CONTENTS FIRST QUARTER 2021
(Bad) Landing Surprise
Cause & circumstance
Point of Law
So, You Think You Want a Helicopter
Patrick R. Veillette, Ph.D.
Operator's Survey: HondaJet Elite
Aircraft Overview: Dassault Falcon 8X
20/Twenty Gulfstream G280
ADS-B Out and In
Cessna Citation Longitude
Post-Maintenance Flight Test
Patrick R. Veillette, Ph.D
Pilot Report: Cessna Citation Longitude
Copyright © 2021. All rights reserved. Informa Markets, a trading division of Informa PLC.
Welcome to the new quarterly BCA. While it looks different, the content should feel familiar. You’ll find features written by many of the same award-winning authors who you’ve grown used to --James Albright, Roger Cox, David Esler, Kent Jackson and Patrick Veillette. I would also like to introduce you to Bill Carey, BCA’s senior editor, an award-winning business aviation writer who also has expertise in avionics and air traffic management.
Welcome to First BCA Digital Quarterly
Lee Ann Shay
While BCA will continue to provide the operational content that has been our mainstay since 1958, this new digital medium will bring you closer to aircraft with videos and interactive graphics we could not show you in print. A table of contents link at the bottom of each article brings up a menu that will allow you to easily navigate through the issue.
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Visit https://aviationweek.com/business-aviation/BCA, where you’ll find new BCA content, including checklists, Fast 5 interviews, Marketplace features and galleries—along with additional features to help operators and managers of business aircraft safely and efficiently run their flight departments. Also check out our new Aircraft Overview, which curates information from BCA, Aircraft Bluebook, Air Charter Guide and Aviation Week’s fleet and forecast services. We publish two Aircraft Overviews per month on the site.
While we’re revamping to deliver critical information to you in a faster and fresher format, we will never lose sight of BCA’s amazing legacy. Please reach out to me with any comments or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lee Ann Shay is executive editor of Aviation Week Network’s business aviation and MRO media portfolios, and editor-in-chief of BCA.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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When a Bombardier Global Express struck objects on the runway while landing at a Montreal airport, no one was more surprised than the business jet’s captain. The fact that half the runway was closed longitudinally and that temporary runway edge lights were installed along the centerline of the full-width runway was unknown to him. How that came to happen is a tale of serial miscommunication involving the NOTAMs, the ATIS and the unquestioning acceptance of an unusual landing clearance by both pilots. I think it is also an example of how the dysfunctional NOTAM system can start a chain of errors that results in an accident.
The BD-700-1A10 Global Express departed New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport (KTEB) on May 15, 2017, destined for Montreal/Saint-Hubert Airport, Quebec (CYHU) with three crewmembers and one passenger aboard. The flight was operated by Zetta Jet USA Inc. under the provisions of FAR Part 135. The aircraft lifted off at 0958 EDT, climbed to FL 330 and cruised at that altitude for about 25 min. Before commencing descent, the captain, who was the pilot flying (PF), briefed the approach. It was to be the RNAV (GNSS) Runway 06L approach, and the briefed DA was 400 ft. AGL. After the briefing, the first officer (FO) tuned the ATIS frequency, listened to it, and then briefed the captain.
Runway 06L at Montreal/St.-Hubert Airport four days after the Global Express incident. Credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Zetta Jet USA’s Bombardier Global Express after the landing at Montreal/St.-Hubert Airport. Credit: Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Roger Cox is a former military, corporate and airline pilot, Roger Cox was also a senior investigator at the NTSB. He has flown Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed, and Dassault aircraft and investigated numerous major aircraft accidents.
CAUSE & CIRCUMSTANCE
The ATIS information for 1000 EDT was an automated observation, wind, 360 deg. at 12 kt. gusting to 17 kt.; visibility, 9 sm; sky, 11,000 ft. AGL overcast; temperature, 14C; dew point, 9C; altimeter, 29.68; RNAV Runway 06L approach in use; departing and landing Runways 06L and 06R. The ATIS stated that the first 2,801 ft. of Runway 24R were closed, and that the available takeoff run, takeoff, accelerate-stop and landing distances were 5,000 feet. The ATIS also indicated that 75 ft. of the south side of Runway 06L/24R were open over a distance of 5,000 feet from the Runway 06L threshold, and that 75 ft. of the north side were closed along the entire length of the runway.
When the FO briefed the captain, he omitted the information about the dimensions of the available runway.
Approaching the initial approach fix LOBDO at 1049:45, the crew checked in with the tower controller, who replied that the winds were 010 deg. at 16 kt. gusting to 22 kt. Tower then asked the crew if they had read the NOTAMs about the construction work on Runway 06L. The FO replied that they had. Tower cleared the flight to land on the south side of Runway 06L at 1050:51, and the FO read back the clearance except for the part about the south side.
The captain then questioned the FO about the NOTAMs. The FO explained that the runway length was reduced to 5,000 ft. but said nothing about the width of the runway or the fact that the entire north side of the runway was closed.
The captain disengaged the autopilot at 500 ft. AGL, lined up with the runway’s normal full width and touched down at 1054:38. The touchdown point was 850 ft. beyond the runway threshold. The nosewheel was 36 ft. to the left of the temporary runway centerline and 1.5 ft. to the right of the temporary left edge of the runway; the left main landing gear was 5.2 ft. outside the confines of the temporary runway. Once on the ground, the captain realized they had struck something and moved the aircraft to the right, stopping 300 ft. from the end of the runway and slightly to the right of the temporary centerline.
No one was injured. The passenger exited the airplane and was escorted to the terminal, while the crew remained at the aircraft until investigators could arrive. The runway was closed until temporary repairs could be made to the airplane, which was late on the night of the incident.
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada conducted the investigation. Upon arrival at the aircraft, investigators discovered that the two tires of the left main landing gear (MLG) had burst on contact with the temporary runway edge lights, and there was substantial damage to the left MLG wheels, the gear door, the trailing edge of the wing, the left inboard flap, the left engine nacelle and the center rear fuselage. Tire debris was ingested into the left engine and there were punctures to the inlet area acoustic panel. In addition, five of the temporary runway lights were damaged and had to be replaced.
The flight crew held the necessary certificates and qualifications for the flight. Both pilots held ATP certificates and type ratings for the BD-700, and they had a similar amount of total flying time, 3,485 hr. for the captain and 3,305 hr. for the FO. The captain had more time in type, 1,172 hr. vs. 382 hr. for the FO, but in other measures they were alike: Both had 15 hr. in type in the last seven days; both had 2.9 hr. on duty the day of incident and 11.5 hr. off duty the night prior; and both had almost the same amount of flight time in type in the previous six months, 271 hr. for the captain and 258 hr. for the FO. The captain was due for recurrent training soon and the FO had just completed his recurrent training less than two months before the incident.
The tower controller had over seven years of experience in his present unit, was rated as an expert speaker of both English and French, and was well rested.
The Global Express aircraft was manufactured in 2002 and was properly certified, equipped and maintained. Weight and CG were within limits. Designed for long-range flight, the airplane’s maximum takeoff wight was 93,500 lb. and its wingspan was 93.5 ft. The actual landing weight, approach speed and expected landing distance were not given in the report.
Due to the construction being done on and near the runway, the only instrument approach in use was the RNAV approach flown by the crew. A NOTAM was issued limiting the approach to an LNAV minimum descent altitude of 600 ft. AGL, rather than the lower 400-ft. AGL LPV minimums used by the crew. Since ceiling and visibility were VFR, the crew’s choice was not consequential except as an indication of not complying with the NOTAM.
The TSB found that the communications between the tower controller and the crew were clear and not interfered with. When the FO failed to read back the part of the landing clearance pertaining to the south side of the runway, the controller did not challenge him.
The airport was operated by a non-profit corporation known as Développement Aéroport Saint-Hubert de Longueuil (DASH-L). The airport had three runways, only one of which, 06L/24R, was suitable for business or commercial jets such as the Global Express. (Nearby Trudeau Airport — CYUL — had three suitable runways: 7,000, 9,600 and 11,000 ft. in length.)
The repairs that were being performed on Runway 06L/24R and three nearby taxiways were part of a plan developed by DASH-L and approved by Transport Canada. Work on Phase 2 of the repairs had begun on April 15, 2017, a month before the incident, and were scheduled to end on July 15, 2017. The repair plan identified 11 risks and provided 13 mitigations. The mitigations included temporary lighting, threshold markings and lights, illuminated Xs and Xs on the ground, and a temporary PAPI relocated to the threshold of Runway 06L. The “06L” white paint marking on the approach end of the runway was moved and centered on the active, south side of the runway, and two arrows pointed to the runway markings. A thin white line was painted around the useable 75-by5,000-ft. rectangle of the runway.
One additional mitigation was implemented. Temporary runway edge lights were installed along the old centerline. They were not illuminated during the day, and were difficult to see by a crew on final approach. The incident crew never noticed them. The TSB found that the lights were not secured so as to be frangible, allowing them to move and damage the airplane.
From the date construction started in 2016 until one month after the incident, CYHU had experienced 10 reported incidents related to the temporary runway modifications. These included four aircraft that struck the temporary lights but did not experience major damage, two aircraft that had inadvertently landed on the parallel taxiway and two aircraft that had traveled on the closed portion of the runway.
The TSB also cited a similar landing accident at another Canadian airport in 2015 in which a NOTAM had been issued for a similar longitudinal runway width reduction and yet another landing aircraft had struck temporary lights.
According to the TSB report, the operator of the Global Express in the incident at CYHU, Zetta Jet USA Inc., offered personalized, on-demand, worldwide service. The company was based in Singapore, had another location in Burbank, California, and had a fleet of 21 aircraft, including 13 BD-700s and six Gulfstreams. Zetta Jet ceased operations six months after this incident amidst published concerns about financial irregularities.
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) does not publish CVR transcripts, so we don’t have a word-for-word record of what exactly was said by the pilots of the Bombardier Global Express involved in the landing incident at Montreal/Saint-Hubert Airport on May 15, 2017. The TSB also does not provide probable cause statements of the kind issued by the NTSB, but it does provide findings. In its analysis, the TSB addressed crew situational awareness, flight planning, approach and landing preparation, marking of runways under construction, and conciseness and clarity of notices to airmen (NOTAMs).
The TSB said that despite the information provided to the crew, “this information does not seem to have been compelling to or absorbed by the flight crew, and they adopted a mental model that was resistant to change and to the apprehension of elements that are critical to a safe landing.” The TSB was unable to determine why the crew read but not did grasp the meaning of the NOTAMs, why the FO did not understand or share the critical ATIS information about the runway with the captain, or why the crew did not recognize the temporary runway markings.
Regarding NOTAMs, the TSB only said they are complex to decipher and that sometimes crews may simply skim or forget them. They recommend the words “reduced width” should be incorporated in NOTAMs when appropriate. They also noted that neither the crew nor the company provided the 48 hr. prior notice to DASH-L that was required by NOTAM for airplanes with a wingspan in excess of 78 ft.
Questions I have that went unanswered include supervisory and organizational factors. Was there someone at Zetta Air who had flight planning responsibility and should have been aware of the long-standing restrictions to operations at CYHU? Was the crew notified in sufficient time before the trip to be able to assess the airport safety factors before they launched? Would the captain have been criticized if he decided to divert to the more suitable Trudeau Airport? Did the management at Zetta Air spend more time finding the right caviar for customers than planning safe flights?
The facts presented by the TSB report clearly show the errors made by the crew. The crew had enough information to avoid the incident, and just didn’t heed it. They were careless. Having said that, I think there is more to the story.
THE PROBLEM WITHG NOTAMs
If the incident crew or anyone at Zetta Air had actually read the NOTAMs, they would have realized they weren’t in compliance with the 48-hr. prior notice requirement. They would have requested special permission to land or made the flight to another airport. The flight started off on the wrong foot. An obvious reason is because NOTAMs are such a chore to read.
Bloated, jargon-filled NOTAMs have been the accepted international standard since before Charles Lindbergh. According to fixingnotams.org, the 5-bit ITA2 upper-case code used for NOTAMs was begun in 1924 and has remained essentially unchanged. Despite recurring complaints from pilots and reputable organizations, the system has only gotten worse. According to OpsGroup, a flight planning and information sharing organization, the states that generate the NOTAMs prioritize legal self-defense over usability by pilots. Thus unnecessary notices drown out meaningful information.
The problem surfaced during the 2018 NTSB meeting for the Air Canada Flight 759 incident, a near-catastrophic low pass over a taxiway full of idling jetliners. The crew had missed a NOTAM about a runway closure, and that triggered the incident. Then-NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said NOTAMs were “just a bunch of garbage” and “the system was really messed up.” The Safety Board issued recommendation A-18-24, which said “Establish a group of human factors experts to review existing methods for presenting flight operations information to pilots, including flight releases and general aviation flight-planning services (preflight) and aircraft communication addressing and reporting system messages and other inflight information; create and publish guidance on best practices to organize, prioritize and present this information in a manner that optimizes pilot review and retention of relevant information; and work with air carriers and service providers to implement solutions that are aligned with the guidance.”
In response, the FAA said in 2020 that they had established a committee to look into the problem.
One positive development has been the collaboration of OpsGroup with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to address the NOTAM problem. They’ve created an artificial intelligence “bot” called “Norm” to evaluate all of the NOTAMs issued around the world. On a typical day, there are 35,000 NOTAMs in effect, and Norm scores them all for length, timeframe, format and other criteria to come up with a NOTAM quality score. There’s a “NOTAMeter” on the ICAO website that you can access to see how different regions and countries rate. Produced in bright colors, it looks like a large beach ball on the deck of the grey battleship that is the ICAO website. Go to https://www.icao.int/safety/iStars/Pages/Notameter.aspx
As this is written, the NOTAMeter says only 12.41% of worldwide NOTAMs meet all quality criteria. The Russian Federation has 30.72% of its NOTAMs meeting the quality criteria, and China manages 18.43%. In North America, you will find 4.24% meet the criteria, with the U.S. bringing up the rear at just 3.42%. The U.S. wins the prize for worst NOTAM in the region, a truly incomprehensible mélange pertaining to flight planning (I think).
If you have the time and an internet connection, you can go to the FAA’s NOTAM search website and pull up the NOTAMs for your destination airport. You can select individual NOTAMS, and in some cases even get a plain-language translation. Just pulling up CYHU today, I find 15 NOTAMs. They are still dense (TWY B BTN ENA AND 240FT FR ENA CLSD) and lack plain-language versions.
If you are on a short callout for a trip to a major airport, you will have a problem sorting out the real hazards from the dross in the destination NOTAMs. For example, today Chicago O’Hare Airport (KORD) has 89 NOTAMs. You can spend 20 min. reading them and still not be sure you understand everything. That is not a good situation. Let’s hope the FAA will start to realize that excessive and unreadable NOTAMs are a real safety issue.
Global Express landing incident in Montreal
As a successful business leader your time is valuable. Driving from your office on the north side of San Diego to a business meeting at the aerospace manufacturing complex near LAX can face a considerable obstacle: traffic on the infamous 405 highway. At any hour of the day you are likely to get stuck in a standstill traffic jam. Sitting in that traffic is a waste of your valuable time.
The wise commuter in urban areas like the LA Basin will allot a safety margin for their planned commute time, but if your meeting begins at 10 a.m. you will be driving up the 405 during the worst of the morning commute, requiring you to leave exceptionally early. In the business world, time is money. Being stuck in traffic is additional time lost that is essentially costing you money that you can’t buy back. It is time that you could be using to do important work for your business, or be with your family, or doing a fun recreational activity.
Being punctual for a business meeting is a reflection on your business skills and acumen. While showing up late at an important meeting might be met with empathetic reactions when you charge into the meeting claiming, “Sorry…traffic on the 405 was completely backed up,” the stress you endured while stuck in standstill traffic is unproductive.
Perhaps while sitting impatiently in these traffic jams you have considered, “If only I had a helicopter, I could zoom right over this traffic and go straight to the meeting location.” This is the situation faced by business executives in Brazil’s money capital of São Paulo. Its 20 million occupants utilize 5 million cars, 42,000 buses, 160,000 trucks and 875,000 motorbikes on its roads, leading to world-class gridlock. During the afternoon commute the estimated speed is less than 10 mph. Daily traffic congestion is so bad that the city has 193 heliports and 420 registered helicopters, according to the Brazilian Association of Helicopter Pilots. It is estimated that roughly 500 helicopter flights occur on a daily basis.
There is a lot to consider before you make your decision
Patrick Veillette, Ph.D.
This helipad shows important attention to design criteria that eliminates any obstruction on the helipad which could inadvertently catch a landing skid. Also notice the important safety netting around the edges. Credit: Patrick Veillette
There are other reasons why helicopters can be a valuable asset to your company. They can land you closer to your destination, for example. If you have a business meeting in Lower Manhattan you can land at the Downtown Manhattan Heliport. If you jet into London’s Oxford Airport for a series of meetings, a helicopter can quickly whisk you to the London Heliport in 22 min., putting you in the heart of the Imperial Wharf section of London.
Maybe you have visions of buying a helicopter to take you to a friend’s Malibu mountainside estate or a private ranch in the Idaho backcountry, or to grab some powder snow “first runs” from alpine crests. Before your imagination runs away with these dreams, it is necessary to come back to earth and talk about the realities of helicopter operations.
The lure of saving time comes at a cost, literally. Helicopters are mechanically complex machines, more so than fixed-wing aircraft. How much is a helicopter going to cost? This is a topic where you need an expert in helicopter cost accounting to come up with accurate estimates. Your operating costs will vary considerably from estimates provided online due to the specifics of your operation. Are you considering a new or used helicopter? Will it require two pilots or one pilot? Is it your intention to fly the helicopter yourself, or will you hire a pilot(s)? Do you want an IFR-capable helicopter? If so, then the budget needs to increase for IFR proficiency training, as well as the complexity of maintaining the instruments for IFR flight.
The buying process should carefully consider your potential needs, including performance, weather capabilities and cabin size. A sampling of some online sales websites reveals that single-engine turbine helicopters manufactured by Airbus, Bell, Leonardo and McDonnell Douglas range from $350,000 to $2 million. Newer VFR-only versions of these helicopters sell for $3million to $4 million. Airbus, Bell, Leonardo and Sikorsky manufacture twin-engine helicopters with extra cabin seating, faster speed, more cargo and IFR capability, but they require proficient IFR pilots, service center support and a substantial budget.
Mike Chase, who has four decades of experience managing corporate aviation departments, specializes in compiling data for AvBuyer. He did a side-by-side comparison of two popular, used single-turbine helicopters--the Airbus AS350, known popularly in the U.S. as the AStar, and the Bell 206L-4 LongRanger. The AS350 has a max payload of 1,647 lb. and a range of 292 nm, while the LongRanger has a 1,479-lb. max payload and 246-nm range. The long-range speed is 122 kt. in the AS350 vs. 110 kt. in the LongRanger. The AS350 burns 45 gal./hr. while the LongRanger uses 37 gal./hr. Total variable costs including fuel, maintenance labor, parts and miscellaneous run $743/hr. in the AS350 and $661 in the LongRanger.
Aircraft that are owned and operated by businesses may utilize the Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System for depreciation, which allows a business to take a greater percentage of deductions in the first few years. This table varies depending on whether the aircraft is operated under FAR Part 91 or 135. Knowledgeable accountants will warn aircraft owners that utilizing a company’s aircraft on non-business flights may impact the allowable depreciation deductions.
There are other options to full ownership. Leasing policies can be written to allow a fixed number of flight hours. Leasing fees typically cover fuel, pilot and insurance. One of the advantages of a lease is that you can budget a definitive cost. This option can make sense if you don’t need a helicopter for instant on-demand or everyday usage.
Every rotorcraft needs plenty of routine maintenance. The complexity and number of moving parts in a helicopter are impressive. YouTube features several slow-motion videos of the motion of a rotor blade during a revolution. You can see that for each revolution the rotor blade bends up and down, changes its pitch angle and “leads/lags” (forward and backward). The rotor system goes through these changes about 400 times a minute (i.e., 400 rpm in the main rotor). That means that each individual component endures vibrations that create wear. These components need frequent attention to operate in near-perfect balance with adjacent components.
As a general rule, helicopters require about three times more maintenance than a jet or turboprop. They require expert maintenance that utilizes specialized maintenance tools to perform vital tasks such as blade balancing. Blade balancing is necessary because a slight imbalance in the track of rotor blades can create destructive vibrations within the rotor system.
If you already own a hangar with sufficient room to store your helicopter, you still need a method to move it inside and out. Skid-equipped helicopters of modest size and larger can be landed on a portable platform that is moved by a small tractor. This method looks deceivingly simple, but landing on these platforms requires the ability to “land on a dime,” and being off center by a couple of inches can risk a condition called “dynamic rollover” if a skid catches on a protuberance from the surface of the platform.
Are you hoping to fly the helicopter yourself because you are already fixed-wing rated and assume that getting the add-on rating will allow you to do that? Merely complying with the FARs to earn the helicopter rating isn’t going to equate to qualifying for insurance. Be prepared for stiff insurance rates. As a general rule, aviation insurers specifically consider your time in rotorcraft and, in particular, “time in type.” There are plenty of online posts from businessmen who were rich enough to buy a nice Hughes 300 but couldn’t get insurance until they had “x” hours in type. Or they assumed they could do flight training in their helicopter to earn their rating, only to discover that most insurance companies won’t cover this. These individuals resorted to operating their helicopters without insurance, which is an eye-raising risky option.
HARD TO HOVER?
To the uninitiated fixed-wing pilot, it is tempting to think that hovering a helicopter would be easy. Plenty of fixed-wing colleagues have said (in a tone of voice that indicated their self-rated expertise in aerodynamics), “It can’t be that hard just holding a helicopter motionless.” (Apologies for not warning my rotorhead buddies who are rolling off their chairs in laughter.) I could provide an explanation of why holding a helicopter steady in a hover is aerodynamically difficult, but the explanation would require pages explaining the fundamental aerodynamic differences between an airplane and helicopter. Instead, the most effective way to illustrate how helicopter flying is vastly different from fixed-wing flying is to take an introductory flight lesson in a helicopter. Don’t feel ashamed if you can’t hold the helicopter steady for more than a couple of seconds before the instructor needs to take the controls. Your first 15 flight hours learning how to hover will be spent in a protective area the size of a football field.
The London Heliport’s “Conditions of Use” require a written acknowledgement by pilot that he or she has read and understands the 15-page document, and has completed a familiarization flight with an approved pilot. Credit: Patrick Veillette
Robinson Helicopter Co. provides Safety Notices regarding the role of negative habit transfer for fixed-wing pilots who transition into helicopters. “The ingrained reactions of an experienced airplane pilot can be deadly when flying a helicopter. The airplane pilot may fly the helicopter well when doing normal maneuvers under ordinary conditions when there is time to think about the proper control response. But when required to react suddenly under unexpected circumstances, he may revert to his airplane reactions and commit a fatal error. Under those conditions, his hands and feet move purely by reaction without conscious thought. Those reactions may well be based on his greater experience, i.e., the reactions developed flying airplanes.”
Robinson’s Safety Notice # SN-29, “Airplane Pilots High Risk When Flying Helicopters” (revised June 1994), provides a number of examples. For example, an airplane pilot’s response to a stall-warning horn would be to immediately push forward on the yoke/stick and add power. In a helicopter, the application of forward cyclic would decrease the main rotor rpm even lower, to the point of inducing a rotor stall. In less than 1 sec. the pilot could stall the rotor, causing the helicopter to fall out of the sky. A rapid forward movement of the cyclic can also cause a low “G” condition leading to mast bumping, resulting in the rotor shaft or one blade striking the fuselage.
Another situation in which a dual-rated pilot might react inappropriately is during a retreating blade stall. The flight conditions that tend to create this situation include high forward speed, low rpm, hot-high-heavy, turbulent air and/or abrupt turns. The angle of attack on the retreating blade will exceed the critical AOA, resulting in an abrupt roll into the retreating blade side. It may be accompanied by a low-frequency vibration (an abnormal two per revolution vibration in a two-blade rotor) along with a nose-up pitch. How would a pilot with a predominantly fixed-wing background react to the rapid roll? It would be normal to counter the abrupt roll by moving the cyclic quickly to the opposite direction of the roll. This, however, would deepen the retreating blade stall. The recommended corrective action is to lower collective, increase rpm, reduce forward speed with aft cyclic and minimize maneuvering.
ADD-ON TRAINING'S GAPING HOLES
There are key missing ingredients in the “add on” training process. For example, most flight schools have policies and procedures that focus on minimizing risk in the training environment. Thus your exposure to weather will be (properly) constrained, as well as off-site landings. This means that you aren’t likely to be exposed to a helicopter’s limited weather capabilities including high winds, rain and icing. The flight school’s recommended off-site landing zones for practicing slope and pinnacle landings will be fairly benign. And by the way, during the training process for a private or commercial helicopter rating, it is entirely likely that you will never practice an autorotation to the ground.
There is minimal exposure to the plethora of unique human factors in rotorcraft flying. In the expedited process to get the helicopter rating you may not get adequate exposure to the challenges of hovering in poor visibility conditions, or worse, on a dark ramp. Maneuvering a helicopter is especially dependent on having a rich visual field to gauge the tiniest of motions for a precise hover or hover-taxi.
You aren’t likely to be exposed to the important issues concerning cockpit ergonomics that can affect your safety, health and performance. For instance, occupants of helicopters are exposed to “whole body vibration.” This can affect the ability of your eyes to see the instruments and the smoothness of your hand motions on the sensitive flight controls, and can cause degenerative wear in the discs of your back and neck.
Another concern of transitioning from fixed- to rotary-wing flying is the lack of training and experience to sense the slightest variation in vibrations that provide subtle but important signals of a component that needs to be properly inspected. Additionally, the quick “add on” process isn’t likely to train us in understanding whether a slight irregular sound or vibration means that we should head toward an airport or do an emergency landing because failure is imminent.
This is just a short list of the many aspects of real-world helicopter operations that you won’t be exposed to during the “add on” training process. Lengthy books have been written about the unique human factors of helicopter operations. In summary, it isn’t an exaggeration to state that helicopter operations are “an entirely different world” from fixed-wing flying, and the add-on process is just a bare minimum to show proficiency in handling a helicopter in the prescribed maneuvers in a strictly controlled training and testing environment.
The London Heliport’s ramp area is surrounded on its three-landsides by buildings that bounce a helicopter’s engine and rotor noise pulses back and forth between the buildings. Unfortunately, the installation of conventional noise barriers that would reduce sound levels are not suitable for helicopter ramp areas which need to be as obstruction-free as possible. Credit: Patrick Veillette
PROFICIENCY TRAINING IN EMERGENCY PROCEDURES
Another large difference between fixed- and rotary-wing flying is the aircraft’s reaction to a mechanical failure of a critical component. The flight control systems of a fixed-wing aircraft are much simpler, with fewer moving parts, than a rotorcraft. In general, the redundancy and relative simplicity of fixed-wing flight control systems means that malfunctions seldom occur and do not require exceptional skill for the flight crew. In contrast, when an important component fails within a helicopter’s flight control system, instant and proper reactions may be needed or else the helicopter can quickly enter into significant gyrations.
Many helicopter emergency procedures require complex “perceptual motor skills,” meaning that muscular movement is required as well as sensory control. Inexperienced pilots who are most in need of a safe training environment in which to make the many repetitions necessary to obtain the proper perceptual motor skills could benefit from access to flight training devices.
Helicopter owners and operators must keep their pilots proficient in helicopter emergency procedures. Should the in-house helicopter be used for this training? In many cases insurance companies have clauses nullifying coverage if damage occurs during training. Then there are the practical considerations like “what if something goes wrong” during the practice? Your damaged helicopter could be in the shop a long time for the repairs. The risk of damage from a small “slip” in technique can be significant.
The NTSB Safety Alert titled “Safety Through Helicopter Simulators” points out that improper performance of emergency procedures has led to numerous helicopter accidents. Deteriorating weather, helicopter limitations and performance characteristics restrict what scenarios can be performed in flight. During flight training, it is difficult to recreate the element of surprise and the realistic, complex scenarios that pilots may experience during an emergency. “Consistent, standardized simulator training will help prepare pilots for the unexpected and will decrease the risk of an accident,” the Safety Alert says.
The value of a simulator for training of critical procedures is unquestioned. The downside is that sending an organization’s pilots to that training requires the financial commitment to take them off the work schedule and provide travel, per diem and tuition.
Before you leap into this considerable investment, be advised of some other limitations. You may have a large parking lot at your factory that you think would be an ideal location for a helipad. It may be, but with a lot of caveats. Don’t believe that a simple concrete pad is sufficient for a helipad. There are multitudes of important factors that must be considered. Some deal with zoning. Some deal with the practical necessity to have clear arrival and departure paths. Others deal with lighting and proper markings. Or how about snow removal? Just to give you an example of the complexity of this topic, you might be tempted to toss rock salt onto your helipad to help deice the surface. That is unwise, especially for a skid-equipped aircraft because it will expose your skids to a highly corrosive substance.
Another example is the site selection for a wind sock. Some might think that the placement of a wind sock is a simple process. It is just the opposite. I once had the incredible learning experience of working with Dr. Thomas Corke of the University of Notre Dame’s Department of Engineering on a helicopter site evaluation atop a high-rise building in an urban setting. Wind currents around adjacent buildings create significant zones of eddies and reversed flow that could cause a wind sock to flow in opposite directions from the prevailing wind. Dr. Corke showed us pictures of nearly 20 wind socks mounted at varying positions around the rooftop helipad; each of the wind socks was pointing in a different direction. Having accurate information of the wind at a helipad is absolutely vital, as the complexities caused by air flowing around obstacles, nearby buildings and/or elevated helipads is far more complicated that many pilots understand.
Helicopter operations inevitably spark noise complaints, and noise is probably the leading reason that attempts to build more heliports are stymied. This topic will require considerable attention if you are serious about implementing a helicopter that will operate at a site other than an established airport or heliport. (For further information about the complex issues involving helicopter noise, see “Center of Attention: London Heliport” [BCA, October 2014] and “Managing Helicopter Noise” [BCA, March 2015].)
You might think that a helicopter can land (nearly) anywhere. This is one of the great misunderstandings about helicopters. The issue is complex because each municipality may have its own laws governing whether a helicopter can land within its jurisdiction. Then there are the practical aspects of landing on unprepared surfaces. There are human factors galore regarding visual illusions when assessing the suitability of an off-airport, unprepared surface for a landing.
We will follow up on these important topics so that you can begin a deliberate process to weigh the pros and cons as well as valuing the necessity to obtain true helicopter experts.
Your time is valuable. Instead of sitting in traffic, you can be productive, which translates into positive ROI. If owning or operating a helicopter makes business sense, then it may be worth it…with the assumption that you involve rotorcraft experts to help mentor you through the long learning process.
Upon his retirement as a non-routine flight operations captain from a fractional operator in 2015, Dr. Veillette had accumulated more than 20,000 hours of flight experience in 240 types of aircraft, from balloons, rotorcraft, sea planes, gliders, war birds, supersonic jets and large commercial transports. In 2018 his contributions to the aerospace industry were recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
Honda Aircraft delivered its first HondaJet Elite, serial number 126, in August 2018. Since then, more than 75 of the upgraded, or second generation, HondaJets have entered service in business aviation flight departments, fractional programs, charter operations and owner-flown roles.
The HondaJet HA-420, one of the few truly new business jets--developed over three decades by a new original equipment manufacturer with no previous experience in aviation--by all accounts has achieved positive market acceptance. Now the Elite builds on that success by inclusion of major performance and detail improvements. The most notable of these include:
Operators Comment on the HondaJet Elite
The HondaJet Elite expands on the success of its legacy predecessor to accolades from operators
• An increase of maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) from 10,500 to 10,700 lb. This accommodates an additional 104 lb. of fuel, increasing range of the basic-spec (i.e., no options) aircraft by 200 nm with three passengers aboard. Typically equipped with options like speed brakes and an enclosed lavatory with belted toilet, adding an average of 200 lb. or more to the aircraft, the range boost can settle out at up to 150 nm. With four passengers aboard, this can equate to a roughly 1,165-nm range.
• Aerodynamic modifications to the empennage—specifically 7-in. additional span to the horizontal surfaces for enhanced pitch response and the elimination of vortex generators (VRs) on the undersurface of the stabilizer and the T-strip (“Gurney flap”) on the elevator trailing edge. This reduces V speeds and takeoff distance of the 10,700-lb. MTOW airplane at sea level, ISA by approximately 443 ft. and landing distance by as much as 600 ft. Elimination of aileron fences and gap seals as well as other VRs on the winglets are also part of a general aerodynamic cleanup.
• An acoustic treatment of the General Electric/Honda HF120 turbofan nacelle inlets not only eliminates 40 lb. of soundproofing from the Elite’s fuselage but has reduced the already low interior sound levels.
• The Garmin 3000 avionics suite, already popular with HondaJet pilots due to its automation features, has been enhanced to include higher-resolution displays, more computing power and a variety of functions to improve situational awareness and further reduce workload.
Among the notable detail upgrades are:
Jet It, a fractional å and chart operation, exclusively operates a fleet of HondaJets. Credit: Jet It
• A flow monitor adjacent to the fueling port access door on the right side of the aft fuselage that tells the lineperson when fuel quantity reaches 335 gal. in order to reduce flow rate so that the last 17 gal. can be pumped in without overflowing. A common complaint of the HondaJet’s gravity-fed fuel system is the difficulty in tanking up the aircraft to full capacity; the annunciator—a simple, two-light indicator—assists line personnel in that process.
*The nose luggage compartment door strut on the legacy HondaJet, a simple rod secured in a bracket with a pin, has been replaced by a gas-strut, à la the type seen on aft hatches of many SUVs.
A detailed pilot report and evaluation of the Elite by former senior editor Fred George can be found here (https://aviationweek.com/business-aviation/pilot-report-hondajet-elite) or on page 50 of the October 2019 issue of BCA.
LEGACY OWNERS CAN UPGRADE
Honda has not left owners of the legacy HondaJet behind. The OEM offers an upgrade program that adds the Elite’s improvements, bringing the older aircraft pretty much up to its successor’s configuration and enhanced performance. Termed APMG (for Honda Aircraft’s Advanced Performance Modification Group), the upgrade can be installed at Honda’s Greensboro, North Carolina, factory or its network of designated maintenance service centers. A Charleston, West Virginia, medical group, Mountain State Oral and Facial Surgery, which has been operating legacy HondaJet s.n. 101 to transport its maxillofacial surgeons throughout the Eastern U.S., was taking advantage of the APMG upgrade in January when we talked to aviation director Russ McMillan.
“Typically,” McMillan says, “this mod takes about two weeks, but because of the pandemic, the work is taking us about four weeks. The cost of the upgrade is about $280,000, and when timed with one of the required inspection intervals, loss of utilization is minimal. The performance enhancement is rarely expected to help on most of our missions; the biggest benefit for us will come on the back end of ownership when we trade-in for a new HondaJet Elite or simply sell it with less time on the market.” HondaJet agreed to lease Mountain State a factory-owned demonstrator while s.n. 101 was at Greensboro for the work. “The lease averages out to a fixed monthly fee of $32,000 and hourly fees totaling about $500, not including fuel,” McMillan explains.
Mountain State bought its HondaJet, built in 2018 but never delivered to its original customer, in June 2020 with zero time on its Hobbs meter and was logging 25-30 hr. a month on it before committing it to the APMG upgrade. The medical group, which also fields two Cirrus SR22T piston singles, employs four professional pilots including McMillan. “We are a Part 91 operation,” he says. “Our average trip is 300 nm, with direct operating costs for the HondaJet consistently running at $1,400 per hour. This includes fuel and maintenance reserve that utilizes the GE/Honda engine program hourly buy-in [a maintenance service plan]. We do not pay into the [MSPs] that support airframe or parts.”
With one pilot flying the HondaJet, McMillan’s operation can carry five passengers with one in the cockpit and four more in the standard cabin configuration. “Average load going out is three passengers carrying light day bags,” McMillan says. “Passengers have had substantial exposure to other light corporate aircraft and are pleased with the balance of cabin comfort and price point or purchase and direct/indirect operating cost of the HondaJet.”
Dispatch reliability for the med group’s first six months of ownership and 150 hr. of use since purchase was 99%. “The only grounding maintenance issue was resolved within 24 hr. by the factory sending a fully equipped maintenance-support van and two techs from Greensboro to Charleston to replace two tires, McMillan says.
Dana and Cheryl Hunter by their HondaJet Elite. Credit: Hunter Landscape
The flight department carries a basic operating weight (BOW) of 10,600 lb. in the HondaJet with a few catering items, medical equipment, one professional pilot and engine/probe covers. “To reduce fuel cost,” McMillan says, “we typically are able to tanker fuel from our home base of KCRW [Yeager Airport], where we buy fuel at preferred pricing.”
He crews the HondaJet with one pilot on most missions. “If we have a long duty day, inclement weather, or are going to some airports in the Northeastern U.S., I’ll crew with two pilots. We train at the only provider, FlightSafety International KGSO [Piedmont Triad International Airport], voluntarily at six-month intervals instead of 12-month intervals to enhance safety. Scheduling of training with FlightSafety is unreasonably difficult because of availability, and it’s comparatively expensive compared to its competitors—$35,000 for 19-day initial and $20,000 for a two-day recurrent. This is a sore spot for most owners.”
Mountain State’s decision to acquire the HondaJet was made after “micro-dissecting comparative data with its closest competitors: acquisition cost, direct operating cost, indirect operating cost, performance that fits our mission needs without under-/over-performing, and confidence in the HondaJet team at the factory after spending a lot of time working with them. We would buy another HondaJet because of all of that and because the machine will perform to the actual data numbers used by HondaJet’s marketing,” says McMillan.
On the deficit side of McMillan’s HondaJet ledger are:
• The aircraft’s maximum crosswind limitation of 20 kt. “This is a hard limitation,” he says, “not a demonstrated limitation, and it has caused [us] two inflight diversions over the last six months and 150 flight hrs. and is obviously problematic.”
• The cost and difficulty of training at the Honda factory/FSI location.
Other than that, Mountain State has only to contend with “the typical maintenance issues that are found on factory-new aircraft during the first 100 hr. of use.” Grading the HondaJet’s systems, McMillan gives electrical and avionics both “eights,” pneumatics and hydraulics “10s,” anti/deicing a “seven” (because of “resetting data in the FMS during landing, when the system is being used, and during use of system flaps, thus eating runway on landing”), and fuel a “five” (because fueling is painfully slow for the last 100 gal. “due to a design flaw”).
The flight department has had no issues with the GE/Honda engines, “except N1 fan blades notoriously rub the shroud and frequently will catch and break out a small [10- to 20-mm] chunk, requiring an expensive $30,000 repair,” McMillan claims. Buying into the engine protection program at $160 per hour per engine covers the repair. Reportedly, GE and Honda Aero are working on a corrective action plan for the blade-rubbing issue, which other operators have said is rare.
OEM support is “strong,” McMillan emphasizes, “if you factor in that this is a well-funded, but very new, company and they are still developing. It’s always a nice experience working with the factory to address issues or just operational questions, as they are very responsive. This applies equally to airframe, engine and avionics. The OEM is professional and most HondaJet factory folks came from other manufacturers; Southern hospitality is noticeable, and there is always a genuine concern to resolve your issue.”
All in all, the HondaJet is “a strong fit for our missions when balanced against cost,” McMillan says. “From my perspective as a former airline guy flying Boeing widebodies worldwide, the HondaJet is a pleasure to fly and has a few quirks, but if the crew understands the big picture, reasonable exceptions are met on a daily basis.”
The HondaJet’s careful design, good manners, and state-of-the-art automation have made it an attractive choice of entrepreneurial pilots who choose to fly it alone. Listen to Dana Hunter, a landscaping contractor from Southern California. He’s owned three HondaJets, two legacy jets and an Elite (s.n. 146), which he flies, single pilot, to jobs throughout the Southwest U.S. and elsewhere for pleasure. “I love the look, the feel and the sportiness of it,” he says. Rated for multi-engine instrument with type ratings in the Cessna Citation Mustang and HondaJet, Hunter has logged 3,700 hr. total time, 1,700 of them in turbines.
“We did a cross-country trip [from Southern California] to Arizona, then to Houston, and finally to Boca Raton,” Hunter tells BCA. “We’ve done several coast-to-coast trips. West Coast to East Coast we can do with one tech stop at Waco, no sweat; East Coast to West Coast we can do with one stop, if headwinds are less than 80 kt. Going east, we normally cruise at FL 410, but coming west, we have to go to FL 430 for better fuel consumption: 600 pph. ‘Milk runs’ to Arizona take 50 min. and 800 lb. of fuel for the 300-nm trip. All our operations are under Part 91.”
Can an operator fill all the seats in the Elite and expect maximum range? “Every airplane’s performance is a function of weight,” Hunter says. “I am limited to myself and three passengers for max range.” Honda lists still-air range as 1,300 nm based on 2,920 lb. of fuel, Hunter says, “the first hour burning 850 lb. to get up to FL 430 and every hour after that burning 600 pph (pounds per hour). Average block-to-block speed is 365 kt. Average BOW we are taking off with is 10,000 lb.”
Hunter’s Elite is full up with maximum seating, including the belted foyer jump-seat and lav toilet and four club seats in the cabin, for a total capacity of eight. “The most I’ve carried is six occupants.” The cabin is “super quiet” and comfortable with lots of legroom, he said, “a foot more room than any other jet of its size. If you’re sitting in one of the seats, you can’t put your foot up onto the seat opposite you in the cube. Then there’s the enclosed lav, fully flushable, serviceable from the outside. The entry door is tremendous for a jet this size.”
By mid-January, Hunter had logged 170 hr. total time on his Elite. Inspection intervals for the airframe are 150 hr. for the first and 600 hr. for the second, “which is a long time out for me,” he observes. He expects to average less than 150 hr. a year on the aircraft.
In terms of dispatch reliability, Hunter says, “it’s like an airliner.” Reliability was “excellent” for his previous two HondaJets, although the first one “was early in the cycle and had some development issues.” He claims the only reason he traded his second one for an Elite was because “it had features I liked: The interior was nicer and the fit and finish and quality were better.” But the Garmin 3000-2 avionics suite was the clincher, as it was more integrated into the airplane, a feature he believed reduced single-pilot workload.
As examples of this integration, he cites “preflight calculations such as V-speeds based on the automated input of the METARs, airport information, and balanced field length and second-segment climb gradient. On VNAV, it gives you an indicated fpm (ft. per minute) for descent gradient, same thing on climb, and it watches your airspeed. In addition, you get an integrated Flight Stream 510 from whatever [electronic] device the owner is using via Bluetooth. Also, in flight it gets the ongoing satellite data from the phone and, accordingly, is like an additional screen on the panel.” He says this makes it easier to fly single pilot — “easier than the Mustang or [Piper] Meridian. It does everything and has an integrated checklist you can scroll through using a thumb wheel on the yoke. It tells you whether or not you’re in the envelope.” But to ensure that, Hunter undergoes annual recurrent training through FlightSafety International at the Honda factory and an additional check at Jetstream in Southern California.
Hunter has experienced no problems or maintenance issues with the Elite so far. “When I was at the factory last year for training in August, I had them do some warranty work, very minor stuff including the gear realignment [in accordance with a Honda Service Bulletin], and they did it within the two days I was there. Avionics has worked out great; we did have a little problem with the Flight Stream 510 cards, but when it works, it’s marvelous.”
The airplane’s GE/Honda HF120 engines “are quiet, powerful, start every time, and every one is a cool start,” Hunter says. “There are no issues with them whatsoever. On the Garmin displays there is an indication of oil status, so you don’t ever have to check it manually.” A 2,500-hr. hot section inspection is required for the engines, followed by a 5,000-hr. TBO.
“We are very happy with it,” Hunter says. “Honda may come up with a bigger airplane to compete with the [Embraer] Phenom, but I’m not sure we’ll need to upgrade in terms of our business.” However, if Honda adds an autoland system to the airplane, it might entice him to trade up. “It’s a blast to fly, like driving a Porsche,” he summarizes.
THE DOCTOR IS OUT (FLYING)
Steven Thomas, M.D. is another triple HondaJet owner who flies his Elite solo, although he’s often accompanied in the cockpit by his wife, whom he refers to as his “emergency backup pilot.” Thomas is an orthopedic physician specializing in knee and shoulder surgery who, as well, has nurtured a life-long fascination with technology, engineering and how things work. This ultimately led Thomas and his wife to aviation, dual rotorcraft pilot certificates and a Robinson R44 helicopter. Then came fixed-wing aircraft: a Pilatus PC-12 and three HondaJets—two legacies and, since 2019, a new Elite.
A partner in the Thomas-Bigler Orthopedic Clinic in Las Vegas, Thomas bought his first HondaJet initially for business travel around the U.S. to research ambulatory surgery centers in support of a plan he and his partner had to open clinics in other locations. When they decided instead to expand their current center, the jet became a useful tool for Thomas and his wife to visit their children and grandchildren, who were spread across the U.S. They still often use the aircraft for that purpose, including vacations in which they fill all the seats with daughters and their husbands and kids. In 2020, Thomas logged 300 hr. on the family Elite. He’s flown the airplane all over the contiguous U.S., to the Bahamas, into the Caribbean, and to Canada. All of these operations are carried out under Part 91.
The first legacy HondaJet was traded for a lower-time and better-equipped one, but Thomas eventually decided to trade up from that aircraft to a new Elite (s.n. 165) to take advantage of the type’s improved performance and fuel capacity, the belted lav, and the Garmin 3000-2 avionics suite with the automation features it offers. He normally flies the Elite at a BOW of 7,000 lb. and full fuel of 440 gal., even on short trips, to take advantage of cheap fuel prices at his home field, thus tankering on his missions. He claims he’s done the math for this and that it is cost-effective, given the inflated prices for fuel at many of his destinations.
Among many reasons, Thomas likes the HondaJet because it is easy to fly and reliable. In terms of aircraft systems that make single-pilot operations easier, Thomas cited the HondaJet’s automatic anti-icing system, which he said is a great comfort. Only the engine inlet icing needs the pilot’s attention during icing conditions, he says, and the Garmin 3000-2 avionics display provides an alert from icing probes mounted on both sides of the aircraft’s nose. Thomas adds that he’s noticed that the Elite’s braking system feels stronger and better balanced than that of his legacy HondaJets, with “equitable pressure on each main gear wheel.”
Thomas claims that in the 340 hr. he’s operated the Elite and the 800 hr. he has flown HondaJets, he has never had to cancel a trip due to an airframe, systems, engine, or avionics failure or issue. He is especially impressed with Honda’s support of the aircraft and the OEM’s trend-monitoring program that captured the failure in one case and misbehavior in another of sensors in the aircraft’s GE/Honda engines, the former an oil-pressure sensor and the latter a fuel-pressure sensor. In both cases, the manufacturer replaced the parts gratis; he had the oil pressure sensor replaced at his home field by a mechanic who had undergone maintenance training at the HondaJet factory, and the second one at Cutter Aviation’s Phoenix facility, a factory-designated HondaJet repair station. On a trip to the North Carolina factory for annual recurrent training by FSI, Thomas had the factory attend to some minor fixes and updates still under warranty, and the work was completed in the two days he was there. The physician has special praise for the GE/Honda HF120 turbofans, which he said have been flawless.
He also likes the HondaJet Elite’s cabin, which he says is quiet and comfortable, and praises the enclosed lavatory, “which is very popular with the women in my family.” The flushable toilet is appreciated, too, especially the external servicing valve, which he claims is extremely easy and hygienic to operate.
With the cockpit copilot seat, belted jump-seat, four cabin chairs and the belted lav, Thomas can carry seven of his family members. He praises the HondaJet’s airstair door as simple and well-designed as compared to that of the Cessna Mustang. His only complaint about the cabin has been a persistent accumulation of ice crystals between the panes of the emergency exit window, apparently a seal problem. “I had the window seal replaced twice,” he says, “and haven’t seen further accumulation of the ice crystals after the second fix.”
Airframe, engine and avionics support from all three respective OEMs has been “superb,” Thomas says. He notes that the Elite has a shorter runway takeoff length requirement compared to the legacy HondaJet, which is important in the summer at his home airport.
The only dislikes the doctor could cite are the HondaJet’s relatively high landing speed of 105 kt., its relatively narrow high-pressure tires, and the lack of reverse thrust, which makes him feel unsafe landing on slippery runways in snow country, something he didn’t worry about in his PC-12.
Debbie and Michael Rasa purchased their second HondaJet in September. Credit: Rasa family
THE FAMILY THAT FLIES TOGETHER…
A successful multi-state flooring business combined with a passion for flying led Addison, Texas, couple Michael and Debbi Rasa to ownership of a procession of piston-, turboprop- and jet-powered business aircraft, culminating with a HondaJet Elite in September 2020, the couple’s second HondaJet. Altogether, they’ve owned 10 airplanes, eight of them jets: a Piper PA32, Beech Bonanza and King Airs 90 and 300, Dassault Falcons 10 and 20, Cessna Citations CJ3 and Mustang, and the two HondaJets, a legacy and Elite (SN 190).
“Dispatch reliability for the Elite so far has been a claimed 100%. It was 99% for the legacy,” says Debbie. In their Elite, the Rasas carry a BOW of 7,186 lb. “The Elite’s fuel capacity has increased by 100 lb. to more than 2,950 lb., or about 440 gal.,” Michael points out. “It’s rare that you need to top it that high, depending on the number of passengers on board. With 2,900 lb. on board, it leaves us 614 lb. for passengers and bags. On average, we carry four passengers.”
In terms of “likes,” for Debbie, it is ease of flight; for Michael, it’s reliability. “We can get into the plane, push the battery button and be taxiing in 5 min.,” he says. “The reliability is outstanding; very rarely have we had anything happen. You can climb to FL430 in 38 min., and once there, it burns 86 gph or 560 lb./hr. It’s the only aircraft in its class that has the closed lav.”
He also likes the automation: “The plane is extraordinarily automated. There are zero runway items on this aircraft. When you rotate, it checks trim to ensure it’s in the right position. When you bring the gear up, it automatically engages the yaw damper and turns off the taxi lights and turns on the recognition lights, then at 18,000 ft. the recognition lights go off. It’s all very intuitive.”
“The Elite is what the first plane should have been,” Debbie says.
“It is better because of the upgrades. They tightened up the braking system and listened to what their customers wanted, for example, a belted lav to accommodate an extra passenger, a better sound system and increased luggage capacity. And they widened the tail to reduce the runway takeoff and landing distance.”
As an example of the automation incorporated into the Elite that aids the cockpit, Michael cites the updated Garmin 3000 avionics system, which features a cruise speed control (CSC) for holding speed and altitude. He describes it as “a poor man’s autothrottle that allows you to hold your speed and altitude in level flight and makes it easier to fly the aircraft. You can see the N1 going up or down, but the thrust levers do not move.”
Michael would rate all systems in the aircraft except the fuel system a 10. He gave it a nine, due to the challenges implicit in topping off the tanks (a common complaint on the HondaJet Owners and Pilots Association website). Making it a little easier in the Elite is the new flow-warning indicator next to the fueling port, which he describes as “giving you a white light that says ‘fuel’ and a yellow light that says ‘fuel slowing,’ so the linesman can adjust the flow accordingly. The legacy did not have this. Now that we use that, we have not had any fuel blowback. It shows attention to detail on the part of Honda.”
Since the Rasas had owned an earlier HondaJet model, Michael was able to appreciate the acoustic treatment Honda has applied to the Elite. “It has made the engines even quieter,” he says. “With the power they develop, we climb out at 4,000 fpm, like a rocket ship.”
The Rasas also give high marks to the HondaJet organization. “Everyone we came into contact with we loved,” Debbie says. “They listened and treated us with respect.”
WORDS FROM THE FLEET LEADER
If you want to know how the HondaJet holds up under extended use, ask anyone from Jet It. The fractional ownership and charter operation was launched in 2018 by former Honda executives Glenn Gonzales and Vishal Hiremath and organized exclusively around a fleet of HondaJets, currently one legacy aircraft and nine Elites. No business aviation operation can flog aircraft like fractional/charter programs, and Jet It is understandably the HondaJet fleet leader in terms of operating hours accrued.
“Jet It is a shares-based ownership operation carried out under Part 91K with one-tenth to one-half share purchases,” William Collier, vice president, operations, of the Greensboro, North Carolina-based company, explains. Jet It is privately owned and not affiliated with Honda Aircraft. “We are operating each aircraft between 800-1,000 hr. a year, averaging 85-90 hr. per month including charters,” he continued. “So, we have a Part 135 certificate, as well.” The bulk of the operation is in the Eastern U.S., but it is moving west.
To date, the company has signed more than 60 shareholders. Jet It charges owners $1,600/hr. for operations, and charter customers are charged $4,000/hr. As of mid-January, Jet It was negotiating with Honda Aircraft for 10 more Elites to support its expansion beyond the Eastern U.S. The company employs 32 pilots, with six in the pipeline, and a target of three PICs and one SIC for every aircraft. “By the end of the year, we will have about 80 pilots on line,” Collier said. “We are looking for both Part 91 and 135 experience to service the intimate environment we operate, in which crews have face-to-face contact with the owners. We are a service-oriented company.”
Pilots are trained at FlightSafety International and new hires complete an initial 25-hr. course under Part 91 with lead pilots where they also get company experience in terms of interfacing with customers. Some shareholders are also pilots who only fly under the supervision of company captains. “All [shareholder] flights are with a PIC and SIC; we only operate single-pilot on repositioning flights,” Collier said.
Dispatch reliability for the operation is running “well over 98%,” Collier claims. “We have a minimal number of cancellations as a result of a maintenance issue.” Where AOGs have occurred, Collier says Jet It has received “excellent support from the factory.” The fleet is enrolled in Honda’s Flight Ready program, and the operator coordinates all maintenance through the dealer network, which Collier described as “very responsive.” Honda’s infrastructure “is designed to support the fleet,” he says. “We will have some suggestions for them to make it even better to continue to grow our mutual brands.”
To exploit the Elite’s maximum range and minimize fuel stops, Jet It operates its HondaJets close to MTOW. “The reliability and design and performance are really very good,” Collier says. “We try to forecast the maintenance and plan for it and are not getting a lot of surprises. [The HondaJet] really is designed well and is very, very reliable. We are able to achieve our maintenance planning.”
One area needing improvement was tire wear, Collier says, “so they redesigned the gear and the angle of the camber of the wheels to achieve a more distributed tire wear, as the tires had been wearing on the insides. We also worked with the tire manufacturers for a better-performing tire. We are interested in optimizing the use of the aircraft.”
Jet It’s shareholders like the fit and finish of the interior and charter customers the roominess of the cabin and legroom, Collier relates. “Avionics are excellent—in the worst case, if you get a CAS (crew-alerting system) message, you reboot it. The pilots like it because it is intuitive. All the other systems I would grade as ‘nines.’”
Jet It operates one legacy HondaJet and nine Elites. Credit: Jet It
Debbie and Michael Rasa’s one complaint about the HondaJet is that “It’s not large enough for our full family. We are hopeful that, in the future, Honda will come up with something bigger. If they do that, we will be ecstatic to move into one.” (It’s rumored, and, yes, your mother taught you never to believe in rumors, that Honda Aircraft is working on a larger aircraft, perhaps to compete with Embraer offerings. When we asked a Honda executive if the rumors were true, his response was, “Well, have you seen our factory?” Yes, but only in pictures; however, the point is that capacity has been built into the Honda works to accommodate more than one aircraft production line.)
There is an urban legend that circulates throughout the larger Honda organization, the Japanese multinational conglomerate that manufactures motorcycles, cars, trucks, generators, and now aircraft and jet engines (the latter through Honda Aero Inc., which developed the HF120 in Japan before getting into bed with GE to certificate it with the FAA in the U.S.). When revered founder Soichiro Honda launched his post-World War II enterprise, he coined a mantra that every succeeding executive and manager took to heart: “First, two wheels, next four wheels, then three wheels.” In other words, “We begin with motorcycles, proceed to automobiles, and finally culminate with [tricycle landing gear] aircraft.” Mr. Honda died in 1991 at age 84, with motorcycles and cars in his portfolio but airplanes only a dream at the time. It took his successors to bring that dream to reality, and judging by the praise of contemporary HondaJet owners, the founder would have been proud.
LAST NOTE: HONDAJET RUNWAY INCIDENTS
It should be noted that while the safety record of the aircraft is generally positive, there have been three incidents of runway departures by HondaJets and one accident involving a nose-gear failure that resulted in a successful landing in which the aircraft slid nose-down to a safe stop on the runway. In all four cases, occupants of the involved aircraft were unharmed, and in the runway excursions, the HondaJets received minor damage.
The one occurrence classified as an accident took place on Oct. 7, 2019, at Charleston International Airport (KCHS) when the pilot of approaching HondaJet N166HJ received a warning that the nose gear had not locked into the extended position after a gear extension. Several attempts to lock the nose gear into position were made without success, and the ATP-rated pilot chose to land the aircraft on Runway 3 with only the main gear securely extended. The emergency landing was executed successfully, with the nose of the HondaJet scraping along the runway until the aircraft stopped. The pilot and four passengers exited the aircraft uninjured; later it was determined that the underside of the HondaJet’s nose had scraped completely through the hull, damaging the pressure vessel.
The three runway departures occurred, respectively, on July 12, 2017, at Chicago Midway International Airport (KMDW); April 15, 2018, at Atlanta Peachtree DeKalb Airport (KPDK); April 17, 2018, at Harlan Municipal Airport (KHNR), Iowa; and Jan. 1, 2021, at East Texas Regional Airport (KGGG), Longview. In at least two of the cases, weather at the airports was rainy with gusty winds and a lot of water on the runways. In analyzing these incidents, it is important to consider the HondaJet’s 20-kt. crosswind limitation, cited earlier in this report by Russ McMillan and the admission by that highly experienced jet pilot that he had redirected two HondaJet flights from filed destinations due to weather conditions that would have exceeded the crosswind landing limitation.
A factor in at least two of the earlier excursions may have been a brake valve problem ultimately addressed by the FAA in airworthiness directive 2018-06-10, calling for replacement of faulty brake valves and extra attention to braking systems during pilot preflight inspections. The FAA focused on the aircraft’s brake system after reports of “unannunciated asymmetric braking” during runway rollouts. It is worth considering, too, an interview BCA conducted with the pilot of one of the aircraft that experienced a runway departure who essentially blamed himself for attempting a landing in adverse weather on a too-short runway for the prevailing conditions.
How much the excursions involved pilot technique or a brake issue—or a combination of both—remains to be seen. But in any case, if there is a lesson, it is, as always, to keep the airplane within the certificated performance envelope under all conditions.
David Esler has been a BCA contributor and features editor for 28 years. He holds a commercial pilot certificate with instrument and multi-engine endorsements. During his association with BCA, Esler has been accorded nine international aerospace media awards.
Providing best-in-class passenger comfort while lowering pilot workload
A little-known secret outside the world of business jet pilots is that we are more than the occupants of the front two seats, pushing throttles, magically seeing through clouds, and circumnavigating the world. Sure, there is that. But we are also the flight planners, baggage loaders and flight pursers. In some cases, we are the flight attendants and flight-line service technicians. If we aren’t the mechanics, we are the mechanic’s diagnostician or assistant. It is with due respect to all these “hats” that I measure the effectiveness of a new business jet: How does the design make the pilot’s life easier? Under these metrics, the Cessna Citation Longitude is a winning design.
My introduction to Cessna jets was more than 40 years ago, flying the Cessna T-37 “Tweet” as a U.S. Air Force student pilot. We lieutenants were told that Cessna took the lessons learned from the primary jet trainer and turned those into the first Cessna business jet, the Citation I.
So when Textron Aviation offered me the chance to fly a new Longitude, I jumped at the chance. With 31 Longitudes already delivered as of early 2021, the aircraft may be setting a new standard in the super-midsize business jet class.
THE EXTERIOR PREFLIGHT
The Citation Longitude has an elegant ramp presence, with its 68 ft., 11 in. wingspan and 73 ft., 2 in. length, a graceful 28.6- to 31.8-deg. wing sweep and T-tail perched 19 ft., 5 in. in the air. Crews can comfortably plan on starting flight preparations with as little as 30 min. before departure without feeling rushed. As this was an introductory flight for me, Textron Aviation demonstration pilots Capts. Alan Pitcher and David Bodlak allowed for an hour.
The Citation Longitude has an elegant ramp presence, with its 68 ft., 11 in. wingspan and 73 ft., 2 in. length
Not too long ago, a typical exterior preflight inspection took about an hour and often left the pilot or flight engineer dirty with grease and oil. Even today, many preflights require pilots to open panels, examine engine accessories and get into wheel wells with a flashlight. There is a certain satisfaction from all that, but it gets old quickly. I got the sense we could have it done in 5 minutes if not for all my questions.
The main entrance door is electrically closed by a DC-motor and allowed to free-fall on its own while unspooling the motor. The door includes a sight glass to ensure the ramp is clear prior to opening and a sensor to prevent the door from closing if anyone is still standing on it. (I will be adding this to my wish list on my future aircraft!) The door is surrounded by a “blade type” seal that simply uses cabin pressure to seal the door to the aircraft’s maximum pressure of 9.66 lb. per sq. in. differential (PSID). That is a recurring theme with the Longitude: If there is a simple solution to something that is traditionally handled in a more complex way, go with simplicity. The door doesn’t require an inflatable seal and all the pneumatic plumbing between it and bleed-air sources required to power it. Despite all that, the pressurization system is capable of delivering a remarkable sub-6,000-ft. cabin altitude at the aircraft’s 45,000-ft. maximum altitude.
Just about all of the inspection panels are accessible without a ladder or the need to crawl underneath the aircraft. But only one really needs to be opened on a routine preflight inspection: the refueling control panel, located in the fairing just forward of the starboard wing. The aircraft is capable of carrying 14,300 lb. of fuel in two integral wing fuel tanks. If fueled using the over-wing filler caps, total fuel increases to 14,500 lb. The control panel doesn’t require a long boot process and took less than 5 seconds to report the fuel onboard. The pilot need only turn on the fuel panel switch and select the total amount desired. The system will ensure the fuel between each wing tank remains within 500 lb. balance until the desired fuel is loaded.
For our flight, we loaded 9,200 lb. for a short local flight with three of us onboard, expecting a takeoff weight of 32,965 lb. Our takeoff from Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (KICT), Wichita was at 12C, on a dry runway. The aircraft’s published performance at a maximum takeoff weight of 39,500 lb. from a sea level, ISA airport allows for a takeoff field length of 4,810 ft., a 3,500-nm range flying at Mach 0.80, with four passengers and NBAA IFR reserves. For today’s flight, we would need just 3,583 ft. of runway.
The wings appear clean from the front and top, with no leading edge devices needed to achieve its short runway performance. The polished leading edge uses hot pneumatic bleed air to provide evaporative anti-icing. This system is also used for the ring cowls of the engines. Two full-time ice detectors, a first in the Citation series, are used to advise pilots of the need to activate anti-ice systems. The wing, from root to the gentle upsweep of the winglet, struck me as beautiful. Beautiful, that is, until I got to the aileron.
I asked Pitcher to tell me about roll control. He explained that the aileron system was strictly cables and pulleys between a conventional yoke and the aileron surfaces. That is augmented by fly-by-wire spoilers above the wing that are electrically controlled and hydraulically operated. The two outboard and midboard spoilers act as roll spoilers and speed brakes. A set of inboard spoilers teams up with the other four as ground spoilers for landing or aborted takeoffs. The setup appeared similar to that of many of the aircraft in my logbook, but I wondered about any drag or aileron buzz caused by the abrupt shape of the wing-to-aileron union. I made a mental note to fly the aircraft at its highest speed to find out.
The right aileron outboard and three spoilers inboard. Credit: James Albright
The two Honeywell HTF7700L turbofan engines are installed on pylons just aft of the wings. They incorporate dual-channel, full-authority digital electronic controls (FADEC), producing 7,665 lb. of thrust on an ISA day at sea level, flat rated through ISA+14C. The engines are just above eye level for me; I would need a ladder to install intake covers.
Walking aft I noticed the polished leading edges of the horizontal stabilizer as Pitcher talked about the EMEDs. “E-whats?” I asked. The electromagnetic expulsion deicing (EMED) system uses DC electrical power to pulse magnets mounted inside the leading edges to create skin movement to free ice from the leading edge of the horizontal stabilizer.
Next up was a view of the auxiliary power unit (APU) exhaust mounted at the aftmost point of the fuselage. Moving the APU exhaust as far aft as possible is credited with lowering cabin noise significantly, as is moving the cabin pressurization outflow valve to the aft bulkhead in the baggage compartment. The Longitude’s cabin noise level is less than 68 decibels, as compared to between 69 and 72 for its nearest competitors.
Of course, most of us business jet pilots spend a great deal of time handling baggage and the Longitude’s external and internal baggage compartment access are designed with this in mind. The external compartment door can be opened and closed without a ladder and the baggage compartment floor is just over 4 ft. off the ground. The internal door also gives access from the cabin to the entire baggage compartment, which has a flat floor.
The port-side fuselage behind the wing is home to potable water and lavatory water service. The lavatory is a vacuum type with gray water contained outside the pressure vessel in a 6.5-gal. heated tank. A 14-gal. potable water tank can be serviced internally or externally. It also can be purged while in flight by a selection from cockpit screens, reducing a pilot’s postflight cold weather chores to having the gray water dumped and removing any freezables from the cabin.
Finishing the external preflight, I again thought the overall theme had been simplicity: How can we make these necessary chores as painless as possible for the pilot? It was a theme that was to continue in the cockpit.
The Longitude’s cockpit includes the G5000 Garmin Integrated Flight Deck. Credit: Textron
For a pilot coming from larger aircraft, the Longitude’s cockpit can seem a bit small. The fuselage, at its widest point, is 77 in. wide and 72 in. tall. Pilots without previous Citation experience, like me, will be impressed by the large windshields and windows, providing excellent visibility. I lowered myself in the left seat and felt immediately at home with the five-point restraining harness and comfortable leather seats.
With the press of two battery switches, the cockpit came to life and the boot process was no more than a few minutes. The flight management system (FMS) comes up automatically, and with it, the navigation lights turn on. It appears the G5000 Garmin Integrated Flight Deck (GIFD) includes the maximum amount of glass that could fit in front of both pilots. Three 14-in.-diagonal, high-resolution LCDs in widescreen, landscape orientation are home to two outer primary flight displays (PFDs) and a single, centrally located multi-function display (MFD). Each display can be split with a push of a button.
Four full-color touchscreen LCD control panels, called Garmin Touchscreen Control (GTC) panels, are used to manipulate G5000 system features such as radio tuning, transponders, intercom, flight planning, selected aircraft systems such as environmental control and internal lighting, and MFD windows to display desired information. If a control panel becomes inoperative, the remaining control panels can take on additional control responsibilities.
While I’ve spent most of my flying career using cockpit avionics from Honeywell and Collins, I felt immediately at home with the Garmin setup. The GTCs are much easier to use than a conventional mechanical button control panel, and even easier than the touchscreen controls that I normally use. The Garmin version puts far less information on any given screen, meaning the numbers and letters displayed can be larger. Because your fingers have larger targets to hit, the chance of punching a wrong number or letter are decreased as a result. You rarely have to dive in more than a few levels to find what you want.
Unlike many AC driven aircraft, the almost entirely DC Longitude is “full up” on batteries only, except for the windshield heats. Once the avionics boot up, you have a cockpit ready to go. The only thing remaining before starting the engines is to connect external air or fire up the APU. The batteries are good for at least 10 minutes prior to APU start, so pilots do not need to hurry through any procedures before getting to the APU.
The Honeywell 36-150 APU is certified to start up to 31,000 ft. and operate to 35,000 ft. It provides electrical power as well as bleed air for environmental controls and engine starting while on the ground and at lower altitudes in the air. Unlike any APU I’ve ever operated, this one is certified for unattended operation. Pilots can start the APU with full confidence that it will not only shut down on its own if needed, but it will also discharge a fire extinguisher. I immediately added this to the wish list for my aircraft.
Starting the APU could not be easier. You simply rotate the APU control switch from OFF to ON, wait about 15 seconds for a self-test to complete, and then rotate the switch to START. Pilots are relieved of the normal prestart routine (turning on navigation lights, selecting fuel pumps, running a fire detection test), and the entire process takes less than a minute.
The Longitude can be equipped with inertial reference units that automatically update off of the installed dual GPS receivers, or two Litef LCR-100 gyrocompassing attitude heading reference system (AHRS) computers. The units come to life automatically during power up, and flight plans and weather information can be downlinked by ground or satellite links. The system automatically favors VHF terrestrial sources, if available.
Preflight checks were straightforward and easily accomplished, and we were ready for engine start in just a few minutes. A trained crew can routinely go from a dark cockpit to engine start in less than 10 minutes. Even with my incessant questions and Pitcher’s detailed answers, we were ready in 20.
Three minutes after the APU is started, bleed air will be available, and the engines will be ready for start as soon as the Before Start Checklist is completed. Pushing either engine’s FADEC RUN/STOP button sends air to the starter and as soon as 32 psi is indicated, the START button can be pressed. We got the 32 psi in just a few seconds and it seemed to me that each engine start took less than 30 seconds. I could barely hear the engines from the cockpit.
After engine start, I checked the flight controls in each axis, as well as the speedbrakes. I was a little surprised by the amount of force needed to move the ailerons full throw, but the elevator moved more easily. (Both are fully mechanical with no hydraulic assist.) The rudder is electrically controlled, hydraulically actuated and it moved easily.
Taxi was effortless with the airplane gently starting to roll as I released the brakes. The nosewheel steering uses a mechanical linkage from a left seat tiller and from both sets of rudder pedals to drive a hydraulically assisted nosewheel steering assembly. The tiller provides up to 80- to 81-deg. nosewheel deflection, the rudder pedals provide up to 7.5 deg.; both can add up for a total of 88 deg. left or right of center. The tiller felt heavier than I expected, but that made it easier to make smooth movements.
The wheel brakes are actuated conventionally. The multi-disk, anti-skid carbon brake system is electronically controlled and hydraulically actuated. This kind of “brake by wire” is new for the Citation lineup, but they seemed to have gotten it right. Brakes are not overly sensitive and were effective.
We selected “Flaps 2” for takeoff. The electric flaps are motor driven to three positions: Flaps 1 gives you 7 deg. of flaps, Flaps 2 gives you 15 deg., and Flaps Full gives you 35 deg. The difference from minimum to maximum can reduce approach speeds by as much as 33 kt.
Testing Vmo at 40,000 ft. Credit: James Albright
Switching from clearance delivery to ground control and to tower frequencies made me appreciate a design decision Garmin made with its touchscreen control panels. They placed primary radio data information on top and included mechanical interfaces on bottom. With other designs, pilots are required to activate the communications page with a swipe of the screen, then punch in the frequency and then select the appropriate radio. With the GTC, the frequency is always in view and can be changed by simply selecting it. Volume changes are as simple as a twist of the knob. The three physical controls on the bottom have myriad uses, all making the pilot-to-avionics interface simpler.
This kind of mix between glass and physical switches can seem to be a step backward to the days of partial glass cockpits a few decades ago. But I think it might be a correction from other designs that have gone too far. My “other job” is flying a Gulfstream GVII where almost all conventional “hard” switches have gone “soft.” Responding to a request to ident, for example, has become somewhat more complicated in the brave new world. Depending on which page a touchscreen is left, getting to an ident button can involve a swipe of the screen or a press of page tab before the ident button can be found. The process gets easier with practice and muscle-memory, but you have to add all the other tasks requiring similar screen gymnastics to your learning curve. With other, more conventional aircraft, you simply find the physical button and press it. With the Longitude, most of these conventional “hard” switches remain hard. Of course, hard switches are more expensive. But it does make pilot tasks easier.
CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF
We were cleared for takeoff on Runway 01R at Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (KICT) and the Citation Longitude’s FADEC-controlled engines allowed me to simply push the throttles full forward. Hitting the Takeoff/Go Around (TO/GA) buttons earlier armed the autothrottles, which took over after I pushed them full forward. The engines responded quickly to takeoff thrust. Keeping the aircraft aligned with the runway centerline was simply a matter of steering with my feet and each V-speed came quickly. Our V1, decision speed was 107 kt., rotation speed was 113 kt., and V2, takeoff safety speed was 125 kt. As with many over-powered aircraft, these speeds seem to be of little consequence with all engines operating: They come and go very quickly.
A gentle pull to what looked to be around 10 deg. of pitch allowed us to alight gently and we were airborne. Pull forces were not substantial and it was easy to bring the nose up without over-rotating. If there was any pitch change due to flap retraction, I didn’t notice it; I was too busy adding nose-down trim to compensate for our rapid acceleration. The flaps had just made it to their fully retracted position when we were asked to turn 40 deg. Here again the aileron forces seemed heavy, reminding me of my days flying a Gulfstream III. But I soon got used to needing more muscle power in the roll axis and after a while I forgot it was ever a concern. Capturing and holding a 250-kt. climb speed was easily done, and passing about 10,000 ft. I decided to give the autopilot the fun of flying the airplane while I turned my attention to navigation and other cockpit duties. The autopilot accelerated us to 270 kt. until Mach 0.76, which it then maintained.
The two center Garmin Touchscreen Control (GTC) panels. Credit: James Albright
We made it to FL 400 in less than 20 minutes. I opted for an altitude less than 41,000 ft. to keep the crew off oxygen; 45,000 ft. was easily within our reach. I wanted to see the aircraft at its maximum speed and it easily accelerated to Mach 0.84. As we nibbled into the red and white “barber pole” of the airspeed tape, the autothrottles gently reduced our thrust to keep us right at Mach-Maximum Operating (Mmo). Roll control remained responsive and I did not detect any aileron buzz or other signs that my earlier concerns about a less than laminar flow off the ailerons were valid. In fact, other than the PFD indication, we had no other signs the aircraft was at its maximum speed, not even an aural clacker.
The “good manners” of the aircraft’s handling at high altitude and high speed prompted a lot of questions on my part about the Longitude’s partial fly-by-wire (FBW) system. While the ailerons and elevators are strictly conventional cables and pulleys that you would have found on the Citation I, which was certified more than 50 years ago, the rudder, spoilers, brakes and throttles use concepts unheard of back then. Many of us equate FBW with the old Airbus versus Boeing debate, arguing if the aircraft should have the ability to override the pilot. That debate is no longer valid, as Boeing has adopted FBW in its latest aircraft and Airbus has tweaked its version of FBW to prevent accidents like the June 26, 1988, crash of an Airbus A320 during an air show at Basel/Mulhouse-EuroAirport (LFSB), France. In that incident, the aircraft decided it was landing just as the pilot decided he was going around. In an odd twist of fate, a Boeing 777 had a similar accident on Aug. 3, 2016, at Dubai International Airport (OMDB). What those aircraft have in common are flight control computers that can make decisions and can, indeed, override pilot decisions.
The partial FBW on the Longitude is different—in fact very different. One of the advantages of FBW is a drastic reduction in weight and space requirements for all those cables and pulleys. Placing electrons between the pilot and the flight controls also allows more precise control when the pilot might be too busy or simply unable to provide the precision needed. The speed envelope provides a good illustration of this in the Longitude.
If you fly too fast and the autothrottles are engaged, the airplane has the good sense to bring the throttles back just far enough to keep you at the limiting speed. If the autothrottles are not engaged, they will automatically engage to retard the throttles. The aircraft will not automatically adjust pitch in an effort to reduce speed, but the flight director will provide the pilot with pitch-up commands. If you fly too slowly, the autothrottles will advance and if the speedbrakes are deployed, they will automatically stow. The aircraft is also equipped with a conventional stick shaker and pusher.
The Longitude includes an emergency depressurization mode (EDM), which activates if cabin pressure exceeds 14,700 ft., provided the autopilot is engaged and the aircraft is above 30,000 ft. In this situation, the aircraft will turn 90 deg. left, the autothrottles will retard to idle, and the aircraft will descend 15,000 ft. at Mmo/Vmo. Once level at 15,000 ft., the autothrottles will advance to provide a safe margin above stall speed. This automatic descent is becoming more or less standard on many high-altitude business jets, but the selection of 30,000 ft. as the minimum altitude for an EDM is not. Most of the aircraft that I’ve flown use 40,000 ft., a number that is too high in my opinion. Isn’t 39,000 ft. just as much a problem? I like the 30,000-ft. solution better.
The FBW rudder is electrically controlled and hydraulically actuated and feels perfectly conventional in all respects. In a way, many aircraft have a bit of FBW in the rudder, like the Longitude, with electronic yaw dampers and turn coordinators. The FBW spoilers also feel perfectly conventional in flight, helping to crisp up the roll rate of those cable-driven ailerons and to increase the descent rate when used as speedbrakes. The speedbrake handle is large and gives a good tactile sensation of how much is being used. The gentle buffet of the airflow from the spoilers to the tail was hardly noticeable.
Pilots who don’t trust these “Buck Rogers” FBW aircraft will have nothing to fear from the Longitude in that there are no flight control computers to take control away from them, aside from a gentle movement of the throttles when flying too fast or slow. As a former FBW-phobic pilot I would warn these wary pilots that full FBW is inevitable; nothing beats a flight control computer for extracting maximum performance and efficiency from an airframe. But I digress! The Longitude’s hybrid system reduces weight, increases efficiency and is really transparent to the pilot.
Environmental control system synoptic at 40,000 ft. Credit: James Albright
Cruising at 40,000 ft., I noted our cabin was at 4,700 ft. with a 9.6 PSID. Even at 45,000 ft., the cabin altitude would be below 6,000 ft. with a 9.66 PSID. While not the lowest I’ve seen in a business jet, it is easily the lowest for a super-midsize business jet. The Longitude achieves this performance with an air-conditioning system setup I have not seen before. A single air cycle machine (ACM) is paired with a heat exchanger (HE), which provides significant weight savings over a more conventional dual ACM solution. Combined, they provide the low cabin altitudes while the aircraft is at its ceiling of 45,000 ft.; alone, either the ACM or HE can do the same up to 41,000 ft. A small portion of the air is recycled through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and all cabin air is exchanged every 2.5 minutes.
DESCENT AND LANDING
Finishing our air work, I turned us toward Hutchinson Regional Airport (KHUT), Kansas. Using a combination of vertical navigation (VNAV) and vertical speed commands made descent planning easy and the FMS helped position us for the RNAV (GPS) Runway 31 approach. We accepted vectors from Wichita Approach Control and configured with Flaps 1 and slowed to 200 kt. The navigation display simplified descent planning while the moving aircraft symbol overlayed on the Jeppesen approach plate increased situational awareness. A few miles outside the final approach fix I asked for Flaps 2 and slowed further to 160 kt. The autopilot handled the speed and configuration changes easily and I did not perceive any adverse G-loading found in some aircraft as flaps are extended. My plan was to allow the autopilot and autothrottles to bring the airplane down to LPV minimums, 250 ft. above the runway, and then go around as if missing the approach. With the vertical path a dot above us, I asked for the landing gear, which extended quickly and placed us ready for our descent. I delayed the last notch of flaps until we were established on about a 700-fpm descent and then asked for “Flaps Full.”
The autopilot commanded about a 5- to 8-deg. pitch change with the flaps and gradually returned the pitch to just a few degrees above the horizon as the airspeed settled at 140 kt. I didn’t feel any decrease in G-loading, but the pitch change took me by surprise. Pitcher explained that the 140-kt. bug speed was selectable by the pilot and would automatically reduce to Vref with 2 nm to go. That distance was also pilot-selectable.
The artificially high approach speed is a common practice among jets capable of lower Vrefs, helping to expedite the approach while not hindering following traffic. I wasn’t sure about the 2-nm distance, however. On a 3-deg. glidepath that leaves just over 600 ft. to go and just over 100 ft. to become stable by the industry-standard 500-ft. stable approach call. I was also unsure about slowing to Vref, but as the student in this situation, I was prepared to learn.
The sight picture from the large cockpit windshield made tracking the 7,003-ft. runway’s touchdown zone easy. Just as predicted, at 2 nm the bugged speed reduced from 140 kt., lower but not all the way down to our Vref of 120 kt. As before when slowing to 140 kt., the aircraft’s pitch changed slightly and we settled at Vref plus about 5 kt. by about the time we got to minimums.
After Pitcher’s “Minimums” call, I hit the TO/GA button on the left throttle and both throttles advanced to go-around thrust. The autopilot automatically disengaged and I rotated into the command bars and followed the navigation cues selected to match our climb-out instructions. We cleaned up the airplane and steered back to KICT for one more approach and landing, this time fully hand-flown.
Pitcher quickly downloaded the ATIS and programmed the landing data into the FMS, leaving us with time for more of my questions about approach speeds. I noticed on our first approach that the speed never made it to Vref. Pitcher explained that the FMS uses inputs from the air data system as well as acceleration and deceleration inputs from the IRUs to come up with an adjustment, similar to the one-half steady and full gust factor used on other aircraft. He also said that we didn’t want to land hot, because even with an extra 5 kt., the airplane likes to float. I asked if the airplane can simply be flown onto the runway in that situation and he readily agreed.
We received vectors to shoot the ILS Runway 01R and configured as before, extending the first notch of flaps about 5 mi. short of glideslope intercept. With Flaps 1 and 2, pitch changes were minor and the aircraft slowed to target speeds easily. I did not feel any need for excessive pitch or trim changes with gear extension, and capturing and maintaining the glidepath was not a problem. The winds were called at 320 deg., 16 kt. gusting to 20, about a 12-kt. crosswind without the gust.
I asked for full flaps right after glideslope intercept and again noticed the large pitch change, which I countered with aft yoke pressure. I trimmed and trimmed some more before Pitcher called me “a dot low.” With a little more effort, I got us back on glidepath and trimmed for 140 kt. Our Vref was 118 kt. and Vapp was 130 kt., but I was unsure what additive the airplane would choose once we were inside of 2 nm. Most aircraft that I have been typed in use half the steady state wind and all of the gust, with a minimum of 5 kt. and a maximum of 20 kt. Vref additive. That would come to 12 kt. above Vref, or 130 kt.
“Here comes the speed,” Pitcher called at 2 nm. The airspeed reduced quickly to about 125 kt. The trim change was noticeable but manageable and the autothrottles did a good job of keeping us on speed. I crossed the end of the runway at about 50 ft. and found myself ready to flare at 20 ft., just as the autothrottles retarded to idle. I gave the right rudder a little push to align the aircraft with the runway and my hands subconsciously leveled the wings. Rotating to the flare attitude required minimal force and the wheels kissed the runway right at the 1,000-ft. fixed distance markers, proving once again that trailing-link main landing gear make pilots look better than they are.
As soon as the main gear weight-on-wheels system signified the aircraft was on the ground, the six panels of the ground spoiler system fully deployed, making the aircraft settle nicely as I slowly released back pressure. The automatic ground spoilers use throttle lever angle, weight on wheels and airspeed to trigger deploy and stow actions.
I lifted the thrust reverser levers to the reverse position and slid both throttles to full reverse. “Keep them there,” Pitcher reminded me. The FADEC automatically began to reduce the amount of reverse thrust at 85 kt., ending at idle by 45 kt. This allowed me to keep the levers at full reverse, not having to worry about any engine or aerodynamic limitations while maximizing the stopping force. At 30 kt., the ground spoilers automatically stowed.
Taxiing back to where we started, I was again hit by the simplicity of it all. Many mundane pilot tasks are automated, and many tedious tasks are simplified. This was further emphasized during shutdown, which was simply a matter of shutting down the engines and turning off the batteries. “Gear pins?” I asked. “Not needed,” I was told. The gear-down locks require hydraulic pressure to release, removing yet another pilot worry.
As I walked away from the aircraft, I remembered a caution during my last aircraft initial training, in the Gulfstream GVII: “You have to get through the complexity to get to the simplicity.” For pilots, simplicity promotes safety. I think that perhaps for the Citation Longitude, the mantra should be: “You have to embrace the simplicity to maximize the safety.”
James Albright is a retired U.S. Air Force pilot with time in the T-37B, T-38A, KC-135A, EC-135J (Boeing 707), E-4B (Boeing 747) and C-20A/B/C (Gulfstream III). Since turning civilian, he has flown the CL-604, Gulfstream GIV, GV, G450, and now the GVII-G500. He is the webmaster and principal author at Code7700.com
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The G280 is 66 ft., 10 in. long, with maximum zero fuel weight of 28,200 lb., according to the manufacturer. Credit: Gulfstream
The Gulfstream G280 is powered by Honeywell HTF7250G turbofan engines, with a wingspan of 63 ft. Credit: Gulfstream
The PlaneView 280 flight deck is based on the Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics system, featuring three 15.1-in. high-resolution displays and Head-Up Guidance System. Credit: Gulfstream
G280 cabin with eight passenger seats, one of the three cabin configurations Gulfstream offers.
Credit: Barry Gray, Biz Jet Photos
The G280 cabin accommodates up to 10 passengers, with option for an aft divan in 10-seat configuration. Credit: Gulfstream
Galley view of the Gulfstream G280. Credit: OGARAJETS
20/Twenty: Gulfstream G280
Eight years since entering service with operators, the Gulfstream G280 remains at the forefront of business jets in terms of technology and performance.
Gulfstream G280 options range from $1 million to $3.5 million—the costliest of which is the HUD/EVS combination of a Collins Head-up Guidance System with infrared imagery provided by a nose-mounted, cryogenically-cooled Elbit-Kollsman EVS camera. On Dec. 10, 2020, satellite communications provider Viasat announced the availability of its high-speed Ka-band inflight connectivity service on the G280. Reception requires equipping with Viasat’s Global Aero Terminal 5510 satcom antenna and hardware. The FAA has approved installation of the system, which Gulfstream now offers, by supplemental type certificate.
Powered by twin Honeywell HTF7250G turbofan engines, each rated at 7,624 lb. takeoff thrust, the G280 has a maximum range of 3,600 nm at long-range cruise speed of Mach 0.80, and a high speed of Mach 0.84. It features the Gulfstream PlaneView 280 flight deck, which is based on the Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion integrated avionics system fronted by three large-format (15-in.) high-resolution displays.
Departing at maximum takeoff weight MTOW (39,600 lb.), the G280 needs 4,750 ft. of runway in ISA sea-level conditions. The G280 boasts the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of all Gulfstream aircraft and is known for its excellent climb performance; according to OGARAJETS’ Aaron Smelsky, it is common for the G280 to fly directly to 43,000 ft. at MTOW up to ISA+15C.
Capable of seating 10 passengers, the G280 typically carries four passengers with full fuel to maximum range. “While this is not the highest figure in the [super midsize] category, the benefit of the aircraft is its efficiency,” says Smelsky. “No matter how you load it (i.e. two passengers or 10), under the same conditions it will almost always out-fly any of the other super-mid aircraft due to its fuel efficiency."
Operators have said they budget $2,400-$2,500 for all-up operating expenses. Foster observes that super midsize jets generally cost within $100-200 an hour of each other in terms of direct operating cost. Among its closest competitors, the G280 bests the Bombardier Challenger 350 on range (3,600 nm vs. 3,200 nm) and is priced considerably less overall than the longer-range Dassault Falcon 2000LX, he notes.
As with other Gulfstream jets, the G280’s basic maintenance is scheduled in 500 hr. and 12-month intervals. The 8C/96-month inspection series is the most comprehensive of the packages.
From the passenger standpoint, the G280’s pressurization system maintains a low cabin altitude of 7,000 ft. The cabin is lit by 19 large oval windows, four more than the predecessor G200, and is reputed to be one of the quietest in the super-midsize category. Smelsky, who has worked for the manufacturer, points out that the G280 and its larger sibling, the G650, were the first two jets that Gulfstream developed from the beginning using its acoustic test facility in Savannah.
“They redesigned the air conditioning and duct work to make the ECS (environmental control system) the quietest,” said Smelsky. “Now, when you turn the gaspers on, you do not hear them. They even went as far as to test the stitch patterns on their acoustic curtains to see which one had better noise attenuation. Gulfstream went to all lengths possible to make the cabin as quiet as possible.”
Gulfstream offers four cabin configurations for the G280: two 10-seat layouts, one featuring four seats forward with four seats and a divan aft; a 9-seat configuration with four seats forward, two seats and a divan aft; and an 8-seat, double-club configuration with four seats forward and four seats aft. The aft lavatory features a vacuum toilet; aft baggage compartment volume is 120 cu ft.
The finished cabin height of the G280 is 6 ft. 1 in. While the raised seating platform provides the widest aisle, it can give the appearance of a dropped aisle, which may be a drawback for some buyers.
“Once you’re seated, you’re in a very solid position to looking out the windows—you don’t notice it,” said Foster. “When you move out of that seat and transition into the aisle you then have 6 ft. 1 in. of head room, which is a nice bit of clearance in the airplane.”
Based in Washington, DC, Bill covers avionics, air traffic management and aviation safety for BCA. A former daily newspaper reporter, he has covered the commercial, business and military aviation segments as well as unmanned aircraft systems. Prior to joining BCA in November 2017, he worked for Aviation International News and Avionics and Rotor & Wing magazines.
During a year that saw flight activity slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gulfstream Aerospace in June 2020 announced the 200th delivery of its G280 super-midsize twin, a milestone that attests to the ongoing popularity of the manufacturer’s smallest business jet.
The G280 is derived from the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) Galaxy twinjet, which Gulfstream renamed the G200 when it purchased IAI’s Galaxy Aerospace subsidiary in 2001. But the fuselage is where the similarities end; the G280 was rebuilt with new engines, wing, empennage, interior and avionics. Autothrottle and autobrake systems are standard.
Gulfstream delivered its 200th G280 in June 2020. Credit: Gulfstream
IAI assembles the G280 in Israel, then flies green aircraft to Gulfstream’s mid-cabin completions center at Dallas Love Field for finishing and painting. IAI contracted with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) in June 2019 to supply the G280’s wing, which was previously supplied by Triumph Aerospace Structures. IAI and KAI reached another agreement in December 2020 for the supply of select fuselage structures.
The G280 is certified in 19 countries and as of December, there were 210 G280s in service. The fleet had accrued 256,200 flight hours and completed 159,000 landings, Gulfstream reported.
The manufacturer touts the G280’s authorization by the FAA for approach-to-land operations using an optional enhanced flight vision system (EFVS), announced by Gulfstream in May 2019. The approval allows pilots to fly certain instrument approaches all the way to landing without seeing the runway by using enhanced vision system (EVS) imagery presented on the head-up-display.
EFVS capability enables operators to land in more weather conditions, limiting delays and rerouting. Pilots require ground and flight training specified in the FAA’s Part 61.66 regulation.
The G280 was certified by the FAA and Civil Aviation Authority of Israel for steep approach operations in October 2016, gaining approval to fly in and out of London City Airport, with its 5.5-degree glideslope and 4,948-ft. runway. It holds 75 city-pair speed records.
As a turbulent 2020 came to an end, there were 13 G280s—or just 6% of the fleet—for sale, up slightly from 10 units at the close of 2019, said Johnny Foster, president and CEO of OGARAJETS, an International Aircraft Dealers Association accredited dealer based in Atlanta.
Gulfstream offers four cabin layouts for the G280; shown is a 9-seat configuration. Credit: Gulfstream
The slight increase in available supply was not of concern to Foster, who attributed the increase to both predictable and unpredictable factors. Gulfstream started delivering G280s in 2012 and ramped up production in 2013, he noted. As of 2019, the pre-owned market began to see aircraft from the earliest vintage of G280s reaching their 5-year warranty period. The timing then further aligned in 2020 with a broad slowdown in market activity created by the COVID-19 pandemic, which further fueled the supply.
“It wasn’t unexpected to see the level of supply beginning to grow as we’re now basically seven years into the maturity of the fleet,” says Foster. “You’ve tapped into those first roughly 50-60 serial numbers that are now out of the five-year warranty protection. That’s a very predictable measure.”
Asking prices for pre-owned G280s range from $10.5 million to $16.5 million, Foster says. The average equipped price of a factory-new G280 with options most buyers select is $24.5 million, according to the winter 2020 edition of the Aircraft Bluebook.
ADS-B Ins and Outs
Value drives general aviation use of ADS-B In
Commercial carriers lead business aviation in pursuing operational benefits from receiving and displaying traffic information on their flight decks by automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) In.
Initial interest in ADS-B In applications by the general aviation (GA) community is coming from pilots who want to improve their situational awareness by streaming uplinked weather and traffic information to their carry-on devices through applications like ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot.
“We are seeing some demand where folks want to install an ADS-B In receiver and a wireless adaptor, and then they can see those data on their iPads, for example,” says Bill Stone, Garmin Aviation senior business development manager. “I think we see a lot more demand for ADS-B In in the smaller, owner-flown aircraft where they may not have airborne weather radar and they likely don’t have a TCAS [traffic alert and collision avoidance system], so it really is good value for them.”
In 2010, the FAA mandated that all aircraft flying in most controlled airspace in the U.S. transmit their position by ADS-B Out by January 2020. Since the compliance deadline, nearly all commercial airliners--more than 6,700 by the FAA’s count in February 2021--had equipped for the requirement, and an estimated 90% or more of all business jets also had done so.
The Garmin Pilot app for iPad and iPhone devices displays ADS-B or SiriusXM weather data and ADS-B datalink traffic, the latter with TargetTrend relative motion tracking of aircraft trajectories. Credit: Garmin
ADS-B Out provides greater overall surveillance coverage, better accuracy and higher update rates than radar. The FAA is taking advantage of the technology to gradually close aircraft separations to 3 nm from 5 nm in en route airspace, which also benefits operators by improving air traffic flows in congested airspace.
But ADS-B In--the capability to see aircraft targets on the flightdeck and exploit that data operationally--has been acknowledged from the start as industry’s payback for investing in ADS-B Out. While the FAA mandates that operators broadcast an aircraft’s position by ADS-B Out, it does not require that they also be capable of ADS-B In.
The infrastructure the FAA built already supports some ADS-B In applications. Traffic information service-broadcasts (TIS-B) transmit relevant traffic position reports derived from ADS-B, radar and multi-lateration sensors to aircraft fitted with ADS-B 1090ES or 978 MHz UAT receivers flying at or below 24,000 ft. within coverage of a ground station. Flight information service-broadcasts (FIS-B) transmit aeronautical and weather information to aircraft that can receive data over UAT while flying within ADS-B coverage.
Through flight trials, airlines have advanced more sophisticated ADS-B In applications, such as Cockpit Display of Traffic Information-Assisted Visual Separations (CAVS) and In-Trail Procedures (ITP), that require display and software enhancements and new procedures.
Under the Single European Sky ATM Research program, Honeywell has advanced its SURF-IA (Situational Awareness on the Airport Surface with Indications and Alerts) application with support from Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Eurocontrol. The software-based system provides pilots with visual and audio warnings of approaching hazards on the airport surface, based on ADS-B Out data.
After nearly a decade of development--originally as US Airways--American Airlines started installing SafeRoute+, an ADS-B In retrofit system, on its fleet of 319 Airbus A321s in 2020. A product of ACSS, a joint venture of L3Harris Technologies and Thales, SafeRoute+ is an upgrade to the aircraft’s ACSS TCAS surveillance processor that uses existing cockpit multifunction control and primary flight displays with the addition of a small ADS-B Guidance Display. The launch version supported five ADS-B In software applications.
The FAA’s NextGen Advisory Committee (NAC) has designated ADS-B Out as one of four “fundamental” items (with performance-based navigation, data communications and inertial reference units) of a Minimum Capabilities List of forward-fit equipment it has developed for mainline and regional airliners. It has identified ADS-B In as one of 12 optional, supplemental items.
In order to address privacy concerns over third parties tracking aircraft with their own ADS-B receivers, the FAA in December 2019 launched the Privacy ICAO Address (PIA) program. The PIA program allows operators of U.S.-registered aircraft equipped with 1090ES ADS-B transponders to request an alternate, temporary ICAO aircraft address that is not attributable to the owner/operator in the Civil Aviation Registry. The FAA said it has approved 112 requests since the start of the program.
A Garmin panel display depicts nearby aircraft targets from ADS-B In as arrowheads with trajectory line relative to ownship. Credit: Garmin
To begin the process, an operator must obtain a PAPR with the aircraft’s permanently assigned 24-bit ICAO address from a flight in ADS-B airspace within the past 180 days, then enter the required information via the PIA request site at: adsbperformance.faa.gov/PIA/Application.aspx
The rate of ADS-B Out installations by GA pilots and operators spiked from 2017-19, but has dropped off to hundreds instead of thousands of aircraft per month since the FAA regulation entered force, says Stone. Some pilots of owner-flown aircraft have elected not to equip at all, because they fly in remote parts of the country such as the Dakotas, where there is no ADS-B airspace below Class A airspace at 18,000 ft. MSL. Any flights above that require using an ADS-B 1090ES transponder. “Folks flying off the ranch don’t see value in it, so they’ve not yet equipped,” says Stone.
General aviation pilots have found utility from ADS-B In by displaying available data on their carry-on devices. Credit: Garmin
In August 2020, the FAA asked the advisory committee to develop a comprehensive list of ADS-B In commercial applications its airline members either have or intend to invest in within the next five to 10 years, as well as a list of promising future applications. “Through discussions with the NAC, the FAA has become aware that several large air carriers and cargo carriers have begun to invest in ADS-B In applications,” states an agency tasking letter. It called on the NAC, which meets next on March 18, to produce a report in spring 2021.
As of February 2021, the FAA reported that 150,868 total U.S. aircraft were equipped for ADS-B Out position reporting, of which 136,655 were “good installs” and 14,213 deemed “non-performing emitters” (NPE) that were transmitting incorrectly due to misinstalled software or avionics. There were 104,078 general aviation fixed-wing aircraft equipped, with 94,869 good installs and 9,209 NPEs.
The FAA sends a letter to inform operators when its ADS-B Performance Monitor detects a non-complying NPE aircraft. “It [occurs] across the system; there are airliners that are non-performing emitters, and that can be caused by software issues in the avionics,” says Stone. “A very high percentage of the non-performing emitters are the amateur home-built, experimental aircraft…. They’re not configured correctly. If they read the manual and test [the system] post-installation, these things would be caught.”
Aircraft owners, operators and avionics shops can request Public ADS-B Performance Reports (PAPR) from the FAA to validate the performance of ADS-B Out equipment installed on aircraft by entering the flight date and other information at adsbperformance.faa.gov/PAPRRequest.aspx
U.S. airspace graphic shows where ADS-B Out position reporting is required. Credit: FAA
With the exception of “hangar queens,” or aircraft that have been stored or inactive, the operators of FAR Part 25-certified business jets had largely equipped for ADS-B Out by 2020. There is also some ongoing demand to install ADS-B Out capability on aircraft from South America that are being sold into the U.S., says Michael Kussatz, East Coast regional avionics sales manager for MRO Duncan Aviation.
“On the Part 25 side, the expense to upgrade was a lot higher, so they were usually rolling this in with a big maintenance event at the same time,” says Kussatz. “Just because of the nature of the way they operate those aircraft--they’re on a budget, they’re looking at what they need to do X years out. There was a lot of debate on whether the FAA was going to [postpone] the mandate; everybody was trying to project what they were going to do. The business jet operators couldn’t take the risk.”
Garmin supplies dual-band 978/1090ES ADS-B In receivers, and all of its display products and integrated flight decks are capable of presenting ADS-B In data when used with a receiver, said Stone. A wireless gateway is required to transmit the data to a portable device.
High-end ADS-B In software applications like those pursued by airlines, for now, are not in demand by business aviation.
“Many business jets have weather radar, they have TCAS, so they have pretty decent weather and they have good, active surveillance,” says Stone. “Many of the aircraft in the legacy fleet have a legacy EFIS [electronic flight information system], where there is just no opportunity to display those data on the cockpit displays.”
1999-2006: FAA Safe Flight 21 (Ohio) and Capstone Project (Alaska) evaluations lay the groundwork for nationwide deployment of ADS-B surveillance.
July 2002: FAA announces decision to use dual 1090ES Mode S and 978 MHz UAT frequency links for ADS-B.
August 2007: FAA awards 18-year, $1.86 billion contract to ITT Corp. (now L3Harris Technologies) to build and operate the ADS-B ground infrastructure of 650+ radio stations.
FAA publishes ADS-B Out notice of proposed rulemaking
May 2010: The FAA publishes Parts 91.225 (ADS-B Out equipment) and 91.227 (ADS-B Out performance requirements) final regulation, requiring operators equip their aircraft for ADS-B Out as of Jan. 1, 2020.
November 2011: FAA ARC issues report, says it does not support a near-term requirement for ADS-B In capability.
March 2014: ITT Exelis completes ground system installation
April 2019: Aireon satellite-based ADS-B system enters service.
The FAA completes final implementation milestone, with entry into service of ADS-B
at the last two of 155 airports.
January 2020: ADS-B
Out regulation enters
force, requiring aircraft
to broadcast position by 1090ES Mode S or 978 MHz UAT. Aircraft fitted with UAT are not permitted to fly above 18,000 ft.
The FAA reports that 150,868 total U.S. aircraft are equipped for ADS-B Out, of which 136,655 are “good installs” and 14,213 are “non-performing emitters.”
Hover over the dots to see more information
Image Credit: Honeywell
Post-Maintenance Test Flights:
A Safety Necessity
Pilots should pay extra attention to flight controls
Perhaps many of you can relate to my “retirement goal.” I hoped to enjoy flying a simple taildragger out of an uncontrolled field. For four years, two able partners and I worked to restore an Aeronca Champ. I couldn’t have asked for better partners. Both were retired captains from a major airline and had extensive lifetimes of experience in general, in military and commercial aviation. Partner No. 1 had flown a variety of aircraft from Stearmans to helicopters to the F-4 Phantom and had been a leading member of the pilot safety committee at his major airline. Partner No. 2 had a wall full of trophies from the Reno Air Races, where he competed successfully in the T-6 category. Besides having FAA waivers for air shows in a variety of aircraft including the MiG 15, he was an A&I and had instructed at the U.S. Air Force’s Test Pilot School. Between the three of us we probably had in excess of 10,000 flight hours specifically in taildraggers.
There was no question of who would do the first flight when the much-anticipated day arrived for our return-to-service test flight. All of those trophies from the Reno Air Races clearly spoke to Partner No. 2’s expertise flying taildraggers. We watched and listened as Partner No. 2 proceeded through the various stages of checks. Finally it was time for the initial landing. We excitedly watched our partner set up for a nice touchdown, but became concerned as we saw him aggressively working the rudder during the touchdown and roll-out. This surprised us because the Champ has a nice reputation for having rather forgiving ground-handling characteristics for a taildragger. Upon exiting the cockpit our partner announced that something was askew. It then took us about four months of painstaking analysis to determine the cause. With the use of lasers we eventually found that the main landing gear was slightly asymmetric. This caused an unacceptable instability in the aircraft that required exceptional pilot skill to keep from turning into an accident. Fortunately our post-maintenance flight didn’t end up in the NTSB records. Others haven’t been as fortunate.
One of the most dramatic departures from the aircraft’s flight envelope during an NRFO flight occurred on May 4, 2006, to a Hawker 800A during a maintenance test flight northwest of Lincoln, Nebraska. A Hawker shown here. Credit: Nigel Howarth
I originally intended to summarize notable lessons after reviewing the most-recent 125 NASA ASRS reports and 75 NTSB accident reports involving post-maintenance test flights. However, that plan changed because of a recurring problem with post-maintenance test flights that led to the NTSB issuing a Safety Alert titled “Pilots: Perform Advanced Preflight After Maintenance.” The NTSB found common safety issues including maintenance personnel who serviced or checked the systems not recognizing that the control or trim surfaces were moving in the wrong direction, as well as pilots failing to detect the control anomalies during their preflight checks. These failures often ended in fatal injuries.
While the maintenance field has a system of double checks to make certain that critical tasks are inspected by a second source, lapses in human performance occasionally miss these items. On July 25, 2006, a Spectrum Aeronautical LLC 33 (prototype experimental light jet) departed Utah’s Spanish Fork Airport (KSPK) on a local maintenance test flight. Witnesses reported that the airplane entered a right roll almost immediately after liftoff. The roll continued to about 90 deg. right wing down, at which point the right wingtip impacted the ground, killing both pilots and destroying the aircraft.
While examining the wreckage, NTSB found that the aileron control system was connected in such a way that the airplane rolled in the opposite direction to that commanded in the cockpit. The maintenance performed on the airplane before the accident flight required the disconnection of a portion of the aileron control system and the subsequent reconnection of that system resulted in reversed movement of the ailerons. None of the mechanics who performed the work could recall if the position of the ailerons in relation to the position of the control stick was checked. The NTSB report points out that such a position check, if it had been performed by either the mechanics after the maintenance or by the flight crew during the preflight checks, would assuredly have indicated that the system was installed incorrectly. The NTSB determined the probable cause was the incorrect installation by company maintenance personnel of the aft upper torque tube bell crank, resulting in roll control that was opposite to that commanded in the cockpit. Contributing factors included the failure of maintenance personnel and the flight crew to check the position of the control stick relative to the ailerons after the maintenance and during the preflight checks.
There are many other NTSB reports of post-maintenance test flights that involved incorrect installation of flight controls and/or trim systems. On Oct. 16, 2003, the flight crew of a Beech 1900D picked up the aircraft in Albany, New York, after it had been “signed off” by maintenance technicians for work involving removal and reinstallation of the elevator trim system. The incident flight was the first flight after maintenance. During the takeoff roll, the flight crew was unable to rotate the airplane. Fortunately there was enough runway remaining for the crew to successfully abort the takeoff. This is particularly worth a mention because the aircraft’s rotation speed occurs after the critical go/no-go speed. Discovering a problem with an aircraft’s flight control system at rotation speed may leave the flight crew in a precarious position with too little runway left to safely abort.
Examination of this Beech 1900D revealed that when the elevator trim wheel in the cockpit was positioned to neutral, the elevator trim tab was actually in the full nose-down position. The elevator trim wheel could not be physically moved lower than three units of nose-up trim. The maintenance technician did not index the trim wheel when he removed it, and then reinstalled it incorrectly. In addition, the maintenance manual did not contain a procedure to remove and reinstall the elevator trim wheel. Following the maintenance, no functional check of the elevator trim system was performed. When the captain performed a preflight inspection of the airplane, he did not set the elevator trim wheel to the setting prescribed on the preflight checklist, and he failed to detect the error. The NTSB determined the probable causes of this incident included the maintenance technician's improper maintenance performed on the airplane and his failure to perform a functional check, which resulted in a restricted movement of the elevator trim wheel. Factors were the captain's inadequate preflight inspection and insufficient information in the manufacturer's maintenance manual. In this case, the industry and the two flight crewmembers (the only persons on board) avoided a serious accident.
Unfortunately this accident is not an isolated event. Other similar examples illustrate the vulnerability of Non-Routine Flight Operations (NRFO) flight crews when maintenance has been done improperly to flight control systems, and/or flight crews have not adequately understood nor properly preflighted an aircraft after flight control maintenance. On Aug. 26, 2003, a flight crew picked up a Beech 1900D in Yarmouth, Massachusetts. This was the first flight after maintenance personnel replaced the forward elevator trim cable. When the flight crew received the airplane, the captain did not address the recent cable change noted on his maintenance release. He also did not perform a first flight of the day checklist, which included an elevator trim check. Shortly after takeoff, the flight crew reported a runway trim, and manually selected nose-up trim. However, the elevator trim then traveled to the full nose-down position. The control column forces subsequently increased to 250 lb., and the flight crew was unable to maintain control of the airplane. While attempting to return to the airport, the plane pitched nose-down and impacted the water at an approximate 30-deg. angle, killing both pilots.
During the replacement of the elevator trim cable, the maintenance personnel skipped a step in the manufacturer's aircraft maintenance manual (AMM). They did not use a lead wire to assist with cable orientation. In addition, the AMM incorrectly depicted the elevator trim drum, and the depiction of the orientation of the cable around the drum was ambiguous. The maintenance personnel stated that they had completed an operational check of the airplane after maintenance. The NTSB performed a mis-rigging demonstration on an exemplar airplane, which reversed the elevator trim system. An operational check on that airplane revealed that when the electric trim motor was activated in one direction, the elevator trim tabs moved in the correct direction, but the trim wheel moved opposite of the corresponding correct direction. When the manual trim wheel was moved in one direction, the elevator trim tabs moved opposite of the corresponding correct direction.
The NTSB determined the probable causes of this accident included the improper replacement of the forward elevator trim cable and subsequent inadequate functional check of the maintenance performed, which resulted in a reversal of the elevator trim system and a loss of control in flight. Factors were the flight crew's failure to follow checklist procedures, and the aircraft manufacturer's erroneous depiction of the elevator trim drum in the maintenance manual.
The NTSB Safety Alert recommends that pilots check systems more thoroughly than the normal preflight checklist implies after maintenance. For example, if a preflight checklist states, “trim-set takeoff,” you should verify not only the trim setting but also the proper direction of travel. If you suspect a problem with a flight control or trim system, ask qualified maintenance technicians to inspect the aircraft.
It was an invaluable lesson to get hands-on experience (under the direct supervision of an A&I) with the inner workings of a conventional cable-and-pulley flight control system. Removing worn components and reinstalling new ones provided great insight into the many possible failure modes of wear and fatigue that could eventually lead to flight control malfunction. Credit: Patrick R. Veillette
CHECK FLIGHT CONTROL MOVEMENT
From our very first flight lessons we were taught to check for “full and free correct movement” of flight controls. Every preflight, whether it is for a normal flight or a post-maintenance test flight, must ensure that the flight controls exhibit full and free correct movement without any possibility of binding. This isn’t rocket science, and yet the NTSB files contain events in which this simple concept wasn’t followed.
A Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm BO 105LS A-3 was conducting a maintenance test flight on April 13, 2006, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Following takeoff, the helicopter began spinning around its vertical axis to a height of approximately 200-300 ft. and descended without directional control, impacting terrain. The rotorcraft was substantially damaged and one fatality resulted. The copilot's anti-torque control pedals were found in their full forward position with a safety wire installation that was contrary to specifications cited in the field approval for the pedal cover. The NTSB determined the probable cause was the pilot's
inadequate preflight check of the flight controls prior to takeoff and the directional control not possible by the pilot. Additional causes were the improper installation of the anti-torque pedal cover by company personnel, which blocked the flight control system.
Any possible restriction to a flight control’s full and free correct movement must be corrected prior to flight. A pilot and a mechanic were flying a second maintenance flight check of a Eurocopter AS 350-B2 on July 1, 2005, at Scottsdale, Arizona, to check the rotor tracking. During a previous maintenance test flight they encountered a restriction in the collective’s movement when the collective down lock inadvertently engaged. They entered a descent at approximately 1,200 ft. AGL and prepared to level off at approximately 700 ft. AGL. When the pilot tried to pull up on the collective, it would not move and was observed to be latched by the collective down lock. They tried to unlatch the collective from the down lock but did not have enough time before the pilot had to flare the helicopter for landing. With the collective stuck in flat pitch, they landed hard and with forward speed. The flight crew evacuated the AS 350 once it came to rest. An ensuing post-accident fire destroyed the helicopter.
The investigation noted that a new avionics control panel had been installed and the collective down lock, which is secured to the panel, was adjusted prior to the flight. This was the second known accident where the collective lock had inadvertently engaged in flight with this particular aftermarket avionics panel installed. The NTSB determined the probable cause was inadvertent inflight engagement of the collective down lock, which resulted in an uncontrolled descent and ground impact. The collective down-lock engagement was caused by the improper installation and/or adjustment of the collective locking system, which reduced the clearance between the locking plate and the collective control.
KNOW 'NORMAL' MOVEMENT
The NTSB Safety Alert titled “Pilots: Perform Advanced Preflight After Maintenance” recommends that pilots become familiar with the normal movement of the aircraft’s flight controls and trim surfaces before it undergoes maintenance. It is easier to recognize abnormal movement if you already are familiar with what normal looks like. I would add “feel” and “hear” to this statement. During a preflight on a cable-and-pulley flight control system, as you move the flight controls and trim surfaces to their full deflection, not only are you checking for the correct direction of movement (on larger aircraft it will be necessary to have someone outside the aircraft directly communicating with you), but you should feel for any restriction as well as carefully listen for any hint that the control cables are possibly rubbing against other surfaces or falling off pulleys.
This saved my bacon during a preflight for a maintenance test flight when the yoke didn’t seem to move normally. The amount of force required to move it seemed slightly abnormal. There was some small but definite binding in the movement.
Additionally, I could hear a faint but abnormal “rubbing” noise as I moved the yoke. The maintenance controller uttered a long sigh when I described this over the phone.
Troubleshooting required ripping up the flooring to examine the flight control cables. A few days later I received feedback that the cables had become displaced from a pulley and were actually moving in between the pulley and its mounting bracket. Not only were the cables becoming frayed, but it was possible that they could have become completely jammed.
When a cable-and-pulley flight control is reinstalled it is necessary to properly tension the control cables. During the 10 years in which I was a NRFO captain at a fractional operator, I performed many post-maintenance flights checking the flight controls. It wasn’t until liftoff during one of those flights that we discovered the difference in flight control movement when the cables didn’t meet the required tension. The co-captain rotated for takeoff and the aircraft uncharacteristically begun a significant roll to the right. The co-captain was using every bit of his upper body strength to try keeping the aircraft upright. I distinctly remember his strained words, “Paaaaaaat, I caaaan baaaarely hold it.” The two of us had a hard time keeping the wings level and I had just enough mental reserve to quickly tell ATC that we had an emergency with a flight control problem and needed some airspace to work out the problem and formulate a recovery plan. ATC was great. It was a handful, no pun intended, to fly an aircraft that wasn’t handling in a normal manner. We landed, with considerable difficulty but without further incident, and pulled into the company ramp thanking ATC and the fire department for its escort. During the post-flight I re-checked the ailerons to see if I could feel any difference in the amount of force to manually deflect them up and down. I was not able to discern any noticeable difference from “normal.” Nor was it possible during our post-flight investigation to feel a difference when moving the yoke. The difference became noticeable only when there was an aerodynamic load on the flight control.
FLIGHT CONTROL 'FREE PLAY'
A destructive form of fatigue called limit cycle oscillation (LCO) is caused by excessive free play within the flight control surfaces and associated components. This condition generally becomes worse at higher speeds and altitudes. An example of this affected some Hawker 800XP and 850XP aircraft that experienced wing/aileron oscillations at altitudes above 33,000 ft. and speeds over Mach 0.73. When the speed was reduced and the airplane was at an altitude below 30,000 ft., the oscillations ceased. Investigation of the incidents revealed missing aileron bushings, low cable tensions and improperly installed brackets. If the aileron system, including cable tension, is not properly maintained, wing oscillations could develop into divergent flutter, thereby causing severe damage to the structure. When corrective maintenance brought the aircraft into compliance with the type design configuration, the oscillations did not recur.
The FAA issued Special Airworthiness Information Bulletin NM-14-05, dated Nov. 27, 2013, recommending a one-time maintenance check to verify all the bushings in the aileron and aileron tab assemblies are correctly installed, that the free play is within limits, and to ensure that the hinge brackets are properly installed and the cable tensions correct.
This type of oversight mistake has happened to other business aircraft as well. On March 19, 2004, the flight crew of a BAe 1000 had to declare an emergency to return to Palm Beach International Airport (KPBI) due to a control problem after experiencing severe longitudinal oscillations. The yoke oscillated left and right rapidly and the wings were flexing 4-6 in. Following inspection by a technician, a maintenance check flight was conducted from KPBI to Tampa International Airport (KTPA) on March 21, 2004, during which similar symptoms were exhibited. Re-inspection of the aircraft found that three aileron hinge bushings had not been installed at the previous maintenance.
During a preflight of cable-driven flight controls, pilots should check the free play by gently moving the flight control. The exact amount of free play (i.e., the amount you can jiggle the flight control without restriction) should be stipulated in the aircraft maintenance manual. If excessive free play is found during a preflight, the proper action is to note the discrepancy in the aircraft logbook and not fly the aircraft until the condition is corrected by maintenance technicians.
A pilot conducting a post-maintenance test flight should be attentive to the maintenance corrections made as well as know that subtle vibrations at relatively low altitudes will likely be exacerbated at high altitudes where true airspeeds increase. Clearly some knowledge of aeroelasticity is necessary for flight crews who conduct post-maintenance test flights, especially of flight control systems. Troubleshooting vibrations will often require changes of airspeed, changes of throttles and configuration, and possibly changes of altitude to get a trend. It will be important to observe whether the vibrations were high frequency or low frequency. For example, the flight crew of a business aircraft experienced divergent flutter at approximately 2,000-3,000 ft. accelerating through 170 KIAS. The flight crew decreased to 150 KIAS, whereupon the flutter went away. They declared an emergency and landed uneventfully. They subsequently discovered the port side trim disconnected from the control arm that was recently out of maintenance at the FBO (ASRS 700868, June 2006).
Any time you change a flight control’s mass, it negatively affects the speed at which the flight control can flutter. The mass of a flight control can change due to drain holes getting plugged as well as bird nests. Even a change caused by a single additional layer of paint can create a previously non-existent flutter mode in a flight control surface.
On Aug. 24, 1996, a Burkhart Grob G-115D experienced an inflight breakup over Dupuis Reserve near Indiantown, Florida, during a local aerobatic instructional flight. Both flight instructors were fatally injured. Parts of the aircraft were widely scattered, which indicated the inflight breakup. The first item in the line was the top of the rudder; the lower portion of the rudder was never found. The stabilizer and both elevators were found 900 ft. from the main wreckage. The only part of the airplane left intact was the
Maintenance logs revealed that the airplane had been repainted 96 flight hours before the flight, but the flight control surfaces had not been rebalanced. Grob specifications permitted a hinge moment range of -0.22 foot-pounds (meaning that the aileron was leading-edge heavy) to 0.074 foot-pounds. The hinge moment of the retrieved aileron was between 0.138 and 0.200 foot-pounds, considerably “tail-heavy” and outside of factory specifications.
Samples of the exterior skin were examined for paint thickness to evaluate the balance and residual hinge moments for the remaining flight control surfaces. The test determined that all control surfaces were not in compliance with Grob’s specifications. The NTSB determined the probable cause of the accident was “failure of maintenance personnel to rebalance the flight controls after the airplane had been repainted, which resulted in rudder flutter and inflight breakup of the airplane.”
GETTING OUTSIDE OF THE AIRCRAFT'S ENVELOPE
A review of the NASA ASRS and NTSB reports found other maintenance test flights in which the aircraft proceeded outside of its normal flight envelope while the crew was checking flight controls. During a test flight at Salina, Kansas, on June 12, 2001, a Learjet 25D encountered an elevator system oscillation while in a high-speed dive. The aft elevator sector clevis fractured due to reverse bending fatigue caused by vibration, resulting in a complete loss of elevator control. The flight crew reported that pitch control was established by using horizontal stabilizer pitch trim. They stated that during final approach the aircraft's nose began to drop and the flying pilot was
Anytime the wing’s leading edge is removed for maintenance, such as repairing the anti-icing system in a “hot” wing or repairing TKS panels, exact realignment of the leading edge is absolutely necessary to ensure that the aircraft has acceptable stall characteristics. A proper preflight includes close inspection of the sealant. If the sealant protrudes too much from the gap, it will “trip” the boundary layer, causing extra drag and an undesirable change in the stall characteristics over that portion of the wing. Credit: Patrick R. Veillette
unable to raise it using a combination of horizontal stabilizer trim and engine power. The Learjet landed short of the runway, striking an airport perimeter fence and a berm. The aircraft was destroyed and the two pilots were seriously injured. The NTSB determined the probable cause was the pilot in command's delayed remedial action during the elevator system oscillation, resulting in the failure of the aft elevator sector clevis due to reverse bending fatigue caused by vibration, and subsequent loss of elevator control.
One of the most dramatic departures from the aircraft’s flight envelope during an NRFO flight occurred on May 4, 2006, to a Hawker 800A during a maintenance test flight northwest of Lincoln, Nebraska. The aircraft had just come out of extensive maintenance and refurbishment. On board the flight were two Raytheon test pilots and four passengers that Raytheon considered crucial for the test flight. The first maneuver to be performed was a clean stall. Prior to the flight the crew calculated the stick shaker activation speed to be 115 kt., pusher speed at 107.5 kt., and that aerodynamic buffet speed would occur at 105.5 kt. The aircraft was level at 17,000 ft. MSL with the autopilot engaged in altitude hold and heading hold modes. As it slowed to approximately 126 kt., the right wing suddenly stalled, the nose dropped through the horizon and the aircraft continued to roll to the right in a near-vertical descent. The Hawker entered a cloud layer below them and, due to the attitude of the aircraft, the gyros tumbled. The crew was unable to determine the attitude of the aircraft until they exited the cloud layer. The aircraft continued to roll to the right, about three turns in total, when it experienced a rapid roll reversal to the left. It rolled about two to three turns to the left. When they exited below the base of the cloud layer, the captain saw only ground through the windshield and immediately pulled back on the yoke and regained control at approximately 7,000 ft. MSL. The crew returned to Lincoln Airport (KLNK), declared an emergency and made a no-flap landing on Runway 36.
The subsequent investigation discovered that the crew had difficulty locating an area that was in visual meteorological conditions to perform their stall tests. Two passenger statements mentioned that they saw ice on the leading edge of the wings. During their interview the crew stated that they never activated the TKS anti-icing system. Due to the absence of any malfunction with the aircraft systems, any abnormal flight characteristics after test flight, and the addition of statements from passengers and another pilot, it is possible that the wing of this aircraft was contaminated with ice during the stall. The aircraft flight manual (AFM) states that the clouds should be at least 10,000 ft. below the aircraft prior to stalls, the autopilot disengaged, and that stalls not to be made in icing conditions.
There were other inconsistencies in the prescribed procedures. The AFM stated that intentional stalls were to be performed with the autopilot off. However, company maintenance test flight procedures required it be engaged in order to verify autopilot disconnect at stick shaker prior to approving the aircraft for return to service. The AFM also specifically noted that all external airframe surfaces must be free of ice when performing intentional stalls. Afterward, Raytheon issued a stall training syllabus that outlined operational considerations for stall testing and clarified approved recovery procedures. In addition, they discontinued the practice of approaching intentional stalls with the autopilot connected for in-service aircraft until the stall characteristics of the aircraft have been ascertained.
These events lead to the question, “Should NRFO pilots be placed in a situation in which they are flying an aircraft so close to the limits of the aircraft envelope?” The FAA’s Information for Operations #08032, “Non-Routine Flight Operations,” explicitly says the NRFO is not a test flight and the crew are not qualified test pilots. With that said, sometimes the margins in the aircraft envelope can be razor-thin. If so, shouldn’t they receive extra training in the handling issues associated with operations close to the aircraft’s flight envelope, how to detect the deterioration in the sometimes razor-thin margins prior to an excursion beyond the limits of the aircraft envelope, and how to properly recover the aircraft to a stable condition in a deteriorating situation?
One suggested solution would be extra training in the simulator in preparation for flight so close to the margins of the aircraft envelope. However, that has created false impressions in pilots regarding the reaction of the aircraft. The NTSB determined that a contributing cause of an Airborne Express DC-8 accident on Dec. 22, 1996, was the flight training simulator's inadequate fidelity in reproducing the airplane's stall characteristics. Most modern simulators don’t have the fidelity to replicate the aircraft’s handling that close to the edge of the envelope. This has been one of the central issues in the debate over loss-of-control prevention training. Additionally, the Airborne Express example is but one of several in which control techniques learned in the simulator have actually made the situation deteriorate worse in the aircraft.
Airbus is applying the unique expertise of its pilots who test new and pre-delivery aircraft to develop a training course for hand-picked pilots who will perform airworthiness flight checks. The course lasts five days and comprises three modules. The first module is a full two-day ground school covering crew responsibilities, flight preparation, preflight briefings, recording of inflight parameters to engineering standards, risk management, aircraft type specifics and use of special system checklists. The second module includes two 4-hr. full flight simulator sessions that are evidence-based and specific to each aircraft’s unique handling characteristics. The third module is an in-aircraft 4-hr. flight to train key procedures.
The NASA Aviation Safety Reporting Systems (ASRS) and NTSB databases have plenty of other important lessons for all involved in post-maintenance flying. Some of you have contributed great reports to the ASRS about the difficulties you encountered during post-maintenance test flights. Your well-written narratives discussed the extra workload, the need for low workload airspace because you are focused on the aircraft, or missing an ATC radio call while you were performing these abnormal test procedures. Any in-depth discussion of the proper training, procedures and risk management required to safely conduct post-maintenance test flights needs to address these important topics.
Managing Crews And Passenger Safety During COVID-19
Steven Foltz, a line pilot for a Part 91 and 135 operations, talks about balancing the two operations during the pandemic.
Lee Ann Shay
How is your flight department balancing crews and aircraft in light of COVID-19 to keep everyone safe?
Our flight department has five pilots for two aircraft. Our primary purpose is to support the principal’s travel needs. Secondary to that comes charter support. Obviously, since last March, the situation has been evolving. But, first and foremost, our goal has been for the principals to be comfortable that they won’t be exposed to COVID while aboard their aircraft. In light of this, for owner trips, the assigned aircraft and crew are withheld from flying charters beginning seven days prior to the trip. We are also careful when assigning crew pairings to preclude a situation where a COVID-19 exposure could result in a grounding of the whole flight department due to cross-exposure.
How has your flying changed because of COVID?
Initially, both aircraft were removed from flying charters altogether. We then had a phase-in approach. In July, one aircraft was made available for domestic charters while the other was dedicated to support the principal. In December, both aircraft began flying domestic charters, but never at the same time. Our next phase will be to reinstate international charters.
What best practices have you observed flying into and out of airports/FBOs? Do some airports/FBOs feel safer in terms of COVID?
Obviously, guidelines differ state to state, but everyone seems to be doing their part. I’ve seen common sense precautions implemented almost everywhere I’ve been, e.g. distance barriers between customer service reps and customers, plexiglass partitions, clean and dirty pen holders, etc. I definitely miss the free popcorn, cookies and coffee!
Are aircraft being cleaned or disinfected differently than before the pandemic?
Yes, much has changed. I think of it as having gone from ‘cleaning’ to ‘cleansing.’ As a line pilot I appreciate the way our management company proactively processes the constant stream of information and changes coming from all segments of our industry. They’ve done a good job of disseminating guidance to the workforce in a way that is clear, efficient and practical. Each account lead pilot has been assigned the responsibility of ensuring their aircraft is stocked with PPE as well as OEM-approved cleaning products. After each flight the cockpit and cabin are disinfected by the flight crew in accordance with OEM guidelines using approved products. A disinfection log is filled out or a “clean” status placard is placed in the window. Following interior servicing, our maintenance staff also follows wipe-down procedures. Addition cleaning methods, such as fogging, are utilized when appropriate.
Your flight department flies for both its owner (under Part 91) and as a charter (under Part 135). How do you balance that and how do you manage conflicts?
When a charter request comes in the assigned crew evaluates the trip. It used to be that we just evaluated the feasibility of a trip from a performance and operational perspective. Now we include a destination/hot-spot analysis in the evaluation. We then work with the charter sales team on addressing and mitigating COVID risks, as necessary. Communication has been key in navigating this pandemic. We understand the principals’ desire for a conservative balance between supporting their travel needs while also, as appropriate, generating charter revenue. We are fortunate to have a strong department lead who works alongside our management company on striking the balance.
Checklist: Snow Departures
Point Of Law: Federal Excise
Tax Changes For Charter
Effective Jan. 19, 2021, new tax regulations clarify how the charter industry should address the Commercial Aviation Federal Excise Tax (FET) with managed aircraft. The regulations will give the charter industry a new sales tool: charter flights for owners in their own aircraft will not be subject to FET.
This means that aircraft owners don’t have to accept responsibility and liability for operational control in order to avoid the 7.5% FET. Most aircraft owners that have their aircraft managed by charter companies choose to operate their aircraft under FAR Part 91 for their own flights in order to avoid the 7.5% FET, and perhaps to avoid the more-stringent safety requirements of Part 135.
A little history: Beginning in the 1990s, the IRS skirmished with fractional ownership programs over how to apply FET. The battle evolved to a question of whether management fees were subject to FET. A fractional-specific fuel tax finally resolved the issue, but by then the long-running war on management fees had spilled over to the charter world. For many years, charter operations provided management services to aircraft owners and chartered the aircraft to the public when not in use by the owner. As the IRS waged war on the fractionals, it targeted charter companies and threatened to assess the 7.5% FET on all management fees.
These battles were finally resolved with the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act (TCJA). The TCJA gives clear tax protection to aircraft management services, which include:
1. Assisting an aircraft owner with administrative and support services, such as scheduling, flight planning and weather forecasting.
2. Obtaining insurance.
3. Maintenance, storage and fueling of aircraft.
4. Hiring, training and provision of pilots and crew.
5. Establishing and complying with safety standards.
6. Such other services necessary to support flights operated by an aircraft owner.
Note the last item: The TCJA does not refer to Part 91 or 135 in this exemption, but an aircraft owner is not the operator of a Part 135 flight. However, the National Air Transportation Association and the National Business Aviation Association successfully pushed the IRS to interpret “flights operated by an aircraft owner” to include flights conducted by the charter company for the aircraft owner.
Now that a charter company can fly the aircraft owner under Part 135 without FET, who is the owner? The new regulations recognize that an aircraft owner may be a lessee but state that a lease from the management company to a lessee with a term of 31 days or less would be disqualified from the protection of this FET exception. Corporate relationships are often complex, so the owner/lessee language of this provision will be very useful in giving some flexibility in creating aircraft ownership and operating structures.
Tax advisors need to be careful: The IRS does not “disregard” entities for FET purposes in the same way that it disregards entities for federal income tax purposes. The final rules make it clear that each business unit that is required to have a separate Employer Identification Number is treated as a separate person.
The final regulations further clarify that if one related party leases an aircraft to another related party (for more than 31 days), amounts paid by the lessee to an aircraft management services provider for aircraft management services related to the leased aircraft qualify for the aircraft management services exemption.
Who bears the risk on these new regulations? By statute, if FET was in fact due but not paid, “such tax shall be paid by the carrier providing the initial segment of such transportation which begins or ends in the United States.” In other words, the charter industry will need to police these rules, because they will have to pay FET if they were wrong. The IRS noted that these collection issues “require additional study and input from a broader cross-section of stakeholders in the air transportation industry. Accordingly, these issues should be addressed in a separate published guidance project.”
What happens with the fuel tax on owner flights? The proposed rules could have resulted in a fuel tax nightmare for charter companies. The IRS decided to retain the status quo: Because the final rule does not provide fuel excise tax guidance related to the management services FET exemption, companies “should continue to follow current statutory, regulatory and administrative guidance related to the rates of tax for aviation fuel.” This should mean that a Part 135 flight for the owner is still a commercial flight for fuel tax purposes. The industry will surely be seeking verification on this point.
What records should be kept by owners and charter companies? Records should include the agreement between the aircraft owner and the aircraft management services provider, evidence of aircraft ownership, evidence that amounts paid for aircraft management services came from the aircraft owner, the aircraft management services provider’s fee schedule, and documents to support any allocations required under the pro rata allocation rule.
The preamble and new regulations take up more than 70 pages, so please don’t rely on a brief magazine column for tax advice: Consult qualified tax counsel. Overall, these regulations are a substantial win.
Kent Jackson is founder and managing partner of Jetlaw. He has contributed this legal column to BCA since 1998 and is also a type-rated airline transport pilot, flight instructor and repairman.
Credit: AdobeStock Pamela_D_Mcadams
New Flight Planning, Analysis
And Safety Software
1. RUNWAY ANALYSIS SERVICE
Garmin introduced the AeroData runway analysis service, which is available to pilots through its FltPlan.com flight planning service. AeroData and two other runway analysis services available from FltPlan.com—Aircraft Performance Group and Automated Systems in Aircraft Performance—help pilots maximize the performance of their aircraft while assuring compliance with runway and obstacle requirements. New capabilities AeroData provides include engine-out escape procedures factoring in obstacles and terrain; configuration of takeoff-and-landing data (TOLD) based on conditions and limitations; automatic calculation of aircraft fuel requirements based on the flight plan; and integration with the Garmin Pilot flight-planning app.
2. FLIGHT DATA ANALYSIS SERVICES
Textron Aviation now offers L3Harris Technologies’ web-based flight data analysis service for its Cessna Citation customers. The service initially will be available on Cessna Citation CJ4 business jets equipped with the Aircraft Recording System II (AReS II). Data will be aggregated on the aircraft, facilitating wireless transfer directly to L3Harris’ Flight Data Connect service via the onboard LinxUs fault isolation system. Aircraft that are not equipped with traditional flight data recording capabilities can now benefit from flight data analysis.
3. FLIGHT PLANNING GUIDE AND SMS
Aviation Manuals and sister company ARC Safety Management “invested heavily” in software development and introduced new manual offerings during 2020. Among new products the companies introduced are: COVID-19 procedures for flight, ground, emergency response plans and FBOs; a minimum equipment lists guide; augmented ARC safety management system (SMS) risk assessment tools; and a complimentary in-depth flight planning guide available for download on the Aviation Manuals website. ARC Safety Management is a modular online and app solution for managing safety, communications and overall aviation operations.
Aviation Manuals supports a client base that operates 4,500 aircraft worldwide, including 60 Fortune 100 company flight departments.
Credit: Google Earth
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