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Something Anxious In The Air

Airlines Look For More Federal Cash...

The clouds just refuse to lift for the struggling U.S. airline industry. Skyrocketing jet-fuel prices, piled-up security costs, escalating insurance premiums, self-help efforts that focus on lower prices, possible war, and no sunshine in sight. On Monday, the Air Transport Association (ATA) said if war against Iraq begins, the airlines will need more federal help, including tax relief, security aid, and a release of oil reserves. ATA President James May told Bloomberg News this week, "We've got to see some kind of short-term relief ... We anticipate it's got to come shortly after the war begins. If it comes with a significant delay it may not be of any help." A report released this week by the ATA confirmed that the airlines are in deep trouble already -- airline passenger revenues grew a bleak 2.4 percent in January compared to January 2002. "With the threat of war looming, it has been difficult to recover the traffic lost after the 9/11 attacks," said ATA Chief Economist David Swierenga. In other words, the airlines are too close to the brink of bankruptcy to wait. The airlines are afraid that energy costs will rise at the same time passenger traffic will decline. United Air Lines officials told a bankruptcy court on Monday that they might close down their hubs in Los Angeles, Denver, and Washington, in their desperate effort to cut back and find a profitable position.

...As Crews Cling To Hard-won Gains...

Flight crews and ground-support workers at the airlines are feeling the stress as management looks for all possible ways to cut labor costs. Pilots at US Airways are laying the groundwork for a potential strike, union leaders said Monday. "We have no choice but to consider it," one official from the US Airways unit of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) told Reuters. Under the airline's plan, some pilots would lose up to 75 percent of the retirement benefits they are owed. At United Air Lines, union officials reiterated this week their strong opposition to the company's effort to start a discount carrier. On Monday, ALPA Chairman Paul Whiteford wrote to United's CEO: "We are fundamentally and unequivocally opposed to any separate airline entity within United that operates under a separate labor agreement, seniority list or corporate structure." The one ray of sunshine, amid all this gloom: The pilots of Spirit Airlines, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., announced Monday they won a four-year contract with 20-percent wage hikes in the first year, improved vacation and sick time, and other enhanced benefits such as better coverage for moving expenses. "We're very happy with this new contract," said David Sytsema, a union official. "We believe that it represents our pilots' best interests and we commend Spirit management for its ability to recognize the value we provide to our organization."

...And Woes Ripple Through The Industry

As the airlines struggle, the economic crunch trickles down to suppliers. Boeing has loaned billions of dollars to its airline customers, The Seattle Times reported Monday, and now faces exposure to huge losses as those borrowers face possible bankruptcy. The fears of a Middle East war are not only a problem for domestic air travel, but also will affect the business of European and Asian airlines, many of which fly Boeing airplanes. "A war in Iraq would send passenger levels [worldwide] plummeting by 15 percent to 20 percent," Giovanni Bisgnani, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, predicted earlier this month, the Times reported. On the upside for Boeing, the company's new 777-300ER took off for its first flight on Monday, powered by two GE90-115B engines, the largest ever used on an airliner. The successful flight was broadcast live on the Internet; you can watch the video now.


Briefs....

USA Today Report: FAA "Botched" Airline Safety

The FAA was the subject of a scathing editorial in yesterday's USA Today, following up on an investigative report last week into the 1998 Swissair crash that killed 229 people. "The FAA botched its most important mission," the editorial said, "to make sure that those inspecting, maintaining, and modifying commercial airliners do their jobs properly." One target of the report was the FAA's system of naming designees in the private sector to carry out these tasks. Yesterday, Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, defended the designee program in a USA Today opinion piece. The system is "a valuable safety tool," he wrote, and aviation's record as the safest form of transportation reflects that. "Without the designees' participation, the FAA's certification office and its budget would need to grow some 600 percent so it could do that work itself," Bolen wrote. USA Today's editorial decries "lax monitoring" and "shoddy work" and links the FAA's failures to three fatal crashes: ValuJet in 1996, Alaska Airlines in 2000, and Swissair in 1998.

NATCA Calls Mead Remarks "Ill-Informed"

Air traffic controllers gathered for their annual legislative conference on Capitol Hill this week and let members of Congress know that they are not happy with Department of Transportation Inspector General Kenneth Mead. Mead, at a Senate hearing about the FAA budget on Feb. 11, noted that the FAA's operations budget has increased by 65 percent since 1996, and focused on controller salary hikes and labor agreements as a major cause. National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President John Carr's return volley: "I find it hard to believe that the inspector general is complaining to Congress about an FAA budget that increased at the same rate as his own." Calling Mead's remarks "ill-timed and ill-informed," Carr on Monday cited Office of Management and Budget data that shows the inspector general's office budget has also increased 65 percent since 1997. Carr was also sharply critical of Mead's testimony that labor agreements between NATCA and the FAA were out of control, unaccounted for and responsible for wasteful spending. "Our agreements benefit the FAA, the system and the flying public," Carr said.

NOTE: Read the complete text of Inspector General Kenneth Mead's prepared remarks for the Senate Transportation Committee hearing on FAA reauthorization. Also, read the complete text of NATCA's press release in response to those remarks.

EAA Announces AirVenture 2003 Air Show Lineup

The EAA this week announced its air show lineup for AirVenture Oshkosh, coming up July 29-August 4. The daily two-hour afternoon show is always a popular event at the world's biggest aviation gathering, and draws the top aerobatic fliers. "Air show performers enjoy flying at AirVenture," said EAA President Tom Poberezny, "because they know the audiences are the most knowledgeable and appreciative anywhere ... This year, the EAA AirVenture air show lineup is more diverse than ever." Returning favorites include Sean D. Tucker, Patty Wagstaff, Gene Soucy and Julie Clark. Aerobatic competition champions who will fly are Kirby Chambliss, Mike Goulian and Mike Mancuso. Also performing are the Warbirds of America and a wingwalking act. Making their Oshkosh debut will be the "Iron Eagles" team in a pair of Super Christen Eagles; the "Masters of Disaster," a combined aerial-ground performance team that includes the incomparable Jimmy Franklin with his Jet Waco; and the "Stars of Tomorrow," six 30-and-under performers who represent the future generation of aerobatic performers. Be there or be wishing you were.

NAA's Collier Trophy Goes To Sikorsky Helicopter

The Sikorsky S-92 helicopter has been selected by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) to receive the Robert J. Collier Trophy for 2002. The S-92 is the only helicopter to be certified under the FAA's latest standards for transport-category rotorcraft (FAR Part 29). It was singled out for the Collier award because it incorporates multiple improvements in safety, operating cost, and traveling comfort, the NAA said. The S-92 has six feet of headroom in the cabin, and 50 percent less noise and 30 percent less vibration than other helicopters. The S-92 is a 19-passenger, twin-engine transport with a range of approximately 575 miles and speeds up to 190 mph. The S-92 more than meets the Collier's criteria for recognition as the "greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America for the preceding year," the NAA concluded. It is also being developed in a military version, the H-92, which offers the same performance characteristics. Sikorsky says the aircraft is "fully flaw and damage tolerant," making it less likely to suffer fatigue from the nicks, dents, scratches, impacts, corrosion, and fretting damage that can occur in manufacturing and service use. Also, the S-92 is designed so that engine failure can be tolerated anywhere in the flight envelope while permitting safe flight to landing. Sikorsky, based in Stratford, Conn., has built five prototypes of the S-92.

Girls Just Want To ... Fly In Space

Today's youngsters may have to live with the TV images of two space shuttle disasters, but astronaut Sally Ride found last week that they are undaunted in their fascination with orbital flight. "Space touches something very deep in a lot of people, including the kids we saw here today," Ride said, while visiting the San Diego Aerospace Museum last Saturday. "It's new experiences. It's fascination. Maybe with Mars. Maybe with weightlessness. It's exploration." Her visit attracted 350 fifth-through eighth-grade girls, the Union-Tribune reported. Ride, 51, was NASA's first female shuttle astronaut, and flew twice aboard the Challenger, in 1983 and 1984. Ride is now a physics professor at the University of California San Diego and heads a Science Club that aims to encourage girls of middle-school age to strengthen their interest in science and math. She told the group at the museum that her career started when she was a student at Stanford, and she answered an ad in the school newspaper seeking volunteers for the space program. "It's neat to come here and see somebody that's actually been up in space," 7-year-old Taylor Walsh told the Union-Tribune. "She went up in space and controlled the robotic arm!" Well, what could be better than that?

British Monument Will Honor WWII Pilots

We've all heard Winston Churchill's memorable tribute to the airmen who fought in the Battle of Britain: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." Now, 63 years after that fateful assault, when the Royal Air Force warded off a German invasion of Britain, plans are laid for a monument to be erected on the Victoria Embankment above the Thames River. A model for a sculpture that will be part of the monument was unveiled Tuesday, showing pilots scrambling to their planes. In the summer of 1940, Germany's forces had more than 2,000 aircraft. To stop them, Britain had only 531 Hurricane and Spitfire fighters. Fewer than a third of the pilots, most of them young men 20 to 25 years old, could be classified as experienced. The RAF lost more than 400 pilots, but the battle is seen as a turning point in World War II -- it was Hitler's first defeat. The monument will list the names of all the pilots who fought in the battle. Organizers hope to complete the project by September 2004.

NASA "Ghost Ship" Sails To The Stars

After more than 30 years and 7.6 billion miles of traveling, it appears the venerable Pioneer 10 spacecraft has sent its last signal to Earth. Pioneer's last, very weak signal was received on Jan. 22, NASA reported Tuesday. "Pioneer 10 was a pioneer in the true sense of the word," said Dr. Colleen Hartman, director of NASA's Solar System Exploration Division. "After it passed Mars on its long journey into deep space, it was venturing into places where nothing built by humanity had ever gone before. It ranks among the most historic as well as the most scientifically rich exploration missions ever undertaken." Pioneer 10 explored Jupiter, traveled twice as far as the most distant planet in our solar system, and as Earth's first emissary into space, is carrying a gold plaque that describes what we look like, where we are and the date when the mission began. Pioneer 10 will continue to coast silently as a ghost ship through deep space into interstellar space, NASA said, heading generally for the red star Aldebaran, about 68 light years away. It will take Pioneer 10 more than 2 million years to reach it. NASA has no additional contact attempts planned for Pioneer 10.


On The Fly...

Cessna recently named a new vice president of administration, Michael (Mick) Hoveskeland, who will handle all Citation, Caravan and single-engine customer contracts; Caravan and single-engine aircraft deliveries; and flight-crew and maintenance training for customers and Cessna team members...

Archived papers about the Tuskegee Airmen are now available for research at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The 71 cubic feet of documents donated by Lt. Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr. shed light on race relations in the mid-20th century, the NASM said...

The board investigating the space shuttle Columbia accident said Tuesday they suspect the left wing was breached, allowing superheated gases to penetrate the shuttle during re-entry. Small metal fragments found in southeastern Nevada over the weekend are not from the shuttle, NASA said...

British Airways is reviewing the future of the Concorde. Reports say the airline may retire the supersonic planes because of a drop in passenger demand, and subsequent loss of revenue...

The National Park Service will host a tribute to female aviation pioneers March 13-16 at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina. Expected participants include Patty Wagstaff, members of the military and the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP), and private and commercial pilots from all fields. For more information, e-mail Erin Porter...

SR-71 Online brings you the declassified Blackbird Flight Manual, available to browse free on their Web site. The 1,052-page manual for the supersonic spy plane includes sections on Flight Characteristics, Emergency Procedures, and more...


AVweb's Picture Of The Week...

*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***

We received over 100 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Elliott Meisel, of New York, N.Y.  His photo, titled "Tuskegee Airmen at Oshkosh," captures the camaraderie between warbird pilots who care for these historic flying machines. This picture -- which shows two Tuskegee Airmen relaxing on a P-51 -- was taken at EAA's AirVenture 2002 in Oshkosh, Wis. Great picture Elliott! 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 1000 responses to our question last week on arming GA pilots. The vast majority of our respondents (76 percent) indicated that GA pilots should arm themselves, as they have the same right to protect themselves as anyone else. Only 15 percent of those responding felt that firearms have no place in the general aviation cockpit and thought they would be hazardous to any phase of flight. Our current AVmail discusses some comments we received via e-mail on this subject.

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 non-towered airport traffic pattern entries. Thanks to Jack Kenton for suggesting this week's topic. 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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