July 2011 Aviation Articles

Business Aircraft Should Not Be Just For The Senior Execs!

Senior executives at major forms do not need to be told the value of a business aircraft. But at many companies, the business aircraft seems to remain the private domain of a select few.

The tangible benefits to having an aircraft can include, but are not limited to:

Time Savings

Flexibility and Reliability of Operations


Ability to support customers in an effective manner

This sort of utility can be and should be made to more than just a select few. While your current CEO may understand this, does the new one? What about the various departments in your firm? Who can use the aircraft? Is it just the top two or three in the company?

No one will deny the ability of the business aircraft to save time, but the question that still gets asked is “Is it worth the cost?” In justifying the cost, we often look to the highly compensated senior executive. But this type of justification can also work for less senior workers, too.

As an example, assume a trip is needed from San Antonio to Reno. Via the airlines, you can make the trip in 5.5 hours flying, plus airport time, for about an 8-hour travel day.  Business airfare for last minute travel may run $1,200 per person, or $4,800 for four persons. On the business jet, a charter may take less than 4 hours total time and cost may be about $12,000 for up to six persons. In your company light jet the variable cost for the trip may be $6,000. What is the value of that time saved?

In order to determine the value of the business jet over the airline, you need to understand both the total time needed for the travel and the lost opportunity cost, of that travel. 

Business aircraft offer the ultimate in time flexibility. The airlines have set schedules in order to try and fulfill most travelers’ schedules. How can we compare the time and cost of both alternatives?

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) has a tool called Travel$ense. It is software that calculates the actual hours spent in travel, productivity and trip expenses. Travel$Sense uses actual airline data to allow your travel specialist to look at the time it takes for the aircraft travel as flown on your schedule with the business aircraft, and on the airlines’ schedule. In addition to calculation the total travel time, it also has user-defined inputs for productivity and salary.

Using such a tool, you may find out the San Antonio to Reno total travel time away from the office takes 40 hours round trip while the business jet takes 16 hours. But the next step is the critical one, the value of the time.

Time can never be saved. It can only be spent wisely.

This type of value consideration can also work for mid-level executives’ time. Fill up the plane with four or five people and not only does the cost of the plane come closer to the cost of five airline tickets, but the ability of those people to work and be productive can make the business aircraft use a “no brainer.” Those people can be a sales team, customer support, or even just four people within your company who all need to be in Reno this week.

Business-hours spent in the office, with a client, or working somewhere quietly without disruption are more productive than business hours spent waiting at the airport. Whether it is Travel$ense or a spreadsheet, such an analysis can show that the time spent not in the business aircraft can be put to productive use that can offset the added cost of the business aircraft option. This type of analysis may show that further use of the business aircraft to more than just a select few senior executives is indeed money well spent.

Designing the Next 'General Aviation Family-of-Four Aircraft'

As we now have entered the second decade of the twenty-first century, and much of the available marketplace for aircraft that are designed for a family of four consist of designs that hark back from the 1950’s and 1960’s (fifty-sixty years ago) I thought it appropriate to trip the light-fantastic and consider what the twenty-first century family aircraft design should be, instead of what it currently is; so here goes...


First, the issue of what type of fuel should power this new general aviation aircraft? AVGAS is slowly being phased-out around the world, with just one or two alternatives currently under development; therefore I believe that we must design away from this venerable but boutique fuel.


As the Solar Impulse and other aircraft have proved, electric propulsion is fast becoming a viable option. The power-to-weight ratio is still problematic with this system of power, therefore it believe that this generation’s family aircraft design, from now on I shall call it the Family-Flyer, will have to utilize both a combustion and electrical power system, much like today’s Hybrid motorcars. Forget requiring a gasoline type of fuel though. It makes more sense to go with either a hydrogen or diesel burning engine instead. Obviously the thrust shall be derived both by internal combustion and by electrical motor power.


Next we are faced with the issue of how to convert the power produced by our hybrid engine into thrust? Will we be using a propeller, a gas turbine, exhaust jets, impulse engines, rockets; what? Personally I believe that there is much merit found in the Un-ducted Fan system that was developed by General Electric in the early 1980’s. Their prototype system delivered 35% or more in fuel efficiency over the turbo-fans that they were designed to replace. This concept is now back in-play by many airframe and engine manufacturers, with the intent to deliver greater fuel savings to the buyers of their large-cabin airline and military products; therefore I hereby declare that the Family-Flyer shall derive its propulsion from two un-ducted fans.


It might be argued that I have put the cart before the horse, so-to-speak, by choosing a propulsion system before thinking about the design of the airframe. Well you are welcome to your opinion, but my line of thinking is similar to the starting concept that most modern aircraft designers use today. The airframe is now built around the propulsion system.


Obviously we want our design to fly high and fast, while still being able to fly-in-and-out of short-ish runways, be safe and relatively easy to control. Be able to provide a quiet, comfortable and safe environment for the passengers and crew, and capable of carrying fuel-fuel, four 200 lb people and their associated baggage, with a large margin left in its weight and balance envelope for safety. It also has to be affordable, i.e. somewhere in the $500,000 target selling range would be ideal.


The airframe of the Family-Flyer shall be constructed from epoxy cured Carbon Fibre. The engines shall be mounted on the top-side of the wings ala Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke (VFW)-Fokker 614 of the early 1970’s, and the 21st-century Honda-Jet HA-420. It will have spiroid winglets which shall deliver more than a 10% reduction in fuel-burn because of the reduced drag and increased aspect ratio.


The spiroid winglets shall be blended into a reflex-curved high-performance wing that features a wide and thick-corded inboard section that shall provide lots of lift both during climb and during slow approaches. The wings shall feature fowler flaps and leading-edge slats. All of these aerodynamic devices shall provide the aircraft with stellar low-and-slow, as well as excellent climb performance. Higher cruise speeds will be delivered thanks to the thin, near-super-critical high-aspect ratio outboard wing sections that will accelerate flow thanks to the reflex curves on the trailing edge sections. The wings will be able to fold, electrically to enable the Family-Flyer to fit a standard T-Hanger. As I mentioned earlier, the Family-Flyer is a twin-engine design.


Cruise attitude and pitch control will be provided by a cruciform empennage that features a split rudder that will also act as an air-brake. The all-moving horizontal stabilizer will be supplemented by stub- canards mounted on the forward nose section. The trim system will be independent of all other flight controls enabling control redundancy if ever the need arose. All communications and navigation antennas shall be laid-up within the plies of the empennage leading edges. These antenna arrays shall back-heated (to reduce EMI as well as maintenance) to provide anti-icing protection. The wing leading edges shall also incorporate heat blankets which can easily be replaced due to filament failure.


The undercarriage will be electrically actuated. The system will be extremely simple whereby the main legs shall fold/splay outward and be stiff-legs. The running gear shall be of the trailing link style. The nose gear will retract forward and it will also feature trailing dual axles. The emergency gear drop system shall be cable operated, whereby the actuator rod-ends shall disconnect and a simple blow-down gas-tube actuator shall override the disconnected screw system and ultimately hold as the down-lock. The main wheels shall feature anti-lock carbon-fibre brakes.


The fuel system will incorporate integral wet-wings inboard, along with fuel storage under the floor. The fuel shall be heated from the natural bonus heating that shall occur from the solar cell panels on the top of the wings. The lithium batteries shall be mounted both in the nose, and in the fuselage aft of the cabin; all shall be stored beneath the easily removed baggage floors in the same cavities.


When the combustion engines are providing thrust, the electric motors shall act as alternators, and shall charge the battery system, just like an automotive hybrid. During the day the solar cells shall provide charge. During night-time operations the wind generators (min-turbines embedded in the vertical stabilizer leading edge shall provide a charge also.


The interior shall be more like an automobiles, however the seats shall feature full harnesses that incorporate an airbag system. The seats shall also feature airbags as well. The Family-Flyer shall be air-conditioned and lit by fibre-optic edge lights and LED assemblies. The cabin shall be both pressurized and air conditioned. There will be a crew door on the captain’s side, while main cabin entry will be accessible through a main entrance air-stair door on the LH rear of the cabin.


The Avionics suite shall consist of three separate LCD monitors that have synthetic vision, primary flight displays, weather depiction and navigation overlays, along with airspace, charts and approach plate depiction. An entertainment and Internet mode shall also be incorporated as an available feed. The engine, electrical and environmental systems shall also be depicted in computerized format, but all three displays will be switchable amongst themselves. Certain add-ons shall be down-loadable just like ‘Aps’ used in in the Smart-phone marketplace.


All communications shall be accessed by touchscreen on either lower side-panel, and all audio shall be delivered by blue tooth, with cabin isolation as a switchable feature. The cabin shall have mini-LCD monitors at each seat that will allow entertainment and Internet feeds to be displayed. There will also be Droid and iPod docking stations at each seat (both crew and passenger) to stream and play personal content, and also allow in-flight communications via the WiFi and Blue-Tooth enabled features within this pleasant cabin space.


Lastly a cooler, hot-cup, mini-microwave, wireless printer and waste receptacle shall be located at the front of the cabin accessible by all occupants.All cabin windows shall feature Smart-Glass that can have the opaqueness and tint adjusted electrically. Both crew stations shall have a swing-out work surface that stows beneath the instrument panel, while the main cabin shall have a floor stow-able worktable that will bridge the gap between the two seats. If mortal peril is imminent for all occupants, the Family-Flyer shall be protected by a ballistic parachute similar to the Cirrus.


After reading this written depiction of what I believe this century's family aircraft should feature, you will agree that 90% of what I have mentioned is currently available today on a variety of designs. All that is necessary is for someone to clone them all together into one specific aircraft design...one hope that maybe Scaled Composites as one of the many capable design companies might consider doing this once the Virgin Galactic program has been completed? We can all but hope.


What design do you see in your minds eye, when you tackle the issue of what the Family-Flyer of today should look like? Please comment below, as both I and your fellow readers will be very interested to read your point of view.


BizAv Gets Another Black mark Against It, But Who Isn’t Responding?

As summer made its way into the Northern Hemisphere, business aviation once again found itself under an “eclipse” of darkness. This time it was the President and the Wall Street Journal. 

First up was the Wall Street Journal with a front-page article June 16 describing the personal (ab)use of business aircraft with reports of frequent travels by some corporate jets to resort destinations. While the report's data is not in question (full disclosure, Conklin & de Decker supplied WSJ with accurate hourly costs for the aircraft models), many felt that the article was sensationalized. While the WSJ did state “Corporate jets are vital business tools...” their analysis of the flights were supporting that personal use of business aircraft is far underreported. 

WSJ followed that up with a second article on June 20th about the former IBM chief, Louis Gerstner, and the number of trips IBM aircraft currently make to destinations where Mr. Gerstner has vacation homes.

Then on June 29, the President on June 29 was talking on the economy and the deficit when he stated, “I think it’s only fair to ask an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well to give up a tax break that no other business enjoys.” One sentence, but it was enough.

Aviation groups like NBAA, NATA, AOPA and others were quick to respond.  Their responses tried to focus in of the contributions that business and general aviation make to the US economy and that most “fat cats” are really medium sized business flying in smaller aircraft trying to do everything they can to survive in todays markets. 

While some responses seemed a bit quick to take offense, they did a good job of trying to show the value of business aviation to the US economy.

What is mostly absent is a coordinated response. No, not from those of us whose livelihoods depend on aviation, but from those who directly use and benefit from these aircraft. What I would like to see is business CEOs and owners get together with an open letter sent to the major news outlets describing the importance of aircraft in their ability to conduct business. It should come from small to medium business that uses an aircraft. Not the top mega-corporations (see “fat cat” above), but those companies flying aircraft representing the other 85% of business aviation. I’m talking of companies with annual sales in the tens of millions or hundreds of millions, not large, global firms with billions in sales. 

I think a response from those companies would be far more compelling. People might see them are more “regular folks” versus the titans we regularly see in the business news headlines. Sorry, Donald Trump, business aviation won’t benefit from your defense. 

But who can talk to these folks and ask them to respond? How about their trusted pilots and mechanics!  Let me know how I can help.

Meanwhile, here are links to get you started:

NBAA Advocacy

US Senate Directory

US House of Representatives Directory

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