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Privatization? No, No And Again, No

FAA Asks If We Heard Them The First Time...

In the face of growing legislative and publicity campaigns to prevent such a move, the FAA continues to insist there are no plans to privatize air traffic control. "We have absolutely no plans or desire to expand or increase contracting out of air traffic services," FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb. Martin's comments came after the Office of Management and Budget's formal announcement that air traffic control is now on its list of "commercial activities" instead of being "inherently governmental." Martin said the decision, which was announced two months ago but only formally applied last week, is based purely on semantics. "The definition for 'inherently governmental' is so strict that air traffic control services don't fit," Martin said. He noted that the private sector already runs ATC at numerous smaller airports in the U.S. and several countries, including Canada and Britain, have contracted out their entire ATC systems. But opponents to the OMB listing, notably the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, maintain that ATC is a vital government function, at least as important as airport baggage screening, which the government took over from the private sector last year. NATCA insists that ATC fits the OMB criterion that government services are "so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by federal employees."

...Anti-Privatization Bill Introduced, Anyway...

Leading the charge to stop from ever happening what purportedly won't happen anytime soon, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) now has the backing of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) who introduced a bill (S. 338) that would enshrine air traffic control as a government responsibility. NATCA spokesman Doug Church said the bill already has won the support of at least six Republican senators and representatives. The FAA's Martin told AVweb that FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has personally assured both Lautenberg and NATCA President John Carr that ATC will not be privatized. "The answer is an emphatic 'No,'" said Martin. AOPA has added its voice to the circus, too, but for slightly different reasons. President Phil Boyer said AOPA is afraid privatization will lead to fees being charged for ATC services, as has happened in Britain and Canada. "Pilots have a long history of fighting fees for air traffic control services," he said. There's also the question of whether the government actually saves money by privatizing ATC. On Feb. 20, NATCA will release the findings of a white paper by Columbia University Professor Elliot Sclar. "Pitfalls of Air Traffic Control Privatization" challenges the assumed cost savings and also raises questions about safety and security effects.

...Flight Services Staff Hitch A Ride

All the attention to tower controllers has had a welcome spinoff for flight service station personnel. Wally Pike, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS), met with Lautenberg Thursday and the senator agreed to include FSS personnel in his anti-privatization bill. FSS services such as pilot briefings and weather advisories have been considered a commercial activity for several years and there is now a review (an A76 study) being done to see what parts of that system can be safely and economically turned over to private enterprise. Pike described Lautenberg as "very supportive" of the NAATS position that FSS services remain in government hands. Lautenberg's amendment to include flight services puts AOPA in a difficult situation. Although stridently opposed to ATC privatization, AOPA has been generally supportive of the A76 study into flight services, always with the proviso that it not result in any fees to pilots. In the past, AOPA has said the FSS system needs modernization and upgrading and it viewed the privatization study as a way to potentially improve services to pilots. Meanwhile, the FAA's Martin said Lautenberg's bill will have no effect on the FSS review. "We will continue with the A76 study." Pike admitted the support, while welcome, isn't likely to make his job that much easier. "We have a long way to go and very twisted road to travel," he said. "Still, we're better off this week than we were a couple of weeks ago."


ADIZ

Coming Soon To A City Near You?...

While the D.C.-area air defense identification zone (ADIZ) doesn't affect most of us, pilots throughout the country are on notice that it could happen to them at any time. The FAA told the alphabets that if intelligence sources become aware of a threat anywhere else in the country, an ADIZ would be the preferred method of securing the skies. Given current tensions, it wouldn't hurt any of us to study the ADIZ requirements and go over the national security provisions, interception procedures and intercept signals outlined in the FAA's Aeronautical Information Manual section six, chapter five. ...Certainly it would hurt less than a stinger up the exhaust pipe. For Washington-area pilots, however, these types of procedures are likely to become a permanent fixture. As AVweb reported earlier, SFAR 94 around Washington has been extended to Feb. 13, 2005, and that probably means the 15-mile no-fly zone is there to stay. The FAA says intelligence suggests there's an ongoing threat to the nation's capital and the SFAR is necessary to guard against airborne assault. AOPA continues to worry about the impact the extension will have on the three airports within the 15-nm zone. Operations at College Park, Hyde Field and Potomac Airfield have been severely curtailed by the flight restrictions.

...As D.C.'s Gets Tweaked

The FAA continues to adjust provisions of the ADIZ imposed on the Washington and Baltimore areas last week and there may be more changes to come. For starters, pilots operating in the traffic pattern of non-towered airports within the ADIZ will again be able to communicate with other pilots doing same (originally, pilots had to be in constant contact with air traffic control). AOPA and EAA continue to lobby for more concessions to accommodate aircraft not so easily made compliant. The ADIZ rule requiring 12-inch N-numbers has already been lifted for the Washington-Baltimore zone. There are also hundreds of antique, experimental and ultralight aircraft that don't have the required transponders to operate in the ADIZ. EAA is lobbying for a one-time waiver that will allow owners to move their aircraft to friendlier (for them) skies.


Briefs...

FAA Gets Reauthorization Deadline

The FAA has been given until May to outline its needs and wants for the next four years. In hearings last week, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain told FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that if Congress doesn't have the agency's reauthorization proposal by then, the politicians would themselves set the FAA's course. ATM Global obtained an early draft of the proposal and reported it calls for $57 billion in funding --  2001's three-year AIR-21 began life with $40 billion in authorized funding for federal aviation programs. AIR-21 was composed of $33 billion from the Aviation Trust Fund and $6.7 billion appropriated from the general fund. Blakey said the agency is working on the new proposal, that it will be done on time and may include some organizational changes and an experiment to allow airlines to have input on scheduling at congested airports during bad weather. Meanwhile, the agency continues to grapple with modernization programs.

Tripping Over STARS

As AVweb reported earlier, deployment of the controversial Standard Terminal Automated Replacement System (STARS) has been pared back to seven installations this year from a scheduled 18 because of budget constraints. The FAA is putting the best possible spin on the delay. "It's not that we're cutting back the deployment," FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler told Federal Computer Week. "We're spreading it out over more years than we had hoped." John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, was somewhat less delicate. "It will be obsolete by the time the last systems are deployed," he told a meeting of the Aviation Safety Alliance last week.

Technology Aiding Pilots

While the FAA struggles with STARS, there's a steady stream of innovation helping pilots get the job done more safely and efficiently. A wake-turbulence detector and a collision-avoidance system for small aircraft are under development and a wind-shear detector has already been installed in New York, not far from where American Flight 587 last year crashed after a possible wake turbulence encounter. Also, those visiting the site of the first sustained three-axis controlled powered flight at Kitty Hawk will be able to use the latest in point-click-and-drag weather information for the flight home from Kill Devil Hills. A small Connecticut company says it's developed a system to detect wake turbulence. Flight Safety Technologies is expecting about $4.5 million in federal grants to bring the Sensor for Optically Characterizing Remote Acoustic Turbulence Emitting Sound (SOCRATES) system to market. The company is also working on the Universal Collision Obviation and Reduced Near-Miss (UNICORN) system, a collision-avoidance and ground proximity warning device for small aircraft. We can't wait to see what their acronym writer comes up with next.

Down in Brooklyn, the Terminal Doppler Weather Radar System (TDWR) started warning pilots at LaGuardia and Kennedy of potential wind shear conditions last week. It took 28 years from the crash of an Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 in 1975 to get the system into operation. At Kitty Hawk, the Wrights used their own senses to gauge the weather. Pilots using First Flight Airport in Kill Devil Hills to visit the historic site will be able to use Meteorlogix's MxVision AviationSentry to learn about weather on their intended route. By simply dragging the computer mouse along the proposed flight path, the system gathers all the weather and regulatory information for the route, including cloud tops, winds, turbulence, AIRMETs, SIGMETs, METARs, NOTAMs and TFRs and then provides on-line flight-plan filing.

Changes May Come For TSA's Revocation Rule

Word is finally trickling out to the politicians about the unprecedented powers granted to the TSA in unilaterally suspending airmen's certificates, revoking them and then reviewing their appeal. When FAA Administrator Marion Blakey appeared before a Commerce Committee hearing last week, Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) noted that evidence supporting a revocation could be kept secret for security reasons. "This looks like an impossible situation if you can't face your accuser," Burns told the committee. "This flies in the face of the American judicial system." AOPA says the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Don Young, of Alaska, was angry when AOPA President Phil Boyer explained the rule to him last week. While Young didn't know about the rule, his staff reported receiving "tons of mail" from angry Alaska pilots. Fortunately, it seems that people in high places were as surprised by the breadth and scope of the rule as were the pilots, mechanics and instructors who could be potentially affected. Young indicated he'd pursue legislative changes to the rule. Meanwhile, Montana Rep. Denny Rehberg told AOPA's Senior VP Andy Cebula he didn’t like the bill.

DOJ Sets Foreign Student Standards (Finally)

The world is now open to U.S. flight schools, 16 months after security concerns closed a significant part of their business. The Department of Justice Thursday announced that as of March 17 it would allow non-U.S. citizens to take first-time type training in aircraft weighing more than 12,500 lbs. Foreign nationals with current certificates have been able to take recurrent and other training. The ban applied only to those applying for the first time to fly larger aircraft. The ban has cost flight schools and airlines millions of dollars. U.S. flight training is coveted in most countries and many flight schools had a significant percentage of foreign students before 9/11.

GAMA Puts On Brave Face

In case you haven't heard, it was a bad year for GA aircraft sales -- that fact, courtesy of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association's year-end roundup of red ink for 2002. In the midst of all the minus signs (like a $2 billion reduction in industry billings) GAMA CEO Ed Bolen did manage to find something nice to say: "However, on a positive note, business jet flight activity increased last year [and] we set a new safety record." Unfortunately, shipments of all types of aircraft were down. Nowhere was the downturn felt more than in the turboprop market. Shipments were down 38.9 percent in the U.S. and 33.9 percent worldwide. In all other types, the reduction ranged between 11 and 13 percent. GAMA Chairman Bill Boisture, president of Gulfstream Aerospace, also gave it his best shot. "Although the numbers are down, this is not the biggest one-year decrease our industry has ever experienced," he said, not mentioning the previous record. He said cost-cutting, better customer support and increasing the utility of aircraft will help get things rolling again.

NOTE: Read the full text of the GAMA news release, available in Adobe's Portable Document Format.

Bell CEO ... And The Power Of The Pen

Somehow, in the Feb. 13 edition of AVflash, we managed to re-name the CEO of Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. Our apologies to John Murphey, as his family, friends and colleagues at Bell know him. Sorry, John.


On The Fly...

Kids aged 12 to 18 are welcome to EAA's Air Academy this summer. EAA is sponsoring a full schedule of aviation courses from June 21 to Sept. 1 at its new Oshkosh Air Academy Lodge. Three programs are designed specifically for 12- to 13-year-olds and there are programs for those 14 to 15 and 16 to 18. Sounds like fun...

IFR approach altitude has been increased from 500 feet to 600 feet for aircraft landing on certain runways at Oakland International Airport. Problem was some of the Port of Oakland's cranes encroached on the 250-foot cushion between landing aircraft and ground-based obstacles. Some of the cranes go as high as 350 feet during maintenance...

If you don't support our war, we won't support your air show? Eighteen U.S. congressmen have asked the government to boycott the Paris Air Show after France failed to support the Bush administration's potential invasion of Iraq. France wants continued weapons inspections in Iraq to keep the Saddam Hussein regime contained....

A Delta Air Lines pilot has been acquitted of drunk flying after a court appearance in Norfolk, Va. Gary A. Schroeder was cleared after airport police failed to introduce the results of an alcohol test administered on Schroeder after he was pulled off the plane Dec. 26. At the time, airport officials said he registered a blood alcohol content of .07 and the FAA maximum is .04.

Short Final...

Last week's short final made me think of our local GA airport, which features the following sign in the men's room:

"Pilots with a short pitot tube and low manifold pressure are advised to taxi up close..."

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

v1


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