AVwebBiz Complete Issue: Volume 5, Number 23

June 20, 2007

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
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Whither Reauthorization?

What if they gave an FAA reauthorization bill and no one came? That question may be on the minds of many as one supposed deadline after another for the House of Representatives to develop its proposed version of a legislation reauthorizing the agency -- and hopefully disposing of user fees -- comes and goes. First, the scuttlebutt was that a proposal would be ready by Memorial Day. Then, we were told mid-June. Now, it appears a political disagreement involving the agency's existing contract with air traffic controllers is the hang up. That might be a good thing, depending on where you are on the user-fee debate and considering it means other elements of the bill seemingly have been agreed to -- but bad when you consider that the contract is likely to be a major bone of contention, possibly holding up the whole show later this year. It seems House Democrats are awaiting results from ongoing discussions between the FAA and the air traffic controllers union, NATCA. According to published reports, if the two sides can't come to an agreement regarding ATC personnel, the House version of the bill would include a provision rolling the FAA's contract with controllers back to 1998. That contract was widely seen as too expensive and, if Democrats take that tack on developing a reauthorization bill, they will do so without support from House Republicans. So far, their desire has been for a bipartisan bill, though there still hasn't been a final proposal introduced in the House.

On the Senate side, S. 1300 was introduced May 3 and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Subsequently, on May 16 and after an amendment to strip from the bill a $25 per-flight user fee on turbine-powered aircraft failed by one vote, leaving in the new charge -- S. 1300 was forwarded to the full Senate. Regardless of what happens with the House bill -- will the FAA come to agreement with NATCA? -- once it is introduced many more hurdles will still have to be cleared. Perhaps foremost among them will be the respective House and Senate tax-writing committees, which must pass judgment on the revenue-raising provisions in both measures. Most observers, however, admit the likelihood of the House bill containing user fees is slim and none, but no one will know for sure until the measure is introduced. If it doesn't contain user fees but does contain a provision rolling NATCA's contract back to 1998 -- i.e., NATCA and the FAA couldn't come to an agreement -- House passage becomes more difficult. And don't even get up any hopes of the measure's making it past the White House without a veto. It's too soon for anyone to suggest just continuing for another year current law authorizing the FAA. Too bad ...

 
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Aerion Updates SSBJ Program

Aerion, the guys working on putting together a supersonic business jet (SSBJ), is at this week's Paris Air Show in force, working with potential suppliers and promoting their project. The Reno, Nev.-based company, formed in 2002, says it is "aggressively pursuing the development of a supersonic business jet," but remains in the early stages of developing its engineering and business plans. Its goal is to reintroduce commercial supersonic flight by leveraging advances in laminar flow aerodynamics and other technologies. The company's current efforts have as an objective to present a "profitable program that can swiftly move into full-scale engineering and prototype development." Aerion says this current design and planning phase is fully funded by an investor group led by Robert Bass. Over the past several months, Aerion has been refining its business case, an effort led by Aerion CFO James Stewart, and has held a number of discussions with OEMs laying out the technical and financial aspects of developing the world’s first SSBJ. As presently envisioned, the Aerion SSBJ will fly below Mach 1 over the U.S., but unrestricted supersonic overland flight is available now over national or regional corridors, including parts of Canada, Australia and Siberia. Elsewhere, the company expects the airplane to cruise at about Mach 1.1 to 1.2 by taking advantage of the lower speed of sound at altitude than on the ground. Aerion says its jet will create shock waves, but at low supersonic speeds they dissipate before reaching the surface.

Recent milestones in the aircraft's development include:

  • Substantial reshaping the forward fuselage to provide a larger, ergonomically enhanced cabin, as well as improved cockpit and windshield design, while at the same time trimming drag. Cabin height has increased to a constant 6.2 feet from 6 feet, maximum cabin width to 6.5 feet and maximum width of the flat cabin floor to 5 feet.
  • The Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engine that will power the Aerion jet has been selected for the U.S. Air Force JSTARS program, ensuring long-term production availability. The -219 is a state-of-the-art derivative of the ubiquitous JT8D with many new components, including a new, more efficient combustor section.
  • Structural design studies have included cabin, mid- and aft-fuselage, wing outboard panels and carry-through structures. Aeroelastic criteria and flutter resistance have been included in reoptimizing the wing spanwise thickness distribution.
  • The aft fuselage has been lengthened and the tail surface area reduced, providing improved takeoff performance, reduced weight and lower cruising drag.
“The level of interest we are seeing from OEMs -- and from fleet operators such as fractional programs and aircraft management firms -- suggested to us it was time to raise our profile at Paris,” said Aerion Vice Chairman Brian Barents. “Participation at the Paris Air Show is a major commitment for any company. We expect in the course of this week to move the Aerion aircraft much closer to reality.” Aerion said it anticipates a five-year development program from formal launch and a development cost of $2 billion to be born by manufacturing participants and financial participants, plus what it calls "risk-sharing suppliers."

 
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EADS Announces Space Jet

Of course, who needs an SSBJ when you can just buy a combination airplane and space ship, escape the atmosphere, go as fast as you want -- within the physical laws of orbital mechanics, of course -- and then land on a runway like nothing else happened. That's the operational plan behind the new Astrium "space jet" [YouTube video] EADS announced last week and is showing off this week at the Paris Air Show. Designed to compete in the not-quite-ready-for-takeoff space tourism market, the new craft will take off and climb to altitude like an airplane using its twin jet engines. Once at a suitable altitude, the space jet would then use a rocket engine to boost itself to around 62 miles above Earth, placing up to four paying passengers into weightless flight at the edge of space. While there, it will use thrusters for attitude control, then begin a descent, eventually landing on a conventional runway. EADS' Astrium subsidiary figures the package would cost passengers at least $200,000; cost for the craft itself is pegged at around a billion euros.

The company has a full-scale mock-up on display this week in Paris, including a cabin designed by Australian-born Marc Newson. The Astrium technology differs substantially from other designs meeting the same objectives in that it doesn't require a "mother ship," which may make the Astrium proposal more economical. It appears the company has not yet committed to development yet, however; so far, officials are only saying if development begins next year, a test flight could occur in 2011, with the first commercial flight in 2012. The exact timetable will depend on the industrial and financial partnerships necessary to bring the project to fruition. Since Astrium is a prime contractor for Europe's Ariane 5 launch vehicles, a central European partner on the International Space Station and a wholly owned subsidiary of EADS, the company would seem to have the resources to pull this off.

 
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Embraer Rolls Out First Phenom 100

Embraer last Saturday rolled out its first assembled Phenom 100 very light jet (VLJ), joining an already-crowded field in this much-hyped market category. The event marked completion of assembly and systems-integration phases; the prototype will now go to the paint booth and then begin a series of ground tests over the next few weeks in preparation for its first flight, scheduled for "mid-2007," according to the company. Subassembly manufacturing of the Phenom 100 was carried out at the company’s Botucatu facility. The fuselage and wing were manufactured there and delivered to Embraer’s main facility in São José dos Campos, where they were successfully mated in late March 2007. The Phenom 100 was launched in May 2005; metal was first cut in May 2006. Embraer plans for the Phenom 100 to enter service in mid-2008. “We are thrilled to see the Phenom 100 become a reality,” said Luís Carlos Affonso, Embraer executive vice president, Executive Jets. “We are confident that the Phenom 100’s premium comfort, outstanding performance and low operating cost will impress our customers and will become the benchmark of the Very Light Jet segment.”

The first of two new light or very light jets Embraer has in development, the Phenom 100 is powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW617F engines with 1,615 pounds of thrust each. Its range with four occupants will be 1,160 nm with NBAA IFR reserves. The aircraft is designed to cruise at FL410 at a maximum operating speed of Mach 0.70; Embraer says it will be optimized for short-field operations. In mid-2009, Embraer expects the Phenom 100 to be joined by the Phenom 300, a slightly larger brother. Both jets will feature Garmin’s all-glass, fully integrated Prodigy flight deck, based on three interchangeable 12-inch screens providing two primary flight displays and one multi-function display. The system integrates all primary flight, navigation, communication, terrain, traffic, weather, engine instrumentation and crew-alerting system data. The Phenom 100 is priced at $2.85 million based on January 2005 economic conditions, or $2.98 million, effective July 1, 2007.

Dassault's Falcon 7X Enters Service

The first production version of Dassault's long-awaited new trijet, the Falcon 7X, entered service last week after completion at the company's Little Rock, Ark., facility. Its first in-service flight was made on June 13 from Little Rock to Le Bourget for the Paris Air Show, a hop it made without stopping. Prior to the flight, the first in-service 7X (s/n 005) was delivered to Gilbert Chagoury, founder and chairman of The Chagoury Group, who placed the first order. Another copy, s/n 004, is on a fast track for delivery to Mr. Serge Dassault and for display at Le Bourget this week. Mr. Chagoury was the first order holder for the Falcon 7X when he signed his commitment in November 2001 and represents the first delivery in a backlog that now stands at over 165 aircraft. Announced at the Paris Air Show in 2001, the Falcon 7X was simultaneously certified by both the EASA and FAA on April 27, 2007.

Dassault bills the Falcon 7X as the first business jet in the world equipped with a digital flight control system. It features Dassault's EASy Flight Deck and is powered by three Pratt & Whitney Canada PW307A engines. The 7X has a range of 5,950 nm, allowing the new jet to comfortably connect 95% of the commonly used business aviation city pairs. "The technical achievements of the Falcon 7X program and the dedication of the program engineers and Dassault employees worldwide are well known," said John Rosanvallon, president and CEO of Dassault Falcon. "However, equally important is the support and encouragement of the Falcon 7X customers like Gilbert Chagoury who have been with us through every step of the development, manufacturing and flight test process."

 
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Dassault Also Expands LIT; Partners With Rolls For Mid-Size Offering

Basking in the glow of delivering its first two Falcon 7X trijets, Dassault wasted no time in looking forward to building a new aircraft and improving its infrastructure. Last week, the company announced a new round of expansion at its Little Rock (Ark.) Completion Center, which will include an additional 116,000 square feet of production, design and warehouse space. Additionally, the company said this week it is partnering with Rolls-Royce to develop Dassault's future super-midsize Falcon. The company's plans and decisions are being made in response to what Dassault labeled "unprecedented demand" for its jets. With the certification and first deliveries of the Falcon 7X complete, Dassault said it now is focusing attention on developing a new super mid-sized Falcon. After the selecting the propulsion, other major technological choices will be finalized within the next twelve months.

Meanwhile, back in Little Rock, Dassault's plans call for additional production space consisting of a four-bay EPA Title V-approved paint facility, a warehouse and storage expansion, new engineering facilities and a 20,000-square-foot addition to the flight test line. Once the $20,000,000 expansion is complete in early 2008, the Little Rock Completion Center will measure 827,000 square feet. "The unprecedented demand for Falcons around the world requires that we continuously evaluate the need to grow our production facilities," said John Rosanvallon, president and CEO of Dassault Falcon. "With the Falcon 7X now certified for deliveries and with the recent announcement regarding the introduction of the new Falcon 2000LX, Little Rock will be busier than ever completing the best business jets in the sky." In 2006, Dassault made 50 customer deliveries from Little Rock.

New FBO At HNL

Not that most of us with shorter-range aircraft will ever use it, but a new FBO is being developed at the Honolulu International Airport (PHNL). Castle & Cooke last week said they recently acquired the former Circle Rainbow building and renovations are underway. The facility will be the company's first aviation facility in Hawaii and, according to Castle & Cooke, will serve as an alternative to the existing aviation businesses based at the airport. The company said it plans to construct new hangars serving Hawaii's general aviation flight departments and charter customers. When completed, the facility will feature more than 20,000 square feet of hangar space and 60,000 square feet of Class A office space, according to Steven Friedmann, executive vice president of Castle & Cooke Aviation. "Our aviation operations will be open for business this summer and Honolulu will have a first class FBO to complement our existing operations." The former Circle Rainbow building was built in 1993 on 3.2 acres of airport property; planned improvements include office renovations, new parking lots and improved hangars. The adjacent taxiway offers convenient access to the airport's runway.

"We are excited to bring this beautiful building back to life as a new fixed base operation and are pleased to partner with the state to do so," said David H. Murdock, chairman and owner of Castle & Cooke. The new FBO's offerings will include aircraft fueling, maintenance, cleaning, catering and other ground services for private aircraft. Upon completion, the facility will also have shower facilities plus a flight planning and coordination area with large conference rooms. "Castle & Cooke will add substantial value to the airport property, the aviation community and the State of Hawaii," said state Department of Transportation Director Barry Fukunaga.

 
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EADS Socata Names Jean-Michel Léonard Chairman And CEO

EADS Socata's board of directors last week appointed Jean-Michel Léonard as the new chairman and chief executive officer of EADS Socata. He succeeds Stéphane Mayer, who was appointed CEO of ATR, a joint venture of Alenia Aeronautica (Finmeccanica Group) and EADS. In the wake of Mayer's departure, EADS Socata's board expressed its appreciation of his contributions to the success of EADS Socata and especially the TBM 850 program. Léonard, former head of Airbus' Centre of Excellence Electrics, also has a history at ATR: He previously served as the company's CEO and also played a major role in its success. He is a graduate of the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures in Paris and of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined Aerospatiale in 1979 as supervisor for fatigue analysis methods in the design office and, in 1982, he moved to the Aerospatiale Sales & Marketing Department where he was responsible for the sales engineering of the Socata TB 30 Epsilon military trainer program and a participant in the beginnings of the ATR program.

His professional career includes service as senior vice president of Product Support at ATR (from 1990 to 1995) and as president of AI(R) American Support and AI(R) Marketing Inc. from 1996 to 1997. From 2001 to 2004, he was CEO of ATR, and from 2004 to 2007 he held the position of ATR's chairman of the board. EADS Socata has built more than 17,000 aircraft since its creation as Morane-Saulnier in 1911. Current products include the TBM family of high-speed turboprops, TB GT piston aircraft and aerostructures for Airbus civil airliners, the A400M military transporter, Dassault Falcon jets, Eurocopter helicopters and Embraer regional jets.

 
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Signature Opens Revamped FBO At Boston Logan Tomorrow

Signature Flight Support yesterday said it will conduct a grand opening ceremony tomorrow for its renovated FBO facility at the General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport (BOS) at Boston, Mass. The ceremony will commemorate the official opening of the facility after a $13 million renovation. In a press release, the company touted the modernized building and its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its environmentally friendly building materials, environmentally sensitive design and construction practices and energy efficiency.

Designed by the Boston architecture firm of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, the two-story facility occupies 13,000 square feet and includes passenger and crew lounges, administrative offices and a private VIP Center with separate street- and ramp-side entrances for visiting dignitaries. Signature said it executed a 10-year ground lease with Massport under which Signature will operate the Fixed Base Operation at Boston Logan until 2016. On hand for the event will be Steve Lee, vice president of operations, Signature Flight Support; Larry Jorash, general manager, Signature Flight Support Boston; and Edward C. Freni, director of aviation, Massachusetts Port Authority. The event kicks off at 11:30 local.

 
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Flight Options To Open Las Vegas Maintenance Facility

Flight Options, Raytheon's fractional operation, last week said it is opening a new maintenance facility at McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada. The new base will employ over 75 maintenance professionals, dedicated to servicing Flight Options' fleet of over 140 aircraft. The annual payroll for the facility will exceed $6.5 million. Maintenance performed at the base will include light- and medium-level events to support the growing number of Flight Options aircraft in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas. The company also plans to have mobile teams that can travel to service aircraft at other airports in the region.

"Las Vegas is now in our top five customer destinations, making it the perfect location to expand what is already the largest dedicated maintenance network in private aviation," said Sanjay Aggarwal, chief operating officer, Flight Options, LLC. "We are proud to be a part of the Las Vegas community. By having a maintenance facility in Las Vegas with mobile capabilities, we will be able to further improve the service experience we provide to our customers."

 
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From Our "Yeah, We Knew That" Department...

In our coverage two weeks ago of a fatal crash involving a Cessna Citation operated as an aeromedical flight, two errors crept in. First, we labeled the Citation as a "Citation Bravo," based on early general-media reports. Due to an editing oversight, we failed to go back and correct our early version before it was published. In fact, the accident aircraft was a 1982-vintage Citation II.

Also, we erred in failing to publish the correct identifier for the jet's planned destination, the Willow Run Airport outside Detroit, Mich. The correct identifier is YIP. We know better and, again, this one got past us somehow. Thanks to the sharp-eyed readers who pointed out these oversights.

 
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AVwebBiz is a weekly 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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