AVwebBiz - Volume 4, Number 23

November 22, 2006

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Election Aftermath: A More Or Less Supportive Congress?

When the new Congress convenes in January, will general and business aviation be better or worse off? Will members of that Congress, the 110th, be more inclined to support creating user fees and more security-related restrictions, or less? And who will be the major players? It's still a bit early to answer all of those questions, but observers are starting to see pieces of these various puzzles fall into place. How the finished picture will look might be critical in 2007, as government and industry gear up for what many believe could be a major battle over legislation reauthorizing the FAA and its programs. That's because the current law authorizing the agency is set to expire on Sept. 30, and many of the players may interpret that deadline as an opportunity to push their pet aviation issue. And some of those "pet" issues may include stronger, more intrusive aviation security measures, especially when considering general aviation. Generally, observers tend to agree that Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress bodes ill for the FAA's user-fee concept while creating greater uncertainty about any future aviation security policy changes, especially as they might impact general aviation.

For her part, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey seems to understand her agency's suddenly weaker position on user fees in the new Congress. Earlier this month at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) annual convention, Blakey said, "We do not want to create a funding system that stifles GA." It was one of the first times she publicly acknowledged not only the likelihood of a multi-tiered user fee system but also the inherent damage any such scheme could wreak on non-commercial aviation. Still, the perception in Congress and among the general public that business aviation operators both create greater demand for FAA services, especially air traffic control, and are more able to afford higher operating costs than the lighter end of general aviation mean there is little light at the end of the tunnel. "This shift in power in Congress changes the picture for us on the user fee fight," said AOPA President Phil Boyer, "but it doesn't mean we've won the battle. However, now we can be assured of a fair hearing from people who understand aviation and aren't beholden to the White House." Somewhat less directly, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President and CEO Ed Bolen said, "It is difficult to say what the recent changes will mean for specific aviation policies, because a number of key committee chairmanships and assignments still need to be made. Even with all of the changes that are taking place, we will still have a big battle ahead on user fees, and we'll need everyone in business aviation to make their voices heard with their members of Congress. We look forward to working with all returning and new members of Congress on policies that advance the interests of our industry."

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Of User Fees And Security

In her appearance at AOPA, Blakey said she did not support a new funding system that would entail "broad user fees." Later, when asked to clarify, she told attendees, "Everybody who uses the air traffic control system should pay their fair share, including the public through a continued general fund contribution," according to the association. "We do not want to create a funding system that stifles GA," she added. Of course, one person's "fair share" is another's "stifling." At NBAA, Blakey summed up her agency's bottom line thusly: "We need a stable, cost-based revenue stream." What that might resemble, how it would be structured and who would pay the most -- and reap the benefits -- are all questions that will define the coming Congressional debate.

The question of whether the 110th Congress might seek to impose new aviation security measures is even fuzzier. While nothing approaching even the FAA's undefined hopes for a user-fee scheme has been formally proposed, several Democrats assuming the mantles of Congressional power in January have been critical of what they perceive as a lack of security among most general and business aviation operations. One example is U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who last month asked the FAA and the Department of Homeland Security to, among other things, "assess whether pilots should have background checks before flying in river corridors or over Manhattan" in the aftermath of Cory Lidle's crash into a New York City apartment building. Another senator known for advocating increased general aviation security measures is Herb Kohl, D-Wis., who at one point in 2002 was convinced each and every general aviation flight -- even those departing private turf airports or Alaskan sandbars -- should go through airline-style security screening. Cooler heads prevailed then -- helped along by passing time and distance from the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- but incoming Democrats may feel pressured to take steps designed to enhance security on their watch, not reduce it. Acknowledging the challenges, AOPA's Boyer said, "We'll have more work to do to educate people about the great strides we've made in improving security, and to the minimal threat that GA represents." Boyer's statement pretty succinctly sums up what we'll all have to look forward to in 2007, not just on security, but on many other government policies affecting general and business aviation. Watch this space.

The Boys In Brazil

The fate of two U.S. pilots "detained" by Brazilian authorities after their new Embraer Legacy 600 apparently collided in midair with a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 on Sept. 29 remains undecided. All 154 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing died after the suspected collision apparently crippled the airliner. Most recently, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) separately urged Brazilian authorities to release the crew. If you're just joining us on this story, the two pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, have been "guests" of the Brazilian government ever since they managed to land their damaged jet at a remote military base. Authorities held the two -- both a state and a federal judge ordered the pilots to relinquish their passports -- while an investigation was underway. For its part, IFALPA last week noted that, "thus far, only contradictory facts, rumor and unsupported allegations have been forthcoming from Brazilian government officials" regarding the accident. The association went on to demand that Brazilian authorities immediately return the pilots' passports and that they be allowed to return home.

Adding to the response, NBAA has undertaken a number of efforts in support of the pilots' release and, on Nov. 20, association President and CEO Ed Bolen sent a letter [PDF] to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva calling for the pilots' immediate return. Additionally, Bolen and other NBAA officials have approached the FAA, the NTSB and the U.S. Ambassador to ICAO -- as well as Congressional staff -- to increase their awareness of the situation and encourage involvement. Unfortunately, these efforts have not yet borne fruit and highlight what some observers decry as the increasing "criminalization" of aviation accidents, especially when they occur outside of North America and Europe. In response, the U.S. Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), the Netherlands-based Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO), the Royal Aeronautical Society (U.K.) (RAeS) and the Academie Nationale de L’Air et de L’Espace (ANAE) in France on Oct. 18 issued a joint resolution decrying the increasing tendency of law enforcement and judicial authorities to attempt to criminalize aviation accidents, to the detriment of aviation safety. “We are increasingly alarmed that the focus of governments in the wake of accidents is to conduct lengthy, expensive and highly disruptive criminal investigations in an attempt to exact punishment, instead of ensuring the free flow of information to understand what happened and why, and prevent recurrence of the tragedy,” said Bill Voss, FSF President and CEO. Let's all be careful out there.

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Behind The Scenes Look At Honda Aircraft

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On Monday, Honda Aircraft lifted the veil of secrecy at its Greensboro, N.C., facility, where the company designed, developed, built and is now flying its very light jet (VLJ), the HondaJet. The company publicly opened its doors for the first time at its Piedmont Triad Airport complex to a group of about 25 journalists to show that the company is not only innovative when it comes to aircraft design -- the HondaJet has unique over-the-wing-mounted GE-Honda turbofans -- but also in how it will sell and service the VLJ. "This small building is filled with very sophisticated technological abilities and big dreams," noted CEO Michimasa Fujino, who is unarguably the father of the HondaJet. According to Fujino, Honda's aircraft program began modestly some 20 years ago, and while that modesty still prevails today the company is well on the path to certify the very light jet.

The HondaJet prototype has been flying for just shy of three years and has logged about 300 hours over nearly 200 flights. On the sales front, the HondaJet backlog stands at more than 100 aircraft, even though first deliveries of the $3.65 million twinjet won't start until 2010. However, Honda Aircraft GM of Sales and Marketing Doug Danuser told AVweb that this count includes only individual orders and that there is significant interest (and probably some orders already placed) from fleet operators, a group that includes fractional and air-taxi operators. Danuser comes from Honda's Acura luxury auto group, and it shows in Honda Aircraft's approach to sales and service. He said that the newly formed aircraft company is adopting an "at the spot" sales and service dealer network comprising 14 dealers in a five U.S. regions, with no customer more than 90 minutes' flying time from any such facility. "This will ensure a more personal relationship with the customer," Fujino pointed out.

Cessna Hits 7,000 In 10

Has it been 10 years already since Cessna restarted its piston-engine single production? According to Cessna, which earlier this month celebrated completing the 7,000th single-engine piston to emerge from its Independence, Kan., facility, it has. Thankfully, the math is easy: An average of 700 new piston-engined singles have emerged from that factory since 1996, adding to the company's total production of more than 152,000 single-engine piston aircraft in its nearly 80-year history. Ironically, the company restarted production after a 10-year hiatus that began in 1986, in part because of unlimited product liability exposure and high insurance costs. Cessna says 1994's General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) allowed it to re-enter the market for single-engine piston airplanes.

Cessna's 7,000th Independence-produced aircraft was a Cessna 182 Skylane sold to Frank Seymour of Sheltair Aviation Services, which owns eight FBOs in Florida and New York. “Cessnas are reliable and fun to fly,” said Seymour, who also owns a Cessna 206 Stationair. “I need to fly between FBOs to ensure the customer service and facilities are meeting expectations, and I look forward to using this beautiful new airplane as my transportation.” Within days of GARA's enactment, Cessna announced a search for the town where it would build a facility to manufacture single-engine pistons again. In December 1994, Cessna announced it would build the new airplanes at Independence. Included are model 172 Skyhawks, 182 Skylanes and 206 Stationairs. Cessna broke ground for the facility in May 1995. To date, Cessna says it has delivered more general aviation airplanes than any other commercial manufacturer. More than half the general aviation aircraft flying today are Cessnas, the company said.

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Middle Eastern BA Group Forecasts Huge Growth

If, after record-setting attendance levels at the recent annual conventions of both the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), industry participants need further evidence of business aviation's viability and growth potential, we refer you to the plans of the Middle East Business Aviation Association. The organization, formed earlier this year by founding members Royal Jet, National Air Services, Bexair, Gulfstream, Jet Aviation and JetEx, told attendees at last month's NBAA annual meeting and convention it expects to record more than 300 members by 2012. Recently, the new non-profit organization added Boeing and Airbus as members and named Ali Ahmed Al Naqbi, Vice President of Finance and Administration for Abu Dhabi-based Amiri Flight, as its founding chairman. In that role, Al Naqbi will be responsible for carrying forward the association and meeting those goals.

The new organization was formed to "serve the needs of Middle East Business Aviation Association Members in ways that enhance safety, security, efficiency and acceptance of business aviation throughout the region." Among its objectives are ensuring safe flight operations and helping its members achieve the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness while focusing on their needs with versatility, creativity and integrity. Four membership classes currently exist -- founding member, operator member, supplier and affiliate member -- with annual dues ranging from U.S. $3,500 to $1,750. The association recently applied for membership in the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), which will decide whether to admit the MEBAA at its next regular meeting, scheduled for May 25, 2007, in conjunction with the next annual European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE).

Eclipse: It's All In The Details

"Soon" is about all Eclipse Aviation will say when asked when the company will deliver its first production Eclipse 500 very light jet (VLJ). Despite recent setbacks involving what could be considered teething pains on its flight-test fleet -- which led the company to ground those airplanes as a precautionary measure -- Eclipse this week remained extremely positive about clearing these two hurdles. And, since it says there are some 32 of the new aircraft in various stages of production, Eclipse has no real reason to worry, even though one of its biggest customers, "per-seat, on-demand" operator DayJet recently said it would delay inauguration of its start-up service. DayJet seemed to blame its delay in part on financing and in part on delivery delays. Eclipse received full FAA certification, except for known icing approval and some of the flight management software, plus the autopilot, on Sept. 30. Still, DayJet and other customers are anxiously awaiting the first deliveries, which many expect by the end of November.

The voluntary grounding of Eclipse's flight-test fleet came after two anomalies were discovered. The first was found while modifying a flight-test aircraft with the new, larger tip tank design and involves incorrect installation of a bushing in the rear wing spar attachment lug. Eclipse says the bushing was displaced, causing excessive wear. To correct this issue on flight-test aircraft, Eclipse will use a larger bushing and shim it to prevent movement. The company stresses the issue involves an installation error, the procedure for which it has modified. According to Eclipse, "We have found no evidence of this condition on production aircraft." Another hiccup involves cracked cockpit windshields and side windows. As many as seven separate instances of cracks in each of these two components were discovered, which Eclipse attributes to fatigue failure resulting from a "combination of thermal and pressurization loads." The company says its “fail safe” design for the windshield and side windows, involving an interior layer of acrylic, was undamaged in all cases. As a result, an inspection and replacement interval was added to the Aircraft Maintenance Manual requiring the cockpit windshield to be inspected every 50 flights and replaced after every 100 flights, while the cockpit side windows are to be inspected every 50 flights and replaced after 250 flights. Eclipse says that, since it instituted the revised inspection and replacement interval requirements, it has not observed new cracks in any of the windows.

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GAMA Names 2007 Leadership, Welcomes New Member Companies

The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) last week announced that its board of directors had elected new officials to lead the association in 2007, while approving membership applications from Eclipse Aviation, SINO Swearingen and SMA (Societe de Motorisations Aeronautiques), which develops diesel engines for aircraft. At the board of directors meeting, John J. Grisik, executive vice president, Operational Excellence and Technology, Goodrich Corporation was named GAMA’s chairman for 2007; he previously served as GAMA’s vice chairman. Replacing him in his former position as vice chairman will be Alan Klapmeier, chairman and CEO, Cirrus Design Corporation. He served as chairman of the security issues committee in 2006.

In addition to filling the two top spots, GAMA's board named Alain Bellemare, Pratt & Whitney Canada, as chairman of the association's Product Liability & Legal Issues Committee; Jack Pelton, Cessna Aircraft Company, will chair the Flight Operations Policy Committee; John Rosanvallon, Dassault Falcon Jet Corporation, will lead GAMA's Security Issues Committee; Adrienne Stevens, L-3 Communications, heads up the Communications Committee; and Mark Van Tine of Jeppesen will chair the International Affairs Committee. Also named were Larry Williams of Ballistic Recovery Systems to lead the Safety Affairs & Training Committee, with Robert Wilson, Honeywell, to chair GAMA's Technical Policy Committee. “Simultaneously adding two original equipment manufacturers to our ranks as they bring their first certified aircraft to market is a first for GAMA. We are proud to have Eclipse and SINO Swearingen on board,” said Pete Bunce, GAMA’s President and CEO. “Likewise, SMA brings another exciting European innovator into the GAMA family, increasing our presence in the expanding European general aviation marketplace.”

Bombardier Delivers First Challenger 850 Bizjet

Bombardier Aerospace earlier this month announced the first delivery of a Challenger 850 executive business jet, a development of the company's CRJ200 regional jet (RJ). The delivery followed the March 2006 entry into service of the first Challenger 850 corporate shuttle, also based on Bombardier's popular RJ line. The new bizjet-configured version of the 850 went to a Russian customer and was also the first Challenger 850 aircraft completed by Lufthansa Technik of Hamburg, Germany. Bombardier and Lufthansa Technik signed an agreement securing completion positions for 17 Challenger 850 executive jets in November 2005.

“This first Challenger 850 executive aircraft delivery highlights the ongoing confidence business jet customers have demonstrated in all members of the Challenger widebody aircraft family,” said Jahid Fazal-Karim, senior vice-president, new aircraft sales, Bombardier Business Aircraft. “Market interest worldwide is solid for both the executive and shuttle variants of the Challenger 850, particularly in Russia, where there is continued strong demand for the executive version.” “The first delivery in any program is always an important milestone,” said Bernhard Conrad, senior vice-president, completion center, and head of approved design organization, Lufthansa Technik. “We are proud of the superior quality of this aircraft interior and are on track with the completion of another five aircraft.” The large-cabin Challenger 850 features a transcontinental range of 3,044 nm.

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Landmark Increases Falcon 50 Rudder Authority

Landmark Aviation last week said it has received FAA approval to modify in-service Dassault Falcon 50 trijets to increase rudder control authority on aircraft equipped with Collins’ APS-85 autopilot or Pro Line 21 avionics suite. The FBO, MRO and sales, charter and management chain -- formed in 2004 through the merger of Garrett, Piedmont-Hawthorne and Associated Air Center -- said it will perform the modification work at its Springfield, Ill., maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) center. Benefits from the modification include enhanced lateral maneuverability of the aircraft and increased mission capability so operators have greater control in crosswind conditions, according to the company.

Aircraft with this modification have the same rudder travel as the Falcon 50EX, which has demonstrated landing with a crosswind component of 30 knots. By contrast, the demonstrated landing crosswind component for a Falcon 50 is 23 knots. “Landmark Aviation is committed to providing equipment and upgrades that will enhance safety for aircraft operators,” said Brian Watkins, vice president of engineering at Landmark Aviation. “This modification increases the aircraft rudder control a full six degrees. Previously, the improvement was only available to operators as part of a larger modification that also replaced the airplane’s engines and avionics suite.”

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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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