By Arturo Weiss, Newswriter
Boeing and BAE In Merger Talks?...
With all of the obstacles Boeing has faced over the last year or so, it seems interesting to note some reports that indicate that the company may join forces with a rival manufacturer. The Sunday Times of London broke the story when it reported that senior bankers held talks on behalf of Boeing and BAE Systems, the British company that owns 20 percent of Airbus. The talks were held last autumn, before BAE issued a profit warning in December. The paper reports that these and additional discussions centered on a possible merger that would create a commercial aviation and defense conglomerate valued at $32 billion. For now, the talks seem to be on hold, although both sides still seem interested in hammering out a deal. A combination of Boeing and BAE would create a multinational firm with a workforce of 300,000 people and annual sales of about $72 billion. BAE currently has operations in 30 states and a U.S. workforce of 22,000.
...While Boeing Shuffles Employees...
While Boeing has not officially confirmed merger talks, the company's Wichita facility offered unpleasant news to 45 employees in the form of 60-day layoff notices. In Seattle, about 620 workers also received layoff notices last week. At almost the same time, 100 workers -- mostly mechanics -- were temporarily rehired for work at Boeing's military modification division. Boeing plans to eliminate about 5,000 positions this year after it cut about 30,000 jobs nationally in 2002. Few of these additional cuts have been targeted for Wichita, which endured the loss of 4,800 employees last year.
...And Airbus Remains Cautious For 2003
Across the pond, things appear somewhat better for Boeing's main rival, Airbus. Nevertheless, the European powerhouse is treading carefully and is not terribly optimistic for 2003, as the prospect of a war with Iraq continues to loom. "Frankly, I think 2003 will be an extremely difficult year," Airbus president Noel Forgeard said at an annual news conference in Paris. Forgeard said that Airbus is holding its goal to produce 300 airliners this year but said an aggravated economic slump may bring that estimate down. However, Forgeard said Airbus is expected to have limited exposure to an unstable U.S. market and plans to deliver 50 planes to American customers this year. Keeping with this confidence, the company is on average raising prices by 2.5 percent for 2003.
Weight Distribution Called Into Question...
As the NTSB continues its investigation of the January 8 crash in Charlotte, N.C., of a US Airways Express Raytheon 1900D operated by Air Midwest that killed all 21 aboard, investigators are analyzing documents and data related to the aircraft's weight and balance. Officials are focusing on the possibility that a heavy takeoff weight and improper, potentially tail-heavy weight distribution contributed to the crash. Beyond baggage distribution, investigators are also looking at the weight of passengers.
...With Standard Pax Weight...
Experts have raised questions about whether standard industry methods used to measure passenger weight are realistic, considering that the average weights used for passengers don't seem to correlate well with national weight trends. Though an issue of slighter proportions for the average wide-body (airliner), smaller commuter aircraft have a slimmer margin of error when it comes to matters of mass. The accident aircraft in Charlotte departed without an empty seat. Airlines use average weights for passengers depending on the time of year (i.e., heavier weights are used in winter to compensate for jackets coats, etc.). But while those standard measurements have not changed much, the flying public seems to be growing around the waistline -- people are more plump than they used to be.
...And A Faulty Elevator Still Considered
Weight issues aside, accident investigators are still examining the possibility that a malfunctioning elevator was a major factor in the crash. Initial inspections of other 1900Ds at Air Midwest revealed no fleet-wide flaws in these systems. However, because the flight data recorder indicated erratic elevator movements aboard the accident aircraft, the possibility a flaw specific to the accident aircraft is still being examined.
The Bell Agusta 609 -- a civilian tilt-rotor aircraft -- is one step closer to its first flight, perhaps this spring. Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter Textron Inc., which shares the experimental aircraft with Italy's Agusta, is in the final weeks of system tests and is preparing for flight. "The basics are cooking together properly," Jack Gallagher, director of the BA609 program, told The Dallas Morning News. "We're looking at six to eight weeks, or about 50 hours of ground run testing where we do the final tweaks," he added. However, the program has experienced its set of delays, especially after the recent controversy of the V-22 -- the Agusta's military sibling, which has suffered multiple crashes and deaths in its pre-production history. This military version -- which is produced by Bell and Boeing Co. -- was grounded from December 2000 until last May. Officials allowed flight tests to resume last spring and are now moving ahead slowly but steadily on its development.
Get ready for a good lei, because the Great Hawaiian Race 2003 is drawing near. The theme for this year's event is "The Wright Stuff," honoring ... what else ... the 100th anniversary of powered flight. Pilots are partnered up for this island-hopping flying adventure and those sticking around for the festivities will also be treated to a party whose theme is "Famous Aviators." In addition, there will be an air show over Hana with two aerobatic acts and a Coast Guard helicopter demonstration. For more information, or to order a race packet, call 808-373-1889, fax 808-373-1870, e-mail RacePilot.Greg@verizon.net or visit the Web site.
While preparations continue for the historic reenactment of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk this December, the replica aircraft has already made its first flight ... sort of. The folks at Microsoft and EAA have teamed up to launch a virtual version of this famed aircraft, creating a new-generation replica -- in the form of a flight simulator -- of the 1903 Wright Flyer. This unique simulation will be an integral part of EAA's Countdown to Kitty Hawk 24,000-square-foot touring pavilion and visitors will be welcome to try their hand at the controls. EAAs Restoration Center staff built the highly accurate physical simulator, which runs on Microsofts popular flight-simulator software. The simulator replicates the "cockpit" harness of the 1903 Flyer. To operate it, a person needs to lie face-down in the cradle and manipulate the wing-warping and rudder controls with his or her hips, holding the throttle handle with the right hand and the elevator with the left. Microsofts Flight Simulator team tackled the software project head-on: Artists created the Kitty Hawk scenery, aeronautical experts made the flight model, and remote-imaging PhDs literally made an artificial world. The Wrights would be proud.
While the U.S. postures for a war with Iraq, it has become clear that the Pentagon is stretching its troop-transport capabilities too thin. The Washington Times reports the Pentagon is drafting plans to contract dozens of civilian airliners to ferry troops and equipment to the Persian Gulf. The paper states this would be just the second time the military has exercised powers to utilize the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) since gaining the authority for this action during the Korean War. However, while the airlines ready for their potential role, concerns about a war's direct effects on their business are mounting -- during the Gulf War, business among domestic airlines declined about 8 percent. For now, they hope to deploy their unused aircraft for the CRAF program. This civilian air transport fleet was created in 1951 as a way to boost airlift capacity during times of crisis. Under the program, airlines agree to loan planes and crews to the military in wartime for a fee and the promise of government business in peacetime.
The home of Air Force One found itself as an unexpected refuge for a student helicopter pilot over the weekend. A statement from the 89th Airlift Wing -- the Air Force's unit that manages the presidential fleet -- said the unauthorized landing occurred at about 5 p.m. and was met immediately by security personnel. Military officials believe the pilot -- who carried a Swiss passport and other identification -- had intended to arrive at Indian Head Airport, seven to 10 miles away. The pilot and his aircraft were detained at Andrews for several hours after the incident. It seems the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations had a few questions to ask the wayward aviator.
Making for the last (hopefully) hurdle to a proposed runway extension, an environmental issue is slowing Arnold Palmer Regional Airport's plan for expansion. A recently finished yearlong environmental assessment cited "two areas that had a potential for impact" -- a small wetland and potential archaeological site now confront the Westmoreland County Airport Authority's plan. The authority proposes shifting the landing zone for the 7,000-foot-long primary runway 1,525 feet south and extending the strip by the same distance on its southern end. Meanwhile, 300 feet of runway on the northern end will be closed, bringing the total runway length to 8,225 feet. The wetland covers less than an acre within the project area, which requires the filing of mitigation permits from state and perhaps some federal regulatory agencies. The potential archaeological site may ultimately simply be fenced off.
An Antonov-24 crashed and burned Saturday in Gabon's heavily forested region of Ndjole, about 250 kilometers southeast of Libreville, killing five Congolese and two Russians. Witnesses claim the aircraft flew one missed approach and then maneuvered in the darkness for another pass. Three of the seven bodies were found shy of the wreckage and are thought to be those of individuals who jumped from the aircraft before it impacted rising terrain. Officials identify the Congolese as pilots and/or aviation technicians with the Congolese air force. The Russians have not been identified. The aircraft was en route from Congo with an ultimate destination of Douala, Camaroon, via Gabon when it crashed.
While U.S. airlines celebrated a fatality-free 2002, the same could not be said for the rest of the world. In fact, new figures released by Flight International magazine reveal the number of people dying in airline accidents rose last year for the first time since 1996. There were 1,022 fatalities in 2002, compared with 778 in 2001. The number of airline accidents involving deaths also increased -- from 33 in 2001 to 40. Until last year, accident numbers had been reducing steadily each year since 1996. Still, the overall trend for the past six years still shows gradually improving safety, and the figures for 2002 remain below the annual average for thepreceding decade. Europe, North America and Australasia showed continued overall good safety while other areas experienced a rise in their accident numbers. Geographic centers responsible for the poorest showing, according to the report, include Taiwan, Russia, Africa and South America.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved an alliance between three of the major U.S. airlines. The agreement between Delta, Northwest and Continental would allow them to sell seats on each other's flights if they agree to certain competitive rules. Low-fare carriers are against the proposed deal, as they call it a virtual merger of the three large operators. Eight state attorneys general also opposed the agreement, which they said could stifle competition, raise prices and lower standards of service...
An airliner struck one of the passenger jetways at New York's LaGuardia airport over the weekend. The Northwest Airlines Airbus A319 was being moved from a parking area to a gate when it hit the jetway, causing the plane's landing gear to collapse. A customer service agent on the jetway, three ground employees guiding the aircraft and two mechanics suffered minor injuries during the incident. A Northwest Boeing 757 was also was damaged in the collision, but no passengers were aboard either aircraft during the impact...
PBS's Nova program will feature an episode dedicated to the on the competition between Lockheed Martin and Boeing to win the Pentagon's joint strike fighter program. The program -- scheduled to air on February 4 -- will highlight each company's aircraft developments over more than three years as they competed for the richest military aircraft contract ever. For more information on the Nova special, visit their Web site.
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
We received over 90 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Brian Thorpe, of St. Augustine, Fla. His winning picture takes us for a rather interesting ride above the skies of St. Augustine. Brian tells us this photo was taken on the back side of a formation roll. The lead plane was Harry Shepard's Marchetti SF-260 with Carl Pascarell flying the Sindlinger Hurricane, which was actually built by Brian. Great picture, Brian! Your AVweb hat 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 1000 responses to our question last week on airport curfews. The majority (54) percent of our respondents feel that curfews do nothing but disrupt vital air traffic and if residents don't like living near an airport, they should move. Following that group, 32 percent of those responding felt that while effective in some instances, curfews can be abused and actually negatively affect an airport's valuable operations. Only
2 percent haven't made up on their minds on whether curfews are beneficial or not.
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 personal jet aircraft. Please go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw to respond.
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.