Graham Warwick/ATLANTA

Business aviation's annual convention in the USA takes place this year in the "Sunshine State" - Florida. This would be appropriate for the outlook of the industry, at least in the home market, were it not for the threatening clouds reflecting concerns about regulation and taxation.

As this year's US National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) convention, in Orlando on 19-21 November, is likely to be relatively quiet in terms of new aircraft unveiled, talk is likely to focus on the issues facing the industry.

The newly appointed president of the US General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Edward Bolen, sums it up when he says that the challenges facing the industry are user fees, new regulations for business jets and the future shape of the air-transport system. "Our ability to respond effectively to those challenges will help determine the future course of the general-aviation industry," he says.

Things are looking up for business-aircraft manufacturers. US corporate profits, an ironclad indicator of sales, are forecast to continue increasing steadily past the turn of century. At the same time, airlines recovering from recession are filling their aircraft and pushing up fares to the disadvantage of the business traveller.

To meet this demand, manufacturers are offering incentives in the form of new business jets which offer unprecedented levels of performance and cabin comfort at attractive prices. The result, say most forecasts, is a likely near-term increase in deliveries from about 300 aircraft a year to a peak of around 350 annually.

In the longer-term, the outlook is cloudier as the industry cannot yet predict the outcome of issues which could affect corporate operators. One is the continuing effort to reform the US Federal Aviation Administration, which could lead to the imposition of user fees on every aircraft using US airspace. Canada has just privatised its air- navigation system and plans to introduce user fees to replace the airline ticket-tax now used to fund operations.

At the same time, the US airspace system is on the verge of a profound change, with the planned move to "free-flight" air-traffic-management, which will require participating aircraft to be equipped for satellite navigation and datalink communications. Business-aircraft operators face the expense of equipping their aircraft with satellite-navigation flight-management systems to avoid being disadvantaged.

Operators which fly across the North Atlantic are already grappling with the cost of upgrading their aircraft to comply with new altimeter-accuracy and redundancy requirements for reduced vertical-separation minima planned to be phased in on transatlantic routes beginning in 1997. Now Europe's Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) proposes extending the rules governing extended-range twinjet operations (ETOPS) to include business jets.

The FAA position is that current ETOPS criteria do not apply to business aircraft. GAMA and the NBAA are working jointly to persuade the JAA that there is no safety requirement to extend ETOPS rules because there have been no overwater accidents involving business jets and therefore no cost-benefit justification. The US industry wants the JAA to limit ETOPS rules to aircraft weighing more than 45,400kg and with more than 20 seats.

To these concerns must be added airport-access issues in Europe, the Far East and even the USA. They paint a picture of an industry which must temper its optimism with caution.


Anti-recessionary measures

Optimism is likely to be to the fore at the NBAA convention. The industry's propensity for reacting to recession by launching new aircraft has lead to some lively shows in recent years, and Orlando promises at least some new products.

Leading the pack will be Raytheon Aircraft's new "super-mid-size" Hawker Horizon. This $14.5 million successor to the Hawker 1000, powered by Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308A turbofans and with Honeywell Primus Epic avionics, is aimed at a gap which Raytheon believes exists between its $11.5 million mid-sized Hawker 800XP and larger aircraft such as the Dassault Falcon 2000 and Canadair Challenger 604, costing $18.5-20.5 million.

Raytheon, which introduced the Premier I light business-jet at the 1995 NBAA show, has assumed the position held by Cessna as the leading launcher of new business aircraft. The company has dropped strong hints that a stretched Premier II will be launched at the 1997 show., Cessna, for its part, is unlikely to launch its anticipated replacement for the mid-sized Citation VII at this year's show. The company has a full agenda marketing the mid-sized, Mach 0.92, Citation X and certificating the Citation Bravo and widebody Citation Excel light business-jets. The recent order from Executive Jet Aviation for 25 Citation VIIs (as well as 25 Citation Xs), for its NetJets fractional-ownership scheme, has also given the existing aircraft a valuable production boost.

The launch mantle will pass instead to the joint venture of Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing Helicopters, developers of the V-22 Osprey military tilt-rotor. They plan to announce in Orlando their intention to proceed with development of the first civil tilt-rotor, the nine-seat D600. Similar in size to Bell's XV-15 tilt-rotor technology demonstrator, the D600 will be powered by two P&WC PT6 turboshafts and is expected to be available in 2001.

Much attention is likely to focus on three aircraft: the BMW Rolls-Royce BR710-powered Bombardier Global Express, the AlliedSignal TFE 730-60-powered Dassault Falcon 900EX and the Gulfstream V, also powered by the BR710. Bombardier plans to fly the first ultra-long-range Global Express into Orlando for its NBAA debut in formation with the company's new Learjet 45 light business-jet.


Other debutantes

Also on display in the static park at Orlando's executive airport will be the fifth ultra-long-range GV - the first with a completed interior. US certification of the GV is expected later this year. Dassault, meanwhile, will display its extended-range Falcon 900EX, the first of which was delivered earlier this month. The French manufacturer is marketing the 8,300km-range 900EX, the longest-range business jet in service, as a lower-cost alternative to the 12,000km (6,500nm)-range Global Express and GV.

Boeing Business Jets will use the NBAA show to brief potential customers on a fourth entrant into the long-range market, the corporate-configured 737-700. The joint venture, formed earlier this year with General Electric, has orders for three corporate 737-700s, two of them for GE.

The small end of the business-aircraft market is also showing new signs of activity. Visionaire has rekindled the dream of a single-turbofan business-jet with the 25 October roll-out of a proof-of-concept prototype of its Vantage. Century Aerospace is pursuing a similar approach with its Century Jet, now in design. Whether these projects have what it takes to make it to production - where so many other novel business-aircraft concepts have perished - will be of interest to NBAA attendees.

The "holy grail" of light-jet projects is to tap the loyal turboprop customer base and persuade them to trade up to turbofan power. Although the light-jet market is already brimming with alternatives, from the entry-level Cessna CitationJet to the "light-medium" Learjet 45, the Raytheon Beech King Air remains one of the best-selling business aircraft. The company is confident of the twin-turboprop's unique market appeal, but a future NBAA show could see the newly aggressive Raytheon take that all-important step of announcing a successor to the aircraft that has become its trademark.

Source: Flight International