EBACE Convention News

SJ30-2 took a long, circuitous flight path to EBACE 2006

 - November 29, 2006, 10:15 AM

Twenty years after it was conceived by legendary aircraft designer Ed Swearingen, the Sino-Swearingen SJ30-2 is making its European debut here at EBACE. In its long march to the market, the seven-seat jet finally received a type certificate from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in October. Last month it rounded the approval process off with clearance for flight into known-icing conditions and for its cabin configuration.

The first delivery is to be made next month, by which time the U.S. manufacturer will need to have received its production certificate. The first production aircraft is going to an undisclosed customer based in San Antonio, Texas, where Sino-Swearingen is headquartered. It will be used as a North American demonstrator aircraft when not flying for the client.

European certification of the SJ30-2 is not expected to be complete until the first quarter of next year–up to 17 months later than the U.S. process, despite the fact that European authorities and the FAA have bilateral agreements in place to accept each other’s certifications. In fact, Sino-Swearingen received officials from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) at its factory for the first time only in December.

What sets the SJ30-2 apart from other light jets is its range, speed and performance at altitude. Carrying four people, the twinjet (with NBAA IFR reserves) can fly up to 2,500 nm–about 1,000 nm farther than its closest rivals. Flying west out of Paris, the aircraft can reach most of North America with a fuel stop in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It also means that the jet can fly nonstop from much of Europe to just about anywhere in the Middle East.

The SJ30-2 has a high-speed cruise of Mach 0.83, dropping to Mach 0.78 for long-range missions. This translates into a 50- to 90-knot advantage over several competitors.

With a 12 psi pressurization system, the SJ30-2 offers sea-level pressurization up to 41,000 feet and 1,600 feet at its 49,000-foot service ceiling. While reducing passenger fatigue, this more specifically makes the aircraft suitable for emergency medical transportation.

“Nothing in this class of aircraft does this; nothing compares,” said Mike Creed, sales director of Action Aviation, the UK-based group which is distributor for the SJ30-2 in 66 countries outside North America. Action has placed deposit-backed orders for no fewer than 159 SJ30s–almost two-thirds of the total reported order book of 260 units. It expects to take six years to sell this batch of jets and is due to receive its first two deliveries at the end of this year. One of these aircraft will be a demonstrator for Action Aviation and the other will go to an undisclosed UK client. Deliveries of what Creed calls “the pocket rocket” will begin to other parts of Europe next year.

One of the reasons Sino-Swearingen was not able to begin deliveries after receiving its initial FAA type certificate last October was that it had yet to complete clearance for the aircraft’s standard cabin configuration and for flights into known-icing. But another key factor was that the company’s Taiwanese backers–the Sino Aerospace Investment Corp., which joined forces with Swearingen Aircraft in January 1995–would not fund the necessary ramping up of production capability until the type certificate was in hand.

To date, Sino-Swearingen has spent about $500 million on the SJ30-2 development, most of it since 1995. The program was first conceived in 1983, around the time when the youngest engineers working on today’s new generation light jet programs were in kindergarten.

The delay, and slow start to production, could be significant because it means new customers cannot get delivery slots until after rival models have completed certification later this year and into 2007. After two decades in development, and several false starts, the SJ30-2 might have expected to reach the market well ahead of its competition and then hit the ground running.

Sino-Swearingen intends to build between 10 and 15 aircraft this year, rising to 30 to 40 next year and up to 100 in 2008. The San Antonio facility currently employs around 600 people and is staffing up.

The purchase price of the SJ30-2 for delivery this year is $6.195 million. Action Aviation said it is trying to get this price held at least until the end of next year.

The current completions plan is for cabin equipment made by suppliers to be installed in San Antonio. Eventually, Action Aviation wants to receive the aircraft green and have the completions done at yet-to-be determined contractors.

In March, Sino-Swearingen announced the selection of Stevens Aviation of Greenville, South Carolina, as its first factory-authorized service center. The airframer is now negotiating to appoint other partners for an international network of product support facilities.

Initially, pilot training will be conducted on factory aircraft and the FAA has just approved the SJ30-2 syllabus. Beyond this, customer crews will be trained on their own aircraft as part of the purchase price. Sino-Swearingen is in talks with leading manufacturers about developing full-flight simulators for the type.

SJ30 customers are being offered a total care package providing nose-to-tail maintenance for $340 per flight hour covering all scheduled and unscheduled maintenance for the airframe and engines; avionics (Honeywell’s Primus Epic suite); mandatory service bulletins; airworthiness directives; tires and brakes; loaner engines for up to 50 flight hours; and labor for the removal and replacement of engines.

Sino-Swearingen estimates that, in the U.S., direct operating costs for the SJ30-2 can be as low as $765 per hour, including 102 gallons of fuel (based on max range operations at 45,000 feet), parts, labor and engine reserves. The DOC in Europe would undoubtedly be higher.

Action Aviation’s huge distribution territory spans the whole of Europe, the Middle East and the former republics of the Soviet Union. Its head office is at London Luton Airport and it also has offices in Dubai, Paris, Switzerland and California.

Creed said he has just taken an order from a customer in Kazakhstan, who has not even seen the SJ30-2 but was immediately convinced by long-legged range that will propel him to key business destinations in Europe. Action Aviation is working on a plan to offer fractional ownership of the SJ30, with three owners sharing each aircraft.

FAA certification of the SJ30-2 allows for single-pilot operations. The aircraft’s seven seats include two in the cockpit and a belted toilet seat. The main cabin–which can be partitioned off from the toilet, galley/cloakroom and cockpit–offers four spacious seats and the jet isn’t generally expected to carry more than that number of passengers. The fully reclining club-four seats can be converted into a flat double-bed and each seat comes with individual cabin temperature controls as standard.

Apart from its powerplant (a pair of Williams-Rolls FJ44-2A turbofans with combined thrust of 4,600 pounds), much of the SJ30-2’s cutting-edge performance comes from a fighter-like 32-degree-sweep wing, as well as both leading edge slats and Fowler flaps that increase the wing area and allow for slow-speed characteristics. The aircraft has a stall speed of 91 knots and a balanced-field landing distance of 3,585 feet (based just on the flaps and without taking into account the possible shorter distance made possible by deploying spoilers).

Here at EBACE, Action Aviation is holding technical briefings on the SJ30-2 each day of the show.