2. July 2012 13:57
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The aircraft OEMs and sellers always seem to haver a war of words going on over “maximums.” Who has the fasted aircraft, the most range, the biggest cabin, the most headroom, etc? When evaluating aircraft, you need to take the maximums into account, but critical is understanding the real world limits on those maximums.
Aircraft performance maximums can be very useful in comparing aircraft. Especially if you know the conditions they were assuming for the calculation. But be wary of translating the maximum to the "real world." This is especially true of range. Too many buyers get an aircraft that they believe can do the trip nonstop only to discover that "nonstop" has restrictions. They get quite upset when they end up with a fuel stop en route.
As pilots, we know and understand these restrictions, but many of the folks in the back fail to understand these, until after the sale. Better to educate them upfront than be accused of backpedaling after the fact.
The first thing that impacts the real world range is winds. In the Northern Hemisphere, prevailing headwinds run on a West-to-East pattern. So trips from Europe to the US have headwinds while trips from California to New York have tailwinds. Those winds vary seasonally and by altitude.
Boeing publishes wind probability data for many of the common air routes in the US and worldwide. A common wind data point is the 85% Probable Wind. That means that the wind on that route will be no worse than that value 85% of the time. Here in the US, flying from the East Coast to the West Coast can have an 85% probable headwind of around 70 knots at 39,000 feet. So flying east to west, you should have 70 knots or less headwind 85% of the time for example.
Last winter on an airline trip, we hit 135 knots on the nose for much of the Baltimore to Phoenix trip. Not sure, but think that was a 99.9% “Probable” wind leg. No aircraft can do the trip 100% of the time, but make sure the maximum range is suitable for your typical maximum trips. Here is a conservative shortcut that gets the job done.
When looking for that non-stop airplane, you factor in those probable winds as a reduction in cruise speed. If the route is 2,100 Nautical Miles (NM), that is across the ground. Headwinds effectively increase that required distance. If the aircraft cruises at 430 knots in a 70 knot headwind, its ground speed will only be 360 knots. Fly into this headwind for five hours and your trip has effectively increased by 350 miles - almost an hours' flight time. Looking at this another way, to fly that 2,100 NM trip in a 70 knot headwind requires an aircraft with about 2,450 NM range (with no wind).
Other things that reduce the fuel efficiency and thus maximum range of the aircraft:
- Payload - heavier aircraft burn more fuel at a given speed and may require a lower initial cruise altitude until they burn off enough fuel to reach a higher, more fuel-efficient altitude. How many bags does the boss bring?
- Temperature - on very warm days the aircraft may take longer to climb to altitude, or even require a lower initial altitude. Temperature may also effect engine-out departure restrictions.
- Circuitous air routes - while airways routes typically add no more than about 3% to the straight-line distance, some routes may add more due to airspace restrictions or transoceanic routings.
- Long, over-water trips may require alternate airports that are a significant distance away from your destination. This will reduce the available fuel load for the trip.
- Poor weather over a large area may mean a circuitous route and may also require an alternate airport a significant distance away.
Factor in headwinds, heavy passenger loads, and a warm day and that 2,100 NM trip may not be non-stop anymore. So if you are looking for 2,100 NM nonstop trip with high-probability, you may be looking for an aircraft that has 2,600 NM range with your anticipated payload. In this case, a 2,600 NM maximum range is a valid requirement. 3,000 NM range is nice, but 2,600 NM will do the trip 99% of the time.
When evaluating aircraft, the maximum ranges, maximum speeds, payload capability, etc. can all be important considerations. But when you are looking at specific trips, you need to factor in some real world considerations appropriate for your trip conditions.
1. May 2012 14:31
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If you are busy, here’s the condensed version: If you operate a turbine business aircraft and reliability is a key metric, unless you have 24/7 maintenance on the airport, you need an A&P on your staff.
If there is a service center at home station and they provide quality service and are knowledgeable about your aircraft model, it can be cost effective to have the service center perform the maintenance rather than employ a full-time maintenance person. Especially if that service center operates around the clock, or close to it. If you don't fall under that scenario, here are three reasons for having an A&P on your staff.
No one knows your aircraft better than your own A&P. That person gets to know the maintenance that was performed, the issues that the aircraft may have had in the past, and who/where to get the answers when maintenance questions arise. This is important in keeping the aircraft reliable and ready for flight when needed.
The in-house A&P understands your mission. Being your employee, she is fully dedicated to keeping your aircraft airworthy and safe. You will not get a better level of service than having a great employee as your A&P. They can earn back their salary in getting one critical mission off the ground on time.
When your aircraft is in for heavy maintenance, you're A&P is also your advocate in keeping the aircraft maintenance on time and within budget. While a good service center makes every effort to get the job done on time, the personal attention from your A&P will make that much more likely to happen.
The older and more complex your aircraft, the more critical it is to have the A&P on your staff. As with any aircraft, there may be minor issues that can delay your departure. The A&P being immediately available will enable a high level of dispatch reliability. In-house maintenance staff gives you the dedicated response on your schedule and is there to serve just you.
One of our clients has a 30+ year-old twin turboprop. Their limited budget includes a skilled A&P. Their dispatch reliability is in excess of 95% and their downtime due to unscheduled maintenance is far lower than you'd expect from an old aircraft. The maintenance manuals for their plane have notes and annotations representing the years of accumulated knowledge on how to maintain their aircraft. In these and many other cases, having the A&P on staff provides a level of skill and knowledge that enables the operator to maximize the utility of their aircraft.
I've heard from a number of operators that their A&P's salary was paid for at the first major inspection. Having the A&P on staff is cheap insurance for an on time departure. This further enables the executives to conduct their business in the most efficient manner.
4. April 2012 10:05
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Business is slowly improving, and with it, flying activity. Several companies we work with are seeing increasing demand for flying internationally. These trips cover long distances. For them, their current aircraft is not suited to the job of long-range air travel. It is a combination of being too small and lacking sufficient range to make such a trip practical and time-efficient. While upgrading the aircraft is certainly an option, and one worth considering if this level of activity will grow considerably, I’d like to recommend charter as an alternative.
Charter is a good alternative if you need a handful of hours for a mission your current aircraft can't handle well. In the cases above, chartering a global jet may be less costly than replacing your current (smaller) jet. While a larger aircraft that does the long-range trips can certainly do the shorter trips, it is more cost effective to get an aircraft that handles 90% of your air travel needs and charter for the remaining 10%. Stepping up from a mid-size business jet to a global business jet can see your operating budget increase 60% to over 100%! Chartering the global jet isn’t cheap, but it can keep your overall budget increase more manageable if those trips are few and infrequent.
Charter rates for long-range jets can vary from $4,000 per hour to $8,000 per hour base rate. New York to London is a different requirement than Los Angeles to Beijing. Go big, but not too big!
Remember that the additional fees for international travel can be substantial: overflight and airways fees, landing and handling fees, customs fees, etc. Make sure that you get trip quotes that estimate those additional fees as much as possible so that your bill isn’t a shocker!
The next step is finding a provider with those aircraft. I'd say the best source for that is the Air Charter Guide. They have the most complete directory of on-demand charter providers. This is a worldwide database. It is available on line or in print. They list Part 135 licensed carriers, their location(s), contact information, aircraft types, and often, base rates. They even note special certifications such as an independent safety audit.
Another source of information for charter aircraft is the charter broker. Some are general in nature while others specialize in specific types of trips; say chartering airliners or aero medical trips. The goal of the broker is to bring together a willing buyer and a willing seller and in the process, make some money. The Air Charter Guide also lists those folks as well. What can a broker do that you can't do yourself? Brokers can add value to the relationship by shopping for competitive rates, providing contingency planning, and in getting the right equipment.
Still, how do you know who you are dealing with is qualified? Regardless of whether you deal with a local charter company, use the Air Charter Guide and call around, or go through a broker, you still need to educate yourself.
Ask your charter operator, or broker some tough questions. The good ones will have the answers. Here are a few items to consider:
1. Is the aircraft that you are being quoted, on the carrier's certificate? If not, what auditing process is in place to ensure the aircraft being flown meets the highest safety standards? Are they independently audited and inspected by someone like ARG/US or Wyvern?
2. How experienced are the crew? You and your insurance carrier have specified minimum experience levels for your own operation. What about the charter provider?
3. Do the pilots go through simulator training? How often? Once per year is the minimum, twice is preferred.
4. How is the safety record of your charter carrier? Have they had any accidents on their certificate or any other certificate that they have held? Have they received any safety awards?
5. In the event of an unexpected maintenance delay, will your charter carrier guarantee a similar replacement aircraft and honor the quoted price?
6. How frequently does your charter carrier have their aircraft painted and refurbished? What is the average age of an aircraft on their fleet? Their aircraft should be at least a nice inside and out as what you regularly operate.
7. How much insurance coverage is carried by the charter provider? $50 to $100 million is typical for turbine operators. Does your company require a higher amount?
8. If you are looking to operate into airports with special procedures, how does your charter company prepare the crew for that?
If you are dealing with a charter broker, they should have all this information. Verify it.
Like anything in business, relationships are important. Whether you are looking for a few hours a month or a long-term relationship, too much is at risk not to do the work up front.
29. February 2012 09:18
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The DOW is flirting with 13,000 and will likely hit an all-time high soon. The FDIC just reported that many banks are showing all-time profits. Even housing and unemployment statistics are improving somewhat. Mitt Romney just won the Michigan and Arizona primaries. The 1% are on a roll!
All kidding aside, the general economic conditions are improving, especially for corporations and those high-net worth individuals. Aircraft sales figures are slowly improving and the resale market is improving for the newer models.
If you have been waiting, now is the time to upgrade. This means either acquire and aircraft or upgrade what you have. Here’s why.
- Most of the new aircraft sales forecasts indicate that 2012 will turn the corner on sales. GAMA’s 2011 sales report indicates that total units delivered were down 3.5% from 2010, but total billings were up up 0.4%. This shows that the larger, higher priced models are starting to do better. The Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) generally show limited backlogs on their popular models. For new aircraft, prices are still reasonable. But, if the sales forecasts hold, new model sales will continue to improve. When that happens, price flexibility will start to decrease and delayed price increases will start to be put into effect. If you are waiting for new, act now.
- Most indications are that turbine flight hours are increasing. Hours billed for engine guaranteed maintenance programs are up. As flying hours increase, the active aircraft will need additional maintenance. Non-critical items that have been delayed will be scheduled. Right now, many Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO) shops are not booked to near capacity. This means they have the schedule open for maintenance. Schedule it now if you can.
- Just as aircraft sales are hurting, so are airframe, avionic and engine upgrade sales. If you are looking at the latest flat panel display, cabin entertainment, interior refurbish or engine upgrade, these facilities are ready and have the time now. Which means that pricing and scheduling should be favorable to the buyer.
The only negative to buying or upgrading now seems to be a lack of financing, real or perceived. The financial institutions do have the money to lend (or finance leases), but the are more strict as to their requirements. The deal must make fiscal sense to them. So as a buyer, you need to have that relationship with your financial institution, as well as a healthy balance sheet/downpayment.
If you buy or upgrade now, you should get fair prices. As the market improves, pricing should firm up (as it has for the larger, newer jets). I don’t see aircraft values appreciating like they did in 2007, but values should hold or improve slightly for the popular models. Buying now should result in good value, and when you look to sell down the road, you should be able to avoid nasty residual value surprises.