I’ve touched upon the theme of technological innovation and advancement during difficult times and it bears repeating after several industry milestones were reached beginning late last year.
On Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving in the United States, we saw the first flight of the Gulfstream G650 ultra long-range business jet in Savannah, Ga. The solar-powered Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype flew Dec. 3 at Dubendorf Airfield in Switzerland. Shades of the Wright brothers at Kill Devil Hills, the plane covered 350 meters at an altitude of one meter.
In quick succession thereafter came the first flight of the Eurocopter EC175 medium twin helicopter Dec. 4 at Marignane, France; the Airbus A400M military transport Dec. 11 at Seville, Spain; the Gulfstream G250 super mid-size business jet Dec. 11 at Tel Aviv, Israel; and perhaps most celebrated, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner on Dec. 15 from Everett, Wash. Anticipated as this issue of Avionics shipped to the printer was the maiden flight of the Boeing 747-8F Freighter.
The first flight of the stretched 747-8 jumbo jet, following that of the Gulfstream G650, will mark an avionics milestone as well the first simultaneous introduction of baseline flight management system (FMS) software into both the air-transport and business aviation segments. Both aircraft use Honeywell’s Next Generation FMS software baseline, with unique aspects and inputs of each aircraft retained through software partitioning and abstraction layers.
In the performance-based airspace system of the future, “there are certain things that everybody wants to have the same,” said Chad Cundiff, Honeywell Aerospace vice president for Crew Interface Products. “… And there are a lot of benefits to making them the same, because then air-traffic control can learn to anticipate what aircraft are going to do and they can start to bring down separations and more efficiently use that airspace.” (More on page 8.)
Along those same lines, Universal Avionics and Horizon Air announced Jan. 8 the first regional airline passenger flights a week earlier using GPS Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) and WAAS Localizer Performance with Vertical guidance (LPV) approach procedures. The feat was accomplished by a Horizon Air 76-seat Bombardier Q400 turboprop equipped with dual Universal Avionics UNS-1Ew flight management systems.
Horizon Air and sister Alaska Airlines are industry pioneers we’ve written about before Horizon in 2006 became the first regional carrier certified for Required Navigation Performance (RNP) approaches. The airline has one WAAS-equipped Q400 and a commitment from FAA to upgrade six more aircraft. In return, Horizon will provide FAA with data on 300 flight legs.
All this is not meant to obscure the economic turmoil faced by airframers and airlines alike, hence the earlier reference to difficult times. The first flights of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A400M were painfully overdue, leading to order cancellations in the former case and possibly a program cancellation in the latter.
Speakers participating in our Dec. 2 Webinar, “Latest Trends in In-Flight Entertainment,” were candid in describing the trickle-down effect on suppliers (see pages 16-17). “I’d be lying if I said [787 delays] didn’t have a significant impact,” said Neil James, Panasonic Avionics Corp. executive director, Corporate Sales and Product Management. The overdue Dreamliner program, on top of the 2008 Boeing machinists strike and delayed deliveries of the Airbus A380 “was significant enough to make us really draw a breath and take stock of where we were,” James said.
So it was a subdued crowd of aviation industry executives and journalists who gathered Dec. 16 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington for the normally festive Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) Year-End Review and Forecast Luncheon. There, AIA President and CEO Marion Blakey described the big picture. Aerospace industry sales, helped by military-related products, are expected to grow modestly this year to $214.4 billion, but the industry “is likely to run short of momentum” in 2011. Orders were down for a second straight year, falling dramatically by 33 percent to $155 billion. Backlog, the industry’s Rock of Gibraltar, fell for the first time since 2003, dropping to $356 billion from $402 billion in 2008.
“Persistence and resilience” was the theme of Blakey’s address. “The aerospace industry is hanging in there,” she said. “This we firmly believe from the indicators we see.”