Start-ups persevere

By Kate Sarsfield

Despite the current economic gloom, business aviation start-ups are striving to bring their products to market and avoid becoming yet another failing statistic in this highly volatile and cash intensive industry that has become the resting place of so many failed programmes.

Honda Aircraft plans to start a four-aircraft flight-test and certification programme for its new light jet in the third quarter and says it is in the process of hiring 100 engineers with experience in new aircraft design, development and certification and will grow its head count to 400 this year.

Honda is developing a new $100 million facility at Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International airport, North Carolina. The first phase of this facility housing the company’s sales, marketing and administration staff, opened a year ago and an 18,600m² (200,000ft²) research and development building was completed in December 2008.

The third and final phase of the project, featuring a production facility, will open in 2010. Honda is preparing for the start of manufacturing later the same year to coincide with the certification and delivery of the first HondaJet. Honda says it aims to eventually ramp up to a production rate of 80-100 aircraft a year, which is needed for it to achieve the production efficiencies employed at Honda’s automotive division.

Spectrum
© Spectrum

The company claims sales of the GE Honda HF120-powered HondaJet have remained robust despite the economic downturn, but will not disclose how many orders it has secured. The HondaJet will be able to cruise at up to 420kt (780km/h) and offers a six-seat cabin with a lavatory. Honda claims the HondaJet has the cabin and performance of a light jet, but at a purchase price and fuel efficiency of a very light jet, says Honda.

Spectrum Aeronautical is aiming at late-2010 certification of its HF120-powered midsize S-40 Freedom – more than a year behind its original schedule due to the 2005 fatal crash of the first prototype. “We are about a year away from flying the first prototype and we are building the production tooling,” says Spectrum president Austin Blue.

He says the company has been prudent with the funding it has raised to date for the S-40 development programme. “We have enough investment to keep us going. Our strength is that we haven’t built up large overheads and infrastructure but have focused on developing the advanced composites [through its Rocky Mountain Composites subsidiary] for our aircraft as well as other industries.”

Blue says Spanish Fork, Utah-based Spectrum has not ruled out forming a joint venture partnership with existing airframers to bring the aircraft to market. “OEMs will bring the infrastructure as we will bring the technology,” he says.

The $6.8 million S-40 is powered by GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines. The Freedom is designed to have a 1.8m (5.9ft) stand-up-cabin and a maximum speed of 440kt, a range of 4,170km (2,250nm) and maximum cruising altitude of 45,000ft. Approval of the $3.95 million, Williams FJ-33-powered S-33 Independence very light jet stablemate is earmarked around 12 months later.

“The orderbook for both aircraft has been open for a couple of years and we are pleased with the numbers we have received, which takes us well beyond the first year of production,” says Blue.


Start-ups persevere

By Kate Sarsfield

Despite the current economic gloom, business aviation start-ups are striving to bring their products to market and avoid becoming yet another failing statistic in this highly volatile and cash intensive industry that has become the resting place of so many failed programmes.

Honda Aircraft plans to start a four-aircraft flight-test and certification programme for its new light jet in the third quarter and says it is in the process of hiring 100 engineers with experience in new aircraft design, development and certification and will grow its head count to 400 this year.

Honda is developing a new $100 million facility at Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International airport, North Carolina. The first phase of this facility housing the company’s sales, marketing and administration staff, opened a year ago and an 18,600m² (200,000ft²) research and development building was completed in December 2008.

The third and final phase of the project, featuring a production facility, will open in 2010. Honda is preparing for the start of manufacturing later the same year to coincide with the certification and delivery of the first HondaJet. Honda says it aims to eventually ramp up to a production rate of 80-100 aircraft a year, which is needed for it to achieve the production efficiencies employed at Honda’s automotive division.

Spectrum
© Spectrum

The company claims sales of the GE Honda HF120-powered HondaJet have remained robust despite the economic downturn, but will not disclose how many orders it has secured. The HondaJet will be able to cruise at up to 420kt (780km/h) and offers a six-seat cabin with a lavatory. Honda claims the HondaJet has the cabin and performance of a light jet, but at a purchase price and fuel efficiency of a very light jet, says Honda.

Spectrum Aeronautical is aiming at late-2010 certification of its HF120-powered midsize S-40 Freedom – more than a year behind its original schedule due to the 2005 fatal crash of the first prototype. “We are about a year away from flying the first prototype and we are building the production tooling,” says Spectrum president Austin Blue.

He says the company has been prudent with the funding it has raised to date for the S-40 development programme. “We have enough investment to keep us going. Our strength is that we haven’t built up large overheads and infrastructure but have focused on developing the advanced composites [through its Rocky Mountain Composites subsidiary] for our aircraft as well as other industries.”

Blue says Spanish Fork, Utah-based Spectrum has not ruled out forming a joint venture partnership with existing airframers to bring the aircraft to market. “OEMs will bring the infrastructure as we will bring the technology,” he says.

The $6.8 million S-40 is powered by GE Honda HF120 turbofan engines. The Freedom is designed to have a 1.8m (5.9ft) stand-up-cabin and a maximum speed of 440kt, a range of 4,170km (2,250nm) and maximum cruising altitude of 45,000ft. Approval of the $3.95 million, Williams FJ-33-powered S-33 Independence very light jet stablemate is earmarked around 12 months later.

“The orderbook for both aircraft has been open for a couple of years and we are pleased with the numbers we have received, which takes us well beyond the first year of production,” says Blue.


EADS, Lockheed Martin team up for Army helicopter

EADS North America (NA) today announced signing Lockheed Martin as the weapons systems integrator for a newly-revealed Armed Scout 645 helicopter, a new contender for a major US Army contract.

The Armed Scout 645 would integrate a weapons and targeting system on the Eurocopter EC145 airframe already sold to the army as the UH-72 Lakota light utility helicopter (LUH).

The army’s two-decade-old search to replace the Bell Helicopter OH-58D Kiowa Warrior was re-opened last year. The army terminated a contract with Bell to supply 522 ARH-72 Arapahos after development costs tripled.

©EADS North America

The cancellation has already prompted Boeing to offer the single-engine AH-6S Phoenix or a new version of AH-64 Apache gunship for the army’s armed scout requirement.

The EADS NA/Lockheed team unveiled the twin-engine Armed Scout 645 at the Army Aviation Association of America’s 2009 annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

In November, the army released a “sources sought” notice for a scout helicopter that could operate at 1,828m (6,000ft) at 35ºC (95ºF) with a full weapons load-out and enough fuel to meet a 3hr-flight requirement, including a 15min fuel reserve.

“We’re confident that our team has a low-risk technical path to meet or exceed the performance requirements the army outlined in the sources sought document,” said David R. Oliver Jr., EADS NA’s chief operating officer, in a statement.

However, the army has put the acquisition on hold at least 18 months to conduct an analysis of alternatives, said Col Keith Robinson, programme manager for armed scout helicopters, addressing the International Military Helicopter Conference in London on 27 April.

The study will consider a broad range of options, including a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft.

Although based on the same airframe as the UH-72, the EADS/Lockheed Armed Scout 645 would still be a significant departure. Unlike the FAA-certified UH-72, the scout version will be required to comply with heightened army combat standards such as crash survivability and ballistic protection.

Lockheed’s role in the partnership is led by the Orlando-based Missiles and Fire Control unit, which is also a supplier for the army’s Longbow Apache fire control system and modernized target acquisition designation sight/pilot night vision sensor (Arrowhead) (MTADS/PNVS) system.


Major North American carriers cut flights to Mexico

By Leithen Francis

Major North American carriers have outlined plans to cut flights to Mexico in response to the swine flu outbreak.

United Airways says in a statement that for the period 5 May to 3 June it is cancelling 11 routes to Mexico, reducing frequency on three others but keeping its Los Angeles-Cancun and Los Angeles-Los Cabos services unchanged.

US Airways says from 10 May to 1 July it is reducing its capacity to Mexico by 38% which means 12 cites in Mexico will experience a reduction in flights. It will also operate smaller aircraft to Mexico, it adds.

The carrier says it hopes that on 2 July it will resume its normal schedule to Mexico but adds it will have to evaluate the situation over the coming weeks before deciding.

Continental Airlines has announced it will be cutting capacity to Mexico by 40% and Air Canada has announced it has suspended services to Cancun, Cozumel and Puerto Vallarta until 1 June.

But Air Canada plans to continue serving Mexico City, says the airline.

This move by major North American airlines comes after Canadian and European leisure carriers suspended services to Mexico a few days ago.


Air Fiji shutters operations

By Leithen Francis

Fijian carrier Air Fiji has stopped operating aircraft because it is in financial difficulty.

News reports in Fiji quote the carrier’s chairman, Wu Shengyue, as saying Air Fiji stopped operating because it needs “to avoid the risk of violation of laws for carrying business for an insolvent company.”

The news reports say Wu made the remarks in a letter to shareholders.

Air Fiji officials were unable to be reached when ATI called today because the airline’s main telephone lines have been disconnected.

The airline also says on its website it is no longer taking bookings.

Air Fiji’s owners are the Government of Tuvalu, a small island nation near Fiji, and China National Aero-Technology Import & Export (CATIC), a Chinese Government body responsible for marketing and selling Chinese-built aircraft overseas.

Some reports in Fiji say a delegation from Tuvalu is in Fiji today to look at whether to revive the airline.

Air Fiji is a domestic carrier that operates Embraer EMB-110 and Harbin Y-12 aircraft. Air Fiji is also a major shareholder in Tongan carrier Airlines Tonga.


Honda Aircraft Delays HondaJet Deliveries

Kerry Lynch

Honda Aircraft Company is pushing back the delivery of its $3.9 million HondaJet by a year, citing delays in the supply chain, the company announced last week. Honda Aircraft now plans to fly the aircraft in January 2010 and receive certification and begin delivery by late 2011. First customer delivery was originally anticipated in late 2010.

Global aerospace business challenges have slowed the delivery of key components for conforming aircraft production, the company said. “We have been working very closely with our suppliers over the past year in an effort to minimize the effect of the ongoing worldwide economic instability on HondaJet development,” said Michimasa Fujino, Honda Aircraft Company president and chief executive. “Unfortunately, we now have no choice but to revise our schedule.”

Despite the delays, Honda has continued its flight-test program with a proof-of-concept HondaJet. The proof-of-concept has accumulated more than 425 flight-test hours, reached speeds of 420 knots and flown to a maximum altitude of 43,000 feet.

Meanwhile, Honda Aircraft is continuing to expand its Greensboro, N.C. facilities, where the HondaJet will be built. The company recently completed a 170,000-square-foot research and development facility, which will house production of the first conforming HondaJets. The facility also will serve as a customer delivery center.

The Greensboro complex also includes a headquarters building that houses engineering, sales, support, marketing and administrative functions.

Honda Aircraft also will break ground this summer on a HondaJet production facility. The addition of the facility will increase HondaJet’s total space in Greensboro to 500,000 square feet. The center also will include flight training facilities.

“We are moving forward confidently with the HondaJet program with the full backing and strength of our parent, Honda Motor Company,” Fujino said. Honda Aircraft, which launched its sales effort for the plane in October 2006, has orders for more than 100 of the aircraft.

HondaJet artist’s concept: Honda Aircraft


Commercial Spaceflights May Be Restricted

By Madhu Unnikrishnan

The way U.S. export controls work for space technologies could prevent commercial space operators from taking non-U.S. citizens on spaceflights, and the industry is urging reform of the system to prevent U.S. companies from being overtaken by foreign competitors.

It is not just hardware and technologies that are covered by the International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR) rules, but also passengers, and this will hamper such companies as Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Aerospace from taking non-U.S. citizens into space. Non-U.S. citizens who book a flight on Virgin Galactic could, in theory, see sensitive materials and are therefore covered under ITAR rules, said Marc Holzapfel, the company’s senior counsel, during a press event in Washington April 29. “Reforming ITAR will allow us to fly a Canadian citizen into space without his getting a security clearance,” he said.

The “outdated” ITAR rules are a challenge “second only to gravity” in keeping the U.S. commercial space industry on the ground, said Michael Gold, director of Bigelow Aerospace’s Washington office. Noting that European providers are marketing “ITAR-free” components and technologies, Gold warned that the U.S. industry could let European competitors erode their business.

Bigelow has been active in lobbying the government to change ITAR rules. “We think hardware should be [covered] under ITAR,” Gold said, “but passengers should be exempted.” The company is working with the departments of State and Commerce to change the rules, and so far has found the government receptive. “State doesn’t like ITAR,” he said, adding that the real problem lies in Congress.

“Congress created a bigger problem than already existed,” said Rep. C.A. Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who oversees these regulations on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. Dominance of the commercial space industry could very well shift to China or Russia unless ITAR is reformed, he said. Ruppersberger plans to meet with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to discuss further reforms, and proposes calling for a high-level working group of industry representatives, congressional staffers from both his committee and the Committee on Foreign Relations, and representatives from the State, Commerce and Defense departments.

Relaxing some of the ITAR provisions would take an act of “political bravery,” according to Tim Hughes, vice president and chief counsel for commercial space launch provider SpaceX. Even the suggestion by a member of Congress could lead to accusations of being soft on defense, he explained. “But the commercial arguments are so compelling,” he said.

Artist’s concept of SpaceShipTwo: Scaled Composites


Jet Airways Denies Talks With Lufthansa

By Neelam Mathews

As losses in the Indian aviation industry and debts build to insurmountable levels, India’s largest and most successful carrier, Jet Airways, may be preparing for a stake sale and eventual takeover, an airline official told The DAILY.

Jet Airways Executive Director Saroj Datta said no talks were being held and refused comment on how the airline sees consolidation in the Indian aviation industry changing in the coming years. Queries by The DAILY to Lufthansa remain unanswered.

The DAILY has learned, however, that numerous meetings between Jet Airways and Lufthansa have been held in Germany in the past few months, but none in India to ensure that the news is not disclosed.

While present rules do not permit Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in an Indian airline by a non-Indian carrier, it is likely that once the new government takes over on June 2, FDI will be considered.

Signs of a decision on FDI coming close to fruition are obvious: Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said earlier this year that the government is looking at allowing foreign airlines to buy up to a 25% stake in domestic carriers. This is an about-turn from last year, when he said, “The proposal is still under examination.”

Brussels Connection

Wolfgang Mayrhuber, chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Lufthansa, wrote in a recent letter to shareholders, “We remain convinced that air traffic will continue to grow over the medium and long term. We therefore review carefully the additional growth opportunities which arise, through partnerships for instance, and also through acquisitions, where they make sense,” Lufthansa made a number of key decisions on consolidation in 2008, including the planned takeover of Austrian Airlines and the phased acquisition of Brussels Airlines, a code-share partner of Jet Airways. Brussels Airport is also Jet’s hub for connections to North America, Europe and Asia.

“When all obstacles have been successfully cleared, both airlines (Brussels and Austrian) will provide us with the chance to connect the Belgian and Austrian markets better with the Lufthansa network.

“With its strong presence in Africa, Brussels Airlines is a valuable partner for us,” added Mayrhuber in the letter.

Lufthansa’s interest in Indian aviation goes back to the 1990s – it completes 50 years in India this year – when it entered a joint venture with the Modi Group to start Modiluft Airlines (now budget carrier SpiceJet) and a cargo venture with the Hindujas. Both had short lifelines.

Lufthansa also signed a strategic alliance with Air India in the mid-90s that led Mayrhuber to comment: “India an important market with great growth potential.

“With Air India, Lufthansa has found a partner which is optimally placed in its home market. Together the strategically outstanding position will be exploited in order to continue to be the leading European airline to and from India.”

Lufthansa invited Air India to be part of the Star Alliance and is now said to be in talks with Jet Airways on becoming a member.

Photo: Wikimedia


V-22 Faces Mission Capable Rates Issues

By Bettina H. Chavanne

It may be flying every mission in theater, but the MV-22 is still facing reliability issues due to inaccurate predictive modeling, according to Lt. Gen. George Trautman, U.S. Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation.

“We’re working on it, but that’s one concern I have in the Osprey program,” Trautman told Aerospace DAILY April 30. Reliability and maintainability are “not meeting my full expectations yet.”

The V-22 was sent into combat “sooner than we should have,” Trautman said. Typically, an aircraft is deployed only after its has passed its Material Support date, which the Osprey did Oct. 1, 2008. The first squadron was deployed a year prior, in October 2007. That early deployment had an effect on the way the Marine Corps purchased spare parts for the aircraft.

With 55,000 flight hours on the V-22, it has become evident that early predictions of mean time between failures on certain parts were inaccurate. “If [mean time between failures] is worse on the kinds of spares that have a long lead time, you start getting into a problem of how you dig out of that hole,” Trautman said. The goal then is sparing models based on reality, not predictions. “We’re struggling with that a bit,” he said.

The Marine Corps has told Bell Boeing that by 60,000 flight hours, the service would like to achieve 80 percent mission capable rates. Trautman is pleased with the company’s response. “The good news is they’re standing behind the product, they’re engaged,” he said.

Sustained shipboard deployment of the V-22 also has posed a slight challenge to the service. It was discovered that on smaller deck amphibious ships, heat from the downward-pointing nacelles could potentially warp the stringers underneath the deck plates. “We’re concerned with heat on the LPD and LSD decks because the steel is so thin,” Trautman said, adding that the service has “worked through that challenge.”

One solution is to tilt the nacelles forward slightly, which gives 35 minutes of operational time on deck.

The other option is deck plates that provide protection up to 90 minutes. The Marine Corps is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Office of Naval Research to find coatings for the deck, particularly in light of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The exhaust from the JSF’s auxiliary power unit has the potential to cause similar heating problems, so the joint program office is working on the issue now, Trautman said.

Photo: USAF