In January 2016, Belgium’s ASL and partner company Smartair introduced EMBRAER Legacy 450 OO-NEY as the first of its type registered in Europe and the first offered for charter anywhere in the world.
Since then, ASL’s Safety Manager and Deputy Flight Operations Manager Maxime Wauters, has been instrumental not only in the aircraft’s success, but in clearing it for operations into two challenging airports, under his brief as pilot responsible for authorisation.
Just weeks after its delivery, Wauters led an effort to prove the jet’s capability into La Mole-St Tropez, where a combination of short runway, terrain and unfavourable winds makes for demanding flying. Working closely with France’s direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC, Directorate General for Civil Aviation) and EMBRAER, Wauters gained authorisation for regular flights into and out of La Mole, instantly making the Legacy 450 the largest aircraft capable of using the airport’s 1,032m of available runway length.
For the jet’s owner the authorisation meant direct flights to his nearby home – the Legacy 450 replaced a Citation XLS+ that lacked the airfield performance necessary for La Mole, necessitating an hour-long drive from Cannes or Toulon. For ASL’s charter customers it meant the opening of a unique opportunity to land close to St Tropez and the jet remained at La Mole for the summer season.
Now ASL offers the possibility of flying from London City direct to La Mole, after Wauters and his colleagues gained authorisation to fly into the UK airport. An intensive day of classroom and sim learning with FlightSafety International in St Louis, demonstrated the Legacy 450’s ability to negotiate the 5.5° steep slope approach into London City. It also set an interesting precedent in authorising a capability via the simulator – at the time of writing, the Legacy 450 had yet to visit City, although Flexjet first flew the larger Legacy 500 into the airport in May last year.
Unlike La Mole, London City obliged EMBRAER to modify the aircraft, albeit primarily through software updates. The only physical change placed a single new button in a cockpit console.
Maxime Wauters’s previous experience was mostly on the Citation 560XL and XLS, with a little time on the CJ1, but he is emphatically a Legacy 450 enthusiast. For passengers he says the aircraft’s cabin is incredibly quiet, a Legacy quality the crew notice too: “Modern turbofan engines are more than 60% quieter than older jet engines, but they’re still quite loud. Their sound combines with the airflow generated by the aircraft’s speed to produce the noise we hear in the cabin and cockpit. For our clients, quietness is a very important reason for using a business jet, it’s part of the general feeling of comfort.
“I thought the Cessnas were quiet, but the Legacy 450 is really much quieter, especially at high altitude. I don’t know how EMBRAER did it, but they did a great job of soundproofing the cabin. I think the airframe and wing design also plays a major role, but they used soundproofing technology in the engines and cabin. Our aircraft has a high-definition digital sound system and when the passengers watch a movie or listen to music we can barely hear the engines or airflow – it’s very impressive.”
As well as being easy on the ears, the Legacy 450 offers ample crew comfort thanks to its spacious cockpit. The Airbus-style sidestick, installed in preference to the more traditional yoke, makes a major contribution to a space that offers more pilot real estate, Wauters reckons, than a Falcon 2000. So why is space so critical up front? “Besides ensuring crew comfort – it’s important on long flights – space plays a key role in cockpit ergonomics. Having lots of space allows you to organise your cockpit for easy access to documents (company manuals for instance) or your iPad (we’re implementing the use of electronic flight bags) and easily store them when they aren’t needed. A spacious cockpit also increases situational awareness, since pilots are able to quickly and efficiently scan the instruments and displays.”
The DGAC pilot who flew with Wauters on the La Mole authorisation was particularly impressed with the Legacy 450’s cockpit ergonomics and Rockwell Collins Proline Fusion avionics, likening the flying experience to that of a Falcon 7X. The Dassault jet has the manufacturer’s EASy cockpit, based on the Honeywell Primus Epic suite, but Wauters says the layout is reminiscent of the Legacy’s. “The screens are mounted in the same ‘T’ shape, plus both aircraft have sidesticks, a trackball system in the centre console, and minimal switches and knobs; visually they are quite similar.”
EMBRAER has also incorporated a much appreciated, yet rather prosaic pilot aid into the Legacy’s high-technology cockpit. “The folding table at both pilot seats is a great tool,” Wauters enthuses, “not only as somewhere to place drinks or lunch trays, but also for filling in paperwork and resting iPads. It makes a great contribution to the cockpit’s ergonomics and organisation.”
Proline Fusion embodies an extensive array of communications, navigation, safety and control technology, including Aircraft Communications And Reporting System (ACARS), Controller Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) and e-charts, all of which Wauters appreciates in day-to-day flying, without forgetting the importance of basic flying skills. “Technology is there to support us in our various tasks, whether flying or monitoring flight parameters, but it doesn’t replace the pilot. Proline Fusion also makes an important contribution to improved situational awareness by reducing pilot workload.
“Being able to look outside is an important added value to safety. In business aviation we sometimes fly to remote, non-controlled airports. Hazards around them might include small VFR aircraft, terrain or other obstacles. Looking outside is vital, but so is knowing the aircraft’s technology is always there, improving our level of safety.
“The datalink, ACARS and CPDLC enable us to communicate digitally with other agencies, including air traffic control [ATC], maintenance, operations, and so on. In areas with CPDLC compatibility we use it rather than traditional VHF communication to interact with ATC. When regions are highly congested it contributes to a very important reduction in voice communication, ‘liberating’ frequency capacity for other users.
“We also use the systems to obtain weather reports in flight – it’s very useful if we’re expecting hazardous weather – or to get our pre-departure clearance on the ground. They can be used in flight to send e-mails to the company, should a problem occur, or to receive them, should they need to inform us of a last-minute change for instance. It’s really very useful!
“And of course, e-charts are an absolute must for reviewing airport departure, arrival, approach and landing procedures, they really facilitate briefings between the two pilots. The aircraft’s position is depicted on most approach charts, which is a great tool for situational awareness.”
There’s clearly no doubting Proline Fusion’s capability, but Wauters says it’s also extremely easy to work with: “I find it very user friendly, logical in concept and design, and built so that processes make sense. When you look for particular information, you know exactly where and how to find it. It’s typical of Rockwell Collins that there are always two or three ways to find the same piece of information, using different logic and interfaces – through the trackball or multifunction keypad, for instance. The system allows many information display formats, and it’s useful to setup a few standard layouts for certain phases of flight, but it enables comprehensive redundancy, which contributes to improved safety.”
He also describes the Legacy 450 as ‘smart’ – “It tells you when something is wrong and reminds you when to do the things it doesn’t do automatically.” Many of the maintenance benefits of a fault-alerting system are obvious, but Wauters says there’s more to it than flagging a fault: “The maintenance people appreciate it of course, especially since it allows us pilots to easily identify technical malfunctions or faults that may be difficult to report.
“Engineers sometimes face huge challenges trying to troubleshoot malfunctions based on very basic pilot reports… ‘Fuel pressure fluctuates’ for instance, means nothing to maintenance. It could be anything from a malfunction of the gauge, through a sensor issue, an engine malfunction or a fuel supply system problem. Being able to clearly identify the root cause of a problem is very useful and accelerates maintenance processes. The system also tells you when to do things, when to download certain parameters for example, so that everything can be tracked in good time.”
Pilots have been known to bemoan the artificial feel of fly-by-wire control, yet Wauters says the Legacy 450’s system makes flying pure pleasure, while the flight envelope protection system ensures such smooth progress that it can be difficult to perceive whether the aircraft is on autopilot or not. “The direct link between the pilot’s hands and feet and control movements prevailed for the first 80 years of aviation, just as with cars. Now our cars have directional assistance, auto-regulating cruise control, distance control, emergency auto-braking, lane assistance, park assistance and more, all breaking the direct link between driver and car, and it’s exactly the same with modern aircraft. Fly-by-wire assists pilots and provides additional safety features to protect the aircraft from situations where we certainly don’t want to be and where it would become unsafe. It doesn’t remove responsibility from the pilot, nor reduce his or her capacity to interact with the aircraft systems and controls.
“The way EMBRAER’s configured the Legacy’s fly-by-wire system provides excellent feel. The aircraft immediately reacts to control inputs and in some situations or phases of flight – landing for instance – the flight control laws provide the feel of a conventional aircraft, with direct connection to the control surfaces.”
Maxime Wauters describes operating into La Mole as ‘real flying’: “It’s back to VFR, hand-flying, looking around for other aircraft, helicopters, ultralights and birds. It’s great for maintaining our flying skills, which is so important nowadays.” Implying there’s a lack of opportunity in modern aviation to practise such flying?
With his Safety Manager hat on, Wauters says: “Based on the conferences I’ve been to and the studies I’ve read, I think pilots tend to rely on automation too much and may forget some of the fundamental ‘stick-and-rudder’ piloting skills. Of course, automation is great and aviation has never been safer than it is today, but there are more and more aircraft flying, with larger loads of passengers, cargo and fuel, flying higher, faster and further than ever before. So the severity of accidents increases, even if the likelihood of an accident is low, thanks to years of incredible commitment from the industry to improve standards towards a high level of safety.
“Aircraft have become so reliable that when something happens, the ‘startle’ effect can prevent pilots reacting appropriately. This is the challenge we face. Being able to fly manually and have some degree of freedom to perform visual/manual approaches on a regular basis as long as they’re safe, contributes to maintaining crucial piloting skills.”
“Every time we fly into St Tropez-La Mole we still feel exactly as we did the first time and realise just how well the aircraft performs. And now we’ve upgraded it for the steep approach certification and trained for London City in the simulator – which was great! We haven’t been there yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long. Hopefully ours will be the first Legacy 450 into the airport.
“But we get to fly into a lot of ‘challenging’ airports, with spectacular scenery, including Chambery, the popular winter ski destination in France, and Sion in Switzerland. We also flew to Innsbruck, in Austria and Bolzano in the Italian Alps, all of them great experiences. The avionics are a fantastic help at these airports and especially the enhanced vision system [EVS], which generates a digital graphical representation of the terrain, obstacles and airport on the primary flight display.”
The Legacy 450 opens up any number of destination possibilities for its owner and charter passengers, and exposes its pilots to new and interesting airports. Is it possible to sum up the piloting experience?
“We say that on the same trip we have the feeling of flying three or four different aircraft… Take-off on a cold day, at light weight, and the Legacy climbs like a fighter, but then it cruises like an Airbus or Boeing, with a very stable, smooth, quiet ride. Then we might perform an approach into St Tropez at a speed close to that of a Cirrus or Cessna 182 lightplane and land it very short. When we use maximum auto-brake we jokingly say its like landing on an aircraft carrier because of the system’s incredible stopping power. The Legacy 450 just feels safe. And, without doubt, it’s a lot of fun!”