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The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a proposal on Tuesday to separate air traffic control from the FAA and transfer to it a nonprofit corporation over three years, according to a report in The Hill. The bill would create a board of directors with the power to impose user fees; however, general aviation users would be exempt from fees. The board’s 13 members would include three from the airlines – one each for passenger, cargo and regional carriers – and one seat each for GA and business aviation. The rest of the seats would be occupied by government, airports, air traffic controllers, commercial pilots and two more members chosen by the group. The FAA would retain safety oversight. The FAA bill will be considered on the House floor next month.

About 35,000 workers, including 14,000 controllers and 6,000 technicians, would be affected by moving air traffic control operations out of the FAA, according to USA Today. NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said last week he would support the House bill. “After extremely careful review, consideration, and deliberation, we have decided to support the bill because it fully aligns with NATCA’s policies, practices, and core principles,” he said in a news release. “We made sure that we clearly understood how this bill would protect the National Airspace System and allow it to continue to grow, as well as how it would protect the men and women who are the backbone of the system. This bill protects our workforce – including pay, benefits, retirement, and collective bargaining rights.”

Most GA advocacy groups have expressed opposition to separating ATC from the FAA, and instead support the Senate version of the bill, which would retain ATC in its current form. “Privatizing ATC is a bad solution in search of a nonexistent problem,” said EAA Chairman Jack Pelton. “The unknown costs, transition, and fallout from this plan would be extremely harmful to general aviation.” The two versions must still be worked out in Congress before a final version of the bill becomes law.

If you haven’t caught Sean D. Tucker’s solo airshow performance in his 40-plus years on the circuit, you have this year and next, and then he plans to retire. Tucker, who turned 65 this year, told the Dayton Daily News that he hopes to find a sponsor to launch a formation flying team as his next chapter in airshow flying. “I’m not quitting,” he told the Daily News last Friday. “I still love flying, but my gut’s telling me, you know, this airplane [the Oracle Challenger III] is going to the Smithsonian. What an honor. We want to keep her safe.” Tucker currently flies in about 18 shows every year, and also serves as Young Eagles chairman for EAA.

Tucker also founded the Bob Hoover Academy, an alternative-education high school program for at-risk teens, in his hometown of Salinas, California. It began in 2014 as Every Kid Can Fly, working with the Monterey County Office of Education, using aviation to inspire high-school students to strive for excellence in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. Tucker said recently that he visited Bob Hoover, his mentor, last year, shortly before his death in October, and received permission to name the nonprofit after him. “Aviation is a metaphor for the deeper mission, to capture students’ minds, focus their energies and to cultivate success in the classroom and in life,” according to the nonprofit’s website.

Cessna TTx || The Difference Is Clear

Mahindra Aerospace has successfully certified its turboprop 10-passenger GA10 Airvan utility aircraft but hasn’t been crowing about it. The FAA accepted the certification May 19, the same day it was certified in Australia and word is only getting out now because of third-party interest in the design. Although the program has been reportedly owned by Mahindra, a huge transportation and manufacturing company in India, the type certificate holder is listed as a stand-alone company in Australia known as Airvan10 Pty Ltd (the equivalent of an LLC in the U.S.). Throughout the development of the aircraft, a beefed-up extension of the highly regarded piston-powered GA8, the company has been low-key. Now that it’s certified, however, Textron and Quest, makers of the Caravan and Kodiak respectively, might be glancing over their shoulders.

The GA10 follows on the critically acclaimed GA8, which has been lauded in flight reviews (ours included) but a modest commercial success. According to the FAA certification, its Rolls-Royce turboprop will run on just about any kind of jet fuel and make 450 horsepower at takeoff with a top speed of 156 knots indicated. Maximum fuel load is about 150 gallons and maximum takeoff weight is 4,750 pounds. AVweb flew the GA8 a few years ago. Here's the video report.

Continental 'Factory new CM Magnetos at near-rebuilt pricing'

A deHavilland Mosquito T Mk III, which was restored and test-flown in New Zealand, flew for the first time in the U.S. last Friday in at Paine Field, in Everett, Washington. The Mosquito now is based at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, where it received a fresh coat of paint on arrival, plus a full suite of 20mm cannon and .303 machine guns. The first flight lasted 18 minutes, but all went well, according to a report in Warbirds News. “It was an awesome day having the Mosquito and the Corsair flying together for the first time here at the museum,” said Cory Graff, military aviation curator at the museum. “The Mosquito is a great addition to our Hurricane and Spitfire.” The pilot for the first U.S. flight was Steve Hinton, well-known air racer and president of the Planes of Fame Air Museum.

The Flying Heritage museum opened in 2008 as Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection. It was rebranded with the new name in March. At the time, the museum said it would expand its offerings and build a third hangar, to create a total 80,000 square feet of exhibit space. Flying Heritage says more than 40 artifacts are due to be introduced this year, turning it into the largest operational military vehicle and warbird collection on the West Coast. All of the aircraft are kept in flying condition.

Garmin 'Webinar June 29th - Avionics Upgrade'

image: NASA

NASA said on Monday it has achieved “a significant milestone” in its effort to make supersonic passenger jet travel over land a real possibility by completing the preliminary design review of its Quiet Supersonic Transport, or QueSST, aircraft design. QueSST is the initial design stage of NASA’s planned Low-Boom Flight Demonstration experimental X-plane. Senior experts and engineers from across the agency and lead contractor Lockheed Martin concluded Friday that the QueSST design is capable of fulfilling the low-boom aircraft’s mission objectives, which are to fly at supersonic speeds, but create a soft “thump” instead of the disruptive sonic boom associated with supersonic flight today. The low-boom X-plane will be flown over communities to collect data necessary for regulators to enable supersonic flight over land in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

NASA partnered with Lockheed Martin last year for the QueSST preliminary design. Last month, a scale model of the QueSST design completed testing in the 8-by-6-foot supersonic wind tunnel at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. "Managing a project like this is all about moving from one milestone to the next,” said David Richwine, a manager in NASA’s Commercial Supersonic Technology Project. “Our strong partnership with Lockheed Martin helped get us to this point. We’re now one step closer to building an actual X-plane.” NASA’s team will start soliciting proposals later this year and will award a contract early next year to build the piloted, single-engine X-plane. The acquisition for the X-plane contract will be fully open and competitive, NASA said, and the QueSST preliminary design data will be made available to qualified bidders. Flight testing of the X-plane could begin as early as 2021.

Meanwhile, the private sector continues to move forward with plans for supersonic airliners. Boom’s design got a lot of attention last week at Paris. The company said they have orders in hand from five airlines, including Virgin, and will fly a demonstrator next year. Aerion also is continuing to work toward first flight of a full-size aircraft in 2021. “We need some new markets and new vehicles to maintain our leadership in commercial aviation,” says NASA project manager Peter Coen. AVweb’s editorial director Paul Bertorelli takes a look at the past and future of supersonic airline travel in this week’s Insider blog.

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Nextant, the Cleveland, Ohio, company that takes in older aircraft and remanufactures them with fresh upgrades, has announced a new “incremental” upgrade program for the Beech 400A/Hawker 400XP twinjet aircraft. The full conversion to an XTi costs about $3 million, the company says, a cost that “not everyone is able to justify.” Now Nextant is offering just the cockpit upgrade, as a stand-alone product, for about $500,000. “This extremely cost-effective solution allows operators to minimize capital outlays while still receiving the advanced technology benefits of the new cockpit and taking the first step towards the 400XTi,” said Mark O’Donnell, executive vice president. The Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion panel, which includes synthetic vision, ADS-B Out and more, brings the old airframes into NextGen compliance.

“Since launching the 400XT/XTi program, it has become clear that that we need to evolve our business model in response to significant changes in the global pre-owned aircraft market,” said Stephen Maiden, CEO of Nextant parent, Constant Aviation. “The severe decline in value for young, pre-owned inventory has placed an overwhelming focus on value for aircraft owners and operators. ... Now we are going to look for new and creative ways to lessen the financial burden to operators while still providing long-term pathways to a complete remanufactured product.” The full 400XTi program, which includes a cabin upgrade, fresh exterior paint and new engines, has delivered more than 70 upgraded aircraft in 13 countries, Maiden said.

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AVweb Insider

Last February, when I was planning a visit to Daher’s factory in Tarbes, France, I was surfing the web looking for airline fares when I saw one from Miami to Madrid for $640; outbound on Iberia, return on American. I see this sort of thing often enough to know that it’s not an everyday thing, but it’s no fluke, either. Typically, trans-Atlantic fares are twice that, if not a little more.

From what research I can gather, Iberia’s seat-mile costs are on the low end of the international carriers, but not low enough to fly me to Madrid for $320. For some interesting context, when I was a college student in 1972, I flew to Europe a couple of times on Pan Am’s then youth fares; $199 round trip. In 2017 dollars, that’s $1167 or just about what the average trans-Atlantic coach airfare is today. The $640 I paid for the Madrid fare would have been $109 in 1972. These are, of course, the sort of ridiculous economics only the airline industry can summon. But don’t worry, my seatmate probably paid $1300 and all those folks up in business and first class are producing the profit. I’m not weeping for Iberia.

Now let’s exit the cheap seats and consider the opposite end of what some companies seem to think is an extension of the current spectrum: supersonic travel for the moneyed masses, not just the few. At the Paris Air Show this week, a Colorado company called Boom was flogging a three-engine, single-aisle airliner which, it says, will be capable of Mach 2.2, a bit faster than the Concorde was. Claimed range is a little fuzzy. Boom says any stage lengths longer than 4500 miles assume a “tech stop,” their version of a fuel stop. Trips of up to 9000 miles are possible with the tech stop. The unrefueled range is marginally better than Concorde’s legs, which pushed to make 4000 miles.

Boom claims that to reset the supersonic market, the airplane needs to be only about 30 percent more efficient than Concorde, which it says it will achieve with technologies like composite fuselages, high-temperature materials and improved engines. It’s a popular misconception, however, that Concorde’s economics never worked and that it wasn’t profitable. Once the airlines operating it figured out how to charge passengers what they thought the service was actually worth, the airplanes were quite profitable. Concorde’s demise was due to a combination of declining load factors, a soft economy after the 9/11 attacks and Concorde’s looming end of life. There was never a follow-on product. Concorde had no resilience to resist market swings.

Boom’s seating capacity of only 55 addresses this, the logic being that airlines operating it can probably fill 55 seats at $5000 a pop easier than Concorde could fill 100 at $12,000 to $16,000 each. Boom claims it will have the same seat-mile costs as subsonic airliners flying business-class passengers. I’m sure this will provoke some eye rolling in Seattle and Toulouse. (Or Chicago and Paris.)

Says Boom’s optimistic promo copy: “The first airlines to adopt supersonic jets will enjoy a significant competitive advantage. The advantage of 2.6x faster flight will allow them to win competitors' most profitable premium passengers. Further, a halo effect increases share even on subsonic routes, as customers prefer to earn loyalty points with carriers who offer supersonic.” Evidently Richard Branson is convinced. He signed up Virgin for options on 10 airplanes. I wonder if he thought to ask if there will be gates for all those airplanes because really, Boom is proposing an RJ-sized airplane, meaning more airplanes to move the same number of people across the pond. Theoretically, new airplanes can open new city pairs to solve this problem. That's what discounter Norwegian Airlines is doing with the 737 MAX.

Essentially, without using the same words, Boom is laying claim to disruptive technology in the same way Eclipse did and for the same reasons: technological leveraging. Stipulating that this time it will really work, an airline operating a Boom or an airplane like it should have no trouble selling tickets if, indeed, they actually do sell for the same price as current business or first-class seats, which Boom insists they will.

Every day, about 2500 flights cross the Atlantic, carrying about 50,000 premium passengers—business or first. Those seats sell for as little as $2100, but more like $2500 to $10,000 or a lot more, depending on the route. If supersonic travel penetrated half that—and why wouldn’t it, because if the price is the same, why not go more than twice as fast?—that’s a market for 500 airplanes. Whoa. How will they ever count the profits?

But, as we all know, aviation has a way of dope slapping the unwary, the over optimistic, the bright-eyed and he who can’t resist plugging garbage into a spreadsheet, thinking all the while that the numbers are “conservative.” Aircraft development programs often take longer, cost more and miss their performance promises, sometimes by margins wide enough to tank the whole thing, if not the entire idea, which was the case with the very light jet. (Cirrus excepted.)

To get to the point of disrupting anything other than the investors' wallets, Boom, or a company like it, first has to design the airplane and survive the money burn while it certifies it. Then the biggie: Figure out how to build the damn thing efficiently in sufficient numbers to precipitate a business plan. (Fascinating side fact: Boeing has announced it’s working on the NMA—New Midsize Airplane—and although it hasn’t even committed to the program, it has already built 200 aircraft—in a computer simulation.)

A new entrant into the airliner market faces almost impossible challenges. But let's indulge ourselves and ask if Boom could be a nimble David to the sclerotic twin Goliaths of Boeing and Airbus? Anything is possible, but those two aerospace giants didn’t get to be giants by failing to understand the airline transportation market. Boeing demurred on the supersonic idea in 1971, when it abandoned the 2707. Aerospatiale/BAC forged ahead with the Concorde, built only 20 and saw them retired 27 years later. Was that a success or a failure? I’d call it both a success and a marvel, if not a long-lived one. That tiny production run worked for a government consortium, but wouldn't for a public company.

Worth noting, however, is that the Concorde may have been done in partially because of powerful world market forces that expanded airline travel through deregulation and substantial reduction of seat-mile costs, a trend that continues yet today. Boeing’s NMA will be the most efficient two-aisle airliner ever. This has expanded the affordability of airline travel globally. That $199 fare I paid in 1972 was a direct result of the 747's market entrance.

What makes me think supersonic transport flight will come back is timing. The essence of good transportation is speed; there’s no percentage in going slow unless you’re sailing, and maybe not even then. With Concorde’s brief exception, the speed of air transport has been stuck between Mach 0.75 and 0.86 for 60 years. In the grand sweep of technological progress, I can’t imagine that rut is going to last forever.

Whether Boom or someone else breaks out of it, the quest for higher, farther and faster seems inevitable to me. It’s just going to take the right combination of technology, market interest and wealth willing to be consumed in the name of getting there quicker. The critical mass will be enough demand for a manufacturer to launch a program with reasonable volume and long production legs. Twenty airplanes won't do that. Several hundred or a thousand looks better. This might come out of the business aircraft segment in the Aerion SBJ, the HyperMach SonicStar or the Spike S-512 to name just three, but they confront the same market demand of finding enough volume to justify the investment.

One downside of Boom’s projection is that if small supersonic jets siphon off sufficient numbers of premium travelers, the cheap seats may go the way of piston airliners. With no upper-class subsidy, they’d have to cost more. Pity. I like flying to Madrid for $320. 

Lightspeed || Meet Zulu 3 A new and better choice in headsets

With its TBM series of turboprops, Daher owns a unique niche as the fastest airplane in its class. AVweb recently visited the factory in Tarbes, France, and shot this video on how the aircraft are manufactured. 

Can wi-fi make you a smarter pilot?
Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Note the tiedowns. It's that time of year again across all of North America and Daniel Tharp showed us why we need to be careful. Dramatic shot, Daniel.

MyGoFlight 'Mount any device in any aircraft'

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something the flying world might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via e-mail here. (Or send them direct to Newstips at AVweb.com.)

Heard over Joshua Approach in the southern California Mojave Desert:

Approach: "All aircraft on frequency, turn right five degrees."

After a moment's pause....

Approach:  "All aircraft on frequency, return to previous heading. I am now retired. So long"


Stephen Hackney

 

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