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Chicago Mayor Richard Daley Wednesday told The Chicago Sun-Times that Daley "dropped all pretenses" and admitted it was not security concerns that drove him destroy Meigs field but his intent to turn the airport into a waterfront park. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge confirmed Daley had not consulted his department. At the same time, National Air Transportation Association President James K. Coyne told the House Subcommittee on Aviation strongly and directly that "Congress must act by condemning the action" taken by Daley at Meigs. Coyne warned directly that Meigs "could well be the first in a long line of state and local government actions designed only to meet personal agendas while ignoring the aviation infrastructure needs of the nation as a whole." If anything, Daley's change of script will add more fuel to the considerable fire that's burning over his decision to send excavators to tear large Xs in the airport's only runway 10 days ago. AOPA launched a federal suit against the city claiming the runway was closed illegally, because the FAA wasn't notified and there was no "emergency" to justify its immediate closure. AOPA also paid for newspaper ads generally vilifying Daley and his actions at Meigs. Criticism is even coming from other countries, with the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association sending a letter and advising members to do likewise.
And how has the mayor been holding up under this political storm? Daley appears to relish the adversity, at least according to one observer. Chicago columnist Greg Hinz noted that Daley "has been in full strut" since the bulldozers went in. Hinz notes that Daley is no stranger to controversy and suggests the threats of boycotts and the enmity of the aviation community will bounce off. But even Daley must answer to someone and it's suggested the reaction by some powerful federal and state politicians might take some spring out of his step. Since Daley broke his promise to keep Meigs open, Hinz says state and federal politicians -- who have the ability to make life difficult indeed for the mayor's legislative agenda -- are openly speculating on whether the assurances they've received from Daley on a variety of issues are worth anything. After all, he had agreed to keep Meigs open at least until 2006. Among the legislators was a senior aide to U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) who wondered whether Daley's promise to provide a western road access to O'Hare International, as part of its expansion, was still on the table. "I wouldn't have thought to ask [before the Meigs destruction]," said Hastert aide Mike Stokke. "The mayor gave his word." Might want to get that in writing, Mike.
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The Department of Transportation's Inspector General says federal aid for the airlines shouldn't allow them to keep digging their own graves. Ken Mead testified before appropriations hearings last week just before Congress agreed to $3 billion in bailouts to the airlines to help cover war-related losses. Travel bookings have plummeted since the war in Iraq began, concerns about SARS have not helped, and both add to an already desperate situation for many airlines. But Mead told Congress that any relief should not "provide a cash subsidy that allows a way for airlines to avoid making the hard calls necessary to become sustainable ..." Mead said the carriers must cut labor costs (including the six-figure salaries and seven-figure bonuses of some management staff), generally get their financial houses in order, and not look for government handouts. In the next breath he was warning the hearings that the favorite targets of airline cutbacks are the less-productive routes to small and medium-sized cities. He said the government will inevitably be called upon to (you guessed it) subsidize service on some of those routes as part of the Essential Air Service Program.
Now, if the FAA were an airline, how would it fare under Mead's scrutiny? Apparently, not very well. In fact, according to Mead's testimony to the committee, the agency suffers many of the same problems as the airlines it oversees -- to wit, bloated labor costs, horrible cost control and management disarray. "Just as the airlines have had to rethink the basics of their business, FAA also must re-examine how it does business and redouble its efforts to become performance-based in deed and not just in word," he said. And, like the airlines, if it doesn't get its fiscal act together, it will be tapping the taxpayer for more ... and more. Mead noted that the FAA's budget has ballooned from $8.2 billion in 1996 to $14 billion for fiscal year 2004. He said much of that increase is due to wages, which, since the FAA implemented a new pay system in 1998, have increased 41 percent compared to 30 percent for the rest of government. Some of those employees have overseen programs that might have driven private-sector companies to the poorhouse. Mead noted that five of the agency's 20 major acquisition programs are a total of $3 billion over budget and years behind schedule. He notes that the $3 billion in overruns are equal to the agency's entire technology budget for a year.
And it's against that gloomy backdrop that air traffic controllers are calling for the agency to triple its hiring projections for their sector. Over the next four years, according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), more than 5,000 air traffic controllers will be eligible to retire. But the spending plan before the appropriations committee includes funding to hire just 302 new controllers next year. Considering it takes about five years of training and on-the-job experience to create a fully-qualified controller, well, you do the math. NATCA President John Carr told the hearings controllers have already taken on more work and streamlined their operations to make the system work better. He also noted workloads in the New York and Washington areas have increased dramatically because of the air defense identification zones imposed there. The people that fix the increasingly antiquated equipment (see above) for the agency are also going to be in short supply. Michael Fanfalone, president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists, said 1,000 of his members will be hanging up the needle nose pliers in the next few years.
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The children of Baghdad probably don't expect anything good to drop out of the sky on them these days but a retired Air Force colonel wants to change that. Col. Gail Halvorsen wants to reprise the 1948 flight over Berlin that earned him the nickname the Candy Bomber. Halvorsen gave the German kids something to look up to when he dropped gum and chocolate, suspended from handkerchief parachutes, from his Berlin Airlift transport. He's visited other war-torn regions after that and last made a drop of chocolate bars over Bosnia in 1994. He wants Baghdad to be next. "I'd give my right arm to do it," he told the Associated Press. Halvorsen has already been in touch with his friends in the Air Force to ask if he can make a candy drop. "I'm planning on how to do that when the dust clears," said Halvorsen, who's 82. Halvorsen didn't ask for permission in 1948 and it almost got him court-martialed. But he said he's glad he did it because it showed him how a simple act of kindness can overshadow the horrors of war. "They've been mistreated so long ..." he said. "The bottom line is it would lift their spirits." He said the candy drop would also be tangible evidence that the U.S. cares for the Iraqi people. "That makes all the difference in the world on attitude," he said.
Authorities are still puzzling over the cause of a plane crash that killed six adults but left a 13-year-old girl apparently just slightly injured. Tora Fisher's parents, Anthony and his wife, died along with pilot Robert Monaco, co-pilot Eric Jacobsen and passengers Michael Campanelli and Thomas Fox when the King Air 200 they were in crashed into a sheet metal plant in Leominster, Mass. All of the plant workers escaped but one suffered burns. The cause of the crash was not immediately apparent, but a cockpit voice recorder has been recovered from the wreckage. The plane was on its way from La Guardia to Bedford, Mass., but the pilot asked to land in Fitchburg instead. The crash occurred shortly after the plane began its approach to Fitchburg. The manager of the metal shop, Michael Poirier, found the wreckage and discovered the 13-year-old Fisher alive. "She said, 'My back hurts' and was asking about her parents," Poirier told the Associated Press. The girl was taken to hospital but her condition has not been released. Her father was a New York developer who was also the chairman and CEO of the Intrepid Museum Foundation. The museum is housed on the retired aircraft carrier Intrepid.
Forget about visions of baling wire and binder twine maintenance, today's cash-strapped airlines are actually safer to fly, according to the FAA. Nicholas Sabatini, who heads up the regulation and certification section of the agency, said money problems tend to cause airlines to mothball their older aircraft in favor of new (and theoretically more trouble-free) planes. Layoffs have also resulted in the move of some captains to the right seat so "what you have on the flight deck is a very highly experienced combination of crew members -- in essence two captains," Sabatini told The New York Times. It's not just what's up front that counts. Sabatini said the FAA has also been carefully watching 11 airlines in financial trouble to ensure maintenance standards are up to snuff. "We're not seeing any indications they're cutting corners," he told reporters at a briefing. Meanwhile, Congress and the White House still don't see eye to eye on the dispersal of $3 billion in aid to the cash-strapped industry. President Bush didn't want that much aid in the first place but now that it's on the table he wants it in the hands of the airlines as quickly as possible. Among the ideas floated so far are reimbursement for security-related costs (like bulletproof cockpit doors) and relaxation of security-related fees. Something everyone seems to want to avoid is stretching the payouts over a period of years, as was the case with the post-911 bailout.
While alphabet groups in the U.S. are fighting federal policies they say give control of the skies to sports interests, the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association's battle is a horse of a different color. A Quebec government department that normally deals with agriculture issues is trying to clip the wings of rural residents. The Commission de Protection du Territoire Agricole du Quebec, an agricultural land management agency, is trying to stop Bernard Laferriere from using his rural property as a grass airstrip. In doing so, it has launched a debate over aviation jurisdiction, Canadian-style. The Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) is trying to slam the barn door shut on what it deems the agency's intrusion into the federal government's sole jurisdiction over aviation matters. It wasn't the livestock that complained about Laferriere's aviation activity, it was a neighbor. So far, the complaint has been upheld through the appeals process in Quebec but COPA is claiming the ruling intrudes on federal jurisdiction. COPA says the Canadian constitution gives only the federal government the authority over such things. "Our position remains firm and is strongly supported by legal precedent; provincial or municipal government cannot regulate or prohibit aeronautical activity by use of regulations, bylaws or the like as this is an area which is under exclusive federal jurisdiction," COPA officials said in a statement.
The Wright brothers overcame some pretty incredible obstacles to get their planes in the air but they never came up against anything like the TSA. Ken Hyde, of The Wright Experience, discovered this week that the Virginia airstrip where he plans to test-fly his replica of the first airplane capable of sustained and controlled flight is within the Washington air defense identification zone. And since the Wrights didn't invent two-way radio communication or transponders -- much less file a flight plan for 106 feet -- Hyde will be deemed a national security threat if he proceeds with his testing without those modern accoutrements. While the Wrights grappled with the forces of nature, it will likely be political pressure that will help Hyde's dream come true. AOPA has gone to bat for The Wright Experience by filing a waiver petition on his behalf. Hyde actually wants to test two aircraft, the 1903 model that will be flown Dec. 17 at Kitty Hawk centennial celebrations and a 1911 Model B Flyer. The flights will form part of a documentary on the evolution of Wright designs. "We are very hopeful that the TSA will recognize both the historical significance and lack of a threat these aircraft ... represent and quickly approve a waiver," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. There's a safety consideration as well. AOPA's Melissa Bailey noted that trying to handle the inherently unstable aircraft and talk on a handheld radio would be both "unrealistic and unsafe." Those types of opinions have never had much impact on TSA decision-making, before, but stay tuned.
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An Oregon pilot made sure American troops knew the Sun 'n Fun crowd was thinking about them. Dean Zinter, of Portland, collected signatures on two signs at the Florida fly-in's warbird area. Thousands of people added their names to the signs, which will be sent to a Marine aviation unit in the United Arab Emirates...
Pattern work in the Washington and New York ADIZ areas just got a bit easier. FDC NOTAMs 3/2762 and 3/2763, effective at 6 a.m. on Friday, April 11, 2003, allow VFR traffic pattern operations (not including practice instrument approaches) at towered airports provided a request for closed pattern work is made prior to taxi, or before entering the pattern. Then aircraft must continuously operate their transponder on code "1234" when assigned by ATC. Pilots who remain within the VFR traffic pattern do not have to file a flight plan...
A small plane's airspace incursion helped scrub a missile launch Sunday. The Air Force postponed the launch of a Titan rocket with an $800 million military communications satellite aboard after the plane skirted the edge of the 10-nm restricted airspace around Cape Canaveral. The plane changed course after the FAA contacted it. There were also technical glitches that contributed to the launch's delay...
A 12-year-old boy was hit by an airplane wing Saturday at Sun 'n Fun. The boy was hurt after being hit while walking along a taxiway. He's in fair condition in hospital
Australian pilots can now find most of the everyday information they need on the Internet. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has set up a dedicated online page for safety, regulatory and operational information that links directly from its home page. Are you listening, FAA?
Edgar E. McElroy, one of Doolittle's Raiders, died Friday in Lubbock, Texas. McElroy, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, was 91. At age 29, he volunteered to join a daring mission in carrier-borne B-25s to bomb Tokyo. McElroy was an aircraft commander on the raid and dropped bombs and incendiaries on the city.
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We received over 100 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Colin Grounsell, of Paeroa, New Zealand. His photo, titled "Surfers Scenic," gives us a bird's-eye view of the famous beach down under. This picture was taken from the front seat of a DH 82 while on a scenic flight over Surfers Paradise, Australia. Great picture Colin! 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.
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We received over 900 responses to our question last week on the Meigs airport closure. Almost half (47 percent) of those responding weren't sure if Mayor Daley's destruction of Meigs' runway would permanently close the airport, but they did feel his actions would surely be heavily contested. A slightly smaller group ( 37 percent) felt Daley has found legal loopholes to shut Meigs down forever. Only 6 percent of our respondents wanted this closure to remain permanent.
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 Sun 'n Fun. Please go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw to respond.
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SUN 'N FUN 2003
Sun 'n Fun 2003: Wrap-Up
Sun 'n Fun 2003 ends on mixed reviews -- to no one's surprise. Strong sales, many proclaim; too long, others contend; yet still a must-do. AVweb's Dave Higdon provides this recap from Lakeland.
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