Two aircraft disasters yesterday brought a one-day death toll of near 100 to commercial aviation. US Airways Express Flight 5481, a Beech 1900 with 19 passengers and two crew aboard operated by Air Midwest, out of Charlotte-Douglas for Greenville-Spartanburg, crashed yesterday morning on departure, killing all aboard. Three at first thought lost on the ground have since been located in good health. Moments before the aircraft impacted a US Airways hangar and burned, pilot Katie Leslie did contact the tower to indicate an emergency, said FAA spokesman Greg Martin. However, the exact nature of the emergency was not conveyed before contact was lost. According to Airport Director Jerry Orr, the aircraft departed to the south shortly before 9 a.m. in clear, calm conditions, but turned sharply back toward the airport before striking the hangar. The aircraft had flown 21,000 cycles with 15,000 hours flight time logged over its eight-year service history. The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a team to investigate. The disaster in Turkey yesterday killed at least 72 of 77 people aboard a Turkish Airlines flight when the British Aerospace RJ-100 crashed in a military area near the city of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey. Local TV reported heavy fog in the area of the crash when the aircraft went down, and quoted Interior Minister Abdulkadir Aksu, who said five survivors were evacuated to a local hospital for treatment.
The future of a high-performance single that traces its pedigree to the P-51 is now in the hands of a small Minnesota company. Sierra Hotel Aero, of St. Paul, bought the type certificate, engineering data and production jigs for Navion aircraft at an auction held Dec. 18. Sierra Hotel Aero spokesman Chris Gardner said his goal in obtaining the type certificate was to update the historic aircraft and keep them flying. "We're going to bring Navion into the future," said Gardner. The aircraft was designed by many of the same engineers who created the P-51 and it was produced by North American, starting in 1946, as the company's answer to what was supposed to be a post-war aviation boom. Not surprisingly, with its sliding canopy, fighter-like (to some) appearance and exuberant performance, it was a favorite of fighter jocks, including Gardner's dad, John -- a Vietnam-era pilot who bought his first Navion in 1960. Chris Gardner grew up around the airplanes and his company takes its name from the tail number of his dad's second Navion.
Sierra Hotel Aero has two primary focuses with the type certificate: providing support for the current fleet and offering modifications to improve the basic aircraft. Gardner said that of 2,800 Navions built there are about 800 flying and up to 200 that people are trying to get back into flying condition. With the type certificate, Sierra Hotel Aero can manufacture certified replacement parts using the original engineering data. It can also obtain supplementary type certificates (STCs) for modifications. Gardner said some Navions have been grounded because some otherwise mundane replacement parts, like landing gear switches, are not available. The company hopes to work with the owners of stranded Navions to get them back in the air. It can also handle major repairs and even zero-time the airframes, thanks to the type certificate. If there was one complaint about the original Navion, it was lack of power from its 185-horsepower engine. During production, power increased to about 285 horsepower on later models but owners still wanted more. Sierra Hotel Aero is working on an STC for 320 horsepower and it's also planning to offer speed mods like a more slippery canopy and gear doors to go along with updated instrument panels.
Theoretically, with the type certificate, the company could build new Navions, but Gardner said that's not part of the plan. "That may be possible one day but I don't really have plans to build the airplane again," he said. In fact, Gardner picked up the type certificate from an Ohio company whose plans to resume production didn't work out. Navion Aircraft LLC, of Bowling Green, spent almost seven years looking for the millions of dollars in investment that would be needed to get the production line rolling again. After all that money would have been spent, there's the matter of competition. A new Navion would be up against the likes of Cirrus and Lancair ... not to mention Cessna, Beech, New Piper, and Commander, which just filed for Chapter 11 protection. Gardner said modernizing and maintaining the existing fleet would remain his focus. "It's a niche market but it's a market that definitely needs to have that support." Chuck Brown, of the American Navion Society, agrees that building new Navions is likely out of the question. "It's too complex of an airplane," he said. "They couldn't make it cost-effective even when labor was cheap."
The FAA announced Monday its next step in modernizing the nation's air traffic control system through a contract awarded to General Dynamics Decision Systems (GDDS) for the purchase of up to 20,000 CM-300 series air traffic control radios over the next 10 years. The FAA will use the new radios to communicate from en route air traffic control centers to aircraft flying at cruising altitude as part of a modernized communications system for the National Airspace System. John Cole, a vice president and general manager with GDDS, said the FAA can "...install the CM-300 and leave it running continuously for well beyond 10 years before failure ..." In comparison to existing radios, the new CM-300 radios use the radio spectrum more efficiently and provide improved protection from interference from other radios nearby. The minimum quantity under the contract is 1000 radios, valued at $5.8 million; however, the deal has a potential value of up to $119 million.
Having updated equipment is great, but without happy controllers, things could still get behind the power curve. Toward that end, the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) have reached a tentative deal on a two-year extension of NATCA's collective bargaining agreement. The new deal would extend NATCA's current agreement with the agency -- signed in 1998 and set to expire in September -- through September of 2005. "With the enormous amount of work we are doing with the FAA on a wide array of subjects, from modernizing the National Airspace System, to redesigning the airspace to enhancing the safety of air travel in the skies and on the runways and taxiways, it was vitally important to us to resolve the issue of our collective bargaining agreement as efficiently as possible," NATCA President John Carr said. "Staffing is one of our most pressing concerns," he added. "Not only do we need more controllers, we need to hire replacements for the 5,000 controllers the GAO [General Accounting Office] says will be eligible to retire within the next five years."
Former Senate Majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) -- not Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) -- may be the new self-appointed front-runner for chairman of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee, according to a Jan. 8 report in Aviation Daily. Lott, credited by some for passing the airport security bill, is expected to focus on reforming small-community air service and the economic viability of small airports. He was apparently able to use his seniority to make the move. The trickle-down may land Hutchison as chair of the surface transportation subcommittee. Hutchison's previously stated platform had made cargo security a priority. Lott is expected to assume the role in addition to his chair of the full Senate rules committee.
A rumored coming change in Chinese airspace laws may soon in that country open a new general aviation market. While many GA manufacturers struggle in the U.S. with layoffs and production slowdowns to boot, Shenyang Aircraft Industry Group of China (a major manufacturer of fighter planes for the Chinese military) recently announced it will roll out a light plane this year. The price tag is will likely fall between 500,000 and 600,000 yuan (U.S. $60,241 and U.S. $72,289). The country itself, by some estimates, currently contains about ten privately owned aircraft. Nanjing Light Aircraft Co. Ltd. began to design a five-seat AC-500 plane five years ago and plans to put it on the market early next year. So far, they have received about 30 orders. "As many Chinese entrepreneurs have made a big fortune from their private-owned businesses, small-sized planes are becoming affordable," Wang Linjiang, the company's chief designer and general manager, told the Xinhua news agency. He adds that most of the orders they have taken are "from domestic private companies." Some might wonder how these companies plan to succeed, given China's tightly controlled airspace. Wang doesn't seem to worry, as he was told by "a quite reliable source" that regulations would soon be relaxed, and hopes the changes will help sell 500 private aircraft per year. The Chinese government won't confirm that, but has hinted that its regulations are being reviewed.
The folks around Manchester, England's airport are demanding that airport officials enact a curfew to prevent air traffic operations from midnight to 5 a.m. But Manchester Airport Director Kevin Dillon said he won't ask airlines or cargo carriers to abide by curfews. He claims that successful airports don't start "throwing curfews in the way of" cargo carriers or airlines. One local resident, Mike Kiertscher, told the Union Leader, "Just from 12 (midnight) to 5 (a.m.), shut the airport down ... So FedEx (delivery) arrives at noon instead of 10 a.m., whoopdeedo." Not particularly worried about the potential negative impact this move could have on the busy airport and its dependant businesses, local residents still demand this restriction. The swarm of complaints began last summer when residents were bothered by aircraft noise because all flights were temporarily shifted to the airport's east-west runway during runway reconstruction. Here in the U.S., similar complaints have been raised at several GA airports. You may remember AVweb's reporting on San Jose Airport's battle with its surrounding communities. However, few airports have mandatory curfews, as enforcing one is rather costly. Just talk to the Naples, Fla., airport authority, which has been engulfed in a legal battle with the FAA.
The NTSB and FAA have discovered that last year's crash of a firefighting C-130, which claimed the lives of all on board, may be complicated by a void in the aging aircraft's maintenance history. According to the Associated Press, the tanker was a former Air Force transport aircraft also used to fly missions for the CIA. For this reason, portions of the aircraft's maintenance records remain unavailable to NTSB investigators. The ambiguity leaves investigators unsure of just how long the C-130A had flown -- and are charting that statistic somewhere between 3,000 to more than 20,000 hours in service. "Apparently this ... airplane at one point in time was set up along with a few others for electronic surveillance -- as in CIA activity -- somewhere in the world,'' said George Petterson, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. Last year, the FAA grounded and ordered inspections of the entire civilian C-130 fleet. Specifically, the agency ordered wing inspections on all C-130A air tankers after initial findings determined that cracks in the wing structure caused the crash of the tanker. The FAA's directive claimed that "an unsafe condition has been identified that is likely to exist or develop on other Lockheed C-130A airplanes."
After scaring Frankfurt residents, the thief who stole a plane and threatened to crash into a German skyscraper over the weekend was held and questioned by local authorities. Police said the 31-year-old German man -- who circled the city's skyscrapers Sunday for about two hours before landing safely at Frankfurt's international airport -- is apparently mentally disturbed. Because of the man's specific request to speak with Charles Resnik -- brother of the doomed Spaced Shuttle Challenger Astronaut Judith Resnik -- prosecutors have weighed his mental state in deciding what charges he will face. Undoubtedly, this incident brought eerie memories of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, to television viewers worldwide. In a strange coincidence, the same day that the German man stole the GA aircraft at gunpoint was also the one-year anniversary of the incident in which a disturbed teenager flew his Cessna into a Tampa, Fla., skyscraper. Julia Bishop -- the teenager's mother -- has filed a $70 million lawsuit against the maker of the acne medication Accutane (which at one point listed suicidal ideation on its warning label) that her son was taking before the crash.
The aftereffects of the NTSB's conclusions about TWA Flight 800 live on, as Boeing continues to address the board's suspicion of an exploding fuel tank. This week, the FAA issued a final rule for Boeing Model 737-600, -700, -700C, -800, and -900 series airplanes. The FAA claims that the actions specified by this Airworthiness Directive are intended to prevent fluid contamination inside the fueling float switch or chafing of the wiring to the in-tank conduit, which could generate an ignition source and consequent fire and explosion in the fuel tank. The amendment requires replacement of the existing fueling float switch and conduit assemblies in the main and center fuel tanks with new, improved assemblies. Of course, this is not the first measure taken to combat this fuel-vapor issue, as the FAA and NTSB have met with Boeing and other industry groups to work on various remedies. Just last month, the feds unveiled a 160-pound onboard nitrogen generator intended to pump the inert gas into emptying fuel tanks. The new system takes ambient air and reduces the oxygen content from 21 percent to 12 percent. The oxygen-reduced air makes a much less combustible mixture in the tank. Earlier proposals for this type of system, dating as far back as 1997, were criticized for high cost and weight, but the new system apparently alleviates those concerns.
AVweb Monday published incorrect dates for this year's Sun 'n Fun fly-in. Everybody makes mistakes sometimes ... this time ours was trusting EAA's own press release. So, please re-mark your calendars. This year's trade show / aviation celebration / air show will open its doors April 2 and run through April 8. See the Sun 'n Fun Web site for details -- at least that way, you can't blame us.
Lycoming Tuesday announced that it has received final certification from the FAA for the production of new crankshafts. Already in limited production on a risk-release basis -- allowing production to begin prior to certification -- these crankshafts will be used to replace crankshafts in Lycoming engines affected by Service Bulletins 550, 552 and 553...
The Air Transport Association of America Inc. (ATA) has a new boss. James C. May will act as president and chief executive officer, effective Feb. 3, to succeed Carol B. Hallett, who is retiring after eight years with the ATA. Since 1988, May has been the executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters and has held a variety of other senior executive positions covering public affairs and government relations for major corporations and industries. The ATA is the trade association for leading U.S. airlines...
The EAA Aviation Foundation is seeking applications for its the Coffy Gregory First Flight Scholarship and Aviation Career Internship programs. The programs providean opportunity for 10 women -- 16 years of age and older -- to receive scholarships valued up to $2,000 each to attend the EAA First Flights Academy in Oshkosh, Wis., along with several hours of flight instruction. For additional information and applications, visit the EAA Web site and scroll to Coffy Gregory Aviation Career Internship. Applications must be postmarked no later than April 15, 2003...
EAA is also celebrating its 50th birthday this month. On Jan. 26, 2003, the organization celebrates the 50th anniversary of its inaugural meeting, held at Curtiss-Wright Field (now Timmerman Airport) in Milwaukee, Wis. EAA had its start next to a half-built airplane in a garage in the Milwaukee area but eventually evolved into the large sprawling complex at the Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wis.
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
We received over 80 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, John R. Williams, of Trophy Club, Texas. His picture titled "Try To Wipe the Smile Off My Face" captures the sheer pleasure of recreational flying. As the picture's caption implies, the pilot's face illustrates how much fun he is having flying the Aviat Husky. Great picture, John! 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 400 responses to our question last week on the biggest aviation story of 2002. So far, 33 percent of our respondents feel that the crippling of the airline industry, including Uniteds bankruptcy, was the biggest aviation story of 2002. The economic downturn and its effect on general aviation was cited by 28 percent of our readers as being the main story. Following that, 20 percent said threats to airports and airspace was the big story of 2002.
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 GA airport security. Please go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw to respond.
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.