NBAA 2012 Shines Despite Weather Woes

 - December 2, 2012, 1:05 AM
Showalter Flying Service once again played host to the static display at Orlando Executive Airport, and nearly 100 business aircraft crowded the FBO’s ramp. NBAA positioned a second static display at the convention center, where visitors could check out pistons, turboprops and some smaller light jets. (Photo: Mariano Rosales)

The slow and destructive passage of Hurricane Sandy before the 65th NBAA Convention and Tradeshow opened in Orlando on October 30 generated great concern about the safety of travelers and worry about what they would find when they returned home to the Northeast. Although New York-area airports opened in time for return flights, many worried about widespread power outages, severe water damage, destroyed infrastructure and ongoing challenges finding out anything about local facilities because so much of the cellphone network was compromised. A day after the show, queries on NBAA’s Air Mail system about how to contact FBOs at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, N.Y., or whether partially flooded Teterboro Airport was back in business indicated that normal life remained out of reach. Meanwhile, general aviation came to the rescue, with volunteers flying people and supplies to hard-hit areas. These efforts were coordinated via the NBAA’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Operator (Hero) network, once again demonstrating the flexibility and speed that general aviation offers during natural disaster recoveries.

Despite the hurricane’s domination of the headlines, NBAA delivered a solid and well attended convention. Some speakers and attendees from the Northeast could not travel because of the hurricane, while others made their way via last-minute charters. NBAA reported that there were 25,150 people in attendance, down from 26,077 at last year’s show in Las Vegas, but up from the 24,206 that attended in 2010. Exhibitor numbers dropped to 1,073 from 1,106 last year, but the number of booth spaces in Orlando was higher, at 4,361.

A highlight this year was dedication of the convention to Neil Armstrong, who passed away in August. According to NBAA, Armstrong “was remembered not only for his numerous achievements as an astronaut and pilot [but also for] his efforts to help the business aviation industry.” Added NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, “Neil Armstrong was a very humble giant. He never sought the spotlight, but when responsibility called, when challenges arose, Neil Armstrong always stepped forward. That was true for our country and it’s certainly been true for our industry.”

Slim Pickings

In comparison with previous years, this year’s NBAA Convention was light on new aircraft announcements, with nothing that wasn’t just an improvement on previous models. Cessna did deliver one surprise, a fuselage mockup of a conceptual light jet that seems to fit between Embraer’s Phenom 100 and 300, so perhaps a preemptive strike at a possible Phenom 200.

Cessna invited attendees to view the mockup and take a survey, similar to what the company did at EAA AirVenture in July with a single-engine turboprop mockup. The light jet fuselage at Cessna’s NBAA booth had seats for eight, presumably one pilot and seven passengers. In back was a club-four arrangement, with a two-place divan (not for takeoff and landing) opposite the entry door. There are also facing seats that could be occupied by passengers during takeoff and landing, then they would probably migrate to the divan in flight. The cabin height is about five feet eight inches, and the floor is a drop-down design, not flat like the Phenom’s. Windows looked about the same size as those in CitationJets. There was no apparent brand of avionics in the cockpit, but a single display shaped to fit the entire instrument panel with few knobs or buttons, possibly indicating a hoped-for trend in avionics design.

Cessna had another surprise up its sleeve: the new version of the Sovereign that was on display at the Orlando Executive Airport static park. The new Sovereign features winglets, more powerful engines and Garmin’s G5000 flight deck.

In a move that is widely appreciated, Cessna has dropped the confusing “Ten” moniker from the model name of the latest and stretched and re-flight-decked (G5000) version of the Citation X. Like Apple’s iPads, which now carry no number to signify their rank in the model lineup, Cessna has now branded two new jets with their original names. And we’re wondering if more product-line consolidation and/or rebranding is coming under Cessna president and CEO Scott Ernest’s leadership. The other model that retains its original name is the new Sovereign, eliminating any questions about whether it would become the Sovereign 1, or “+” or something unpronounceable like “SovereiNG.”

Boeing Business Jets confirmed plans to offer the BBJ Max, a re-engined version of the 737-based BBJ using CFM International’s new Leap 1-B engines. And Dassault Falcon introduced the Falcon 2000LXS, which will replace the 2000LX in 2014. While not making a formal announcement, Airbus marketing v-p Francois Chazelle told AIN that the new-engine option (neo) versions of its single-aisle Airbus Corporate Jet ACJ319/320 series will be available in the 2018 time frame. The company has not made a decision on offering the neo option for the ACJ318, he said.

Hawker Beechcraft announced that it has formally shut down jet production and, as part of its efforts to recover from bankruptcy, will focus on turboprop and piston aircraft. The move means that Hawker 4000 and Premier IA owners no longer have certain warranty and factory-sponsored SupportPlus program support, although Hawker Beechcraft Global Customer Support will continue to offer maintenance services for all of the company’s airplanes. In a sign of the times, Hawker Beechcraft brought a Hawker 4000 to the NBAA static display at Orlando Executive Airport. This was the company’s demonstrator, and it was for sale to the highest bidder. AIN has learned that the sale price was to be a huge discount from the new price of $22.9 million.

The company also announced a new name that capitalizes on the iconic Beechcraft brand. The first new model to come from the Beechcraft design team will be a turboprop between the King Air 250 and 90. Beechcraft also unveiled plans for a single-engine turboprop using the Premier I fuselage and hinted at a piston single between the Baron and Bonanza.

Embraer reported significant progress toward preparing its newest jet, the Legacy 500, for first flight by year-end and. No word was revealed about whether Embraer is working on a competitor to Cessna’s new light jet mockup, but if Embraer is, then it could be a new Phenom 200, although Embraer abandoned its U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reservation of the “Phenom 200” brand name on September 24.

Gulfstream celebrated the certification of two new models–the G280 and G650–at the convention, and the company flew five airplanes to Orlando Executive on a 50-50 blend of Honeywell’s Green Jet Fuel biofuel and jet-A.

Bombardier brought its newest jet, the Learjet 75, to the NBAA show, giving attendees a close look at the airplane’s Garmin G5000-based Vision flight deck. The first all-composite Learjet 85, meanwhile, is being assembled at Bombardier’s Learjet headquarters in Wichita, in preparation for entry into service next year.

Technology Developments

In a clear sign that the transition to glass cockpits has reached a tipping point, three new LCD-based standby display systems were unveiled at this year’s NBAA Convention. Two are entirely new, from Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S) and Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics, and one is a new remote version from long-time standby display maker L-3 Avionics.

The new IS&S integrated multifunction standby unit (IMSU) for fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft delivers altitude, airspeed, slip/skid and navigation data in a single display. The unit features a high-resolution LED-backlit LCD, and the backlighting automatically adjusts to match cockpit lighting. IS&S president Shahram Askapour said the unit is suitable for retrofit and OEM installations. It includes an integral air data module for independent display of altitude, airspeed and Mach number and has an optional battery module that provides one hour of operation in the event of electrical failure.

Mid-Continent’s new MD302 standby attitude module (SAM) provides attitude, altitude, airspeed and slip information in a small package (measuring just two inches by five inches and weighing 1.6 pounds). The $10,600 MD302 can be mounted horizontally or vertically to fit into tiny spaces on crowded instrument panels, and it contains two LED-backlit LCDs, one displaying attitude and the other airspeed and altitude. Battery backup is built-in and lasts at least an hour. Elliott Aviation is offering the MD302 to buyers of its Garmin G1000 upgrade for King Air turboprops and has already installed one in its King Air demonstrator.

L-3’s new version of the GH-3900 standby instrument is the widescreen GH-3900RSU. The new version consists of a thin display that can be installed in shallow instrument panels and a separate remote sensor unit (RSU) that can be mounted in any convenient space. The 4.2-inch diagonal display is larger than the 3.2-inch diagonal display on the GH-3900, yet it is only 1.5 inches deep, versus about 8.5 inches for the GH-3900.

Also new on the avionics front is the first aftermarket retrofit of an enhanced flight vision system, announced by Jetcraft Avionics. The first EFVS upgrade is under way on a Bombardier Challenger 604 and employs an Elbit-Kollsman EVS II enhanced vision system combined with an Elbit AT-HUD head-up display.

While airframe technology hasn’t seen much beyond the further application of composites, both Aviation Partners and Tamarack Aerospace brought novel winglet developments to the NBAA show. The Aviation Partners booth was dominated by the huge scimitar blended winglet, which looks like a fanciful sculpture but has actually flown on a Boeing Business Jet. While flight tests show a “measurable speed increase and drag decrease,” according to the company, there are no current plans to offer the scimitar winglet in a production version.

Tamarack Aerospace, however, has concrete plans to offer its new active winglet technology for the CitationJet and eventually other jets. Tamarack flew its active-winglet-equipped CitationJet to Orlando and gave demo rides during the show. Active winglets include Tamarack active control surfaces mounted near the winglets; the surfaces move to counterbalance bending loads caused by winglets. Tamarack expects to certify active winglets on the Cirrus SR22 early next year and the CitationJet by the end of next year. Price for the CitationJet mod is $196,000. During the flight to Orlando, the active winglet-equipped CitationJet climbed out of Wichita to FL410 in 30 minutes, and from Montgomery, Ala., to FL410 in 32 minutes. This is lower than the AFM performance number of 43 minutes, according to Tamarack, “and typical time to climb to FL410 is 55 minutes [for a CJ].”

In Other News…

While Hurricane Sandy was a major topic at this year’s NBAA Convention, the show carried on. Some exhibitors noted that foot traffic in the convention center hall was lighter than they expected, while others were well satisfied with the amount of attention they received from attendees.

During the show’s first-day opening session, representative John Mica (R-Fla.) emphasized that ongoing disputes about the value of business aviation in the nation’s capital remain a key issue. “Some people just don’t get it, that business aviation is one of the great economic engines of our economy and of a free-enterprise system,” he said. Mica was joined during the opening session by Bill Crutchfield, chairman of Crutchfield Corp.; Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine; Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.); former Cessna chairman Russ Meyer; golfer Arnold Palmer; aviator Clay Lacy; and astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. At the second-day opening session, the Tuskegee Airmen were honored with the NBAA Meritorious Service Award.

Various efforts raised significant funds to help Corporate Angel Network in its mission to provide empty business jet seats for cancer patients traveling for treatment. Phillips 66 Aviation presented a check for $21,000 for the charity, the amount generated by the Corporate Angel Award program, which recognizes flight departments that donate seats. The award sponsors are Phillips 66, Safe Flight Instrument and McGraw Hill. At the annual NBAA/Corporate Angel Network gala, $371,000 was raised for CAN. Dow Chemical received the “Angel of the Year” award, presented by Gene Cernan.

Of course, the NBAA Convention was not just about the exhibit hall. Many of the education sessions had standing-room-only crowds, including events covering iPads in the cockpit and business aviation developments in Asia. Also well attended were Light Business Airplane Conference sessions and an accompanying single-pilot safety standdown.

To generate enthusiasm in future aviators, Barrington Irving delivered a keynote speech during NBAA’s career day. Irving, the youngest person and first African American to fly solo around the world, also announced plans for a world-girdling trip to inspire kids. He is inviting some to join him in a Hawker 400XPr “Classroom in the Sky” donated by Hawker Beechcraft. MU-2 manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America is sponsoring Irving’s U.S. campaign to spur the interest of young people in science and math education. “The U.S. is 27th and 24th in science and math,” he said. “I want to empower young people, through aviation, in terms of math and science so we can improve.”