Monday, December 15, 2014

Private jet operator NasJet warns over illegal charter practices in Middle East

NasJet, the largest private aviation firm in the Middle East, says that the grey market for the chartering of business aircraft is the greatest threat to its operations in the region.

“The main challenge for us is the grey market, or the illegal chartering of business aircraft,” said Saad Alazwari, the chief executive of NasJet. “If those businesses in the grey market were to apply for a license like us, they would not acquire a license.

“Their business is dangerous because the life of the passenger is not taken care [of], because the aircraft is not taken care of – because of poor regulation.”

The Middle East Business Aviation Association (Mebaa) said that private jets that operate without a licence constitute about 50 percent of total charter operations. While no major incident has occurred so far to highlight the risks of the grey market, Mebaa wants tougher measures imposed on the practice.

According to Mebaa the growth of the grey market is a result of passengers lured by the cheaper rates offered by unlicensed operators.

“They compete in price. The category of clients we have will not compromise their safety, but illegal charter operators still try to convince people to fly with them,” said Mr Alazwari.

Separately, he expects demand from its local Saudi Arabian market to be the main driver of growth next year, despite the falling price of oil, sales from which comprise about 90 percent of the kingdom’s revenues.

A study by Private Jet Charter, a business jet rental company in the UAE, showed that Arabian Gulf business travellers spend up to twice as long flying on private jets as their counterparts in Europe.

The study revealed that UAE business travellers using private jet services spent an average of 100 to 150 hours each year on the aircraft, while their Saudi counterparts flew for more than 200 hours annually.

Across the region, Mr Alazwari expects the relatively stable political climate in Egypt to reflect positively on business.

“We used to have very good business in Egypt. We lost this stream of revenue because of the revolution,” he said. “Now that Egypt is stabilizing, it will enhance our growth of business.”


Allegheny county to name new airport director Tuesday

A Boston aviation consultant appears to be in line to become the next executive director of the Allegheny County Airport Authority.

Christina Cassotis, who most recently worked as managing officer, airport services for ICF-SH&E, a Boston-based aviation consulting firm, is expected to be named to the post Tuesday by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The Allegheny County Airport Authority Board also is scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon, presumably to ratify the hiring.

Mr. Fitzgerald had no comment when asked this evening whether Ms. Cassotis would be hired. Ms. Cassotis could not be reached for comment.

The authority has been searching for an executive director since March, when it dismissed Bradley Penrod, who served as executive director for six years before being reassigned to the position of president and chief strategy officer in 2013.

In May, the board hired national headhunter Krauthamer & Associates Inc. of Maryland to help find the new executive director. It was to be paid 30 percent of the new executive’s salary, which at the time was estimated at $250,000, plus reasonable expenses.

Ms. Cassotis would replace Jim Gill, who has been serving as acting executive director since Mr. Penrod left. She would be the first woman to serve as executive director of Pittsburgh International Airport. She also would be in charge of the Allegheny County Airport.

According to her LinkedIn profile, Ms. Cassotis served as a director at SH&E from 1998 to 2007, when she was promoted to managing director, airport services. In that job, she led a “global team of airport consultants in areas of competitiveness and business strategy for clients worldwide ­— airport operators, investors, governments.

She also has worked with clients on strategic planning, airport marketing and route and profitability analysis.

Before joining SH&E, which is now known as ICF International, she served as deputy director of communications for the Massachusetts Port Authority for nearly five years. She also was director of communications for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Communities and Development. She appears to have no experience as an airport executive.

Ms. Cassotis has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts and a MBA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

- Source:

U.S. Navy Blue Angels to perform in Syracuse in 2016

Syracuse, N.Y. — The U.S. Navy's Blue Angels demonstration team will perform at Syracuse Hancock International Airport in 2016 at Syracuse's first air show since 2002. 

The Blue Angels will fly their F/A-18 Hornet jets and C-130 Hercules transport plane both days of the air show, which is scheduled for the weekend of June 11 and 12. 

 Airport Executive Director Christina Callahan said the two-day show will also feature other flying demonstrations and displays of vintage and other aircraft.

Admission prices for the show have not been set. Callahan said more details will be posted on the airport's website,, as they become available. 

Air shows used to be an almost annual event that drew tens of thousands of people to the airport. 

Callahan said the airport has not held one in 12 years because of the many changes it has been going through, including changes in leadership, $60 million in renovations to the passenger terminal and a switch in operators from the city of Syracuse to the newly created Syracuse Regional Airport Authority. 

The authority decided recently that the airport was ready to begin hosting air shows again, she said.

"There is nothing quite like the thrill of watching a military jet demonstration team like the Blue Angels," she said.

The show will be held in 2016 because performances by the Blue Angels are scheduled two years in advance, she said.

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Porter nearing sale of Toronto airport terminal - sources

(Reuters) - The parent of Canada's Porter Airlines is nearing the sale of a passenger terminal it operates at Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport, according to three sources familiar with the process.

The sources, who asked not to be named as they are not authorized to publicly comment on the matter, said a bidding process for the asset on the island airport is underway.

One of the sources familiar with the process said at least two separate bids are expected this week from pension fund manager Alberta Investment Management Corp and Macquarie Group Ltd. The source did not specify whether Macquarie would be bidding directly, or through one of the funds it manages.

Porter Aviation Holdings Inc, the parent of upstart carrier, said in August it was considering selling and then leasing back the passenger terminal to focus on its core airline business.

AIMCo and Macquarie declined to comment. Porter could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter, earlier this year reported that a sale could bring in more than $500 million.

The second source said AIMCo is bidding for the asset in partnership with an infrastructure development focused firm.

The second source also said a key consideration for buyers is the prospect for Porter's long-term success, including a controversial plan to get jets flying out of the hub.

Last year Porter Airlines unveiled a plan to more than double its fleet, with a conditional order worth up to $2.08 billion for Bombardier Inc's new CSeries jets.

Porter said in August a deal would not change its operations, and it would still be based at the regional airport, on an island just off Toronto's downtown core. The airport itself is owned and operated by the Toronto Port Authority.

Canadian media reported earlier this year that Vantage Airport Group was another potential bidder. A spokeswoman for British Columbia-based Vantage was not immediately reachable for comment.

Vantage, which develops and manages airports around the world, is part a consortium bidding to re-develop the central terminal building at LaGuardia Airport in New York. It currently has a portfolio of nine airports on three continents.


Editorial: Airports, houses need a little space between them

The tragedy near Montgomery County Airpark in Gaithersburg, Md., last week should be a teachable moment for those trying to figure out how to make airports and housing developments coexist.

A jet crashed into a neighborhood, killing all three people onboard plus a mother and her two young sons in their home. The plane was approaching the airport, about a mile away.

Just below that story on Page A1 of the Dec. 9 Free Lance-Star was another story, on a proposal to build a housing development in Stafford County. The development, to be called George Washington Village, could include almost 3,000 homes. The property is west of the interchange of I–95 and Courthouse Road.

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the proposal is this: Some of the land would come within 2,500 feet of the center of the Stafford Regional Airport runway. Some of the homes would be under a northern flight pattern that could be in operation in the next couple of years.

Those homes would be about half as far to the center of the airport as the home in Montgomery County that was destroyed by an errant jet.

The development, if approved, would be a 20-year project. Who knows how large Stafford’s airport will be by then? It seems to be a goal of the county to make it grow.

Stafford turned down another housing development, Oakenwold, earlier this fall. That one was considerably smaller than this plan. It would have brought about 650 new homes to the county. That development, at its closest point, would have been 3,600 feet from the center of the Stafford Regional runway, nearly a time and a half as far away as the closest homes in the proposed George Washington development.

The county obviously wants the airport to succeed. Stafford Regional opened in 2001 and was seen as a “relief airport” to reduce air traffic over Washington. Virginia Speaker of the House Bill Howell called it a “tourism gateway” for the county. Stafford cut personal property tax on aircraft from $3 per $100 to 1 cent per $100 in 2009 to make it more attractive.

The airport still isn’t bringing in a lot of traffic. It is under-used. If it really is going to be what Stafford hopes it can be, though, growth is inevitable. Even without growth, approving housing half a mile from the center of the airport sounds like a bad idea. We thought Oakenwold would have been a mistake. This development seems to make less sense than Oakenwold.

As the people in Maryland’s Montgomery County might tell you, airports and housing developments need a little space between them.


NTSB Identification: DCA15MA029
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, December 08, 2014 in Gaithersburg, MD
Aircraft: EMBRAER EMB-500, registration: N100EQ
Injuries: 6 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 8, 2014, about 1041 Eastern Standard Time (EST), an Embraer EMB-500 Phenom 100, N100EQ, impacted terrain and houses about 0.75 miles short of runway 14 while on approach to Montgomery County Airpark (GAI), Gaithersburg, Maryland. The airline transport rated pilot and two passengers were fatally injured as well as three persons on the ground. The airplane was destroyed during the impact and ensuing fire. Marginal visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and the flight was operating on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. The airplane was registered to and operated by Sage Aviation LLC., of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. The flight originated from Horace Williams Airport (IGX), Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with GAI as its intended destination.

Laser Pointers Causing Danger In The Air

From a pilot's perspective, the blinding light of a green or red laser beam looks more like a floodlight, than a laser.

Sgt. Scott May of Lexington Police’s helicopter unit, Air One, described it like looking into bright headlights or staring into a bright camera flash. “You get that spot in your eyes."

Lexington’s police helicopter has been victim to multiple laser beam incidents over the past few years. 

May said when a laser beam hit any aircraft’s windshield, it could cause the pilot to suffer from a period of momentary blindness, May said. 

“Some pilots have reported that [they got] that spot in your eyes where you can't see anything for up to 30 seconds,” May said. “That's a long time for an airplane on final approach."

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, in 2013 there were nearly 4,000 laser incidents reported nationwide. 

Of those 4,000, the FAA said there were 99 in Kentucky and 14 in Lexington’s airspace.

"It's very dangerous. When a laser pointer is pointed into an aircraft it basically lights up the cockpit and essentially blinds the pilot, Chief Division Counsel of Kentucky’s FBI Lisa Trotman said. “Briefly, but you could imagine in that scenario how dangerous that could be."

According to Lexington Police’s helicopter unit, people usually don't realize how powerful the laser can be. 

"I know here in Lexington, we've had an aircraft report a laser and they found it 2.5 miles away,” May said. “If people are curious about how far those lasers will go, I promise you it will go further than you would possibly need it to.”

The lasers behind these sightings are legal, the FBI said. But only for their intended purpose. 

The FBI said if you use it the wrong way, you could be facing up to 20 years in jail and fines upwards to $250,000.

"The law was written with the severity of the activity in mind," Trotman said.

Although no catastrophic incident has occurred just yet, experts tell ABC 36 News it is just a matter of time. 

"If you can't see you gauges, your instruments or your outside references, then you have a very good chance of have an aircraft accident,” May said.

"I think we've just been lucky,” Trotman said. “This could end in absolutely horrible set of circumstances."

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What is Vladimir Putin doing in the skies of the Baltics? A near-miss between a Scandinavian airliner and a Russian spy plane shows the Kremlin's war gaming

Being an airline pilot in the Baltics isn't an easy job these days. As well as freezing winter temperatures and heavy fogs, there's a growing risk of crashing into a Russian spy plane or military bomber.

That, at least, is the view of the government of Sweden, which protested over the weekend that a Russian reconnaissance plane had come dangerously close to an airliner flying from Copenhagen to Poland.

The near-collision occurred because the spy aircraft had turned off its "transponder" – the device that alerts commercial radar systems to a plane's presence. It is the second time a near miss has happened this year, and, according to Peter Hultqvist, the Swedish defence minister, it is only a matter of time before catastrophe occurs.

Mr Hultqvist's warning follows similar ones from Jens Stoltenberg, Nato's new secretary general, who told The Telegraph only last month that Russia was routinely despatching long range bombers to probe Europe's borders, again with scant regard for the safety of passenger jets.

So what is Russia playing at? Is this a dress rehearsal for an invasion, a scenario that the Kremlin feels it need to practice again given the fallout with Nato over Ukraine? That is certainly one way of looking at it: similar manoeuvres were practiced a great deal by both Russian and Nato military aircraft during the Cold War. However, when it comes to war gaming in the Baltics, Moscow sees it not so much as an invasion, as a case of taking back what rightfully belongs to Russia.

During Soviet times, the tiny but strategically useful Baltic states were subjected to a process of "Russification", whereby large numbers of Russians were sent to effectively colonise them. By monopolising many of the key positions in power, they ensured unquestioning loyalty to Moscow, but at the same time built up a growing sense of resentment among the ethnic Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians over whom they ruled. So when the Soviet Union began to collapse, all three states lost little time in declaring independence.

Two decades on, they are among the most enthusiastic new members of Nato, membership of which they regard as a guarantee that they will never live under Russian rule again.

The Kremlin, however, regards their membership of Nato as an act of gross betrayal, and since Vladimir Putin's rise to power, has frequently reminded them that in Moscow's view, they are part of Russia's backyard whether they like it or not.

In 2007, when ethnic Russians in Estonia rioted over plans to remove a Soviet era statue from the capital, Tallinn, Russian activists launched a large-scale cyberattack on the Estonian government websites, which experts believe was orchestrated directly by the Kremlin.

Kremlin-backed satellite TV channels also broadcast propaganda aimed at the large community of ethnic Russians still living in the Baltics. They make a up a third of the populations of Latvia and Estonia, and frequently complain of being second class citizens.

Security analysts believe that this could one day give the Kremlin just the excuse it needs for a military annexation, just as the invasion of Crimea earlier this year was carried out to protect the interests of "ethnic Russians" in Ukraine.

Since the Ukraine crisis, the provocation has stepped a gear. Earlier this year, an Estonian intelligence officer was abducted on the Russian border, while a Lithuanian fishing boat was also seized. Sweden also claims to have detected the presence of Russian subs in its territorial waters. Russia has also practiced military exercises in "relieving" Kaliningrad, a small Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland that is separate from the Russian mainland and serves as the only Russian port in the Baltic.

Its biggest show of muscle, though, has been in European airspace. According to Mr Stoltenberg, Nato fighters have intercepted Russian military aircraft more than 100 times so far this year, compared with 30 such incidents in 2013. Again, most were travelling without their transponders on.

So are such incidents as dangerous as they seem? The Kremlin insists that the Swedish claims are exaggerated, and that the spy plane involved in the most recent "near-miss" was in fact 42 miles away at the time. It also accuses Nato of sending its planes to probe Russian defences in exactly the same way.

Douglas Barrie, a military aerospace expert at Britain’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Telegraph: "In general anything that potentially poses a risk to flight safety is something that has to be taken very seriously. Having said that, the most likely time for a collision is when it is between two military aircraft from either side, who will sometimes test each other’s mettle. In the Cold War these sort of incidents happened all the time, although generally they did not lead to collisions."

In similar fashion, he adds, most military aircraft of any sort usually take extra care when flying without a transponder on. After all, no pilot wants to be in a mid-air crash, and they are also equipped to fly in situations where radar is not available.

Still, whatever the likelihood of an accident, he believes that the Russian military presence is part of a long-term trend. "We are seeing an immediate tit-for-tat in terms of the Russian response over Ukraine, but it's also because in the last five years, the Russians have increased their military spending a lot. Twenty years ago, they didn't have the equipment to do what they are doing now, but now they are a lot more confident and assertive."


A handout photo released by the Dutch Defence ministry showing one of the two Russian SU-34 "Fullback" bombers being intercepted by Dutch F-16's over the Baltic Sea on December 8 
Photo: AFP

Prince George’s airports assert safety of local airspace, pilots: Aviation experts dissuade fears after fatal plane crash

While a Dec. 8 plane crash in Gaithersburg that killed six drew much attention to pilot and aircraft safety, Prince George’s airports have historically had few incidents, and local pilots say a similar accident is unlikely to happen in the county.

“That’s such a freak accident; I don’t think anything like that would happen like that here, but you never know,” said Tyler North, 21, of College Park. “I wasn’t immediately concerned like, is there going to be a plane that crashes here in College Park, I was more concerned about if everybody was okay in Gaithersburg.”

The National Transportation Safety Board is still working to determine what caused a small jet carrying three individuals to crash into a residential neighborhood, claiming the lives of a woman and her two children as well as the plane’s pilot and passengers.

Out of around 160 aircraft accidents in Maryland over the past decade, about 14 took place in Prince George’s, according to data provided by NTSB. Of those incidents, three included fatalities and three included only injuries.

Andrew Bowers, a manager at Freeway Airport in Bowie, said most of the airports in Prince George’s only handle propeller planes, which are generally smaller and easier to maintain than jets like the one that crashed in Gaithersburg.

Freeway runs a flight school and owns about 40 small planes, which are inspected every 50 and 100 flight hours, Bowers said.

“[Our planes] have a lot less moving parts than a jet. The jets have a lot of fans and big compressors,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about maintaining the pressure and all that kind of stuff.”

The Freeway planes are sometimes visible flying low over U.S. 301 in Bowie, and Bowie resident Jennifer Navarro said that sometimes makes her nervous.

“I don’t like that at all,” she said. “I don’t like that just riding on [U.S. 301]. It bothers me a lot.”

Navarro, who lives about five miles from the Freeway Airport, said the thought of a plane going down near her house has never been a concern, and that a train derailment seems like more of a threat.

Bowie was founded on rail transportation and contains many miles of active track — part of which falls near Navarro’s home, she said.

Bowers said each flight school participant is accompanied by a pilot with thousands of hours of experience, and that instructors have complete access to airplane controls.

Jack Robson of College Park has been flying private planes for 40 years and confirmed that the type of planes utilizing Prince George’s airfields are typically smaller gasoline-powered planes.

“What crashed [on Dec. 8] was a jet and jets typically have different handling characteristics. They tend to have to be flown faster, so it takes them longer to stop,” Robson said. “Because our planes are smaller and lighter, they fly more slowly and they can be stopped much faster.”

But Stan Fetter, a pilot and manager of Hyde Field/Washington Executive Airpark in Clinton, said the type of aircraft being flown is less relevant than the decision of the individual pilot and the soundness of the plane.

“It’s not a lot different from a car wreck,” Fetter said. “Whether it’s a jet or not isn’t really the issue. [The Gaithersburg crash] is a very isolated incident and it’s probably going to come down to something between the pilot and the aircraft.”

While Prince George’s airport representatives stressed that residents have no cause for alarm, they did mention one development that is a bit worrying to pilots in the area.

A new 11-story hotel and conference center planned for U.S. Route 1 in College Park would fall very close to the flight path of pilots coming in for a landing at the College Park airport, Fetter said. There also are multiple-story student housing buildings near the College Park flight path, he said.

“The question isn’t ‘if’ somebody’s going to hit one of those buildings, it’s ‘when,’ because it’s in a bad spot,” Fetter said. “That’s the thing that’s going to cause a lot more wrecks.”


NTSB Identification: DCA15MA029
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, December 08, 2014 in Gaithersburg, MD
Aircraft: EMBRAER EMB-500, registration: N100EQ
Injuries: 6 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On December 8, 2014, about 1041 Eastern Standard Time (EST), an Embraer EMB-500 Phenom 100, N100EQ, impacted terrain and houses about 0.75 miles short of runway 14 while on approach to Montgomery County Airpark (GAI), Gaithersburg, Maryland. The airline transport rated pilot and two passengers were fatally injured as well as three persons on the ground. The airplane was destroyed during the impact and ensuing fire. Marginal visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time and the flight was operating on an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan. The airplane was registered to and operated by Sage Aviation LLC., of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. The flight originated from Horace Williams Airport (IGX), Chapel Hill, North Carolina, with GAI as its intended destination.

Waterloo Regional Airport (KALO) adds extra Saturday flight through holiday season

WATERLOO | Waterloo Regional Airport is adding an extra weekend flight to its itinerary over the upcoming holiday travel season.

City and airport officials said Monday that American Airlines will operate a second flight to Chicago O’Hare International Airport on consecutive Saturdays between Dec. 20 and Jan. 3 out of Waterloo.

Flight 3423 will depart Waterloo at 3:05 pm.

The extra flight, combined with a recent change in equipment from the 44-seat Embraer regional jet to a larger 50-seat regional jet, will allow for more local residents to make travel plans from their local airport, said Keith Kaspari, the airport’s director.

“I think certainly as people continue to make last-minute plans for holiday travel over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, certainly having additional frequency on Saturdays is certainly a benefit for them to make travel plans out of Waterloo instead of other regional airports,” Kaspari said.

“And American wouldn’t do this if they didn’t think Waterloo was a good destination.”

Waterloo already has two departures to Chicago – 7:05 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. – Monday through Friday and 7:40 a.m. Saturday.

Passengers can book their travel through a travel agent or by calling American Airlines at (800) 433-7300 or at


Evergreen Vintage Aircraft bankruptcy filing says it owes IMAX, other creditors

McMinnville's Evergreen Aviation empire suffered additional turbulence this month with a bankruptcy filing by the Evergreen Vintage Aircraft, which owns some aircraft and property at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and Wings and Waves Waterpark.

The Chapter 11 filing follows by less than a year the dissolution of the museum's for-profit affiliate, Evergreen International Aviation, and by a month the death of both entities' founder, Delford Smith. The museum hosted a memorial service for Smith earlier this month.

In a brief statement Monday, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum noted that Evergreen Vintage Aircraft is a "for-profit company," separate from the non-profit museum.

"Most of our Museum's collection of over 180 aircraft and artifacts are owned by the museum or are on loan from federal government agencies," the statement read. "Our museum does have 25 aircraft and vehicles on loan from Evergreen Vintage Aircraft, LLC. These remain on loan. We are continuing to lease the Theater building, which is owned by Evergreen Vintage Aircraft LLC. Our Museum continues to operate as before. We have no other comment to make at this time."

In its preliminary filings in federal bankruptcy court, Evergreen Vintage said it has more than $50 million in assets and more than $100 million in debts. It noted it owes Canada's IMAX Corp., maker of oversized movie screens and film equipment, $50,000. It listed smaller amounts for other creditors and also acknowledged owing money to Umpqua Bank.

Even before the dismantling of the Evergreen organizations, the museum was under state scrutiny over concerns that its finances were illegally commingled with those of the for-profit companies. The attorney general dropped that investigation when it was rendered moot by the collapse of Evergreen's for-profit aviation businesses. But the attorney general's office asked the Internal Revenue Service to consider whether the museums and water park were legitimate not-for-profit organizations that merited a tax exemption.

The museum, home to the fabled "Spruce Goose," has been dogged for months by rumors of disarray.

Aircraft broker Simon Brown, whose website lists a Lockheed P-38 aircraft housed at the museum, said last month he's received several offers for the vintage fighter, which is listed at $6.75 million. But, he said, after contacting the museum, "we can't even get a straight answer."

"No one knows what to do," he said. "It's the blind leading the blind."

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Control system and 'black box' for Boeing's new 777X will be made in West Michigan

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – When Boeing’s new 777X takes flight in 2017, the computer platform that controls the aircraft and its “black box” flight recorder will trace its roots back to GE Aviation’s Grand Rapids operations.

“These kinds of programs don’t come along very often and it’s just huge for our business,” said George Kiefer, vice president and general manager of GE Aviation’s North American Avionics in an interview with MLive and The Grand Rapids Press.

“From a West Michigan perspective, this continues to keep us on the map and prominent in fielding this kind of technology.”

GE Aviation, which employs about 1,500 at its operations in Cascade Township, announced it will build the key components for Boeing’s newest platform after successfully building a similar system for Boeing’s 787. Kiefer estimated about 100 employees will be assigned to the program.

“This is a critical win for GE to supply the avionics computing system for the Boeing 777X, building on the success of our common core system on the 787,” said Alan Caslavka, president of Avionics & Digital Systems for GE Aviation, said in a Dec. 15 news release.

“With the 787 and now the 777X, we have made future civil and military programs more affordable by resetting the avionics cost curve and doing away with escalating software development costs.” 

As an updated version of Boeing’s current 777, the 777X has 300 orders and commitments from customers Lufthansa, Etihad, Qatar, Emirates, ANA and Cathay Pacific, the news release said.

The latest systems technology for the 777X, including the common core system and the enhanced airborne flight recorder, will be built in Grand Rapids while the remote data concentrators will be built in Cheltenham, United Kingdom, according to GE Aviation.

With the design of the 777X currently underway, production is set to begin in 2017 with the first delivery targeted for 2020. The 777X family includes the 777-8X and the 777-9X.

The 777X will be the largest and most efficient twin-engine jet in the world, with 12 percent lower fuel consumption and 10 percent lower operating costs than the competition, according to the GE Aviation announcement.

GE Aviation also will be the engine supplier for the updated aircraft. The GE9X engine will be greater than five percent more efficient than anything in its class.

GE Aviation’s “common core system” is often referred to as the “central nervous system and brain” of the airplane and hosts the aircraft’s avionics and utilities functions, eliminating several boxes and reducing hundreds of pounds of wire.

GE’s system for the 787 and 777X share common components and technologies and can be scaled up or down depending on customer needs. The open system architecture reduces the cost of modifying software so that the developer may only be required to test and certify functions that have been altered.

Kiefer said the success of the 787 system prompted Boeing to replace a competitor's system with the GE Aviation system in the latest upgrade of the 777.

The flight recorder for the 777X will record flight crew audio, parametric flight data, and data link communications. This data is stored in non-volatile, crash-survivable memory located within the recorder and can be retrieved and analyzed for maintenance or in the event of an aircraft issue. GE’s flight recorders are on thousands of military aircraft as well as on the Boeing 787.

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Single-Pilot Cockpit Idea Floated in NASA Study: New Study Comes as Industry Faces Potential Pilot Shortage and Dramatic Advances in Automation

The Wall Street Journal
Dec. 14, 2014 9:52 p.m. ET

Facing potential shortages of airline pilots and dramatic advances in automation, industry and government researchers have begun the most serious look yet at the idea of enabling jetliners to be flown by a single pilot.

All large commercial jets for passenger and cargo service world-wide now fly with at least two pilots in the cockpit. A new study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Rockwell Collins Inc. will focus on the provocative idea that co-pilots could remain on the ground, remotely assisting solo aviators on the flight deck during the busiest parts of flights, said John Borghese, Rockwell’s vice president of its Advanced Technology Center.

Whether the concept will eventually come to fruition depends on political viability and social acceptability as well as technical feasibility. The researchers aren’t endorsing the idea or devising specific plans for single-pilot operation of large commercial jets. Rather, they seek to analyze changes in technology and operations that could make the concept feasible in the future—even if that means as far off as 2030.

From self-operating elevators introduced well over a half-century ago to advanced plans for driverless cars today, human mobility has become increasingly automated. The NASA study reflects not only technological ambition but more practical concerns: Many airline industry officials are worried that the world-wide pool of pilots will dwindle over the next two decades while air-travel volume doubles.

Reducing the size of cockpit crews for big cargo or passenger planes—or eventually perhaps even eliminating pilots entirely—have been topics of theoretical discussion among aerospace industry officials and researchers for many years. The NASA initiative is significant because it raises the concept’s profile, and signals that NASA officials are convinced the general notion isn’t too far-fetched to merit further research.

The roughly $4 million, four-year contract was awarded to Rockwell earlier this year but the first phase will be announced on Tuesday. The nearly half-decade study will include running simulations, determining where technology is needed and even potentially undertaking live flight trials. NASA officials say they anticipate Rockwell’s efforts will spark additional studies by an array of other companies and experts.

Under the concept the researchers are studying, aviators on the ground could be assigned to assist solo cockpit pilots on multiple flights, virtually co-piloting during the busiest times through crowded airspace, approach-and-landing maneuvers, or if something goes wrong. “It’s a reasonably new area” to study how the notion may apply to large jets, according to Parimal Kopardekar, the program’s manager based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in northern California. When pilots need a midair rest or bathroom break, those on the ground even may “need to baby-sit the vehicle,” he said.

Such a dramatic shift won’t happen any time soon, and there is virtual consensus that reduced crews for passenger planes won’t be considered until they are introduced first in the cargo arena. That is unlikely to gain traction much before the end of the next decade, according to experts and airline officials.

Jets today are designed to have two pilots behind the controls, and retrofitting existing aircraft “may be too expensive and may be too difficult” to obtain regulatory approval, according to NASA’s Mr. Kopardekar. Industry officials say all-new aircraft would be needed with cockpits designed from the start with a single pilot in mind.

The international aviation system has reached unmatched levels of safety and reliability, in part because of greater automation and a widely accepted global standard for cockpit behavior and cooperation.

Early investigations of single-pilot flying alone in a simulator with a co-pilot assisting from a virtual ground station found that separation led to frequent confusion about what the other aviator was doing.

Boeing Co. and Airbus Group NV designed jets in the 1970s with increasing automation that eliminated a third crew member, who used to be responsible for monitoring navigation and the various aircraft systems.

Steady advances in cockpit automation and enhanced capabilities of unmanned aircraft have transformed the technologies required for reduced-pilot airline operations. “Fundamentally, it’s not an engineering question anymore,” according to Richard Healing, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board. “The real debate is over how regulators and public opinion will react to previously unthinkable changes.”

About a decade ago, FedEx Corp. informally broached the idea of reducing its cargo-jet flight crews from three to two on long overwater routes of more than eight hours. Flights of that duration require a relief pilot. To reduce risks to people on the ground, proponents argued such flights could take off from coastal airports with runways ending over water and land on the same type of strips.

The company abandoned the idea, government officials said at the time, largely due to union opposition, compounded by extensive institutional and regulatory hurdles. Labor leaders naturally bristled when the issue came up, though many continue to believe the pendulum is inexorably swinging in the direction of reduced crews and ultimately, cargo planes entirely controlled from the ground. The Air Line Pilots Association declined to comment and FedEx didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The early industry discussion was aimed at cutting costs, but Rockwell’s latest study is partly inspired by an anticipated shortage of pilots. Boeing projects a need for 533,000 new commercial airline pilots over the next 20 years as the number of miles flown doubles, and the plane maker has warned that personnel availability might fall short.

Analysts, labor groups and academics contend any pilot shortage results from the industry’s unwillingness to sufficiently pay pilots. Boeing declined to comment on the NASA study with Rockwell.

While experts almost universally believe some moves in this direction are inevitable, they disagree over how long they may take and the extent of the stumbling blocks.

“This is not an incremental change,” said David Woods, a professor of cognitive systems and resilience engineering at Ohio State University. Reducing crews goes beyond bolting on technology and further automating flight decks, he stressed. “This is a major step change. It has big implications for how we train pilots.”

Prof. Woods said as flying becomes more automated, transitioning from routine flying to dealing with potential emergencies in the air and on the ground becomes increasingly difficult.

Experts say these challenges may be surmountable, but not without significantly rethinking current design principles. The worst-case-scenario of pilot incapacitation during stormy weather or mechanical failure, for instance, offers a daunting challenge.

“You need to have a very assured way of getting that aircraft down to the ground with no help from the pilot on board,” said Mr. Borghese. “Right now I cannot imagine a harder problem.”