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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Aspiring, Ascending

Recovery of the business aviation segment isn’t expected until 2012, but that hasn’t stopped new avionics product and service launches, as NBAA proved

By Bill Carey

Aspire and Ascend are the names of two new product lines announced by EMS Aviation and Rockwell Collins, respectively, at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention in Atlanta in October. They might also describe the state of business aviation in general as the industry claws back from an historic low.

This year should mark the bottom of the business jet delivery down cycle begun in 2009, and the market will ascend beginning in 2012, according to the Honeywell Business Aviation Outlook. The annual survey of 1,200 corporate flight departments, aircraft manufacturers and other sources projects 2011 deliveries will fall below 700 units for a second year, down 17 percent from 2009 and 38 percent from the peak in 2008. There is less volatility in order rates, Honeywell says, but orders remain soft and large-cabin jets are faring better than smaller ones.

Distress at the lower end of the market was exemplified Oct. 16, on the eve of NBAA, when members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers voted down a new contract offer from Hawker Beechcraft, leaving in doubt its eight-decade presence in Wichita, Kan. In the aftermath of the union vote, the company was evaluating an offer to relocate its base to Louisiana.

In November, after reporting a 22 percent tumble in third-quarter sales from 2009, Hawker Beechcraft said it will suspend production of its Hawker 400XP light jet for two years until the market recovers.

While the industry remains in the woods, participation at NBAA 2010 was improved from the prior-year event in Orlando. The organizers reported slightly more exhibitors 1,083 versus 1,075 and a 5 percent increase in attendee registration to 24,206.

Large-cabin business jet manufacturers displayed measured optimism. “We took in 34 new orders in the first nine months of the year, and that’s double what we had in 2009, which was clearly the worst year ever in business aviation,” said John Rosanvallon, president of Dassault Falcon Jet.

That fateful year the company experienced 160 net cancellations, so the order uptick is a positive sign, he added.

The 2010 event was not without the kind of flash reminiscent of happier times. In that sense it was aspirational; for example, Canada’s Bombardier Aerospace introduced the new Global 7000 and 8000 long-range, large-cabin business jets, slated to enter service in 2016 and 2017, respectively. They will compete against Gulfstream’s G650, which made its public debut with a production interior at the NBAA static display, DeKalb Peachtree Airport outside of Atlanta. First flown on Nov. 25, 2009, the G650 is slated to enter service in 2012.

A high-volume aircraft order was announced by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer and fractional ownership company NetJets (whose own recent recovery necessitated cancellations with Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft and Dassault). The companies unveiled a purchase agreement for up to 125 Phenom 300 light jets, with a potential value in excess of $1 billion. The agreement covers 50 customized Phenom 300 “Platinum Edition” aircraft, plus 75 options. The first 50 jets will be delivered from 2013 to 2015.

Embraer President and CEO Frederico Fleury Curado and NetJets Chairman and CEO David Sokol celebrated the agreement by pulling the wraps off a Platinum Edition model aircraft as photographers jostled for position. During the press briefing that followed, Sokol said the NetJets custom version will feature “certain creature comforts” desired by owners for the cabin, but including “more than just cabin amenities.” The standard Phenom 300 is fitted with Embraer’s Prodigy flight deck based on Garmin G1000 avionics.

Cockpit Developments

Garmin made its own waves at NBAA. The Olathe, Kan., company announced the development of an integrated avionics suite for Part 25 transport category aircraft, stepping up from its traditional focus on lower-end general aviation aircraft certified to Part 23. The new offering will position the GA glass-cockpit innovator against market leaders Honeywell and Rockwell Collins.

The Garmin 5000 avionics suite is being designed specifically for crew-flown turbine aircraft, combining a dual multi-sensor flight management system and multi-pane cockpit displays, Garmin said. The company expects to obtain Technical Standard Order approval of the G5000 system in 2012.

Also in Atlanta, Cessna Aircraft announced the launch of the Citation Ten, an advanced version of its Citation X business jet, that will be the debut platform for the G5000 flight deck. First flight of the Citation Ten is planned for late 2011, with certification and first delivery in 2013.

In another significant flight deck-related development at NBAA, Esterline CMC Electronics announced an exclusive license agreement to produce the L-3 Avionics Systems SmartDeck integrated cockpit unveiled by L-3 at NBAA 2007 in Atlanta. The system was certified by FAA on the Cirrus SR22 single-engine turboprop in May 2008.

Greg Yeldon, CMC Electronics president, said the licensing agreement benefits his company by reducing development risk and accelerating the time-to-market for solutions related to SmartDeck technology. CMC plans to build on the L-3 platform “using our experience in Part 23 and Part 25 cockpit certification to grow SmartDeck into various adaptable solutions for all types of aircraft,” the company stated.

Apart from some notable front-office avionics developments at NBAA, product and service launches like Aspire and Ascend spoke to the industry trend toward in-flight connectivity, content management and familiar user interfaces in the cabin. Among developments in user interfaces, EMS Aviation said it will introduce the first passenger handset for business aviation based on the Android mobile operating system. Universal Avionics launched UniNet Mobile, an application enabling operators to wirelessly update their navigation databases with Android mobile phones. Flight Display Systems now offers an Apple iPad Arm Mount, in addition to iPod cable adapter, docking station and other accessories.

Flight Displays Systems, Alpharetta, Ga., claims to be the industry leader in cabin entertainment system retrofits for business aviation. At NBAA, the company introduced a new Club CMS upgrade for the Cessna Citation Mustang and Embraer Phenom 100 and 300 light jets. Taking fashion direction from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, President and CEO David Gray and his son, Nick, briefed the press in matching outfits blue jeans and black sweaters. “We’re in a fun part of the industry; we’re in the back of the airplane,” David Gray said. “Consumer electronics really drives what we do.”

EMS Aviation said its new Aspire brand, a modular, scalable family of Iridium and Inmarsat voice and data systems intended for small and medium-sized business aircraft, is a “revolution in airborne connectivity.”

The Aspire product line is designed with standard interfaces and interchangeable system components, including Iridium and Inmarsat transceivers and a variety of antennae.

EMS plans to introduce Aspire in phases. The first offering, the Aspire 200 LG, was to be installed on a Cessna Sovereign. Aspire 200 LG is an Inmarsat cabin solution that offers voice and data connectivity through one channel of SwiftBroadband (SB200) service, with up to 200 Kbps data rate. With a high-gain antenna, the system also supports automatic switching to Swift 64 services.

Airborne connectivity is “an absolute must demand. … Corporations are demanding the capability to communicate at least by email,” said Cliff Topham, EMS Aviation vice president of sales and marketing.

Building on its early 2010 acquisition of Air Routing International of Houston, which provided trip planning services to corporate flight departments, Rockwell Collins introduced Ascend Flight Information Solutions, a suite of application services making available flight-planning, cabin and maintenance services from one source.

Cabin services available through Ascend include the Rockwell Collins Airshow Network, personalized moving maps, Tailwind satellite TV and content subscription management. Maintenance services include wireless updates of flight management system and other databases, plus wireless downloads of fault histories and LRU diagnostics.

Rockwell Collins’ new Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics system, which enters service this year on the Bombardier Global Express XRS, will be Ascend capable.

“Pro Line Fusion was designed with Ascend in mind,” said Greg Irmen, vice president and general manager, Business and Regional Systems. “Pro Line Fusion is our flagship for the services that are offered with Ascend.”

Irmen offered a scenario involving Ascend’s Aircraft Information Manager component, an online flight-management support system that schedulers, dispatchers and pilots can securely monitor.

“With a Pro Line Fusion flight deck and a service subscription to our Aircraft Information Manager services, uploading databases for your aircraft is a whole new experience,” he said.

“No more do you have to receive your FMS database or your electronic charts via the mail, or go online and download them. No longer will you need to take your laptop out to your aircraft, or a memory stick out to your aircraft to download the information. Instead, the aircraft will be updated automatically no matter where the aircraft resides. With Ascend, we are going to move the industry to a new level of information enablement.”

In Other Developments...

➤Honeywell announced at NBAA that Primus Epic, the industry’s first certified, fully integrated avionics system, has exceeded five million flight hours of operation. The open-architecture system now integrates 30 sub-systems from other vendors, and is fielded on more than 2,000 aircraft. “Primus Epic today is the clear leader in the market,” said Carl Esposito, vice president for Product Management. “Despite all the marketing hype, (competitors) products are still in the concept, design and certification process. By the time they get to where we are today, Primus Epic will be setting new standards in functionality and capability.”

Also, Honeywell and Gulfstream have been awarded a $1.2 million contract from NASA for an 11-month program to test Synthetic and Enhanced Vision Systems (SEVS) for the NextGen flight environment. The two will conduct flight tests of a Honeywell SVS with Gulfstream’s EVS, developed with Kollsman, to further extend the capabilities of cockpit displays for VFR-like procedures in instrument conditions. The trials will investigate using SVS as low as 100 feet above threshold, transitioning to EVS and using it to land. Honeywell’s SmartView SVS is available as an upgrade for Primus Epic-equipped Gulfstreams, and is installed on more than 170 jets.

➤ MRO StandardAero reported that its avionics business was running at 175 percent of its 2009 retrofit sales. “OEM deliveries has traditionally been a metric of industry health; we look at flying hours and engine events,” said Scott Taylor, senior vice president for Business Aviation. “The market is coming back slightly,” he said, with an increase in discretionary spending on cabin management systems, paint and interior modifications.

StandardAero announced that it has teamed with Rockwell Collins to develop an STC for a Pro Line 4 to Pro Line 21 flight deck upgrade of the Dassault Falcon 50EX, including WAAS/LPV capabilities. It has modified its Pratt & Whitney PT6A-52 STC for Beechcraft King Air 200 series aircraft to interface with the Garmin G1000 avionics package.

➤Eclipse Aerospace, Charlestown, S.C., said the AvioNG integrated flight management system from Innovative Solutions & Support will be available to the owners of 260 Eclipse light jets, and will be standard on upgraded Total Eclipse jets.

➤TrueNorth Avionics, LiveTV Airfone and Satcom Direct have teamed to develop a next-generation MagnaStar digital telephone system, based on TrueNorth’s Simphone OpenCabin system, that will be the first terrestrial network to encompass voice, data, Wi-Fi and other services.

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