The U.S. Air Force on August 19 said that it recently grounded 82 two-seat F-16D fighters following the discovery of canopy sill longeron cracks between the front and rear pilots seats. An "immediate action time compliance technical order" the service issued after post-mission flight inspections revealed initial structural cracks led to the discovery.
Individual F-16 units conducted inspections of the service's 157 F-16Ds, and as of August 18 all fighters had been inspected, the Air Force said. Cracks were discovered on 82; the remaining 75 returned to flight status.
The F-16D fleet is used primarily for training, the Air Force said. The fighters are 24 years old on average, with more than 5,500 flight hours. The service has 969 total F-16s of all variants; other variants are not affected.
"As aircraft accumulate flight hours, cracks develop due to fatigue from sustained operations," stated Lt. Col. Steve Grotjohn, Weapons System Division deputy chief. "Fortunately, we have a robust maintenance, inspection and structural integrity program to discover and repair deficiencies as they occur."
The Air Force F-16 systems program office and Lockheed Martin engineers were analyzing the F-16 structure and developing repair procedures. Fighters with cracks will be allowed to resume operations "for a limited number of flight hours while analysis continues on a permanent fix," the service said.
"Programmed flying training and F-16 pilot graduation impacts will depend on the number and timing of aircraft returned to service," the statement said. "Subject matter experts are considering multiple courses of action to mitigate these delays."
Just five months after celebrating the delivery of its first new-build Eclipse 550 light jet, Eclipse Aerospace laid off a "substantial" number of employees at its Albuquerque, N.M. headquarters and facilities in Chicago and Charleston, S.C., citing slow sales for its very light jet. "Although global market conditions continue to improve, the pace of economic improvement continues to challenge new aircraft sales," Ed Lundeen, Eclipse's senior vice president of business operations, told AIN. Eclipse has not disclosed how many of the company's approximately 220 employees were affected, though Lundeen acknowledged that most of the reductions came from new aircraft production.
With the 2008 bankruptcy of the former Eclipse Aviation still fresh in the minds of many in New Mexico, the layoffs cast a spotlight on approximately $635,000 in city and state incentives Eclipse Aerospace has received to bring jobs to Albuquerque. City economic development officials told local media that Eclipse still intends to fulfill its obligation to hire 100 new manufacturing workers in Albuquerque by the end of next year, once sales rebound.
Since restarting production in March, the company has delivered 10 Eclipse 550s, in addition to supporting older Eclipse 500s and upgrading those airplanes to "Total Eclipse" specification. The company has also proposed the Eclipse 550 to replace the U.S. Air Force's fleet of aging Beechjet 400-based T-1 Jayhawk trainers; although the USAF requested information from manufacturers last year, the service has yet to issue a request for proposal.
Business jet demand has not recovered in line with corporate profits as it has in the past. J.P. Morgan aerospace analyst Joseph Nadol III attributes the sluggishness to "the stigma attached to bizjets during the recent recession and a focus on cost cutting among corporate customers. We estimate that 2013 U.S. corporate profits were up about 50 percent from the 2008 trough, whereas bizjet deliveries have yet to turn up decisively."
Business jet deliveries rose 9 percent in the first half of this year, "boosting our confidence that production will move off the bottom this year," he said. J.P. Morgan's 2014 business jet forecast is calling for 4-percent growth, or 687 deliveries, which would bring shipments back to the 2011 level. "We estimate faster growth going forward, driven largely by new or relatively new models," Nadol said.
Meanwhile, pre-owned business jet market conditions were "particularly challenging in July, as used inventory rose for the first time since October 2013 and pricing was down again," he noted. Inventory of in-production jets increased to 8.3 percent last month, up 0.3 points from June. Nadol warned observers "not to read too much into the inventory data yet since the weakness was not broad based, has not broken above the recent range and the inventory of young aircraft was stable." The downward trend in pre-owned pricing, which fell 3.5 percent year-over-year last month, "is more sustained and more pronounced, an important signal that demand is not yet healthy," he said.
Europe has delayed the mandate for ADS-B out equipage in its airspace. The earliest ADS-B out requirement in Europe was Jan. 8, 2015, for new aircraft, with retrofit installations due Dec. 7, 2017. The new dates are June 8, 2016, for new aircraft and June 7, 2020, for retrofit.
The revised date for retrofits is more closely aligned with the U.S. ADS-B out mandate, which requires the equipment to be operational in aircraft that fly where transponders are currently required after midnight on Dec. 31, 2019. While some aircraft owners and operators are no doubt hoping that the U.S. mandate will be delayed, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has repeatedly said that there is no chance of this happening.
Speaking late last month at EAA AirVenture 2014, Huerta said, "ADS-B out is one of the foundational elements of NextGen and it allows us to bring you many benefits. I know that many of you are concerned about the 2020 mandate to equip with ADS-B out. There's still a five-and-a-half-year window to get that done, but the date is firm. I encourage you to equip before the deadline to avoid delays at repair stations as the deadline draws closer."