As the BBJ3 prepares for its first flight, Liz Moscrop talks to Captain Steve Taylor, BBJ’s chief pilot, about the ‘customer-driven technologies’ on board the new business version of Boeing’s 737-900ER

Boeing Business Jets has announced that the BBJ3, the latest variant of its VIP airliner derivative, should be flying by June. Although it is some three years since the upgrade was announced at the 2005 Dubai Air Show, chief pilot Steve Taylor says the aircraft is “exactly on schedule.” He adds that improvements have come from customer suggestions. “Every year we organise an owner-operators conference, where we spend as much time listening as talking to our customers. We take our maintenance advisory board seriously.”

Today there are 104 BBJs flying. One third are in the Middle East, one quarter in North America, one quarter in Europe, including one aircraft in Eastern Europe, and the rest in the Asia-Pacific region. Boeing has eight BBJ3 orders and expects to deliver 13 BBJ2s in total. Next slot is 2014.

Jeff Roberts

Key installations include the new Enhanced Vision System (EVS), which Taylor says will be certificated in the second quarter this year. Boeing has partnered with Rockwell Collins on the product. Taylor says: “We expect to retro-fit eight to ten, depending on customer demand. One key difference is that the co-pilot will have a lower display screen, so will see the same image that the flying pilot is seeing on the HUD.”

He continues: “This market is different from the airline sector, which predominantly has autoland capability and flies into major airports such as Heathrow and Brussels. VIP aircraft tend to go to outlying airports, which cannot support autoland in weather minima.” Boeing does not have a price on its EVS yet, but it should be in the ballpark of $750,000. Another addition to the flight deck will be the Class III built in Electronic Flight Bag, which has been standard for the last year and half.

Boeing is also keen to promote the lower cabin altitude on board all new BBJs. This is equivalent to a change in pressurisation from 8,000ft (2500m) to 6,500ft (2,000m). Taylor says: “Six customers have had it installed already. It reduces fatigue. These customers have all come back and told us it makes a big difference, especially on a 12-hour flight. All our 787s will come with this lower altitude as standard.”

Boeing employed a group of university students, who studied the effects of lower cabin altitude and discovered that pressure affected fatigue and headaches. The biggest gains in reduction come from the first 1,500ft. Eight more customers have ordered post-delivery installation. According to Taylor it is not a difficult retrofit, requiring for the most part a change of valves. The tricky part comes with looking at the history of older aircraft and if it is suitable for the upgrade. The oldest BBJs in service have been flying since 1999, and that can leave quite a paper trail of service bulletins and modifications.

Other technologies featuring new BBJs will be Future Air Navigation System (FANS) - Inmarsat’s satellite data link for air traffic control. This is the method most commercial carriers use to cross Oceanic airspace. FANS can be retrofitted on the entire fleet. Taylor says: It is an easy retrofit for anyone that has satcoms ability. It comes into its own in congested airspace and is an air traffic game-changer in terms of Oceanic spacing.”

Greener aircraft

Although the majority of Boeing’s work on reducing its carbon footprint comes from its commercial airliner business (executive aircraft account for just two per cent of its revenues), the company has created new carbon brakes, which are 700lb (318kg) lighter than the steel brakes currently on the fleet. Operators can opt for a new installation at the same price as the old one. The OEM will also retrofit the brakes post delivery with no charge for the service bulletin. Boeing also says that it is researching the fuselage of its 737 family, specifically with regard to reducing drag, therefore reducing emissions.

Another major concern customers have is completions. Taylor says: “We have some concerns introducing our widebody to completions houses, but companies like Jet Aviation and Lufthansa Technik have already added capacity.” However, he concedes that as more and more VIP aircraft enter completions houses, there will be a squeeze. He indicates that Boeing is looking at ways it can help address the situation. “We are always evaluating new opportunities. We look at start-ups or companies that are expanding their business and how we can support them. We make sure they have the capability.” He remains tight-lipped as to the location of these possible new centres, but does not rule out the possibility that they may not be in traditional markets.

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Source: Flight Daily News