Garmin held on to its first-place position in AIN's 2014 Avionics Product Support Survey, scoring an 8.3 rating from AIN readers, the same number as last year. L-3 Avionics moved up to second place this year, a half-point jump to 7.8 from last year's fourth-place rating of 7.3 and tied with Universal Avionics, which also held the second-place spot last year. Rockwell Collins moved up a tenth of a point to 7.7 this year for third place, the same spot it held in last year's survey.
Honeywell's fourth-place ranking this year is one place higher on the list and the company also enjoyed a three-tenths-of-a-point climb in its rating to 7.4 from 7.1. In fifth place this year is Avidyne, which saw a ratings drop to 7.2, followed by Honeywell's BendixKing subsidiary with a one-tenth-point climb to 7.1.
High scores in the rankings categories went across the board to Garmin for parts availability (8.5), cost of parts (7.6), AOG response (8.2), warranty fulfillment (8.5), technical manuals (8.1), technical reps (8.3) and overall product reliability (8.8).
There was some confusion in the survey form design this year, and cabin electronics ratings suffered from diminished response (see box on page 00) as a result. The survey, however, did highlight four companies in the cabin electronics arena.
AIN readers ranked Aircell as the top provider of product support with an 8.2 rating, two-tenths higher than last year's first-place ranking. Satcom Direct received enough ratings this year (the minimum is 20) to be listed in the results, and the company achieved a second-place ranking at 8.1.
Honeywell's 7.3 rating is the same as last year's, but the company moved to third place from fourth last year.
Rockwell Collins saw a ratings drop this year to 6.7 from 7.4, moving from third to fourth place.
In the cabin electronics segment, Aircell ranked top in parts availability (8.3), cost of parts (7.5) and overall product reliability (9.0). Second-place finisher Satcom Direct scored the highest number for AOG response at 8.4 and also the highest in warranty fulfillment (8.3) and technical reps (8.8).
The FAA's requirement that business aircraft operators obtain letters of authorization (LOAs) for flight in reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) airspace is causing not only enormous wastes of fuel but safety problems as well, according to feedback from AIN readers. Other operations require LOAs such as PRnav, BRnav, RNP, MNPS, ADS-B and maintenance authorizations such as the MEL, but extended delays by the FAA in approving RVSM LOAs are presenting serious safety and environmental issues, according to operators and NBAA.
LOAs do serve a useful purpose, according to James Albright, a Gulfstream pilot and author of the highly regarded Code7700 website, which provides detailed explanations of a huge variety of business aviation subjects. Albright summarized the LOA requirement in a recent article on Code7700 (http://code7700.com/loa.html#references), pointing out that LOAs are needed when there is some type of operation that isn't covered by existing regulations. Updates of the regulations lag the introduction of new technology significantly, so LOAs fill the gap. For commercial operators, the corresponding tool is the Operations Specification (OpSpec). According to Albright, "You don't need an LOA to fly an airplane, but you will probably need an LOA to fly in certain airspace, use certain technology or do something above and beyond what is covered by your particular part of 14 CFR."
Simple Signoffs Drag Out
Early this year the FAA agreed to a streamlined process to handle RVSM LOA approvals, but for the operator of a Falcon 50 that is not the case. He told AIN that he has been waiting since April for an RVSM LOA. The LOA application is the simplest kind possible. This operator runs a small aircraft management company with fewer than a dozen aircraft, and this Falcon 50 was already under his company's management. The LOA application was required because the Falcon 50 was sold to a new owner, but it is flown by the same pilots and maintained by the same technicians. Only the owner's name had changed. As of August 18, the local FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) was still sitting on the Falcon's LOA application.
Because the LOA hasn't been approved, this operator can fly the Falcon 50 at FL290 or lower or at FL430 or above. On a hot day, a Falcon 50 struggles at FL430. "The other day ISA was +10," he told AIN, "and we are just hanging there at 43,000 at about Mach 0.72. If we had turbulence we could have had an upset. We're right there in the coffin corner. Somebody is going to get hurt."
On another recent flight in the Falcon, "There was a line of storms in front of us. We're at FL290. They couldn't let us climb, and I was about to declare an emergency. I'm not going to run my airplane through a hailstorm. It's turbulent and the passengers are wondering what's going on."
When forced to fly below FL290, the Falcon burns 60 percent more fuel, he said. The company's three Hawkers have a maximum altitude of FL410, and LOA delays with those forced some flights to down to lower altitudes. "We had one trip in a Hawker before it received its RVSM LOA," he added, "and they got the crap kicked out of them. Bobbing and weaving [to avoid thunderstorms] over Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska in the springtime, you're going to get your [butt] kicked." The Hawker burns about 1,600 pph at FL370, but below FL290 the flow climbs to more than 2,000 pph.
For long-range flights in the Falcon, this operator puts on the minimum amount of fuel to fly safety at FL430 for as far as possible. But flying around without extra fuel is anathema to this former Air Force pilot. "It's legal. We're not doing anything we shouldn't do, but going across country, why not take as much fuel as you can? Fill the sucker up and fly at 37,000; that's where the airplane is meant to fly." More often, he has to make an extra fuel stop or stops. "It's impossible to go to Hawaii or to Europe without making a bunch of fuel stops. It just doesn't make sense."
What bothers him is that the new owner of the Falcon 50 can't understand why "yesterday we flew at 37,000 feet within 1,000 feet of 100 different airplanes perfectly. The next day the ownership changes and now it can't do that."
He believes that some pilots are simply ignoring the prohibition against flying in RVSM airspace with an LOA. "There are no RVSM police out there," he said. "Who's to say you don't have an LOA? Every time I've been ramped nobody asked what altitude I flew at."
FAA leadership clearly doesn't understand the consequences of delays in LOA approvals, he added. "Do they really understand the challenges and the risk they are imposing on the fleet when they do this? They get all upset because a pilot hasn't had 10 hours of rest, but nobody is concerned when you force an airplane to fly through bad weather. Somebody needs to surface this issue as a real safety concern. That's the only thing that gets people's attention."
Agency's ‘Last Priority'
On July 23, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen submitted testimony on this subject to the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on aviation. "Operator authorizations remain one of the biggest issues for NBAA members," Bolen explained. "NBAA members have for years expressed concerns with the timelines and requirements to obtain a letter of authorization (LOA) for RVSM airspace operations." He emphasized that "long timelines have a direct impact on safety, the environment and overall cost of operations." While Bolen acknowledged the FAA's new policy that resulted from the industry-FAA RVSM LOA Process Enhancement Team, he explained that other LOAs besides RVSM approval still need to be addressed. The new policy is summarized in FAA Order 8900.1, Volume 4, Chapter 10, Section 1, Paragraph 4-1237- C.
However, operators still report that RVSM LOAs are not being processed quickly, even those that involve a simple name or N-number change. The management company owner mentioned above told AIN that one inspector told him that RVSM LOAs "‘are our last priority.' The FAA came out with this process but didn't give FSDOs any money or people to deal with it," he said.
One company CEO told AIN that he changed the name of the company that owns his jet. He admits that he flew a month in RVSM airspace before notifying his FSDO. "After being told that my LOA had been voided with the name change and that I could be subject to a violation for each flight into RVSM airspace, my POI [principal operations inspector] instructed me to send him the new documentation package."
He mistakenly, it turns out, covered the old company name with a label carrying the new name and logo on every header of each page of his RVSM operations and maintenance manual. It took "several weeks" for the FSDO to reject his application. So he reproduced the manual with headers containing the new company name and resubmitted the application.
More weeks went by before he received a letter from his FSDO saying that because the aircraft was registered to his company with an address in Nevada, the application needed to be made at a Nevada FSDO. Never mind that his company has operated for many years in Texas.
He submitted the paperwork to a Nevada FSDO and weeks passed before the Nevada FSDO finally acknowledged having received the RVSM package. But then it took a few more weeks for the FSDO to tell him that, sorry, this needs to be handled by the Texas FSDO because the aircraft is based in Texas. Finally, and more weeks later, the CEO got the two FSDO inspectors on the phone together and agreeing that the Texas FSDO would handle the RVSM LOA.
"Ultimately, my LOA was reissued with the proper corporate name but identical in every other respect to the previous LOA," he told AIN. The kicker is that I had to avoid RVSM airspace for more than one year because I changed the name of my company that owned the aircraft, which resulted in a very significant cost to me by not flying more economical altitudes and the resulting reduction in range necessitating additional fuel stops. This is a broken FAA system that unnecessarily consumes FAA resources and aircraft owner/operator dollars."
He estimated that the fuel wasted during that year of flying below FL290 amounted to 7,312 gallons.
The FAA's vision, clearly stated on its website, is: "We strive to reach the next level of safety, efficiency, environmental responsibility and global leadership. We are accountable to the American public and our stakeholders." AIN called three FSDOs to ask about LOA delays and workloads, but was handed off to the FAA's public relations office. Inquiries to one regional FAA public relations office and to the FAA headquarters public relations office were not answered as of August 18.
Other operators responded to AIN's request for feedback on LOA approval delays, and AIN will report on those and any new information in the October issue.
Manufacturers saw a better than 12-percent jump in first-half business jet deliveries year over year, with 318 handed over during the first six months of this year, according to statistics released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). Much of this increase was fueled by Cessna, which delivered 71 jets in the first half of the year, a 36.5-percent rise over the same period last year. Though the company saw decreases in most of its other models, its totals were buoyed by recent certifications of the Citation M2, Sovereign+ and X+. Deliveries of the M2 (which received EASA certification in June) began late last year, and the Wichita manufacturer handed over 19 of the CJ1 replacements in this year's first half. Following FAA approval for the revamped Sovereign+ in December, Cessna more than tripled its output of the jet from five in the first half of last year to 16 through June of this year. The Citation X+ earned its FAA certification in late June, and Cessna delivered three before the end of the first half.
Embraer saw a nearly 20-percent rise in deliveries year over year, driven primarily by the 30 Phenom 300 light jets handed over, double the number delivered in the first half of last year. Speaking during a second-quarter earnings call, CFO José Filippo said Embraer expects to meet its goal of delivering between 105 and 120 executive jets for the year.
Ramping up its smaller-cabin offerings, Gulfstream logged deliveries of 77 aircraft total in the first six months, up from 65 in the same period last year, an increase of 18.5 percent. While the company added four large-cabin aircraft to its first-half 2013 tally, it doubled that number in the smaller-cabin sector, delivering eight more G150s/G280s in the first six months of the year than in the same period last year.
Dassault saw a 14-percent decline in deliveries during the first half of the year, delivering four fewer aircraft than in the first six months of last year. While the company handed over eight fewer Falcon 7X trijets in the first half of this year, that deficit was partially offset by deliveries of seven Falcon 2000LXSs. That aircraft was certified late last year.
Bombardier saw a modest decrease in its year-over-year tallies, attributable mainly to the cessation of Learjet 60XR production and the company's transition from the Challenger 300 to the 350, which earned certification at the end of June. In the first six months of 2013, the Canadian maker delivered 30 of the super-midsize twinjets, but this year that first-half total dropped to 23 as the company anticipated approval of the upgraded version in June. Bombardier exceeded its 1H 2013 tally of large-cabin/long-range Globals by five, while deliveries of its new Learjet 70/75, which began late last year as a replacement for the Learjet 40XR/45XR, added seven more light jets to its year-over-year first-half total.
Among the bizliner manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus deliveries remained unchanged from last year's first half, while Embraer, with two Lineage 1000s handed over, doubled its tally from the first half of last year.
Eclipse Aerospace, which this year began deliveries of the EA550 (an upgrade of the original Eclipse Aviation EA500), handed over nine of the new-build very light jets during the first six months.
"The business jet market is continuing its somewhat grudging recovery," said Raymond Jaworowski, senior aerospace analyst with Forecast International. "Traditionally, demand in the business jet market is tied to growth in the economy and even more closely to corporate profits; however, in the current recovery since the downturn in '08 and '09 that hasn't necessarily been the case." While corporate profits have been fairly healthy for the most part for the past few years, uncertainty in the economy has led many businesses to hesitate in making big capital purchases, Jaworowski noted. While he acknowledged that the most recent numbers are encouraging, Jaworowski added, "We would have to see several consecutive quarters of growth to be cause for rejoicing."
Those sentiments echo GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce's commentary. "The encouraging numbers in the piston airplane and business jet segments drive the industry's optimism about global general aviation growth, but deliveries of turboprops this quarter were flat," he noted. "A great deal of work remains to make this recovery sustainable over the long term."
Though turboprops overall showed a slight 1.4-percent decline year over year, the pressurized turboprop segment remained virtually static, with just one more aircraft delivery than in the first six months of last year. Beechcraft, which was acquired by Textron in March, saw a 12.5-percent decline in deliveries. While Piper and Pilatus saw no change in the number of Meridians and PC-12s handed over, Daher-Socata delivered an additional three aircraft in the first half of the year, based in part on the introduction of the TBM 900, a faster, more efficient upgrade of the 850, in the second quarter. The company plans to ship 50 TBM 900s this year, up from the 40 TBM 850s it delivered lastyear. Piaggio, which launched the Evo upgrade of its Avanti II turboprop twin in May at EBACE, said it will release its delivery totals at year-end.
Industry billings were up by half a billion dollars in the first half of the year, a gain of 4.5 percent over the same period last year.
Brazilian civil aviation agency ANAC issued type certification for Embraer's Legacy 500 in a ceremony held during the LABACE show in São Paulo on August 13. U.S. FAA certification for the $20 million midsize jet is expected in the coming weeks, with European approval to follow soon after.
ANAC approval, the culmination of a six-year development program for the fly-by-wire jet, paves the way for delivery of the first aircraft (S/N 005) next month to an undisclosed Brazilian industrial customer that will use the aircraft to link the company's facilities around the country.
"We are pleased to confirm that all Legacy 500 design goals have been achieved or surpassed. The airplane is better than we predicted," said Embraer Executive Jets president and CEO Marco Túlio Pellegrini. "This aircraft is a game-changer. With greater range and better field performance than originally planned, the Legacy 500 sets a new standard for the midsize class. It's going to be a flexible aircraft that will open up new markets for us."
Examples of those better-than-expected certified figures are a high-speed cruise of 466 knots (design goal of 460 knots), a takeoff distance of 4,084 feet (4,600-foot goal), landing distance of 2,122 feet (2,400 feet) and a range of 3,125 nm (3,000 nm).
Since the type first flew on Nov. 27, 2012, the four-aircraft development fleet has logged more than 1,800 flight hours in the test and certification process. Laboratory tests with rigs for avionics, electrical, hydraulic and environmental systems accrued 20,000 hours.
To complete certification, Embraer installed a complete interior in the fourth development Legacy 500. The company will retain that aircraft as a demonstrator, and also use it to accelerate the maturity program. With certification in hand, Embraer is moving into the production phase. Up to six aircraft are to be completed before year-end, including two more to be used as company demonstrators. Production will ramp up next year.
The Legacy 500 features the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics suite. A pair of Honeywell HTF7500Es provides the thrust, and the same company also supplies the Legacy 500's auxiliary power unit, Ovation Select cabin management system, cabin pressure control system and air conditioning system.
Meanwhile, Embraer is well advanced with testing the Legacy 450 mid-light jet, which first flew on December 28 last year. Certification of the 450 is slated for the middle of next year, with 600 flight hours scheduled to complete all tests. Since it uses more than 90 percent of the systems of the larger Legacy 500, including the fly-by-wire flight controls, the 450 does not require as extensive a certification test program. Currently, the sole Legacy 450 development aircraft is not flying, but is slated to return to the sky next month.