Lucky pilots who get to fly the company's new business jet home will find that their introduction to the aircraft includes some new avionics, something to do with that oft-heard term "NextGen" (Next Generation Air Transportation System). These products carry a confusing set of acronyms such as ADS-B, Fans, CPDLC, RNP and others, and some of what this stuff does is completely invisible to the pilot, while other uses require active pilot participation as well as training.
The rest of the fleet of older business jets will need upgrades to meet upcoming NextGen mandates, and while these are steadily becoming more available there are certification and availability issues that might affect operators of some business aircraft. Not all NextGen features are mandatory, but equipping the aircraft to certain NextGen standards can improve the services available from ATC organizations.
Cessna Aircraft took a step closer to bringing its Citation Latitude to certification this year, rolling out the first production model at the company's Wichita factory. The rollout, celebrated January 29, comes a little more than three years after Cessna announced the aircraft and seven months after Cessna started the assembly lines.
Cessna installed new automated robotics and ergonomically designed tooling stations on the Latitude's production line. "Our product investments extend beyond the design and performance features of the aircraft with innovations in our manufacturing processes," said president and CEO Scott Ernest.
Cessna first flew the prototype for the midsized jet in February 2014 and now has four aircraft in the flight-test program that have accrued 500 flights and 1,200 hours. A conforming model has been touring North America following its debut during the most recent NBAA Convention in Orlando, Fla. Scott Donnelly, chairman and CEO of Cessna parent Textron, told analysts that customer response has been positive, particularly with the stand-up cabin and 2,700-nm range.
Certification is expected in the first half with deliveries following in the second. The test program "is going very well...the aircraft is flying great," Donnelly said.
Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) has prepared and submitted to the Russian government "a business concept" for a new Sino-Russian widebody aircraft known under its Russian acronym "ShFS." UAC expects to submit a preliminary design in July 2015. The announcement came from UAC president Yuri Slyusar at his first press conference in Moscow on January 29, 10 days after he unexpectedly replaced former UAC boss Mikhail Pogosyan. ShFS involves a 50-50 joint venture between Russia and China, forged at a top political level during Russian president Vladimir Putin's visit to China last year.
Estimates in September 2014 placed the needed investment in the project at $13 billion, although the UAC president noted that the recent plunge in value of the Russian ruble could render the project less expensive.
In preparation for a full industrial launch, Russian and Chinese specialists have established a joint working group. "Our colleagues from [Chinese aerospace congolomerate] Comac show a big enthusiasm towards this project and take every effort to develop it," said Slyusar. According to early estimates, the ShFS would transport 300 passengers 2,700 nautical miles, making it suitable for relatively short domestic routes within China, notably in the so-called Eastern Delta of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The partners envision a plan to roll out the first flying prototype in 2021, gain certification in either 2022 or 2023 and start series production in 2025. The Russian side sees the ShFS as an advance in the evolution of the Ilyushin Il-86 and Il-96, while the Chinese use the Boeing 787 for reference. Russia's Aviadvigatel has offered an engine that would resemble a 1:2 "scaled up" version of the 14-metric-ton-thrust PD-14 turbofan now undergoing bench trials. Aviadvigatel designed the PD-14 for the Irkut MC-21 narrowbody airliner, scheduled for rollout late this year and first flight sometime between April and June 2016.
Qatar Airways has acquired a 9.99-percent stake in International Airlines Group (IAG), the parent company of British Airways and Spain's Iberia, Qatar announced on Friday. The deal reinforces commercial ties established through code-share agreements between Qatar and IAG and both airlines' membership in the Oneworld alliance. Although a requirement that EU shareholders must own a majority of any EU airline will limit Qatar's stake in IAG, the Gulf carrier said it might consider increasing its share "over time." However, it added that it does not currently intend to own more than 9.99 percent.
"IAG represents an excellent opportunity to further develop our westward strategy," said Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker. "Having joined the Oneworld alliance it makes sense for us to work more closely together in the near term and we look forward to forging a long-term relationship." Qatar Airways joined the Oneworld alliance in 2013, making it the first Arabian Gulf carrier to join a major airline alliance.
Valued at some $1.7 billion, Qatar's stake in IAG makes it the largest non-EU shareholder in the British group.
"We're delighted to have Qatar Airways, one of the world's premier airlines, as a long-term supportive shareholder," said IAG chief executive Willie Walsh. "We will talk to them about what opportunities exist to work more closely together and further IAG's ambitions as the leading global airline group."
IAG, meanwhile, continues its own efforts to take a majority stake in Ireland's Aer Lingus. New talks between IAG and the Irish government, which holds a 25-percent stake in its flag carrier, began this week.