Across the Pond #12: New Year, New GA Efforts in Europe

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Across The Pond

This month marks the start of the conjoining of the European national air traffic services, as aviation authorities are embraced by the EASA umbrella. Europe is set for an interesting couple of years as individual aviation authorities -- sometimes with widely differing capabilities -- unite to create pan-European legislation. More as time goes on. Meanwhile, there have been several program launches and developments and good news as AOPA is resurrected in Iceland.

Supersonic Success

Aerion Supersonic Business Jet

Concorde is gone, but its legacy is not forgotten. Such is the pulling power of supersonic flight that supersonic bizjet creator Aerion played to a packed house at its London press briefing in early December. The company has already secured 20 Letters of Intent worth around US$1.5 billion (EUR 1.02 billion) for its US$80 million (EUR 54.4 million) supersonic business jet (SBJ) from customers in key markets including Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the U.S. And it only opened its order book at the Dubai Air Show.

The draw is in the journey times. In the SBJ, New York to Paris flights will take four hours and 15 minutes versus about seven and a half hours in existing subsonic models. Vice chairman Brian Barents said, "Considering our marketing effort has barely begun, this is a tremendous validation of the aircraft's appeal." According to Barents, Aerion would like to seal a deal with a large, established OEM by the end of 2008 and get the first six jets off the production line by 2014, shortly after certification. This would cost of around US$2.3 billion (EUR 1.6 billion) in further program development.

Part of the difficulty airframers have in agreeing to produce the aircraft is that their order books are so jammed that their manufacturing capacity is limited. However, Barents hinted at a further lure. He said that the technology is "completely scaleable" and the super-midsize aircraft could be the first of a new family. He predicted that the SBJ would become profitable about a third of a way into its estimated run of 300 aircraft.

Certification is likely to happen quickly because Aerion is using proven technologies and limits to build the aircraft. With a ceiling height of 51,000 feet, the wings will be made from carbon fiber on a metal airframe to reduce weight. The top speed of Mach 1.6 eliminates the need for special high-temperature materials. Engines are two modified, existing, Pratt & Whitney JD8D-219 powerplants, which will fly it 4500 nm at subsonic speeds and 4000 nm in the supersonic phase. The jet will have a six-feet, two-inches high stand-up cabin and carry 8 to 12 passengers.

Swiss based ExecuJet has won the rights to sell the jet everywhere apart from North America. CEO Niall Olver said, "Based on the homework we did prior to entering into this agreement with Aerion, we are not surprised at the number of people coming forward. This is just the tip of the iceberg." ExecuJet is offering 40 early delivery positions to customers, secured by initial deposits of US$250,000 (EUR 170,000). Aerion is selling a further 35 slots to clients in North America.

Piccard's No Fuel

Solar Impulse

At the other end of the spectrum, another Swiss company -- Solar Impulse -- unveiled the prototype of its solar-powered aircraft last month. The machine is scheduled to circumnavigate the globe without fuel in 2011, when project leader Bertrand Piccard will fly a second aircraft for a month around the world. Since the aircraft will be airborne for several consecutive days, part of the challenge is to work out how to keep the pilot alive and kicking.

The current aircraft has a wingspan of almost 200 feet and is slated to fly non-stop for 36 hours powered by solar energy. It will charge up during daylight, using the stored energy at night. Although the Solar Impulse is not the first solar powered aircraft, it is the most ambitious fuel-free project yet, since no other aircraft has flown throughout the night carrying a pilot

Solar aviation started in the 1970s, when affordable solar cells appeared on the market. In 1980, Paul MacCready in the U.S. developed the Gossamer Penguin, which opened up the way for the Solar Challenger. That aircraft, with a maximum power of 2.5 kW, succeeded in crossing the English Channel in 1981, then went on to cover distances of several hundred kilometers with an endurance of several hours.

The record for solar powered flight stands at 48 hours non-stop for an aircraft designed by Alan Cocconi, who succeeded in flying an unmanned airplane with a five-meter wingspan for 48 hours non-stop.

Blink -- First Air Taxi in Europe

British air taxi operator Blink intends to become the first such operation to get off the ground in Europe. Based in Farnborough, the firm announced an order for a fleet of 30 Cessna Citation Mustangs to use for its operations around Europe, making it the largest Mustang customer in the world.

The first aircraft will begin to arrive in May 2008 and will be operated by TAG Aviation (U.K.), which is Europe's largest charter operator. The idea is that people can turn up 10 minutes before takeoff and jump in the aircraft to secondary cities throughout the continent. Cameron Ogden, managing director and co-founder said, "We are confident in Blink we have the right business at the right time. Increasingly businesses have pan-European operations that require their executives to move frequently from location to location. We have created a tool that will do that quicker and more efficiently than any other."

U.K. Accidents

Midlands Air Crash

Light aviation accidents are thankfully still rare, but that means they often make national headlines in the U.K. Sadly, there have been two recent, widely reported, unfortunate incidents in the U.K., one of which resulted in the deaths of two pilots. In the first, two aircraft were involved in a mid-air collision in the Midlands, killing two people, although three others escaped when they landed safely at East Midlands airport. The airport was closed for a time after its emergency arrival. The other aircraft, a Luscombe Silvaire, came down in a field near Blithfield Reservoir in Staffordshire.

In another accident, a pilot escaped with his life after a Piper twin crashed near an airport in Oxfordshire. The aircraft was en route from Hampshire to Oxford when air traffic control lost contact shortly after 1700 GMT about four miles from Oxford Airport, Kidlington. The 52-year-old pilot was found three hours later in nearby Wytham Woods and taken to hospital. The aircraft is owned by Air Medical, an air-ambulance supplies firm based at the airport. The wreckage was found by a police helicopter search team after the Piper had put out a mayday call moments before it crashed. The Air Accident Investigation Bureau is investigating the incident.

Galileo Financing Found At Last

Galileo -- the European satellite system set up to rival the U.S. GPS network -- has been dogged by delays and in-fighting amongst member states since its inception. There's sunshine on the horizon, though. Finance ministers of European Member States finally reached agreement on how to finance the system on Nov. 23 and passed a resolution on the new agreements at the EU summit on Dec. 14.

Initially against the proposals, Germany finally accepted the majority decision of the other EU states. The Federal Government was concerned that the EU Commission would ask for a large slice of funding without fair distribution of work packages. However, the Commission has the work and said that the prime contractor must give at least 40 percent of works to small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Commission will earmark EUR 2.4 billion to build the system in both space and on the ground. The system will consist of 30 satellites, three of which will be reserves. To date, only one test satellite has been launched, putting the program five years behind its schedule. The latest plan says that system testing will start in 2008 and be ready by 2010, although the real launch could possibly be 2013.

Germany's Oldest Female Pilot Dies

Elly Beinhorn

More from Germany: Pioneering German aviatrix Elly Beinhorn died Nov. 28 aged 100. For many years she was an honorary member of AOPA-Germany and was an outstanding GA ambassador. Her passion for flying was kindled in 1928 when Hermann Köhl crossed the Atlantic in a single-engine Junkers W33.

In the spring of 1929 Beinhorn obtained her flying license at Berlin-Staaken and in 1931 flew to Africa in a Klemm KL-26, making an emergency landing on the return flight between Bamako and Timbuktu, when she had to walk back to civilization with the help of local people.

On her return, Beinhorn announced that she wanted to fly "somewhere to below the right" on the atlas. Out of that "somewhere" she undertook a world flight, through India and Singapore to Australia. She then packed her aircraft into two large boxes and shipped it to Panama. In 1933 she was awarded the Hindenburg Cup, the highest German aviation distinction. She retired in 1979 at 73, having flown more than 5000 hours, saying, "52 years are enough."

Finnish Airport Under Fire

IAOPA Europe reports that Malmi Airport near central Helsinki is under threat of closure. It is the only GA airport available to the Helsinki metropolitan area. AOPA-Finland has joined with the Friends of Malmi Airport (FoMA) to fight to keep airport open. An open petition to save the airport has attracted over 45,000 signatures. The airport is home to the Border Guard, Rescue Department, Air Force, and Police activities. AOPA-Finland's Klaus Bremer said, "This airport is essential to general aviation in all of Finland and Northwestern Europe. We must save this invaluable airport." View the FoMA Web site and sign the petition to save this valuable general aviation asset.

AOPA-Iceland Back Up and Running

Finally, AOPA-Iceland has been reactivated. A recent fly-in was held at Mulakot and chairman Valur Stefansson reports that membership is increasing. They also have good interaction and relations with their CAA. Located at Reykjavik Airport, the organization is working to keep the field open for general aviation, despite opposition from the new mayor of Reykavik. Visit their Web site for more info.

That's it for this month. Best wishes for a prosperous 2008 full of flying.

For more aviation news and information from Europe, read the rest of Liz Moscrop's columns.