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New Rule Gives TSA Power Over Pilots

Can Order FAA To Pull Certificates...

If he wants to, Transportation Security Administration head Adm. James Loy can now have your airman's certificate pulled, or prevent you from obtaining one -- and he doesn't have to tell you why. For now, it seems you'll just have to trust TSA officials when they say that the new rule that makes it possible is only a "technical change" and it'll only affect you if you pose a security threat. "If you're not a threat to aviation security, this doesn't have anything to do with you," TSA spokesman Brian Turmaile told AVweb. Mind you, the exact definition of a security threat you may find a bit ... undefined. Such is the bureaucratic morass that had EAA and AOPA analysts burning the midnight oil Thursday when they got advance notice the FAA and TSA were going to ram through a major change to airman certificate revocation rules, without the advance notice and public comment period that more often precedes final adoption of a new rule. The new rule, termed Ineligibility for An Airman Certificate Based on Security Grounds, was published in the Federal Register on Friday and immediately became law.

...TSA Calls The Tune...

Under the rule, the FAA will immediately suspend the certificate (or hold the relevant certificate applications in abeyance) of a pilot, mechanic or flight instructor the TSA deems a possible security threat. Grounds for suspicion include posing a threat to transportation or national security, a threat of air piracy or terrorism, a threat to airline or passenger security, or a threat to civil aviation security. If the TSA Assistant Administrator for Intelligence suspects a certificate holder of any of the above, he fires a letter off to the individual and the FAA and the certificate is suspended as soon as the letter is received by the FAA -- no questions asked. If the certificate holder is a foreign national, this "Initial Notification of Threat Assessment," along with any reply from the airman, will also be reviewed by the TSA Deputy Administrator before a final assessment is made. For U.S. citizens, if the Deputy Administrator upholds the allegations, the matter must also be presented to Loy himself, who then makes the final determination. Defending yourself against the allegations might present a challenge, however, considering that some of the evidence against you may be "classified" or "sensitive" and therefore unavailable for viewing.

...New Rule Justifies 11 Already Suspended...

So far 11 certificates, which have long since been revoked, seem to be the only targets of the rule. Last Aug. 14, the TSA told the FAA that 11 people it suspected of being security threats had FAA-issued airman certificates and asked that they be revoked. On Aug. 20, the FAA issued "emergency orders of revocation," which took effect immediately. On reviewing the method by which the certificates were pulled, Turmaile said TSA lawyers recommended changing the process. FAA spokesman Greg Martin said none of the 11 certificate holders is a U.S. citizen and none of them is even allowed in the U.S. "We needed a formal reimplementation of a rule," said Turmaile. "It's a technical change." The text of the rule itself implies its establishment doesn't require any justification. "This rule thus codifies the fundamental and inherently obvious principlethat a person who poses a security threat should not hold an FAA-issued airman certificate."

Nevertheless, seven have appealed the revocation order and three of those appeals are still under review. Turmaile refused to identify them and said no information will be released about them or anyone else on another list of other security-threat suspects who will be denied certificates if they apply. "I can't give out the size of the list," said Turmaile. He said security control over airman certificates has always been on the TSA agenda and it was given that mandate when it was created under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. For the past year, he said the TSA has been busy hiring baggage screeners and overseeing the installation of bomb detectors at major airports and the certificate issue just rose to the top of the pile.

...Alphabets Worry There'll Be More

EAA and AOPA reaction was swift and centered on the possibility of abuse of the new rule. "We at EAA understand the mission of TSA but the process, as written, leaves room for abuse by those in the future who may not exercise the proper due diligence," said EAA President Tom Poberezny. He said there is no clear definition of what constitutes a security threat and noted the lack of access, by the accused, to any classified documents used to justify the certificate revocation. Both groups worried that the TSA has the sole authority to adjudicate a certificate holder's appeal. "With all due regard to national security, we're deeply concerned that the rules appear to permit taking away a pilot's license without an independent review," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. Both groups were miffed that the rule was enacted without public notice and the customary 90-day period to receive comments that almost always precedes this type of action. The rule was also apparently a well-kept secret within the FAA, too. Even the media relations staff didn't find out about it until about the same time EAA and AOPA got their advance copies. But the rule itself says there is a "possible imminent hazard" and that giving notice might "delay the ability of the FAA to take effective action" to pull the certificates of those on the TSA list. Instead, the comment period follows enactment and comments can be made online at the DOT's docket-management Web site, citing docket numbers TSA-2002-13732, TSA-2002-13733, and FAA-2003-14293.


Briefs...

GA Leaders Meet The Boss

The General Aviation Coalition, a group of 16 GA organizations chaired by EAA President Tom Poberezny, chewed the fat with the new FAA administrator for the first time on Jan. 21, tackling certification, airport, funding and security issues in its first face-to-face with Administrator Marion Blakey. The group urged the Administrator to further delegate certification processes to other groups to ease the burden on scarce FAA resources and pressed Blakey to forcefully defend the FAA's status as sole authority for airspace and aviation certification issues where state and municipal governments now attempt to exert control. "This introductory meeting built a strong foundation for a positive working relationship ..." said Poberezny. The GAC told Blakey it supports the ongoing study on modernizing flight service stations but told her it doesn't want a privatized or fee-based system. Blakey was also urged to maintain funding for GA airports. The GAC meets with the FAA administrator twice a year and the next meeting is planned for July.

Lycoming Suit To Proceed

A personal injury suit against Lycoming over failure of an IO-540 engine will go ahead in U.S. District Court in Beaumont, Texas, May 12. But this one doesn't have anything directly to do with the crankshaft problems that have grounded hundreds of aircraft since October. The crankshaft in this engine was made by a different subcontractor than those involved in the recall. Lawyer Charles Ames is representing a woman hurt in the crash landing of a Piper Mirage after the engine failed in flight. The plaintiff, Lauren Christine Walker, is alleging that poor manufacturing and quality control led to the failure. She lost a legal round with Lycoming on Jan. 23 when a Beaumont judge denied her application to unseal depositions made by Lycoming employees during preliminary proceedings on the case. The depositions were sealed by mutual consent to protect the company's trade secrets. Ames applied to have them unsealed in December, saying the information they contain is in the public interest. Lycoming opposed the application and declined further comment to AVweb. In his decision, Judge Richard A. Schell said opening the depositions now "would make public damaging but unproven allegations by AVCO [Lycoming's parent company] employees. The purpose of the upcoming trial is to determine the truthfulness of these allegations and whether or not the aircraft engine is, in fact, defective." The judge also said that if the FAA wanted to look at the depositions as part of its investigation, he'd entertain a motion to reconsider. He also said that if, before the trial, the FAA finds the engines are "defective and unsafe," he'd entertain a similar motion from the plaintiff.

Flight 800 Conspiracy Theory Finds Voice

Coverups, lies and deception are the hallmarks of a good spy thriller, but a book to be released in March claims that this is no work of fiction. Joseph Farah, publisher of "First Strike," claims writers Jack Cashill and James Sanders have uncovered "overwhelming evidence" that TWA Flight 800 was hit by a missile before it disintegrated off Long Island in 1996. Although the cause has never been proven, investigators said it was likely the result of an electrical spark igniting fuel vapors in the Boeing 747's belly fuel tank. Farah said the book will show that evidence was covered up on orders from the White House for political reasons. It also claims to have uncovered "startling new evidence" about an alleged Islamic terrorist connection. The news release hyping the book does not, however, address the question of why the alleged terrorists didn't simply announce their infamy themselves. Perhaps they felt the White House press staff would one day do a better job.

Sonic Cruiser Now "New Vision Airplane"

A Boeing official has confirmed that the presumed-dead Sonic Cruiser may find new life in Boeing's "new vision airplane" project. Kenneth Hiebert, Boeing's marketing director in the Middle East, told a Dubai newspaper that elements of the long-range, high-speed airliner would end up in a new, unnamed aircraft that marries those attributes with high efficiency. Boeing announced an end to the Sonic Cruiser project in December. The new aircraft is expected to roll out in 2008, about when the Sonic Cruiser was to debut. Meanwhile, Boeing CEO Phil Condit was in Davos, Switzerland, downplaying projections that Europe-based Airbus will overtake Boeing in commercial jet production this year. "There are a lot of ways of measuring No. 1," Condit told the Associated Press, noting that half of Boeing's business is in military and space applications. But he also said the commercial jet side is taking dead aim at Airbus's emerging dominance in the mid-sized, fuel-efficient airliner market with a 200-seat answer to the A-320 and A-330.

More Money On Fewer Planes

If you said business at Cessna had its ups and downs in 2002, you wouldn't just be making a bad pun. Although the Wichita company delivered almost 300 fewer aircraft than the year before and laid off hundreds of staff, CEO Russ Meyer said they took in the most money ever in 2002. Revenue for the year was $3.2 billion and there's a $4.9 billion order backlog "This has been a record year in every respect," Meyer said in a company release. The company delivered a total of 946 airplanes in 2002: 307 Citations, 80 Caravans and 559 piston singles. In 2001 it handed over the keys to 313 jets, 76 Caravans and 821 172s, 182s and 206s. Meanwhile, problems persist at Raytheon, which is laying off another 600 in its aircraft unit. The company lost $15 million in the fourth quarter and is also under Securities and Exchange Commission investigation. The parent company, however, made more money than expected last year, thanks to a boost in its defense business. The company increased its 2003 earnings guidance by 10 cents a share to between $1.70 and $1.80 a share.

FAA Gets WARPed

Controllers at the FAA's 20 air route traffic control facilities can now see precipitation at three altitudes in three different colors, depending on intensity, on the same screen that shows aircraft position. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey announced Thursday that installation of the Weather and Radar Processor system has been completed and it should result in faster flights and fewer delays during bad weather. It's also said to reduce the potential for weather-related accidents. Since the controllers can see the weather the planes are in or heading for, they can make quicker decisions on rerouting them and getting them back on course. The weather information appears as a backdrop to the aircraft position data.

Gear Collapse Delays ME-262

Builders of a modern version of the ME-262 WWII jet fighter say their prototype will be back in the air in three to six months after a landing accident Jan. 18. Bob Hammer, the driving force behind the ME-262 project, said the left main gear collapsed after its first flight with the gear retracted. A double failure of the electric hydraulic pump and gear lock actuator led to the collapse. The plane skidded off the runway to settle nose-first in a ditch. Pilot Wolf Czaia was not hurt. Hammer said the plane suffered mainly sheet-metal damage and will be relatively easy to repair. Addressing the gear problem will take longer. "I'm going to re-engineer the whole landing gear system," he said. As for the double failure, "We could have handled either one on its own but not both of them together," said Hammer. He said the gear was cycled more than 100 times on the ground before the flight and it worked perfectly. The group recently announced it has sold two 262s, one for $2 million to a retired lawyer who plans to fly it in air shows, and another to a German museum. Three more will be sold.

Coffee, Tea, Or...

The U.S.'s newest airline is putting its best features forward with an innovative marketing and service plan. Hooters Air will staff its Boeing 737s with three certified, gender-neutral flight attendants (to tell you what to do in an emergency) and two Hooters Girls in the uplifting uniform of that food service icon. "Why would you fly with any other airline?" wondered Hooters marketing whiz Mike McNeil. Well, there is the matter of getting where you want to go, safely and economically. The Hooters folks claim to have thought of that, too. The company took over an established charter carrier, Pace Airlines, in December and has turned over maintenance to Delta Airlines. Delta TechOps recently repainted Hooters Air One in orange and white livery with a big owl on the tail. Routes, rates and schedules will be announced in the next month and flights will begin in the summer.


On The Fly...

Don't, repeat, don't fly anywhere within 30 nm of the Capitol between 2000 and 2300 on Tuesday night. That's when President Bush will be delivering the State of the Union Address and the Secret Service is determined that he not be interrupted. The NOTAM covering the TFR bans all GA traffic and closes the DC-3 airports. "No pilot wants to make the mistake of violating this TFR," a senior security official was quoted as saying by AOPA officials...

The pilot of a Maverick personal business jet was killed when the plane crashed near the Melbourne, Fla., airport. Witnesses said the plane appeared to be flying erratically and one said he heard the pilot, over his portable transceiver, reporting problems with the plane's systems. The name of the pilot was not immediately released...

American Airlines posted the largest yearly loss in aviation history last year. The airline lost $3.5 billion U.S. and warned it must cut costs dramatically to survive. The previous record holder was United Air Lines, which lost $2.1 billion in 2001 and filed for bankruptcy protection late last year. American is losing about $5 million a day...

The pilot of a Cirrus SR20 died Thursday when the plane crashed in bad weather in San Jose, Calif. The plane was on its way to Reid-Hillview Airport when it went down in a rugged canyon in the eastern section of the city. It was the second Cirrus crash in less than a week. Two died in a mishap in Minnesota Jan. 18...

Five people died and six were injured in a midair collision over Denver Friday. A Piper Cheyenne and Cessna 172 collided over the northern end of the city late in the afternoon. All five dead were in the aircraft. One of the planes narrowly missed a 12-story retirement home before hitting the back of a house...

Aviation legend Bobbi Trout died Jan. 24 at the age of 97. Bobbi set numerous flying records, was one of the founders of the 99s and in 1993 became a member of Women in Aviation's Hall of Fame.  You can read more about Bobbi at her Web site and in AVweb's Profile.


Short Final...

More from our How big is it? file...

On a pleasant spring morning at the Ohio State University's Don Scott airport, with many students doing the required bounce-and-goes on 27L and 27R, I was cleared to taxi to the less active 32:

C-172: Holding short 32 awaiting release.

Twr: Student C-150 departing 27L. Position and hold 32.

C-172: Position and hold 32, caution for wake turbulance

Twr: [chuckle]

After departing on 32 I heard the student setting up for another touch and go:

C-150: Cessna 150 heavy, cleared touch and go.

Twr: [bigger chuckle]

Contributions to Short Final are welcomed at sf@avweb.com.


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