AVwebBiz Complete Issue: Volume 4, Number 25

December 19, 2006

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
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Is There A Synthetic Fuel In Your Future?

Jet fuel prices are going nowhere but up, according to conventional wisdom, but there may be an unconventional alternative in the near future. The U.S. Air Force (USAF) last week flew an eight-engined Boeing B-52 Stratofortress bomber on a five-plus-hour flight, powered only by a synthetic jet fuel. The flight was dubbed a success both by the Air Force and the fuel's manufacturer, Tulsa, Okla.-based Syntroleum Corporation, and follows a similar test flight earlier in the year. Both flights took off from and recovered to Edwards Air Force Base in California. As wider unrest threatens traditional petroleum resources in the Middle East and as industry observers disagree on whether "peak oil" has been reached, the U.S. military is moving forward with plans for half of its turbine fuel to be synthetically derived by the next decade. The next research phase for the new fuel will be cold-weather testing and use in USAF tanker aircraft, newer models of which use engines derived from civilian powerplants. In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, the fuel may already have been used in Air Force One. "Air Force officials said the only other time that a U.S. aircraft may have used the fuel was when Air Force One flew to South Africa, where the country used the alternative fuel during an oil embargo," the newspaper reported.

While Syntroleum clearly is looking to snag a long-term Pentagon contract for its fuel, the company may not have to wait long until oil prices rise to the point its more-expensive synthetic blend becomes cost-effective for civilian users. According to the U.S. Air Transport Association (ATA), the cost/benefit threshold may lie in the $38-to-$50-per-barrel price range. As this issue of AVweb's BizAv was being finalized, crude oil prices were hovering around $63 a barrel. The ATA believes a synthetic fuel made from using technology similar to Syntroleum's "offers the most promise as a near-term alternative aviation fuel, as it appears to meet current specifications and require little or no aircraft redesign." Whether last week's successful test, combined with high oil prices, will mean fleets of bizjets flying around on synthetic fuels remains to be seen, however. Among major hurdles is the need for a full-scale manufacturing plant, which observers estimate would cost as much as $1 billion.

 
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Looking For A New Crew Job? Check Out NetJets Europe

Pay scales for corporate and charter pilots are all over the map -- literally -- these days, and last week's announcement by NetJets Europe of its 2007 salary package may see a few U.S. pilots jumping ship -- and the pond. The company last week today announced its new employment package for pilots and flight attendants, highlights of which include salary increases of between 5 and 35 percent for all crew members, plus nine fewer duty days and permanent contracts. According to NetJets Europe, its new "Work/Life Crew Package" is designed to recognize its employees' contributions and to help it "continue to attract and retain the best pilots and flight attendants in the industry." Part of the reason for the increased pay scales is what NetJets Europe calls its rapid expansion. "Over the past five years we have grown from a small private jet company into one of the largest and fastest growing aviation companies in the world. It is thanks to the hard work of every person in this company that we have climbed this mountain," said Chairman and CEO Mark Booth. "These new changes will make NetJets Europe a great place to build a career and positions the company for an exciting future."

Details of the new pay package include starting salaries of €95,000 for captains and €56,500 for first officers plus the opportunity to earn additional income in 2007 by volunteering to work an extra six days during NetJets Europe's busy season. That choice could mean gross income of €101,000 and €60,700, respectively, for captains and F/Os during the coming year. Additional duty days at increased rates of pay may also be available, and the salaries listed are for new hires -- higher compensation is paid to more senior employees, notes NetJets Europe. In all, the company says captains will receive a 10 to 27 percent raise while working nine fewer days each year than previously. Additionally, NetJets Europe says it is providing all crewmembers a permanent contract in 2007, instead of the three-year contract it was issuing previously. Finally, the company says it will continue to allow crewmembers the choice of living in any of 36 approved gateway cities across Europe. All of which should beat riding scheduled shotgun in an Airbus.

Whither Raytheon?

Despite what was billed as a weekend-long series of negotiations designed to reach a final agreement, there was no official word late Tuesday on whether an investor group comprising Onex Corp. and Goldman Sachs would buy Raytheon Aircraft. Reports late last week indicated the two sides were near an agreement as part of their exclusive negotiations, which came after suitors Carlyle Group and Cerberus Capital Management were put on hold by the aircraft manufacturer. The deal to buy Raytheon -- which reportedly would not include Raytheon's fractional operation, Flight Options, or its charter provider, Raytheon Airline Aviation Services -- has been valued as high as $3 billion and is generally thought to involve both Onex and Goldman Sachs acquiring identical shares equal to slightly less than 50 percent, with current Raytheon executives retaining the rest. Both Onex and Goldman Sachs have had very good years: The former last week announced it had bought a 12.5-percent stake in Qantas, Australia's flagship carrier, while the latter's employees are going to divvy up some $16 billion in end-of-year bonuses.

The proposed sale is generally thought to be a good deal for Raytheon Aircraft's parent company, as well as for its rank-and-file employees. The airframer's parent company seems more comfortable in its role as an aerospace and military contractor while Onex got uniformly good marks after it purchased a Wichita, Kan.-based Boeing unit in 2005. Goldman Sachs was also part of that acquisition. As Toronto's Globe and Mail reported last week, "Onex has made a name for itself for more than two decades as a company that identifies underperforming assets or sectors, buys low and works with management to unlock the value, often then selling for many times what it paid." What that may mean for Raytheon's venerable Beechcraft and Hawker lines is anyone's guess.

 
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VLJs "Irrelevant" To Airlines, Says Crandall

One of the airline industry's most colorful and successful players this week said what many expect will be a coming onslaught of very light jets (VLJs) won't have an impact on scheduled carriers. Former American Airlines Chairman and CEO Robert Crandall yesterday said during a conference call with investors that the "per-seat, on-demand" transportation made economically possible with VLJs will be "irrelevant" to the major airlines. Although many observers have been saying the same thing for months, and Crandall's credentials make him one to whom it's worth listening, his position as chairman and chief executive of Pogo, one of the start-up companies hoping to make it big with VLJs, may blunt the impact. Stratford, Conn.-based Pogo -- like DayJet -- hopes to soon begin service using VLJs to "offer the convenience and personalized service of traditional private jet travel at affordable rates and with a consistent customer experience." The company hopes to begin service in 2008, using Adam Aircraft A700 AdamJets, to locations throughout the northeast U.S.

The extent to which, if any, VLJs will impact the airlines and the U.S. air traffic control system is as the root of the airline industry's call for user fees, especially on non-scheduled flights. But Crandall -- who once famously told Time magazine, referring to the scheduled airlines, "This industry is always in the grip of its dumbest competitors" -- is now wearing another hat. "The impact of companies like Pogo on the airlines is irrelevant. Even if we succeed five times as well as we hope to succeed, we won't move enough passengers for the airlines to notice," Crandall told investors on the conference call, according to Air Transport World. Crandall's legacy in the airline industry includes creating the first frequent-flyer program, pioneering computerized reservation systems and yield management, and giving good quotes.

First Falcon 7X Ready For Completion

Dassault Falcon’s Little Rock Completion Center last week welcomed its first Falcon 7X (s/n 05) for completion, the company said this week, accompanied by a Falcon 2000EX EASy. Dassault's latest tri-jet offering -- the company expects to obtain FAA and EASA certification in early 2007 -- is billed as "the world’s first purpose built fly by wire business jet." Earlier in 2006, Dassault said it expected this event in late November, so the company's program would seem to be running a few weeks behind. Still, some 1,800 of the facility's employees were on hand to greet the two jets, which were flown from Dassault's Bordeaux-Merignac, France, assembly plant. NetJets Europe has signed up for 24 Falcon 7X aircraft -- worth U.S. $1.1 billion -- with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2008 and running through 2014. At least 100 other copies of the 7X airframe are on order with Dassault.

So far, the 69,000-lb.-MGTOW 7X has been through hot- and cold-weather trials, as well as low-altitude, high-speed test flights. Its Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307 turbofan engines have accumulated more than 7,200 hours of testing. Dassault said in October that some 40 Falcon 7X airframes were in some stage of production, with s/n 014 in final assembly. The folks in Little Rock can expect to see a few more in the near future.

 
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Landmark Aviation STC's Pro Line 21 IDS Aboard Falcon 50s

Landmark Aviation last week announced its FAA Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) approval for installing Rockwell Collins' Pro Line 21 Integrated Display System (IDS) aboard Dassault Falcon 50 aircraft. The Pro Line 21 IDS upgrade for the Falcon 50 can be configured with three or four 8-inch-by-10-inch active matrix liquid crystal displays and includes Rockwell Collins' Integrated Flight Information System (IFIS). The IFIS installation enables electronic charts, graphical weather and map overlays. The upgrade engineered by Landmark allows operators to retain existing avionics -- including the autopilot, flight director computers, flight management system (FMS), communication, navigation and distance measuring equipment, transponders, and attitude/heading gyros -- while benefiting from glass-panel displays. Options such as Attitude Heading Reference System (AHRS) and Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) can be easily added.

“The Pro Line 21 IDS provides pilots with greater situational awareness, which enhances safety,” said Gary Bosemer, avionics and airframe sales manager for Landmark Aviation. “The system is designed to be a long-term solution and is positioned for growth into future capabilities such as (CNS/ATM) Communication, Navigation, Surveillance and Air Traffic Management." In addition to IDS upgrades, Landmark Aviation also offers the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 retrofit solution, a major retrofit that includes a new autopilot and integrated FMS for the Dassault Falcon 50. Landmark said its FAA certification work was completed by its FAA Designated Alteration Station (DAS). Work will be performed at Landmark Aviation’s Springfield, Ill., maintenance, repair and overhaul center, a full-service aircraft center.

Adam Expands Engineering Programs

Adam Aircraft earlier this month said it was adding two new managers to its engineering roster, naming Tom Bisges as Senior vice president, engineering and program management, and Malcolm Thomson as vice president, flight test engineering. Tom Bisges comes to Adam Aircraft following a successful and distinguished career with Bombardier Aerospace and Sino Swearingen Aircraft Corporation. As Sino vice president of engineering, he achieved FAA certification for the SJ30-2 twin-engine jet. At Bombardier Aerospace, he managed engineering efforts on the Global Express, Challenger 604, RJ 200, Lear 60 and Lear 40 aircraft. "We are extremely pleased to have Tom lead our engineering effort," stated Rick Adam, founder of Adam Aircraft and chief executive officer. "His previous accomplishments with FAA certification and new aircraft development will streamline our processes on A700 AdamJet certification and accelerate product enhancements for the A500 piston twin."

Prior to joining Adam, Thomson founded Optika, a document imaging and workflow software company that went public in 1996. He also served as president of Blue Mountain Avionics where he provided design criteria for the EFIS/One, EFIS/Lite and Digital Autopilot, and worked across the firm in manufacturing, sales, customer support and business development. He also worked for Ashton-Tate, the successful developer of dBASE, the popular database product. He earned a pilot's certificate with an MEL instrument rating, and flies his own Twin Commander 690A-10 turboprop and his personally built Thunder Mustang.

 
Columbia Simplifies Buying & Selling All Aircraft Brands
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Chelton Adds Two Former Sagem Managers To Roster

Jim Shirey and Jake Hart have joined Boise, Idaho-based Chelton Flight Systems, the company said last week. Shirey, formerly vice president of marketing for North America with SAGEM Avionics, Inc., comes aboard as vice president for business development while Hart joins up as vice president, autopilot systems. Hart, a former Air Force pilot who worked as an experimental test pilot for Bell Helicopter and as test pilot/director with American Eurocopter, will help introduce the Chelton HeliSAS as the first in the company's product line of helicopter autopilots and stability augmentation systems. Meanwhile, Shirey brings over 30 years aviation industry experience in aircraft manufacturing, flight test operations, marketing and executive management to Chelton. Both will work in the Chelton Flight Systems' Dallas/Ft Worth office.

"We are counting on proven forward-thinkers, with industry experience like Jim Shirey to take Chelton Flight Systems revolutionary products to the next level," said Chelton Flight Systems' President Gordon Pratt. He added, "The Chelton HeliSAS addresses a long-standing gap in the helicopter autopilot market. Jake Hart is exactly the person we need to introduce this lightweight, low cost, easy-to-install product." Chelton Flight Systems, part of the Cobham Avionics and Surveillance Division, manufactures the first FAA-certified synthetic vision EFIS, now STC'd on over 740 airplane and helicopter models. Chelton Flight Systems' parent company is Cobham plc.

Rolls-Royce Commemorates 3,000 Gulfstream Engines

Rolls-Royce last week formally recognized its long-standing relationship with Gulfstream Aerospace in a ceremony marking delivery of 3,000 engines to the business jet maker. According to the engine manufacturer, no other civil aerospace customer has received more engines from Rolls-Royce than Gulfstream. Rolls-Royce has powered eight Gulfstream variants with Spey, Tay and BR710 engines for a total of nearly 1500 business jets. Additionally, the very first Gulfstream, a turboprop, used Rolls-Royce Dart engines.

For the occasion, Rolls-Royce commissioned a painting featuring both the GI and G550 aircraft -- the first and latest Gulfstream business aircraft -- which was presented to Gulfstream Aerospace President Bryan Moss by Rolls-Royce North America President and CEO James M. Guyette at a ceremony at the Gulfstream facility in Savannah, Ga., on Dec. 5. Mr. Guyette said, "Rolls-Royce is proud to have delivered 3,000 engines spanning four engine programs over nearly 50 years to Gulfstream. This milestone signifies the long relationship forged through trust and excellence."

 
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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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Happy holidays and best wishes in the new year. See you in 2007!