For a couple of seasons in the 1960s- American television carried a humorous comedy show called ‘That Was the Week That Was.’ TWTWTW- as headline writers identified the program- served up doses of news from the past week seasoned with humor- some satirical- some ironic and some just plainly funny. Somewhat like a dose of the campaign of California Gov. Arnold I’ll Be Bach Swartzenegger- the program inevitably carried moments that defied believability.
2003 had it all: Recovery hints- security intransigence and progress.
For a couple of seasons in the 1960s- American television carried a humorous comedy show called ‘That Was the Week That Was.’ TWTWTW- as headline writers identified the program- served up doses of news from the past week seasoned with humor- some satirical- some ironic and some just plainly funny. Somewhat like a dose of the campaign of California Gov. Arnold 'I’ll Be Bach' Swartzenegger- the program inevitably carried moments that defied believability.
Although 2003 served the business aviation community with fewer moments of unbelievability than 2002- the year nonetheless included some items that continue to defy common sense and frustrate logical analysis.
Still- in many areas business aviation managed some true progress- in hardware developments- in access and in people. Ride along with us as we glance back at the year just passed.
Advancing business flying in 2003
A number of first flights occurred in 2003- each notable in some way- and collectively an indication of humanity’s continuing efforts as to advance the state-of-the-art in business aviation.
For example- the February first flight of the conformal prototype of the Czech-made Ae270 single-engine propjet moves that program another step closer to approval. The flight-test program continued to make progress throughout the year.
Among the most long-awaited first flights in aviation history was the maiden time of the BA609 Tiltrotor- which flew last March at the Bell/Agusta facility in Ft. Worth- Texas. Success for this complex aircraft – one that launches and lands as a turbine-powered rotorcraft- but cruises as a fixed-wing propjet – could revolutionize business flying. But complete fulfillment of the Tiltrotor’s potential still requires more access close to business centers that allow the unique aircraft to avoid remote airports.
When Cessna’s flight-test team launched the third incarnation of the CitationJet- the CJ3- on its maiden flight in April- the milestone reflected the expanded success of the company’s reinvention of the entry-level business jet back in 1989.
Adam Aircraft- which had not yet certificated its first airplane- the piston-powered A500- successfully flew its new composite jet- the A700. So successful was that first flight on July 27 that before the month ended company founder Rick Adam got the prototype out to Wisconsin for an appearance at the 50th anniversary Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture fly-in in Oshkosh.
First flights- post mod – as in 'modification'
Few products in business aviation last for long before a way to improve on the product comes along. Sometimes- the improvement comes from the originator- sometimes from an outside party.
Spirit Wing’s upgraded Learjet 25 follows the latter pattern- thanks to the replacement of the original GE engines with new- modern- more fuel-efficient FJ44 powerplants from Williams International. From that January first flight- the company started the process of winning approval for a package of upgrades that includes the engine replacement.
At Dassault- the all-digital EASy flight-deck improvements to the Falcon 2000EX took wing in February – with the all-new all-electronic panel the planemaker developed in partnership with Honeywell.
In addition- in May- Eclipse Aviation renewed test flights of its Eclipse 500 prototype on the power of a set of interim engines. That prototype was retired later in the year- and further flights await the availability of the all-new PW610F engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada. It was in late 2002 that Eclipse cancelled its plans to use a new 550-pound thrust engine from Williams International.
The newest additions to the fleet
The year 2003 was a productive one for new airplanes for the business aviation user – not an outstanding year- mind you- but decent- nonetheless. The quality of the additions more than exceeded the quantity.
For example- Dassault earned FAA approval for its upgraded wide-body twin- the Falcon 2000EX- near the end of March.
Bombardier’s renamed Challenger 300 won its FAA flying papers in June- ending a highly efficient certification program at the company’s flight test center in Wichita. At the same time- Collins’ ProLine 21 integrated flight deck also won its wings on the Challenger 300- from both Canadian and U.S. airworthiness authorities.
That same month the partnership Bell/Agusta won approval from Italian airworthiness authorities for the AB139 executive helicopter- further expanding the availability of corporate rotorcraft.
The Gulfstream 550 was certificated by the FAA in August- along with Honeywell’s Primus Epic PlaneView flight deck system; in January 2004- the FAA approved lower ILS approaches using the synthetic vision system that makes for the Plane View advantage. Now- pilots of aircraft so equipped can fly to 100-foot ceilings on an ILS.
Speaking of synthetic vision- in September the FAA issued approval for the Max-Viz EVS-1000 synthetic-vision system installed in a Dassault Falcon 50.
Finally- in November both the EASA and the FAA issued their approvals for the Dassault Falcon 900EX with the EASy/Primus Epic all-electronic integrated flight-deck system.
A new name leads business aviation
On July 7- the reigns of the National Business Aviation Association passed to Shelley Longmuir- a former VP- lawyer and lobbyist- for the Air Transport Association. Her experience in Washington is expected to give the NBAA more depth in working both Capital Hill and the Executive Branch agencies with power over aviation – a group that today includes several law-enforcement and security agencies- in addition to the FAA and Congress.
Full and unfettered access to the nation’s airports and through the airspace system remain long-term goals for business and general aviation. In every case where a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) exists- general aviation remains locked out with no reprieve during the time the TFR is active- while commercial carriers still enjoy favored status thanks to security efforts specific to the air-carrier community.
Toward the end of equal access- the Transportation Security Authority last spring launched a trial run of the joint NBAA/TSA Access Certificate program. The pilot effort at Teterboro Airport (TEB) provides mechanisms for operators and airport-tenant businesses to document their own security efforts and earn the certification needed to equalize access.
The plan is to expand the test program beyond TEB to other operators and airports. The potential reward for participation: An end to TFR lockouts and easy ingress and egress from the United States.
Movement on access to Washington National Airport (DCA)- however- remained at zero in 2003. Hopes are high for progress in 2004.
Naval aviator- private pilot- general aviation executive and former FAA administrator Don Engen made a priority of developing an annex for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum. But it wasn’t until after Engen’s death in a sailplane accident that his dream was assured – after ILFC founder Steven Edvar-Hazy pledged and donated a total of $65 million to the complex that now bears his name. The Edvar-Hazy Center opened at Dulles International Airport on December 15.
Some good things come to an end
Not everything lasts forever- and some things don’t last as long as they should. Among the downers of 2003 was a seasoned veteran and familiar face at NBAA- access to high-speed travel for airline passengers- and a replica built to recreate the most-important 12 seconds in aviation history.
It was on July 7 that John 'Jack' Olcott retired as president of the National Business Aviation Association- ending a tenure that lasted 11 years. Yet Olcott didn’t go fishing or move onto a golf fairway. Instead he opened his own operation on an airport near his New Jersey home- and took up a spot supporting the industry-funded Be-A-Pilot program.
In October the world’s skies emptied of the sleek- needle-nosed Concorde- the world’s only fully-operational supersonic civil aircraft. Operators British Airways and Air France retired their fleets from commercial service- strategically donating the airplanes to a variety of museums – and quietly ignoring offers to take over the only aircraft to connect the world at Mach 2.0.
Moreover- on December 17- 2003- a model 1903 Wright Flyer retired to a museum after a flying career of only a few weeks. The wood-and-muslin aircraft was a carefully executed duplicate made by Ken Hyde and his Wright Experience operation in Warrenton- Virginia. The Flyer duplicate made a handful of successful private test flights- and two failed public attempts to fly on the day of its retirement. Weather- of the kind the Wright Brothers knew to be problematic- scuttled the public prospects of the historically accurate replica.
Finally- we have one ending to mourn that really came more as an execution than a retirement. The landmark lakefront airport in Chicago- Merrill C. Meigs Field- fell victim to a surreptitious late-night sneak attack ordered by Mayor Richard Daley on March 30 and the morning of March 31. In ordering in the bulldozers- Daley- facetiously cited terrorism concerns – concerns refuted by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge- an admitted fan of Meigs. Daley also reneged on a promise to keep open Meigs until 2005. Private aviation interests will long remember Daley’s act when an option to visiting a Chicago airport is available.
According to an analysis by safety statistics authority Robert E. Breiling Associates released in January- the year 2003 ended with more accidents and fatalities than the prior year – although none befell executive or corporate flight departments. The net effect- accidents were higher within business flying last year.
Corporate and business operators suffered a total 72 accidents last year- 28 of them fatal events that claimed a total 61 lives. Comparatively- 2002 brought 64 accidents- 21 of them fatal to 51 passengers and crew.
Although the accidents occurred for both commercial and private/business operators- according to Breiling’s analysis- corporate/executive operators suffered no accidents in 2003. In contrast- 2002 brought a total four corporate/executive business jet accidents- two of those produced six fatalities.
Bettering their record this year will be tougher for corporate/executive flight departments; it’s hard to improve on perfect- and going down requires only one event out of hundreds of thousands of operations.
Breiling- an acknowledged authority in tracking and analyzing business aviation accidents- publishes The Annual Business Turbine Aircraft Accident Review. Publication of the next report comes next month and can be purchased by contacting Robert E. Breiling Associates- Inc. at +1 (561) 338-6900.