The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) show was particularly interesting this year, not because it indicated strong growth in corporate aviation (it didn’t), nor because it spotlighted more new technology than usual. What made this year’s event, held in early September at Orlando, particularly interesting were the trends in new options being presented to the most coveted of air transportation customers: the business traveler. Catered to more than all other air travelers, the person who frequently flies for business now, apparently, can choose from a wider variety of aircraft than ever before.
A new animal has entered the corporate aircraft menagerie: the ultralight jet. These are not bizjets with swivel rockers, in-flight entertainment (IFE) and galleys installed in separate cabin areas. Picture a BMW sedan with wings, a tail and two jet engines. Eclipse Aviation is a leader in this new category of business aircraft, but it’s being challenged by companies such as Maverick Jet, with the six-place Twin Jet priced at just $750,000, and Aviation Technology Group, with the two-seat Javelin (more a Porsche with wings). The targeted customer for these personal jets is the CEO who knows how to fly.
For avionics manufacturers, these new aircraft present a significant challenge. According to John Uczecaj, Honeywell’s vice president and general manager of business, regional and helicopter electronic systems, the cockpit panels in ultralight jets must perform comparably to those in the larger corporate jets, yet be smaller, lighter and more economical. They also must not be extremely complex.
Meanwhile, in the air transport arena, both Boeing and Airbus said at NBAA that they are keeping a sharp eye on the all-business-class service between Dusseldorf and Newark provided by Lufthansa and PrivatAir. The recently launched, six-day-a-week service employs a 44-passenger Boeing Business Jet (BBJ). Its wide acceptance could create a new market for the BBJ and Airbus’ ACJ, serving business travelers who have become wary of commercial air travel since Sept 11, 2001.
For the avionics manufacturers, the proliferation of all-business-class air travel would probably unearth a demand for top-of-the-line IFE systems and e-mail/Internet connectivity, to be installed throughout aircraft cabins.
Two areas of technology–one in the cabin and the other in the cockpit–were prominent during NBAA 2002. "Office in the sky," a topic we covered in our September issue (page 22), was a frequently heard phrase at the show. Rockwell Collins announced a new family of integrated products to provide e-mail/Internet connectivity, IFE and environmental control in the cabin. The product line-up is called, appropriately, Airshow 21; the name creates an emblematic counterbalance to Collins’ Pro Line 21 avionics for the cockpit and makes reference to its recent acquisition of Airshow. Collins also announced it has an agreement with Bombardier Aerospace to develop an Airshow 21 system for the new Global 5000 business jet.
Airshow 21 is not alone in the field, of course. Teledyne Controls announced at NBAA the availability of its SmartCabin Office Suite–developed jointly with EMS Technologies, Raytheon, Miltope Corp. and Verizon. Baker Electronics unveiled a digital cabin management system, which it plans to make available in the third quarter of 2003. And Thales Avionics announced an agreement with Audio International, a DeCrane Aircraft company, to develop a range of cabin management systems.
Contributing greatly to cabin systems development has been the introduction earlier this year of Inmarsat’s new Swift64 high-speed satcom service. Inmarsat, however, is looking beyond a 64-kilobit/sec (Kbit/sec) data rate with plans to offer a 432-Kbit/sec service with its new Inmarsat IV satellites, due to be launched in 2004. Inmarsat officials say that satcom antennas built for Swift64 can be upgraded for the upcoming service.
The most prominent cockpit technology at NBAA 2002 was enhanced vision systems (EVS). Bombardier announced it will install an EVS in its Global Express as standard equipment, making the manufacturer the launch customer for CMC Electronics’ SureSight infrared (IR) system. A Kollsman EVS was certified on Global Express’ chief competitor, the Gulfstream 550, in late 2001. Two EVS-equipped 550s (designated C-37s) have been delivered to the U.S. Air Force, and Gulfstream was scheduled to deliver the first commercial aircraft with enhanced vision this fall. Meanwhile, Cessna Aircraft said it plans to offer Max Viz’s EVS-2000 enhanced vision system as an option on its Citation X and Sovereign bizjets.
Will business air travel support these new technologies and transportation trends? According to Honeywell’s annual business jet forecast, a slowdown in bizjet deliveries in 2002 and 2003 will be followed by a slow but steady recovery. The company predicts 7,600 business jets valued at $121 billion will be delivered between 2003 and 2013.
Interestingly, Honeywell discovered from its survey a strong interest in the new ultralight jets. Indeed, 10 percent of the 2,000 owner-pilots interviewed said they plan to make a purchase within the next 10 years, and 13.5 percent of the 1,000 corporate flight departments surveyed said the probability of ordering an ultralight jet is between 76 and 100 percent.
Will the all-business-class air transport service receive equal or greater acceptance than the ultralight jets? If so, the favored business traveler–adapting to (and influencing) the post-9/11 era in air transportation–will be able to choose from more travel options than ever before.