AVweb AVFlash - Volume 20, Number 3b

July 24, 2013

2010 UPS 747 Crash Officially Tied To Lithium Batteries

A newly released 322-page report on the Sept. 3, 2010, fatal crash of a UPS Boeing 747-44F noted "catastrophic uncontained fire" in an area that carried a "significant number" of lithium batteries as cargo, but did not resolve how the batteries ignited.†Both pilots were killed in the crash. There were no other people on board. The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the United Arab Emirates' report said the fire directly affected independent systems "necessary for crew survivability." Specifically, extreme heat resulted in failure of the captain's supplementary oxygen system, leading to his incapacitation. UPS pilots, through their union, have been working with the carrier on an active fire-suppression system. The report included several recommendations, including some for the FAA.†

The crash took place after the cockpit filled with smoke. The pilots elected to return to Dubai rather than attempting to land at another, closer, airport. At Dubai, they overshot the airport, made a tight turn and crashed near a military base. The union, working together with UPS, has designed, built and tested its new container system, which they hope will prove capable of containing a fire for up to four hours. The containers disperse a potassium-based aerosol suppressant and apply a more fire-resistant design. UPS has said it lost two of its best pilots in the Dubai crash and it is determined to "minimize the risk associated with onboard smoke and fire events." The GCAA report specifically calls on the FAA to require that pilots have access to full-face oxygen masks. It asks the FAA to cooperate with other regulatory agencies to mandate "vision assurance devices," including mask-mounted thermal imaging devices, to aid visibility during continuous smoke in the cockpit emergencies. The Independent Pilots Association (IPA) supports the report's findings. UPS recently ordered more than 1,800 shipping containers with improved fire resistance, potentially giving pilots up to four hours longer to deal with an onboard fire emergency.†Find the full GCAA report online here. (PDF; may take some time to load.)

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Superjet Belly Lands During Testing

Sukhoi is putting the best spin it can on the belly landing of one of its Superjet test aircraft in Iceland on Tuesday. Three pilots and two certification experts were aboard the aircraft during crosswind tests of its autoland system when, according to Sukhoi, the plane†"touched the runway with retracted landing gear." One of the certification experts broke his leg getting out of the plane but there were no other injuries. Sukhoi said in a statement that the mishap has no bearing on the commercial operation of the aircraft since none of the airlines currently flying the aircraft use the autoland feature. Tuesday's incident comes a little more than a year after a Superjet on a sales promotion flight crashed into a mountain in Indonesia.

As we reported last year, Indonesian officials determined pilot error caused the crash, which killed 45 people. The Superjet is the first airframe to result from Russia's attempt to modernize its civilian aerospace industry. The aircraft entered service in 2011 and Aeroflot is its biggest operator. Mexican budget carrier Interjet took delivery of the first of 20 Superjets in June.

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FAA Says, Leave Those Drones Alone

A Colorado proposal to reward residents who shoot down drones could cause legal problems for anyone who tried, the FAA said this week. "Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane," the FAA said in a statement on Monday. "The FAA is responsible for all civil airspace, including that above cities and towns, and the agency is working to ensure the safe integration of unmanned aircraft. A UAS hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air." The proposed ordinance in Deer Trail, Colo., would sell $25 hunting licenses and offer a $100 reward to anyone who could shoot down a drone "known to be owned or operated by the United States federal government."

Some town officials characterized the proposal as a lark or a potential moneymaker for the town, but resident Phillip Steel, who drafted the ordinance, said he was serious about it. "We do not want drones in town," Steel told the local Denver Channel news. "They fly in town, they get shot down."

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Job Hunters Welcomed To AirVenture

Visitors to EAA AirVenture generally are planning to shop, learn, and enjoy themselves, but this year those with another agenda -- finding a job in aviation -- will have new opportunities to pursue that dream. EAA is hosting its first-ever Job Fair from noon to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, at the pavilion in the new College Park, part of the new Education & Interactive Zone near the air traffic control tower (formerly the site of the LSA Mall). A range of employers, including airlines, manufacturers of airplanes and avionics, and Alliant Techsystems, a NASA partner, will be recruiting at the event. Another opportunity, hosted by Skywest Airlines and Redbird Flight Simulators, also will be available on the field.

At the Redbird exhibit, qualified applicants will have a chance to complete a Skywest interview and follow it up with a flight-skills test on Redbird's King Air simulator. "While no King Air time is required or expected, proficient IFR skills are mandatory," Redbird said in a news release. "Applicants will also have an audience, but thatís true for every airline pilot flying the line." At both the Skywest interviews and the job fair, casual airshow attire is acceptable. Applicants are encouraged to bring resumes. The job fair also will feature advice and information about aviation careers and job-hunting strategies. The job fair is free and open to all, with AirVenture admission.

EAA AirVenture Job Fair

EAA will host a job fair at AirVenture next week, a new opportunity that has drawn a lot of interest both from companies seeking to hire and workers looking for jobs. †AVweb's Mary Grady spoke with staffers at EAA who are organizing the event and with Cirrus Aviation, one of the participants.

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Air Force Offers Bonus To Keep Fighter Pilots

Citing a shortage of qualified pilots, the U.S. Air Force has offered bonuses of up to $225,000 to active-duty aviators who re-enlist by September 30. The program requires a commitment of up to nine years. The purpose of the program is to retain highly qualified aircrew members at a fraction of the cost incurred to train new rated officers, said Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, Air Force Rated Force Policy-Mobility Forces Chief. "In addition, we preserve a fully ready cadre of aircrew officers, eliminating years of necessary tempering and experience," he said. The Air Force hopes about 162 fighter pilots -- 65 percent of those eligible -- will take the new option, according to the Air Force Times. That would cost the Air Force about $36.7 million.

The bonuses are generous because there is a current and projected shortage of fighter pilots, Lt. Col. Kurt Konopatzke, chief of rated force policy, told the Times. Last year, the Air Force offered a bonus for fighter pilots if they extended their contracts for five years. ďAs we started looking at the data through FY 13 Ö we realized that the shortage hasn't gone away, and as a matter of fact, as we look at our projections, we think that shortage is going to continue for the next several years," Konopatzke said. Applicants must be lieutenant colonels and below with no more than 22 years of aviation service, qualified for operational flying duty, and entitled to and receiving aviator pay. Monetary incentives for those who qualify vary depending on aviator category and number of years he or she commits. Annual payments range from $15,000 to $25,000, with some categories eligible for 50 percent up front.

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FBI Arrests Mercy Flight Central Pilot

photo: Lauren Long / The Post-Standard

Federal prosecutors allege that a former military pilot who for the past eight months flew helicopters in the Syracuse, N.Y., area for Mercy Flight Central passed the company's background check using a false name and did not hold proper FAA certification. John Dial allegedly went by the name Alex Coussirat when applying for his EMS Air Services job (a company that provides pilots for Mercy Flight Central). As Coussirat (a name that belongs to another pilot), Dial passed background checks and gave references that allowed his criminal record to remain undiscovered, according to prosecutors. Details of the investigation are now coming to light.†

Paul Hyland, president of EMS Air Services, N.Y., told Syracuse.com that his company had no problems with Dial until the FBI called. Dial has allegedly operated under more than 20 aliases, and has theft and forgery convictions that date back 35 years, according to prosecutors. In 1994, they say he was convicted of making false statements to the FAA. When he skipped town after making bail on an arrest warrant, investigators tracked his veterans benefits to the Syracuse area. And eventually they found him at Mercy Flight Central working as Alex Coussirat and passing off documentation that was entirely forged, say prosecutors. According to Hyland, no background check would have found Dial's true identity because he provided all the documentation, associated it with an actual pilot, and fulfilled all the training requirements of the FAA and EMS Air Services. Forgeries, false Social Security numbers and identity theft aside, Dial has no record to indicate he was an unsafe pilot from a purely operational perspective.

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Levil Technology's New AW ADAHRS

Levil Technology is out with a new portable ADS-B unit that included air data input, making it the industry's first portable ADAHRS unit. †It sell for $1,395. †AVweb's Paul Bertorelli recently flew it in his Cub.

[VIDCAP(1)]

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Continental Diesels: Crunching the Numbers

Continentalís purchase this week of the assets of Thielert Aircraft Engine GmbH didnít exactly come out of left field. Continental already declared its interest in diesel in 2010, when it announced the TD300 diesel. And that was before China-based AVIC International came into the picture with a necessarily global view, but not one that Continental hadnít already adopted.

The question is, does the purchase make sense? Is it a natural fit? Itís hard to argue otherwise if you believe diesel propulsion is the coming thing in light general aviation. Itís delusional to look out toward the marketing horizon and conclude that 100-octane avgas is going to spontaneously come roaring back into the market as a forceful player or that mogas will suddenly bloom as a major factor. So that leaves Jet A, the world fuel of choice, some form of which is available everywhere.

Both Lycoming and Continental became vocal about this three years ago and in return, the FAA and industry gave us a plodding, cumbersome regulatory framework to certify a new aviation gasoline to a timeline thatís uncertain enough to barely sustain itself, much less ignite growth. Faced with this, Continental voted with its dollars and started the investment in diesel. I suspect weíll see something from Lycoming before long; the trend is just unavoidable.

In my view, Continentalís Thielert purchase is about as vivid an example of a company making its own reality as Iíve seen in awhile. Overnight, Continental has a market-dominating product line in the traditional three power rangesóabout 150-hp, 230-hp and 350-hp. Despite Thielertís stumbles, the lower horsepower variants are largely proven, with some 1800 or so flying. There are some issues with them, which Continental knows it has to fix. Specifically, the TBRs are too short and owners are still stuck with the nuisance of replacing a gearbox every 300 hours.

The 230-hp TD300, which Continental developed from the SMA SR305 base, hasnít been fielded in large numbers. From what Iíve seen of its performance and durability, it looks promising. The 350-hp Centurion 4.0 that Thielert developed and certified is an unknown and it may take some millions to find out what it has. STCs exist for the Cirrus SR22 and Cessna 206, so there may be a nascent retrofit market. But Continental has no small risk in proving that engine realistically marketable.

With avgas at $6 to $7 in the U.S., youíd think that diesel would have flowered more than it has. But Diamond never pushed its diesel aircraft in the U.S. because it felt the service network wasnít in placeóthey were rightóand Thielertís flawed business plan caused the diesel revolution Diamond started to fizzle even before the world economic downturn damaged it more. Further, in the U.S., we donít resonate with diesel the way buyers do in Europe.

My gut feel is that the world pendulum is swinging back and Continentalís timing may be perfect, if not a little early. Uncertainty over avgas may push things along toward diesel faster than some of us think.†We have no idea what Continental paid for the Thielert assets so a value assessment on the purchase is difficult to make. But itís fair to say that in Thielert, Continental will have a sound technical foundation upon which to build potential diesel market dominance.

Thielert tanked because it got the engine economics wrong. It assumed the engines would need longer to prove than they did and its cradle-to-grave warranty coverage was unsustainable. It probably underestimated production costs, too. You can readily see how some tweaking turns the whole thing around.

For six years, Iíve been following Stan Fetterís diesel conversions in a pair of Cessna 172s, which he uses in a traffic reporting business in the Washington, D.C. area. Heís been through all the typical Thielert travails and then some. His conversions cost about $50,000 for the engines and $60,000, all in. Initial TBRs on those engines was 1200 hours or so for the engine alone. Thatís $42 an hour. Fuel, at 4 GPH, was another $23 or so. But the engine required a $3250 gearbox every 300 hours, so that brought the total hourly on paper closer to $75. (This doesnít include the one-time conversion cost.) Although he couldnít dodge the gearbox requirement, Fetter did extend past the stated TBR, knocking that $42 back some.

Compare that to the Lycoming the Thielert replaced. With new cylinders, overhauls on the O-320 cost about $20,000 or $10 per hour for the engine and another $48 for fuel. But Fetter found that magneto maintenance and cylinder replacements nudged the Lycomingís hourly a bit higher and the diesels had better dispatch reliability. But at the stated TBR, the diesels still had higher operating cost or, at best, parity with the Lycomings. (There are other replaceables on the way to TBR, but I'm brushing past them here.)

But look what happens when the gearbox inspection is eliminated and the engineís TBR is increased to 2400 hours, which Fetter thinks is doable because he ran one to 2600 hours. Continental hasnít given us engine prices yet, so Iím using about $50,000; what Fetter paid. Then the hourly for the base engine drops to $21 and with fuel, the total engine operating costs are something like $45, exclusive of airframe maintenance. It looks better yet if the engine can reach a 3000-hour TBR and/or Continental can reduce the cost of the TBR, say by developing a less expensive overhaul program.†

But to be blunt about it, U.S. economics donít matter much here: global ones do. If you plug European fuel prices into the cost model, the numbers show a larger Delta. Even using mogas in Europe, fuel costs for a 172 are $68 to $75 an hour, versus $41 for the diesel. Thatís real money and over the life of an engine, it will pay for the diesel with a nice surplus to defray other costs.

By the way, Continentalís estimate for a Cessna 172 conversion is about $56,000 for the engine and hardware and another 160 to 180 hours of labor. Call that around $70,000 all in, 16 percent more than Stan Fetter paid six years ago. Those initial numbers might shift some.

While these developments wonít usher in the age of dirt cheap flying, if Continental sweetens up TBR and eliminates the gearbox replacements, it at least takes operational costs in a positive directionódownward--which can only encourage market expansion, or whatever passes for that these days. Moreover, Continental is injecting a pulse of energy into the moribund state of Thielertócapital, engineering focus, developmental determination, customer service and market sense. The more of that these engines get and the more they fly, the better they are likely to get.

My numbers are based on historical data, but if the company stays in range of those numbers, the economics work but, more important, the directionality is encouraging. And thatís why Continentalís big initial push will be longer TBRs and life-of-engine gearboxes. Even so, itís important to understand that diesels are not going to suddenly show us half-price flying. What they will do is reduce costs measurably and reduce worries about fuel availability; more on the global field, less in the U.S.†

While Iím convinced that weíre on the cusp of wider diesel acceptance, I think Continental is gearing up for what will be a long game on a global pitch. My guess is weíll see a steady, robust ramp up in diesel and if thatís true, Continental will be well positioned to profit from it.

Join the conversation. †Read others' comments and add your own.