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Diamond Joins The Jet Set

Single Engine, Less Than $1 Million...

Diamond Aircraft has entered what has become a crowded field. The company announced Wednesday it will have its own single-engine mini-jet in the air in 2004 and start delivering it in 2006. "This is a natural progression for us," said Peter Maurer, Diamond's North American CEO. The D-Jet, as it is currently known, will carry five people at 315 knots on 34 gph. Cabin altitude will be 8,000 feet at 25,000 feet. Diamond is projecting a price of "well under" $1 million U.S. Diamond is the fourth proposed mini-jet, or personal jet or entry-level jet, to be launched. Eclipse started it all with the 500 and Cessna announced its Mustang last fall, followed quickly by Adam Aircraft. Maurer said that while the D-Jet shares some attributes with all of its competitors, it's going to create its own market. "Our target is not going head-to-head with Cessna," he said. "We have always been successful at finding a niche within a certain market." Maurer said one possible area is as a primary jet trainer for airline pilots, something he said flight schools have been asking for. Maybe that's why the D-Jet bears a startling resemblance to the CT-114 Tutor that performed primary jet training for the Canadian armed forces for more than 30 years.

...Engine Still Up In The Air...

Despite its lofty performance predictions, Diamond isn't revealing the one piece of information that can make or break that data. Like Eclipse, Diamond hasn't settled on an engine for its jet, although it would appear an off-the-shelf design will be used. "The powerplant will be selected on the basis of proven technology and demonstrated reliability," a Diamond press release stated. Cessna has picked Pratt and Whitney for its Mustang powerplants and Adam will go with Williams engines. Eclipse is said to be talking with Pratt and Whitney and one other manufacturer. At less than $1 million, Diamond's entry is bound to raise the same sort of skepticism that has dogged Eclipse in its development plans. However, Diamond's track record atpushing the envelope is now widely recognized. Most recently, it flew the prototype of a twin-engine diesel that sips 10 gph at 180 knots and will purportedly sell for less than $400,000 U.S.

...Eclipse Intrigued

Over at Eclipse, the vice president of marketing was intrigued by the latest in the flurry of competitors. Dottie Hall apparently hadn't heard about the D-Jet until contacted by AVweb but said it just confirms what Eclipse has been saying all along: that a jet for less than $1 million is not only possible but popular. "It's good for the customer and good for the market," she said. "Of course, the single engine [on the D-jet] makes it easier." Hall said that despite initial skepticism about the viability and need for such aircraft, Eclipse always figured others would jump on the bandwagon. "We always assumed we wouldn't have that space to ourselves forever." Meanwhile, despite some well-publicized I-told-you-so's about its engine problems, Hall said she's still selling airplanes. In fact, she said more than 10 deposits have been taken since Eclipse parted company with Williams International. Hall said it's hoped an engine selection will be made this month and the second prototype, suitably outfitted for the new engines, can be finished. She acknowledged that the engine switch will push back the first delivery date of early 2004 but couldn't say by how long.


FSDO Folly

DOT Report: FAA Harassed Pilot...

FAA officials harassed a Missouri pilot for no good reason, causing stress that was cited by the NTSB as a factor in a fatal accident, and then failed to properly investigate charges related to the crash, DOT Inspector General Kenneth Mead reported this week. The report, undertaken at the request of Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, cites "evident bias and deficiencies in FAA's investigation" following the December 1999 crash that killed Joe Brinell, former College of the Ozarks director of aviation, and five others. The Cessna CitationJet hit a hillside about four miles from the runway when it descended below the minimum altitude on a GPS approach into M. Graham Clark Airport at Point Lookout, Mo. "The IG's findings underscore what we've long believed," Blunt said in a news release Monday. "The FAA apparently harassed Joe Brinell ... [and] to make matters worse, either by negligence or in a coverup, FAA inspectors abused their regulatory authority."

...Then, FAA's Investigation "Gave Rise To The Perception Of Bias"...

The NTSB's June 2001 report concluded that the crash resulted from pilot error under adverse weather conditions; however, it also cited in its investigative findings "pressure induced by others -- FAA inspector." Brinell's widow asked for an investigation into the FAA's treatment of her husband. While the FAA cleared itself in an internal probe, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) ultimately launched its own investigation and found fault with the agency. The internal FAA investigation concluded that while at least some of the Kansas City FSDO's actions concerning Brinell were not warranted, the FDSO was "not remiss in its oversight responsibilities or abusive in exercising its empowerment ... and the actions taken by the FSDO [Supervisor] were appropriate." Not satisfied with this report, Blunt requested the investigation by the Office of Inspector General. The OIG found "an evident lack of objectivity and an underlying bias in favor of FSDO personnel -- against whom the allegations were made -- thereby compromising the integrity of FAA's investigation." The OIG then undertook its own investigation of the original charges against the FSDO -- that staffers had harassed Brinell unfairly, thereby subjecting him to stress that may have contributed to the accident. "In reviewing [the FSDO's] actions," the OIG report says, "we found that they were unwarranted and the FSDO's justification lacked credibility."

...And OIG Recommends FAA Should Take Action Against Staffers

"This is the third investigation we have completed over the last three years involving fatal general aviation accidents and alleged improprieties on the part of FSDOs," says the OIG report. "In the two prior cases, we found that FSDO personnel were remiss in carrying out their regulatory duties. Our findings in this investigation are consistent with those of the previous two cases." The DOT report recommends that the FAA should exercise disciplinary and administrative action against the supervisor and inspector in the Kansas City office, including demoting the supervisor. The report also says the FAA must institute policies and procedures for inspections of license holders. Also, the FAA should inform Grace Brinell (Joe Brinell's widow) and Rep. Blunt of actions taken in response to these recommendations. With a bit of hopefulness, Mead concludes: "We note that FAA's Regulation and Certification program, including the Flight Standards directorate, is under new leadership and we are encouraged by their responsiveness and expressed willingness to take appropriate action in this matter." Blunt also offered some optimism: "The good news in all of this is that we finally have the truth," he said. "And the FAA can get started, under new leadership, implementing standards for conducting investigations of this type. Situations like this one should never become more tragic as a result of a government agency's negligence or apathy."

NOTE: Read the report on the crash at the NTSB Web site. Read the complete text of the nine-page Office of Inspector General report, in PDF format.

Briefs...

NTSB Gets New Interim Chairman

President Bush on Tuesday appointed John Hammerschmidt to the vice chairmanship of the NTSB, and he will also be acting chairman until a replacement for Marion Blakey is nominated by the White House and approved by the Senate. Carol Carmody's term as vice chairman was set to expire on Saturday. Blakey left last year to take over as FAA administrator. Carmody, a Democrat, had lobbied the White House last week to make a decision, as the deadline approached. Under the safety board's rules of operation, only the chairman or acting chairman can assign work, spend money, appoint and supervise staff, and authorize an accident investigation. Hammerschmidt, a Republican, has been a member of the board since 1991. He participated in dozens of investigations, including the 2000 Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash near California and the 1994 USAir DC-9 accident at Charlotte, N.C. He holds a private pilot certificate.

At New Piper Aircraft, Another 150 Pink Slips

New Piper Aircraft cut another 150 jobs at its plant in Vero Beach, Fla., the company said this week. "This keeps the company profitable and allows us to avoid cutting into our future product programs," company spokesman Mark Miller said. The reductions were made across the board in office and assembly-line jobs. Recalls by aircraft engine manufacturer Textron Lycoming slowed production, leading to the need for cuts, Miller said. The plant now employs 850 people, down from 1,600 employees in early 2001, Miller told the Associated Press. Piper reduced its 2003 production schedule to 252 aircraft, down from the 291 aircraft it manufactured last year. Just about a year ago, New Piper was ranked one of Florida's Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies for 2001 by the University of Florida.

Terrorism And You: Security Concerns Won't Go Away

Think back for a moment, if you can, to the pre-9/11 world of aviation. Airport fences, identification cards, prop locks, TFRs and background checks did not loom large in the pilots' world. Today, with a possible war on the horizon and terrorists still at work, it doesn't take much to reboot the public's jitters. When an apparently deranged man stole a motorglider in Germany last week and threatened to fly it into a building in downtown Frankfurt, that was enough to set off a flurry of U.S. news reports about the still-unmitigated dangers from all those buzzing little aircraft on unsecured airfields. "Tens of thousands of small private planes are vulnerable to the kind of incident that occurred Sunday in Germany," the Associated Press reported. "There's all kinds of holes [in airport security] out there," Will Beaubien, chairman of the Marin County (Calif.) Aviation Commission, told the Marin News. AOPA spokesman Warren Morningstar, in an effort to promote common sense, told the AP, "Can we ever make these airports impenetrable? If we did, they'd no longer be airports, they'd be fortresses." The German pilot landed safely in the end.

Breaking New Ground In The Sky

In a century when women in aviation are still scarce -- holding about 6 percent of pilot certificates -- and minorities are underrepresented as well, a black woman starting her own aviation company may be a first. Avisys, owned by Tara Wright, a former airline pilot, offers charter flights out of Sacramento, Calif., in a Cessna Grand Caravan. "I don't view myself as a pioneer, although I know other people do," Wright told The Sacramento Observer. "Although that isn't my primary driving force, I'm glad that I'm able to give young people a role model." Wright hopes to attract customers who commute from Sacramento to Oakland, San Jose or San Francisco. "Aviation can be a viable option right now and you can get out of the hassle factor in dealing with the bigger airports," Wright told the Observer. The company flew its first charter last month. Wright's husband, Wayne, works as the company's director of maintenance.

The Ever-Elusive Runways Of Chicago

Expanding an airport is never easy -- neighbors, environmental concerns, evaporating funds, all manner of obstacles appear -- but even so, O'Hare International Airport seems to have fallen into some kind of infinite whirlpool of hurdles and holdups. Congress went home last year without getting around to authorizing money for the expansion, but well, maybe, it will get off the ground pretty soon ... or maybe not. Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin reintroduced the spending bill on the first day of the new session last week, and it might get acted on soon, as a leftover. "That's clearly what we're looking at," says a spokesman for Durbin, who talked to Chicago Business News. "That's our best shot." Or, they might wait and attach it to the new appropriations bill. But even if that works, American Airlines and United Air Lines, both in financial straits, have balked at paying their share, saying there's no big rush to get a new runway done in 2004. Nonetheless, the ever-optimistic city last week awarded $38 million to an engineering team to work on construction drawings and other projects. The entire expansion is expected to cost almost $7 billion over 15 years. The bill to fund O'Hare also includes a provision that would protect Meigs Field from arbitrary closings.

Great White Whale To Fly Into Oshkosh

The most voluminous air cargo carrier flying in the world today, Airbus's A300-600ST "Beluga," will make its first visit to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh this summer. The Beluga, designed as a successor to the "Super Guppy," is a highly modified Airbus A300 jetliner. "We are excited about welcoming the Beluga to Oshkosh for the first time," said EAA President and AirVenture Chairman Tom Poberezny. "This massive airplane is unlike anything else in the world." The aircraft has a 47-ton payload and a main-deck volume greater than the U.S. Air Force C-5 or C-17 cargo planes, or the massive Antonov AN-124 from Russia. The Beluga can carry up to 1,500 cubic meters of freight up to 900 nautical miles. The main cargo deck is 23 feet high and 123 feet long, and can handle a cylindrical object (such as another airplane fuselage) up to 70 feet in length. The Beluga cruises at about 510 miles per hour at up to 35,000 feet. The beast is scheduled to arrive at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh on Monday, July 28, and bask on the main AeroShell Square showcase ramp until Monday, Aug. 4.


On The Fly...

A pilot and his passenger died when their Cessna 182 collided in midair with a WWII-era Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat that was performing in an air show on Saturday, near Parker, Ariz. The Hellcat was damaged but its pilot landed safely...

An Air France Concorde bound for New York on Sunday returned to land at Paris shortly after takeoff when the nose failed to move into position for supersonic speed. The airplane was safe to fly at lower speeds, the airline said, and landed without incident...

The NTSB accident report on Alaska Airlines Flight 261, which crashed Jan. 31, 2000, off the coast of California, is now available online.


AVweb's Picture Of The Week...

*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***

We received over 100 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Jim Holbrook, of Panama City, Fla. His picture titled " Free As A Bird" captures the fun of light-plane flying. This simple form of recreational flying is what sets it apart from the high-tech cross-country machines. Great picture, Jim! 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.


AVweb's Question Of The Week...

*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***

We received over 1000 responses to our question last week on GA airport security. So far, the majority (88 percent) of our respondents feel that no additional security measures need be implemented at GA airports because events like those seen in Germany last week aren't a serious security concern. Only two votes indicated that security guards and/or law enforcement should patrol GA airport ramp areas. Also in the minority, only 2 percent of those responding felt all ramp access gates should be locked, forcing people to check in at airport businesses or with law enforcement prior to entry.

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 airport curfews. Please go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw to respond.

Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to qotw@avweb.com. Note, this address is ONLY for suggested QOTW questions, and NOT for QOTW answers or comments.

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