AINdebrief Episode 8 | May 15, 2020

May 15, 2020, 4:11 PM

In this week’s episode, AIN senior editor Curt Epstein relays important guidelines to business aviation flight departments restarting operations in the Covid era; air transport editor Gregory Polek discusses a 14-day passenger quarantine in Spain and a similar proposal in the UK; senior editor Charles Alcock highlights news in the urban air mobility sector; Wichita-based editor Jerry Siebenmark reveals how Erickson could change the future of aerial firefighting; editor-in-chief Matt Thurber talks about new oxygen mask rules for airline flight crews; senior editor Kerry Lynch overviews design changes to Aerion’s AS2 supersonic business jet; and news editor Chad Trautvetter has good news to share on Gulfstream Aerospace’s G700 and G600 programs.


Chad Trautvetter (00:00):

Welcome to AINdebrief where we take a look back at the most important aviation stories of the past week by the AIN editors who covered them. I’m AINalerts editor Chad Trautvetter. In this week's episode AIN senior editor Curt Epstein relays important information to business aviation aircraft flight departments restarting operations in the Covid era. Air transport editor Gregory Pollock discusses a 14 day passenger quarantine in Spain and a similar proposal in the UK. Senior editor, Charles Alcock highlights news in the urban air mobility sector, while Wichita based editor Jerry Siebenmark reveals how Erickson could change the future of aerial firefighting. Editor-in-chief Matt Thurber talks about the new oxygen mask rules for airline and flight crews. Senior editor Kerry Lynch overviews design changes to Aerion's AS2 supersonic business jet, and I'll take a look at the good news that Gulfstream had on their G700 and G600 programs this week. Curt, you did a story this week on the changes to business aviation operating under the new Covid era. So what'd you find out and how do operators get back in the air?

Curt Epstein (01:08):

Well, Chad is for those who are still flying and those few that are still flying with the numbers of business aviation being very depressed, they're finding it's a new world out there and things that you'd never would have thought of doing that would have fallen pretty much under the category of invasion of privacy are now becoming common occurrences. Questions are being asked to passengers about travel, medical condition and things that, you know, it's become a thin line as to, what's, what's intrusive and what isn't. But according to one charter operator, you know, people are understanding why we're doing this and it's to protect the health and safety of everybody involved. So they're not getting much pushback from this. Procedures are being taken. There's distribution of personal protection equipment to pilots and crew as well as to passengers. A lot of the people I've spoken to, they're handing this equipment out and in some cases explaining how it's used, even down to explaining to the passengers how to dispose of it when they're done with it at the end of the flight. So there's lots of changes that are going on in the industry right now in terms of what used to be normal isn't anymore.

Chad Trautvetter (02:22):

So what do you do at FBO's, do they have to do social distancing there?

Curt Epstein (02:26):

Well, FBO's, NATA put out a list of practices back at the end of March and FBO's are looking at this, obviously. A lot of flight operators are questioning FBO's as to what precautions they're taking. Things like how often are you cleaning your FBO's? Have you increased your FBO cleaning regimens? Are you providing for segregation of various passenger groups before they're ready for their flights? Are you requesting that operators stagger their departures to minimize the amount of people in the terminals at a time? Things like are now being asked.

Chad Trautvetter (03:00):

And operators are also changing how they fly. I mean, they're not doing overnights anymore or they're reducing overnights, right?

Curt Epstein (03:08):

That's correct, Chad. They're corporate flight departments are speaking with their, with their executives and their people who are conducting missions, asking if they can leave earlier in the day, get to their destinations, accomplish what they need to do and return that same day all in order of trying to avoid overnight stays. And in cases where there are unavoidable overnights, they're relocating the aircraft and their crews to areas where there is known to be less, uh, less prevalence of the Covid-19 virus.

Chad Trautvetter (03:39):

Now what about inflight catering and limos and things like that?

Curt Epstein (03:42):

Well, those are also two touch points and it's recommended that for instances where catering is required, that you go with a reputable caterer. These are companies that normally operated a high, high level of, sanitation and hygiene and they've even stepped up their games. They're basically making sure that every step of the process is now very thoroughly regulated, very thoroughly conducted in the cleanest ways possible, right from the receiving of the food to how it's handled in the kitchen, packaged prepared, cooled and delivered. And one of the things they pointed out is they have full control, custody control, of the food from the time it leaves their facility until it's delivered. And, a lot of other places, if you order from a local restaurant, you know, you don't know who is delivering the food. So that's one thing they're looking for.

Curt Epstein (04:34):

Another with the ground transportation, Universal Weather and Aviation just today announced that they have instituted a group of standards for all of their vendors at the top 100 destinations, their customers frequent and it's going to have a list of approved and recommended safe, best practices. And they are having all of the vendors they deal with agree to respond to these standards. There's some operatives I've spoken to, they're looking to avoid the chauffeur driven or ride share routes entirely and are recommending rental cars for their crews and even their passengers all in the efforts of trying to minimize the touch points and exposure to other people.

Chad Trautvetter (05:21):

So the big question is, do crews and passengers on business jets need to wear masks while they're in flight?

Curt Epstein (05:34):

It depends on the operation. It's highly recommended from the things that I have read. I know that some of the operators are making it that if the airplane has a closed door, a curtain between the cabin and the cockpit, their flight crews can remove their masks during flight, but it's entirely considered a appropriate practice to be wearing them during the flight. That's what some are doing. Again, it's, all up to the operator and their level of of risk tolerance. I know also just one other fact is that a lot of flight departments are pairing up their crews, keeping them on the same flights together to minimize exposure to other crew members and to minimize if there is an infection, the tracking of who they've been working with and their chance of exposure.

Chad Trautvetter (06:23):

What other precautions are being taken as far as passenger safety and health?

Curt Epstein (06:28):

A lot of the operators are now instituting mandatory temperature screening before passengers and crew are allowed to go on the flights. And as far as the regulations go, it's recommended the threshold is 100.4. I don't know how accurate that is. I know there are people out there who are asymptomatic, there are people out there who have had the disease whose temperatures haven't even reached that high. So it's, it's a threshold that may catch some, I don't know how accurate that is, but they are instituting this. I know some places also have instituted a virtual health screening with a medical professional before people are allowed to get on the flight. So these are things that are being put in there as far as checking the immediate situation of people before they get on the plane.

Chad Trautvetter (07:17):

It's certainly a different world, isn't it?

Curt Epstein (07:19):

Yes, it is, unfortunately.

Chad Trautvetter (07:21):

So, before I go over to Greg to talk about the IATA quarantine rules, we did a survey, a poll question on our site this week. We were asking flight departments how many have restarted flying again and 35% have already restarted flying. Approximately another 16% expect to be doing that by the end of the month, and 26% by the end of June. The rest, about 23%, expect to be flying in July or later. So that's interesting and they're going to have to all adhere to the new operating standards. So Gregg, let's talk about IATA travel quarantine. They're not happy about some quarantines over in the UK and I think Spain, right?

Gregory Pollock (08:06):

Yeah, Spain's quarantine requirement goes into effect tomorrow and in the UK it's still basically a proposal still, but that's looking more and more likely to happen as well. The industry is showing more and more concern about this whole situation because as it stands, they really think that international travel will come back more slowly than domestic and this could just exacerbate that whole problem. IATA, the International Air Transport Association cited a survey, actually the the director general Alexandre de Juniac cited a survey the other day showing that almost 70% of all people, potential travelers, would not return to travel under under the threat of a quarantine. Then another 84% ranked it as one of their top concerns. So that tells you something about what these restrictions could do.

Chad Trautvetter (09:06):

Was there anything else you wanted to add about the quarantine?

Gregory Pollock (09:10):

Well, IATA is offering alternatives to doing things such as quarantines with proposals for certain protocols such as temperature checks and other measures at departure to prevent symptomatic passengers from flying and a government managed system of health declarations and contact tracing. So all that together they think can do the job without the need to resort to what they think are draconian measures.

Chad Trautvetter (09:28):

Thanks Gregg. So, Charlie there's been some news on the eVTOL front this week, what have you been hearing?

Charles Alcock (09:37):

Yeah, it's suddenly got a bit livelier this week after a few somewhat quiet periods in the eVTOL urban air mobility sector. Three things I'd like to pick up on. First of all, just today we heard news from a company in Slovenia called Pipestrel. You may think, well, I've never heard of them why should I care? The fact is they are one of eight selected aircraft manufacturing partners for the Uber Air ride sharing program. Today they issued a newsletter in which they talked about three new aircraft that they're going to develop. Two of these are cargo carrying electric aircraft, and one of them, and this might interest Gregg and his readers, would be a 19 seat regional airliner powered not by electricity, but by hydrogen fuel cells. Now that was interesting enough, but the side note that we picked up on was perhaps even more significant because the company, Pipestrel, said that in light of what they said were delays and uncertainty around how Uber's program is actually going, they've decided to deprioritize the eVTOL aircraft that they're developing for that, and instead focus on these two "cargo aircraft" and the airliner. Now, you know, we put this statement to Uber and they very quickly insisted, no, nothing's falling behind., everything's still on track. They are very ambitiously claiming that they'll have the first services available in 2023. We'll see.

Charles Alcock (11:17):

Then in China, EHang, which is another leader in the eVTOL field, it has just been busying itself with finding new ways to get its existing eVTOL aircraft out there and operational, even before they're fully certified. The latest initiative they announced is a partnership with a prestigious hotel in Guangzhou in Southern China that will allow hotel guests to basically get a sightseeing ride in their aircraft over the Guangzhou area, which is right close to Hong Kong and Macau. They say that they're going to offer this more widely across China. They've already been using their aircraft to support Covid relief operations and indeed flood relief operations. So again, I think they're trying to demonstrate the case for the aircraft.

Charles Alcock (11:34):

Finally, Wisk, which is a joint venture between kitty Hawk and Boeing was able to resume flight testing of its core eVTOL out in New Zealand. The reason that's significant, the head of Wisk told me, is because the New Zealand government, in his opinion, has done such a good job of getting Covid-19 under control that they've been able to resume flight testing there in New Zealand quicker than he said they would have been able to do in California.

Chad Trautvetter (12:37):

And what's the overall state of the eVTOL UAM industry?

Charles Alcock (12:40):

Well, there has been some uncertainty, for obvious reasons. Obviously Covid-19 has raised all sorts of questions about the state of financial markets and whether investment would still be there for these rather ambitious programs. I think the response of these companies I've just described as interesting, in the case of Pipestrel, what I think they're saying is, yeah, we still believe in eVTOL and urban air mobility but actually we think it might come to fruition a bit more slowly than some people think, which in truth is my opinion all along anyway, even before Covid. In the case of EHang, you've got to admire their tenacity. They're basically saying, we're pressing ahead with this and we're going to find applications for our aircraft. Where it gets a little bit contentious possibly, I mentioned the EHang are from China, they have a NASDAQ listing in New York, and until the Covid thing erupted they had been actively flight testing some aircraft in the United States and clearly had big plans for the U S market. Now of course, that's become a very political situation. There's lots of talk of, you know, possible ramifications for Chinese companies in the U S. So, I guess they're saying, well, we have to press ahead regardless, we'll start in China.

Charles Alcock (13:28):

Then it's interesting with this Boeing backed joint venture because Boeing has all sorts of problems, all sorts of challenges, and yet apparently they're plowing on with the flight testing of the Cora aircraft. I think the bottom line for me is we're going to see a small handful of these programs really making it successfully. I think these difficulties will just sort of speed up the process by which they get weeded out.

Chad Trautvetter (14:23):

There's about 200 models right now, that's not sustainable.

Charles Alcock (14:27):

Right? Some people say there are as many as 250. Believe me, I've looked at some of them and some of them are practically high school science projects. I think, at best maybe three or four dozen of them are seriously credible and making progress and there's not even room for that many.

Chad Trautvetter (14:45):

Wow. Interesting. Thanks Charlie. All right, so Jerry, let's talk about firefighting. Erickson is working on some software that helps with firefighting. So tell us about that.

Jerry Siebenmark (15:00):

Erickson obviously is widely known operator and manufacturer of the S64 aircrane helicopter that's used extensively in wild land firefighting. They've stood up an R and D unit that's developing software to help fire officials determine the most effective spots in a wild land fire to drop water. They would do so using aircraft loaded with sensors, that are basically cameras, that overfly the fire and through a combination of GPS and mapping software, locate those most effective spots transmitting the data to the ground and giving pilots of firefighting aircraft exact coordinates of where to drop the water.

Chad Trautvetter (15:55):

When do they expect to start using this? Are they already starting to use it, or is it just still in testing?

Jerry Siebenmark (16:00):

No, what they're hoping to have it ready to go by the 2021 fire season. Right now they're looking for a partner to help them sort of test the sensor of the hardware part of this program.

Chad Trautvetter (16:23):

But this can really revolutionize firefighting, right? Because right now the pilots are just dropping it where they think they need to drop it. But this will help pinpoint, right?

Jerry Siebenmark (16:32):

It will help pinpoint it, right. They're oftentimes are they're flying in smoky conditions; it's hard for them to see tall trees, it's difficult for them to see all the fire or the fire. Obviously it will help a lot with nighttime firefighting operations.

Chad Trautvetter (16:55):

Cool. Thanks, Jerry. So, Matt, let's go over to you. The FAA updated some oxygen rules for crews when they have to use oxygen masks. This only applies to airline pilots - Part 121. So tell us about the new rules.

Matt Thurber (17:11):

That's right, Chad, this new rule actually went final March 23rd, and it updates the rules that apply to airline pilots flying under Part 121 where they're required at a certain altitude for one of the pilots to put on their oxygen mask when the other pilot leaves the flight deck. This is just in case there's a rapid decompression event while the other pilot is out.

Chad Trautvetter (17:40):

But, it's also seen as a nuisance by many pilots and a lot of pilots don't actually adhere to it or they won't adhere to it, but they won't admit that they don't adhere to it. So this kind of takes the nuisance factor out of it, right?

Matt Thurber (17:54):

That's true, Chad. Pilots have been complaining for a long time that they don't think it's necessary and it's pretty widely known that many pilots don't comply with these oxygen regulations, not just in airlines but in business aviation as well. So the idea appears to be that modern airplanes are so reliable that a decompression event is an extremely rare event. Well, it does happen and there are some people who think this might not be a good idea. We interviewed an airline pilot and he's worried that this rule is going to mean that pilots get very little experience putting on and wearing oxygen masks. And if something really does happen, they won't be ready for it.

Chad Trautvetter (18:53):

But that doesn't prevent them from testing it as part of their pre-flight. The quick don mask, you can actually try them out on the ground too, right? They don't have to be at altitude.

Matt Thurber (19:04):

That's true, but they're not going to do it lacking any kind of mandate to do it. So it's a comfort and convenience issue, but there still appear to be safety implications.

Chad Trautvetter (19:20):

The FAA didn't indicate they're going to change anything for Part 91 or, or 135 operators. Right. It's only for Part 121.

Matt Thurber (19:28):

At this time the FAA didn't say anything about changes for Part 135 or Part 91 operators. But, there has been a fairly long standing group working within one of the FAA safety committees on this very subject. They've done studies on how many people use masks, on the efficacy of masks and so far the FAA hasn't changed anything.

Chad Trautvetter (19:58):

But, also the Covid thing could accelerate this a little bit too. There could be some concerns about safety; using the same mask as other crews have before you and it may not be sanitized properly. Is that something they might take into consideration as well?

Matt Thurber (20:14):

That certainly is an issue. Nobody wants to wear a mask now that somebody has just had. In fact the FAA did change the rules that applied during training events where when you were training in a simulator, you had to actually put the mask on. They've granted an exemption for that because it's just unsanitary and unsafe during the pandemic.

Chad Trautvetter (20:38):

Okay, excellent. Thanks Matt. Kerry, so we heard more from Aerion a few weeks ago. We heard from them and they were announcing a new headquarters in Melbourne, Florida, and they have some more news. So tell us about that.

Kerry Lynch (20:50):

Well, Chad Aerion's kind of at a pivotal point in its development as a company. I think it's really starting to lay the groundwork to move from a design firm into a manufacturing firm, which is why it made the decision to build its plant or its future factory in Melbourne. But, in concert with that Chad, it's also refining the design of its airplane and it actually looks pretty different from what we've all seen in recent years. It has a new shape, Delta shape, wing instead of the straight line approach, that it had that had incorporated a lot of its supersonic, natural laminar flow technologies. The empannage is a little sleeker and slimmer and even the nacelle shapes are different on it. In speaking with the company, they said that the change of this design will give it the technologies or the approach it needs to make sure it can get the aircraft to market within the timeframe of maybe the middle of 2020s, 2026 realistically. They say there are a lot of enabling technologies from an avionics standpoint, from materials and in other areas that are giving it the ability to go in this different direction. It hasn't given up on supersonic natural laminar flow. There's a little bit of that work, which is kind of been a hallmark of its research in this airplane. They believe that that research actually will benefit future aircraft programs, and it already is looking at new aircraft programs,

Chad Trautvetter (22:36):

The supersonic business jet design, the AS2, it's still three engines. Are there any other huge changes to it other than the wing shape and the fuselage?

Kerry Lynch (22:47):

Well, the wing shape, the nacelles, the empannage. No, they're still keeping their basic parameters. They want it to be a mach 1.4 aircraft that could, and actually when we're talking about it, they're approaching this with a holistic design that you can fly it at three different speed levels and this is to accommodate environmental and practical consideration. So if you're over land and you can't go supersonic, then you can fly subsonic and it will be as efficient as possible, even though it's a supersonic aircraft, and yet you still have the ability to make the gains at 1.4. They're still talking 5,000 nautical miles, but perhaps the ability to go from Melbourne to San Francisco at subsonic speeds. They're also eyeing it as efficiently as possible, kind of a mid level speed at about 1.1 where they're looking at working with FAA and the whole aviation community and regulators internationally on what they're calling the Mach cutoff.

Kerry Lynch (24:03):

That's a theory that you could fly over land and the Sonic boom reaches a certain point in the atmosphere, but it doesn't actually touch the ground. There's a lot of research going into that to see if that would be environmentally acceptable. If so, then they could actually fly supersonic over land without the boom actually hitting the ground and gain the benefits of speed. At the same time at a slower speed than you would over water at Mach 1.4. So, they're looking at how to make this as efficient as possible at say 1.1 as it would be at subsonic speeds as it would at the higher supersonic speeds. So when it approaches it, it has to think about environmental considerations, as well as, performance and being a business jet. They are committed to keeping the wider cabin at I think eight feet wide so they can fit comfortably 10 passengers - 8 to 10 passengers.

Chad Trautvetter (25:16):

And they're still looking at a 2023 first flight and 2025 certification. What about funding? Are they, sufficiently funded, too?

Kerry Lynch (25:27):

Well, as far as certification, they're actually looking at cutting metal because they've got to get their factory stood up and they have to go through preliminary design review yet. They're looking at cutting metal around 2023 and maybe first flight thereafter. Certification would be 2025/2026 timeframe. As far as funding, we didn't go into that in depth, they just said they had strong backing.

Chad Trautvetter (25:52):

Yeah, they have backing from Boeing and that might be a concern in the future, but for right now, that's okay, Right?

Kerry Lynch (25:58):

Well I think they have a lot of substantial suppliers who are in on this, including GE aviation that's developing the Affinity engines for it and they have strong investors. It's an interesting team there because they've plopped some of the cream of the crop as far as designers throughout the industry to pull this project together. So, unlike some companies that might be coming from the outside in, this is really an inside grow out type company as far as inside industry, and then reaching out beyond the bounds.

Chad Trautvetter (26:40):

Okay, great. Thanks Kerry. Alright, Charlie. I'm gonna throw the microphone over to you and we'll talk about Gulfstream.

Charles Alcock (26:46):

Certainly. Well, Chad, I understand you've got some good news, a leading business jet maker, making some significant progress with two of its new models. Is that right?

Chad Trautvetter (26:54):

Yes, Gulf stream had some good stuff to say this week. It's nice to have good news among everything else we're hearing. They are accelerating their G700 flight test program, they've added their third of five flight test aircraft. They've logged a hundred hours so far with the three aircraft and they're accelerating the program and they're on track for certification possibly by late next year, 2021 and then entry into service in 2022. That'll be a new flagship for Gulfstream, it's a stretch of the G650, about another 10 feet of cabin and they can put a state room in the back with a bedroom.

Charles Alcock (27:37):

Excellent. Can't wait to fly it.

Chad Trautvetter (27:40):

Also on the G600, which was certified last year in the U S, they finally crossed the finish line over in Europe. EASA has given them the okay, so they're going to start deliveries over there, hopefully in the second quarter if they can do that with the travel restrictions. Certainly they'll start as soon as they can.

Charles Alcock (28:01):

Excellent. Thanks for filling us in, Chad.

Chad Trautvetter (28:04):

All right, thanks, Charlie.

Chad Trautvetter (28:05):

Thanks for listening to AINdebrief. Another podcast episode will air next Friday. In the meantime, go to for the latest aviation news from AIN.