26 March 2006

After the Eclipse a new dawn?

Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?
Benjamin: Yes, I will.
Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.
-The Graduate, 1967.

In the early 1950's it was envisioned that rotor powered aircraft would be the wave of the future in civil aviation much like plastics where the "great future" in the 60's. Each family could have your own aircraft and air commute to work from a far flung developing suburbia. Needless to say this didn't happen. The hub and spoke system of our current major airlines evolved. Perhaps now, and I say perhaps, the time ahs finally arrived for this idea. September 11 changed many things. One of the big results was the exposure of fragile economic edge on which our major airlines skate. With that came initiative which we may just be seeing the begining wisps of change about to happen.

But first, some current history:

In December of 2002 The Transportation Research Board released "Future Flight: A Review of the Small Aircraft Transportation System Concept"
"The Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) is envisioned as relying on increasingly sophisticated and affordable small aircraft flying between small airports in lightly used airspace. The system was proposed to provide a growing share of the nation’s intercity personal and business travel. The development of such a system was considered to be justified by the potential to ease congestion in the existing aviation system and on highways serving densely traveled intercity markets. Without attempting to prejudge how advances in general aviation technology might evolve and affect travel markets, the committee that examined the SATS concept concluded that the concept is problematic in several ways as a vision to guide NASA’s technology development. Although the cost of small jet engines developed in partnership with NASA could drop dramatically, small jets would still be well beyond the means of all but the wealthiest members of society. The aircraft might be adopted by firms offering air taxi service, but the cost of such service would likely remain steep; therefore, sufficient market penetration to relieve congestion at hub airports would be unlikely. Moreover, the origins and destinations of most business travelers are major population centers, making travel to and from remote general aviation airports unappealing" The report goes on to day that NASA has no interest in supporting the effort for a myriad of reasons.

By mid 2004 NASA had changed its tune:
"Imagine being able to hail a plane at your neighborhood airfield much like you do a taxi in a city. It may not be quite as simple as stepping off the curb and waving your hand, but technology being developed by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., could help make air taxi service available and convenient to more people. The Small Aircraft Transportation System or SATS project is a public-private partnership working to create technology and operating capabilities that could help planes safely fly into underused rural and suburban airports, in almost all kinds of weather. That includes many airfields that don’t have radar or air traffic control towers. Nearly all of the people in the U.S. live within a 30-minute drive of at least one of these 5,400 airports."

By October 2004 the following article appeared:
"The Small Aircraft Revolution"
Fasten your seatbelts, folks, the commercial aviation system built around big planes and big airports is in for a bumpy ride. In the aviation of the future, small is beautiful.
Bacon's Rebellion
James A. Bacon
"....The SATS benefits include improved standards of living and quality of life for the nation in the new global economy. SATS technology innovations will provide the nation with: Economic development for communities of all sizes enabled by localized air accessibility
Choices to bypass highway and hub-and-spoke transportation systems delays
An efficient means for intermodal connectivity between small airports and the global aviation system
An exportable transportation revolution with affordable "instant infrastructure" for developing nations around the world

The United States stands on the verge of a revolution in small aircraft transportation -- a revolution that will transform the logic of where people choose to live and where companies do business. Siddiqi, in charge of outreach for the National Consortium for Aviation Mobility, is doing his utmost to hurry it along. With aircraft manufacturers developing new generations of smaller, more economical jet aircraft, and entrepreneurs devising alternatives to big-jet, commercial aviation, Siddiqi is undertaking the missionary work for NASA technologies that will make it safer and more cost effective to fly in and out of hundreds of small-town and suburban airports.

The small aircraft revolution is disrupting the air transportation system that has prevailed since deregulation of the airline industry in 1978. That system provides excellent air service to 30 or so of the largest cities in the U.S., but has left smaller 'burgs and 'villes off the beaten flight path. Now, declares Siddiqi, a slightly built, white-haired man who radiates passion for his subject, new technology is transforming the economics that once favored the big cities so lopsidedly.

The travails of the commercial airlines are well known. US Air, the dominant carrier in Virginia, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time; other major carriers are expected to follow suit. Conventional analysis attributes the woes of the large carriers to competition from nimble regional airlines, like Dulles-based Independence Air, flying smaller jets and operating free from burdensome union contracts. For all the disruptive impact of companies like Independence Air, however, the small aircraft revolution has barely begun.

Americans take approximately 600 million airplane trips per year, says Siddiqi. The average flight is 700 to 800 miles; of the 10 most heavily traveled airline routes, only two could be considered remotely long distance. The short and intermediate distance flights are vulnerable to competition from smaller planes that can fly point to point, often landing in underutilized general aviation airports. While smaller aircraft may have higher costs per passenger-mile, they save their passengers time and convenience. No check-in hassles. No switching flights. No missed connections. No waiting for baggage.

Siddiqi says that very light jets are scheduled to hit the marketplace by 2006, bringing down the cost per passenger mile to about twice that of the commercial airlines. Meanwhile, a slew of entrepreneurs are developing new business models to take advantage of these craft. The future isn't more regularly scheduled passenger flights, it's more flexible access to airplanes that allow passengers fly where they want, when they want. Expect to see more chartered aircraft, more shared ownership -- even air taxis."

So where are we at today? The giants of the industry continue to battle it our for orders. It cost roughy $12-15 BILLION to develop the new A380 from Airbus. The Boeing 787 (which actually is anticipating the demise of our current hub and spoke system) is in teh same ballpark. The major airlines continue to lose money and hang on by the skin of their teeth. Maybe we're on the verge of seeing some new technologies. Maybe we'll start to see the evolution of a new system of air transport as it was originally envisioned by the founders of the short travel air industry (and I mean the people who created the original products to meet this market: Hiller, Sikorsky, Piasecki, and Bell)

Eclipse Aviation begins manufacturing jet plane for first customer
By HEATHER CLARK | Associated Press
March 2, 2006

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) - With its first customer on hand to start an automated welder that quietly hummed as it built a cockpit side panel, Eclipse Aviation began producing its first customer jet plane this week. The company announced Wednesday that it has started to fill the first of 2,400 orders for its Eclipse 500 airplane, more than five years after the fledgling company's 20 employees moved their operations to New Mexico.

"It's the beginning of a whole new era in aviation," Vern Raburn, Eclipse president and chief executive officer, said Wednesday in a telephone interview. Raburn said he envisions small businesses using the $1.5 million twin-engine, six-seat aircraft to fly when they used to drive and to access smaller airports away from the hubs commercial airlines frequent.

Business owner and pilot David Crowe, who placed his order in May 2000, will receive his Eclipse 500 this summer. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to certify the aircraft in late June. "We have already been doing FAA testing, so we're pretty confident that any changes will be minor," Eclipse spokesman Andrew Broom said, adding that the test fleet has completed 1,300 flight hours. And as it ramps up production to 130 jet airplanes this year, Eclipse will nearly double its work force to 1,000 employees by the end of the year, Raburn said.

The FAA has estimated 100 "very small jets" _ also called VSJs, ultra light jets or microjets _ will be produced by the end of the year and in a decade there will be nearly 5,000 such airplanes in the skies, an estimate the FAA says is "relatively conservative." Broom agreed. By 2008, the company plans to be producing 1,000 aircraft annually, he said. "It depends on what the market bears. We feel very comfortable that we can sustain that," he said.

Aviation consultant Michael Boyd of Evergreen, Colo.-based Boyd Group predicted a bright future for Eclipse, if its jet plane is produced as advertised. Eclipse right now is the front-runner in the new "very small jet" industry, which Boyd predicts could grow to 15,000 aircraft globally over the next two decades. "There's going to be a stampede to buy these things," he said. "Eclipse will probably have a wonderful time of trying to meet demand." But, he added, future U.S. skies will not be filled with air taxis, as some have predicted. Future users likely will be businesses replacing older and more expensive aircraft and small businesses that have been unable to purchase jet planes until now. With the cheaper price tag, these small businesspeople will be able to buy a share of flying hours _ called fractional ownership _ in such jet planes, he said.

But judging from Eclipse's customers, air taxis and fractional ownership will become more popular. Half of Eclipse's customers come from companies that will provide such services, while a third of the customers are individual owners and the rest are from training organizations or freight operators, Raburn said. In addition to Eclipse, Englewood, Colo.-based Adam Aircraft and Cessna hope to have similar jet planes FAA-certified by the end of the year. Cessna has 200 to 300 orders for its Citation Mustang jet plane, which is sold out through mid-2009, spokesman Doug Oliver said.

And Adam Aircraft has 300 orders for its A700 AdamJet, which it expects to have certified by the end of the year. Spokeswoman Shelly Simi said the company hopes to eventually command 25 percent of the market share in the "very small jet" industry.

Rate of Climb – 2 engines 2,990 ft / min 911 m / min
Rate of Climb – 1 engine 888 ft / min 271 m / min
Time to Climb – 35,000 ft (10,688 m) 19 min
Takeoff at 5,000 ft 3,350 ft 1,021 m


That'll throw ya back in the seat!

Now, why is this important? "Let's say you decided to shop for an aircraft. The initial purchase, training, and continued operation of a plane are most affordable in the form or single- and dual-prop planes. Take a new Piper Malibu Mirage, a single prop, six-seater that cruises at 220 mph (190 knots). Initial cost of the plane is about $1 million with a per-hour operation cost of about $160. It's not a bad deal, but consider further that you would have just one engine (and one engine failure) between you and the ground and your 1100-mile flight from New York to Miami would take four and a half hours." ...and still only a prop plane. "The Eclipse 500 has a maximum cruise speed of 375 knots (432 mph), it can carry up to six occupants, and has a generous range of 1,280 nautical miles (1470 miles). A 41,000-foot ceiling avoids most severe weather, and this extraordinary jet gives you access to more than 10,000 airports in the U.S." (www.windingroad.com/)

This could present some very unique problems for our Homeland Security office while at the same time creating a rash of new business for manufacturing and revitalization and creation of small town America. The ramifications of small taxi service airlines could change how we view many many problems confronting us as a nation and present even more opportunities. It bears watching

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