Aircraft shipments continue slide – AOPA

Piper Aircraft CEO and GAMA Chairman Simon Caldecott read a litany of decline that affected nearly every market segment to varying degrees, and noted that while shipments fell, revenue actually increased for some segments, and for several companies. Piper, according to GAMA’s spreadsheets, shipped 8 percent fewer airplanes (127, compared to 138 in 2015), but collected 26.8 percent more revenue thanks to a shift from lower-end to higher-priced models. Piper’s M Class models collectively account for nearly half of total aircraft shipped in 2016.

The shift to selling fewer aircraft with higher prices was reflected in many bottom lines, and Caldecott said the decline in shipments is therefore “not total bad news,” and that fixed-wing piston aircraft revenue was up by about 9 percent overall, despite the 4.9-percent decline in shipments.

Caldecott said there was “good news” elsewhere in the data, including the 3.4-percent increase in turboprop shipments. Fewer new models hit the market in 2016, compared to 2015, and Caldecott expects 2017 and 2018 will see more new models arrive, particularly as regulators in the United States and overseas reform the certification process. Caldecott said the FAA Part 23 changes will reduce the cost and time required to bring new products to market, and his own company is planning to take advantage once the new rule takes effect in August. That, Caldecott  said, “certainly will be good news for our business.”

“We’re planning a series of projects, we’re going to work them under the new regulations so they can get to the market quicker,” Caldecott said, predicting the first would arrive later this year or early next year. Caldecott said the company will look to make new, safety enhancing technology available to the existing fleet as well, through retrofits of many of the same systems being built into production aircraft.

GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce echoed the sentiment, noting that automation and related technologies being rapidly adopted across many sectors of transportation will find a home in legacy aircraft thanks to the coming changes that will reduce the cost and complexity of adapting modern tools to older aircraft.

“I think this is a springboard for great things to come,” Bunce said.

He also hailed the implementation of BasicMed, though he said he had doubts whether that would alone reverse the decline in the pilot population.

“Where I really see the benefit of third class medical (reform), is we are going to have a much more educated group of pilots,” Bunce said. “Having that recurring training program, and I really applaud our operator, sister associations for putting this in place, because that is going to help save lives.”

Bunce said AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association will be counted on, and collaborated with, as efforts continue to reverse the decline in active, certificated pilots. He said more automated airplanes, with machines assisting human pilots, could contribute to that.

“If you really think about it,” Bunce said, “if, all of a sudden, using technology, aircraft can do things that we used to have to have skill to do before, you’re going to attract young people. No question that young people who look at older aircraft … if it’s got a blank computer screen that looks like a computer in front of them, they get excited. It may not even be turned on.”

There is also, Bunce said, supply and demand, and pilot wages are increasing as air carriers have found it harder to find pilots.

Still, much of the good news was speculative, expectations not yet realized, and while many airplane makers increased revenue despite declining shipments, the helicopter sector suffered on both fronts.

Piston helicopter shipments were down 19.7 percent, and turbine helicopter shipments dropped 15.9 percent, with a 23-percent (combined) decline in helicopter revenue. Caldecott said energy cost fluctuations do much to drive or dampen the turbine rotorcraft market.  

Cessna Aircraft, a division of Textron Aviation, saw Skyhawk sales slip sharply, from 143 sold in 2015 to 100 in 2016, though Cessna 182T Skylane shipments increased from 33 to 50, as the company got past a diesel engine debacle that halted Skylane deliveries for months; Cessna had better luck with jets, shipping 178 Citations (all models) compared to 166 in 2015.

Honda Aircraft enjoyed the largest year-over-year increases in the world, at least on a percentage basis, ramping up HondaJet production from 2 in 2015 to 23 in 2016, with billing reported at $4.5 million each.

Cirrus Aircraft announced 2016 was a record year for the Minnesota company. In addition to the first three copies of the new SF50 Vision Jet, the company parachuted 320 SR models to customers in 2016, a 6.3-percent increase that corresponded to a 10-percent increase in revenue.

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., meanwhile suffered mightily from a shift in the jet market from heavy to light jets. Sales of the Gulfstream 450, 550, 650, and 650ER models slipped from 120 to 88 aircraft, with shipments overall down 25 percent, explaining the 24-percent overall decline in revenue. Gulfstream remains the business jet market leader, however, with $6.2 billion in total revenue in 2016, far ahead of its rivals.

Despite some bright spots, the overall pattern has been dreary for many years, and year-over-year increases modest at best.

“I believe that what we’re seeing today is the norm,” Caldecott said. If one discards certain years with more new model introductions than usual, 2016 fits a longstanding trend. Caldecott said many factors drive the market, and despite the 16-percent decline in business jet revenue, the number is still twice what it was in 2003; small shifts in the number of high-end jets sold have a huge effect on the percentages.

GAMA, which generally advocates for certificated aircraft, doesn’t release numbers on most experimental and light sport aircraft. However, FAA data shows both segments continue to improve. The FAA’s annual forecast shows the total certificated piston-engine fleet decreased by about 3.5 percent over the last four years, while the number of registered experimental aircraft increased by almost 9 percent and LSA increased slightly over the previous five years. The FAA’s forecast calls for a .7-percent decline in piston registrations over the next decade, and a .8-percent increase in experimental aircraft registrations. LSA registrations are expected to increase by more than 5 percent over the same period.

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John H. DeBolt

John H. DeBolt, 86, of Lancaster passed away on February 18, 2017. Born in Lancaster, he was the son of the late Russell and Mary DeBolt.

John proudly served in the U.S. Army as an airplane mechanic. He was later employed and retired from Ford New Hollard after 30 years as a Mechanical Drafter. He enjoyed fishing, building, and flying model airplanes and sudoko.

He is survived by his son, David A. DeBolt of Lancaster. Burial will be private at Riverview Burial Park, Lancaster, PA 17602.

To send the family online condolences, please visit

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How covering airlines has altered the way I fly

Not so long ago, I had a conversation with my friend Matt that we both thought was really funny.

What if, we imagined, we walked into a bar one day and heard two people at nearby stools engaged in an animated debate over who was more important: Orville Wright or Wilbur Wright?

As we imagined it, this argument would be no contest of drunken fools. Rather, the debaters would have their facts straight, offering points and counterpoints on the relative merits of each Wright brother. Though the Wrights are typically joined at the hip in history (in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most important people of the 20th century, Orville and Wilbur formed one entry), these debaters would reject that notion categorically.

In the end, according to the scenario Matt and I laid out, the disagreement wouldn’t be settled. Such arguments rarely are, especially when alcohol is being consumed. But privileged bystanders would know a lot more about each of the Wrights.

In the year that has passed since we dreamed up that encounter, my work as the aviation editor at Travel Weekly has clued me into many things about flying and airlines, among them that just last year Simon Schuster published “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough, which provides just the type of details Matt and I imagined these two brilliant, if slightly buzzed, barflies debating. It turns out that Wilbur was the diligent and responsible brother, while Orville was the dreamer and ideas man. Together, they made history.

More frequent musings on the advent of aviation are just one example of how some of my most basic thought processes have changed in the 16 or so months since I began covering the airline industry. Prior to that time, I had no particular expertise on matters of flying. Sure, I traveled often. I always have, for leisure primarily, and more recently for work. So I knew the basics of the airline industry. What I had never done was to think about the details.

Now I do. All the time. Often to the detriment of people around me.

For example, it used to be that when a plane flew overhead, I’d look up, give it a quick glance, then return to whatever I was doing. Now when I see a plane darting across the sky, I find myself making a desperate attempt to identify the airline. Worse than that, I often ask whomever I happen to be with to do the same.

Failure is usually the result. It seems carriers don’t paint their livery on the bottom of the craft.

Here’s another new quirk of mine: Seeing a plane heading off to parts unknown makes me want to guess where it’s going. With this task being more futile than guessing the airline, I usually refrain. But the very question often gets me thinking big picture, and I find myself contemplating the way air travel impacts all our lives. Sometimes I’ll even make a sarcastic comment to that effect. “If this aviation industry ever really takes off, it will change the world someday,” I like to say. Responses to this are inevitably dismissive, insulting or both.

Of course, my newfound attention to aviation sometimes takes a useful bent as well. Now that I cover commercial carriers, I find myself asking anyone who tells me of travel plans which airline they chose. If someone talks about a recent trip, I ask the same question, then ask how the flight went.

When I think of major cities now, the airline that hubs there is often as prominent a thought to me as the actual distinctions for which those cities are known. I suppose I always did that with Atlanta and Dallas, associating them with Delta and American, respectively, because as a relatively frequent flyer who lived for more than two decades in Louisville, Ky., changeovers in Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth were routine. But now when I hear of Newark I think of United, for example. And when Detroit comes up, Delta is on my list of associations just below automobiles, urban decay and the fine, suburban Jewish delis in which I have so often eaten while there.

Nothing, though, has changed more for me than the flying experience itself. From the moment I enter an airport now, I find myself analyzing and scrutinizing almost everything. In the security line, I routinely compare the TSA PreCheck queue to the standard line to see if the PreCheck customers are getting their money’s worth.

Similarly, when I look at the crowds at a busy checkpoint, I find myself thinking about what security analysts have told me — namely, that such choke points are rich targets for terrorists and other bad actors.

Meanwhile, if I experience something out of the ordinary during my trip through an airport, I can’t let it drop. For example, last May, as long security lines were making national headlines, I passed through the regular TSA screening line at Miami Airport without having to take off my shoes or remove my laptop from my bag. Professionally curious, I found myself emailing the TSA the next day to understand why. It turned out there was a bomb-sniffing dog deployed to that checkpoint, which eliminated the need for a shoe or laptop check.

In flight, my former routine of walking aboard, paying attention to almost nothing, then waiting impatiently for the trip to end, has also been turned upside down since I became an airline reporter. I used to basically think of all coach aircraft seats as similarly uncomfortable. Now, armed with knowledge about the different interior configurations employed by various carriers, I observe seat width, the type of materials the seats are made from and the distance between rows. Flying on JetBlue, I think about those extra few inches of legroom they like to talk about and take note of how much comfort I believe those inches add.

Once seated, my new routine is to quickly pull out the seat-pocket information sheet to learn what model aircraft I’m on. Is this an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737? And if it’s a 737, is it a 600, a 700, an 800 or a 900ER? And how can I tell the difference anyway?

Next, I pay attention to the WiFi, something I never cared about before, since I always welcomed flight time as a reprieve from the connected world. But I don’t just pay attention to whether the plane has WiFi; I also look at who the provider is and use that information to discern whether this is an air-to-ground or satellite-based system. Hell, the person next to me might just ask.

Finally, once in the air, it’s the food service that I pay most attention to. Are the customers enjoying the Illy premium coffee United just sent me a press release about? Has JetBlue actually added the Ocean Spray Craisins it so proudly raved about to its snack options?

On a trip from Miami to Houston last April, having such minutia stored in my head actually worked to my advantage. I knew that United had just brought back free snacks after years of hiatus. But no snacks were being served on my flight. When I asked the flight attendant why, he apologetically explained that there had been a mix-up. Snacks should have been available.

To make up for it, he came back with two cans of Pringles that happened to have been in the galley. At the sight of the chips, I could feel my arteries lashing out at me. But my spirits? Like the airplane, they were soaring.

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Losing bidder for new search-and-rescue aircraft takes Canadian government to court

The group of companies that lost the competition for Canada’s new search-and-rescue aircraft is going to court to try to overturn the contract.

Procurement Minister Judy Foote and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced on Dec. 8 that the government had selected the Airbus C295W aircraft as its new fixed-wing search-and-rescue (FWSAR) aircraft. The RCAF will receive 16 C295Ws.

But the losing bidder in the competition, a group called Team Spartan, wants the contract with Airbus, already signed, to be overturned.

An application for judicial review has been filed in the Federal Court, Team Spartan said in a Feb. 23 news release.

“Team Spartan’s main allegation is that the selected airplane is unfit to safely perform certain key Search and Rescue tasks and missions required by Canada and should have been, therefore, disqualified,” it said in the release.

Team Spartan, led by the Italian aerospace firm Leonardo, was offering Canada its C-27J aircraft. The group wants the court to issue “an order requesting that Canada cancel the contract with Airbus and award same to Leonardo.”

There are at least 165 C-295s flying with 20 countries or operators around the world.

Airbus Defence and Space is teamed with St. John’s-based Provincial Aerospace, Pratt Whitney Canada, based in Longueuil, Que., CAE of Montreal, and Burlington, Ont.’s L-3 WESCAM to provide the search and rescue aircraft to Canada.

The new planes will replace the RCAF’s 40-year-old Buffalo aircraft and older-model C-130s currently assigned to search-and-rescue duties.

The federal government has not yet responded to Team Spartan’s claims.

The contract to Airbus was valued at $2.4 billion, which includes delivery of the aircraft, set-up of support systems including a training centre, initial spare parts, tools, support and test equipment. It also includes the first five years of maintenance and support of the aircraft. The contract could eventually be worth $4.7 billion to Airbus by 2043 if the Canadian government picks up all options for maintenance and support.

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Pilot for Life: Col. Robert Thacker Celebrates 99th Birthday in San Clemente

By Eric Heinz

Few people in the military have accomplished what Col. Robert Thacker has.

The former airman flew a B-17 bomber when Pearl Harbor was under attack, and he flew bombers in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. He was also involved in the Korean War.

On Feb. 18, he turned 99 years old and celebrated the milestone at Talega Golf Club in San Clemente.

“I’m 99 because of modern medicine, no question about it,” Thacker said. “I’ve had a beautiful wife for 71 years, but we lost her; she was 91. I live alone, do my own trucking, and life is pretty good.”

Thacker said he was drawn to the pilot’s life by aviators Charles Lindbergh, the Wright brothers and Chuck Yeager. He said he started making model airplanes when he was 8 years old.

“Next to real airplanes, model airplanes are the best,” Thacker said. “The human male likes to build things, and he likes to build things that will work. And when he makes things, he wants to make things even better, and on the final effort, he wants perfection.”

Col. Robert Thacker stands next to a model airplane of an F-100 bomber, a replica of the plane he flew during wartime. Thacker spent 31 years in the U.S. Air Force and commanded bomber planes in World War II. On Saturday, Feb. 18, he turned 99. Photo: Eric Heinz

Thacker flew in the U.S. Air Force for more than 31 years.

“It’s wonderful when I’ve got (younger people) to help me out,” Thacker said “I have 122 of my friends here. It’s the help I’ve gotten over my life. It’s unbelievable that I could get that many people here.”

Thacker is sharp-witted and often comes up with off-the-cuff comments. During the party, he answered questions with witty replies that made everyone in earshot laugh.

“When I’m 99 years old, I can say anything I want, and the women just love it,” Thacker said.
Vic Sebring, a resident in San Clemente, said he met Thacker about 20 years ago when he was jogging near his home. Sebring said he and the colonel struck a chord with each other, sharing a mutual interest in aviation.

“One of the fun things I get to do is take him to these aviation shows and conventions,” Sebring said. “For me, the best part of them is sitting in the car and getting to pick his brain about flying.”

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The Radio Control Airplane Airshow flies into Yuma.

YUMA, Ariz. – The 11th annual radio control model airplane airshow flies its way into Yuma this Saturday. The show that is sponsored by the Yuma Aero modelers club is expected to have a large turnout. The airshow will be held at the Contreras field, located off Hwy 95. Fliers from all across the state will come and show off their airplane models. The Yuma aero modeler group has about 130 members and is affiliated with the academy of model aero-nautics. The club promotes model aircraft activities such as flying and building model aircrafts, as well as teaching new members how to fly. Promotion coordinator of the show, Russ Verbael, says this show will feature an array of different aircraft models.

“There will be a full array, from gliders to trainers and Sunday fliers, all the way up to the really exotic airplanes that can just about touch their tail with the propeller. We’re going to have a couple of Jets this year; Just lots of really unusual airplanes. “  

Now these aircraft can range in price from the low hundreds to over a thousand dollars. Drones will also make an appearance at the show. The event starts at 10 am and ends at 2pm on Saturday. There will be food offered for purchase and parking is just five dollars. Verbael says, be prepared to see some of the finest radio control model airplanes flying in the desert southwest at the show. For more information you can head to their website.

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