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With sales of new business aircraft relatively flat, the used market has been enjoying a burst of activity for almost two years and may improve further as the economy gains steam. “We’re seeing a lot of pent-up demand as a result of the slow growth of general aviation for the last seven to eight years,” says Matt Huff, VP of Ogara Jets, an Atlanta-based brokerage. Other brokers have said sales have yet to recover to pre-2008 levels and the outlook isn’t expected to change much until beyond 2020.

The OEMs are simply building jets faster than the world market can absorb them. Huff said that has proven positive for sales of used aircraft because new aircraft typically depreciate about 10 percent a year, so a five-year-old jet with essentially the same performance as a new model can be bought for a little more than half the price.

“We’re seeing a very active market for the Gulfstream 200 because of its capabilities compared to its current price,” Huff told us in this podcast recorded at NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas this week. Mid-cabin airplanes like the Citation XLS are also strong sellers. Huff said some buyers plainly see value in used airplanes and aren’t hung up on having one that no one else has flown.

“It’s a financial question, not an airplane performance question,” he says. “With new airplanes, there are tax advantages for some companies and they use that as a justification for acquiring a new airplane.”

Having proven the idea of subscription-based on-demand charter, Wheels Up continues to expand the Textron King Air fleet on which the service is based, according to CEO Kenny Dichter. At NBAA-BACE on Monday, Dichter said the company has 78 King Air 350i aircraft, most of which have been purchased new. The fleet also has Citation XLS bizjets for customers who prefer them. Business is so good that Wheels Up recently secured $117 million in venture capital funding and plans to purchase more 350s in 2018.

Wheels Up launched in 2013 with a unique business model that has would-be charter customers buy a yearly subscription that entitles them to a certain number of on-demand hours each year, billed at $4295 per occupied hour for the King Airs. Usage varies by type of client, but Dichter says many clients spend between $90,000 and $100,000 a year for on-demand flight services, or about the cost of owning and operating a single-engine turboprop for a year. Wheels Up currently has about 4000 members and Richter believes that will increase to 10,000 by 2020. He says the company may go public in 12 to 18 months if growth continues.

From its inception, Wheels Up envisioned bringing affordable on-demand transportation to customers who wouldn't consider owning their own aircraft or even chartering. "You're seeing a lot of growth in the bottom of the pyramid. We look at the world the way Uber does," Richter says. He argues that individuals and executives who buy as few as two or three walk-up $1000 tickets on airlines can afford a Wheels Up subscription. "We're more Netflix than NetJets," he says in describing the Wheels Up appeal. As the company expands, it sees as much as $1 billion in business marketing available jet capacity owned by other companies to its growing list of subscribers.

 

Gulfstream’s latest aircraft, the G500 and G600, are performing well in certification flight testing. At a news conference at NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas on Monday President Mark Burns said the simultaneous development of two new airframes is an example of the company’s maturity after 50 years of business jet manufacturing in Savannah. “It’s part of our culture of continuous improvement,” Burns said. He said performance projections for the aircraft have improved since their introduction a couple of years ago and will continue to be tweaked upward as more testing is done.

The G500 is nearing certification and is planned to achieve the steep approach (6 percent) approval needed to serve London City Centre Airport, which has become a benchmark for business jet development. First deliveries of the 500 are expected by mid 2018. The G600 first flew 10 months ago and there are now five test articles in the air. One of the G600s was flown to Henderson Executive Airport for the NBAA static display.

An earlier story incorrectly reported the delivery schedule and steep approach certification plans for the G500.

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Cessna is bringing the first production conforming prototype of its “super mid-sized” Citation Longitude business jet to NBAA this week to prep the market for final certification by the FAA expected late this year or early 2018. Honeywell announced last week that its HTF7000L turbofan has been certified by the FAA for use on the Longitude, a major step in the certification process. "Honeywell's HTF7000 family continues to lead the way in performance, reliability and cost of ownership as it continues to expand its presence across business aviation," said Brian Sill, president, Engines and Power Systems, Honeywell Aerospace. "The HTF7700L engine certification for the Citation Longitude aircraft marks another successful milestone for the HTF7000 family, adding to its growing heritage."

Garmin is also showing off its contributions to the 12-passenger twin-jet at NBAA, announcing the Garmin Head-up Display (GHD 2100). “The operational benefits of flying with a HUD are significant, resulting in fewer missed approaches and vastly improved situational awareness – particularly in challenging environments,” said Carl Wolf, Garmin vice president of aviation sales and marketing. “We’re excited to see our new HUD continue to make progress in its flight testing along with the Longitude and look forward to delivering this product to aircraft so flight crews can experience the harmony between the GHD 2100 and a Garmin integrated flight deck.” The company says consistent symbology between the G5000 flight deck and the GHD 2100 display makes for a “near-seamless” transition between inside and outside references. Future upgrades for the GHD 2100 will include integration of an external Enhanced Vision System camera for improved situational awareness during low visibility operations.

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Scaled Composites rolled out and flew its most recent project on Wednesday, the company has announced. The company built two identical single-engine jets to demonstrate for an unnamed customer Scaled’s “advanced, low-cost manufacturing techniques” for the production of research aircraft for industry and government. “Today was a great day for our test team,” said Aaron Cassebeer, project engineer. “We had a great flight and we are looking forward to the future test program.” The Model 401 experimental aircraft are each equipped with a single Pratt & Whitney JTD-15D-5D engine, with 3,045 pounds of thrust, the company said, and they are capable of flying Mach 0.6 with a service ceiling of 30,000 feet.

The two aircraft are identical in outer mold line and performance. They have a wingspan of 38 feet and measure 38 feet long. Empty weight is 4,000 pounds and maximum takeoff weight is 8,000 pounds, with an endurance of up to three hours. The successful first flight is the beginning of the flight-test phase for vehicle Number 1, the company said. The Scaled team plans to continue envelope expansion on the first aircraft as they move toward first flight of the second Model 401 vehicle.

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General Electric, whose DNA extends back to Thomas Edison, started its life as a builder of generators and electrical equipment. It’s more than an electric technology company now, but shoving around electrons is still a core interest.

I thought of that earlier this week during GE’s press briefing at NBAA when a company exec mentioned, almost as an aside, that the company had configured a jet engine—the same GE F110 used in the F-16—to generate a megawatt of electric power. A million watts. To put a megawatt in perspective, it’s enough to run about 1000 coffee makers. For comparison, coal-fired power plants in the 2500 to 3000 megawatt range aren’t uncommon.

So what’s the point of this? GE didn’t say, but I suspect someone came asking for such a thing to support some kind of imagined flying machine. I doubt if GE did it just to keep a few junior engineers busy. It fits into a general pattern of electrification for everything, if not as a prime mover than as a means of controlling and managing mechanical systems with a greater degree of precision than with direct or hydraulically boosted systems.

This came up again when I was shooting this video on Tamarack Aerospace’s next generation active winglets. They’re now to the point that it’s not really a leap to say the wing is inflight configurable beyond just slats and flaps. To squeeze more efficiency out of existing airframes, Tamarack gives the wing expanded span but gets away without a structural penalty by using a trailing-edge device that mitigates gust loads that would otherwise require more heavy metal or composites to defeat.

For the newest technology—which the company hopes to apply to the commercial airline market—the winglet itself rotates in the vertical axis in conjunction with whatever the trailing-edge device is doing. So that means the entire winglet structure rotates on a pivot just inboard of the wingtip. What provides the motive power? Electric motors, of course. And not very big ones at that. There’s an array of accelerometers and logic that measure loads and flight conditions in real time and adjust the appropriate surfaces instantaneously. If that had to be done with hydraulics, forget it. It would so cumbersome and heavy as to cancel out much of the benefit of the extra span and winglets. And the benefit, by the way, is less drag and better climb so the airplane gets to cruise altitude more quickly, where jet engines are more efficient, and once there, it cruises on lower power, saving more fuel.

Nick Guida, Tamarack’s founder, told me he thinks one airline the company has been courting as a customer could save up to $150 million in fuel costs. And it will likely be an airline project, not a Boeing or Airbus project. The OEMs are backed up with orders and strained for R&D resources that might not return much on the investment. Of such things are successful niche business plans made, all riding on a wave of a broad revolution in electrics.

The Aftermarket Glass Revolution

While on the subject of waves, Garmin is breaking one on the retrofit market with its new TXi series displays to replace the aging 500/600 series. Here’s a video tour of what these new products will do. For some time, we’ve been at the point where an older but capable airplane could be converted entirely to glass. But the new TXi products will make it easier because of wide AML support and flexible interfaces with ADS-B and other traffic and weather systems to even include onboard weather radar. They can also be installed without the need for backup systems, making it ever more convenient to finally sever the tether with those vacuum pumps we all love to hate. As part of the drift toward electrics, the TXi’s have battery backup and the open pad abandoned by that vacuum pump can now support a second alternator.

Will this prove economically attractive to owners? I think it absolutely will, given that an airframe worth $80,000 can now be made almost as functionally capable as one costing nearly a million by investing a sum not at all out of line with what owners have been spending for such things.

The dark side of this is what it will do to the competition. Garmin has leveraged its profits to essentially become a near monopoly in general aviation avionics, at least in major systems. Year after year, it has followed brisk-selling products with yet more products, so much so that in the aviation press, we struggle to keep up. I’m disappointed that we haven’t seen the same from the likes of Aspen and BendixKing, although Avidyne remains a player. Garmin has built success upon success and is so utterly dominant that meaningful competition is problematical at best.

Kenny the King Air Salesman

I’ve been covering the Wheels Up charter subscription program since its inception in 2013. I never understood it and when I finally did, I thought it would be, like many new aviation businesses, a crater looking for a grid reference.

Wrong again. Wheels Up seems to be not just prospering, but booming. Listening to Kenny Dichter, the company’s founder, talk about it is to hear a man utterly enthralled with general aviation and in possession of an appreciation for the King Air that borders on the religious. Every time I hear him speak, I have to resist the urge to rush out and order a 350i. Dichter saw in the King Air a unique combination of range, payload and speed that he could marry to the interests of affluent, if not rich, people who want to fly somewhere 500 miles away five times a year. Others have had shards of this vision, but none have quite made the connection that Dichter has.

As we’ve reported, Wheels Up is a subscription business and any such business model requires loyalty, or what we in the publishing business call renewal rate. It’s one thing to retain a $29 magazine subscription and quite another to hold onto a customer spending $14,000 a year. To do that, Wheels Up did something interesting. When Hurricane Irma swirled into Florida, Wheels Up got hit with more demand for flights than its King Air fleet could conceivably handle. Dichter chartered a 737 and hauled his clients out of Florida at no charge. Do you think those customers will renew when their contracts come up? I’d kinda bet on it.  

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Garmin is finally out with its long-rumored TXi displays to replace the G500/G600 products. At NBAA-BACE at Last Vegas, Paul Bertorelli got a look at the new displays and shot this video report. The TXi line offers much more flexibility than any other display system on the market.

 

Electronics International 'Aviation Alert! Short video on how EI saved this pilot's life

With sales of new business aircraft relatively flat, the used market has been enjoying a burst of activity for almost two years and may improve further as the economy gains steam, says Matt Huff of Ogara Jets, an Atlanta-based brokerage. AVweb interviewed Huff at NBAA in Las Vegas for this exclusive podcast.

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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