By Russ Niles, Newswriter
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Cause, Effect Dominates FAA Hearing...
They were supposed to be talking about the FAA Reauthorization Bill, but last Wednesday one after another of aviation's bigwigs reminded Congress's aviation subcommittee about the destruction of Chicago's Meigs field. Speakers reminded the committee that aviation services are a federal matter and the intrusion of local special interests could result in inconsistent regulations and service availability based on regional political biases. "Our national air transportation system is far too important to the United States to allow powerful private enterprises to use their political clout to create an unjustified, ad hoc patchwork of airspace restrictions," said Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. Jack Olcott, president of the National Business Aviation Association, said airspace restrictions must be imposed based on a credible threat and not on the security fears of local jurisdictions. "A temporary flight restriction (TFR) seems to be the tool of choice for some mayors and governors trying to address constituent concerns about security," Olcott said. He also told the committee that the TFR Chicago Mayor Richard Daley practically begged authorities to impose over his city played a role in his subsequent decision to destroy the airport runway and he's afraid other mayors might be watching. "This abominable example of a mayor usurping federal authority in the name of homeland security has become a consideration, albeit to a lesser degree so far, across the country."
...Direct Intervention Sought...
AOPA's Phil Boyer, who has been among the most prominent pro-Meigs combatants, asked for the committee's direct intervention. He even showed video of Daley shaking hands on a deal to preserve the airport and promising that he wouldn't use the Chicago TFR as justification to close the field. Boyer said AOPA is using every legislative and legal means at its disposal to restore the airport, adding, "We have received a higher volume of e-mails and phone calls about Meigs than about the closure of the entire National Airspace System in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." National Air Transportation Association President James K. Coyne directly requested congressional condemnation of Daley for his actions. Coyne added that "In the aftermath of Meigs' closure, any community with the merest whim to close their local airport can do so and point to Chicago as their justification." There are two sides to every story, however, and Daley had a defender in the committee hearings. AOPA reported that Rep. William Lipinski (D-Ill.), who sponsored the bill to save Meigs as part of a larger legislative package to expand O'Hare International, said Daley had every legal right to close the airport ... and in the manner he saw fit.
...There Are Others, Too
And while the Meigs closure is freshest in everyone's minds, NATA's Coyne reminded the committee of another airport that is out of bounds for most aircraft. Coyne called on the committee to help restore access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport by non-scheduled carriers. The federal government initially closed DCA entirely after 9/11 but opened it to airlines, under special security regulations, shortly thereafter. Coyne said Part 135 operators are willing to meet those restrictions and want back into DCA. The aviation leaders also talked about financial relief to aviation businesses, airport privatization and funding. NBAA's Olcott told the committee that the FAA must remain focused on modernization of the air traffic control system. Several modernization initiatives are over budget and woefully behind schedule but Olcott said more money must be spent faster to implement these technologies. Oh, and the original reason for the hearing? The groups all agreed that the FAA Reauthorization Bill should be passed.
Chelton System Gets First TSO...
A company in Boise, Idaho, has registered the first milestone on the Highway In The Sky. Chelton Flight Systems was recently granted a technical standard order (TSO) for its synthetic vision Electronic Flight Information System. That means anyone can install this panel-of-the-future technology, which provides nearly every conceivable type of performance, navigation, weather and systems information and throws in a virtual 3-D picture of the world outside. "Everything is right on the panel," Chelton President Gordon Pratt told AVweb. At $71,000, the system isn't for every aircraft but there's a big market awaiting it, he said. "Our target is people who do a lot of single-pilot IFR," he said. The primary flight display combines pitot-static information from an air-data computer, attitude and heading data from a solid-state three-axis gyro and position input from a GPS/WAAS receiver, plus topographical information. The system creates a display that some test pilots have called "virtual VFR" because it electronically depicts the view outside the plane while giving constant readouts of all essential flight data. If the system detects something unusual about the flight profile, pop-up windows alert the pilot of the emerging situation. It'll even show you glide potential for a dead-stick landing. The navigation part uses Jeppesen NavData and can incorporate weather and traffic data. That sounds like a lot of information to be packed into two screens but Pratt said the result is a much lower pilot workload. "It sure makes it easier to fly the airplane," he said.
...FAA Embraces Technology
It's the kind of technology FAA planners have been saying is necessary to modernize the National Airspace System, but the agency has been slow to embrace the technical advances. "There are a lot of people in the FAA who are nervous about this technology," said Pratt. That all changed for some senior FAA staffers on a flight over the North Cascade Mountains in Washington State 18 months ago during a convention on synthetic vision technology. "They were blown away by what it can do," said Pratt. The system was chosen for use in the innovative Capstone program in Alaska, which is aimed at putting technology to work to reduce the high accident rate there. With the help of FAA officials in Alaska, Chelton was able to convince senior FAA staff that the technology was ready for general use. "This is a tremendous step in forward thinking by the FAA," Pratt said. "People have been telling us for years that the FAA would never approve this technology." In fact, said Pratt, once they saw it at work, FAA staff became part of the impetus behind the project and, in a little less than a year, awarded the TSO. The system is unaffected by an NPRM issued by the FAA earlier this year distinguishing synthetic vision from enhanced-vision systems. That NPRM proposes to allow the use of enhanced-vision heads-up displays to visually acquire the runway on an ILS approach when, to the naked eye, it would be below minimums. Pratt said his system isn't intended for use below published minimums. "It just keeps you from hitting a mountain while you're doing it," he said. So far, 20 systems have been sold and five are flying.
Two more key executives have left Mooney Aircraft Company. Tom Bowen, the company's vice president of engineering and the chief operating officer during its bankruptcy, left Friday and is headed to Lancair Certified where he'll work on projects to make those airplanes go higher, faster and farther. John Cullen, the company's director of manufacturing, resigned a week earlier to join Sino Swearingen, which is developing a twin-engine business jet. We couldn't reach Cullen but Bowen said it was time for him to seek new challenges. He said Mooney is concentrating on surviving its current financial crisis and is in no position to develop new aircraft, which is what he does. "They've pretty much got their buckets full, there," said Bowen. Bowen was hired by Mooney originally to guide its Ovation through certification. He anticipates similar challenges in Bend. "I'm looking forward to getting back into a very aggressive R&D environment." Mooney CEO Nelson Happy did not immediately return AVweb's phone call.
The last chance for most of us to break the sound barrier (at least voluntarily) will be sometime in October. That's when British Airways will stop flying Concorde from London to New York. Air France will stop its Paris-to-New York service May 31. As AVweb reported earlier, rumors of the demise of Concorde began surfacing shortly after an Air France flight was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia in February. Both airlines announced the end of the supersonic era Thursday and cited the same reasons, but theirs were not the only words spent on the subject. "Recently, we were filling only about 20 percent of the seats," Air France Chairman Jean-Cyril Spinetta told a news conference. Even at up to $10,000 a ticket, the crippling maintenance and fuel costs were making the service untenable. The 12 aircraft, built in the late 1960s and early 1970s by a French-English consortium that grew into Airbus Industries, will be donated to museums. Industry analysts, perhaps myopically, say it's unlikely a replacement for Concorde will ever be built because efficiency is the most important factor to airlines these days. And while BA's CEO said the demise of Concorde means "we must lose some of the romance from aviation," at least one group was cheering the decision. Friends of the Earth said the Concorde spews five times as much pollution as regular airliners and, because it flies higher, puts more pollutants in the upper atmosphere where they have a bigger contribution to global warming. "Concorde is a massive polluter," said Roger Higman, the group's transportation campaigner. "It's a dinosaur that rightly belongs in a museum."
Civil Air Patrol leaders met with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge last week to tell him the 64,000 members of the Air Force auxiliary can help tackle one of the biggest enemies of national security -- the high cost of maintaining it. "CAP has the largest privately-owned fleet of single-engine aircraft in the nation," said Maj. Gen. Rick Bowling, CAP national commander. "We can put one of those planes in the air for $90 an hour as opposed to several thousand dollars an hour for military aircraft or helicopters." Bowling said CAP has already flown security flights over the former World Trade Center site, the 2002 Winter Olympics and the launch of the space shuttle Columbia. He said CAP volunteers are all trained in reconnaissance, search and rescue, narco-terrorism and disaster relief and the organization has already begun restructuring to focus on security matters. "CAP can be part of the nation's vision for homeland security as it's developed from the ground up." There was no word on what Ridge thought of the offer.
There could soon be a law to stop something the FAA swears will never happen, anyway. A bipartisan bill has been introduced that would bar the Department of Transportation from contracting out air traffic control services to commercial interests. Four senior members of transportation and aviation subcommittees sponsored the bill, including Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn), Rep. Frank Lobiondo (R-N.J.), Rep. Pter Defazio (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.). The National Air Traffic Controllers Association is naturally delighted. "We have said aviation safety is neither a Republican nor Democratic issue and this bill proves that with its bipartisan support," said NATCA President John Carr. NATCA has been lobbying heavily for such action since earlier this year when the FAA classified air traffic control as a "commercial activity" in an annual report all government agencies must file to the Office of Management and Budget. The reports are intended to identify government functions that could potentially be privatized and those that are "inherently governmental." FAA spokesmen insist the classification was changed only because the definition of government-only services is so narrow that ATC doesn't fit. But the agency, including administrator Marion Blakey, have repeatedly said there are no plans to privatize ATC.
While the air traffic controllers are hoping to pre-empt a privatization bid, the process to examine contracting out of flight service station functions grinds on. AOPA announced last week that it will be able to provide input on the study, which will look at everything flight service station personnel do. AOPA is particularly interested in helping shape the "performance work statement," which will craft a blueprint for future changes. FSS personnel are trying to block the study. "AOPA will be there protecting pilots' interests in this government study," said AOPA VP Andy Cebula. Wally Pike, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS), has been pounding on doors in Washington trying to convince legislators that his members' work is every bit as vital to air transportation as that of the higher-profile controllers. AOPA has given qualified support to NAATS, saying it believes FSS functions should remain government responsibility and continue to be available free of charge to pilots. But AOPA has also said the system is in desperate need of upgrading and modernization and that may open the door for private contractors, under FAA supervision, doing some of the work. Cebula noted that private companies have been providing DUATs weather services since the 1980s.
There don't seem to be any obvious connections between the crash of two similar aircraft from the same charter operator on the same day last Tuesday. The Dassault Falcon 20s crashed five hours and 400 miles apart. Three pilots were killed in a crash about a mile short of the runway at Toledo Express Airport -- no immediate cause was indicated. In St. Louis, however, the two crew radioed they were short of fuel before ditching the jet in the Mississippi River near the Gateway Arch. Killed in the Toledo crash were Grand Aire's chief pilot Wallis Bouldin, David Davenport and Will Forshay. The NTSB speculated that it might have been a training accident but it's also taken both engines and a cockpit display for further analysis. In the St. Louis accident, pilots Saleem Iqbal and Mohammed Saleh were taken to hospital after being rescued from the river. The crashes were fifth and sixth (five involved Falcons) for Grand Aire since 2000. The charter company delivers auto parts and general cargo as well as passenger flights and has 26 aircraft.
A new study has aviation industry analysts buzzing and Boeing furiously denying the conclusions it reaches. According to the study, done by Prof. Alan MacPherson, of State University of New York at Buffalo, and David Pritchard, Boeing will be out of the airliner business within 10 years and will be concentrating on military and special aircraft. "This report is riddled with factual inaccuracies and mistaken conclusions," protested Boeing spokesman Todd Becher, who said Boeing is in the airliner business "for the long term." MacPherson said there might still be Boeing-brand jets being made (probably just the 777 and 737), but they'll be manufactured under license in Asia or Russia. MacPherson postulates that it's just too expensive and too risky to keep making airliners in the U.S., where labor costs are much higher. He claims there are bigger profits to be made in consulting and technical services than in manufacturing and the company will follow the money. He said the real bellwether will be Boeing's decision on whether to develop the 7E7, a super-efficient replacement for the 767, which has lost considerable market share to Airbus. If Boeing drops the 7E7 it will be the third recent initiative to go in the circular file behind a super-sized 747 and the Sonic Cruiser, a fast but less efficient aircraft that airlines didn't want.
A North Carolina legislator was honored for helping to save an airport. AOPA presented Jim Black (D-100th Dist.) with a citation for his work in preventing closure of Horace Williams Airport in Chapel Hill. The airport is owned by the University of North Carolina, which claims it's a financial drain and wants to build another campus there. Black guided legislation to prevent the closure for two years so ways can be found to keep the facility open...
The TSA has granted waivers allowing test flights of two Wright replicas, including the aircraft that will duplicate the 1903 first flight at Kitty Hawk on Dec. 17. The Wright Experience, which is building the aircraft, found out their test airstrip was just within the Washington ADIZ. Aircraft within the ADIZ must have radios and transponders. The waiver permits test flights as long as ATC is notified by phone before takeoff and on landing...
Sun 'n Fun has announced the award winners from its recent fly-in, which wrapped up April 8. See if your favorite outshone the rest...
The EAA Southwest Regional Fly-in (SWRFI) has landed a new location and will launch May 16-17. The event will be at New Braunfels Airport in Texas, about midway between San Antonio and Austin. Banquet speaker this year is Apollo 16 astronaut Charles Duke.
Seen on a Yahoo Message Board regarding a story about a pilot who Sunday made a successful emergency landing on a freeway in Anaheim, Calif.:
"THIS JUST IN - Chicago Mayor Richard Daley plans to carve giant "X"es into the Riverside Freeway at midnight tonight."
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