There are aircraft deliveries and then there are deliveries. Some can involve trips over rather ordinary geography, others to more exotic locales. When the latter occur, it’s a real privilege to be there.
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For this article, I joined up with an Executive AirShares team in São José dos Campos, Brazil, to observe the customer acceptance and delivery of two Embraer Phenom 100s. Executive AirShares is a Kansas City-based fractional ownership and charter company, and it has orders for 20 Phenom 100s. Two airplanes were on deck to fly away—serial numbers 44 and 45. Representing the company was Executive AirShares President and Chief Operating Officer Keith Plumb, program manager and pilot Alex Franz, and senior sales director Troy Welch. Helping in the customer acceptance and delivery process was Matt Hagans, president of Eagle Creek Aviation Services of Indianapolis, Indiana, and Naples Jet Center in Naples, Florida. Hagans deals in Phenoms, and runs a Phenom service center in Indianapolis. With seven deliveries and ferry flights under his belt, he must surely be one of the highest-time Phenom pilots out there.
Once the formalities were concluded, our routes back to the United States took us through Brasilia and Belém, Brazil; Port of Spain in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago; La Romana, Dominican Republic; and Fort Lauderdale—where we cleared U.S. Customs. Then it was off to Wichita where the airplanes were to be based.
This two-day adventure jetting across the Amazon and the Caribbean sounds like the trip of a lifetime—and it is!—but it can’t begin without first going through an elaborate sequence of customer delivery procedures that can stretch to a week or more. You don’t just take the keys and blast off.
First comes the airframe walkaround inspection, then the customer acceptance flight. During the walkaround, the customer sets eyes on the airplane for the first time—and goes over it with a fine-tooth comb. Paint defects and other squawks are noted (there were 65 on serial number 44 and 10 on serial number 45) and fixed during the Embraer delivery center’s night shift. The acceptance flight, which lasts about two hours, gives customers the chance to check every switch, function, and performance specification. Our flight included pressurization tests with a single bleed-air source, a check of airplane systems after cold-soaking for 30 minutes at FL410, speed and fuel-burn checks, a high-speed descent on autopilot, a check to make sure the drop-down oxygen masks worked, plus a coupled ILS, a missed approach, and a landing with maximum braking. All went well.
In fact, the airplanes were virtually squawk-free. While 65 paint squawks may sound like a lot, they were so tiny that I had a very hard time seeing most of them. But this is the last chance a customer has to rectify a problem. “An airplane has only one chance to be brand-new,” Hagans says. “So it pays to be picky.”
Next come the paperwork checks. Here, customers pore over logbooks and equipment lists, looking for complete sets of documents and any irregularities.
Then comes the closing, which is much like the closing procedures on real estate. For this deal, any remaining money owed Embraer is wired to its New York bank. Then, after a phone call to a mutually agreed-upon attorney in Wichita, the airplanes’ bills of sale and applications for registration (better known as the “pink slip”) are released from escrow. A “flying wire”—a declaration of intent to fly the upcoming international flight—is then sent to Brazil’s counterpart to the FAA (ANAC—Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil). This declaration serves as the airplanes’ registration for the time being, and it’s vital because international flights can’t be made on a pink slip.
ANAC, which is empowered to do so, then inspects the airplane on behalf of the FAA—to make sure that the airplane is in conformity with its type certificate. ANAC then issues an FAA airworthiness certificate. Now, serial numbers 44 and 45 can have their temporary Brazilian registration letters scrubbed off the fuselage. Beneath are their new identities: N610AS and N620AS.
But wait, there’s one last step. N-registered airplanes flown by FAA-certified pilots can’t fly in Brazilian airspace, so an overflight permit is next on the departure checklist. With that in hand, it’s time to leave—finally.
Having once ferried piston airplanes, let me tell you that ferrying a Phenom 100 is a vast improvement. For example, Hagans and I took off from Embraer’s airport in São José dos Campos, then landed in Brasilia—some 450 nm away—a mere hour and 40 minutes later. Instead of bumping around in clouds and turbulence doing 160 knots at sub-10,000-foot altitudes, we flew high in the flight levels—mostly at FL380 and FL400, where it was cloud-free and smooth. Speeds? Temperature-dependent, of course, but for the first leg we trued out at 360 knots burning 600 pph total.
Hagans provided a lot of valuable tips and instruction along the way. This included dealing with the Phenom’s Garmin G1000-based Prodigy avionics suite; I think I’ve finally come to terms with VNAV functions and programming. As for approaches, Hagans prefers to fly down final at 110 to 120 knots with the currently mandated maximum Flap 2 position. In training, Embraer teaches going to VREF at the final approach fix, and flying that speed all the way to short final. Nominally, that would mean flying near 100 knots—too slow to be practical when fitting in with traffic at busy airports. (The flap 2 restriction is because of an airworthiness directive having to do with a software glitch that can cause the Phenom 100’s stick pusher to fire with flap deflections any greater.)
The stops in Brasilia and Belém gave us plenty of opportunity to observe Brazil’s elaborate bureaucratic etiquette. Our two airplanes flew about 15 minutes apart, so when they showed up on the ramps nearly simultaneously, the drama began. There were three elements in the play: paperwork, fueling, and taxiing.
Lider Aviation served as our handler for the flights, which means that its job was to arrange for smooth quick-turns and run interference with officious authorities. In Brasilia and Belém, however, events defaulted to third-world levels.
We were directed to park at Lider’s ramp in Brasilia, which is sandwiched between two busy military helicopter bases. Moments after shutdown, our airplanes became the meat in the sandwich; there was no clear path to let us taxi away. But no matter. Lider seemed reluctant to honor a fueling release that Lider itself had created back at the Embraer plant. Telephone calls were placed back to Lider at Embraer, and the matter was resolved.
Then came the fueling, with the actual pumping occurring at a glacial pace. Hagans and Plumb began to mutter. “You just know they’d pump faster if we gave them a wad of cash,” was the gist of it. After threading past parked helicopters, it was time to launch out of Brasilia for Belém—900 nm away, at the mouth of the Amazon River.
This leg was flown at FL400 and took two hours, 43 minutes. Total fuel burn was 1,775 pounds, or 265 gallons. Up at 400, temperatures were a tad cooler at minus 56 degrees C, so our true airspeeds hovered around 350 knots—about two knots better than book.
Of course, the ride to Belém was over the Amazon rainforest, which along this route was less dense than what I had imagined a jungle would be. Then again, from that altitude it’s hard to get the sense of jungle-ness. Anyone who goes down in this neck of the woods would certainly have a different impression, that’s for sure. Another challenge over this and the next two legs is loss of radar coverage. This gave us all a chance to make old-fashioned position reports. And never far from our minds was the infamous 2006 midair collision between a Gol Boeing 737 and an Embraer Legacy (yes, it too was on a delivery flight). In this accident, botched pilot and controller procedures and poor communication in a nonradar environment led to a midair over the jungle. Because of that crash, pilots now are given back-up frequencies in case communications are lost on a primary frequency.
In an unusual twist, the weather over the Amazon was benign. “This is the first flight I haven’t had to dodge a lot of thunderstorms,” Hagans said. Typically, the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) serves up huge areas covered by thunderstorms. Some of those storms top out above 50,000 feet. But that day, as we flew we gazed down on what must have been 4,000-foot-scattered conditions.
Belém’s fueling is reminiscent of Brasilia’s. The problem: once again, honoring the fuel release. More phone calls, and then the fuel flows. “Next time I’m paying cash,” Hagans vows. “With cash, you’re in and out.”
Then five representatives from the Brazilian government show up. One of them asks to see the baggage, then the airplane’s “papers.” The others simply look on. When asked which papers (we had tons of documents, as this was a new airplane being relocated), the official says, “You know, the one that the pilots use.” So we hand him the operating handbooks, and he opens one three-inch-thick POH to a randomly selected page. It’s evident that he doesn’t know what he’s looking at, but he reads a little anyway. He seems satisfied with himself, and then walks away with his entourage.
“This is where they sold me a Brazilian pilot certificate,” Welch deadpans, recalling a long-ago scam.
Now flying left seat, I took off from Belém on the route to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, and then on to La Romana in the Dominican Republic, where we’d spend the night. Belém’s surface temperature was 33 degrees C/90 degrees F, and at our near-max takeoff weight the airplane took what seemed a little longer to reach its 107-knot rotation speed for that day, and its initial climb—while still a healthy 1,800 fpm—seemed a tad sluggish compared to those previous.
The leg to Port of Spain would be the longest of the entire trip, taking three hours, 32 minutes and burning 2,350 pounds/351 gallons of Jet-A. Once again cruising at FL400 and firmly in the ICTZ, at minus 57 degrees C our speed held at 349 knots. The Phenom 100 advertises a 390-knot maximum cruise speed, but this is for standard temperature conditions at altitudes in the low 30,000-foot ranges.
Night fell as we cruised off the coasts of French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana. This airspace is also a radar-free zone, so it was more position reports, and more estimates of when we’d arrive at subsequent fixes. Sometimes controllers—speaking progressively better English as we flew—would ask for our Mach number so that our airplanes could be properly spaced. At FL400, most of our flying was at Mach 0.605 to Mach 0.612.
By Guyana, we had to deviate around thunderstorms. Using the ship’s Garmin GWX 68 radar, it was easy to see where the heaviest rain was located. But at that altitude, visual avoidance was easy. We had a moon, and we could skim even the highest cloud tops—which were definitely not building any more at 40,000 feet.
Fatigue becomes a factor after all this flying, so for a little variety Hagans turned the Prodigy’s screens way down. The cockpit was dark, and I stuck my head up over the glareshield. Outside was a magical world, with sights very few get to see. The moon lit the tops of cumulonimbus buildups here and there, making ghostly reflections. Every once in a while a buildup lit up as lightning flashed within. Off in the distance, a sparse smattering of city lights—Cayenne? Paramaribo?—dot the coastline.
Hagans asks me if his landings were OK. I jokingly tell him they were so-so, and immediately regret it. My turn to land is coming up, and I fear my humor may well backfire.
No worries. My night landing at Port of Spain is acceptable. I fly down final on the ILS with 60-percent N1, flaps 2, and in return see 115 knots. Just before the threshold, it’s flight idle and hold a flattish deck angle while the runway approaches. The trailing-link main gear, which have been hanging extended in the breeze, touched down first, followed by the nosewheel.
The next leg, to La Romana, was mine too. It lasted only two hours, nine minutes, and after a trouble-free refueling and customs/immigration walk-through, the four of us were on our way in a van plying the Dominican side roads, bound for a few hours sleep at the Dreams resort in La Romana.
Like the rest of the trip, the last leg—to clear customs and immigration at Fort Lauderdale International—was uneventful. Two short hours after leaving La Romana, we were home. I find there’s always a psychological letdown after a trip like this, but there are also plenty of upsides. I racked up 5.5 hours of Phenom 100 time, flew halfway up the hemisphere, learned a lot, and met some great pilots and Embraer people. Many thanks to all. And if you see N610AS or N620AS on the ramp somewhere, you’ll know how they got here.
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