- January 4, 2021, 7:00 AM

AIN is proud to highlight the following winners of the inaugural 2020 Top Flight Awards. The awards are designed to recognize the best and the brightest in business aviation and honor creativity and innovation in design and technology as well as quality and passion in business aviation services and people. Each year, AIN editors will conduct the Top Flight Awards, with the nominees announced online on December first and in AIN’s December print issue and the winners revealed online around January first and in the January issue. The main criteria for qualifying as nominees for Top Flight Awards include service entry, in the case of new aircraft, or availability, for products and services, during the applicable time period, from October first through September 30. The nominees also must illustrate something new and unique such as improved safety and performance, contributions to aviation or public benefit, and more. There were10 categories for the inaugural 2020 awards, but those could change and grow in future Top Flight Awards years.

New Jet: Bombardier Global 5500/6500

Bombardier Global 6500
Photo: Barry Ambrose

Bombardier’s new Globals mate time-tested fuselages to more efficient wings and engines combined with modern avionics and a redesigned cabin and cockpit to deliver superior safety, performance, and comfort. 

The re-profiled wing pairs with the new Rolls-Royce Pearl 15 engines to boost fuel efficiency by up to 13 percent compared with the legacy Globals. Maximum cruise speed increases from Mach 0.89 to Mach 0.90 and the airplanes have longer legs than their predecessors: maximum range on the Global 5500 is 5,900 nm (500 more than on the Global 5000) and 6,600 nm on the Global 6500 (600 more than on the Global 6000). The new engines, each delivering 15,125 pounds of thrust, discharge 48 percent less smoke and 20 percent less nitrous oxide, are two decibels quieter, burn 7 percent less fuel, and have 9 percent more thrust than the BR710 engines on the old Globals. The engines also are equipped with an advanced engine health and usage-monitoring system (HUMS) that monitors thousands of engine parameters and sends information to the ground in real-time.

In the cabin, the new airplanes are equipped with the Collins Venue cabin-management and entertainment system, upgraded with the ability to distribute ultra-high-definition 4K content throughout the cabin. Ka-band satellite connectivity enables worldwide seamless Wi-Fi coverage. The cabins can be configured to typically seat 12 to 17 and are available with many custom options, including steam ovens in the galley, newly styled cabinets and countertops, and a stand-up shower in the aft lav. Both aircraft feature the “Nuage” (French for cloud) seat that Bombardier developed for the larger Global 7500. The conference/dining areas are fitted with a related new seat design called the “Nuage Chaise,” which allows for the appropriate posture for dining/business meetings but can convert into a lounge chair for reclining. The environmental system features 100 percent fresh air, and “turbo” heating and cooling to quickly bring the cabin to a comfortable temperature. The pressurized baggage hold is accessible in flight.

For the flight deck, the new Globals feature the Collins combined vision system, which merges enhanced vision and synthetic vision system imagery into a single conformal view, allowing take offs and landings in low visibility. Other safety capabilities of the avionics system include advanced weather radar that can predict wind shear, airport moving maps, real-time traffic, and an improved terrain database.

New Turboprop: Pilatus PC-12 NGX  
Pilatus PC-12 NGX

After 25 years of time in service, the PC-12 just keeps getting better. The latest iteration of this versatile and reliable workhorse features single-lever power control, more cruise speed, and optional autothrottle combined with a restyled and quieter cabin and larger passenger windows.

The NGX is powered by the new Pratt & Whitney PT6E-67XP, which offers precise and intuitive engine control, reduced pilot workload, and optimized power. The engine can be operated in a low-prop-speed mode, lowering cabin noise without compromising performance thanks to an electronic propeller and engine control system. Operated with a single power lever, the PT6E-67XP produces 1,825 shp and is flat-rated to 1,100 shp in cruise flight, a 10 percent increase from the PC-12’s PT6A-67P. It allows the NGX to reach a maximum cruise speed of 290 knots. The new engine will have a 5,000-hour time-between-overhaul period with hot section inspections only required on-condition. The NGX is certified to fly without fuel anti-ice additive. 

Up front, the NGX’s Advanced Cockpit Environment (ACE) is built around Honeywell’s Epic 2.0 avionics suite with a new touchscreen avionics controller with integrated bezel contour grips intended to stabilize the pilot’s hand in turbulence. ACE’s standard safety features include emergency descent mode and tactile feedback to aid in avoiding unintentional excessive bank angles. Other NGX flight deck features include brighter, more vivid displays; night-mode charts; pilot-defined visual approaches; high-resolution 2D airport moving maps; Honeywell’s SmartLanding and SmartRunway awareness systems; 3D intelligent audio with ATC playback and Bluetooth interface; electronic checklists linked to crew alerting system messages; worldwide graphical weather; support for European protected mode-controller pilot data link communications (PM-CPDLC) mandates; and faster database loading. A fully-integrated digital autothrottle is optional.

Taking interior styling cues from its PC-24 twinjet sibling, the NGX’s new cabin sports windows that have been reshaped and enlarged 10 percent. Redesigned executive seats offer more headroom, full recline, and improved lumbar support. Quick-release seat attachments enable quick cabin reconfiguration without the help of maintenance crews. A new headliner provides indirect lighting, more uniform and quiet air distribution, and increased headroom. Passenger positions now feature dual cupholders and integrated sidewall USB ports. Six different interiors—designed by BMW Group’s Designworks—are offered with the executive NGX, as are bespoke interiors and paint schemes.

New Helicopter: Airbus H160  
Airbus H160

The H160 medium twin melds a basket of new onboard technologies to a dramatically more efficient manufacturing process. The result is a helicopter that is easier and safer to fly, more economical to maintain and operate, and has a smaller noise signature and a more comfortable ride.

The H160’s all-composite airframe, unique biplane stabilizer, canted Fenestron, new more efficient and quieter Blue Edge main rotor blades, more fuel-efficient and easier-to-maintain Safran engines, and enhanced Helionix avionics combine to make this new helicopter best in class. It already boasts robust orders from customers flying a myriad of missions including medevac, executive, offshore energy, and military applications. 

Visible delights begin with the cabin. An all-composite airframe hosts a flat-floor cabin, oversize cabin windows, and a baggage compartment that can hold 661 pounds. Its cabin can be configured to seat four or eight passengers in executive/VIP layouts, or 12 in a utility configuration. The biplane stabilizer reduces the impact of low-speed rotor downwash to create pitch up.

In the cockpit, the Helionix avionics includes weather radar, synthetic vision, moving map, TCAS II, HTAWS, and automatic airspeed and flight path stability. While Airbus didn’t opt for costly and complex fly-by-wire, the H160’s full-time autopilot (or automatic flight control system—AFCS) offers many similar benefits to fly-by-wire flight controls. Airbus calls the system “accrued pilot assistance” and it includes flight envelope protection. The AFCS remains on all the time in the H160. In hands-on mode, the pilot can make the H160 do anything the helicopter can do, but the autopilot is still on. With hands off the controls, that just results in the helicopter maintaining the same flight path and airspeed. AFCS offers hands-off automatic assisted takeoff and can automatically set required power for a one-engine-out landing from a hover. Unique to the H160, a new alerting system warns pilots five to seven seconds before the helicopter enters into a dangerous vortex ring state.  

The aircraft’s new 1,300-shp Safran Arrano engines feature a two-stage centrifugal compressor and variable inlet guide vanes, which cut fuel consumption in all phases of flight. They help propel the H160 to its maximum cruise speed of 150 knots and service ceiling of 20,000 feet and give it a maximum range on standard tanks of 475 nm. The engines are also designed for a two-minute start and quick restarts, features that will expedite dispatches.

Technology: Industry Bands Together To Meet The ADS-B Deadline 
ADS-B Deadline

In 2014, the FAA and industry groups formed the Equip 2020 Team to identify both barriers and solutions to equipping the U.S. aviation fleets with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast Out (ADS-B Out) technology by the 2020 implementation deadline. Largely due to the initiatives of this group and industry partners, the U.S. business aviation fleet was 83 percent compliant with the mandated deadline by October 2019, and enough capacity was built into the system to equip more than 200,000 aircraft.

ADS-B Out is a quantum leap in surveillance technology, delivering much faster detection times for air traffic controllers to see equipped aircraft compared to radar as well as much broader coverage in areas where radar is constrained. In the U.S., ADS-B In adds free inflight weather and real-time traffic information on aircraft displays and portable devices. Spotting other traffic is much easier with ADS-B and much safer than relying on eyesight alone.

Business and general aviation-related groups that participated in the ADS-B equipage effort included: AEA-Aircraft Electronics Association; AOPA-Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association; EAA-Experimental Aircraft Association; GAMA-General Aviation Manufacturers Association; NATA-National Air Transportation Association; and NBAA-National Business Aviation Association. While magazine and online articles did their best to explain ADS-B, these groups helped pilots understand not only what the equipage mandate meant but also the benefits of ADS-B Out and In. They also worked closely with the FAA to make sure the final rule made sense and that requirements around installation and operation made equipping easier and ultimately, for many aircraft owners, reasonably priced.

New FBO Facility: Sheltair Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport  

Florida-based Sheltair’s first location west of the Mississippi is a $20 million state-of-the-art facility at KBJC in Broomfield, Colorado. The new 11-acre FBO complex features a 10,400-sq-ft terminal and a 31,050-sq-ft heated hangar that has 4,500 sq ft of adjoining office space. The terminal, with the look, feel, and function of an upscale hotel lobby, features a  land-side porte-cochere for passenger drop off and pick up and an airside 162-foot-span aircraft arrivals canopy with direct access to the terminal, which features pine, stone, and exposed raw steel as well as a radiant-heat floor for customer comfort. Amenities include a large conference room, pilot lounge with snooze rooms, concierge, crew cars, onsite car rental, and complementary aircraft cabin cleaning.

Every detail-from access points and tenant offices to lounges and restrooms was designed with the customer’s comfort, privacy, and safety in mind,” said Sheltair president Lisa Holland. “Our new complex and the related services we provide the general aviation community ensure that we can not only meet, but exceed the needs of this important and growing market.

Training: Rolls-Royce Virtual Reality  
Rolls-Royce Virtual Reality

Rolls-Royce has taken a compelling piece of technology and turned it into a practical training tool. The company began virtual reality (VR) maintenance familiarization training in March with its BR725 engine for the Gulfstream G650. Participants join the class remotely while wearing Oculus VR glasses and handheld VR controllers. The training is instructor-led, so someone is always there to help explain what the student is viewing. It is free for Rolls-Royce CorporateCare customers, and those not enrolled in CorporateCare can pay to attend.

VR training enables students to learn about engine parts only visible if the real engine was fully disassembled. All the subsystems and components can be seen exactly as they relate to each other, either in an as-assembled view or by virtually taking them apart, assembly by assembly, piece by piece. The student can virtually dive into the engine and visually trace the way air flows through or see how the shafts and bearings relate to one another or take apart an assembly until each part and nut and bolt is floating in the air next to the engine. A student can view the engine in various ways—by virtually walking inside the engine and looking around; by using a cutaway tool to slice into the engine from the side or front; or by highlighting each subassembly and moving it off the engine and then taking a close look at its components. Both the instructor and student can use a virtual marker to draw on any part of the engine. Routine tasks are also possible, like checking the oil level or finding a part-number stamp on a part or component.

Charter/Fractional/Jet Card Innovation: Wheels Up  
Wheels Up

Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter is fond of track suits and now we know why: he never stops running. In a frenetic pace over the last year, the closed-fleet charter access membership company made several large strategic acquisitions, revamped its in-house technology, and opened up new membership channels to further “democratize” private aviation access.

Recent acquisitions include Delta Private Jets, which made Delta Air Lines Wheels Up’s largest investor. Other deals included the purchase of Gama Aviation Signature—the largest charter operator in the U.S.—and operator of Wheels Up’s wholly-owned fleets of King Air 350is and Citation light jets, and TMC, the Travel Management Company, with its fleet of 26 light jets. Wheels Up’s owned and managed fleet now numbers more than 300 airplanes. Using Argus figures, the combined entity logged more than 160,000 flight hours last year—more than number-two fractional provider Flexjet (111,189 hours).

In 2019, the company launched its online charter marketplace,  purchased flight management software developer Avianis, introduced its entry-level Connect Membership, and benefitted from further investment from large financial firms including $128 million from Franklin Templeton, boosting its enterprise value to more than $1.1 billion. The Avianis software engine enables Wheels Up to link vetted operators and consumers, increase efficiency, and lower the cost of access, according to Dichter.

In an effort to further democratize the skies, the new Connect membership ($2,995 for the first year; $2,495 annually for renewals) targets those flying 10 or fewer hours per year, offering as-available (rather than guaranteed) access to its fleet and services, including flight sharing. Founded in 2013, Wheels Up currently has more than 8,000 members and a renewal rate of 80 to 90 percent. It also is deeply involved in philanthropic projects in support of cancer research (Wheels Up Cares) and hunger alleviation (Meals Up).

Hero of The Year: Business Aviation’s Response To Covid-19 
Aviation Sans Frontieres

Business aviation has been at the forefront of delivering Covid-19 supplies, medical equipment, and soon, the vaccines to fight the pandemic. “Our business aviation community has made a tremendous difference already,” said Universal Weather and Aviation chairman Greg Evans. “Now we have a chance to make history by playing our role in helping to end this pandemic.” Recently, Universal announced that it will donate feasibility and consulting services to general aviation operators wanting to use their aircraft to support humanitarian missions delivering Covid-19 vaccines. Earlier in the pandemic, Universal donated its services in support of missions delivering Covid-related medical supplies and testing. Universal’s response typifies that of business aviation organizations and companies, who all rise to the occasion during times of national and global emergency.

Early in the crisis, NBAA worked in tandem with the American Hospital Association to establish a way for first responders to request emergency flights from a list of operators offering transportation via the industry group's HERO database. On the other side of the Atlantic, the European Business Aviation Association established a Covid resource center to help coordinate the industry's response to rapidly shifting needs. In late March, a pair of long-range NetJets Bombardier Global 6000s flew from the U.S. to Nanjing in China to collect N95 masks and other items needed by the New York-based Mount Sinai Medical System. The operation, which was supported by Goldman Sachs, involved complex approval processes with Chinese officials, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Food and Drug Administration. In a similar initiative, the New England Patriots football team’s Boeing 767 was pressed into service for another operation to bring one million masks from Shenzhen in China to healthcare workers in Massachusetts. In this instance, Universal Weather and Aviation provided flight and logistics support.

Dassault Aviation provided a Falcon 8X and a Falcon 900 to fly medical teams and supplies to small airports around France as part of Operation Resilience. The company flew the two jets over 300 legs and 450 hours, primarily transporting caregivers from the South of France to Paris and eastern cities. Dassault also played a big role in supporting Aviation Sans Frontières and its efforts to battle the pandemic, including helping more than 300 furloughed flight attendants who volunteered their time to help out in Paris hospitals.

VistaJet also scrambled its fleet of Globals and Challenger 350s to provide complimentary empty leg flights to enable medical personnel and health experts to move around the world in Covid relief efforts. Subsidiary company XO also made private lift available to carry medical supplies to New York City at the height of the first wave of infections.

Manufacturers including Honeywell, Textron Aviation, Embraer, Piper, CAE, Universal Avionics, Cirrus Aircraft, and Husky Corp. adapted their facilities to produce items such as face masks and ventilators. Safe Flight Instrument provided equipment that enabled a single ventilator to be used by four patients simultaneously. Gulfstream worked with two General Dynamics sister companies to use 3D printers to produce adapters for a clinical trial to see if CPAP/BiPAP machines could be converted to ventilators, as well as making bands for face masks.

Private flight provider Wheels Up teamed up with hunger relief organization Feeding America to launch “Meals Up” with the aim of supplying 10 million meals for people facing hunger in the economic fallout from Covid. By mid-September, the project had raised the equivalent of 47 million meals for Feeding America’s network of 200 food banks across the U.S. Air BP donated three million gallons of jet-A to FedEx and Alaska Airlines to assist in the delivery of medical supplies. To support Australia’s Royal Flying Doctor Service, Air BP donated 35,000 N95 masks for use by its frontline staff, and in France it has donated nearly 16,000 gallons of fuel for flights to transport medical staff and equipment between hospitals. In the UK, it is providing free jet fuel for numerous air ambulance services customers to assist their life-saving duties during the pandemic. Air BP also made a $2 million donation to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

Sustainability: The Business Aviation Coalition for Sustainable Aviation Fuel  
Sustainable Aviation Fuel

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is seen as a critical component in reducing business aviation’s carbon emissions. The Business Aviation Coalition for Sustainable Aviation Fuel was formed to encourage the use of SAF by increasing the awareness of its safety and availability. Key members include the Canadian Business Aviation Association, Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative, European Business Aviation Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, International Business Aviation Council, National Air Transportation Association, and National Business Aviation Association. The coalition’s recently released guide, “Fueling the Future,” details how SAF can be introduced into operations, and in September the coalition hosted the first Sustainable Business Aviation Fuels Summit, a two-day online event that brought together operators, legislators, regulators, fuel suppliers, and others to discuss how to increase SAF acceptance, demand, and supply. The coalition is a key promoter of “book-and-claim,” whereby an operator can purchase SAF in an area where it is not yet available but still receive environmental benefits while actual fuel is dispensed where it is available.

Working with the coalition, key players in business aviation and aviation fuels also have launched programs to encourage SAF usage. Signature has purchased 5 million gallons from SAF producer Neste to establish permanent supplies of the alternative fuel at its FBOs at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and London Luton Airport. This SAF purchase is the largest by an FBO to date. Neste announced this summer that it had begun delivering SAF to SFO via the existing multi-product pipeline designed for the transport of fossil aviation fuels. SAF customers at Signature SFO can take advantage of the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard tax incentive programs, while those at London Luton can reduce carbon offsetting needs for the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme. NetJets committed to purchase up to 3 million gallons to cover flights from SFO as well as its Columbus, Ohio headquarters using book-and-claim.

Separately, several other developments are poised to propel a greater acceptance of SAF. A deal struck in 2020 between SAF provider SkyNRG and VistaJet enables the latter’s customers to voluntarily pay for the volume of SAF consumed in their flight through book-and-claim. Engine maker Rolls-Royce said it had begun research into the use of pure SAF, as opposed to the current 50 percent blend with conventional fuels. And global energy and commodity price benchmarking index Argus said it will begin including the SAF U.S. West Coast markets price as part of its daily jet fuel report.

Contribution to Safety: Garmin Autoland  
Garmin Autoland

Garmin took the world by surprise with the introduction and then certification of its new Autoland system, which safely flies an airplane from cruising altitude to a suitable runway, then lands the airplane, applies brakes, and stops the engine. Designed to safely bring an airplane to a nearby suitable airport in the worst-case scenario of an incapacitated pilot, Autoland solves the problem of how to rescue an airplane when the pilot is unable to continue flying. Autoland could also help rescue a pilot trapped by widespread zero-zero fog, allowing a safe landing where it would be difficult if not impossible to safely land using an ILS or LPV approach.

Autoland is available for aircraft manufacturers to incorporate in their airplanes equipped with Garmin G3000 avionics and autothrottle. The system is designed only for emergency use and can be automatically or manually activated, via the touch of a single button. It is now available for the Piper SLS (branded Halo) and Daher TBM 940 turboprop (branded HomeSafe) singles and the Cirrus SF50 G2 single-engine jet (branded Safe Return).

The system is designed so that a non-flying passenger can switch it on and understand what is happening during an Autoland event. When engaged, Autoland immediately turns the airplane toward the nearest suitable airport while displaying on all three cockpit displays carefully designed messages that show the passengers what is happening. A moving map on each PFD clearly illustrates the path that the airplane is taking to get to the selected airport. The PFD shows a split-screen with moving-map on one side and synthetic vision system images on the other. The MFD in the center shows messages for the passengers, as do the PFDs. One MFD message is an animation of the cockpit and the controls, with a warning: “Keep hands and feet away from aircraft controls.” On the displays at all times are the words: “Emergency autoland active” and “landing in XX minutes.” The MFD also shows how many miles to the destination and how much fuel remains in hours and minutes.

During the event, a smoothly modulated voice tells passengers exactly what to expect. At the same time, Autoland uses information about the state of the airplane to broadcast an emergency radio message on appropriate frequencies, and it resets the transponder to the 7700 emergency code. The radio broadcast might occur on the local approach control or control tower frequency. But if landing at a non-towered airport, Autoland will broadcast on the local CTAF frequency.