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Boeing ramped up production of its first new jet in more than 15 years, the 787 Dreamliner, meeting its goal of delivering nearly 50 of the aircraft this year. While the aircraft is winning rave reviews from many passengers for its roomier cabin with LED lighting and large, dimmable windows, the jet has had a series of maintenance stumbles. First the National Transportation Safety Board pushed for checks of the shafts in the 787’s GE engines, some of which had fractures that could have caused engine failure, as happened on a 787 performing a taxiing test. In separate incidents, one 787 had to divert on a revenue flight when a generator failed, and the FAA required that 787s in the U.S. be checked for fuel line connectors that had been improperly assembled. But most aviation analysts regarded the problems as relatively minor, as long as Boeing can stick to its delivery schedule for the new plane and avoid further snafus. The competing Airbus A350 has also been delayed in development, as the 787 was. The A350 is expected to make its first flight in mid-2013, with deliveries starting sometime in 2014.

Spaceflight had a pivotal year in 2012, not least because of the retirement of the last of NASA’s Space Shuttles. The vehicles made their last journeys to several science museums across the United States, sometimes shutting down roads as the Shuttles slowly navigated city streets atop specialized trailers. Commercial spaceflight is poised to fill some of the Space Shuttle’s roles. In October, SpaceX successfully launched the first of at least a dozen resupply capsules from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station, part of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA. The capsules and Russia’s Soyuz capsules are now the only ways to get supplies to the ISS. Meanwhile, several other commercial spaceflight companies geared up for taking tourists on short trips into orbit. Virgin Galactic plans to start flying suborbital missions for tourists this coming year, and it has more than 500 people on the waiting list for the $200,000-per-person trips.

Hawker Beechcraft, best known for its business jets, King Airs and Barons, filed for bankruptcy in May, a blow to general aviation’s halting recovery. In 2007, a group of private equity firms bought the company, adding to its debt to cover the purchase price. That meant Hawker Beechcraft was saddled with about $3.6 billion in debt, much of it from the sale. Negotiations with a Chinese company fell through, leaving Hawker to come up with a reorganization plan to revive itself. The company now intends to leave bankruptcy next month, reborn as Beechcraft Corporation, and with a thinner portfolio of aircraft. The company won’t make business jets or even support previously sold models still under warranty. It will continue making turboprops and piston planes, and plans to make military training aircraft as well.

A growing number of general aviation pilots traded in their dedicated handheld aviation GPS units for iPads paired with a variety of apps and accessories – providing even more features than before at a lower cost. The FAA gave its official nod, allowing iPads to be used in lieu of paper charts in commercial airline cockpits, and American Airlines started issuing the devices to its pilots. For the GA crowd, iPad apps like ForeFlight and WingX matured as they combined pre-flight planning features, checklists, charts, approach plates, moving maps, weather and traffic into one device. The release of Garmin Pilot, that company’s app entry, was one of its biggest announcements this year. Accessories brought even more features: Uncertified receivers that once cost thousands of dollars are now several hundred dollars. The units, some using Wifi or Bluetooth, sit atop the glareshield and bring near-realtime weather information and ADS-B-derived traffic data to the iPad’s screen.

It’s no secret that the Great Recession was a serious blow to many general aviation manufacturers. After several years of sluggish sales and thousands of layoffs in the industry, there were signs of recovery in 2012. Piper found specialized contract engineering work to keep some of its workers busy and renegotiated the terms of economic incentives from state and local governments in Florida to avoid having to pay back $10 million in grants. Cessna rolled out upgrades to two of its most popular business jets, announced plans for expanded production in China for new customers there, and unveiled a diesel-powered Skylane, for which fuel is less expensive and easier to find compared to avgas. Through the first 9 months of the year, overall GA deliveries were only slightly higher than the same period in 2012. But a particularly bright spot was deliveries of new turboprop aircraft, up 10 percent compared with a year ago. And buyers are picking up used aircraft at a more brisk pace than before, though the glut of used planes for sale means prices remain relatively low.