SPn certification date could slip again

 - September 26, 2007, 8:07 AM

Grob Aerospace is facing the possibility of a further delay to the certification of its new SPn light jet. During the first week of this month, the German manufacturer will be re-evaluating the status of the flight-test program to decide whether to push back the target of completing type certification by the end of next year’s second quarter.

Delays of around two to three months to the first flight of the third prototype SPn have meant that it was not expected to fly until the last few days of last month, at the earliest; more likely this milestone could slip to next year. Last year’s crash of the program’s second prototype resulted in a nine-month delay for certification, which was originally targeted for the end of this year’s third quarter.

The decision on whether or by how much to delay the certification this time will be based largely on the extent to which Grob can reduce the number of flight-test hours required to complete all its tasks. Furthermore, the manufacturer now believes that the gap between certification by the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency might be shorter than anticipated.

Grob chief executive Niall Olver explained that the delay in flying the third prototype was caused by the need to relocate some systems and by delayed deliveries from key suppliers. The airframer has taken advantage of the delay to update the flight management system, a task that otherwise would have had to be done later in the program.

A fourth prototype is due to join the flight-test program in the fourth quarter. This airplane will be dedicated to proving the SPn’s Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite. The first prototype has now logged more than 400 flight hours and recently completed icing trials.

SPn operators are being offered an optional enhanced-vision system and Grob expects to propose a flight-vision system that, working in tandem with the EVS, could eliminate the need for a head-up display. The manufacturer also plans to introduce an optional autothrottle in the future.

Fatigue testing has simulated 84,000 flight hours and 51,000 landings, and Grob is projecting a service life of 28,000 hours for the SPn. The drop test on the aircraft’s rugged Liebherr landing gear was due to be completed by the end of last month.
Grob has been actively developing a concept for a derivative of the SPn and intends to launch this program before the SPn is certified. The new aircraft would also be all-composite (see New Business Jets Special Report on page 50).

Breakthrough Frax Order

On the eve of last month’s NBAA Convention, the PlaneSense fractional ownership program placed an order for 25 Grob SPns–the program’s biggest deal to date–with deliveries to begin toward the end of next year. The aircraft will be configured for six-seat executive use with a large galley at the front of the cabin and an enclosed lavatory to the rear.

PlaneSense president George Antoniadis said he chose the SPn because it offers superior range and speed, while maintaining the flexible runway performance and sound operating economics of the Pilatus PC-12.

The deal is Grob’s first SPn sale to a fractional operator. Olver said that the German manufacturer had previously been wary of selling into this part of the business aviation market. “We didn’t want to tie up a large part of our [order] backlog at reduced prices to people interested in having delivery positions to trade,” he said. Grob has now been holding talks with fractional operators outside the U.S.

The $7.9 million SPn offers six-passenger range of up to 1,800 nm and a maximum cruise speed of 415 ktas. It has a balanced fuel length of 3,000 feet at maximum takeoff weight. Grob is hoping to reduce this by adding ground spoilers to the inboard section of the wing and the existing large Fowler flaps. Vref speed at maximum landing weight is 100 knots, and the airframer intends to have the aircraft approved for use on the short-field, steep approaches of London City Airport, Lugano in Switzerland and St. Tropez next year.

Grob has sold more than 70 SPns, insisting on taking a “substantial” nonrefundable deposit from buyers. About 50 percent of these sales have been made in North America, with 30 percent coming from Europe and the rest from other markets such as the Middle East. Apart from fleet sales to larger operators, most orders have been from people currently operating turboprop equipment such as the Hawker Beechcraft King Airs–a replacement pattern that was exactly what Grob had in mind when it launched the program in June 2005.  

Grob Boosts SPn Sales and Support Network

Grob has added Aero Air of Hillsboro, Ore., to its network of SPn authorized service facilities in North America. The other service centers are the Stevens Aviation facilities at Greenville, S.C., and Denver, as well as the Landmark Aviation FBOs at Springfield, Ill.; Los Angeles; and Houston. Aero Air will focus primarily on operators in the northwestern states, including Alaska.

The airframer has just opened its new North American headquarters in Portsmouth, N.H., and the site is the hub of the company’s sales and support operation in North America.

Grob has also appointed Sunwests Aviation as SPn sales representative for western Canada. With bases in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, Sunwest is involved in aircraft charter, sales, management, maintenance, air ambulance and cargo operations. It has a fleet of 40 aircraft and employs 200 people.