Manufacturers and operators are awaiting the results of a Eurocontrol review into whether the adoption of TCAS II would make the operation of VLJs safer than prevailing current arrangements.
George Galanopoulos, md of London Executive Aviation, points out: "Although there is presently no requirement for VLJs to carry TCAS, we specified the optional Traffic Advisory System for all our Citation Mustangs. There is obviously a lot of work in hand at Eurocontrol to determine if TCAS II should be required equipment, and we welcome that - the study is helping to underpin the reputation for safety that is vital to our industry. Should it be decided that TCAS II is required on smaller aircraft we will of course work with Cessna to ensure that our fleet is suitably equipped." He adds: "LEA has always placed particular emphasis upon safety, and this forms part of the passenger experience that has contributed to our growth."
Michel Saunier, ceo of Switzerland's Byjets, says the charter operator is closely monitoring the situation through its participation in Eurocontrol and other forums. "Our VLJ aircraft operations will not start before year-end. We will make sure we implement the proper equipment and also the proper training of our two pilot crews in accordance with the regulations, as procedures and training are also part of the solution to the point you are alluding to."
Blink, which has hired Warren Hazelby as director of engineering from British Airways where he was head of air safety, points out its policy is to always have two experienced commercial pilots on board. "Safety is the focus of everything we do," says Hazelby. "The Blink Cessna Mustangs' equipment include a traffic avoidance system that shows the location and position of nearby aircraft to the two pilots. As the largest owner of Mustangs, with 45 on order, we are actively working with Cessna and Eurocontrol to guarantee the high safety standards we pride ourselves on."
He adds: "All Blink captains have long and successful careers in commercial aviation. Our senior flight operations team were the most senior training captains on the Boeing 747, 767 and 777 at BA." Blink, he says, has developed stringent standard operating procedures with jets maintained by Cessna engineers at its authorised service centres. Blink, which boasts a fleet with an average age of under one year, has partnered with FlightSafety International. "We have taken the best-in-class training methods from the most respected commercial airlines and adapted them to establish a pilot training regime unsurpassed in business aviation," says Hazelby.
He says each Blink aircraft has the latest traffic and collision avoidance systems, ground proximity warning system and safe runway technology. Blink aircraft will be operated by TAG Aviation (UK). "TAG has an unblemished safety record from over 40 years of operating experience in both Europe and the U.S.," says Hazelby.
Eurocontrol confirms it expects significant numbers of VLJs to start operations in European airspace in the next few years. "Currently, these aircraft will not be required to carry and operate TCAS II since they are below the 5,700 kg threshold for installation of an ACAS II." TCAS is an implementation of the Airborne Collision Avoidance System (ACAS). Eurocontrol points out that VLJ flight profiles mean that they will be operating in the same airspace as mainstream commercial and business aviation. "At the same time, certain aspects of their performance mean that there will be new challenges for ATC to handle these aircraft while maintaining current capacity," it said in a statement to EBAN. "Consequently, there is a need to assess the effect of forthcoming VLJ operations upon the performance of the ACAS safety net." There is a major ACAS two phase safety study, named the AVAL project, to analysis the safety implications if VLJs are not equipped with ACAS II, and conversely, the potential safety benefit if VLJs are equipped with ACAS II.
Phase 1 is now complete and its report, Eurocontrol says, shows that it is likely that forthcoming VLJ operations will affect the safety performance of ACAS II. Phase 2, currently starting up, will be a comprehensive safety analysis to quantify the ACAS II safety performance implications from VLJs operations, both for the airspace and for individual aircraft. The study will be completed in mid-2009. Eurocontrol says: "This ACAS safety analysis study will provide the safety data to support a review of the ACAS policy requirements."
Firms working with Eurocontrol include Taxijet, Blink, Jetbirds, Byjets, KLM, Dayjet and a number of consultancy companies that are seeking advice for undisclosed clients. Cessna, Embraer and Eclipse are participating in the VLJ Integration Platform meetings. "Other manufacturers will be invited to the future meetings but these three are the only ones that currently have VLJs produced and flying and also have orders announced for the European market," Eurocontrol says.