NBAA 2001: Convention Report

 - May 28, 2008, 9:18 AM

While few seemed quite sure what to expect from the postponed NBAA Convention, those who made the trip to New Orleans last month generally expressed satisfaction with the number of attendees and the atmosphere of the show overall. The rescheduled event was held December 12 to 14 inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as the rest of the city was launching into its unique brand of holiday revelry. Most visitors who arrived to attend a packed schedule of seminars and panel discussions dealing with pervasive new threats to security and airspace/airport access were not disappointed.

In spite of the convention’s smaller size and a somewhat subdued mood, the business of business aviation was hard to temper as airframe makers showed off their latest airplanes, manufacturers unveiled a slew of products and buyers showed up with cash in hand to put down deposits for new airplanes.

Bombardier’s Continental made both its public and NBAA Convention debut simultaneously, arriving at Lakefront Airport for a brief introduction inside the hangar at FBO Million Air before flying back to Wichita to resume flight testing. At press time a fourth Continental was about to make its first flight, and a fifth was expected to join the program next month.

Another convention first was the arrival of Embraer’s Legacy, which flew in for its North American introduction with a freshly minted Brazilian CTA certificate and a previously announced firm order for 25 jets from Phoenix-based Swift Aviation. In what company vice chairman Sam Hill called an “incredible surprise,” Chicago-based Indigo Air placed a firm order during the convention for 25 airplanes and took options on 50 more in a deal that could be worth $1.1 billion. Indigo operates a scheduled Part 135 “public charter” service between Chicago Midway and Teterboro (N.J.) Airport, and has plans to expand the service to other city pairs.

Surprisingly, Embraer and Fairchild Dornier had the largest exhibits on the show floor. In all there were 678 booths, though many of these were smaller than they would have been had the originally scheduled convention gone ahead in September. Still, organizers expressed elation over the fact that 11,738 made the trip to New Orleans. NBAA had been expecting about 10,000 attendees at the rescheduled show, down significantly from recent past shows, which have drawn close to 30,000.

Notable no-shows were Gulfstream, Raytheon Aircraft, Cessna and Honeywell, which all chose to save money by staying home.

The absence of some of the larger players made room for companies vying to carve inroads into business aviation. Airbus was clearly a heavyweight at NBAA 2001. The European airframe maker’s corporate jetliner v-p, Richard Gaona, and an entourage of sales people and pilots arrived from France in a new Airbus Corporate Jetliner. Three pilots flew the ACJ’s 11 passengers and three flight attendants a great-circle distance of 4,250 nm nonstop from Toulouse, France, to New Orleans in 10 hr 45 min. The aircraft, based on the Airbus A319 airliner, is fully certified by the JAA for public transport. It is owned by Aero Services based at Le Bourget Airport near Paris and offered for charter.

Airbus also formally announced the launch of the World Ranger, a corporate version of the A340-200 with a reach of more than 8,000 nm. The softening market for widebody airliners has left Airbus with excess capacity, which the airframe maker will use for manufacture of World Rangers and ACJs. Although the World Ranger currently does not have any orders, Airbus’ Gaona said the company would be satisfied with two orders per year for the A340 variant.

‘Firm Order Mode’

Dassault Falcon Jet announced it has moved into the “firm order mode” with its developmental Falcon 7X trijet. John Rosanvallon, DFJ president, said the company had letters of intent and deposits for 40 copies of the airplane, which was introduced last summer at the Paris Air Show. Rosanvallon said those aircraft are locked in at a $35.65 million price, with a $1.5 million increase now in place for subsequent buyers. The company anticipates 7X variants will be developed over time, each of which would bracket the 5,700-nm range of the 7X.

EADS Socata told convention delegates that an order for six cargo versions of its TBM 700B has convinced the company that there is a sizeable market for the airplane. When completed, the TBM 700B Freighter will feature a cabin freight volume of 123 cu ft and reinforced floors that permit a useful load of 1,600 lb.

Launch customer Quest Diagnostics of Teterboro, N.J., ordered the first half-dozen freighters to replace its aging piston-powered fleet of Cessna 310s used to support a national network of medical labs and patient service centers. Oxford Aviation of Maine will integrate cabin tiedowns for three restraining nets, install new cabin liners, improve lighting and obtain the STC. Banyan Air Services of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will modify the avionics to meet the operator’s requirements.

Socata Aircraft is marketing the TBM 700B Freighter to cargo operators flying mainly older piston twins whose cost of operation and sub-200-kt cruise speed no longer meet operators’ requirements. EADS estimates that about 25,000 aircraft of this type are currently in use in North America.

Sikorsky said that the 25,500-lb, 18-seat S-92 is “gathering momentum” toward its anticipated FAA approval later this year, with deliveries to start next year. With aircraft Numbers 4 and 5 now in flight test at the company’s West Palm Beach, Fla. development flight center, the S-92 program had flown a total of 845 hr through early last month.

Number 4, which is in final production configuration, will also be used to develop data for the FlightSafety pilot training simulator. It includes a new Rockwell Collins glass cockpit, as well as a cabin length increase of 16 in., reduced-height tail pylon and relocated horizontal stabilizer.

Canadian operator Cougar Helicopters has reserved the first production S-92 and has signed an agreement for up to four more. The second production unit is to go to Era Aviation, which has also opted for two others. Agreements have also been signed with Helijet of Canada, Aircontactgruppen AS of Norway and Copterline of Finland.

Flexjet Flexes Its Muscle

With a bow to the Far East, Bombardier said it would expand its presence in that region with Bombardier Flexjet Asia, a partnership with Jet Asia, Shandong Airlines and Subic International Air Charter, but it does not involve fractional ownership. At the same time, the Canadian company said it would close its base in Copenhagen and consolidate it into the Flexjet European headquarters in London.

Flexjet Asia will provide 24-hr charter access to Bombardier aircraft by telephone, Web site or though Bombardier’s online Skyjet charter booking agency–in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Charter aircraft availability will be consolidated at the network’s Hong Kong and Washington hubs.

While Bombardier sees a “significant” Asian market for business aircraft with considerable growth potential, it acknowledged there is more demand for charter than ownership. The demand exists for tailored charter service and a broader range of aircraft choice, delivered in a more economic manner, the company said.

Bombardier also announced in New Orleans that it would restructure its Flexjet Europe program and modernize its fleet, including a reduced-cost tariff structure and formation of an alliance of partners to make a greater number of aircraft available for charter in Europe. Among charter partners named were DaimlerChrysler, Jet Connection and Gold Air.

As part of the plan, Flexjet’s flight operations will be consolidated into the Flexjet Europe sales and marketing headquarters near London Heathrow Airport.

Also on the fractional front, NetJets announced it would be branching out into the supplemental lift market. “We’ve always believed supplemental lift would play a major role in the fractional business and we are now going to focus resources in that area,” Raynor Reavis, senior v-p of Executive Jet NetJets, told AIN.

NetJets plans to go direct to existing flight departments to make the case for adding fractional ownership to support their growth, manage peak load requirements and reduce turndowns. Jim Christiansen and Todd Spangler have become national account vice presidents to spearhead the effort. Reavis said the company’s three-year goal is to present the idea of fractional ownership to meet supplemental lift needs to every major U.S. flight department. “We’d like every substantial flight department to have at least a one-sixteenth share,” he said.

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) announced it has acquired the Aviation Training Institute from Aviation Resource Group International (ARGI). According to James Coyne, NATA’s president, ARGI has “set the standard of excellence since 1997 with its professional line-service training program.” The organization is incorporating ATI’s training materials into its own Safety 1st program. “By expanding the program we are making the reduction of ground-handling accidents our number-one safety priority,” Coyne said.

NATA also released its industry forecast at NBAA. It looked at the major trends affecting aviation service businesses in the next five to 10 years. The study focused on three areas: fractional ownership; airport and airway capacity; and technological innovations. It found that much of the growth in business aviation in the preceding three years was by fractionals, and forecasts this segment will double in the next five years and then grow approximately 50 percent annually over the subsequent five years.

The most unusual announcement at NBAA was made by Andover, Mass.-based AeroCopter. The company introduced the Humming, a concept design for a new type of aircraft. The Humming is a widebody fixed-wing aircraft pierced by a shaft, around which an 80-ft-diameter rotating ring–the rotor–spins longitudinally. It encircles the aircraft and supports four fanjet engines controlled by artificial intelligence and wireless communication.

Flight control is to be achieved by a combination of rotational airfoils, rudder, flaperons and vertical and horizontal tail rotors.

Upbeat Message for Bizav

Keynote speaker August Busch III put those in attendance in the right frame of mind when he declared that aviation has played a key role in the success of Anheuser-Busch Companies. An avid pilot who is type-rated in his company’s airplane, Busch said that company employees are able to visit multiple destinations and return home the same day, which maximizes productivity, minimizes costs and, “most important, allows our people to spend time with their families.”

Busch said that Anheuser-Busch’s Falcons and Bell helicopters provide efficiency, flexibility, security and enhanced communication. “Despite the high-tech age we live in,” he said, “face-to-face communication will never be replaced. In fact, I think that is the key to success in any business.”

As promised, a number of special security sessions were held at the show, and as expected all were well attended. At one session on personal and cockpit security, Pete Agur, president and founder of the Van Allen Group, argued that now that terrorists have used commandeered commercial aircraft as weapons, they will probably turn elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, we are a target for the next opportunity,” he warned, adding that the next attack could be low-tech like the truck bomb in Oklahoma City, but using an airplane. “A business aircraft could be taken and loaded with whatever they wanted.”