AVwebBiz - Volume 5, Number 3

January 31, 2007

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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FAA's Blakey: Time To Update Age 60 Rule

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Marion C. Blakey yesterday announced her agency will propose increasing the mandatory retirement age for U.S. airline pilots from 60 to 65. Her announcement was made in a luncheon speech at the National Press Club and follows last year's formation of a rulemaking committee that basically punted on the question it was convened to resolve. Changes to the FAA's long-debated Age 60 rule became more likely last year after the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) changed its rules, allowing pilots up to age 65 to serve aboard scheduled carriers. In essence, ICAO's rules allowed foreign carriers to fly to and from the U.S. with older pilots at the controls while the FAA's own rules forbids domestic carriers from conducting the same operation. In response, that FAA panel, formally known as the "Age 60 Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC)," was formed on Sept. 27, 2006, and made its final report to the FAA on Nov. 29. Blakey said her agency plans to issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking later this year and will publish a final rule after considering public comments.

Instead of presenting formal recommendations, the FAA's Age 60 panel noted, "While ARC members collaborated to identify many issues associated with adoption of the new ICAO standard, polarized views limited the ARC’s ability to reach consensus on recommendations." Instead, the ARC was able to come to a consensus on only one recommendation: that any future change in the Age 60 rule be prospective, not retroactive. In her remarks to the National Press Club, Blakey said that the FAA plans to propose adopting the new ICAO standard that allows one pilot to be up to age 65 provided the other pilot is under age 60. “A pilot’s experience counts -- it’s an added margin of safety,” said Blakey. “Foreign airlines have demonstrated that experienced pilots in good health can fly beyond age 60 without compromising safety.” The Age 60 Rule first went into effect in 1959. Despite numerous attempts in Congress and by others who petitioned the agency to overturn the rule or increase its age limit, this is the first time an FAA Administrator has expressed any support of such a change.

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"More Robust" Security For BizAv?

Aviation security was back on the congressional agenda during a hearing earlier this month before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The Jan. 17 hearing -- called to review recommendations of the 9/11 Commission -- featured one witness, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Director Edmund S. "Kip" Hawley, who told senators his agency is "working on" a study of what else it can do to enhance general aviation security and that a "more robust" plan may be on the way. There were no specifics, but observers familiar with the TSA speculated the agency may plan some sort of extension of the so-called "Twelve-Five" rule -- which implements a number of requirements for unscheduled commercial operators of aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds, but less than approximately 103,000 pounds -- at least to fractional operators and, perhaps, to private operators of aircraft in that rule's weight range (e.g., bizjets). Hawley's appearance on Capitol Hill came a week ahead of a U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) report noting progress in all forms of aviation security had been made but that "continued federal action is needed to further mitigate risks."

In discussing general and business aviation, the GAO primarily noted the funding problems any federal security program directed at GA would have and that competing priorities at the FAA and TSA for scarce dollars made any major federal program "unlikely." Still, the GAO reminded that its 2004 suggestion for the TSA to "develop and implement a plan to identify threats and vulnerabilities" GA faced had not been implemented. Yet. "We have noted in our work that the extent of general aviation’s vulnerability to terrorist attack is difficult to determine," the GAO added. Presently, the TSA's only regulatory scheme for general aviation is the "Twelve-Five" program -- which, despite early teething pains, has been mostly successful. Instead of clamoring for new rules, the general and business aviation communities stepped into the TSA's void, establishing the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association's (AOPA's) "Airport Watch" program, along with the National Business Aircraft Association's (NBAA's) TSAAC, or TSA Access Certificate, a voluntary effort involving standardized security procedures and best practices for personnel, facilities, aircraft and in-flight operations. To date, of course, no GA aircraft has been used to commit a terrorist act. Similarly, no federal program has been established addressing, say, Ryder trucks.

Middle East Show Attracts BizAv's Big Guns

It used to be that the major aviation trade shows -- with exception of Farnborough and the Paris Air Show -- were all in the U.S. during the spring, summer and fall. Not anymore. Now, with EBACE, LABACE, and shows in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia, it's more a matter of which show is being held this month. And the answer is the Middle East Business Aviation (MEBA), which runs today and tomorrow in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, highlighting the industry's growth potential in that region. While AVweb isn't there, most of the big players seem to be, and were already touting their major announcements this week. For example, Airbus put aside its ongoing A380 troubles long enough to announce it had won two new customers for VIP versions of its ultra-long-haul A340s -- one for an A340-500 and one for an A340-300. The airframer said the market for VIP-configured widebody aircraft has been increasingly active in recent years, with the company booking its first firm order for a VIP A340-600 in 2005, plus a VIP A330-200 for an undisclosed customer, in 2006. The company said its latest sales build on a customer base of 40 or so VIP and government versions of Airbus widebodies already in service.

The MEBA, put together by the Middle East Business Aviation Association (MEBAA), will feature a static display of 31 aircraft, out of a grand total of 90 exhibitors from 20 countries. Among pre-show highlights, Raytheon Aircraft Company announced Saudi Arabia's National Air Services ordered up to 20 copies of the new Hawker 750 midsize jet, making it the international launch customer for the new bizjet, which was announced last year at the NBAA annual convention. Additionally, the U.K.'s Farnborough Aircraft Corporation Limited will bring its new metal-and-composite turbine single, the Kestrel, to Dubai, and Kingfisher Airlines said it plans to place orders for new turboprop and jet aircraft. Details weren't available, although the carrier ordered 15 aircraft from Airbus last year in Paris, including five A380s. Look for more news and details on this show in upcoming issues of AVweb's business aviation coverage.

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Flight Options, FAA Partner On Safety Management System

Flight Options, the Raytheon Company's fractional ownership operation, said yesterday the FAA selected it to partner and participate in the “proof of concept” phase of the development and implementation of a formal Safety Management System (SMS) for all air service providers. Flight Options added that it is the only fractional operator -- and the largest of only nine aviation service providers nationwide -- to participate in the FAA program. According to the company, an SMS program is designed to incorporate proven quality and management principles into the practice of safety and involves line management, safety expertise and employee engagement to produce a healthy safety culture in every aspect of the business. A formal FAA-accepted SMS program is expected to become a regulatory requirement for all air carriers by 2009, Flight Options said. To implement this model, the FAA reached out to industry leaders to help define, implement and validate the model SMS. Implementing a formal SMS will integrate safety best practices throughout the organization.

“With a robust safety management program supported by a dedicated safety department, Flight Options has worked continuously to build its position as an industry leader in safety,” said Chuck Starkey, vice president of safety and security, Flight Options, LLC. “Partnering with the FAA to develop a formal SMS gives us the opportunity not only to improve our program, but also to leverage our experience and help build the model program for the rest of the air transportation industry.” In a November address to nearly 500 aviation industry leaders from the United States and around the world, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey highlighted the importance of SMS in continuing to improve the industry’s safety record. Flight Options may be uniquely situated to participate in the FAA's SMS development program: It says it was the first and only fractional provider to receive the prestigious ARG/US Platinum Safety Rating three consecutive times.

Williams Offers Details On PiperJet Engine

Last year at the annual NBAA convention, Piper rolled out its proposed PiperJet, a Williams turbofan-powered single built up from its turboprop-powered Meridian. At the time, neither Piper nor Williams would say much about the personal jet's powerplant except that it would be designated the Williams FJ33-3AP. Now, Williams has released some additional details on its new engine, stressing that it expects to achieve up to a 4% fuel economy improvement over previous versions of Williams engines in its class. Williams said the engine to power Piper's jet will be based on the 3,000-lb-thrust FJ33A presently used aboard Cessna's Citation CJ3 and the forthcoming Grob SPn but de-rated to 2,400 lbs. of thrust. Once certified and after Piper gets its hands on the first few examples, Williams expects to make the new variant available for other aircraft.

According to the company, the -3AP's greater fuel economy is expected to result from aerodynamic enhancements throughout its internal flow, improvements the company tested and confirmed during its work to develop the FJ44-4A. Williams said it expects to obtain FAA certification of the FJ33-3AP during the first half of 2008. Piper wants to begin flight testing its PiperJet shortly thereafter, although it does not expect to begin deliveries until 2010. The PiperJet is slated to be a six/seven-seat machine eligible for single-pilot operations with a maximum certificated ceiling of FL350 and a cruise speed of 360 KTAS.

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NetJets, Maintenance Workers Ink New Labor Agreement

NetJets Aviation (NJA) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) earlier this month signed a new five-year labor agreement, implementing a pact overwhelmingly accepted by the fractional operator's maintenance workers late last year. According to the company, the new contract calls for enhanced pay and benefits and an increase in its maintenance workforce at its Columbus, Ohio, operations base over the agreement's life. Additionally, the contract establishes a "labor partnership" to which both sides say they are committed in support of NetJets' service commitment to owners. The contract went into effect Jan. 4, 2007, and becomes amendable in January 2012. Present at the contract's signing, which took place at a NetJets facility in Columbus, were NetJets Aviation Chairman Richard Santulli, NetJets Aviation Vice President of Labor and Employee Services Rose Doria, IBT Associate Director of Airline Division Mark Luthi and IBT Local 284 President Allen Price. The new contract is in addition to recent labor agreements with the operator's pilots and flight attendants.

NetJets' Richard Santulli said, "This agreement reflects NetJets’ commitment to the highest standards of flight safety and maintenance and the vital role of NetJets' maintenance workers in upholding these standards. With these three agreements in place, we look forward to a collaborative and harmonious labor environment that will enable us all to look to the future and experience continued growth."

Gulfstream Claims Its G150 Set Three New City-Pair Records

One of the 10 Gulfstream G150s presently in service recently established three new city-pair records, the manufacturer said last week. The first of the three new city-pair records took place on Friday, Jan. 19. The G150 took off from Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., at 10:10 a.m. local time and flew 2,542 nm at an average airspeed of 0.78 Mach, landing 5 hours and 53 minutes later at the Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif., at 1:03 p.m. local time. The aircraft flew into headwinds averaging 62 mph and at an average temperature of ISA +10, landing with 1,900 pounds of fuel remaining. The flight was commanded by Scott Evans, Gulfstream chief pilot, advanced programs midsize aircraft, and Wendi Sparks, Gulfstream international demonstration captain. The same five passengers onboard this flight were also onboard the next two record flights.

The following day, Evans and Sparks set the second G150 record, flying from Long Beach to Aspen/Pitkin County Airport in Aspen, Colo. During this leg, the G150 flew 685 nm at an average airspeed of 0.81 Mach in 1 hour and 34 minutes. The third G150 record was set later that same day. Again piloted by Evans and Sparks, the G150 took off from Aspen at 12:47 p.m. local time and flew 1,584 nm at an average airspeed of 0.80 Mach, landing at Westchester County Airport 3 hours and 8 minutes later, at 5:55 p.m. local time. Gulfstream said it has submitted applications to the National Aeronautic Association to confirm each of these three new city-pair records.

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Meanwhile, Bombardier Claims Its Own New Speed Records

Not to be outdone, Bombardier yesterday announced its Learjet 60 set a world speed record in its class, flying from Jeddah to Dubai nonstop, in 1 hour, 59 minutes. The flight was fully sanctioned by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and will be submitted to the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), according to official procedure, in order to validate the record flight. Once validated, the NAA will submit the record to the FAI in Paris, France, for international ratification. According to Bombardier, this is the second Learjet 60 record in less than five months: On Sept. 21, 2006, another Learjet 60 jet flew Cape Town-Johannesburg, round trip, in 2 hours, 59 minutes. To date, Bombardier says the Learjet 60 has accumulated 13 world speed records over nine routes in five countries.

"The jet performed superbly as expected,” said captain James Sizemore, of ExecuJet Middle East, the aircraft’s operator. “The aircraft handled beautifully throughout the flight and the time easily establishes a new benchmark for this trip.” In customer service since July 2001, the Learjet 60 cruised at Mach 0.81 throughout the flight. Soon, Bombardier may want to re-do these records, however: Its first Learjet 60 XR aircraft is scheduled to enter service in the first quarter of 2007. The newest model will feature a Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics suite and restyled interior with increased legroom, optimized work areas, LED lighting throughout the cabin and state-of-the art audio-video system.

Bombardier Appoints New Learjet Maintenance Facility In Sacramento

Bombardier earlier this month named Mather Aviation of Sacramento, Calif., as its newest authorized maintenance facility for Bombardier Learjet aircraft, expanding the company's service and support network to 43 authorized facilities worldwide. In turn, Mather Aviation is the second facility appointed in California in the past 12 months, following Landmark Aviation in February 2006. It is also the seventh new facility named worldwide in the past year. Based at Mather Airport near Sacramento, Mather Aviation’s Rancho Cordova Facility offers round-the-clock AOG assistance and line-maintenance service. It is home to an 86,000-square-foot maintenance hangar and a 25,000-square-foot storage hangar. Established in 1991, Mather Aviation includes a staff of 40 factory-trained technicians.

“With over 1,500 Learjet aircraft based in the United States, including over 90 in California, Bombardier recognizes our customers’ need for convenient access to first-rate maintenance support,” said James Hoblyn, senior vice-president, customer experience, Bombardier Business Aircraft. “Mather Aviation has a proud history of providing quality service to business jet operators across the United States,” said Victor Cushing, owner of Mather Aviation LLC. “We are delighted that Bombardier has selected us to service the exceptional Learjet family.” Of Bombardier's 43 facilities worldwide, nine are factory-owned service centers while there are another 34 authorized service and line maintenance facilities.

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Gulfstream To Acquire WECO Aerospace Systems

Gulfstream Aerospace last week said it is acquiring WECO Aerospace Systems Inc., a privately held aviation-component overhaul company specializing in electrical, electronic accessories and flight instrument services. The business will retain the WECO name and become part of Gulfstream’s Product Support business operations. The purchase is expected to close by the end of the first quarter 2007; financial details of the transaction were not disclosed. “This acquisition furthers our commitment to providing outstanding product support for our fleet operators. Gulfstream has been one of WECO’s biggest customers,” said Bryan Moss, president, Gulfstream.

According to Larry Flynn, president, product support, Gulfstream, the acquisition makes sense for both parties. “For Gulfstream, this agreement augments our current overhaul capabilities on the West Coast, something our customers have requested for a long time. As for WECO, it ensures a continuous flow of business and greatly expands their resources,” Flynn said. Founded by father and son Hal and Bill Weygandt in 1974, WECO employs approximately 75 people who work at either of the company’s two California offices, one in Lincoln and the other in Burbank. Bill Weygandt, president of WECO, will retain his position and title.

Now, Even More AVwebBiz

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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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