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All the single fliers
The rising popularity in one-pilot aircraft is creating some operational challenges for staff on the ground, explains industry analyst Robert Mark
While the proliferation of small business jets over the past decade isn’t exactly breaking news to aviation aficionados, the way aircraft like the Cessna CJ series, the One Aviation Eclipse (left) and the Embraer Phenoms are being operated, has added a new operational twist that sometimes goes completely unnoticed.
Each of these aircraft can be flown, from take-off to landing, by just one pilot. Many line crews are still surprised when the whine of the turbines dies and just one person climbs out of the airplane. Of course, most single-engine turboprop aircraft have been operating for years with only one pilot.
Aircraft builders have realized over the past decade what small aircraft owners have known for much longer: that until this host of small jets and turboprops appeared, the world’s entrepreneurs and small- to mid-sized business owners – men and women who already possessed a pilot certificate – had almost no aircraft to move up to when they tired of their single-engine piston airplanes. These light turboprops and jets have quickly evolved into the perfect move-up machine for pilots of the Cirrus SR-22s, Beechcraft Bonanzas, Piper Saratogas or Cessna 210s.
Certainly the speed of these new turbine aircraft is a major deciding factor for many pilots looking to upgrade, but there are other reasons. One reason some pilots are willing to spend the extra cash needed to purchase a jet or turboprop that they’re willing to fly alone is safety. Turbine engines have evolved into highly reliable powerplants thanks to the engine designs themselves and the technology that controls them called a full authority digital engine (or electronics) control (FADEC).
Blend these technologies together into a lightweight yet powerful engine and the result is a powerplant that seldom fails in anywhere close to the numbers of piston engines. Turbine engines are so simple to operate today that starting one requires little more knowledge of engine operation than the ability to push the start button.
Throttle usage in piston aircraft can be demanding at high altitudes, but turbines easily transition from full throttle to idle power in a fraction of a second without so much as a worry, making the need for another set of eyes in the cockpit a smaller concern.
The pilots of this popular category of aircraft have also found they worry much less about fuel than when they flew their single-engine piston airplanes. While 100-octane fuel is becoming more scarce at airports around the world, Jet-A is available everywhere and can be purchased for much less per gallon.
What makes this new class of single-pilot turbine aircraft work well too, is the tight integration of all cockpit electronics into a package that’s easily accessed from the left seat.
Just like a modern airliner, single-engine turbines come standard with sophisticated autopilots and even autothrottle systems that easily take the place of a second pilot.
But what affect will these crew changes mean for the airport personnel on the receiving end of one airplane and one pilot? Airport line service staff at FBOs and business airport can rest a bit easier because none of these pilots are likely to ask where the self-service jet-fuel pumps are located. By the time pilots reach turbine operator status, they expect to be treated like the pilots showing up in a Gulfstream or a Falcon. Realize though, that some of these pilots may not even realize they do need help, often with baggage and catering for starters.
Ground staff would do well to note ‘one pilot’ on the parking ticket to alert everyone in the service chain to be better prepared when departure time draws near. When the pilot and passengers arrive, be ready with a luggage cart or two and ask how they can help the pilot manage the catering for instance.
Finally, keep in mind that one pilot can become mighty busy around departure time, especially if the weather’s iffy. That means small safety items, often checked by the second pilot, might get missed. Don’t be shy about mentioning a door latch that you see is undone, or an obstacle near the end of the ramp that could go unnoticed by an infrequent visitor. They’ll remember you for it. And that’s the goal for FBOs, isn’t it – repeat customers.
About the author
Robert Mark is an Air ransport rated business aviation pilot and certified flight instructor from Chicago. He currently flies aircraft like the Gulfstream G550 and writes about the industry on his decade-old blog at Jetwhine.com. Mark also serves as an on-camera aviation news analyst for Fox News, CNN and NBC television in the USA and for the BBC in London.
November 11, 2015