cockpit automation / the impact of very light jets on FBOs
Problems with cockpit automation / the impact of very light jets on FBOs
Paper-1 Problems with cockpit automation
This paper analyzes the pitfalls of automation within the cockpit. Today automation has become more widespread than ever before, especially within the aviation industry, and automation as such is more often than not being blamed for causing great harm, although inadvertently, by increasing the chances for human error, especially when the human being starts to depend on the computer to solve his problems for him. Several experiments have been conducted to find out the depth of this problem of automation and its advantages and disadvantages and to find out whether automation may be worth its while or not. To date, however, it is not clear whether automation carries with it more benefits, or more problems, and this paper helps to understand differing opinions on the same: is cockpit automation good today, or are the inherent problems in automation overtaking the underlying benefits?
Automation pervades almost all spheres of life today; from the small farmer who may grow his daily produce, to the aviation industry that may fly its passengers form one corner of the world to another. The problem is whether automation can be considered beneficial for the aviation industry, especially within the cockpit, or must it considered to be redundant? Do the advantages of automation outweigh the disadvantages of automation? Would it be a good idea to depend more on a human being, rather than on autopilot? This paper will analyze these questions, and come to a conclusion. (Veillette, 2006)
Automated systems may be excellent in concept and in their implementation, but one must remember that automation also carried with it certain unforeseen dangers, problems and disadvantages. Automation is today used widely in every field, no matter how small or how large it may be. As far as the aviation industry is concerned, automation has penetrated the cockpit as well. According to the British Airline Pilot’s Association, or the BALPA, automation may lead to problems for pilots as well. In their words, “Airline pilots increasingly lack the basics of the flying skills and may be unable to cope with an in-flight emergency such as sudden mechanical failure” as a direct result of the automation of the cockpit. (Veillette, 2006) This could also mean that pilots today lack the skills that are needed to fly the aircraft manually when and if the need were to arise. (Veillette, 2006)
Martin Alder, a member of the British Airline Pilot’s Association stated, “The style of flying and training means that people will be less able or less likely to cope, which has obvious safety concerns.” (Veillette, 2006) One must remember the fact that when the idea of cockpit automation was initially conceived of, several promises were made about the innate advantages that such a thing would ultimately have on the aviation industry. One such purported advantage was that the capacity of the national airspace system would be increased dramatically, because of the simple fact that the boxes would be able to make navigation much more precise than before. The manual workload of the pilots would be reduced as well, and this could be a good advantage for the pilots, as they would feel relief from the inherent stress of flying an aircraft. Other routine operations generally carried out by humans would be reduced, and this could mean better and greater efficiency and effectiveness in the long run. Not only would the management of the aircraft become a simple affair, but the possibility of human error would be minimized as well, and these could mean only good things for the aviation industry, felt experts. (Veillette, 2006)
Although the automation of the cockpit was eagerly expected and anticipated, it soon became apparent that several problems had been completely unanticipated. When the automated cockpits began everyday line operations, it was noticed that the automation was actually creating more errors than an average human being would. This was happening despite the grand promises that automation would be able to effectively reduce human errors to a large extent. In the environment of a terminal too, airport workers noticed that the workload in an automated cockpit seemed to be much higher than in a non-automated one, especially in the age old steam-gauge cockpits. Furthermore, automation had seemed to add to the problem of both pilots to go ‘head down’ while they were in busy terminal airspace, and this was a dangerous problem that could not be overlooked by any means. However, the most serious problem by far seemed to be that of the automation lulling pilots into a sort of complacency, in which they would take many things for granted, in the confidence that the automation would allow them to do so. Manual flying skills were also lost gradually over time, as more and more pilots started to depend on automation to take care of flying, and more and more flight crew managers started to express concern that they felt that pilots were losing their basic ‘stick and rudder proficiency’, a skill that would help them survive in case automation failed and they would be forced to manually resume direct control of the aircraft. (Veillette, 2006)
Take for example the accident that occurred due to engine failure on January 8, 1989, on board British Midland B. 737-400. When the outer panel of one blade on the left engine detached, the no 1 engine started to stall badly, and this resulted in aircraft shuddering and ingress of smoke to the flight deck. The crew, believing that it was the no 2 engine that had created these several problems, shut it down. This caused the surging of the no 1 engine to slow down considerably, leading the crew to believe that they had been able to deal with the emergency satisfactorily. They soon shut down the no 2 engine, and the no 1 engine operated properly for a while, although accompanied by shuddering. Soon however, there was an abrupt reduction of power, and a fire warning was issued. The efforts to restart the no 2 engine were not successful, and the aircraft crashed; thirty nine people on board the flight were killed instantly, while a further eight died in hospital later. Seventy four out of the seventy nine other occupants suffered injuries, and the cause of the accident, as established later, was that the operating crew shut down the no 2 engine after a fan blade had happened to fracture the no 1 engine. Would the accident have occurred if automation had not been carried out within the cockpit? (“Flight Deck automation issues,” n. d.)
Experts do feel that cockpit automation may well lull pilots into a false sense of security, that nothing would go wrong, just because the cockpit is fully automated, and that the machines would take care of any adversity. This, feel experts, would make pilots more prone to making fatal errors in certain situations, which they would otherwise have been able to handle with elan, before automation. Recently, a study was carried out by Dr. Linda Skitka, an Associate Psychology Professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. The study was aimed at studying cockpit tasks carried out with the aid of a computer, and without. It was found that the error rate among students was an amazing sixty five percent, with the students lulled into a false sense of complacency by the computer, which was giving them false prompts. The students followed the prompts of the computer as against following their own knowledge and awareness of the cockpit, and even though other instrument readings on the panel contraindicated the readings of the computer. Dr. Linda describes her experiment: she used a basic flight simulator and divided the eight students into two groups. While half the students were to fly with the help of an automated computer system, the other half were supposed to rely completely on instrument readings. Both the groups were told that the instruments were completely reliable, and those students who were flying with the automated system were told that although the automation was reliable, it was not a hundred percent so. (“Cockpit automation may bias decision making,” 1999)
The basic idea behind the experimentation was to test out the fact of whether or not errors of omission and commission were carried out while flying. While errors of commission meant complying with an erroneous computer prompt, despite knowing that the instruments were providing contra indicatory information, errors of omission meant failing to respond on time to a correct computer prompt, which would be consistent with the information being displayed on the instrument panel. The experiment revealed that the six errors of omission were in fact constant between both automated and non-automated conditions within the cockpit, with the idea of testing whether automation would lead to a decrease in vigilance proving to be true. Dr. Skitka went on to state that automation was in fact preying on basic human weaknesses, like for example cognitive laziness, social loafing, a diffusion of responsibility, and so on. Cognitive laziness, according to the experts, is a condition in which people reveal a tendency to take short cuts for a number of things, including a short cut to flying on automation, as in this case. Social loafing refers to the tendency displayed by people, in which people tend to expend lesser effort in any given situation, when there is a group of individuals involved. (“Cockpit automation may bias decision making,” 1999)
Most individuals, stated Dr. Skitka, tended to display a tendency to slack off when there was a situation that warranted a sharing of responsibility. Therefore, in this case, when the computer is a part of the group, the same tendency would apply. Diffusion of responsibility refers to the inclination of individuals to conform to the demands that figures of authority make on them. In this particular case, the computer was taken as an authority figure, or at the very least, a figure that was infinitely smarter than the user. The users of the computer aided automation within the cockpit were more likely to follow the instructions being given by the machine, even though it may be contra-indicatory or contradictory. As a direct result, introducing a computer to make automated decisions for pilots may well lead to the creation of an entirely new and different set of errors, as in the Doctor’s words, “Changing the context changes the opportunity for error.” (“Cockpit automation may bias decision making,” 1999)
According to Donald a Norman, of the University of California, San Diego, automation in itself is not the problem; rather, it is the inappropriate use of automation that is causing all the problems in the aviation industry. In his opinion, inappropriate application of automation could well lead to accidents of the kind that the aviation industry tries to blame on ‘over-automation’ and its associated pitfalls. Therefore, he feels, automation must be brought in to the industry today, although within a more appropriate framework, or at least by making a concerted attempt to remove some forms of already existing automation. Today’s automations have ‘an intermediate level of intelligence’, which tends to aggravate the existing problems, and to maximize difficulties and problems. The design of the automation can also be extremely important, feels Donald Norman; the design must be able to encompass the entire system, that is, the equipment, the crew, the social structure within the cockpit, the training and learning activities, the cooperative activities carried out within the framework, and also the overall goals of the task. (Norman, 1990)
More often than not, automation tends to be implemented with absolutely no changes within the overall design first, and this could mean that the automation would be a failure rather than a success, which could have been avoided if efforts had been made to improve the design at the outset, before bringing in automation. Take for example the tasks of the crew on a commercial airline, where almost all the flight activity can be considered to be normal and routine. It is common knowledge that large modern aircraft are easy to fly, and the aircraft would generally be maneuverable, stable and responsive at any time, with automation automatically monitoring all in-flight equipment and operations thereby easing the workload of the crew. This is evidenced in the fact that today’s aircrafts require only two people to fly them, although in reality only one person would be needed, as compared to the aircraft of yore in which three people were expected to be present to fly the aircraft. (Norman, 1990)
Today, there are lesser numbers of reported accidents, and it is generally assumed today that the decrease can be totally attributed to the fact that automation has pervaded the industry completely of late, and this means that it can be safer today to fly an aircraft. This may or may not be true, feels Donald Norman. For one, the crew flying a large plane may not in actuality be aware of all that is happening on the flight; they may be physically isolated from the passenger section of the flight, and may not know what is actually happening there. The crew is also more often than not isolated from the physical structures of the aircraft, and to add to this, the mental isolation that the crew faces as a result of the automation within the cockpit can in fact lead to greater danger than ever before. This is because of the fact that the automated controls within the cockpit that is responsible for monitoring and controlling the aircraft leaves no room or trace of its various operations to the crew managing them, and this would isolate and separate them from the moment to moment operations of the aircraft and the control within the cockpit. While it may be true that this form of isolation or segregation would be able to effectively reduce the workload of the crew, and also the reliance on human variability and failures, it may also contribute directly to the magnitude of the problems if any within the aircraft, when the crew is faced with immediately diagnosing the escalating situation, and in designing an appropriately best course of action with which to face the situation. (Norman, 1990)
Experts state that physical isolation as such would be suitable for the crew, if they kept themselves up-to-date on the critical states and stages of the devices that they are controlling and manipulating, but the problem with physical isolation and separation could be that it would automatically lead to a form of mental isolation as well, and when this happens, it could be very dangerous indeed. Zuboff gives an example of the control room of a modern day paper mill. Whereas in previous times the crew would remain on the floor, and therefore aware at any moment of what was happening to the equipment, now the crew may be poised on the floor above the mill and other equipment, sitting isolated within a sound proof glass covered cabin, with no real physical evidence of what is happening down the stairs away from where they are sitting. This would make them vulnerable to mistakes and errors, especially since they are removed from the meters and other displays of the mill while work is in progress. In the same way, automatic equipment on an aircraft would effectively isolate the crew from the actual functioning of the machines within the cockpit, and this could be dangerous indeed in any given situation. (Norman, 1990)
Take for example the case of Flight China Airlines 747, which rolled and went into a vertical dive from about 31,500 feet, severely damaging the aircraft and leaving no room at all for recovery. What happened was that the aircraft suffered a gradual loss of power from its right engine, and when normally this would have caused the aircraft to yaw to the right side, the autopilot compensated for the yaw, until such time that it reached the final stage of its ability to compensate for the yawing, and the plane could no longer remain stable. It was at this time that the crew was able to determine the actual problem, but by this time, of course, it was much too late to take a proper decision about the action to take to make up for the loss of power from the right engine. (Norman, 1990)
The aircraft went into a roll and nosedived from several thousand feet. The questions is this: could this accident have been averted if the human crew manning the aircraft had been more vigilant and careful, rather than rely completely on the automations that had been implemented within the cockpit / could this accident have been stopped from happening, if a human being had been manning the aircraft and manipulating the controls, rather than the autopilot than took over when it could and stopped when it could go no further? Take the other example of a vigilant officer managing to detect one problem, while at the same time failing to detect another on his aircraft. The second officer reported that although he was feeding fuel to all the three engines of the aircraft from the number 2 fuel tank, the number 3 fuel tank was showing a decline in its fuel. Soon enough, it was noticed that the wheel was cocked to the right. The pilot was instructed to turn off the autopilot, and when this was done, it became apparent that the aircraft was displaying a ‘roll’ tendency, thereby signifying the reality that they were now faced with an out of balance situation. (Norman, 1990) large amount of fuel was being lost, and the aircraft was in imminent danger of crashing. In this example, it is obvious that it was because the second officer was able to provide the very valuable information that there was something horribly wrong with the fuel balance and this despite the fact that the autopilot had managed to quickly and efficiently take over to compensate for the resulting weight imbalance on the aircraft. The question here is this: if the autopilot had been able to signal to the crew that something was wrong with the fuel balance, because it was compensating more than it normally did, would this have been able to alert the crew to a potential problem much quicker? Although it may be true that automation did manage to save the day, and perhaps if not for the autopilot taking over and managing the fuel balance, the aircraft would have crashed, there have been several arguments about automation, and in general opinion, it would be a good idea to use less automation and rely more on good old human man power. (Norman, 1990)
However, one must remember that at the same time, there are certain experts who do feel that it would be a better idea to increase automation within the cockpit, as this would be better at being able to prevent accidents, by avoiding human error. For example, the National Transportation Safety Board released its report on why the aviation industry must try to increase automation, after its in-depth analysis of the crash of an American Airlines Jet that hit a mountain near Cali, Colombia, killing almost all the 164 members on board the aircraft. What happened was that the Captain of the Boeing 757 had entered incorrect data onto the computer, and it was this very action that put the aircraft onto its final fatal course. According to investigations of the crash, it was found that within about 100 seconds after the incorrect data had been entered; the Captain as well as the First Officer sensed that there was something wrong; the plane was turning in the wrong direction, and they did not know why this was happening. About twelve seconds before the crash, the automated system warned the crew that they were flying too close to the ground, and that they were to rise, but in their haste the crew could not manage to rise up quickly enough. Furthermore, the crew had failed to detract the speed brakes of the aircraft that are designed to inhibit the aircraft’s ability to climb upwards. Experts came to the conclusion that had the automated systems been more infallible, like for example, if the system had been able to warn the crew of the fact that they were flying too low, much before it actually did, then the crew would have a chance to bring in the necessary changes. Since it did not do so, the aircraft crashed. Therefore, more automated systems must be brought in, was the conclusion. (Wald, 1996)
Perhaps, feel some experts, it is the human connection between automation and operations that leads to manifold problems. (Wesley, 2001) Similarly, perhaps the problem is in the various interface problems within the automated system, in which the host computer lacked in memory. (Wise; Tilden; Abbott; Dyck; Guide, 1994) There can be no doubt at all that automation would drastically reduce the workload of the pilot and his crew, and this in itself would be one great advantage of bringing in automation into the cockpit. (Muir; Harris, 2005)
In conclusion, it must be said that although there are differing views on whether automation is really essential to the aviation industry in general and to the cockpit in particular, it is true that without automation, the human beings manning the aircraft would feel much more burdened and stressed than if a part of their duties were to be taken over by automation. Therefore, it is clear that although automation can indeed bring with it several problems of the nature described in this paper, it may be very difficult in this technology advanced world of today for a pilot to manage his aircraft without the aid of a computer. The secret may be that the pilot must not depend too much on the automation; he must remain aware and wary at all times of what is happening within the aircraft when he is manning it. This would put him into a better position of being able to handle a problem when it arose, instead of flailing helplessly when the aircraft was crashing. Automation must be, therefore, brought in to the cockpit, but within certain specific limits, so that the disadvantages or automation do not outweigh the advantages.
Muir, Helen C; Harris, Don. (2005) “Contemporary issues in human factors and aviation safety”
Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
N.A. (1999, Nov) “Cockpit automation may bias decision making” Air Safety Week. Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0UBT/is_46_13/ai_57598959
N.A. (n. d.) “Flight Deck automation issues” Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://www.flightdeckautomation.com/qs-resaccidents.aspx
Norman, Donald a. (1990) “The problem of automation, inappropriate feedback and interaction, not over automation” Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/Norman-overautomation.pdf
Veillette, Patrick R. (Jan, 2006) “Watching and Waning” Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/story_generic.jsp?channel=bca&id=news/glass_0206.xml
Wald, Matthew, L. (1996, Oct 2) “Inquiry into Colombia Jetliner crash urges more automation.”
The New York Times, Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9406E7D8143FF931A35753C1A960958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print
Wesley, a.O. (2001, Jun) “Identifying and mitigating the risks of cockpit automation” Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://aupress.maxwell.af.mil/Wright_Flyers/Text/wf14.pdf
Wise, John a; Tilden, Donald S; Abbott, David; Dyck, Jennifer; Guide, Patrick. (1994)
Managing automation in the cockpit” Paper presented at Flight Safety Foundation: 47th Manual International Ais Safety Seminar International Federation of Airworthiness 24th IntemationaI Conference, Lisbon, Portugal. Retrieved 12 November, 2007 at http://www.faa.gov/education_research/training/media/cfit/volume2/pdf/pages/page5_07.pdf
Paper – 2: The Impact of Very Light Jets on FBOs
This paper will attempt to describe the impact that the introduction of the new Very Light Jets would possibly have on the Fixed Base Operators, who are responsible for providing a variety of services for the aviation industry, like for example aircraft maintenance, acting as a private terminal for private jets, and offering catering services for those who may require them. The paper will also attempt to describe the renewed interest in cheaper and the comparatively inexpensive air travel facilities that the introduction of the Very Light jets would bring to the aviation industry in general and to the commercial passenger in particular. Today, there is great interest in the latest developments in the aviation industry, and in particular, in the Very Light Jet. Several major names in the industry, like for example, Cessna, Embraer, Eclipse Aviation and Adam Aircraft have already committed to creating and developing the new Very light Jet, which would fly about four passengers at one time, at rates that can be described as being significantly lower than the normal commercial lights that operate today. The Very Light Jet weighs only about 10000 pounds, and it can even be used as a taxi service, where individuals would like to fly to remote corners of the world that no commercial aircraft has ever attempted to fly before. For a Fixed Base Operator, offering to service these new Very Light Jets could well be a good decision, because not only would it increase their revenues significantly, but it would also mean that the aviation industry in general would be able to derive the benefit.
In the aviation industry today, changes and improvements take place almost constantly. These changes more often than not bode well for the entire aviation industry, since it is a fact that today more and more people need to travel much faster than they had ever needed to, and in much more safer and reliable ways that they have been accustomed to, to date. It was to cater to this rising demand for quicker and more reliable air travel that the concept of creating a Very Light Jet, which would be known as a microjet, or a mini-jet, or a personal jet, or a private jet or a private plane. This aircraft would only need a single pilot to fly it, and about six passengers could use it at any one time. These jets would further need very small runways, and fly at speeds that would be considered safe and reliable. Today, more than eight companies are engaged in trying, testing and manufacturing these Very Light Jets, and it is hoped that these jets would be able to bring air travel to one’s doorstep, while at the same time providing additional income for FBO’s.
As in every other industry today, the aviation industry is constantly besieged with improvements and new ideas, with the new technology to aid the implementation of these ideas. Today, as commercial airlines hike up their rates and more and more people wish to fly to their destinations so that they would be able to save their time, a new class of private jets has entered the market. These are known as ‘very light jets’. These aircraft are much lighter and much more commercially viable than any other commercial airliners offered before, and it is hoped that these jets will take the aviation industry by storm, and more especially, create booming business for the FBO’s or the ‘fixed base operators’ who offer services such as fuel and aircraft maintenance, act as a private terminal for private jets, offer white glove service and catering for the jet set, and also offer air-taxi or charter aircraft service whenever required. Would the introduction of the new very light jets create this boom, or lead to more unanticipated problems? According to Dave Higdon, “If competition improves the breed, you should feel comfortable that the variety of light jets taxiing onto FBO ramps will only widen in the coming years as developments in the pipeline evolve into a variety of machines that improve on what’s available from today’s state-of-the-crop selection in light, entry level jets – already arguably the broadest, deepest selection ever under 20,000 pounds gross weight.” (Higdon, 2007)
What exactly is this Very Light Jet, and what does it look like? What are the advantages and the disadvantages of using this aircraft? It is commercially viable, and can it be expected to bring in changes in the aviation industry? One must remember that the Very Light Jet was once known as a ‘micro-jet’, and it can be described as a small jet aircraft that has been approved for seating about four to eight people, and would be manned by a single pilot. The Very Light Jet is typically lighter than other commercial aircraft, and it weighs less than 10,000 pounds. This aircraft has not really entered the mainstream market as yet today, but it must be stated that it will soon enter the market, and most probably, it will catch the fancy of several big names in the aviation industry, in the main because of the comparatively lower costs of operation involved in flying this new aircraft. Some of the companies that have shown deep interest in creating and developing the Very Light Jet are Cessna, Embraer, Eclipse Aviation and Adam Aircraft. (“Light Flyers,” n. d.)
One must note that today, the American airspace system is undergoing several changes in several areas. While certain vital decisive factors are under consideration right now, some of them must be handled immediately, feel experts in the aviation industry. First and foremost, the entire system must be modernized, and this means that the existing satellite-based communication systems must also undergo a complete overhaul. These improvements would naturally improve the efficiency of the system, as also its ability to accommodate the rising new demand for lighter aircrafts and cheaper services. Secondly, a way in which to fund these improvements must be sought, and thirdly, the impact that the introduction of Very Light Jets would have on the system must be evaluated and discussed. (“ATA Testimony, the impact of new jet aircraft on national airspace system,” 2006)
As an industry expert puts it, ‘There’s change in the wind’, and the change is all about the Very Light Jets that would be introduced soon. As Roger Woolsey, the President/CEO of the Million Air FBO Franchise Network says, there can be no doubt that these micro-jets or the Very Light Jets would have an impact on both the aviation industry, as well as on the FBO’s. In his words, “We’re excited about it. Will there be change, as when the fractional idea took off? Certainly. Were there a lot of scared people protecting their turf with fractionals? Absolutely. But those same people are the ones who may be benefiting the most…my opinion is that VLJ’s are probably going to have the same effect…there’s a new way to transport around the country. At the end of the day, America is strengthened by it.” (Infanger, 2006)
Rich Kaarlgard, a pilot, talks about the future of personal aviation. He talks about how, quite suddenly, at the age of forty five, he felt that he had to get into a small private jet and take off into the clouds, perhaps for a session of soul searching. Whatever it was, he had to use a private small jet for his purposes, and he remembers the favorite saying of the group of pilots of small aircraft, “Time to spare, go by air.” In other words, an emergency business or personal appointment must never be allowed to dictate one’s flying one’s decisions, as this can prove to be fatal. The reason is that small aircraft are not technologically advanced enough today to be able to handle flying at great speeds or at optimum heights. Some changes to be brought in according to Rich Kaarlgard are these: a small plane would have to be at least three times faster than car travel for it to be useful in any way. (Karlgaard, 2003)
It would also have to be comfortable enough for those people who are accustomed to driving around in their BMW’s and Lexuses to feel comfortable within the aircraft. In addition, they would have to be user friendly, with greatly improved information displays, and they would have to be, most importantly, safe. Today’s records reveal the astonishing fact that the safety record for owner flown planes is almost the same as that of motorcycles, which in itself is seven times worse than that of car travel. Therefore, the very future of personal aviation would rest on how the engines of the Very Light Jets are developed, and also on the access that these jets may have to airspace and to airports. (Karlgaard, 2003)
The issue here is this, how far can the development of the Very Light Jets have on Fixed Base Operators? As mentioned earlier, a fixed base operator is a person, a firm or a corporation that would furnish several different types of services to the aviation industry. A fixed base operator is generally located at an airport, and may offer services such as aircraft fueling, airframe or power plant repairs, oil dispensing, aircraft parking, hangar services, accessory services, radio and other avionics services, air charter and air rentals, flight training, aircraft towing, baggage handling and storage services, aircraft and cabin cleaning services, and catering. FBO’s may serve pilots, private small jet owners, travelers, and also airlines that offer services such as rental cars and flight charters and so on. (“Model Minimum standards for Fixed Base Operators — “FBO,” n. d.)
In general, the FBO’s at some airports may be engaged in offering several or all of the above mentioned services, while some others may limit their services to just a few. However, it is important to note that a fixed base operator who regularly rents out airplanes to others for their own use has a moral obligation and responsibility to make sure that the aircraft has been maintained in a perfectly airworthy condition, wile at the same time ensuring that the pilots who man the rented aircrafts are properly qualified to do so. In case there are problems in the aircraft rented out by the fixed base operator, then it is he who would be found liable. The same would apply for the renter pilot’s negligence while he is manning the aircraft, if nay accidents were to take place. The fixed base operator therefore would have to be completely responsible for ensuring the quality of service that he provides. (Eichenberger, 1996)
Given this scenario, one can examine what sort of an impact Very Light Jets would have on FBO’s. One must bring to mind the important fact that business jets have through time been traditionally the domain of the super rich and wealthy crowd, who have neither the time nor the patience to wait in line to be frisked at the airport before boarding a commercial flight, after which they may be forced to wait around in airports because of unprecedented delays for some reason or the other. For these people, taking a small lightweight aircraft specially chartered for them has been the most viable option. However, today, the entire scenario has changed. Today, more and more people wish to get to their destinations quicker than ever before, and this means that the aviation industry must be prepared to cater to these passengers of today. Private air travel must be made more feasible and practical today, as the need has arisen and this need must be satisfied. The Very Light Jets, made especially for this purpose, so that more people than ever before would be able to travel by air, cost between $1.5 million and $3 million, weigh under 10,000 pounds, seat about four to seven people and are capable of flying over 1,000 miles at speeds approaching 460 mph. The cheapest such jets cut the price of the present day business jets by more than half, although it may be a fact that the jets are quite slow and can only fly shorter distances than other traditional business jets. (Associated Press, 2006)
One must remember that the concept of creating a ‘very light jet’ that would cater to the growing demand for cheaper and quicker means of getting form one place to another quickly has been discussed often enough in the past decade or so, and today, it looks as if the concept would actually take root. One must also note that as the debate about the feasibility of this type of lightweight aircraft rages on, several test aircraft, each weighing less than 10,000 pounds have managed to reach first flight development, while at the same time some have gone even further. For example, today, the Eclipse 500 twin-jet, being built near Albuquerque, New Mexico, has received a full flight certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, and the complete aircraft was delivered to its buyer in Dec. 31, 2006, and about eleven more have been delivered to date. (Solon, 2007)
The company also claims to have a backlog of 2,500 orders and options with nonrefundable deposits, while at the same time forecasting a demand for 500 of its planes in the very near future, every year. Adam Aircraft, based near Denver, is also one of the manufacturers of Very Light Jets today that has a major stake in the share of aircraft manufacturers today. This company, in the same way as Eclipse, uses small and lightweight jet engines that had been originally created for powering U.S. Air force cruise missiles, in which reliability may have been a strong point, while repeated take offs and landings and long lengthy service may not have been considered at all, because of the simple fact that the missiles needed just one way trips towards their targets. (Solon, 2007)
A700 twin-jet engine manufacturers Williams International of Walled Lake, being aware of this problem, have now started to refine their engines in such a way that it would be possible for the Very Light Jets using them to make repeated take offs and landings without fear. Michigan, and Pratt & Whitney Canada, a division of United Technologies and also another manufacturer, Embraer, of Brazil, is moving decisively into the VLJ and light jet market decisively. George Galanopoulos, the Managing Director of London Executive Aviation, who terms himself “a great believer in VLJs” puts great faith in the VLJ’s that, are being manufactured by Cessna and by Eclipse. He has already placed an order of eight Mustangs because he believes that the aircraft is “definitely a VLJ, built using the VLJ philosophy.” (Solon, 2007) in his opinion, although there is evidence that the future would need more such VLJ’s, so that more and more people could use them to get around quickly, the basic infrastructure would have to be improved immediately, if it were expected to cope with the mass market for the Very Light Jets. (Solon, 2007)
Furthermore, feels George Galanopoulos, the fast growth in the air taxi market would mean that soon enough, there would be a shortage of well trained and experienced pilots and also in maintenance personnel. The industry is much too “laid back” on these issues, he felt. Even if the aviation industry were able to overcome these obstacles and start manufacturing Very Light Jets, there could be one more problem to be faced: crew costs could be exorbitantly high, and airport landing fees even higher. These could become serious drawbacks for the success of the VLJ’s in the near future, and unless these are handled, there can be no real future for Very Light Jets. (Solon, 2007)
Manufactures of VLJ’s have however been very careful indeed to make sure that costs of manufacture are kept low, so that the end cot of the aircraft may not exceed the upper limit of $1.2 to 2.5 million, which may be considered to be less than half or even a fifth of the cost of a standard business jet. Lightweight materials and cutting edge electronics are used throughout in the manufacture so that costs can be cut. Fuel efficiency, an extremely important aspect is also being handled with care, while still making sure that the required speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour would be maintained. One must note that the lower the price tag, the more in demand these Very Light Jets would be, especially with public companies whose several high-flying executives must be prepared to answer to their shareholders who have always held the unanimous opinion that private jet ownership is by far an extravagance that one can do without. (“Light Jets promise air revolution,” 2006)
The issue raised time and again, however, is whether these Light Jets would be able to actually capture a slice of the niche market that is even otherwise considered severely limited. According to Kate Sarsfield, of the Flight International Magazine, “In terms of personal use, the Eclipse 500 is going to take off, people are dying to get their hands on them but as far as air taxis are concerned, I don’t know. Convenience, reliability and safety are the big issues here.” (“Light Jets promise air revolution,” 2006) She went further to say that for those people who were quite accustomed to larger chartered flights and to Lear Jets, the small cabin of the Eclipse 500 may come s an unpleasant surprise. This may in turn make it quite unpopular with this section of people, she felt. (“Light Jets promise air revolution,” 2006)
At times, however, one cannot help but get excited about the very idea of an affordable light jet that would take one on all one’s future travels, within a certain limited budget and within a certain specified time limit, taking off and landing in perfect synchronization, with absolutely no hitches or problems at any time during the flight. Can this actually take place, at any time in the near future? Yes, it is possible, feel these pilots of Palwaukee, who were witness in May 2006 to the world’s first new light jet landing at their airport. Eclipse Aviation had finally arrived with its futuristic Very Light Jet to show off to the public. The flight had a twin engine, and it had been arranged in such a way that it would be able to carry three passengers, a pilot, as well as a co-pilot comfortably within its cabin. This was indeed the future of aviation, felt onlookers who had gathered at the Palwaukee Airport to watch the Very Light Jet land at their airstrip. Experts state again and again that these jets can well prove to be the answer to the increased demand of lighter aviation, as these jets are not only light, but they are also speedy, convenient, and most importantly, completely reliable. Run on jet-powered aviation, these Very Light Jets may attain great speeds within a short time, thereby enabling the passengers to reach their destinations much quicker than ever before. (Moffitt, 2006)
The Sales Manager for Eclipse, Matt Brown, had this to say about their jet traveling across the country to show off this latest technology in the field of aviation, “We’re here to show the airplane to people, and to sell aircraft…Palwaukee is a great example of an individual organization that could see a lot of these planes” (Moffitt, 2006) the crowds that had lined up for hours just to catch a glimpse of this aircraft were not disappointed when they got a chance to climb into the plane to see first hand the inside of the Eclipse 500 Very Light Jet, while some others even offered to put down, immediately, a down payment of $1.3 million for the jet. A pilot who had traveled all the way to Palwaukee just to look at this new flight that was catching everyone’s fancy, said that if there was one aircraft that could offer speed as well as convenience at the same time, then this could be the best thing to have ever happened to aviation, since all pilots desired these two things the most within their duties of manning an aircraft of any kind. (Moffitt, 2006)
If one were to take into consideration the price factor, then too the Very Light Jets would be able to win hands down, felt some pilots and aviation experts, especially those who ran FBO’s. The new jets would cost at an average about $350 an hour in operations, and although it may be true that they may take a while longer to reach its destination, like for example the Eclipse 500 jet that covered the distance from Reagan national airport in Washington DC to the Palwaukee Airport in about two hours and fifteen minutes, a typical commercial flight, like for example a Gulfstream Aircraft would cost approximately ten times that same amount. Brian Kossof felt that “the price point is really attractive. When you consider the range and the cost of fuel to fly it, it makes it a very interesting proposition.” (Moffitt, 2006)
This seems to be the unanimous opinion that pilots and aviation experts seem to hold today; some pilots are even prepared to trade in their older propeller planes in exchange for the new Very Light Jet, since it is not only cost effective, but it also flies at good speeds, and it can be considered extremely reliable because it uses the jet-powered engine that has been traditionally used in aircraft of this kind. Those who can afford it are even prepared to purchase these jets outright, to be used for their own private vacations or personal trips. (Moffitt, 2006)
To conclude, it can be stated that Very Light jets can be expected to grow exponentially in the very near future, and perhaps several more would be used soon enough. The manufacture of these small aircraft could well revolutionize air travel of the future, making an effective combination of efficiency, speed, reliability and cost effectiveness. The average pilot seems to be entranced with this concept, and many pilots have started to show keen interest in not only flying this type of aircraft but also in purchasing one such for their own personal use. Although it may be true that these Very Light Jets may cost at an average much more than the average automobile, it would be possible to reach one’s destination much faster than one would be able to if one were to use an automobile.
Today, many companies, including service providers like FBO’s are busy trying to prepare for the onslaught of these new jet fuel powered aircraft that could well prove to be the best solution to the increased demand for air travel today. As far as the impact on fixed base operators is concerned, it must be stated that the Very Light Jets can only bode well for the industry as well as for the people involved in the FBO’s today. One can of course only wait and see what would happen when these Very Light Jets become commercially viable and their popularity increases.
Associated Press, (2006, Nov) “Very Light Jets poised for Aviation Stardom?” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15591338/
Eichenberger, Jerry a. (1996) “General Aviation Law”
Higdon, Dave. (2007) “FBO Light Jet Review, Special Aviation Features” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.wingsoverkansas.com/features/article.asp?id=50
Infanger, John. F. (2006, Apr) “There’s change in the wind” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.very-light-jet.com/articles/vlj-industry/theres-change-in-the-wind.html
Karlgaard, Rich. (2003, Nov) “The future of personal aviation” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 from http://www.forbes.com/2003/11/20/cz_rk_1120aviation.html
Moffitt, Casey. (2006, Jun) “New Light Jet dazzles Palwaukee Pilots” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.very-light-jet.com/articles/vlj-industry/new-light-jet-dazzles-palwaukee-pilots.html
N.A. (2006, Mar) “Light Jets promise air revolution” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://edition.cnn.com/2006/TRAVEL/03/31/private.jet/index.html
N.A. (n. d.) “Light Flyers” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.burnsmcd.com/portal/page/portal/Internet/Content_Admin/Publications%20Repository/Benchmark_Link_Repository/article-verylightjets.pdf
N.A. (n. d.) “Model Minimum standards for Fixed Base Operators — “FBO.” At http://www.dot.state.tx.us/publications/government/Model_Minimum_Standards_for_Fixed_Based_Operators.doc
N.A. (2006, Sep) “ATA Testimony, the impact of new jet aircraft on national airspace system”
Statement of the Air Transport Association of America, Inc., before the Aviation Sub-committee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Technology concerning the impact of new Jet Aircraft on the National Airspace system. Retrieved 11 November, 2007 at http://www.airlines.org/government/testimony/ATA+Testimony+-+Submitted+Statement+of+ATA+Concerning+the+Impact+of+New+Jet+Aircraft+on+the+National.htm
Solon, Daniel. (2007, May) “Very Light Jets reach takeoff speed” Retrieved 11 November, 2007 from http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/05/21/travel/rbavlight.php
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