At a recent International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference on global navigation and oceanic operations, IBAC director general Donald Spruston outlined worldwide corporate activities to a primarily airline-oriented audience. He stressed his organization’s continuing need to be involved in the development of oceanic standards and procedures and in the implementation and planning process. “The business aviation community,” he said, “is prepared to work with other users, service providers and others in designing the system for the future.”
The main thrust of the conference, held in Banff, Canada, centered on current and future technologies, such as FANS, ADS, CPDLC and RVSM, which are gradually being introduced in various oceanic areas around the world. As one speaker emphasized, oceanic airspace is a much better proving ground for these technologies than the domestic environment.
Benefits for Whom?
But Spruston said their apparent benefits held potential drawbacks for the corporate aviation community, hence IBAC’s strong interest in being closely involved in the overall planning process, and its call for the early establishment of a single set of global standards without regional differences. “Corporate aircraft go where the company’s business takes place, and that could mean the North Atlantic today, and the South Pacific tomorrow,” he noted.
Spruston pointed out that with more than 20,000 jets flying today–11,600 of them corporate jets–the worldwide corporate fleet is now numerically larger than the airlines, although nowhere near as visible. Not only do business aircraft fly fewer hours annually than commercial aircraft, but they operate predominantly away from the major hubs. On the other hand, while they make up only 4 percent of the total traffic on the North Atlantic, they represent more than half of the traffic at or above FL 410 on that route, a clear indication of the corporate fleet’s capability. Yet the roughly 11,000 corporate Atlantic crossings made each year are actually conducted by some 2,000 different aircraft, or approximately 5.5 crossings per year per aircraft, again underlining the much lower annual utilization of business airplanes.
Looking ahead, Spruston forecast that over the next 10 years approximately 6,470 jets would be delivered to the worldwide corporate fleet, somewhere between 600 and 700 per year. Last year IBAC predicted 650 would be shipped, but 769 were actually delivered. Of the estimated total, 1,470 are expected to be large-cabin, ultra-long-range intercontinental types, while a further 650 would be super-midsize aircraft with oceanic capabilities. He therefore forecast “a steady increase in the number of business aviation oceanic operations into the foreseeable future.”
Yet despite these levels of actual operations, coupled with extensive IBAC participation in standards development at ICAO, RTCA and other bodies, Spruston said it is impractical for business aircraft to become involved in major system flight trials due to the unpredictability of their routings. And, while noting that new business aircraft usually carried the best avionics available in preparation for future CNS/ATM applications, Spruston questioned whether there is “a clear and unequivocal vision of how that new system will operate.” He cautioned that companies do not want to find they have invested in equipment that may not be part of tomorrow’s CNS/ATM system.
In looking ahead to future implementation of a common global standard, Spruston also advocated a phased approach, where stringent equipment requirements should not be imposed until airspace congestion becomes the driver. Similarly, the oceanic regions are large enough, with congestion only at peak periods, to allow flexibility in permitting non-compliant aircraft to have operational “windows of opportunity,” rather than being arbitrarily excluded.
He noted that strategic lateral offsets to the upwind side of track should also be approved to protect smaller corporate aircraft from upset due to wake turbulence. Other innovative concepts in oceanic airspace should also be examined, Spruston said, to better assist operators of business aircraft, most of which fly the routes only two or three times per year.