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Aircraft Technical Analysis

by David Wyndham 12. March 2018 10:15
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To continue our review of the components of a successful Aircraft Acquisition Plan, I will be discussing the technical analysis. The technical analysis is as varied as the types of missions. They keys are to adequately define the key missions and evaluation parameters. Use those to develop the objective criteria to judge candidate aircraft.

I just finished a fleet plan for a client. Before starting the report, the Chief Pilot was sure that the best aircraft for their mission was the "BelchFire Warp 2K." But to placate the boss, the Chief Pilot hired us to do an analysis. As it turned out, their preferred aircraft was number three on the list of best alternatives. The other two had similar speed and range capabilities and offered the bigger cabin the boss was looking for. While in many instances, your initial instinct is correct, the technical analysis can reveal other alternatives, some of which may be better suited for your mission than the initial pick.

Aircraft Technical Analysis

The focus of the technical analysis is on size, features, range, and performance. The acquisition cost, cost of operation, and other financial and ownership matters are for a second analysis.

Make sure the requirements are listed correctly. An eight passenger cabin and 2,500 NM range are different than a range of 2,500 NM with eight passengers. Perform the basic analysis with the objective of developing a short list of candidate aircraft that will be used in the detailed analysis. Then you are ready for the detailed analysis:

* Determine the most (likely) demanding payload, range, cabin size and/or passenger seating requirement as defined by your key mission.

* Compare those requirements against the capabilities of a range of aircraft from the sources of information you have gathered.

* Eliminate all those that do not meet the requirements.

* Eliminate those aircraft that are vastly more capable than required. The cost of acquisition and ownership does up dramatically as size, range and speed increase.

How many aircraft should you end up with the do a detailed analysis? An absolute minimum would be two aircraft but three to nine aircraft is the preferred goal. If you end up with only one aircraft to analyze, go back and review your key missions. It is rare than there would be only one aircraft that can perform your mission. If that is the case, it is likely that the aircraft seller may know that and thus, you will have little room to negotiate on price. More than nine aircraft and your analysis gets unwieldy - better to go back and come up with some more restrictive requirements.

The detailed analysis is designed to outline clearly the various capabilities of the candidate aircraft in relation to your key mission. Depending on your key mission, the following may be included:

* Weight buildup. This includes passenger payload, baggage capacity and even weight and balance considerations. Also include baggage size considerations. Four sets of skis may not weigh much, but will require a longer baggage compartment than will four overnight bags. Four fully-equipped SWAT Team members will weight a lot more than four medical personnel. Remember the mission drives your requirements.

* Range and reserves. Given your weight for the key mission, can the aircraft fly the required trip? Make sure the fuel reserve calculation is correct for your mission. Run specific scenarios to make sure the aircraft will perform as required. Do you need to lift two med-evac patients from a high altitude location on a hot day? What about navigation requirements such as FAMS-1, ADS-B,  minimum engine inoperative altitudes if operating over mountains, etc. can be important considerations.

* Airport restrictions. Do you fly into a short runway? Narrow taxiway? What is the weight limitation on your parking ramp? Where you operate will define things such as runway requirements, climb and obstacle clearance criteria, etc.

* Have a hangar with a twelve foot opening? Don't find out that your new aircraft is 12 feet 2 inches tall after the sale is completed! 

* Features and Equipment. This can be a short list or an extensive one. It can include things such as auxiliary power for ground and air use, a private lavatory, single point refueling capability, crew rest areas, a separate cargo door, and required ground support equipment. WiFi here in the US is a different requirement than WiFi with global capability. Again, the key mission defines the parameters.

* Reliability and Support. This can be hard to quantify as very little quantitative data exists. A good source of this type of information is to talk to other operators of the type of equipment that you are evaluating. In addition, magazines conduct and publish product support surveys. Locations of factory approved service centers can be important, as can spares support. If the manufacturer is still producing the same or similar aircraft that you are evaluating, support could be better than trying to find qualified support for old, out of production models for which there is no major spares supplier.

These are some of the major items. Your evaluation parameters may likely include others. Once you have performed the analysis, it is time to rank order the aircraft.

Determine how many criteria each aircraft meets, did not meet, or exceeded. The minimum Key Mission criteria is mandatory - failure to meet them will result in the aircraft being removed from consideration. Other criteria should be rated as desired in that it will enhance mission effectiveness or add extra capability. Not meeting desired criteria can still result in a mission capable aircraft. See which aircraft, having met all the required criteria, also meet some or all of the desired criteria. Adding the deficiencies and excesses can result in a numerical score. You may add your own multiplier to favor one criterion over another.

If no aircraft meets the required criteria, what do you do? Go back to your key mission and carefully evaluate each of the evaluation parameters and how, if changed or removed, would affect the key mission. In other words, find out what you can live without.

There still may be an occurrence where no one make/model will adequately perform your missions. In that case, maybe acquiring one aircraft to do 90% of the missions and chartering an aircraft to perform the remaining 10% may be the solution. I had one client with a lot of trips with four to six passengers of 150 NM and under. The next requirement was for three to four passengers to fly 2,000 NM. In their case, a turboprops served the short trips quite well and since the longer trips were infrequent, a fractional share was a good alternative for those trips.

The technical analysis is as varied as the types of missions. The keys are to adequately define the key missions and evaluation parameters. Use those to develop the objective criteria to judge candidate aircraft. It is better to explain to the boss why his favorite pick (1) can't perform the mission and to offer alternatives than to acquire a less than desirable aircraft and find that out after the fact.

Note (1): Yes, I’ve seen a thorough analysis identify a best-fit aircraft only to have the decision maker get a different, less capable aircraft because of personal reasons. My job is to provide the factual data to allow for a fully informed decision. 


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Aviation Technology | David Wyndham | Flight Department

FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program

by Tori Williams 1. March 2018 08:00
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What are “Unapproved Parts?”

Aviation is such a complex industry, with so many (literal) moving parts. While learning about MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) operations, we touched briefly on the FAA Suspected Unapproved Parts Program, and I was intrigued. If you think about it, there are billions of aircraft parts in circulation in the U.S. Aviation Industry at any given moment. The majority of these parts are vital to aircraft operations, and can put passengers in danger if they fail. How do aircraft operators ensure that their parts are actually the high quality that they are relying on when they purchase them?

In 1993 the FAA created the Suspected Unapproved Parts Program in order to decrease the amount of aircraft parts in circulation with unknown or questionable history. The purchasing and installation of these unapproved parts can cause a hazard to flight operations, as their quality is undetermined and they may be unacceptable. The ultimate requirement of an aircraft operator is to maintain airworthiness as specified in the particular part of the Federal Aviation Regulations that governs that type of operation, which also includes all individual parts being in compliance.

Advisory Circular 21-29C defines a S.U.P. as, “A part, component, or material that is suspected of not meeting the requirements of an approved part. A part that, for any reason, a person believes is not approved. Reasons may include findings such as different finish, size, color, improper (or lack of) identification, incomplete or altered paperwork, or any other questionable indication.” So really, a S.U.P. could be anything.

The Advisory Circular makes a clear distinction between aircraft parts that are sold with the understanding that it is for decorative purposes only, and parts that are disguised as airworthy. It is the responsibility of the buyer to request and receive the documentation necessary to show the purpose of the part. Selling a part that is clearly not airworthy is not a crime, as long as the seller does not do it under the premise that it is airworthy.

How are they caught?

There is a process that the FAA has created to report a suspected unapproved part. First, you could call The Aviation Safety Hotline to report unsafe practices that affect aviation safety, including the manufacture, distribution, or use of an S.U.P. Their number is 1-800-255-1111 or 1-866-835-5322. If requested, the caller may remain anonymous.

There is also a standardized form, FAA Form 8120-11, that outlines the information needed about the S.U.P. This includes the date the part was discovered, the part serial number, information about the company that supplied the part, a description of the issue, and several other important facts that the FAA will need to investigate. This form can then be sent to the Aviation Safety Hotline via e-mail or to their physical address in Washington, DC. Although this is a relatively low-tech solution to the problem, it is a solid system for reporting S.U.P. and has done a lot of good.

The FAA then investigates the S.U.P., and if it is found to be unacceptable they will send out an Unapproved Parts Notification (UPN). These are available to the public, and can be found on the FAA website. The most recently posted UPN was put on the site on February 15th, 2018, and outlines various parts distributed by Genesis Aviation Inc. This report recommends that aircraft owners who have installed the parts to inspect and remove them from their aircraft to keep it airworthy.

Why even bother?

The goal of the S.U.P. program is to improve safety and promote transparency in aviation. By having a system in place to detect and report unapproved parts, aircraft maintenance personnel and aircraft owners have an easier way to ensure they are using the best parts available. Removing all unapproved parts from the U.S. Aviation Industry is a huge undertaking, but with the task force making it their personal mission it is much more likely to come to fruition.

This leaves one to wonder what happens to the company or individual that gets caught selling unapproved parts. According to a press release fact sheet sent out by the FAA on the matter, “if the FAA determines that a manufacturer, air carrier or other user violated Federal Aviation Regulations regarding approved parts, they could be subject to anything from a warning letter to a stiff fine. In the case of criminal activity, the appropriate law enforcement authority and judicial system can pursue the case.”

Unapproved parts are a very serious matter that affect the safety of air travel. The FAA has created a great way for any possible unapproved parts to get caught and removed from the U.S. Aviation system.

 

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Aviation Technology | Maintenance

The Aircraft Acquisition Plan - Sources Of Information

by David Wyndham 12. February 2018 11:00
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In the two previous issues, I discussed that the foundation of the Aircraft Acquisition Plan is to understand the aviation mission. That understanding leads to identifying the key missions of the aviation function. Those most important missions are what allow you to derive a set of objective evaluation parameters. Those mission-specific parameters can include payload, passenger seats, range, runway performance etc.

Given a set of parameters, you will need to find out which aircraft are capable of meeting those parameters. For example, if you are an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operator, you may need to carry 2 liter patients plus two attendants. You may also need to lift that load from a 3,000 foot elevation on an 86F (30C) day. You know the capabilities of your current EMS helicopter. Where do you get the information about possible replacement helicopters? What about performance on specific trips such as London City airport to Cairo, Egypt? What about the maximum payload you can depart Eagle, Colorado and make Charlotte, North Carolina non-stop? There is generally available data and specific data calculations. 

There are three generally available categories of published sources of information and data. Trade publications, off-the-shelf databases and the manufacturer published data.

Trade Publications. There are a number of excellent publications that publish surveys, list performance reviews/pilot reports, and have new aircraft pricing. These magazines are readily available via subscription. In addition to hard copy, many have electronic copies and some maintain past issues on their website. The cost to receive them is nominal. This is a good first step to get general information. The ones with pilot reports may have more technical information versus general product reviews. These articles may not answer your detailed questions or cover all the aircraft models you are interested in.

Published Databases. There are a number of databases published in the US that can provide a great deal of useful information. They cover four areas: acquisition costs, operating costs, performance and specifications, and specialized data. While trade magazines usually do a good lob of listing new aircraft process, they don't have a lot of information on pre-owned process. Information that is published on acquisition costs relies on sellers or buyers reporting their transactions to the publisher. Not every transaction is reported and there is a time lag in the reporting of a transaction and the ability of a publisher to analyze and publish their data. When markets are changing rapidly, this data has less value than in a stable used market.

Operating cost databases focus on the day-to-day costs of owning and operating aircraft, including taxes and fixed costs such as insurance.  Operating cost databases also have limitations. No two operators operate their aircraft in the exact same way.  Some operators do much of the routine maintenance in-house while others use a service center. Unscheduled maintenance is just that, unscheduled. There is no way to predict unscheduled maintenance save for using generalities and defining assumptions. Guaranteed hourly maintenance programs may help, but each manufacturer or program seller will use different assumptions and many allow for some variability in charging based on utilization. As they say with automobiles, “your mileage may vary.” These databases can be a valuable tools for comparing relative costs, but aircraft costing is not an exact science!

Performance and specification databases are useful provided that the person using them is knowledgeable about aircraft performance.  They go into more detail than many magazine articles and they tend to have standardized formats for each category of aircraft. These generally come in software versions. Unless you buy the flight manuals or subscribe to a database that offers that level of detail, the ability to change the data for your exact mission can be limited. Again, as a relative comparison tool, they can be invaluable. 

Costs of the above databases vary from several hundred dollars to over $1,000 for complete sets. They tend to offer a fair amount of detail, are impartial, and given the time involved in gathering each bit of information on your own, a very worthwhile investment. Our company has published a number of these types of databases for over 30 years.

Other specialized databases do exist. They can be for things such as charter listings, aircraft for sale listings, airport databases, and en route winds and temperature statistics. Depending on your mission, they still may not answer the very specific question that you may have.

Manufacturer's Data. The information from the aircraft manufacturer can range from the sales brochures' optimistic, best case information, to very specific performance analyses. Be cautious reading generalized sales information as they may or may not conform to standardized criteria. They may also be out of date. The flight manuals are the best source for specific calculations. Buying them for one-off comparisons can be quite expensive, especially when researching a number of different aircraft models. 

Detailed performance questions can be easily answered by the manufacturer. Contacting the manufacturer does inform them of your interest and usually generates sales calls and perhaps a visit form your local aircraft sales person.  If you wish to maintain your anonymity, you may wish to order a technical manual through the product support group. 

What are the other sources? Consultants can be paid to do all or part of the work in the Aircraft Acquisition Plan. When we do a study for someone, we work closely with both the aviation professionals and well as the end user to make sure all the right questions are asked, and answered. Other operators can be a wealth of "inside" information, as are maintenance facilities and training companies. When asking questions, be specific. Ask a general question, get a general answer. List price is not necessarily selling price, nor does a flat-rate cost for an inspection tell you what to allow for unscheduled and “over and above” maintenance.  

When gathering data, keep in mind the following:

What is the reliability of the source?

What assumptions went into the data?

How would specific information apply to your situation?

In general, starting with the publicly available data allows you to develop a short-list of candidate aircraft. If you want an aircraft with 2,800 nautical mile (NM) range, an aircraft with 2,300 NM is probably not going to be your top choice. Next time I’ll get into the analysis of the numbers.


 

 

 

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Aircraft Sales | Aviation Technology | David Wyndham | Flight Department

Key Missions & Evaluation Parameters

by David Wyndham 4. January 2018 13:05
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In the two previous issues, I introduced the Aircraft Acquisition Plan and your Acquisition Team. To be effective, your acquisition plan should consist of the following elements: - The organization's real aircraft needs. - Key missions and evaluation parameters. - Sources of information. - Technical analysis and ranking. - Fleet size. - Financial alternatives. - Financial analysis and ranking. - Tax Planning. This issue, I’ll focus on the first two items. 

“Mission drives requirements”

The foundation of the plan is to understand the mission assigned to the aviation function. Where does the aircraft add value to your company or owner? Yes, it makes better use of time. To what end? What is the importance of that time, and more over, the value of that time? Connecting the corporate goals and aspirations with the use of the aircraft enables you to define (and defend) the use of the aircraft as a valued business tool. Identify the most important mission for the aircraft as it relates to the achieving the corporations goals and vision. That is the mission which enables the aviation department to select the right aircraft by defining the parameters the aircraft must meet in order to help the corporation succeed. 

In defining the mission, we get to the importance of quantifying the mission. While a decision maker may select an aircraft from emotion, we need to make sure that they have the information needed to quantify their decision.  We need to quantify the mission, the aircraft requirements, and the costs. The decision maker can allow emotions in the process, as advisors, we cannot. Quantify every requirement to the greatest extent possible. 

Be proactive. If today’s mission is likely to change, focus your planning on what will come. While during times of rapid change, it is difficult to forecast, do it anyway. Ask the major users and decision makers for their inputs. Try to get a “probable” and a “best case” scenario. Or, if things are looking poorly, a “worst case” scenario.

Evaluation Parameters (Quantify!)

Evaluation parameters include cabin size, door size, cargo capacity, range, payload, etc. A key mission such as West Cost of the US to Asia could allow for a stop en route. If you can make it to Hawaii, every other over water leg can be made with less range.  The distance from the West Coast of the US to Hawaii is about 2,300 nautical miles (NM). Allowing for headwinds, you need at least 2,500 NM range to make it most of the time and 3,000 NM range to make it under almost any conditions. That Asia mission may require non-stop capability, but be aware of the available options.

Key missions allows you to define with the evaluation parameters needed to evaluate the possible aircraft. Identify aircraft that meet all the requirements and those that fall short in one or more areas. Include your current aircraft in this list as a baseline for judging other aircraft.  Once you have your aircraft criteria, it is usually good to list those in terms of “required” and “desired.” Required criteria are those which you must have to perform the key missions. Desired criteria are nice to have criteria that enhance the ability to perform the mission, but aren’t crucial to its success. 

If you don’t do your homework, you either end up with too much aircraft, or worse, end up with an aircraft that fails to do what was required. There is nothing worse than explaining to the boss why you can’t do the trip that was justification for the aircraft in the first place. Do this work up front and the rest of the analysis just falls into place. You’ll see. 

 

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Aircraft Sales | Aviation Technology | David Wyndham | Flight Department

The Tools of Modern Aviation Engineers

by Tori Williams 1. December 2017 23:33
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Being married to an engineer has opened my mind to a whole new world. People have often speculated where aviation seems to be going and spoken praises for the engineers who have built modern aviation and contributed to the technology boom, but outside of the circle of engineers and tech people, little thought is given to the tools that fuel modern engineering innovation. It’s interesting that above my husband’s desk, hanging on the wall next to his computer monitor is a framed original 1929 engineering drawing of a Waco Biplane. He keeps it there as a reminder of how far we have come in the span of a lifetime while he draws the same biplane in a 3-dimensional computer aided design software called Solidworks.

Up until the late 80s most engineering drawings were made by hand.

SolidWorks is one of the most popular programs today that allows one engineer to design something in a few hours what would have taken a dedicated team of engineers and draftsmen weeks in the past. Drawing in two dimensions is simple and gets the job done, but as designs become more and more complex, two-dimensional drawings become more and more prone to error. 3D CAD, on the other hand, eliminates errors before they begin by recognizing dimensional conflicts such as over and under defining parts and can generate two-dimensional drawings in a matter of seconds. These programs dramatically boost productivity and eliminate errors, allowing engineers to design more things faster and more accurately.

Why then would anyone want to spend so much time deciphering old hand drawings and making them 3D? This is a popular one for restorers of these old airplanes, like my in-laws. There is a story well known in the Waco community of a man who set out to restore his airplane going off the original drawings. When he finished the individual pieces for four whole wings, he attempted to put it together, but the parts did not fit and he had to scrap them. So imagine finding out the airplane doesn’t fit before buying a single material! SolidWorks does that

Beginning of the right-lower wing of the Waco in 3D CAD. Adjustments already had to made to get the metal brace clips to line up properly.

With the models like the one shown above, engineers can ask the software to check for dimensions that don’t work out and other minor complications that were not thought of. Furthermore, one can ask the software how much the assembly weighs, what the properties are under specific loads and adjust for these shortcomings.

Another fascinating tool that today’s engineers are using is 3D scanning technology. There is a company called Aircorps Aviation that we met at Oshkosh 2017 that uses handheld laser scanning technology to scan aircraft parts to reverse engineer and 3D model. This is extremely useful for aircraft restoration project that deal with parts that are no longer available or difficult to find. Being able to recreate the part by seeing what other parts are around it is ingenious and will help restoration projects that may not have been possible otherwise.

The crazy thing is that with all these technological innovations, engineers are not getting dumber. They are still incredibly brilliant people, but 3D CAD helps them push the line between reality and the impossible, making today the world of tomorrow. Whatever aviation innovations may present themselves in the next few years, these tools are helping make them the most that they can possibly be.

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Aviation Technology | Tori Williams | Vintage Aircraft



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