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Me & My Aircraft: Competition spurs on the quest for bigger, better and longer range aircraft
The super midsize jet charter sector has suffered in the global recession and that may give extra impetus to those manufacturers focusing on increasing size and range.

The super midsize jet charter sector has suffered in the global recession and that may give extra impetus to those manufacturers focusing on increasing size and range.

Gainjet ceo Ramsey Shaban says: "We have found the super midsize and midsize market have fared the worst in the credit crises. Compared to 2007, we have seen utilisation in these sectors drop by roughly 70 per cent."

The company, however, reports strong demand for its larger aircraft including a refurbished Boeing 757 which can seat up to 78 people in luxury (EBAN October 9, 2009).

But Shaban says the super midsize category's recent problems were compounded by "the influx of new aircraft from producers of this size and the drop in demand." He adds: "Major operators have had to ground or offer to sell surplus aircraft. But, on the other hand, we still see bargain hunters taking advantage of the drop in aircraft prices and who are out for good deals."

Gainjet likes the Gulfstream Galaxy. Shaban points out: "Galaxy became a G-200 after SN 57, when Gulfstream bought the line. We currently operate six G-200s and have managed eight since 2007. Gulfstream implemented many modifications on the original Galaxy and the new G-200 has become a much more reliable aeroplane in comparison to the earlier Galaxy." He says Gulfstream support is "excellent throughout" and the G-200 "is very good value for money compared to similar performing aeroplanes."

Despite the global economic downturn, he adds, Gainjet is continuing its policy of cautious growth and is bringing two new aircraft, a Falcon 2000LX and a G-450, into service. "We are seeing the market begin its slow climb back from the recession," Shaban says.

The decision by an owner served by MENA Aerospace Enterprises to acquire a Legacy 600 highlights what could be a growing preference for aircraft with larger cabins. The Legacy 600 can be configured for 13 passengers whereas the traditional niche that has evolved in the sector is for eight or nine passengers travelling around 3,000 nm speedily and cost-effectively in the comfort of a stand-up cabin.

The MENA subsidiary, MAE Aircraft Management based in Muharraq, Bahrain, will manage and operate the Legacy 600 in addition to another super mid, a Challenger 300 it registered earlier this year after gaining its AOC. MENA Aerospace, which has been established in Bahrain since 2004 and underwent a re-branding in 2007, is one of many potential corporate super mid clients in the Middle East that are emerging for manufacturers including Cessna, Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer and Hawker Beechcraft.

The group is 100% Bahraini owned, employs more than 40 people and, despite the current drop in global charter demand for a super mid sector squeezed by the recession, its fleet is likely to grow along with its expansion of activities.

MENA and the CAF Aviation Group are establishing a Bahrain joint venture to develop a corporate aircraft and vip airliner interiors refurbishment and installation workshop. Ralph Eisenschmid, MENA group coo, says it will also carry out training, provide AOG and MRP services and establish an upholstery shop for new or modification requirements, retro-fitting, re-upholstering and re-certifying of aircraft seats and divans. "The envisioned capabilities would encompass vip airliners and business jets," he adds. Marc St-Hilaire, CAF Aviation president, said: "The regional demand for these services is very strong."

Competition between manufact-urers including Cessna, Bombardier, Dassault and Hawker Beechcraft in the super mid sector for both corporate and private clients is fierce and all are seeking to improve and upgrade their products.

However, the sector has been squeezed by the global economic recession with many commentators suggesting that the smaller jets, providing cost advantages for cash-strapped corporate budgets, and the larger jets, enjoying the support of high net worth individuals, have weathered the global economic crisis better.

Majestic Executive Aviation president Philipp Zuercher says: "We believe the G-200 is a great aircraft, especially because of the range and cabin layout. It has a greater range than the Challenger 300, which is probably the most popular aircraft on the charter market in this segment. The cabin is slightly smaller, but still very comfortable and the nine-seat configuration is ideal and gives all passengers enough space even when at full load."

Zuercher says the company has had a good experience with regard to maintenance. "The aircraft is reliable and also the feedback from our flight crew is very positive. The price of the aircraft and the low operating cost make the G-200 a very attractive product," he adds.

George Galanopoulos, md of London Executive Aviation (LEA), is in a good position to compare the merits of the Challenger 300 and Legacy 600.

"They complement each other in our fleet," he says. "The Challenger 300 fits an important and popular niche with our customers, just beneath the Legacy in terms of size."

LEA operates two Challenger 300s. "I'd describe the availability of spare parts as 'average'. Parts ordinarily have to come from Canada, which takes two to three days. Equally, as the aircraft has only been in operation for three years in the UK, the availability of service centres with experience on the type is limited.

"Initially," Galanopoulos says, "we had a series of dispatch problems with the Challenger 300. The aircraft is high-tech and, in such cases, electronic issues often tend to appear. However, after three years of operation, the aircraft has settled now and become more reliable."

He adds: "We have found the aircraft to be good value for money, with good cabin space. Our Challenger 300s are popular with charter clients. If we were looking for improvements, then obviously an increase in range would be beneficial, but that's what the Challenger 605 is for!"

LEA also operates four Legacy 600s. Galanopoulos says: "The availability of spare parts is excellent. Embraer has depots in Paris and at several UK airports, as many of the Legacy 600 parts are common with the Embraer ERJ 135/145 regional jets flown by commercial airlines."

He adds: "Our experience of maintenance support for the Legacy 600 has also been very good. We use the aircraft maintenance division of Inflite, which has years of experience working with the Embraer ERJ 145 family for airlines. This arrangement also means that the cost is reasonable compared to the cost of maintaining many executive jets, as the aircraft is being serviced by an airline MRO organisation.

"We have only missed one trip in four years with our Legacy 600s, so the dispatch rate is excellent. And as well as being a very reliable aircraft, the Legacy 600 is good value, with the best cabin space for the money."

As with the Challenger 300, LEA would ideally like to see greater range on the Legacy 600. But again, Galanopoulos points out: "Embraer has already addressed this issue really with the new Legacy 650, which will have transatlantic range."

John Keeble of Twinjet Aircraft Sales Ltd says the Legacy 600 has excellent product support but some defects, such as the WC door, persist. He says he is very satisfied with the "very reliable" dispatch rate and the operating capability and value. "It is a good charter aeroplane, having 12 to 13 seats," he says.

Tyrolean Jet Service (TJS) is well-placed to compete in the larger cabin super mid category. Its Fairchild Dornier Envoy 3 is configured for 14 passengers and boasts a range up to 1,649 nm. Md Martin Lener says TJS also has a 328-300 in a flexible 19 or 26 or 29 triple layout system. Another 328-300 is configured in 10 vvip layout and a 328-300XR offers both a 16 and a 31 corporate layout.

Lener says: "I am now satisfied with the maintenance support which became reliable with 328 support after difficult times when Fairchild Dornier became insolvent."

He is "very satisfied" with the 'made in Germany dispatch reliability', operating capability and value. "It is very easy to approach short landing fields and there is a great deal of aircraft for the money," Lener adds. "The best aspects are the very reliable concept, flexible layouts and glass cockpit. The worst thing is that manufacture has ceased and design modification - a '428' - will never be available."

Lener says a satcom system is the most desirable upgrade. The aircraft's flexibility and passenger capacity are strong selling points. Two aircraft are utilised for the Swarovski corporate flight department and for charters. The 328J XR is currently being operated for a corporate shuttle as well as for individual charters. A private registered 328 is managed for a corporate owner and is not chartered.

Modern super mid jets might have a much longer range but some would envy the passenger capability of the 328.

It is a point also made by Icejet whose md Jon Ingi Jonsson says: "Our Dornier 328 aircraft can carry a large group in comfort with a generous 750 kg cargo hold with enough space for all their luggage, ski gear or golf clubs. At a more cost effective price than a Gulfstream IV or V, Falcon or Challenger 600 series it is ideal for the short-haul leisure market and, with its short take-off performance capability, it can land at airports such as London City, Oxford and Lugano."

Two of Icejet's Dornier 328 jets are fitted with long range fuel tanks, enabling a 2,000 nm range, making direct sectors such as London-Moscow and London-Marrakech possible.

Icejet, which is headquartered in Reykjavik, has two Dornier 328s based at London Oxford, one in a 14-seat luxury configuration and one in a 19-seat corporate shuttle layout. It has another vip 14-seater positioned in Le Bourget, Paris, and a fourth of the type is now operating out of a new base in north Italy. Jonsson says: "The 328 in a 14-seat layout is ideal for Italy and its surrounding region and operating on one to three hour sectors represents excellent value for money. We hope to be in demand in the southern Mediterranean region with this aircraft next summer."

He adds: "After what has been a very difficult year we are starting to see some green shoots in the charter market - especially in regard to music tours and road shows, which our spacious 328 aircraft are very popular for."

From the beginning of July through to 24 September Icejet dedicated its 19-seater to the Leonard Cohen World Tour which took in cities such as Nantes, Paris, Lisbon, Venice, Istanbul, Palma, Vigo and Leon in Spain, Gerona, Monte Carlo, Cologne, Norde and Langesund in Norway, Dublin, Belfast and Tel Aviv. In the UK the aircraft flew into Farnborough and Liverpool airports.

The tour was organised by Sound Moves of New Zealand and arranged through UK charter broker Classic Aviation Services. "This is the second occasion we have used Icejet for a Leonard Cohen tour and it went extremely smoothly. Their aircraft are always exceptionally well presented. The crew are very friendly and professional," says md Philip Thompsett.

But bigger cabins that attract such business are only one item on the improvements agenda modern super mid manufacturers. The competition in the super mid sector means that new models and improvements are always in the pipeline with Cessna, for instance, introducing elliptical winglets for the Sovereign.

Manufacturers will be under increasing pressure as the super mid sector recovers to increase the range, lower the operating costs and provide bigger cabins to attract bookings from larger groups of clients.

Rockwell Collins has announced five new updates to its Pro Line 21 avionics retrofit package for Dassault Falcon 50 aircraft. It says new features, aimed at enhancing situational awareness and meeting future airspace requirements include enhanced vision system (EVS) camera footage to increase safety during night or poor visibility conditions and expanded XM Satellite weather capabilities.

And Dassault itself has announced the development of a new Supplemental Type Certificate for Falcon 2000 and 2000EX operators that will allow an upgrade to a set of four flat panel LCD displays. "This STC will benefit operators by bringing a new suite of features that substantially increase situational awareness and safety, with comparatively little downtime," said Geoff Chick, director of service engineering. "In addition, it will help increase the resale value of the aircraft."

The STC has the potential to create a paperless cockpit by offering E-Charts, in combination with a Jeppesen data subscription, moving maps and XM satellite weather, he adds.

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