2012 Newsmakers

For the second year, AIN’s Newsmakers feature is a visual buffet as much as a recap of what made headlines in business aviation in 2012. Announcements of genuinely new aircraft were scarce, but significant derivatives were unveiled and some important programs passed the hurdle of type certification. Some of the year’s headlines turned out to be a tad optimistic, as the recession continued to keep some segments of bizav bumping along the bottom. But there were high spots for some bizjet builders as two operators signed record multibillion-dollar orders.

In tune with the times, this Newsmakers “infographic” is posted on ainonline.com, a medium that opens up myriad links to the fuller story as told by AIN at the time the news broke.

Italy Approves Big Tax on Business Aircraft (Later Relaxed)
January 4, 2012

“Soak the rich, wherever they live” probably seemed like a good idea at the time for the Italian government, which adopted plans to slap a hefty tax (up to $385,000) on business jets of all nationalities that lingered on the cash-strapped nation’s soil for more than 48 consecutive hours. But later in the year, recognizing that this Robin Hood approach might sit well with the masses but would only alienate the world’s wealthy, the government moved the threshold to 45 days rather than 48 hours, effectively eliminating the levy for aircraft not based in Italy.

Bell Helicopter Launches 525 Relentless
February 12, 2012

At HAI’s Heli-Expo in Dallas, Bell riveted showgoers’ attention when it unveiled the 525 Relentless super-medium twin, the largest civil helicopter in the company’s history. The 18,000-pound-plus rotorcraft, aimed directly at the lucrative oil-and-gas worker transport market, will have a range of more than 400 nm, a speed of approximately 150 knots and an operational ceiling of 20,000 feet. Bell said it had been working on the design sporadically for the last decade. The helicopter will be powered by a pair of 1,800-shp GE CT7-2F1 turboshafts driving an all-composite five-blade main rotor. The cockpit will feature a Garmin G5000H avionics suite. The Relentless is slated to enter service in 2015.

Bell Relentless
First Full-blown ABACE Show a Big Success
March 27, 2012

The year 2012 will be remembered in business aviation circles as the time the segment finally gained traction in China, and the ABACE show, held in Shanghai, was the public proclamation of that achievement. Deals between western OEMs and suppliers and Chinese partners abounded last year. Nearly 160 exhibitors set up shop at ABACE, and on the static display there were 27 aircraft and eight exhibitor pavilions occupied by companies whose presence was too large for the 45,000-sq-ft space provided by host Shanghai Hawker Pacific Business Aviation Service. Membership in the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) had risen from 45 to 58 in the 12 months preceding the show.

Bell Relentless
Tornadoes wreak havoc at Wichita planemakers
April 14, 2012

While the tornadoes that churned through Wichita on April 14 caused no fatalities, they did leave a trail of destruction at the facilities of several OEMs operating there. Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing Wichita bore the brunt, with each manufacturer suffering damage to several buildings, along with an accompanying loss of electrical power, forcing both to close as the damage was assessed. In the following days, crews worked around the clock to effect repairs, allowing manufacturers to resume production in approximately a week. As a major Boeing subcontractor, Spirit builds virtually the entire fuselage for the 737 at its Wichita plant, as well as significant components for the 787 Dreamliner. Hawker Beechcraft saw damage to the roof of Plant IV, responsible for final assembly of its business jets and turboprops, but the company reported no interruption to its production schedule.

Superjet SSJ100 crashes on demo flight in Indonesia
May 9, 2012

A demonstration flight of a Sukhoi Superjet SSJ100 ended in disaster on May 9 when the regional jet crashed into a cliff face near Indonesia’s Mount Salak, some 60 miles south of Jakarta, killing all 45 people on board. The airplane had departed Jakarta’s Halim Perdana Kusuma Airport at 2 p.m. local time. Some 20 minutes into the planned 50-minute flight, the crew asked ATC for permission to descend to 6,000 feet from 10,000 feet. Soon afterward controllers lost radio contact. The aircraft’s arrival in Indonesia marked the fourth stop in a six-country Asian demonstration tour. A crewmember and passenger list released by Sukhoi included SSJ100 chief pilot Alexander Yablontsev and copilot Alexander Kocketkov, along with several airline executives, manufacturer representatives and reporters. Some two months after the crash, during July’s Farnborough International Airshow, the president of Sukhoi parent company United Aircraft, Mikhail Pogosyan, proclaimed that investigators had found no mechanical defects with the airplane. In late November, Indonesia’s civil aviation authority certified the SSJ100, ahead of a still-pending final report.

Cessna launches Citation Longitude
May 14, 2012

Cessna’s launch of the Citation Longitude at the EBACE show in Geneva was anticipated, given that the company had launched the Latitude six months earlier. The surprise was that the $25.9 million (2012) Longitude will be powered by the 11,000-pound thrust Snecma Silvercrest, the first application for that engine and a big win for Snecma. The Model 800 Longitude is a stretched version of the Latitude, with the same fuselage cross section but nine feet longer. The new jet will be Cessna’s largest, offering 4,000-nm range at Mach 0.82 and room for eight passengers, a full-fuel payload of 1,950 pounds and an mtow of 55,000 pounds. High-speed cruise is Mach 0.84 and maximum Mach operating number is 0.86. Cabin altitude at 45,000 feet is 6,000 feet. First flight is planned for 2016, followed by entry into service in 2017.

Bombardier unveils Learjet 70 and 75
May 14, 2012

Bombardier introduced new jets at the EBACE show in Geneva, the Learjet 70 and 75, which replace the 40XR and 45XR. Both the 70 and 75 are on track for entry into service early this year. The major changes on the two new jets are more powerful Honeywell TFE731-40BR engines, a new canted winglet design and a completely new flight deck, branded as Bombardier Vision and based on Garmin’s G5000 avionics suite, which features synthetic vision and dual touchscreen controllers. The Learjet 70 ($11.1 million) seats six passengers, while the 75 ($13.5 million) seats eight. Both also feature a new cabin management system using Ethernet technology by Lufthansa Technik with pop-up monitors at each seat, iPad control and LED lighting. Thanks to the new engines and winglets, the Learjet 70 and 75 will offer up to a 9-percent improvement in field performance and a 4-percent improvement in fuel efficiency.

Learjet 75
LightSquared files for bankruptcy
May 14, 2012

LightSquared, the would-be provider of 4G satellite broadband for everyone, had been making headlines before 2012 for its feud with the GPS industry and user community (which includes the Department of Defense), fueled by concerns that its signals in a nearby frequency band granted by the FCC would interfere with the weak signals on which the global positioning system depends. The GPS community therefore shed no tears on hearing that L2 had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 14. Subsequent events, however, suggest that writing off the upstart as a goner could be premature. By the fall, the stars appeared to be aligning for a revival of L2’s plans in a different part of the frequency spectrum. If nothing else, the LightSquared saga has prompted the GPS industry to consider adopting more robust measures to protect the system’s fragile signals from interference.

Eclipse Aerospace starts Model 550 production
June 1, 2012

Eclipse Aerospace restarted production of its iconic very light jet in June, and the new Model 550 will begin rolling off the company’s Albuquerque, N.M. assembly line by mid-year. Eclipse Aerospace has been busy supporting the 261 Eclipse 500s built by the original Eclipse Aviation, which folded in 2009. While the airframe and Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engines are substantially the same, the cockpit features the latest Innovative Solutions & Support Avio IFMS avionics suite (also available as an upgrade on the Model 500). New features on Avio IFMS include autothrottles and synthetic vision, and enhanced vision should be an option. The 550 has improved fit and finish and revisions to the engine pylon assembly that improve cabin heating at altitude. Eclipse is evaluating reducing the size of the large isotropic paint patches surrounding the dual static ports atop the nose (required for flight-into-known-icing approval) and a lighter windshield heating system.

Bombardier, Cessna win $9.6 billion bizjet order from NetJets
June 11, 2012

At a time when it seemed that gigantic orders by fractional-share operators were ancient history, NetJets announced the largest-ever order of general aviation aircraft. NetJets placed an order for up to 425 Bombardier and Cessna jets worth up to $9.6 billion. The order includes 75 Bombardier Challenger 300s (plus options on another 125), 25 Challenger 605s (plus options on 50 more) and 25 Cessna Citation Latitudes (plus options on an another 125). In October 2010, NetJets ordered 50 Embraer Phenom 300s and took an option for 70 more. A little more than a year ago, NetJets ordered 120 Bombardier Globals worth $6.7 billion (a firm order for 30 Global 5000s and 6000s and 20 Global 7000s and 8000s and options for 70 more). The new jets will replace some older NetJets airplanes and don’t necessarily reflect rapidly growing fractional sales, although the company expects sales to climb at a modest pace.

Pilot’s Bill of Rights flies through Senate
June 29, 2012

For pilots, PBR no longer conjures visions of a tall cool one. The Pilot’s Bill of Rights (PBR) was the brainchild of Sen. Jim Inhofe (D-Okla.) after the 10,000-hour general aviation pilot ran afoul of the long arm of FAA enforcers. Signed into law last summer, the PBR requires NTSB review of FAA enforcement actions to conform, to the extent practicable, with the Federal Rules of Evidence and Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Inhofe, who was nicked for landing on a closed runway, said his bill remedies many of the most serious deficiencies in the relationship between GA and the FAA, and ensures that pilots are, like everyone else, treated in a fair and equitable manner by the justice system. The law requires that in an FAA enforcement action, the FAA must grant the pilot all relevant evidence 30 days before a decision to proceed.

Air France 447 final accident report released
July 5, 2012

According to France’s BEA, the accident sequence began with “Temporary inconsistency between the measured airspeeds, likely following the obstruction of the pitot probes by ice crystals that led in particular to autopilot disconnection and a reconfiguration to alternate law,” and “inappropriate control inputs that destabilized the flight path.” Before the accident sequence of events began 2 hr 10 min 05 sec into the flight, the captain had left the cockpit, leaving two copilots at the controls. After the ice crystals obstructed the pitot probes, “The airplane’s flight path was not controlled by the two copilots,” the BEA noted. “They were rejoined [90 seconds] later by the captain, while the airplane was in a stall situation that lasted until the impact with the [Atlantic Ocean] at 2 hr 14 min 28 sec.” The BEA’s conclusion on the cause: “The crew’s failure to diagnose the stall situation and, consequently, the lack of any actions that would have made recovery possible.”

IRS issues final rule disallowing deductions
for non-business aircraft use
July 31, 2012

As part of an ongoing campaign to extract more tax money from business aircraft owners and users, the U.S. government attempted to force NetJets to pay federal excise taxes (FET) on fees paid by shareowners for NetJets to manage and maintain their aircraft, comprising $643 million in taxes and penalties. NetJets sued, accusing the IRS of improperly attempting to collect the $643 million; the government counter-sued, and that case was in private mediation as this issue went to press. However, last year’s FAA reauthorization funding bill provided relief, requiring fractional operators to pay an extra 14.1 cents per gallon surtax on top of existing general aviation fuel taxes. These operations don’t pay FET because the bill specifically identifies fractional flights as non-commercial. That doesn’t apply to management companies, which are still battling an IRS memo that tries to apply the FET to management fees. Meanwhile, on July 31 the IRS issued a final rule disallowing tax deductions for “entertainment” (non-business) use of business aircraft. The rules apply whether the company owns, leases or charters the aircraft.

Comair announces it will cease operations
by the end of September
July 31, 2012

Delta Air Lines subsidiary Comair flew its last passenger on September 29, marking the end of a 35-year run as one of the most recognizable names in the U.S. regional airline business. Saddled with an aging fleet and the costs associated with employing a relatively experienced roster of crewmembers, the company saw its fortunes sag with those of the industry in general, as high fuel prices render 50-seat jets unprofitable while major airlines gravitate to the cheapest feed capacity available.

The resulting “race to the bottom” that fellow regional Pinnacle Airlines described in an SEC filing has forced that Memphis-based carrier join American Eagle in declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 1. In a letter to all employees, Pinnacle CEO John Spanjers cited “significant cost and pilot seniority advantages” enjoyed by other Delta Connection carriers as the main reason the Memphis-based regional couldn’t compete effectively for more of Delta’s business. 

On September 5 Pinnacle’s Colgan Air turboprop division conducted its last revenue flight, adding another name to the list of defunct regional airlines.

Final Flights: Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk
on the moon, dies
August 25, 2012

First human to set foot on the moon (on July 20, 1969), promoter of business aviation, Neil Armstrong died at the age of 82. A model of modesty despite his fabled lunar achievement, Armstrong was an accomplished pilot for two decades before he commanded Apollo 11. He flew nearly 80 combat missions in Korea for the U.S. Navy in Grumman Panthers. He test flew the F-100 Super Sabre; Bell X-1B and X-5; Rogallo wings that led to the sport of hang gliding; NASA’s X-15, which he took to Mach 5.74 (just shy of 4,000 mph) and 207,500 feet; and he commanded Gemini 8, in which he was the first person to dock two spacecraft while in orbit.

Gulfstream G650 receives full FAA type certification
September 7, 2012

Within a span of just three days, Gulfstream Aerospace won certifications for both its super-midsize Gulfstream G280 and high-speed, ultra-long-range G650. The G280 crossed the certification finish line first on September 4, obtaining full FAA and Israeli approvals. It previously received provisional type certification from Israel’s CAAI on Dec. 29, 2011, and from the FAA on March 1. The G280, which has a range of 3,600 nm at Mach 0.80, features Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics and Honeywell HTF7250 engines. Meanwhile, on September 7, Gulfstream achieved full FAA certification for its wide-cabin G650, some 10 months after receiving provisional FAA approval. Notably, the G650 is Gulfstream’s first fly-by-wire business jet. Its performance specs include a 7,000-nm range at Mach 0.85 and 6,000 nm at Mach 0.90, as well as a top speed of Mach 0.925. The G650 sports Honeywell Primus Epic-based Planeview II avionics and Rolls-Royce BR725 turbofan engines.

The Carlyle Group announces agreement
to acquire Landmark Aviation
September 14, 2012

The Carlyle Group re-acquired Landmark Aviation from owners Houston-based Platform Partners and Chicago-based GTCR Golden Rauner for a reported $625 million. The private equity firm had previously owned the chain formerly known as Garrett/Piedmont-Hawthorne/Associated, which it rebranded as Landmark before selling it to Dubai Aerospace Enterprise in 2007. One of the industry’s largest FBO chains with 51 locations in the U.S., Canada and France, Landmark also operates an extensive network of MRO facilities and an aircraft charter/management fleet.

Avantair grounds entire Avantair fleet
to conduct safety checks
October 10, 2012

Clearwater, Fla.-based fractional provider Avantair “voluntarily” grounded its entire fleet of nearly 60 Piaggio Avantis, a move precipitated by a July incident in which an Avantair-operated Avanti shed an elevator in flight. As the subsequent NTSB investigation closed in on the elevator hardware - also the subject of a previous Airworthiness Directive–Avantair “decided in the caution of safety to voluntarily ground the fleet” and recheck the elevator hardware on each aircraft, as well as all maintenance documentation. The company began standing up the fleet a few days later, but the NTSB lead investigator then raised a red flag about the locking ability of reused lock nuts, at which point Avantair regrounded the entire fleet, replaced all of the locking nuts on the fleet’s elevators and investigated if any other similar hardware was reused during previous maintenance events. Three weeks later, on November 9, the fractional firm finally restarted operations.

Europe backs down with international ETS suspension
November 12, 2012

Something convinced the EU to back down from imposing its emissions trading scheme on aircraft operators for every mile of every flight to, from and within its territory. On November 12 the EU announced that it would suspend enforcement of ETS for international flights. Collectively, there was much persuasion to suspend the scheme: for example, the U.S. was constructing the legislation to make it illegal for its citizens to abide by the EU ETS’s rules; China held in abeyance some orders for Airbus airliners; aircraft operators were skeptical about how the money raised by the scheme would be used to save the planet; and there was deep resentment among business aircraft operators, in particular, toward a system that imposed not only extra cost on operations but also a baffling paperwork task to satisfy a bureaucracy ill prepared to define and process what it required. On November 27, despite the suspension announced 15 days earlier, President Obama signed S.1956, a bipartisan measure that orders the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit U.S. aircraft operators from participating in Europe’s carbon tax plan. China, India and Russia are also opposing the European plan. If the International Civil Aviation Organization fails to come up with an alternative global program in September, the EU has emphasized it stands poised to reimpose its scheme.

Avic unveils ‘new generation’ Chinese business jet
November 13, 2012

At Airshow China 2012 in Zhuhai, Avic revealed plans to develop and build “China New Generation Business Jet” (CNGBJ), a “high-end large business jet with long range, a large cabin and high cruise speed.” The aircraft, which currently exists only in scale model form, will have “full-digital fly-by-wire, highly integrated avionics and new-generation propulsion systems.” Avic further claims that the CNGBJ’s performance will exceed that of the Western business jets flying today. Estimated first flight and certification dates are not yet known.

VistaJet announces $7.8 billion deal for Bombardier Globals
November 27, 2012

Swiss operator VistaJet announced a deal worth up to $7.8 billion for 56 Bombardier Globals, with options for as many as another 86. The new aircraft will be deployed in growth markets, including Russia, China, the Middle East and Africa. Block charter operator VistaJet will also be looking to start tapping the U.S. market by offering intercontinental flights for clients on the East and West coasts. VistaJet founder and chairman Thomas Flohr told AIN that all new aircraft purchases are being funded from cash flow and that the company has been achieving year-on-year flight revenue growth of around 25 percent every year since it was launched seven years ago. He indicated that he remains the sole shareholder, with some debt held by banks.

Hawker Beechcraft Bankruptcy
Dominates 2012 Headlines

The year 2012 began as it ended in 2011 for Hawker Beechcraft: in a struggle for survival with little more than the occasional airplane sale as cause for encouragement. Speculation abounded about the future of the venerable Wichita-based OEM, fueled in February when the board of directors selected Steve Miller to serve as CEO. Miller, it was noted, is author of the book The Turnaround Kid: What I Learned Rescuing America’s Most Troubled Companies. By March the company was auctioning off assets, and in April it reported deliveries were down 7.9 percent in 2011.

On May 3 the hammer that industry pundits had predicted would fall hit with a bang as Hawker Beechcraft filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.

Since then, hardly a week has passed without some news of Hawker Beechcraft’s movement toward emerging as Beechcraft Corporation, a new company that is “strong, resolute [and] focused” on producing 600 aircraft a year, according to executive v-p Shawn Vick. In the short term, however, the layoffs continued. Since the recession began, the workforce at Hawker has dropped to 6,000 from 12,000.

An agreement reached in late July for the sale of Hawker Beechcraft to Superior Aviation Beijing fell through less than three months later, derailed primarily by the challenges of conducting negotiations across cultural and language barriers, as well as government approval requirements, according to Hawker Beechcraft.

At the NBAA Convention in October, Hawker Beechcraft announced that the restructuring includes shutting down its business jet production line. It was bad news for owners of the company’s business jets, in particular the ill-fated Hawker 4000 super-midsize.

An ad hoc committee moved to block Hawker Beechcraft’s efforts to sell 20 used 4000s still on its books at “a substantial discount.” Worse than the sale, said committee organizer Adam Katz of charter operator Talon Air, was Hawker Beechcraft’s announced intent to scrap certain warranties and factory-sponsored programs for the 4000s.

In late November the company revealed a $44.1 million loss and $95 million negative cash flow. At almost the same time, it filed financial forecasts with the bankruptcy court, predicting $1.9 billion in sales for the new Beechcraft Corp in 2013. On January 31, Hawker Beechcraft will seek approval of the court to emerge from bankruptcy, a process it expects to be concluded in mid-February.