NBAA Report: Annual convention rebounds well after emergency venue change

 - October 25, 2006, 7:23 AM

The upgrade parade that has been a hallmark of recent NBAA Conventions continued to march along pretty much unabated at last month’s show in Orlando, Fla., where no fewer than seven new models made triumphant debut appearances, but only one entirely new airplane bowed in–and it was a very light jet (VLJ) from a start-up company few people had ever heard of before the show.

The preference among aircraft makers to introduce follow-on derivatives of existing models has become so widespread that Raytheon Aircraft at NBAA’05 announced plans to launch a new model every year for the predictable future. This year, the Raytheon Hawker 850XP made its debut and–true to form–the airplane is an upgraded version of the Hawker 800XPi, which is itself a recently announced enhanced version of the Hawker 800XP that is in turn a derivative of the Hawker 800.

In fact, the new, winglet-equipped Hawker 850XP traces its lineage (and type certificate) all the way back to the original de Havilland DH.125, which first flew in 1962, giving the model bragging rights as the world’s longest-running business jet production program.

The 30-inch winglets developed in-house by Raytheon for the Hawker 850XP improve range and speed, but not to the same degree as the winglets developed by Aviation Partners for the Hawker 800. Whereas winglets increase the 850XP’s range by 4 percent, from 2,540 nm to 2,642 nm, the Hawker 800 with Aviation Partners’ blended winglets has an NBAA IFR range of 2,720 nm. Aviation Partners also claims an 18-knot speed increase at cruise altitude, while the 850XP gains three knots at FL390, increasing from 434 knots to 437 knots. At $13.65 million, the price of the Hawker 850XP is about the same as that of the 800XPi.

NBAA’s 58th Annual Meeting and Convention will go down as an unqualified success despite a hasty change of venue from New Orleans to Orlando after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction forced the association to scramble to find a new host city for the rescheduled event, which was brought forward one week to November 9, 10 and 11.

The convention logged in 28,796 registered attendees and a record 1,142 exhibitors, all of them shoehorned into more than 1 million sq ft of space in brand-new halls at the Orange County Convention Center. In addition, 110 airplanes of all shapes and sizes graced the static display line at nearby Orlando Executive Airport.

While the total registered attendee figure was down from the 31,259 registered attendees announced at last year’s show in Las Vegas, this year’s convention nonetheless was a smashing success for NBAA, which relies on revenue from the annual convention to cover its operating expenses throughout the rest of the year.

Bombardier Announcements

Topping the list of manufacturers with news of new models, Bombardier Aerospace made two major announcements at NBAA’05: unveiling of the Challenger 605, a derivative with the outward appearance of the Challenger 604 but upgraded inside, from the avionics suite to the aft lavatory and several points in between; and introducing the Learjet 60XR as a replacement for the original Learjet 60.

The only exterior difference in the Challenger 605 is at the tail, which was changed from a boat tail to a cone shape so it can be recognized on the ramp, said a Bombardier source. Inside, “If it was optional on the 604, it’s now standard on the 605,” according to Scott Wight, manager of product planning for the Challenger programs.

The changes begin up front with a shift from the Collins Pro Line 4 to Pro Line 21 avionics, with a less cluttered instrument panel. On it, four 10- by 12-inch LCD screens replace six 6.25- by 7.25-inch CRT displays, increasing the overall display area by more than 55 percent.

The PFD has a display area of 82.5 sq in, compared with slightly more than 70 sq in for the PFD and MFD combined on the Pro Line 4 panel.

While the EICAS is improved in terms of presentation, the colors remain unchanged, easing the transition from the 604 cockpit to that of the 605, Bombardier said.

One of the more notable new features in the cockpit is a side-console touch-screen that is electronic (Jeppesen) charts-capable and has Airshow and galley touch-screen backup for cabin lighting, telecommunications, water systems control and cabin entertainment.

The console also allows for optional Electronic Flight Book software, with printing capabilities and weather graphics. With Jeppesen charts on the side console and MFD, the 605 will be paperless-capable (with FSDO approval) in its baseline configuration.

With the expectation that most 605 pilots will be transitioning from the 604, Bombardier tried to maintain a high degree of continuity, despite the improvements. Transition to the 605 cockpit will likely require no more than a three-day course. The company has not yet decided if additional simulator training will be necessary.

Anyone familiar with the typical Challenger 604 cabin configurations will be surprised from the first step in the cabin door.

The galley remains facing the door, but pullout counters have increased the available workspace. Two towers at either end of the galley were designed for a more symmetrical look, as well as additional storage, including a larger garbage can. The galley cabin management touch-screen is on the upper, aft galley tower and provides for cabin climate and entertainment system controls.

The 605’s windows have been moved up 2.5 inches and increased from 10 by 15 inches to 10 by 16 inches. The window reveals have also been redesigned to provide a wider angle of view. LED (light-emitting diode) lighting from Syair Designs includes upwash and downwash as well as accent lights and adds to the cabin brightness.

The cabin entertainment system is built around the Collins Airshow 21 digital, Ethernet-based system. It includes 18-inch bulkhead-mounted flat-screen monitors, a master-seat location LCD touch-screen passenger control unit, dual DVD/CD player (MP3 capable), digital media distribution, cabin local area network server and integrated flight-mapping system.

One of the more practical improvements is in the lavatory. The height of the toilet seat has been reduced from 22 inches to 17 inches (the same as a household toilet) and the kick-panel on the front of the unit is now at an angle to provide more foot room. The sink is larger, the faucets are now surface-mounted, and a 30-degree tilting vanity mirror will accommodate children and adults alike.

With a much lighter avionics package, the aircraft has an increased payload capacity of 200 pounds, allowing for an additional passenger or 200 pounds more fuel. The max range of the $26.7 million 605 remains the same at 4,027 nm.

Upgrades to the Learjet 60

Bombardier Aerospace president and COO Pierre Beaudoin reported that Flexjet, the company’s fractional ownership provider, had already placed an order for 15 Learjet 60XRs. By the time the airplane enters service with a corporate owner, he noted, “it will have accumulated thousands of grueling hours in fractional service,” proving its value and reliability.

The 60XR represents a considerable upgrade of the Learjet 60 in terms of avionics, with Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 replacing the Pro Line 4 suite. A new panel layout features four 10- by 8-inch LCD screens in place of the older 7- by 6-inch CRTs, providing a 75-percent overall increase in display area.

New in the Pro Line 21 baseline equipment is a single central maintenance system and file server unit allowing MFD display of Jeppesen charts. Upgrades to the baseline equipment include dual AHRS, EFIS/EIS display, dual FMS and radio management/tuning.

New options in the avionics suite of the $12.5 million Learjet 60XR include enhanced map overlays that superimpose geopolitical boundaries, airways and airspace symbology on MFD maps. Other new options include XM graphical weather display, Universal Weather, a second file server unit and 3-D FMS maps.

While the avionics upgrade cuts weight by about 60 pounds, a Bombardier source said changes in the cabin are expected to “gobble that up.”

The cabin comes in four basic configurations, from a six-passenger executive layout to an eight-passenger, high-density floor plan. In one floor plan, two additional seats can replace the galley.

The traditional cabin lighting is being changed to an all-LED system, which has the advantage of lower maintenance, less power consumption, less weight and a life expectancy almost matching that of the airplane itself, Bombardier said.

Perhaps the galley is the most striking upgrade. It has been moved from its location across from the cabin door to a space on the other side, adjacent to the door. It has a more pleasing curvilinear design and, no less important, offers more storage space.

Those familiar with the Learjet 60 will discover that the new cabin design now includes a reclaimed window in the lavatory. A larger vanity cabinet offers not only general storage areas, but will contain audio and video equipment as well.

The cabin options are considerable, not the least of which is an Airshow 4000 network package and Iridium satellite phone. Also among the cabin options: 15.1-inch forward video monitor and 14.4-inch video monitor; cabin video system, single or dual DVD; passenger audio/video inputs; XM radio; 220-volt power system; warming oven or microwave; dual hot liquid containers; and crystal, china and flatware galley cabinet inserts.

Dassault, Cessna, Airbus Unveil New Models

Continuing the upgrade announcement avalanche, Dassault unveiled the next derivative of the popular Falcon 2000, the 2000DX, which will replace the 2000 with the delivery of aircraft S/N 232 at the end of next year. Just as the Falcon 900DX replaced the 900C by borrowing elements of the 900EX, the 2000DX is based on the design of the 2000EX, including that airplane’s EASy avionics system.

With a range of 3,250 nm (250 more than the 2000 but 550 nm less than the 2000EX), the 2000DX is targeted at buyers who want the comfort and performance of a large-cabin jet but who fly shorter-range trips. Among its capabilities, the 2000DX will be able to climb directly to 41,000 feet in 17 minutes. First flight is expected in June 2007, with deliveries starting by the end of that year.

Dassault also announced that the range of the Falcon 7X could increase to as much as 6,000 nm at Mach 0.80. The current guaranteed range of the 7X is 5,700 nm, but Dassault is evaluating a variety of range-boosting enhancements that include Dassault-designed winglets, which would be a first for a Falcon. The 7X made its first public showing in North America at NBAA’05 after flying across the Atlantic from its flight-test base in Bordeaux-Merignac, France.

Cessna stuck with recently introduced nomenclature for its newly upgraded models by turning the Citation Encore into the Encore+. Previous Citation models that have gotten the plus treatment are the CJ1+ and CJ2+ light jets. Key upgrades to the midsize Encore+ include Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics, Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535B engines with FADEC, a 200-pound increase in payload capability and LED indirect lighting.

Cessna said the Pro Line 21 system in the Encore+ will incorporate many of the features of the CJ series airplanes, including three 8- by 10-inch liquid-crystal displays, TCAS II, EGPWS and Nexrad weather uplink capability. Cessna announced a special NBAA Convention price for the airplane of $7.995 million, which has since risen by $100,000 to $8.095 million.

Rounding out the announcements at NBAA’05 related to derivative models, Airbus introduced the A318 Elite, billed as an “entry-level” version of its executive/VIP jet line, and intended to compete for market share with business airplanes in the category of the Gulfstream G450, Bombardier Global 5000 and Falcon 900EX.

As an almost eight-foot-shorter sibling of the Airbus Corporate Jetliner that is based on the A319 airframe, the A318 Elite would be twice as large on the inside as the traditional bizjets with which it is intended to compete, Airbus said. Range would be about 4,000 nm, allowing the airplane to fly nonstop between New York and London.

Airbus announced the A318 Elite jointly with Hamburg, Germany-based Lufthansa Technik, which has been selected to complete the interiors for the airplanes at a plant a few miles from where they will be built. Price for the A318 Elite was not divulged, although Airbus said it has received firm orders for the first three from Comlux Aviation, a Zurich-based charter operator that intends to take delivery of the airplanes in 2007. Comlux also ordered an ACJ, and Airbus announced its first ACJ sales to customers based in the U.S. and in China.

The introduction of the A318 Elite came a day after rival Boeing Business Jets announced that while it had scrapped plans for a smaller BBJ based on the 737-600 it was considering a BBJ3 version of the Next Generation 737-900ER that would be about nine feet longer than the BBJ2. BBJ senior executives announced a formal launch decision for the BBJ3 at the Dubai Air Show late last month. Of Boeing’s plans for a bigger (rather than smaller) VIP transport, Airbus vice president of executive and private aviation Richard Gaona said, “It is a good thing that Boeing and Airbus don’t always have the same opinion.”

Spectrum 33 VLJ Bows In

The sole clean-sheet aircraft design announced at the convention was the Spectrum 33 (see also page 1), a $3.65 million all-composite very light jet from start-up manufacturer Spectrum Aeronautical. While the airplane fits the VLJ category by virtue of its 7,300-pound mtow, its voluminous cabin is dimensionally almost identical to that of the 12,375-pound Citation CJ2. Both airplanes boast cabins with cross sections of 4 feet 10 inches, but the Spectrum’s 18-foot-long cabin is actually six inches longer than that of the CJ2.

The 10-seat Spectrum 33 twinjet is the brainchild of industry veteran Linden Blue, who proposes the use of advanced composite materials to allow his designers to create an airplane that is far lighter than competing airplanes of similar size. With a proposed high-speed cruise speed of 415 knots, 2,000-nm VFR range, 3,895-pound useful load and 2,000-pound payload, it is clear that Spectrum Aeronautical is setting its sights on Cessna’s CJ line as opposed to VLJs in the category of the Eclipse 500 or Adam A700.

The same could be said of Embraer, which announced the names Phenom 100 and Phenom 300 for the Brazilian company’s very light jet and light jet offerings, introduced earlier this year. Cabin mockups of the airplanes at Embraer’s booth appeared to mirror the internal dimensions of Cessna’s CJ2 and CJ3, signaling that this segment of the market is suddenly about to become much more crowded.

Embraer’s Phenom 100 VLJ will be powered by two dual-FADEC PW617Fs (flat rated at 1,615 pounds of takeoff thrust), which are scheduled for certification in the fourth quarter of 2007. The VLJ is a straight-wing design that will be able to carry up to eight people, including the pilot. With four people on board, the jet will have a range of 1,160 nm (NBAA IFR reserves with 100-nm alternate) and a maximum operating speed of Mach 0.70. The Phenom 100 will have a high-speed cruise of 380 knots, and its 5-foot, 1-inch-wide cabin is wider than those of both the Cessna Mustang and CJ1. Its 4-foot 11-inch cabin height also exceeds that of the Cessna models.

The Phenom 300 will compete directly with the Cessna CJ3 and Encore; Raytheon Premier I and Hawker 400XP; and Learjet 40. The nine-seat, swept-wing light jet will be powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PW535Es flat rated at 3,200 pounds of thrust. Carrying six people, the $6.65 million jet will have an 1,800-nm NBAA IFR range at Mach 0.78. The Phenom 300 will have a high-speed cruise of 450 knots, 45,000-foot ceiling and 3,700-foot balance field length.

Notably, Embraer’s Phenom 300 will share the same cabin width and height as its Phenom 100 sibling. The overall cabin of the 300 will be smaller than that of the Premier I and the same size as that of the Learjet 40. Like Eclipse, Embraer has selected BMW Group DesignworksUSA to design the interiors for both models and, as Cessna has for the Mustang, the Brazilian company has chosen to outfit the cockpits of the airplanes with Garmin G1000 avionics, to be known in these airplanes as the Prodigy Flight Deck.

Certification Announcements in Abundance

Nearly as impressive as all the new models to bow in were the number of fresh certification tickets for airplanes on static display at Orlando Executive Airport. Host Showalter Flying Service ensured that NBAA’05 didn’t miss a beat after its last-minute move from New Orleans to Central Florida.

Following a nearly 20-year development program marked by financial and management challenges, technical issues and a fatal crash in 2003, San Antonio-based Sino Swearingen in late October received FAR Part 23 type certification for the SJ30-2, marking the occasion with an upbeat celebration at its booth on the convention’s opening day.

The initial type certificate approves the twin-engine light business jet for day, night, VFR, IFR, single-pilot and “full performance envelope” operations. Remaining approvals, such as certification for flight into known icing and cabin interior systems operation, will be completed before deliveries are scheduled to start in the first quarter of next year, according to the company. At press time, FAA production certification was pending.

Surprising almost everybody at the convention, the midsize Gulfstream G150 arrived at NBAA’05 with the ink still wet on its U.S. and Israeli certification papers. Built by Israel Aircraft Industries under a revenue-sharing partnership with Gulfstream, the airplane had been scheduled for certification in next year’s first quarter. According to senior v-p of engineering and test programs Pres Henne, the $15 million twinjet finished its test program ahead of schedule and has exceeded its max range expectation of 2,750 nm by some 250 nm, while takeoff field length has been reduced by 650 feet.

Piaggio, meanwhile, announced that the Avanti II twin turboprop pusher has been certified in Italy and that production of the Collins Pro Line 21-equipped airplane has begun. FAA certification of the $6.195 million turboprop was said to be imminent at press time. An Avanti II made its U.S. debut at the show as Piaggio celebrated the 100th delivery of an Avanti, to U.S. fractional operator Avantair.

Bulk Orders Tallied at Least $550 Million

Announcements of bulk aircraft orders by Piaggio, Eclipse and Cessna dominated the news on the show’s second day, as the three manufacturers revealed sales of a combined 136 airplanes with a total estimated value of at least $550 million.

At the show, Linear Air of Lexington, Mass., and JetSet Air of the UK, respectively, announced they had placed firm orders for 30 and 50 Eclipse 500 very light jets for proposed air-limo services. These orders and others brought the order book for the Eclipse 500 to 2,350 airplanes (765 of which are on option). The firm orders are all secured with non-refundable deposits, the company said.

Linear Air currently operates eight-seat, executive-configured Cessna Grand Caravans available for charter in the Northeast and on a limited number of scheduled routes, as permitted for on-demand Part 135 operators. JetSet Air plans to use its Eclipse 500s for on-demand and scheduled shuttle services within the UK and to popular European destinations. It also plans to offer a jet card in increments of 25, 50 and 100 hours. Certification of the Eclipse 500 is expected in March.

European charter and aircraft management firm Jet Alliance, meanwhile, signed a contract at the NBAA show for 20 Cessna Citation jets. The $200 million order was for five CJ2+s, two CJ3s, four XLSs, seven Sovereigns and two Citation Xs, all of which will be delivered to the Vienna, Austria-based operator between next year and 2008, Cessna said. Jet Alliance is among the top-three biggest charter providers in Europe, operating a 37-strong Citation fleet of CJ1s, CJ2s, Excels, Sovereigns and Xs. The company said the bulk-aircraft order (originally announced as 28 Citations but later modified to 20) will expand the operation’s reach into Eastern Europe.

Piaggio said fractional provider Avantair had signed a $230 million contract to buy 36 Avanti IIs. Under the agreement, the aircraft will be delivered starting in 2008 and continuing through 2010 to the fractional operator, which flies the Italian-built twin turboprops exclusively. According to Piaggio America president and CEO Tom Appleton, the agreement was the single largest sale in the history of Piaggio Aero. Avantair is under new ownership and plans to relocate its headquarters from New Jersey to Florida next summer. The company currently operates 21 Avantis and plans to double its fleet by the end of next year.

SSBJs Make Noise

Last year, two supersonic business jet (SSBJ) designs made their debuts after start-up manufacturers Aerion and Supersonic Aerospace International (SAI) took the wraps off their sleek-looking airplanes (and high-flying business plans) during separate press conferences at NBAA’04. This year, Aerion provided an update of its progress in the last 12 months, while SAI was a no-show, without any press announcements or even a presence at the convention.

Aerion announced it has completed the first design phase, arriving at an aircraft configuration that has been refined through extensive wind tunnel testing and computer analysis. In addition, the Reno, Nev.-based company said it will indeed incorporate fly-by-wire controls into the $80 million, Mach 1.6 twinjet. Earlier this summer, Aerion completed a market study that it said confirmed demand for this design. The study, which included a survey of more than 100 executive and flight department decision-makers, confirms demand for 250 to 300 Aerion SSBJs in the first 10 years of production, the company said.

According to Aerion, its SSBJ has good efficiency just below Mach 1, the current legal maximum for flight over the U.S. No-boom flight over populated areas is permitted in some parts of the world, and Aerion’s data shows that its SSBJ can cruise at Mach 1.15 without any perceptible boom at ground level.

Additionally, unrestricted speeds are permitted over designated routes in many sparsely populated regions such as Northern Canada, Siberia and Australia. At supersonic cruise speed, the Aerion SSBJ’s sonic boom characteristics are predicted to be relatively mild because of the aircraft’s low weight, the company claims.

While Aerion was laying the groundwork for convincing regulatory authorities that SSBJs should be permitted to fly over land, a well known airframe manufacturer was going one step further by demonstrating a supersonic acoustic noise signature simulator.

Gulfstream continues to research the feasibility of developing a supersonic business jet, but it won’t be ready to invest in a prototype until international airspace regulators agree to allow supersonic flights over land. In the back corner of the
Gulfstream static display at Orlando Executive Airport, a small white trailer contained the product of what the company said was its only real effort thus far toward development of a supersonic business jet. The Supersonic Acoustic Signature Simulator let users experience what a supersonic jet might sound like if its noise levels were reduced to a small fraction of that produced by Concorde.

The simulator was first shown publicly at the Aviation Noise & Air Quality Symposium in March, which was attended by FAA and NASA officials. Inside the trailer, visitors were presented with an audio comparison of what Concorde’s sonic booms sounded like when heard amid the din of traffic, birds in a park or children’s voices. Each Concorde “thud-thud” is followed by a soft “vmm-vmm” sound; this second series of sonic “booms” represents what Gulfstream engineers have determined a supersonic jet might sound like if it flew overhead at Mach 1.8 equipped with the company’s patented telescoping nose designed to control and reduce noise.

A small group of five engineers at Gulfstream has been working on the project over the last few years, in concert with researchers at Northrop Grumman and NASA, a spokesman said. Gulfstream was one of four companies that received a $1 million grant from NASA in July to study the concept of supersonic noise reduction.

“Part of our research is here at NBAA,” the spokesman said, although visitors to the simulation trailer were not asked to fill out any surveys about their experience. “It’s going to take a lot of convincing of a lot of people,” he continued, saying the law that prohibits supersonic flight over land will involve at least five years of politicking to change.

Honeywell, Rolls-Royce Predict Good Times Ahead

The big unanswered question as far as supersonic business jets are concerned is whether there is a market for such aircraft. If the forecasters at Honeywell and Rolls-Royce are correct, there will be an ample market for business jets of all shapes and sizes for the next several years.

The annual Honeywell forecast predicts deliveries of new business jets this year will reach 745, up from 589 last year. Next year, deliveries may exceed 800 for the first time in the history of the industry, Honeywell said.

Looking at the 10-year period through 2015, the Honeywell forecast predicts deliveries of about 9,900 new business jets, equating to $156 billion in sales. These figures do not include deliveries of “bizliners” (jets with an mtow of more than 100,000 pounds), turboprops , a sub-category of very light jets Honeywell has dubbed “ultra light jets,” or SSBJs.

Honeywell’s outlook also notes an overall decline in worldwide operator purchase expectations– due solely to a decrease in purchase expectations of North American operators–from about 25 percent of their fleets last year to about 21 percent this year.

Because of the normal lag time between orders and deliveries, this will result in a predicted delivery peak next year or in 2007, Honeywell said. Around this time, the industry can anticipate a short-lived dip in total deliveries in 2008, though circumstances, such as the need for fractional operators to add to their fleets more quickly, could make the expected dropoff more of a plateau. According to its projections, based on world operator surveys, Honeywell said deliveries will plateau until about 2011 before they begin to increase again.

Rolls-Royce released its “2005 Business Jet Review and Forecast” at NBAA’05, predicting growth in business jet deliveries through the remainder of the decade. The forecast also calls for medium- to long-range jets to dominate in terms of aircraft and engine value.

The report forecasts that 48,000 engines, valued at $61 billion, will be needed over the next 20 years to meet demand for 23,000 new corporate jet aircraft from very light jets through business jetliners, according to Michael Miller, Rolls-Royce director of market planning and analysis. The company projects deliveries of 15,400 aircraft in the 20-year time frame.