By Mary Grady with contributions from Russ Niles
Your Calls Are Welcome
Lycoming is denying claims by a Texas law firm that owners of IO-540 engines affected by its crankshaft recall are risking future insurance coverage by accepting a compensation package. "We strongly disagree with this position and are certain that accepting our Customer Care Program with its general release will not adversely affect your future insurance needs," Lycoming President Michael Wolf said in a letter posted on the company Web site. Wolf's letter was written after a story in Monday's edition of AVweb about a warning sent to some engine owners that signing the release that goes along with the weekly cash payments and replacement aircraft rentals might prevent insurance companies from covering the affected aircraft in the future. Lawyer Charles Ames, who is representing plaintiffs in a class action suit against Lycoming, said he wasn't giving legal advice, just reminding his clients to check with their insurance carrier before signing on the dotted line. Ironically, that's exactly the same advice Lycoming has for owners of all 2,000 affected aircraft. "We are certainly encouraging people to discuss this with their insurance company and if there are any questions they are welcome to call us and we'll go through the general release with them," said Lycoming spokeswoman Susan Bishop. Meanwhile, Bishop said, the phone lines are already humming with concerned customers.
Commander Aircraft Company, a manufacturer of high-performance single-engine aircraft, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court in Delaware last Friday. Wirt Walker, CEO of Commander's parent company, Aviation General Inc. of Bethany, Okla., told AVweb on Tuesday that operations at the company "will be going on as usual." He said he is entertaining talks from parties interested in merging, acquiring, refinancing, or restructuring the company. "All options are open," he said. "It's a small company, and pretty neat and tidy ... it's not overburdened by debt, we just got caught in a cash crunch." He also noted that the last two years of a weak economy have been tough. He said the company has already cut back on staff, but he doesn't foresee any additional layoffs due to the current situation. "We want to do what's best for the company, for our shareholders, and our creditors," Walker said. The company has been owned by Aviation General since 1998. Commander Aircraft Company was incorporated in 1988, and acquired the Commander single-engine product line from Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, which had acquired Rockwell's General Aviation Division in 1981. The company headquarters and factory are located at Wiley Post Airport in Oklahoma City.
...As Orders "Virtually Hit The Wall"
In a Dec. 27 news release, the company said it has about $3.7 million in total net indebtedness, and "has been working amiably with its creditors and vendors." However, orders for new and used aircraft softened significantly in the third quarter of 2002, and "have virtually hit the wall recently," the statement said. The Chapter 11 filing was prompted by "an immediate cash flow shortage of approximately $1 million," which ensued when several expected orders for aircraft "failed to be consummated." The statement said the company intends to continue its operations during the reorganization, including support for existing aircraft and limited production of new aircraft built to order. The company needs to sell 10 to 12 new aircraft per year to break even, the statement said, but expected to deliver only seven for 2002. The weak economy, the decline of market values, and anxieties over war and terrorism all contributed to the company's lack of sales, the statement said, along with budget constraints that limited marketing and advertising efforts.
Capstone Gets A Positive Report In Alaska...
The University of Alaska this month released an interim report on the progress of Alaska's Capstone experiment, in which onboard avionics upgrades and new ground equipment have been deployed in an effort to cut the state's fatal aircraft accident rate in half. The report is inconclusive regarding the safety record, but recommends that the program should be continued. The report did conclude that pilots in the program need to get more training, the ground-based weather coverage should be expanded, and operators should be required to give more feedback to the FAA. Aircraft equipped with Capstone avionics had seven accidents in 2001, while non-Capstone-equipped planes had 12 accidents. "However, it's still too early to assess whether this is a systematic change that will continue, or just the result of chance variation," the report said. The report covers the phase-in period of Capstone from 2000 through mid-2002.
NOTE: Click here to download the executive summary of the University of Alaska report, in PDF format.
...New Ideas Growing In Florida
While Capstone relies on well-developed technologies such as GPS and datalinks, edgy new ideas for safer flying are growing under the Florida sun. At the University of West Florida in Pensacola, researchers at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition are testing new ways to display information to pilots. David Still and Leonard Temme believe the single-screen display they've designed, called OZ, could replace a panel full of gauges. "The display has all the information you need in one quick blink of the eye," airline pilot Hank Colburn told the Associated Press, in a story published Monday. Colburn has trained people to fly OZ, which so far exists only as a computer simulation. Streams of dots or stars create an artificial sky through which the pilot "flies" a representative airplane, with symbols that reflect speed, direction, attitude, engine power and other data. The researchers say that OZ greatly reduces the occurrence of pilot disorientation, and greatly reduces mental workload and processing time. NASA and the Navy have been funding the research, but flight tests for OZ have not taken place. "The system is designed to preserve the status quo as opposed to bringing forward innovations," Temme told the AP. "We're fighting inertia." Seems we've heard that one many times before.
TSA Revises Definition Of Aircraft Subject To Charter Rule
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued on Dec. 26 a final rule that revises the original Private Charter Security Rule, which requires that charter passengers and their bags must be screened prior to boarding. The original rule would have targeted all aircraft that weigh 95,000 pounds or more. The revised rule applies only to aircraft that weigh over 45,500 kg (100,309.3 pounds) or carry 61 or more pax. The TSA will issue the final security program by tomorrow, and the effective compliance date is Feb. 1, 2003. The TSA said the change was made after further analysis in response to comments received. Also, in response to comments, the TSA is permitting the use of non-TSA screeners in certain circumstances. Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, said he was pleased with the change in the rule. "By combining weight and passenger seating capacity as the threshold in this rule, the TSA has eliminated confusion in the marketplace, promoted the concept of international aviation standards, and demonstrated that it intends to exercise its broad rulemaking authority prudently," Bolen said.
NOTE: Click here to download the complete text of the revised rule in PDF format.
Jetcruzer Goes For $125,000
Let's hope Jetcruzer investors weren't looking for help to pay the Christmas bills from the auction sale of the once-vaunted company. After pouring almost $100 million into engineering, development and certification of the rear-engine turboprop, the top bid was just $125,000. That's a bit more than a tenth of a cent on the dollar. Mooney Aerospace Group (MASG) spokesman Dan Apel said the bid was received just before the noon deadline on Tuesday. MASG, which used to go by the name Advanced Aerodynamics and Structures Inc. (AASI), had a reserve bid of $500,000 on the Jetcruzer assets and Apel said the lower bid must be approved by the board of directors. He said the prospective purchaser, whom he declined to identify, has not indicated what will be done with the prototypes, molds, drawings and type certificate (for an unpressurized version). Apel said the sale, assuming it's approved, is the final step in the withdrawal of the company from Long Beach, Calif. Except for a small accounting office in Long Beach, MASG will be based at the Mooney plant in Kerrville, Texas.
NOTE: See what you missed.
"Stronger-than-steel" Cockpit Doors Get FAA OK
When bulletproof cockpit doors are installed on U.S. airliners -- the rules say the doors must be in by April -- they may be constructed from composite materials. The FAA has certified Dyneema polyethylene fiber for use in the doors, which the manufacturer says is 15 times stronger than steel. The cockpit doors are slated for use by American Airlines, United Air Lines, Delta, Lufthansa, British Airways, and KLM. They will be used aboard Boeing 737s and 757s, various types of McDonnell Douglas aircraft, and planes manufactured by Bombardier and Embraer. Dyneema is manufactured by a gel spinning process by DSM High Performance Fibers, a company based in the Netherlands that operates a site in Greenville, N.C. Dyneema has a low density (it floats on water) and is highly resistant to abrasion, moisture, UV rays and chemicals. The high energy absorption of Dyneema makes it useful in bullet-resistant products, the company says. To meet the demand, DSM has more than doubled its Dyneema production capacity.
Not A Happy New Year For UAL Workers
Beleaguered United Air Lines wants its machinists to accept a temporary pay reduction of 13 percent, but the union said last Friday it will fight the cut in court. The airline also told employees on Monday that it expects to announce "significant layoffs" within the next few weeks. United's other unions, representing pilots, flight attendants, dispatchers and meteorologists, have agreed to cuts, as the bankrupt airline struggles to survive. United told the unions that if they didn't accept the cuts, the company would ask the court to dissolve their contracts. The Air Line Pilots Association said it would accept a 29-percent pay cut for United pilots, but only on an interim basis. Union leader Paul Whiteford told the Associated Press, "We are not interested in participating in United's broader labor reform initiatives without clear economic justification or rationale." United has said it needs to save $12 billion in wages over the next five and a half years to become viable again.
A New Spin On Hangar As Hangout
It keeps the rain off your airplane, there's an old sofa next to the workbench and the secondhand fridge keeps the soda cold, so your hangar is a pretty cool place to hang out in, right? Now, imagine you're a billionaire with a few stray millions -- say, $20 million or so -- to spend on your own private hangar in Scottsdale, Ariz. So far, the plans include an exclusive 40-seat restaurant with runway views, a rooftop barbecue area, elevators, space for up to 15 aircraft in two hangars, indoor parking for lots of cars, and high-tech security systems, all on five acres at Scottsdale Airpark. Bennett Dorrance, an heir to the Campbell Soup fortune, is a 5,000-hour pilot. He plans to allow "members" to join his "aviation club," but exactly how that will work -- fees, who can join and how, etc. -- he hasn't said. The Phoenix Business Journal took a tour of the construction site, and reported that the design of the place will be a head-turner, "even for Scottsdale." Watch for this: "The most visual piece of its architecture will be a 108-foot-long sculpture that resembles a paper airplane, installed above one of the hangars."
A Lancair 320 used Interstate 20 for an emergency landing in California on Monday. Traffic was disrupted but there were no injuries. The airplane struck the top of a motorhome and then hit the median...
New $4 million fuel farm, hangar space, and pilot's lounge is coming to Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, N.H....
Two Air Force fighter jets escorted a Beech 35 out of restricted airspace near Washington, D.C., on Sunday. Flights at Dulles were suspended for about 15 minutes. The pilot was detained for questioning, but authorities said it appeared that no harm was intended.
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
We received over 60 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, J.R. Holbrook, of Panama City, FL. His picture titled "Fly Me To The Moon" was taken on December 18th, the day before the full moon. Pictured is Mike Highsmith of Panama City flying his Fergy IIB. Great picture, J.R.! Your AVweb prize is on the way.
To check out the winning picture, or to enter next week's contest, go to http://www.avweb.com/potw.
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
We received over 500 responses to our question last week on holiday travel. Due to our server change, exact response percentages are not available for publication. In addition, we would like to introduce you to a new QOTW setup, which is based on a single question with multiple answers. While the availability to comment is not available at the moment, we are establishing this feature within the days to come.
To check out the complete results, including comments, go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
This week, we would like to know your thoughts on the Aviation Year In Review. Please go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw to respond.
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.