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As part of our special three-day coverage of the NBAA Convention in Las Vegas, we're sending you three editions of our sister newsletter, AVwebBiz.

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The world of tablet apps has exploded with sophisticated flight planning and management capability, but jet operators haven’t necessarily been included in the fun. This week at NBAA BACE in Orlando, ForeFlight announced an upgraded version of its iOS app aimed specifically at the unique needs of jet operators.

“Doing flight planning for higher-end airplanes is actually a pretty involved process,” ForeFlight cofounder Tyson Weihs told us in this podcast recorded at NBAA this week. “When you’re flying a jet, there’s all sorts of things that impact performance … what are the environmental conditions, what’s the performance of the airplane at different weights and temperatures? So we’ve spent the past couple of years assembling the technology to be able to provide that function to pilots,” he added.

The jet-centric capability is not a new app, but an added level of sophistication for the latest version of ForeFlight, which will be available on the app store early next year. In addition to increased functionality on the tablet or smartphone, the app also has seamless integration with ForeFlight’s web planning tools, meaning that operators with dispatch departments can keep support staff in the loop in real time.

Weihs said the jet features increase the speed that the pilot can do flight and scenario planning for any conceivable array of variables. If a pilot adds fuel or baggage, for example, the flight plan can be updated in under a second. Thanks to cloud computing capability, the app is capable of performing millions of flight plan calculations almost as fast as the pilot can plug in the data. Also beginning next year, ForeFlight will add additional capability for filing flight plans outside the U.S.

“It’s really a next-generation platform that computes a substantial number of route options to account for constraints of the airspace, constraints of the airplane and it’s doing all that in under a second,” Weihs said.

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Competition is always intense in the business aircraft market and a new front has opened that’s affecting the whole industry. There’s a shortage of maintenance technicians and companies are getting innovative to attract and retain the people who keep their products flying. Bombardier recently announced it is hiring an additional 200 techs to beef up its service network, part of a marketing strategy that sells airplanes by ensuring support when its needed. The company made the initiative a main topic for discussion at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando on Monday. Andy Nureddin, VP of Customer Support and Training, told a news conference the company works hard at recruitment and retention.

Nureddin said Bombardier has already hired 67 new techs and all will undergo training to learn the Bombardier way of doing things. He said Bombardier has affiliations with numerous colleges to keep the pipeline of new techs filled. At service centers in other countries, he said Bombardier hires locally but sends new techs to the U.S. for further training. “We’re working region by region,” he said.

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A new analysis by Australian investigators supports a scenario in which the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 was out of control and spiraling into the sea in its final moments, according to CNN. Examination of a right outboard flap section that was found in Tanzania and known to be from the missing aircraft showed that it was “most likely in the retracted position at the time it separated from the wing,” according to the report. An analyst told CNN the results show that the airplane was “out of control” and “not being flown by anyone,” but it’s not clear how the new Australian analysis would rule out the possibility of a deliberate crash with the flaps undeployed.

The report, by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (PDF), details the research that has been completed on all the recovered parts of the airplane. More than 20 items of debris are of interest to the team, according to the report, but only two fragments have been positively identified as originating from MH370, due to the presence of unique identification numbers. Five other items were confirmed to be from a B777 operated by Malaysian Airlines. “There were no unique identifiers to link the parts directly to 9M-MRO [the missing airplane],” according to the report; however, “The parts were … determined to have almost certainly originated from 9M-MRO, given that the likelihood of originating from another source is very remote.”

MH370 disappeared in March 2014 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Analysis of signals between the aircraft and satellites revealed the plane flew on for hours on an arc above the Indian Ocean.

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I was on my way into the static display at NBAA in Orlando yesterday when I bumped into a photographer friend. He had been sent out to grab some crowd shots at Orlando Executive but was heading home empty handed. “Couldn’t find any crowds,” he said. I wouldn’t exactly say the place is deserted; the parking lot was its usual jammed mess and there were a lot of airplanes on the ramp. I have previously cautioned about reading too much into perceptions of crowd density as a means of measuring the industry’s health.

Nonetheless, in the eighth year since the economic downturn of 2008, one thing is worth noting: Virtually no one is using the word “recovery” anymore as an aspirational term that sales and manufacturing of aircraft of any kind are about to somehow turn a corner and swing upward. That this has taken so long for industry executives to concede is perhaps an equal measure of the unbridled optimism and maddening self-delusion that have propelled general aviation forever.

What’s settling in is the realization that current market conditions are the new normal for at least the next decade. In its annual aerospace forecast earlier this week, Honeywell Aerospace put some numbers on the continuing blahs. It reduced its forecast for the number of business jets to be delivered over the next decade to 8600, down from 9200 in the previous forecast. It lowered expectations by 250 airframes in 2015 over 2014, so if there’s recovery out there, it’s unlikely to be defined by rising jet sales.

Maybe that’s a reflection of this year’s NBAA BACE and maybe it’s not. There are no major airframe announcements this year and the press conference schedule was both lightly populated and sterile of any major news. As we reported, Embraer is showing two things not seen before, the Phenom 100EV and the Legacy 450. But the EV is just an upgraded 100 and the 450 has been out there certified for a year; its appearance here just marks the first time it has been seen with a completed interior. Dassault revealed a new cabin for its 900LX and today, Pilatus will fly in its PC-24 jet, but again, it’s midstream in certification so it’s nothing but a photo op.

I’ve noted before that the sales of large cabin jets have been hit hard by a flat world economy but that hasn’t stopped development of new models, nor should it. At Orlando, Cessna is showing a cabin mockup of its new Citation Hemisphere, the largest business aircraft the company has ever attempted. Look for a video tour of it later in our show coverage. That airplane won’t fly until 2019 and certification will happen in the early 2020s. That won’t be beyond Honeywell’s sobering lukewarm market forecast, but companies can’t stop developing new products simply because the current market is flat. If they do, they’ll be caught flat footed when the market swings upward, as it always has.

In the boom-bust cycle of aerospace, one phrase has always been verboten: managing the market. American companies have tended to go full tilt when the market was strong and suffered the consequences when it reversed, which it, without fail, always has. Ask anyone in Wichita about this and the thing they’ll most remember is the painful layoffs ignited by aerospace downturns. In that context, something Pilatus said at its press briefing Monday caught my attention.

Pilatus has had a pretty good couple of years, selling between 60 and 70 PC-12s. But a Pilatus executive said the company would limit production in 2017 because it doesn’t want to saturate the market and tank the used prices of recent models. The company terms this as customer protection and whether that’s the true motivation or not, it’s refreshing to hear. Second, despite taking its share of the pain in 2009, Pilatus didn’t lay off any workers. That’s a fundamentally different way of looking at capitalism than American companies tend to practice, where, in management by quarterly P&L performance, workers are viewed as little more than fungible spreadsheet entries. U.S. business enjoys a certain vitality from the creative destruction of boom-bust cycles and that’s a nice philosophical talking point. But it’s less impressive if you’re one of the workers shown the door.


At NBAA BACE 2016 in Orlando, Pilatus debuted a PC-24 jet test article and updated the press and customers on the certification progress. AVweb shot this brief video of the new jet.


At NBAA 2016 in Orlando, three companies were showing innovative glass panel upgrades for the popular King Air line. In this new video, AVweb takes a tour of the available options.


The world of tablet apps has exploded with sophisticated flight planning and management capability, but jet operators haven’t necessarily been included in the fun. This week at NBAA BACE in Orlando, ForeFlight announced an upgraded version of its iOS app aimed specifically at the unique needs of jet operators. In this AVweb podcast, ForeFlight's Tyson Weihs explains how it works.


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