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The outgoing administrator of the FAA had some gentle advice for NBAA delegates and the aviation leaders at the annual convention in Las Vegas Tuesday on the hot topic at play. Michael Huerta urged an overflow crowd at Tuesday’s general session not to be close-minded about changing the way air traffic control is funded and run and said there should be “meaningful discussion” about the issue. Much of the mainstage discussion at the convention has been about abject rejection of the notion of turning air traffic control over to a nonprofit corporation without Congressional oversight. Huerta reminded the crowd that under Congressional oversight the biggest challenge he has faced as administrator has been the inconsistent and unreliable funding of the agency in highly politicized Capitol Hill battles that used FAA reauthorization to move unrelated legislation through. “I don’t think that’s how the world’s best aviation system should be run,” he said.

Huerta said that despite the funding challenges, the agency is making good progress on its modernization program and he had a stern warning for those who think the 2020 deadline for ADS-B will be relaxed. “It’s not going to change,” he said. “ADS-B is essential to the future of U.S. aviation.” He said that to date only 30,000 of about 160,000 GA aircraft that will need it have been equipped and owners and operators have had plenty of time to comply.

Aviation leaders presented a united front Tuesday in their resolve to kill a bill that would turn air traffic control services over to a nonprofit corporation. At the annual media breakfast at the NBAA-BACE convention being held in Las Vegas, the leaders of most general aviation groups urged delegates to flood the inboxes of their elected representatives with messages of opposition to the proposal. They were also told the bill currently in play, H.R. 2997, doesn’t have the votes to go through but that shouldn’t stop them from letting their representatives know about their opposition. A video featuring well-known aviation leaders appears below.

The main issue is the makeup of the 13-member board of directors they say is weighted toward airline representation. The fear is that access to and availability of airspace will be prioritized for airlines at the expense of general aviation. EAA Chairman Jack Pelton acknowledged that “fatigue” over the frequent call by he and his colleagues for grass-roots political support is a real factor in this current battle but he also noted the process is simple. NBAA President Ed Bolen said the process he and the others have been through in fighting the bill is an example of why the current system should be preserved. The leaders have had numerous meetings with elected officials to make their case and they’ve been received without reservation. He said if the 13-member board of directors takes over, they will be under no obligation to hear from those affected by their decisions.

 

 

In 2005, a group of flying buddies in Houston created a website that used data from FAA flight plans to allow real-time tracking of aircraft in flight. Twelve years later, FlightAware is the busiest aviation website and will soon have much better flight tracking capabilities than the air traffic control system. “It’s really been a lot of fun,” said CEO Daniel Baker at a news conference at NBAA in Las Vegas. Baker has guided the development of the company from a rudimentary tool to predict aircraft arrival times to a global platform offering minute-by-minute tracking of every ADS-B-equipped aircraft in the air anywhere in the world. The company announced new features at NBAA, including playback of completed flights and a new ability to track aircraft on the ground.

FlightAware has a deal with Aireon, a Nav Canada-funded company, that will offer satellite-based air traffic control data services. Baker said Nav Canada will look after providing services to air navigation service providers all over the world and FlightAware will look after the myriad services available to airlines, business aircraft and commercial operators. The system will be carried on a new Iridium constellation of 66 satellites that will cover every square inch of the earth’s surface by 2018. SpaceX successfully launched another 10 of those satellites on Monday bringing the total in orbit to 30. While satellite tracking will be an important element to the overall FlightAware product line, the heart of the system is a $65 device the company sends to FBOs, airport operators and even private citizens all over the world. The little box and antenna collects ADS-B data from all aircraft in line of sight from up to 250 miles away and the data is sent to a central processing center that creates the images on the website.

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Airbus will be ready to fly its full-scale electric VTOL technology demonstrator by the end of next year, the company said last week. The project, which is being built by the company’s helicopter division, is designed to carry up to four passengers from crowded city centers to nearby destinations such as airports or train stations. The team recently completed testing of the propulsion system, including the ducted propellers, electric 100-kilowatt Siemens motors and all electrical systems. “We now have a better understanding of the performance of CityAirbus’ innovative electric propulsion system, which we will continue to mature through rigorous testing while beginning the assembly of the full-scale CityAirbus flight demonstrator,” said Marius Bebesel, CityAirbus chief engineer.

In the first half of next year, Airbus said, the development team expects to reach the “power on” milestone, meaning that all motors and electric systems will be switched on for the first time. The first flight is scheduled for the end of 2018. CityAirbus will be designed to fly on fixed routes with a cruising speed of about 65 knots. The test aircraft will be remotely piloted at first; later, a test pilot will be on board. When the aircraft begins operations in 2023, Airbus says, it will initially be operated by a pilot “to ease certification and public acceptance,” but the goal is to provide fully autonomous operations.

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With eight aircraft already in final assembly, Bombardier showed off a cabin mock-up and test article for its new long-range business jet, the Global 7000, at the NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas on Monday. The test article is the fourth aircraft in the test fleet and is dubbed "The Architect" for its intended purpose of proving interior systems. The 7000 is unique for having four individual living spaces, including a kitchen and full-sized crew suite. "There's basically no aircraft like this on the market today," said Michel Quellette, Bombardier's senior VP for the Global 7000 and 8000 program.

The new aircraft continues to undergo final testing and recently completed cold and heat soak testing. The 7000 has a 7400-NM range and a top cruise speed of 0.92 Mach. According to Quellette, that gives the aircraft sufficient range to fly from New York to Dubai or Los Angeles to Shanghai. The eight airframes currently in final assembly are expected to enter during the second half of 2018, the company said. 

In addition to the Global 7000 announcement, Bombardier said it has also sold Learjet 75 aircraft to London-based Zenith Aviation. That adds to two Learjet 75s already in the Zenith fleet. The new aircraft will be based in the UK.

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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.

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At NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas, Bombardier is showing off the interior of the new supersize Global 7000 business jet. The company's Mark Masluch gave AVweb a cabin tour and it revealed that Bombardier has outdone themselves with the interior appointments.

Fly SAM STC Approved

When Daniel Baker and his flying friends conceived FlightAware 12 years ago, they couldn't have imagined how important it has become to worldwide aviation. Founder and CEO Daniel Baker describes the journey.

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.

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