of the aircraft throughout its full operating envelope, including single-pilot operation, day/night VFR/IFR, plus reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) certification of all Eclipse 500s. Additionally, the FAA has qualified the aircraft to noise levels well below Stage 4 limits. For its part, Eclipse says its manufacturing line is tooled and designed for high-volume, low-cost production. Over the next few years, Eclipse says it will shift its focus to fulfilling over 2,500 orders customers have already placed for its jet. The Eclipse 500 features a maximum cruise speed of 370 knots, can carry up to six occupants and has a 1,125-nm range. Look for it coming soon to an airport near you.

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Bombardier Safety Standdown Declared Success

There were some 460 attendees at last week's 10th annual Bombardier Learjet Safety Standdown 2006, held at the Wichita (Kan.) Hyatt Regency Oct. 2-5 and, if all of them were as positive about the experience as those with whom AVweb spoke, the event was an unqualified success. As one attendee told us, "Somehow, Bombardier continues to incrementally improve" its annual event. Begun in 1996 in response to a pattern of safety problems the company identified, the Safety Standdown follows the military model, with outside experts bringing their authority and experience to a unique training environment. The four-day event -- two days spent in hands-on safety demonstrations and drills, with an additional two days of lectures and seminars -- has become so popular Bombardier had more than 950 applicants for this year's edition. Do the math -- it was forced to turn away some 50 percent of potential attendees, even after both the FAA and NBAA committed to permanent sponsorships.

This year's hands-on programs included aircraft evacuation training, in-flight medical emergency scenarios, in-cabin emergency simulators -- including decompression, ditching and smoke-filled cabin training -- plus a "for-real" firefighting exercise involving use of a Halon extinguisher on a fuel-fed conflagration. Classroom topics included a special emphasis on fatigue and rest cycles, as well as ways to extrapolate runway performance, standardization and international operations. Said one attendee, "There's a reason people line up for this training -- the focus is on knowledge-based training drawn from real-world scenarios. It will leave you feeling better equipped to cope with your next emergency." The dates and location for next year's Safety Standdown have not yet been announced.

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Adam Earns A500 Full Type Certificate

One day before Eclipse earned its full type certificate, Adam Aircraft received an amended FAA type certificate for its all-composite A500 pressurized centerline-thrust piston twin. The six-seat Adam A500 was originally type certificated in May 2005, but that approval came with several limitations. Now, those limitations have been removed and the A500 becomes the first fully certified all-composite, pressurized twin-engine aircraft. The last new pressurized twin-engine piston airplane was manufactured in 1986, according to the company. The A500 is now certified to its full 5.5 psi pressurization, which provides a sea-level cabin to 12,500 feet. Additional certified upgrades include a fully coupled IFR autopilot, day/night VFR/IFR, single-pilot flight operation and an expanded CG range. Maximum operating altitude expansion to 25,000 feet will be obtained this winter along with known-icing certification. Final performance numbers include a 230-knot cruise speed and a more than 1,100-nm NBAA IFR range at 75% power.

"The A500 is the only pressurized twin-engine piston aircraft in production today," said Rick Adam, founder and CEO of Adam Aircraft. "Our customers benefit from our elegant carbon-fiber construction and the safety of our twin in-line thrust engines. The A500 is an excellent step-up airplane for the thousands of owners of new-generation single-engine aircraft." With the recently awarded FAA production certificate in hand, the A500 production line will strive to meet pent-up demand, the company said. A500 serial number 008 is currently undergoing its final flight checks for delivery this month, and serial numbers 009 through 024 are on the production line.

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Brazil Detains U.S. Pilots After Presumed Midair

It's one thing to be involved in an apparent midair collision. It's another to survive it -- even though all aboard the other aircraft perished. But it's beyond the pale when the country in which you made an emergency landing accuses you and a fellow crewmember of several regulatory violations, seizes your passport and detains you for the after-crash investigation. So it is with U.S. pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, who were crewing a brand-new Embraer Legacy 600 jet when it allegedly collided with a Boeing 737 Sept. 29 in Brazilian airspace. After the apparent collision, the other aircraft, a Gol airlines Boeing 737-800, reportedly spiraled out of control before breaking up at low altitude and crashing in the Amazon jungle. All 154 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing were killed.

After the collision, the Legacy -- just having been delivered to its operator, U.S.-based ExcelAire Service, a charter company based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. -- diverted safely to the Cachimbo Brazilian air force base with damage to its left winglet and left horizontal stabilizer. There were no injuries among the two crew and five passengers. According to published reports, the apparent collision occurred in or near a "seam" in Brazilian radar coverage over the Amazon jungle, where two different ATC fatalities' responsibilities overlap. Although no final finding has been issued, published reports indicate the Embraer was following one airway at FL370 and was cleared to descend to FL360 upon joining another airway. At this time, exactly what happened is not clear: Was the Embraer past that airway intersection and did it fail to descend? Brazilian authorities say they may charge Lepore and Paladino with manslaughter -- they say the Embraer was at the wrong altitude with its transponder turned off.

NBAA Primer

Next week's National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) annual meeting and convention promises to offer a little something for everyone and a lot for most of us. The event, scheduled for the Orange County Convention Center Oct. 17 through 19, is the 59th edition of NBAA's annual extravaganza and, according to the association, exhibit floor and static display space is sold out in advance for the first time ever. Some 1,150 exhibitors are registered and 5,233 10-foot by 10-foot booth spaces have been sold, an almost 9-percent increase in booth spaces compared to the 2005 show, while more than 115 aircraft will be on static display at the Orlando Executive Airport. Yes, AVweb will be there, and will publish two exclusive special editions of AVwebBiz.

While no one knows everything that will happen next week in Orlando, we can promise new bizjets from Cessna, more details on personal jets from both Cirrus Designs and Piper, updates on various VLJs including Adam Aircraft and the Honda/Piper Aircraft project, plus a rallying of efforts to beat back the airlines' calls for new user fees to be placed on general and business aviation. Watch this space.

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Whither The SJ30?

San Antonio, Texas-based Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corp. (SSAC) is being visited by Taiwan Vice Minister of Economic Affairs Shih Yen-hsiang this week. The company is a joint venture in which Taiwan holds a more than 90-percent share. According to the China Post, the vice minister was at SSAC’s headquarters mainly to find out why it has yet to deliver a copy of the SJ30 light jet since receiving type certification for the model 12 months ago. A company spokesman told AVweb that no major news or decisions have emerged from the meetings with the minister, adding that the “general atmosphere seems positive.” Yen-hsiang told the newspaper that SSAC is having trouble delivering the first airplane for various reasons, including “wrongly installed wings.” Acknowledging the problem, the spokesman said, “Wrongly installed wings means that the left wing on s/n 006 and 008 have shown to have an extra 1.5 degrees of leading-edge up twist, making the airplane fly right-wing heavy at high airspeeds. We chose the expensive, but correct, solution to change the left-hand wings on these two airplanes. We could have chosen to droop the flaps or ailerons to make the airplane fly wings level, but we want these first early production airplanes to be as aerodynamically perfect as possible. All other airplanes seem fine with symmetric wings.”

Due to the production delays, the company laid off 100 line workers at its San Antonio plant and 50 at its wing and fuselage facility in Martinsburg, W.Va., in August. Sino Swearingen claims it has orders for 302 of its $5.995 million SJ30 twinjets. A fully loaded SJ30 will cost $6.195 million. The spokesman said SSAC still hopes to deliver the first customer SJ30 (serial number 006) to Doug Jaffe, an early investor in the program, before the NBAA convention next week, though “it will probably follow one to two weeks after the show.” The SSAC could have its FAA production certificate by the spring, according to the spokesman. The SJ30 earned its FAA type certificate in 2005, shortly before last year's NBAA show.

FAA Tightens STC Rules

In response to recent mandates by Congress, the FAA is changing its rules to require written permission from a supplemental type certificate (STC) holder to use its data for follow-on installations that alter the affected aircraft, engine or propeller. The changes became effective Oct. 2, 2006. Although written in a manner requiring the STC holder to report to the FAA when it grants permission for installation of the STC, the new FAR, Section 21.120, has the effect of continuing the FAA's recently adopted responsibility of protecting the intellectual property of STC holders.

The FAA also added a new Section 91.403(d), which requires a person altering an aircraft based on an STC to only do so if he or she holds the STC or has written permission from its holder. According to the Aircraft Electronics Association, the two new rules leave some questions unanswered, including whether an avionics installation, typically performed pursuant to an STC but by using the manufacturer's data, is considered "use of the STC data" as specified in the law.

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Gulfstream Marks GII's 40th Anniversary

My, how time flies. Has it really been 40 years since the Gulfstream GII made its first flight? It has, according to the company, which noted the occasion last week. On Oct. 2, 1966, Grumman Aerospace test pilots Carl Alber and Bob Smythe flew the first Gulfstream II (GII) on its maiden flight from Bethpage, N.Y. The GII was the first large-cabin, purpose-built business aircraft powered by jet engines. The first GII entered service on Jan. 6, 1968, when it was delivered to National Distillers & Chemical, which had also owned a Gulfstream I (GI), the GII's turboprop precursor. While the GII adopted the familiar signature oval windows from the GI, it was the first Gulfstream aircraft to feature the T-tail design, swept-back wings and engines mounted at the aft fuselage.

During the 52-minute first flight, the GII climbed to 10,000 feet above Long Island Sound. Halfway through the flight, Alber and Smythe engaged the GII's autopilot, marking the first time a corporate aircraft was flown by an autopilot system. Commenting on the first flight years later, Smythe said, “It was tough to hold her back. It felt like she really wanted to move out.” Remarking on the same flight, Alber said “...nothing went any smoother than the first flight of the Gulfstream II. It was a perfect flight.” From 1966 to 1980, Gulfstream manufactured 258 GII aircraft, 251 of which were manufactured at Gulfstream’s present-day headquarters in Savannah, Ga. Today, 240 GII aircraft, including serial number 0001, continue in operations.

Visit AVweb's Sponsor Companies at the 2006 NBAA Convention
AVweb will be in Orlando, Florida for the annual NBAA Convention and Conference next week, October 17-19. If you're one of the many AVweb readers who make a living in the business of aviation, please take a moment while you're at the show to stop by our sponsors' booths. Their patronage of AVweb makes it possible for us to deliver the high quality of news, reviews, and information you've come to expect in your inbox twice a week — at no charge to readers. We encourage you to visit with them at the show and thank them for their support of AVweb. Click for a complete list of AVweb sponsors and where to find them at the show.

Texas May Cut Back GA Fleet

Everything might be bigger in Texas, but not everything’s better, especially when it comes to the cost of operating the state’s fleet of two Cessna piston singles, four Cessna Conquests and five Beech King Air B200s. The Texas state auditor said a recent review of flight services provided by the state Department of Transportation’s aviation division found that the flight department is not operating the aircraft fleet in a cost-effective manner.

When compared with current charter rates from the private sector, the auditor estimates the total loss incurred from providing state-operated flights for some 22 agencies in fiscal year 2006 was $972,441. The state DOT said it would soon conduct an independent review of the state flight department to achieve “break even cost of operations.” If it doesn’t, one of the auditor’s recommendations is eliminating the flight department in favor of using commercial airlines and private charter firms.

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AVwebBiz is an every-other-week 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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