Update: Executive Jet’s evaluation of airports across the U.S.
By John Boyce, Contributing Editor
AUSTIN, TX — Are you ready for some BBJ? That’s the question Executive Jet/NetJets has been asking the nation’s airports and FBOs for close to two years in an effort to determine if the airports, particularly on the general aviation side, are prepared to accept and handle the Boeing Business Jet.
According to Patricia York, director of
communications for BBJ in Seattle, there are currently 26 BBJs in service
around the world "that we’re not having any problems with"
at airports. However, none is operated in the Executive Jet (EJ) fractional
ownership program, as will be the case in the spring of this year.
Although the BBJ is similar in dimensions to the Boeing 737-700 commercial jetliner, it is a new, large corporate aircraft and, as such, brings with it weight bearing and equipment needs and procedures that may exceed what many FBOs currently have in place.
As befits a 19-passenger aircraft that has a lounge, a conference dining area, bedrooms, a private office, multiple lavatories, and a fuel capacity of 72,000 pounds, ground service requirements are unique — from power carts, to fueling, to lav carts, to deicing, to tug and towbar capacity, and on.
Executive Jet did not want to take anything for granted in any of these areas so it set about qualifying airports and FBOs as to their readiness for the aircraft, operationally and service-wise.
"We wanted to set up a template as to how we were going to qualify airports," says Brad Sunnucks, who along with fellow senior airport analyst and fleet support supervisor Allan Ball has been gathering the data on capabilities of airports and FBOs to handle such an aircraft.
Adds Ball, "The biggest thing we tried to establish were what the airport minimums were and then what the ground service equipment minimums were ... We used a lot of Boeing specifications to come up with the ground operations and then we came up with items that we considered to be operational items such as wingwalkers, security issues, that sort of thing."
For Marc Schoen, manager of airport technology at Boeing, "the problems with BBJ and airports are simply that there are many airports that operators or companies that operate the airplane are going to want to go to where this will be a very large airplane for that particular airport. That’s the reason each airport needs to be studied to evaluate pavement strength, parking area acceptability, and maneuvering areas on the runway to be sure it can maneuver adequately.
"It’s the same thing as buying a big car for the same old garage; you want to be sure that you can get it from the street onto the driveway and into the garage."
As of February 2001 EJ had done site evaluations on "probably 135 different airports" in the U.S. and, Ball says, their preparedness for an aircraft such as the BBJ is "pretty good."
"Most have demonstrated the ability to handle private aircraft of that size — 727, 737, even 757. It’s a matter of trying to get them to verbalize what they do with those aircraft; things like wingwalkers, advance notification, do we need a permit to fly the aircraft in. It’s trying to find that information up front for us as a company.’’
Lee Monson, vice president of the BBJ program, is comfortable that the infrastructure deficiencies that may exist at general aviation airports are quickly disappearing. "The infrastructure is quickly catching up," he says, "and we feel comfortable that most folks out there (FBOs) like to see the airplane because it has the potential of buying a lot of gas."
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