Special Report: NBAA '99

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Last week's 52nd Annual Meeting and Convention of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) was about as good as it gets: Almost 30,000 of the business and corporate aviation faithful gathered in Atlanta for three solid days of meetings, seminars, press conferences and oh yeah exhibits of the latest and greatest goods, services and flying hardware. This year's theme Business Aircraft Utilization Strategies built on the foundation laid by a glossy 48-page brochure produced by the NBAA and including the results of a survey by J.D. Power and Associates of companies in the U.S. operating business (read turbine) aircraft.

Also, be sure to check out our collection of images from NBAA '99: The people, the exhibit floor, the static display and, of course, the aircraft.

Gloomy Outside The Hall, Sunny Inside

NBAA '99 Enjoys The Glow Of Growth In Business Aviation Users And Products

NewsGood thing it wasn't an airshow. The mood and the crowd unavoidably would have been down had last week been as gray and soggy as the National Business Aviation Association convention, its preliminaries and aftermath. Days of rain and damp, low IMC might have stunted a different event into a shadow of its usual self, but not the Mecca of corporate aviation, where open cockpits are rarer than walk-in lavatories and turbine-class stand-up cabins as common as fixed gear on singles.

NBAA '99 logoInstrument flight is the standard, as it must be for aircraft out of their element below FL180, so the days of deluge and scuddy skies served only as mere inconvenience to the faithful. All of last weekend, workers from Mercury Air at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK) and Showalter Flying Service from Orlando Executive hustled through deluges to arrange nearly 150 airplanes into the static display space, while planemakers' staff and convention-service company laborers erected sundry displays and tried to keep the furniture dry. Simultaneously, downtown inside the Georgia World Congress Center, hundreds more workers converted 1.3 million square feet of convention-floor space into the world's trade exhibition devoted to civil aviation.

ATCAll those days and nights, controllers at Atlanta Center and Atlanta Approach worked hundreds more instrument arrivals than the busiest Hartsfield holiday weekend, as business planes from across the spectrum penetrated the curtain to descend through the goop and soup for landing at PDK, Charlie Brown, Hartsfield and other area airports. A few lucky souls came through during a few hours of sunshine; but what little sun shined burned through the mist for only a few off-peak hours. In fact, as the show concluded Thursday, ZTL controllers established a record 10,068 operations in one day.

And by the time Jane Garvey, NBAA President Jack Olcott and other dignitaries finally sheared the red ribbon to open the convention on October 12, the business of business aviation was largely business as usual, with a few notable twists: the unusually large number of arrival stories that circulated among GA and airline passengers, alike; and the unrelenting need for speed exhibited by the steady throngs of prospects wading loafer-deep in standing water to view the planes for sale. Rain and IFR minimums notwithstanding, everybody there wanted to be there and made it.

Business Aircraft Utilization StrategiesAnother twist: Sales and marketing people stayed as busy as ever, despite the near-total lack of wall-to-wall crowds jockeying for places in line at the static display. "But most of the sunshine supermen come to look only because they can," observed a marketing executive for one business-jet maker. "When they wade in through the rain instead of staying dry at the exhibit hall, they tend to be real prospects, and we had as many of those as ever."

In yet another twist: Other than the announcement of one new variant of an airliner-based business jet, NBAA lacked any new-airplane announcements one dormant design marked a return to the market.

And that feeling was more than enough to counter foggy skies, soggy socks and damp dashes between hotels and cars and cars and convention hall. Nearly 30,000 delegates attended, just short of last year's record Las Vegas numbers, and about 80 percent above the attendance when the NBAA last visited Atlanta, in 1993.

Not that everything is peace and tranquility within the business-aviation community. As one trolling market consultant confided to a bar full of NBAA delegates, "Fractional owners are the new money in general aviation, but most of the old money wants them regulated as charter operators, to keep the new guard from sullying the old, but the argument is a self-inflicted wound waiting to happen."

U.S. CapitolCongress, he went on to note, "can't find the dollars to fund the FAA properly and help the FAA improve the infrastructure" but they "can't keep from giving away bucks to unwanted pork projects." Meanwhile, the industry is inventing new equipment and new capabilities and new flexibilities faster than they can effectively use them in the airspace.

"But, the business of business aviation is good, very, very good," he concluded. "So it's hard to be unhappy with the status quo."

"And you can quote me," he offered. Very well. We just did.

Fractional Segment Creates House Turbulence In NBAA...

Don't Regulate Me: Regulate That Fellow Behind The Tree...

FAA logoFractional ownership plans delivered the biggest share of business-aviation's growth in recent years, bringing in more new first-time users than from converts to outright corporate ownership. But when the FAA raised questions about the regulation of fractionals, the community and NBAA's staff and board (plus, presumably, their lawyers and accountants) seemingly have been in conflict over how to answer the FAA's simple, initial question: how to regulate fractional programs, via the flexible, non-commercial oriented tenets of FAR Part 91, or by way of the more complex and constrictive commercial-oriented guidance of FAR Part 135? And just give us a quick gut response, not a reasoned answer constructed from your members' input. Please.

The evolution of the issue should be enough to convince any skeptic of Darwin; NBAA President Jack Olcott has evolved; the NBAA board of directors has evolved; and membership seems, well, conflicted, favoring Part 135 regulation of fractionals by a wide margin, but also favoring their own abilities to exchange or share aircraft and use management companies in lieu of in-house flight departments under Part 91. The mere loss of the ability to land IFR at an airport without certified weather alone would greatly cut into many companies' flight ops.

NBAA logoWhat's an association to do? Olcott moved from a 135 thinker to 91, and the board went from split, at best, to solidly behind 91. The logic involved? The FAA was concerned about smaller, possibly less-capable entities springing up on the basis of shared-ownership programs and smaller management companies. But many believe it impossible to expand FAR 135 to cover those concerns without also blanketing traditional flight departments with the same requirements. So, in that direction the NBAA and its board seem headed. Barring a suggestion for a third solution under a new reg, FAR 91.501 remains the master of private flight by individuals and corporations alike.

And for the FAA's part, FAA boss Jane Garvey told members during the convention's opening session that an industry/government committee on fractional regs should be filled soon to address the question and come to an answer by January. Even so, she couldn't go out on a limb and state that the NBAA would have a seat at the table, so in flux were the politics.

...Safety Can't Be The Issue Now...

At least, not according to Aviation Data Services and Air Research Group/US, which joined forces to develop operational and safety data specific to aircraft operated for shares owners in fractional programs. ARG/US calculated an accident rate for the fractionally operated aircraft fleet at 0.391 per 100,000 flight hours, slightly below the 0.262 rate for large airlines, and well above the 1.559 rate for scheduled 135 carriers.

NetJets logoSo, justifying a different regulatory treatment for fractional operations as a safety issue would be tough. Besides, said John Zimmerman, founder and president of AvData, fractionals are "the greatest thing since sliced bread," particularly for converting prospects into general aviation users. Since Executive Jet Aviation invented the idea with NetJets 12 years ago, the concept has brought more than 1,600 of them now sharing use of 330 jets. Many past users went on to become traditional owners/users.

...Meanwhile, Consensus Strong On Other Issues...

Whether user fees, Free Flight, ATC, airports, or airspace issues, Olcott, the NBAA board and its membership seem harmonized: no "unspecified user fees," even with the promise to exempt general aviation; spend the aviation trust fund on aviation; maintain development of advanced ATC systems and operations like Free Flight; maintain GA airports and GA access; and allow the continuance of the management and procurement improvements started at the FAA just a couple of years ago. Did we mention spend aviation revenues on aviation issues? Instead of simultaneously eliminating the general-fund contribution and cutting funding from the Trust Fund? Anybody listening inside the Beltway?

NBAA: Your One-Stop Aviation Hardware Store...

Big Additions, Small Expansions, And More Closet Space Than Ever...

NBAA '99 exhibit floorThe NBAA went beyond the 6,000-member mark just before the convention, with the addition of Longwood Industries and its Westwind 2, marking a 100-percent gain since 1995 and more than 200 percent since 1990. No wonder business aviation seems to be booming; and where the users are up, naturally, the suppliers are booming, as well. Never has that connection been clearer than last week. And from an updated business-strategies pamphlet and a J.D. Powers & Associates survey highlighting the documented assets of business-aircraft operations, it's clear that NBAA is hot after thousands more potential converts.

But if anything stuck out as unusual, it was probably the near lack of any new-product announcements by the major planemakers. And what was announced was a biggy, from a small player in the grand scheme of things: the BBJ2, a new, even-larger version of the Boeing Business Jet. When we last tuned in on the biggest of the business jets, the BBJ was a missionized version of Boeing's 737-700 fuselage with the -800's wing and gear trucks and enough auxiliary fuel to double its range to more than 6,000 nautical miles. Impressive, don't you think?

Boeing's original BBJBut, according to the folks at BBJ, the original variant lacked the sort of luggage space needed by users used to the 80-foot-long cabin with two full lavs, a couple of stateroom-like cabins, an office, conference room and den/living room. Well, only five weeks after the first customer took delivery of a completed BBJ the company announced development of the 2, in time to begin deliveries in late 2000. The BBJ2 brings nearly double the "closet space" thanks to a cabin floor 100 feet long that's 25 percent longer than the standard. Other good news: It's only about 20 percent more expensive, at about $55 million finished, versus upwards of $46 million for the standard model. Such a deal you can't get in a condo or townhouse.

Airbus Industrie was also aggressively pursuing the ultra-large bizjet market, with its A319-based Airbus Corporate Jetliner.

...Planemakers Progress: Everywhere, Everything Is Better And Progressing...

While Boeing and Airbus Industrie search for new markets for their big jets, the small jet market is growing at a giddy rate. Cessna bowled over the industry last year in Las Vegas by announcing four new models; Bombardier added to the momentum with two announcements of its own; Fairchild had a mock-up of a business variant of an airliner. And hold on to your thrusters: The Supersonic Business Jet (SSBJ) could yet become reality. This year, though, most manufacturers were content to carve more notches in their yardsticks, with both Cessna and Bombardier telling anyone who would listen that they've set milestones of 3,000 Citations and 2,000 Learjets, respectively.

...Elsewhere, Others Made Progress

Sino-Swearingen SJ30-2 cockpit mockupThe SJ-30-2 is on track for first flight of a production prototype in March 2000, with four other planes to quickly follow. Certification is expected in March 2001 and already, company president Jack Braly told AVweb, the company is training the initial employees for its new factory in Martinsburg, W.Va.

VisionAire chairman James O. Rice revealed that progress continues in development of the Vantage, with a final configuration model headed into the wind tunnel for the hoped-for final tests before construction of a conformal prototype begins. The list of changes to the airframe, landing gear, wing, tail, engine inlets and other areas is too long to list here. Suffice it to say that Rice and company are stronger believers than before because they've undergone a painfully long education and survived. Flying won't resume until May of next year, with certification now expected in early 2002 and deliveries to follow mid-year. Meanwhile, Rice continues the job of raising $150 million in additional capital to go with the $60 million already landed.

The Century Jet went from a single to a twin last year, thanks to a price for two Williams-Rolls FJ-33s that made going with a single FJ-44 seem imprudent. In the interim, the design has undergone considerable airframe tweaking with a one-fifth-scale model headed into the wind tunnel later this fall.

Still plugging along, Advanced Aerodynamics and Structures Inc., or AASI, has slipped certification of the JetCruizer 500 again to mid-2000 from the end of 1999; many changes and additions are needed to make the single-propjet pusher eligible for use in FAR 135 charter operations.

New Piper Meridian arrivesBombardier continues to make progress with the Continental it announced last year at NBAA to fill a gap between the Learjet 60 and the Challenger 604; certification of the $14 million-plus Continental is expected in 2002, about a year after first flight.

Aerostar Aircraft is advancing plans to build the Aerostar FJ-100, a variant of Ted Smith's original design finished as originally conceived, as a twin-pusher light jet. It took the advent of Dr. Sam Williams' FJ-33 to make it possible. If the company can meet its $1.8 million price target, the market will get really interesting.

New Piper brought the first production-finished Meridian to NBAA, and the sharp single-propjet derivative of the Malibu drew steady crowds. Unfortunately, the bird stayed only briefly before returning to Vero to continue flight tests. Certification is on track for next summer, the price up to $1.35 million. But a New Piper business jet, while well along in design development, won't burst onto the scene until the Meridian enters deliveries.

Raytheon's Premier made an appearanceThe first production-completed Raytheon Premier I, and the third test-bed, won raves after it arrived through the muck Monday morning, less than a month after its first flight. Thanks to some savvy work with the FAA and its staff, Raytheon has trimmed some of the flight-test time required and appears on-track to certificate its first in-house design by year's end.

And then there's Cessna. Last year, the big C blew the top off the show by launching three new variants and one new design, four models in all. In order of size, progress continues on the revised CitationJet, dubbed the CJ1, and the stretched CitationJet, the CJ2, on the Citation V growth model dubbed the Ultra Encore, and the all-new Sovereign, giving the company its biggest mid-size entry ever. Certification of the CJ1 is due late this year, with deliveries expected next spring; the CJ2 follows by about six months, in certification and deliveries; the Encore by another six months; and the Sovereign is farthest out on the horizon, with first flight in 2002, certification in latter 2003, and deliveries the following year.

...The Second Time Around

Piaggio's P-180 returned to NBAAElsewhere in NBAA: The return of Piaggio and the P-180, and priced the same as when production stopped six years ago, about $4.6 million. What may have been a tough sell in the early 1990s could also seem more attractive thanks to improved range and payload.

Also back on the concept boards was Russia's Sukhoi Design Bureau, with its design for an S-21 supersonic business jet, picking up ahead of where things stopped in 1992 when then-Gulfstream head Allan Paulson was teaming with the former Soviet aircraft shop. And the Russians aren't alone; Gulfstream is studying the idea again, this time in partnership with Lockheed Martin. And, already, NetJets guru Richard Santulli believes he could sell shares for 100 SSBJs for a cool $50 million each, $400 million for all eight shares.

AlliedSignal Looks Ahead

AlliedSignal logoEach year, AlliedSignal rubs its collective corporate crystal ball and peers into the future of biz-av sales, and the picture continues to be a pretty one, according to the company's 10-year long view. How's 6,800 new biz jets worth $89 billion between 2000 and 2010 sound?? That's up 300 units and $11 billion more than the forecast given a year ago. The number of operators worldwide will continue to grow, with fractional users adding the most new converts, according to AlliedSignal's prognostication, and with entry-level, light and light-medium class jets accounting for the lions share of the units.

But a small slide is ahead, most vendor voices at NBAA agreed, and this "plateau" is just around the corner. After about 605 new-jet deliveries this year and 680 next year, deliveries will slip back into the high-500 range until late in the next decade and rise again to above 600 annually about 2009.

Still, forewarned is forearmed, vendors seemed to say, noting that the double-digit growth numbers of the past five years cannot be sustained indefinitely. "As long as we keep expanding the user base, whether through fractional or traditional ownership, the community and the business can keep growing all across the board," noted Barney Byard, vice president of Aviation Data Services, the Wichita-based research firm.

The Milestones...Or Four Into 5,561

Cessna's 3,000th...

Cessna logoYes, less than seven years after Cessna delivered its 2,000th Citation, the planemaker is back celebrating another grand's worth, 27 years after the first 500 series was delivered from Mid-Continent campus in Wichita. According to the company, that covers eight models flown 12 million hours across five billion miles, by any angle a remarkable achievement since 1972. The 3,000th will be delivered in ceremonies in Wichita and the lines continue to hum. If Cessna succeeds in its master "2020 plan" to home in on total customer satisfaction, the next 1,000 could come even quicker.

...Learjet's 2,000th Rekindles Memories Of The Early Days...

Something old, something new  a Learjet montageToo much rain kept Bombardier from celebrating the 2,000th Learjet with a photo-worthy fly-by of the milestone bird, a model 45 nonetheless delivered to Parker Hannifin president Pat Parker by the mother of the Learjet, Bill's wife, Moya. Instead of a rare formation pass of all three Learjets in production, the throngs toasted the occasion under a tent that barely muffled the rhythm of the falling rain. His model 23 first flown 36 years ago last month may have been second in the biz-jet fleet behind the Lockheed JetStar, but it was first in public awareness and became as synonymous with business aviation as Bill Piper's J-3 Cub was to the private plane.

...Raytheon's 500th Beechjet...

Yep, in under a decade since revamping the Mitsubishi Diamond into the Beechjet, Raytheon has notched up sales of 500, including 171 delivered to the U.S. Air Force as the T-1A Jayhawk tanker and transport trainer. Today, Raytheon's Plant 4 jet-production line includes the Hawker 800XP and 1000 and Beechjets, with two all-new designs in progress: the Premier I, due next year, and the Hawker Horizon, ETA a year later. The first production Premier made it through the muck to sit at the static, resplendent with its complete interior, roomy for its class.

...Bragging Rights: Gulfstream's 61st G-V...

Nothing like a good race to bring out the bragging, and Gulfstream Aerospace showed no shyness, painting the 61st G-V delivered like a military number, complete with mission marks and a boast about its nearest competitor delivering only two, so far.

...Galaxy Building 1.5 Per Month, Headed For 2...

It's been a busy year for the folks of Galaxy Aerospace, what with last year's certification of the Galaxy, last month's ribbon cutting on the new headquarters at Alliance Airport north of Ft. Worth, and now with sales steadily growing. "It's simple when you've got a great product," said a beaming Brian Barents, company president. By year's end, Barents expect to have delivered the fourth Galaxy; production is already at 18 annually, to meet delivery plans of 12 next year, and headed for 24 to match 2001 delivery projections.

...Fairchild Plans December Start For Envoy 7 Prototype...

Nothing like having an existing airliner to jumpstart development of a new business jet, as Boeing, Airbus and, now, Fairchild Aircraft have found. Fairchild's Envoy 7 transcontinental business jet starts down the line in December, the same line used to build Fairchild's 70- to 80-seat 728JET passenger plane. First flight and certification are both expected next year. Fairchild plans the same approach for the Envoy 3, based on the 44-seat 428Jet.

...Raytheon Makes The Celebrity Sale Of The Show A "Great One"...

Yep, that was retired blade-master Wayne Gretzky signing autographs next to the Premier I mock-up at the Raytheon Aircraft exhibit during NBAA. The "Great One," who confessed to a slight fear of flying, bought a quarter-share of a Hawker 800XP from Raytheon Travel Air, the planemaker's in-house fractional ownership program. After only a month with the jet, Gretzky said, it has "made my life and my family's life a lot easier."

...Going Down: PWC's PW6XX Targets FJ Power Ranges

PWC's PW6xx turbofanThe plethora of new, small turbofan airframes hasn't been lost on the folks outside Montreal, where engineers are working hard on a new family of turbine engines that takes the company to a new low in turbine power. The compact-scaled family includes high-bypass fans ranging between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds of thrust and turboprop and turboshaft engines spanning the horsepower range from 600 to 900. PWC's smallest fans currently produce 2,200 pounds of thrust, the smallest propjet at 500 shaft horsepower, the smallest turboshaft at 580.

Hitting The (Data) Links: Flight Improvements Abound, In Cockpit Wx, On Approach

Head's Up! Sight Beyond The End Of The Landing Light...

Staying a-HUD of the airplane gets much easier in IMC with the sophistication of some form of head's-up graphic display, and NBAA this year brought several players to the forefront, among them Rockwell Collins, Honeywell, and, interestingly enough, Gulfstream.

Three avionics makers showed off their versions of a head's-up visual aid for left-seaters, each with its own combination of air data, navigation, energy-management and runway graphics. Truth is, following the guidance of sundry carets, balls, arrows, plus signs and digital-tape displays made simulated landings of large business jets a snap on the first try. And anyone who has ever tried to fly a computer sim knows how tough it can be in the first few tries, the time it takes to sense the lead and lag between toy controls and a computer-generated display.

Demo of Rockwell Collins' HUDBut merely following the guidance of the display symbology produced consistently smooth, constant-rate descents to a runway invisible until 50 feet AGL; the inertial-based guidance beats chasing needles down an ILS by a considerable margin. Hand-flying CAT IIIa landings are approved to CAT IIIa runways, that's how good it is. The first installation approved for general aviation is a Rockwell Collins HGS on a Challenger 604; expect more to follow since Southwest, Delta, trendsetter Alaska, and a host of overseas customers have long proved their value.

And Gulfstream has added its own twist to the mix: an infrared camera in the nose that plays on a HUD display screen showing the actual runway lines, lights, even paint, in place of the runway computer-generated by the flight-management system driving other HUD runway graphics. Available only from the Savannah-based folks, the Enhanced Vision System will allow CAT III landings to CAT II runways, and also enhances pilot vision during taxiing, parking, roll-out, the works.

...What You Don't See Can Hurt You...

Everybody seems to be into turning panels into video monitors, and the business-jet community has seen its share. But the hottest news from this year's NBAA covered gear many a piston-airplane driver can afford. Starting alphabetically, AlliedSignal, BFGoodrich and Ryan International top this list.

From AlliedSignal comes two new products wrapped into one new acronym. The IHAS, for Integrated Hazard Avoidance System, comes in an 8000 and 5000 version, the former primarily for turbine-class equipment, and the latter for planes of more-modest powerplant. Each IHAS integrates navigation maps with weather, traffic and terrain depictions in an array of configurations and priorities.

AlliedSignal has designed the line to allow a buyer to start small and expand the system building-block style until it's complete. The IHAS 8000 uses the Bendix King KFC 850 multifunction display, to better accommodate radar input for weather avoidance; the IHAS 5000 uses the more-modest KFC 550 display and accommodates input from a Stormscope sensor, as well as the Bendix/King terrain and map functions. Both displays integrate the controls and software for these functions into the same box with a panel-mounted four-inch color display. As AlliedSignal said earlier this year, deliveries of the first components begin early next year, with all the components available by mid-2000. Display prices start at about $6,500, with traffic and terrain pushing the total price to $22,000 for a full-boat IHAS.

And for the light-jet market, AlliedSignal unveiled the Mark VIII enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS) at $33,900 for the light (4.3 pounds), small (3-by-6-by-10.25-inches) box. In addition to terrain warnings, the Mark VIII warns of excessive bank angle, descent after takeoff, excessive descent rate, closure to terrain, and even descent below a glideslope.

...And From BFGoodrich, TAWS For Ten Thousand...

BF Goodrich's TAWS, on a Bendix/King displayTAWS stands for terrain awareness and warning system, and BFGoodrich's new LandMark system works off a GPS navigator to compare position information against a database of terrain elevation and obstacle heights below the aircraft, ahead, and to the sides. Warnings come both aurally and visually by connecting the LandMark to an EFIS display or a radar display through BFGoodrich's RGC250 graphics computer. Certification is expected by year's end.

...Getting "Active" Ryan International Unveils 9900BX Active TCAD...

After leading the light general-aviation market in traffic awareness for years, Ryan International has closed the gap with airline-style TCAS with the development of the 9900BX active traffic-alert system. The 9900BX builds on the 9900B's direction, range and altitude capabilities by adding four interrogating transmitters to trigger transponders as far away as 10 miles. All previous Ryan TCADs were passive, dependent on hearing a transponder responding to air-traffic or TCAS radar interrogations. As founder/inventor Paul Ryan told AVweb, this gives the 99900BX coverage everywhere, independent of being where ATC radar can see. The tab: $20,200 for the 9900BX, or $5,200 to upgrade a 9900B.

...Lost In Space: "You've Got Mail. Up Here," Means Another Avenue Of Escape Lost...

Ever notice how much harder it's gotten to escape? First it was air phones, then cell phones, then aerial cell phones, airborne fax. Airshow unveiled its new aerial email system to make escape even harder. The folks who gave business aviation airborne DBS capabilities, on-board DVD, and, of course, phone and paging connections, have now devised a system that allows mail to be forwarded from a ground-based ISP, or delivered directly to an Airshow Mail address. Just think of it: AVflash with your Monday morning coffee at FL510.

...TCAS-Triggered Pulselite Gives Turbines The Wink

Yes, you heard it right: a Pulselite system triggered by a TCAS system in alert mode. Heretofore, the Pulselite worked off a simple piece of electronic circuitry that flashed landing and/or taxi lights to enhance a plane's visibility. With this new $2,495 system, the Pulselite circuitry triggers the flashing the instant a radar response trigger the traffic advisory.

Big Backlogs, New Products, New Markets

Data-link For The Masses?

FAA's Jane GarveyJane Garvey helped highlight the FAA's continuing efforts to develop the Aeronautical Datalink system, with a new test program due to begin in Miami. The test will include 28 datalink-equipped aircraft, possibly a few of which will be turbines participating through the NBAA. By 2003, the plan is to have nationwide capability to broadcast basic altitude and route information via datalink to equipped aircraft. For those of us slow to invest in another new cockpit gadget, the faster the fastest move to datalink, the quicker the voice frequencies will get quieter.

...Elsewhere On The Cockpit-Technologies Front...

Universal Weather improved its own Uvdatalink service for the biz-av set to include text and graphic weather, uploading flight plans directly into onboard navigation computers, and providing news and email access to passengers, all while aloft.

Northstar's CT-1000Cleveland-based Flight Options is installing Northstar Technologies' CT-1000 electronic flight bags in the 40 aircraft the company operates, providing crews with every approach chart and map needed, plus POH documentation such as weight-and-balance forms, takeoff- and landing-performance grids, graphic, real-time weather, and moving map, at $11,000 per unit. Except for something to write down clearances, pen and paper seem redundant.

And finally, Arnav Systems got the formal five-year contract to launch its WxLink weather datalink and communications network nationwide over to VHF frequencies; with the inclusion of AlliedSignal's NavRadio unit to the system, live cockpit weather appears only about a year out for equipped airplanes.

...Garmin, Meggitt, S-Tec Landing In Vantage Panel

Here's some black-box advances everyone should appreciate: VisionAire plans to adopt some advanced new avionics into the Vantage when it comes into service a couple of years from now. From Garmin International, look for dual GNS 530 all-in-one navigators; from Meggitt Avionics, watch for a four-display panel with a primary flight-and-nav display and an engine display for each cockpit seat, and a tiny, solid-state AHARs; and from S-Tec, an all-new digital autopilot getting attitude and heading reference off the Meggitt AHARs while a more-conventional rate-based reference system stands by in case it's needed. If this combination sounds familiar, think New Piper and the new Meridian. And Meggitt is further deploying its technology through development of an aftermarket engine-instrument display for older Citation Is and IIs based on its Meridian system. Sierra Industries is in the deal to perform the development, certification and production of the displays.

...Speaking Of New Piper...

Company chairman Chuck Suma spent enough time at NBAA to confirm that the company is planning an initial public offering to take the company public again. The time and cost challenges of new-product development could be more easily met by a public company infused with new investment money. Nonetheless, Suma pointed out that four of the eight products shown at Atlanta had benefited from changes in production and, particularly, avionics systems, in the past five years. The latest to see improvements: The Seneca V and Malibu Mirage, sporting Garmin's new GNS 430, the S-Tec System 55, and, on the 2000 Senecas, the option to include BFGoodrich Stormscope, Skywatch and AlliedSignal radar combined on an Avidyne FlightMax 740 MFD.

...Re-engining A King

Say hello to Kilo Alpha 290 LLC, the latest company working to give new life to old King Air 90s, in this case using a pair of new AlliedSignal TPE 331-10 propjet engines combined with two new-design McCauley five-bladed props. On converted E-90 or C-90 King Airs, the developers promise longer hot-section cycles than the old Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 turbines, better hot-and-high performance and higher payloads and cruise speeds. Already in the field is Orenda, with a hopped-up, turbocharged V-8 recip being marketed by Stevens Aviation.

And This Is Only A Part Of The Big Picture

In the end, delegates and vendors alike talked about the subdued mood of ecstasy that underpinned this year's NBAA convention. Without the big, new-plane announcements of years past, it did seem somewhat more relaxed. Maybe part of the slower pace is due to the Southern Hospitality of Atlanta.

But wait ... next year it's New Orleans. More new planes will be there with new type certificates and new customers and a new buzz to add to the background modulation. Next year, deliveries and sales are still expected to kick stabilizer; and next year, a new crop of new designs will likely burst into the scene to help spark the energy the home of jazz deserves.

So, next year, we'll do this, and more, all over again.