The PlaneSense fractional ownership program has ordered 25 Grob SPns, with deliveries for what is to be the program’s biggest deal to date 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’s new jets will complement its existing fleet of 30 Pilatus PC-12 turboprop singles. This month, the operator will move into a new purpose-built facility in Portsmouth, N.H., from its existing headquarters in Manchester. The facility will include full support capability for the SPn. Grob Aerospace’s North American headquarters is also located in Portsmouth.
According to PlaneSense president and CEO George Antoniadis, he chose the SPn because it offers good range and speed, while maintaining the flexible runway performance and sound operating economics of the PC-12. “Plane Sense owners told us they wanted an aircraft that would shorten flight times to Florida, the Bahamas and the Midwest while opening up Bermuda as a destination,” he said. All of the program’s clients are based east of the Mississippi River.
The deal marks Grob’s first SPn sale to a fractional operator. Grob chief executive Niall Olver said that the German manufacturer has 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 for people interested in having delivery positions to trade,” he said. Grob has now been holding talks with fractional operators outside the U.S., he said.
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 balanced field length of 3,000 feet at maximum takeoff weight, and Grob is hoping to reduce this with the help of ground spoilers added 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 next year for use on the short-field, steep approaches of London City Airport, Lugano in Switzerland and St. Tropez on the French Riviera.
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 (see box), 30 percent in Europe and the rest in other markets such as the Middle East. Apart from fleet sales to larger operators, most orders placed to date have been from people currently operating turboprops such as King Airs–exactly what Grob had in mind when it launched the program in June 2005.
Possible Certification Delay
The twinjet is due to complete type certification at the end of the second quarter of next year. However, 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 at least this week, prompting Grob to review whether certification could slip further–a decision that was to be made soon after the NBAA Convention. The program has already been pushed back about nine months by the crash last year of its second prototype, with the original certification targeted for the end of the third quarter of this year.
The decision about whether or how long to delay the certification 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 believes that the gap between certification by the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency might be shorter than anticipated.
Olver explained that the delay in flying the third prototype has been caused by the need to relocate some systems and as well as by delayed deliveries from key suppliers. Grob has taken advantage of the delay to update the flight management system, a task that otherwise would been done later in the program.
A fourth prototype is due to join the flight-test program during the fourth quarter of this year. It will be dedicated to proving the SPn’s Honeywell Primus Apex avionics suite. The first prototype has logged more than 400 flight hours and recently completed icing trials.
According to Olver, the Apex cockpit has much in common with the more expensive Primus Epic suite but without the 15-inch displays. “It is a lot like the EASy cockpit in the [Dassault] Falcon 7X, and there is good scope for upgrades,” he said. SPn operators can take the optional enhanced-vision system, and Grob expects to offer a flight-vision system which could avoid the need for a head-up display when working in tandem with the enhanced-vision system. The manufacturer plans to offer an autothrottle in the future, and launch a derivative aircraft before the SPn is certified.
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 is due to be completed by the end of this month.