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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Editor's Note: More Bizjets Using FANS?

David Jensen

From our Q&A this month we learn that the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) is the first corporate aircraft certified for future air navigation system (FANS) operations. But it no longer is the only FANS-approved bizjet; in March Airbus won FANS certification on its A320 family of aircraft, including the Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ). Though they don't enjoy Boeing's and Airbus' advantage of being able to transfer FANS development from air transport models, other business aircraft makers probably will offer FANS packages, too.

However, we've had FANS for some time. Why has the incorporation of FANS in bizjets been slow in coming? Used primarily for operations over oceans and in remote regions, it offers considerable benefit, including more direct routing, reduced separation and efficient route changes.

One manufacturer points out that some of his customers are waiting to see what happens to the aeronautical telecommunications network (ATN). Many expect that ATN will supersede FANS and sense an advantage in holding out for the more capable communications, navigation and surveillance (CNS) technology.

But ATN acceptance has been slow, especially by cash-strapped commercial operators who are in no hurry to install new systems. Europe is proceeding with controller pilot data link communications (CPDLC), supported by ATN, in Eurocontrol's Link 2000+ program. But only some 150 aircraft are being equipped for ATN. Meanwhile, an estimated 1,500 aircraft are FANS-equipped, and a growing number, including U.S. Air Force planes, are joining the ranks.

Which brings up the main reason why only the BBJ and ACJ are FANS-approved. Though most long-range business aircraft can be upgraded for FANS operations, no full FANS package exists for any other bizjet. Avionics manufacturers simply are not confident that a sufficient market exists for bizjet FANS.

Indeed, only a small fraction of transoceanic flights are by business aircraft. But that doesn't necessarily preclude the bizjet operators' desire to equip for FANS. Bill Stein, director of international operations for the National Business Aviation Association and corporate secretary for the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), points out that most business operators base their decision to equip more on access than on cost benefit. Corporate operators want access to all available civil airspace.

A study of the bizjet market, initiated last year by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and IBAC, may change the avionics manufacturers' perspective of the FANS market. The study, which lists recommendations for advancing international business aircraft travel, followed a meeting of aviation groups that had joined to ask the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for more details about its CNS/ATM (air traffic management) implementation plan. ICAO, in turn, has sought input from industry to help update its global navigation plan.

Since the bizjet community is more fragmented than the air transport community, IBAC and GAMA decided to conduct the study, which will provide ICAO a more complete picture of business aviation and its needs. The report from the study was not yet public as this was written, in early May. However, Don Spruston, IBAC's director general, says that by late May a written copy was to be sent to IBAC and GAMA members, and an electronic copy was to be posted on IBAC's Web site, www.ibac.org.

One recommendation to ICAO is to have the air navigation service providers "prepare for the future by advancing both FANS and ATN to assure harmonization in the long term," says Spruston. The report also directs its recommendations to bizjet operators--to equip for FANS if they find a need exists--and to original equipment manufacturers--to pursue a business model that could lead to FANS for business aircraft. Stein believes the bizjet market for FANS is "at the tipping point," where manufacturers can see a break-even point in supplying FANS.

"The avionics manufacturers are not yet committed to developing a FANS package for bizjets," Spruston adds, "but if a business model works out, they say they can ramp up quickly. We hope this report will help encourage them to do so."

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