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Monday, June 9, 2008

Commentary: Are Controllers Really Having VLJ Problems? No

Kathryn B. Creedy

USA Today’s Alan Levin reported last week that controllers are charging that the slowness of Very Light Jets causes problems with the pacing of aircraft. However, the controllers who were complaining, top officials at two National Air Traffic Controllers Association locals admitted that they are not having problems with the 12 aircraft flown by DayJet, the major very light jet operator in the skies they cover in Florida. Methinks controllers are adding VLJs to the posturing they are doing to gain media coverage for their fight with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Levin interviewed Miami Local National Air Traffic Controllers' Association President Steve Wallace, who was echoed by the Jacksonville union head David Cook, who told Levin, “they don’t mix well with larger jets.” The two were joined by the Air Line Pilots Association.
So much for all the extra training FAA was supposed to be doing in order to accommodate the new class of jets. Michael Cirillo, FAA's vice president for system operations services, testified last fall their impact should actually be minimal, given their design for lower altitudes and small, satellite airports. The prediction that VLJ ownership, expected at 5,000 over the next decade, will grow so far so fast as to “blacken the skies,” according to FAA Associate Administrator for Safety Nicholas Sabatini, has prompted the creation of a cross-organization group to address safety and capacity issues. The group consists of the air traffic organization (ATO), fight standards service, aircraft evaluation group and the aircraft certification office, with separate committees focusing on pilot training and checking, flight operations, maintenance, and inspector and controller training. Related Story
No one likes change but controllers seem especially resistant since they reacted the same way to regional jets, also saying they did not fit in, back in the 1990s, and, before that, new generation turboprops, in the 1980s. Thus their resistance to the very light jet is completely predictable.
Levin noted that the VLJs top speed is 100 mph slower than commercial jets and they do not have the climbing performance. “[The controllers] said, however, that if hundreds of the jets began filling the skies it would be difficult to accommodate them without major delays…Capt. Rory Kay, safety chairman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said flying behind an Eclipse in a large jet would be ‘a bit like following a farm vehicle,’” wrote Levin.
Commercial pilots want them equipped with Threat Collision Avoidance Systems. They also want the single-level-of-safety rule extended to the new breed of aircraft which would distort the economics of the very light jets. The unnecessary single-level-of-safety rule ruined the economics of regional jets during the 1990s and resulted in the wholesale abandonment of small community air service. The increased costs mandated by the rule meant many profitable services had to be ditched, leaving small communities underserved.
Of course, it is these same communities that the new breed of air carriers such as DayJet and Linear seek to reconnect to the national air transportation system. However, should this emerging industry be saddled with the costly rules, the loss-of-air-service scenario could repeat itself. FAA is already drafting new rules which were covered by Aviation Today’s VLJ Report in its launch issue when it interviewed the FAA on the proposals. Related Story
The single-level-of-safety rule did little to improve the regional airline industry safety since the industry’s safety record equaled that of the major carriers long before the rule was proposed. The industry was already operating to Part 121 standards, mandated by the major carriers as part of code-sharing relationships. Rule Background

VLJs to Benefit, Not Hamper, the System
USA Today missed a huge part of the story. Industry experts know that very light jets will be maximizing airspace and airport usage, not the other way around. VLJ operations are optimized to avoid the congestion-prone commercial routes and airports and Levin quoted DayJet President Ed Iacobucci as saying flying low, and out of the commercial carriers’, way makes more sense than getting to 41,000 feet for the short-haul legs it flies. In fact, most in the industry expect very light jets to bring into fuller production underutilized airspace and airports. Related Story Even so fuel burn could be reduced dramatically if higher altitudes and direct routings were available.
But VLJs are expected to play a critical role in testing the NextGen technologies. Indeed, Personal Air Transportation Alliance (PATA) members are planning trials to prove and quicken the deployment of new technology Related Story
“The purpose of our involvement is to use our advanced aircraft at secondary and tertiary airports to move the ball across the finish line faster than originally planned,” PATA President Jack Olcott told Aviation Today’s VLJ Report, adding it is looking for participation and financial support from aircraft and component manufacturers as well as operators and infrastructure providers. “We can be the vanguard of NextGen. We can make the case for earlier implementation.”
PATA members have developed demonstrations, planned for this, and the next, decade, at the OEP 35 plus 250 airports. They are particularly interested in the aspects related to high-frequency operations outside of the hub-and-spoke structure. DayJet’s operations since its launch last year proved decreased fuel burn, lower environmental impacts and increased capacity can be had using several developments including required navigation performance (RNP) procedures.
PATA members would also like to see common internet protocols for better fleet control as well as precision minima to all runway ends with GPS-based approaches. PATA members have already demonstrated Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) ability for self separation in non-controlled airports which could mean fuller and safer operational capability at airports without surveillance radar by using multi-lateration and broadcast traffic information services (TIS-B). And, en route, ADS-B, which was proved under the FAA’s Capstone project with users in Alaska, affords self-separation.
“With our unique set of capabilities we can demonstrate the advantage of NextGen systems such as Required Navigation Performance, ADS-B in and out and WAAS, including greater implementation of WAAS approaches,” said Olcott. “Those technologies would show significant improvements and create a compelling case to move down the field faster.”
Olcott noted that major carriers must still equip their aircraft but the Eclipse 500 has already incorporated the avionics needed for NextGen and PATA members are able to make the installation of new avionics faster. In addition, major carriers are reluctant to test in the sensitive environment surrounding busy hubs, although they are already testing the use of RNP to reduce noise and fuel burn in the terminal environment.
“If we can prove the technology at secondary and tertiary airports served by PATA members it will save a lot of time,” he said. “We will then be able to show airlines what to expect when they deploy the technology on their aircraft.”
Initially, PATA would generate baseline data funded by private money which would then advance into a public/private partnership and eventually be supported by FAA. The agency has already committed to mandate ADS-B and will roll it out with PATA members, said Olcott. The tests would use Cirrus 22s and Eclipse 500s and other light equipment which operate at the margins of the system, he said.
“Whatever they do can be measured to get the baseline data, then, as new technology is added, they can document what is saved in time, noise, fuel burn and a lot of other parameters that make up air transportation,” said Olcott. “Since they don’t fly out of the hubs, they can test the new technology without disrupting the system. They will give a very clear picture of the advantages and payoffs of the new technology.”
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