General Aviation

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Private Jet Travel Offers More Than Privacy

It’s no secret that 21st century commercial air travel has become a real headache. The crowds are nerve-wracking, the security lines never-ending and the service is less than stellar. Not to mention the frequent flight delays.

In recent months, due to TSA staffing cuts, people  waiting up to three hours in security check-in line are barely making it to the jetway in time for their flights. After fighting the traffic, finding parking and other hassles just to get to a congested airport, missing your flight is the final straw for most travelers, who are turning to private jet travel as a sensible alternative to flying commercial.

Private jet charter improves your entire travel experience in numerous ways, not the least of which is cutting down on stress and aggravation – but perhaps the most important benefit is the time you save.

Less Time on the Ground

TSA security

Avoid long TSA security lines

Flying private charter saves you hours of not having to wait in the TSA’s long check-in queue:

  • You can you arrive at the airport just minutes, not hours, before departure.
  • Security checks are streamlined for international travel, and not required for domestic flights.
  • Many times, you can drive right onto the tarmac and be steps away from your private jet.
  • When you land, your bags can be brought right to your car, so there’s more time saved by not having to wait at the baggage carousel.
  • AND, you don’t have take off your shoes, belt, coins or jewelry.

Charter flights also save you time travelling to and from major airports, which are usually located in congested metropolises. Since charter jets do not need the long runways that commercial jets do, they can fly in and out of regional and feeder airports in less congested areas. A private jet can access some 5,000 civil airports across the U.S., which most likely will be much closer to your ultimate destination than the nearest commercial air terminal.

Less Time in the Air

Private charter flights do not operate from hubs like commercial airlines, so your travel is not impacted by layovers and/or airline timetables. There is no airline schedule to deal with, just your schedule.

Commercial airliners are also subject to weather delays that impact their entire air system. With a private jet, you have the flexibility to takeoff and land as soon as the weather breaks.

Many of today’s private jets are designed to fly higher and faster than commercial jets, so they can get you to your destination faster, saving you time in flight.

Flying private certainly offers a more luxurious, peaceful and private travel experience, but the real benefit is saving you time, which ultimately means saving you money.

Should I stay or should I go? There’s a weather app for that!

The single most important go- no-go factor for any pilot is weather. Weather determines if a pilot should leave the ground at all, and when in the air, if he or she should get back on the ground in a hurry. Every pilot is taught that they should call Flight Services and talk to a briefer before launching in questionable weather conditions; and in the case of long, cross-country flying, file a flight plan with Flight Services.

Today, there are a plethora of weather service sources a pilot can refer to when planning a flight. The internet is a treasure trove of weather information from the FAA (Federal Aviation Adminsitration), NOAA/NWS (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/ National Weather Service), AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) and more. All are fine while on the ground in the comfort and safety of one’s den. But almost all have disclaimers stating that using online weather information is not a replacement for that call to a briefer at Flight Services.

Weather, of course, can be unpredictable. Many a pilot has done his or her due diligence and launched into a perfectly blue sky with calm winds at the surface, manageable winds aloft and 20 nautical miles of visibility only to find a surprise thunderstorm.

Apps, Apps everywhere.

In the past several years a revolutionGarmin Pilot App has taken place in aviation cockpits around the globe. They have gone digital, both inside the panel with glass instruments or outside the panel with hand held devices that provide everything from approach plates to night vision. Of course, part of that revolution includes weather apps of different varieties that give pilots en route weather information – not from Flight Watch, not through VOR stations – but from satellites and almost in real time. Here are just some the many weather apps available for mobile devices, their similarities and their differences:

  1. WSI Pilotbrief Optima (Free in iTunesThis iPad app allows users access to weather and NOTAMs (notices to airmen) information when planning a flight. Features include high-definition weather layers, radar, satellite infrared, Vertically Integrated Liquid (VIL), and EchoTop mosaics; graphic METARs and 10-day planning forecasts.
  2. Aviation weather by GADsoftware ($4.99 in Google Play) – This smartphone app shows maps with all reporting stations listed, and coded by VFR/IFR conditions. The default map in the 30-day free trial is of the Northeast centered on Boston, but you can add other locations.
  3. AccuWeather (Basic version free on iTunes and Google Play) Members rave about this smartphone and tablet app for its push notifications for severe weather alerts, precise weather maps, forecasts for 2.7 million locations around the world, and the ability to save forecasts for an unlimited number of locations.
  4. MyRadar Weather Radar (Basic version free in iTunes and Google Play) This smartphone and tablet app displays animated weather radar at a current location. For $1.99, the pro version removes all ads. For $2.99, the app will include hurricane coverage. It also offers weather warnings and alerts.
  5. AeroWeather (Lite version, free; Pro version, $3.99 in iTunes) The lite version of this iPhone/iPad app provides raw and decoded METAR/TAF data, and allows users to search stations from a built-in database or find them based on location. The weather comes from the National Weather Service database. The Pro version does all of the above plus provides NOTAMs, runway data, moon data and information from AWOS (Automated Weather Observing System), plus it filters airport identifiers and information.
  6. RadarScope ($9.99) This app can display 155 radar sites in the U.S.and allows you to choose between base and composite reflectivity. This app is more for weather geeks than the average aviation user and depends less on graphics and more data.
  7. SkewTLogPro ($6.99)  The app offers temperature/dew point, wind direction and wind speed at different altitudes and can reveal information about cloud bases, tops, icing, turbulence and more. It also allows you to quick scan Skew T diagrams (meteorological graphics that take some training to read) at any location in the U.S.

The Big Three

Aviation Weather on iPadThe three dominant GPS Navigation apps for pilots have been ForeFlight, Garmin Pilot and WingX. All three provide more than weather, but their weather apps are quite robust and allow you to overlay your flight plan so you can see what weather issues are in your path. This gives all three a level of situation awareness that can really be useful at altitude and while en route to your destination. These apps include graphic versions of METAR s and icing forecasts. What sets them apart is that all three allow you to get formal DUAT/DUATS weather briefings right in the app – no need to call Flight Services and talk to a briefer. These apps are official. They also include weather data link, either through XM or ADS-B. All three provide a free trial.

The Improvements keep on coming.

The "Aviation Weather at a GlanceTM" app provides a easy to understand graphical presentation of weather at departure, enroute and at the destination - at the present and in the future. (PRNewsFoto/wx24 Pilot)

The “Aviation Weather at a GlanceTM” app provides a easy to understand graphical presentation of weather at departure, enroute and at the destination – at the present and in the future. (PRNewsFoto/wx24 Pilot)

One of the issues with most aviation weather apps is that they present report data (METARS, TAFs, Pilot Reports (or PIREPS) in raw form or decoded and not all in one place. A new app created by 1 Echo Charlie, LLC is changing all that. It is called wx24 Pilot. Unlike other aviation apps, which display text versions of weather data, wx24 Pilot interprets the same data and presents it graphically.

The illustrated weather data is presented on screen so you don’t have to go scrolling and scrambling around to put together a composite idea of what the weather around you looks like . You can quickly see the current and the forecast weather situation that lies ahead of you along your route and at your destination. The graphic weather depictions allow you to “see” the weather rather than decipher it. Sizing up the weather situation takes seconds instead of minutes and in aviation that could mean the difference between flying into danger and having enough time to recognize it and avoid it.

Another unique safety feature of wx24 Pilot is you can input your personal minimums and the app will quickly allow you to see if you are approaching them or about to exceed them. The app presents your en route weather situation from point of departure to destination point with weather information at key points along the way.

You can purchase wx24 Pilot by the month for $1.99, for six months for $7.99 or for 1 year for $11.99.

Conclusion

The digital revolution in aviation is making flying safer by putting more and more critical information at our fingertips in our cockpits and it is doing it at lower and lower cost to the pilot. While all this is valuable for sure, eyeballs out the window are just as critical to safe flying. A happy medium between our heads in the clouds and are eyes on our handheld screens could be the best prescription for keeping us all safe.

Is Honda Jet the VLJ (Very Light Jet) Aviation Has Been Waiting For?

In the summer of 2007, there were two things at Air Venture creating a buzz. One was the emergence of many new “inexpensive,” easy-to-fly Light Sport aircraft that promised to transform General Aviation, entice new pilots into aviation and bring cost-weary older pilots back into the fold. The other news-maker was the presence of VLJs or Very Light Jets like the Cirrus Vision Jet and the Eclipse 500, which were going to transform the way people fly.

That was almost nine years ago! A lot has changed since.

In case you forgot exactly what a VLJ is, here is a brief definition: these are jet aircraft costing less than $5 million (originally less than $2M), weigh under 10,000 pounds and capable of taking off from runways as short as 3000 feet – making the majority of General Aviation airports available to them for point-to-point travel. When compared to the limitations of commercial airline routes that utilize only thirty or so major airports, going point-to- point in a VLJ would be very attractive indeed.

The idea of the Very Light Jet was first promulgated by Eclipse Jet in the late 1990s when the economy was steaming along and it seemed the increasing pool of new millionaires would never end. Who better than the Nouveau riche to snatch up these new VLJ time machines for their own personal and business use?

In March ch 2008 article in Air & Space Magazine, jet propulsion expert and advocate Gerry Merill was predicting the age of private jetting was upon us.  Mr. Merill went so far as to say he believed a single- seat light jet could be sold for as little as $150,000 and 4-seater about the size of a Cirrus SR22 could be marketed for a price competitive with high-end piston-powered airplane. As far as the single-seat jet prediction is concerned, you can currently buy a Sonex JSX-2 for between $135,000 and $150,000, but that’s a self-build kit and not a production model. The prediction of $400,000 to $600,000 four-seat very light jets? That ain’t happening.

The Sonex Jet meets the VLJ criteria but in very personal way -- as a kit plane.

The Sonex Jet meets the VLJ criteria but in very personal way – as a kit plane

Why aren’t the skies filled with VLJs?

The simple answer should sound familiar, “The economy, stupid!” By the summer of Air Venture 2008, signs of the coming economic collapse were beginning to be felt.  A year later the Great Recession was in full force crushing global economies like a worldwide tsunami. Corporate Jet usage was under attack and the private jet market, along with the funding for VLJs, was rapidly vanishing.

Eclipse Jet, at the vanguard of the VLJ charge in the late 1990s with the promise of a light jet by 2003 for less than $1.5 million, filed for bankruptcy and closed shop by February 2009. Cirrus announced plans for their VLJ in June 2007, got a prototype in the air by July 2008 but never went into production.

Cessna forged on with its Mustang. Embraer continued with its Phenom series. But Diamond and Piper put their VLJs on the back burner. Then there was Honda, the little jet that wouldn’t be stopped – not even by a recession or grueling certification hurtles.

In the past few years, the general aviation market has rebounded as global economies recovered some from the Great Recession. Bombardier Jet, in its most recent 10-year forecast, indicated steady growth in the business jet market with more robust sales in the middle and lower ends of the market and sluggish sales in the upper, large cabin market. These predictions, however, do not include VLJs.

The VLJ that was 30 years in the making.

Up until Honda Jet, most of the players in the VLJ field were and continue to be established aircraft companies. Not so with Honda. Honda was a motorcycle builder, who became a car builder, who became a marine motor maker, who became a lawn mower maker, robots and more. The Honda philosophy is if you make it – and make it well enough – they will buy it. Honda’s desire to get into the aircraft business goes back to its founder, Soichiro Honda, who believed his company had the right “stuff” (engineering and manufacturing) to build aircraft.

The guy at Honda who had the right vision, however, didn’t come along until 1986 when Honda gave a young engineer named Michimassa Fujino the go ahead to start developing an aircraft. As with most Honda products, the emphasis was on getting it right, not making it quickly. They certainly didn’t rush to market, as the Honda Jet concept was first shown at Air Venture 2005 and the first production model didn’t appear until 2014.

Mr. Fujino’s jet is a departure from conventional wisdom. Its engine pods emerge from its wing tops and are not mounted from the sides of the back fuselage as has been the norm for biz-jets since Mr. Lear put his moniker on one in the 1960s. Dispelling concerns about disturbing airflow over the wings, Mr. Fujino stuck to his belief that his formula would work, which it does without sacrificing lift or creating excess drag – claiming a quieter and more comfortable passenger experience.

The Honda Jet seats up to four passengers with two pilots up front and is wider than competitors like Cessna Mustang. Its power plants are made in partnership with General Electric, which adds to its credibility. The design’s drawback at the moment seems to be a smidge shorter range than the average VLJ, and a price tag that is quite a bit higher by $1 million to $1.8 million. The Cessna Mustang, for example,  goes for about $3.5 million, the Honda for $4.5 million. What’s more, Cessna has responded to the increase in competition by offering reduced avionics packages. Honda Jet has the highest service ceiling in its class, upwards of FL40. That puts it well into airline territory. While the Honda Jet and its VLJ brethren will be sharing air space with airliners, the key advantage they have is that they will be able to land at smaller airports where airliners can’t.

What makes Honda’s VLJ exciting and worrisome at the same time?

While this kind of accessibility sounds fantastic to business types and those with enough money to make a VLJ a personal aircraft, it presents issues for smaller airports that don’t see much jet traffic on a regular basis, or on any basis at all for that matter. For one thing, these aircraft use Jet-A fuel, which many smaller air strips don’t have available. It will also mean faster aircraft in the traffic pattern of non-towered airports.

Then there is the matter of pilot training. You don’t just go from a piston single (even a Pilatus PC-12 turbo) to a jet without training. In fact, even if you do have jet time, you probably want to get familiar with whatever VLJ you choose, including the Honda.

What makes the Honda a threat to traditional aircraft manufacturers?

In the ensuing years between Eclipse Jet’s  Air Venture 2000 announcement of a VLJ for under a million dollars and now, the players that have succeeded in this market segment have been aircraft companies that know the costs always go up, hurtles never stop coming and announcement dates are never set in stone. Cessna and Embraer, both old hands at aircraft development, manufacture and delivery, have managed to stay the course and deliver while others could not.

Despite the many obstacles to certification and the fact that VLJ sales remained flat going into 2015, there has been a resurgence in the number of competitors coming into 2016. Cirrus has returned to the scene with their Vision Jet; Eclipse, too, has re-entered the market with their 550 model and, of course, Honda has finally emerged with a certified ship ready for deliveries.

Because Honda is not a traditional aircraft manufacturer, they’ll be the one to watch carefully. With over 100 orders to fill, they’ll be busy. Can they outstrip their older, more experienced brethren? More importantly, how will they do after the sale? The supply chain is just as important as the development and manufacture of the aircraft.

According to a Forbes article in December 2015, the now certified, trial-tested, FAA-certified Honda Jet is about to take its first deliveries (Honda has a respectable 100 orders for the little jet). What happens next depends largely on how well Honda Jets perform in the real world. Most other VLJs in the past have been plagued by system bugs and pilot inexperience issues. Honda could experience the same… or not.

Honda has one thing going for it – nearly thirty years of preparation. If they approach production, support and service with the same diligence and fervor they’ve shown in their other product categories, they will no doubt prove to be a formidable competitor in the aviation business. Only time will tell if Honda Jet will take off and rewrite the history of the VLJ market. From the looks of things, however, Honda is no rush to get anything wrong.

General Aviation Dodges a Bullet

There is a growing push among airlines, labor unions and other aviation stakeholders to dramatically reshape how the nation’s airspace is controlled and who controls it.

Fortunately, the Senate has again deemed that the U.S. is not yet ready for the privatization of our airspace. In a move this week, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has passed a bill that reauthorizes the FAA without privatization and user fees, but only for the short-term through the end of Fiscal Year 2017, so the immediate threat has been stopped but the issue is not dead.  The push to privatize the FAA and add user fees to the funding mix will likely reemerge – and each time it does, there seems to be more support behind it.

Support for ATC privatization is universal among airlines, except for Delta Airlines. “There is simply no compelling reason to change such a critical system that works so very well,” Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson wrote in testimony to the House Transportation Committee last month. “Indeed, this bill feels like an experiment. Our nation’s air traffic control system is too important—to public safety, economic growth and national security—and working too well for such an experiment to be prudent.”

The main criticism of the FAA is that its lethargic bureaucracy has been slow to modernize the U.S. airspace by implementing the new air traffic control system (NextGEN) which Congress authorized back in 2003. This criticism is valid, but clearly can be linked to inconsistent funding of the FAA from a dysfunctional Congress, which has resorted to short-term federal funding for the FAA 23 times in the past several years. Putting that issue aside, the FAA’s primary responsibility is to oversee the world’s largest, busiest and most congested airspace. In this regard, the FAA has done a great job statistically as U.S. aviation is the safest in the world.

Despite this fact, Senator Bill Schuster (R-PA.), Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is drafting legislation which would turn over control of the nation’s airspace to a chartered, non-profit monopoly that would implement user fees to fund its operation and float bonds to build a new air traffic infrastructure and modernize the system. Schuster’s plan is modeled after Nav Canada, a non-governmental entity that handles less than one-tenth the air traffic volume in the U.S.

What’s really at stake here?

As the nation’s national debt continues to grow to perilous levels, Congress is looking for ways to cut budgets, reduce deficit spending and limit government oversight as much as possible. In the case of the FAA, this is shortsighted and perhaps even dangerous. Proponents of ATC privatization want the FAA to regulate safety, but not oversee or manage the air traffic control system, its facilities or personnel – as if safety and air traffic control were somehow separate.

The proposal calls for the creation of a quasi-private/public entity. If you aren’t as skeptical about government-created, non-profit corporations as we are, you should be. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, The Port Authority of New York and New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority are just a few dismal examples.

Historically, these entities become bloated, wasteful and politically corrupt. Freddie Mac’s and Fannie Mae’s sub-prime lending policies contributed to the mortgage collapse in 2007/08. Moreover, the ever-escalating subway fares and bridge tolls in New York City over the past decade will tell you exactly what a non-profit overseer can do to your wallet.

Bottom line? A FAA dependent upon “user fees” for revenue will add more cost to flying and will be ineffective in generating additional revenue, because any new revenue will be swallowed up by a completely new bureaucracy that would be created to charge, collect, distribute and enforce fees. These additional people won’t be air traffic controllers, but instead toll takers.

What is it really all about? Money, Principle, Safety?

132 million flights are handled by U.S. controllers annually. The U.S. also has 80% of the busiest airports in the world along with the best safety record. As we said earlier, the FAA is doing a good job.

The public seems to agree. Recently the Global Strategy Group polled 801 registered voters across the U.S.to gauge public sentiment about privatizing the air traffic system. Nearly 2 out of 3 do not want privatization because they view the U.S. air traffic system as working well. Even among voters who usually favor privatization of government functions, there is a “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” sentiment when it comes to our current air traffic system.

Putting the safety issue aside, some privatization advocates argue that air traffic control shouldn’t be in the hands of a regulatory agency such as the FAA, especially one so perniciously micromanaged by Congress. They see air traffic as purely operational and not requiring government oversight. They argue that air traffic is a high-tech service which should be run like a business (we all know how much business puts safety above profits!).

More things to ponder.

Because we have been unabashed about our skepticism of privatization from the outset of this article, we would like to share some concerns that we and other like-minded aviation folk have about the plan. Consider:

  • At risk would also be funding for general aviation and smaller airports – the concern being that large air carriers would funnel more funding to larger airports and hubs.
  • The public airspace belongs to the American public at large and we need to ensure that it continues to operate for the public’s benefit — not just for powerful and influential special interest groups.
  • The current fuel per gallon tax is the most efficient, cost effective, least bureaucratic and most fair means to pay for ATC and the airspace system.
  • Europe, Canada and New Zealand employ user fees. Users of these systems frequently complain of delayed and inaccurate billing, as well as being “blocked” from the airspace during certain day parts.
  • Delta Airlines (the only major airline that has voiced concern about the user-fees and the safety of privatization) states it costs them over $100 per flight segment to process user fees – a cost that will be passed on to the flying public.
  • Canada and Europe claim to be equally as safe, if not safer than the US system. To say “as safe or safer” is misleading as the U.S. ATC system handles far more air traffic than Canada and Europe combined. Canada’s daily air traffic control amounts to the same number of flights controlled in Illinois on a daily basis.
  • Proponents of a privatized ATC system state that it will cost less to operate. Yet, our ATC system has never “shut down” due to a lack of funding, even during the darkest of economic days. In Europe, the privatized ATC system has been “bailed out” 3 times during economic downturns, and still operates under tremendous financial strain.

We are the first to agree that the FAA must operate more efficiently – but the key to that is maintaining Congressional oversight and retaining fuel taxes in order to protect the interests of all stakeholders, communities and airports — large and small.

The national airspace belongs to all of us. Let’s not turn our skies into a toll-road only special interests can afford to use.