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Tough Times

Budget Crunch Squeezes FAA...

Money's tight all over, and as the U.S. House and Senate wrangle over the latest version of a budget bill for 2003, the cash deficit could translate to staff cuts for the FAA. Last week, the Senate passed a $390 billion "omnibus" budget bill, lumping together all the departments and agencies -- and it shortchanged the FAA's operating budget by $30 million. The House is expected to lobby for even less spending overall, and the end result -- due sometime next month -- is not likely to be brimming with good news. The Senate bill would give the FAA more than $7 billion for operations, but another cut of $200 million is expected before all is said and done, AviationNow reported this week. With mandated raises and a budget lower than last year's, the FAA's staff-intensive operation would have few options for making up the shortfall other than to cut jobs, sources told AviationNow.

...Despite Efforts At Cost Cutting

In its budget proposal, the FAA offers reductions of $149 million for security tasks transferred to the TSA, and additional savings of $111 million, mostly from eliminating (through attrition) about 400 jobs in Air Traffic Services. The agency proposes to cut funding altogether for a few programs, including $2 million for the Mid-America Aviation Resource Consortium and $6 million for contract tower cost sharing. Mandatory increases for raises and new hires total $398 million. The budget also promises to establish a performance-based operation for air traffic in 2003, with a chief operating officer at its head. While the budget battle wages in Washington, AOPA warned last week that budget deficits at the state level also threaten airport funding. Minnesota legislators, for example, have proposed to raid $15 million from the state airports to boost the sagging general fund. Aviation budgets in Arizona, California, Virginia, and Florida are also being watched, AOPA said.


A Collision Of Perceptions

Midair Over Denver Leads To Safety Concerns...

Five people died last Friday when a Cessna 172 and a twin-engine Piper PA-31T Cheyenne collided above a Denver neighborhood. Six people on the ground were slightly hurt, and a house was destroyed after it was hit by the Cessna and caught fire. Over the weekend, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb asked the FAA to review the local flight patterns to be sure they are safe. AOPA representatives worked to explain to the media that the chance of a person on the ground being killed by a falling airplane is about 1 in 50 million ... favorable, when compared to the odds of being struck by lightning or falling fatally down the stairs. "The mayor has been assured that the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are going to be reviewing air traffic patterns over the city," a spokesman for the mayor said Sunday, The Denver Post reported. AOPA is worried that the reaction could encourage public anxieties that ultimately might manifest in regulation infringing on pilots' freedom to fly.

...As Pilots Defend Airspace...

Local pilots also defended aviation safety to The Denver Post. A spokeswoman for the Colorado Pilots Association told the Post that midair collisions are very rare, and stricter regulations would not have prevented Friday's accident. Also, keeping the skies wide open for pilots (both accident aircraft were operating under VFR) actually keeps them safer, said Eric Jensen, president of the pilots' group, because giving them more space lessens the concentration of aircraft. "If you sit around the pilots' lounge talking about what worries people, midairs are not No. 1," Jensen told the Post. An editorial in Tuesday's Post, entitled "A tragedy, not a trend," quoted reassurances from AOPA spokesman Warren Morningstar, and concluded, "What's important now is getting all the facts and calming the public's fears: The sky is not falling." AOPA also explained to the media the procedures pilots follow to avoid midair collisions, including scanning for traffic, communicating on CTAF frequencies in the vicinity of a non-towered airport, utilizing "flight following" services, and the hemispheric cruising rules.

...And Details Of The Accident Emerge

Both pilots involved in the collision were talking to air traffic controllers, according to an NTSB update released Monday. Both pilots were flying VFR and had requested flight following. One controller was providing basic radar services to both pilots. Shortly before the crash, the Piper pilot, Leo "Lee" Larson, 57, had been issued a traffic advisory that the Cessna was at 12 o'clock and 1 mile. The reported visibility at the time was about 10-15 miles and the clouds were broken and scattered from 6,000 to 14,000 feet MSL. The Cessna 172, flown by Jonathan Ladd, 20, and carrying two passengers, had departed from Centennial Airport about 5 p.m. local time, headed to Cheyenne, Wyo. About 5:10 p.m., the Piper Cheyenne, with Larson and one passenger on board, departed Jefferson County Airport for Centennial Airport. At 5:17 p.m., Larson reported to the Denver Approach controller and said his altitude was 7,800 feet. About 90 seconds later, Ladd, in the Cessna, contacted the controller. He was at 7,300 feet and asked to climb to 8,500 feet. The request was granted. About 10 seconds later, the controller asked Larson his altitude, and was told 7,600 feet. The controller then issued a traffic advisory to Larson, advising there was a Cessna at the Piper's 12 o'clock position and 1 mile at 7,700 feet. The collision occurred shortly thereafter. The sun had set about 20 minutes prior to the collision.


Briefs...

Cash In Hand, Lancair Ramps Up

The Lancair Co., of Bend, Ore., confirmed last Friday that it has (finally) closed on a $55 million financing deal with Malaysian investors. With 173 outstanding orders for its Columbia certified aircraft, the company has plenty of work to catch up on. "Our every effort is now directed at the re-start of manufacturing and delivery of the Columbia aircraft," Lancair President Bing Lantis said in a news release. "We will steadily increase production to and beyond a rate of one aircraft per day." The company ran into a capital crunch last year, and had to lay off most of its 300 employees. The cash arrived by way of Composite Technology Research Malaysia (CTRM), a longtime investor in Lancair. CTRM operates a group of aerospace companies that design and manufacture airframe components.

Texas Considers Old Airport For New Airport Site

Okay, see if you can follow this one: In 1999, Robert Mueller Municipal Airport in Austin, Texas, was closed down, theoretically in favor of using all that airport space for development. But oddly enough, it turns out the airport provided space for lots of pilots and their airplanes, who now had no place to go. The state legislature subsequently decreed that central Texas had to find a spot for a new general aviation airport ... but expressly excluded Mueller as a possible site. State representative Ron Wilson, of Houston, has never accepted that logic, and in the current session he has introduced a bill that would allow Robert Mueller to be the new airport. Alas, similar bills of his have failed in the past, but in politics, one never knows. On Tuesday, AOPA announced its support of the bill. Wilson told The Dallas Morning News this week that the city was shortsighted and irresponsible when it shut down Mueller, and the closure has blighted a low-income area. "You've got this cancer in the middle of East Austin," he said, "that was sold to them as this revitalization project. If I can convert it back into an airport, it could employ a lot of people in that neighborhood and would make their quality of life much better." Dawnna Dukes, state rep from Austin, told the Morning News: "Once [Wilson] has an idea -- it doesn't matter how many years -- he won't forget it. I just wish he'd forget Robert Mueller airport."

As Airlines Sink, Cargo Takes The Lead

A few years ago, when airlines were booming, lots of underused regional airports were eyed as potential reliever hubs. Now, with air travel in a perpetual slump, some savvy planners are looking to cargo as the wave of the future for jobs and development. Regional airports in Southern California, which unlike LAX or SFO have room to expand, are actively courting cargo carriers, the Los Angeles Daily News reported this week. Air cargo traffic (thanks for shopping online with AVweb's sponsors) in the region is expected to triple by 2025 and will provide 100,000 jobs, the Daily News said. At Victorville, 5,000 acres is available for development, and plans are in place to expand a runway for cargo operations. General Electric already is building a new hangar there for jet-engine testing. At Ontario Airport, a Taiwan-based cargo carrier has agreed to start flying there and a new 110-acre cargo facility is in the planning stages. Other aviation businesses are also attracting attention as potential growth industries, especially aviation maintenance. Maybe if the current slump drags on, planners will start to pay attention to flight schools and FBOs as potential economic engines ... well, we can hope.

AD Watch

A proposed Airworthiness Directive would apply to various New Piper PA-23 models, and would require repetitive inspections of the flap control torque tube. The proposal stems from several reports of damage found in the torque tube, which could result in failure of the flap operating system. A proposed AD for Raytheon Beech models with V-tails would revise a current AD that requires inspections and modifications of the ruddervators. The revision would add a repetitive inspection of the fuselage bulkheads and change other inspections from a repetitive to a one-time action. Earlier this month, the FAA issued a correction to its recent AD for Bonanza and Barons; now, here is another correction, this time to clarify that an earlier AD has been nullified.

Your Very Own Flying Car!

Just in case you don't already have one in your garage -- right next to your household robot and your raygun collection -- you can log on to eBay this Friday and partake in a bidding war for the prototype Moller Skycar. It may be worth pointing out that you need to be a certified bidder, and ready to pay around $2 million ... which is what the company expects the auction will bring. For that, you get a one-of-a-kind "flying" machine, complete with command software, double-redundant stability system, fly-by-wire controls and eight unique Rotapower engines. The Skycar is designed to carry four average-sized passengers and take off and land vertically, while being small enough to be driven on the street. It is designed to fly at a top speed of 380 mph with a range of 900 miles. Design figures aside, "the aircraft has been flown only to an altitude of approximately 40 feet." The prototype is currently configured for a single pilot, and has "flown" twice. It's classified as an experimental aircraft and is not approved for road use. But hey, it's a bargain at $2 million, when you consider that Moller International spent about $200 million on its development. And won't it look cool in your driveway?


On The Fly...

The FAA on Monday asked operators of commuter aircraft to collect data on the actual weight of pax and bags, to test whether the averages in use are accurate, and also issued an emergency AD mandating inspections of Beech 1900 elevator control systems. The actions were prompted by the fatal Jan. 8 crash of a Beech 1900 on takeoff from Charlotte, N.C....

A pilot was killed when his twin-engine 1958 Beechcraft 95 Travelair crashed into a house in Southern California on Friday. A 17-year-old boy watching TV in the house was not hurt...

A China Airlines 747 flew from Shanghai to Taipei on Sunday, the first time in more than 50 years that Taiwanese civilian aircraft have been permitted to operate in Chinese airspace...

Tenth annual Aviation Law Conference set for Feb. 10-11 in Miami, Fla., to examine current issues in the law of FAA aircraft registration, financing, and security...

John Boothe, chief of maintenance for the N.C. Aviation Museum in Asheboro, received the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic award from the FAA. The award goes to individuals who have been involved in aviation for over 50 years, 30 years of which must be in maintenance.


AVweb's Picture Of The Week...

*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***

We received over 100 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Justin Moore, of San Antonio, Texas. His photo, titled "Cessna 195 crosswind landing," is a beautiful shot of a classy airplane on touchdown. Jim McIrvin flew this Cessna 195 in for a landing at the San Geronimo airport. Great picture Justin! 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.


AVweb's Question Of The Week...

*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***

We received over 600 responses to our question last week on personal jet aircraft.  The majority (43 percent) of our respondents felt that these types of airplanes are great for those who can afford these aircraft, but a moot point for the others who can't.  The second most popular response -- as indicated by 27 percent of those responding -- indicated that these new aircraft models are always a good sign for industry.  Only 2 percent of our respondent base felt that this is the wrong time to introduce these jet aircraft to market.

To check out the complete results go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw.

*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***

This week, we would like to know your thoughts on the new TSA rule regarding airmen certificates. 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.

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