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NBAA-BACE opens Tuesday with delegates in a fighting mood as they collectively tackle what President Ed Bolen says is the biggest challenge to ever face business aviation. He’s of course talking about a bill, now treading water in Congress, that would turn the air traffic control system over to an unelected board of directors with membership weighted toward airline representatives. “We will be asking the entire general aviation community to rally around each other, around the legends and leaders who have put out the call for us to contact our members of Congress,” Bolen said in a podcast interview.

As we reported Monday, a video will be unveiled Tuesday featuring celebrity pilots, including Apollo 13 Commander Jim Lovell, Flight 1549 Capt. Chesley Sullenberger, aerobatics legend Sean Tucker and country artist Dierks Bentley with messages of opposition to ATC privatization. Bolen said they all volunteered to join the cause and the new website created to battle the bill makes it easy for pilots to contact their representatives.

Dassault is working on a clean-sheet business aircraft design but part of the news is that the development process will be virtually paperless. CEO Eric Trappier told a news conference at the National Business Aviation Association convention in Las Vegas a new software system called 3D Experience will take the project from concept to delivery enabling quicker, more accurate decisions with fewer errors and lower cost. “We will be a truly digital enterprise,” he said. The software will allow simulations at every stage of development allowing all involved to thoroughly test products and systems before they are actually produced. But aircraft development is fraught with peril and Trappier also had to announce a delay in its next new airplane.

As he was getting ready to go to Las Vegas, Dassault was told by engine manufacturer Safran that it’s run into a snag with the high-pressure turbine in the new engine that will power the Falcon 5X. That will push back the program an undetermined amount of time. The Silvercrest engines have proven troublesome for the program and caused a two-year delay to a projected delivery date in 2020. The latest issue will push the program beyond that.

Just two years ago, GE's Business and General Aviation unit announced a new, clean-sheet turboprop and the company said at NBAA-BACE Monday that it will soon run a conforming prototype. The engine is called the ATP for advanced turboprop and although it's not based on the H-series engines GE bought from the Czech Republic-based Walter Engines in 2008, the engine is being developed and manufactured in the company's Prague facility. 

"Two years is unbelievably fast. That's the fastest we've ever done," said Brad Mottier, VP of GE's Business and General Aviation division, in describing the rapid pace of development on the ATP. The engine will be available in power ranges from 1000 to 1600 horsepower and at a fuel burn GE claims will be 20 percent lower than that of competing engines. With a 4000-hour TBO, the ATP won't have the hot-section inspections typically required of Pratt & Whitney's turbines of similar output.

As a clean-sheet engine, the ATP may be one of the first engines to utilize extensive additive manufacturing techniques. This approach is so structurally efficient that GE expects 855 conventionally manufactured parts to be reduced to 12 major assemblies, most produced by additive manufacturing techniques. The ATP's launch customer is the Cessna Denali single-engine turboprop that Textron says will fly next year, with certification planned for 2019.

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Pilatus is finishing up certification work on its PC-24, which it calls the "Super Versatile" jet and claims it will deliver the first customer aircraft before the end of the year. At an NBAA-BACE press conference in Las Vegas on Monday, Pilatus CEO Markus Bucher said EASA is completing its final reviews on the aircraft and that the three test articles--once of which is on display in the hall here in Las Vegas--have accumulated more than 2000 flight hours.

In a business decision somewhat unusual for sales-hungry GA manufacturers, Pilatus has temporarily closed its order book with 84 aircraft sold. Bucher says the company wants to stabilize production and begin delivery before accepting any more orders. Meanwhile, the company has already merged the PC-12 and PC-24 support organizations and has set up 24/7/365 support for the jet even before it has been fielded. 

PC-12 sales continue to be strong, according to Bucher. Some 85 PC-12s have been sold for 2017, down slightly from the 91 sold in 2016. Although the PC-12 has a worldwide market, a major slice of it remains in North America. Bucher said about 50 percent of the PC-12 is built from U.S.-sourced components. 

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An American Airlines Boeing 777 was damaged Monday evening at Hong Kong Airport when either luggage or cargo being loaded on the aircraft caught fire. The fire occurred just as a container was being put in the aft cargo hold. Video from the scene shows a ramp worker falling from the hold and being helped away by coworkers. No passengers or flight crew were on the aircraft, which was to have left for Los Angeles in the early evening.

Early reports suggest an oil leak on the loading apparatus might be to blame for the fire. Passengers are being put on other flights to L.A. as the aircraft was clearly damaged by the fire, which was put out quickly by firefighters.

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Aviation companies are a little like people in that they have different personalities. And they’re especially different when it comes to dealing with the press. Some are friendly, forthright and open while others tend toward the cagey. I’d put Pratt & Whitney in that second category, almost to the point of detachment.

During Monday’s press day, I attended a lunch briefing Pratt held as a kind of how-goes-it for its various engine products. I was trying to remember the last time I attended such a thing by Pratt and I think the answer was never. Frankly, it’s not a great format when you’re trying to simultaneously take notes and munch on braised chicken. Fortunately, in a convention already populated with vague, often content-free press conferences, Pratt was in good company. Not much to report.

But sometimes I sit in these briefings as slides flash by and bullet points scroll like ticker tape and I hear something that I think I should know about it and wonder if everyone else in the room already does. This time it was something described as a 2000-horsepower engine. Vague specs were shown, design goals hazily discussed and the briefer moved on. During the Q&A, I vowed to confess my ignorance, but someone else beat me to it: What is this thing? Is it a new dash number for the PT-6? A clean sheet? A free-turbine? A geared turboshaft? The briefer wasn’t specific enough to discern it as anything but perhaps a somewhat hurried response to GE’s new ATP turboprop announced two years ago. As a measure of its seriousness in taking on Pratt, GE brought along a launch customer, Cessna’s new single-engine Denali turboprop.

Industrial espionage being what it is, I doubt if Pratt was caught completely flat footed by GE’s sudden incursion into its heretofore private PT-6 backyard. But knowing about it and responding aren’t the same thing. Pratt certainly should have been aware that the PT-6 idea, although a long-established success, was getting long in the tooth and that the market was probably overdue for something new. GE saw the opportunity and has invested $1.5 billion since 2008 in carving out a share of what Pratt owns. Being the would-be challenger, GE is yin to Pratt’s yang and is more than happy to talk about some of the details of its new engine and did exactly that in a press briefing later in the day. Just two years after its announcement, GE is about to run a conforming prototype. That’s quick work and GE aims to apply what it learns in the ATP project to its H-series engines which are direct competitors to the PT-6. In its briefing, Pratt & Whitney said it just passed 100,000 engines delivered, which is an impressive installed base. All the same, I wouldn’t want GE breathing down my neck, thanks very much.

Vegas is Vegas

This being a blog about aviation, I wouldn’t normally mention what I’m about to, but I was asked about it and I’m sure I will be again. With the horrific shooting last weekend, what’s it like here? Not that I’ve been doing man-in-the-street interviews, but Las Vegas is a city built on distractions and, on the surface at least, it’s as resilient as any other American city.

Tapping the mood via Uber drivers, one asked me if NBAA considered cancelling the convention or if I considered not coming. To the first, I’d answer probably not, to the second, even though I may not have wanted to come, I couldn’t see a reason not to. I have no inkling why a person would arm himself and murder dozens of innocent people, but my declining to come here neither honors the dead nor comforts the survivors. I live in the same world as everyone else, I accept the consequences of whatever risk that entails and I refuse to be cowed by it.

But beneath the veneer of normalcy, there’s profound pain. A second Uber driver I rode with spent the night ferrying panicked people around the city and lost count of how many trips he made. His sister, a trauma nurse in the hospital closest to the shooting who was herself traumatized, left town and he hasn’t heard from her. We can only hope that he does. All the rest of us can do is carry on.

Cirrus has begun shipping its long-awaited SF50 VisionJet and as part of a two-video series, AVweb recently flew the jet from the company's Duluth, Minnesota, factory to the East Coast. In this long-form video, AVweb takes a deep dive into how the airplane performs and how it compares to other small jets.

The NBAA-BACE convention in Las Vegas has become the rallying point for opposition to the move in Congress to privatize air traffic control. NBAA President Ed Bolen explains how individuals can help.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Thank you, readers, the picture entries keep getting better and we really like the light and subject matter of Joe Dory's cell phone snap of Robbie Schoeoflin landing on a harvested bean field in Washington State. Just beautiful, Joe.

That distant cry you hear is airlines pleading for pilots, so it's time to turn dreams of flight into cash by displaying that aeronautical grit needed to live above it all and simultaneously ace this quiz.

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