AVweb AVFlash - Volume 20, Number 10a

September 8, 2013

GAO Worried About Controller Shortage

The FAA says it needs to train 11,700 new air traffic controllers in the next eight years to cover retirements and budget-related staff cuts, but the Washington Times reports the Transportation Department's Office of Inspector General is worried the agency's training arm won't be able to do it. For the past several years, the FAA has been trying to devise programs to speed up the training of controllers. The result is that it now takes 2.68 years to certify a controller compared to 1.9 years in 2009. The OIG says part of the problem is the revolving door in the training department at the FAA. In four years, there have been three reorganizations and no fewer than 20 initiatives started to speed up the training process. None of those initiatives has been completed.

Meanwhile, the OIG says the goal of ensuring all controllers get proper rest before their shift has been met with roughly 1 percent of controllers arriving for work without the required rest period. “Ensuring a well-rested, alert controller workforce is essential to the safe and efficient operation of the [national airspace system],” the OIG said. After a spate of high-profile incidents in which controllers were found sleeping during their shifts, the FAA enacted new rest rules. It also added a second person to graveyard shifts at facilities that only had one person on duty. The OIG says the agency should eliminate overnight shifts at 72 facilities that don't have the traffic to warrant them to save some of the $1.9 million the extra staffing and longer rest periods are costing the FAA.

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Modern Flight Systems Redefining Good Pilots

After two recent high-profile crashes (UPS and Asiana Airlines Flight 214), both involving fatalities, media reports have questioned the role of automation in the cockpit and in the opinion of former Northwest Captain and current Embry Riddle educator Jack Panosian, those concerns may not be unfounded. Panosian told AVweb Thursday that his observation is that stick and rudder skills may be falling down the list of important assets required by professional pilots -- but that's not entirely bad. Modern jets, he says, generally are not hand-flown aircraft and some have been designed from the outset to be flown for nearly the entire flight on automation. And that, Panosian says, makes a pilot's need for systems and information management skills at least as important as their stick and rudder abilities, and arguably more important. For instructors, students and experienced pilots that shift brings new challenges specific to each group.

Panosian says he's seen experienced pilots challenged by newer avionics even in light aircraft, where the mission is to transition to new ways of accessing more information without suffering from overload. As an educator, Panosian says he sees a new generation of pilots for whom that change does not present a transition as much as it appears to be a natural step. In his experience, Panosian says younger pilots adapt well to complex digital presentations and information management -- and generally fare much better with their introduction to glass panel displays than do older pilots seeking to transition from steam gauges. One challenge facing educators, he says, is to teach new pilots to learn the new systems, manage the information well, and know when what information is most important. If there is a difference, says Panosian, in the past pilots were monitored by the airplane -- meaning that when the pilot did something wrong, the airplane offered a warning. Now, he argues, the pilots are monitoring the aircraft. And humans, he says, are not as vigilant in observing errors after they've been trained through repetition -- they are not as vigilant the 100th time they look at something as they were the first time. Listen to AVweb's interview with Jack Panosian for more.

Podcast: Avionics -- Good Pilots Not Required?

The definition of what it means to be a good pilot may be changing.  AVweb speaks with former Northwest captain and Embry-Riddle educator Jack Panosian to explore the question of what's more important in keeping passengers alive: stick and rudder skills or systems management.

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Piper Completes Flights On New 93 Octane Automotive

Piper Aircraft has announced the successful completion of a 2100-mile round-trip flight in a Piper Archer flying with 93 octane unleaded automobile gasoline provided by Airworthy AutoGas LLC. The company says the flight was conducted as a demonstration and test of Airworthy's specially formulated auto gas. It is a continuation of previous joint testing that saw Piper conduct other flight test regimes with the fuel at its Vero Beach headquarters. For the latest flights, Airworthy provided fuel at predetermined stops along the Archer's route. The Archer flew with a standard Lycoming 0-360, which is approved for 93 octane unleaded fuel. Airworthy plans to distribute its ethanol-free 93 octane unleaded this year.

Airworthy says its fuel is specially formulated as high-purity, low-vapor-pressure premium unleaded automotive gasoline. The company exists as a distributor and blender of petroleum products and says it hopes its patent-pending 93 octane fuel will help promote general aviation by making flying more affordable. The 93 octane fuel does meet the requirements of ASTM D4814 and also complies with Lycoming's own Engine Service Instruction 1070 S. Ethanol-free gasoline has previously been widely available, but recent changes in automotive formulations have resulted in more blends using ethanol to combat emissions. According Airworthy's director of business development, Mark Ellery, introduction of the fuel will provide "an alternative for the majority of general aviation aircraft without compromising airworthiness."

SpaceShipTwo Oscillates In 2nd Test Flight

Virgin Galactic tested its SpaceShipTwo, space-tourist-carrying vehicle Thursday over the Mojave Desert, exceeding Mach 1 and achieving an altitude of nearly 70,000 feet while demonstrating less than rock-solid stability. The vehicle was dropped at 46,000 feet and climbed under rocket power for 20 seconds, reaching 69,000 feet and 1.43 Mach (nearly 1,100 mph) with two pilots, Mark Stucky and Clint Nichols, aboard. According to the company the six-passenger vehicle reached its "highest altitude and greatest speed to date." Video posted on YouTube by Virgin Galactic displayed the suborbital vehicle oscillating in roll (verbally noted by a test pilot in the video) during portions of the flight. Verbal exchanges by the test pilots appear to convey physical strain associated with high-G maneuvering. 

Roll oscillations were also experienced by SpaceShipOne in flight tests. Founder and chairman of the Virgin Group Sir Richard Branson said in the video that he expects commercial flights to begin in 2014. According to Branson, the company is gearing up for final service, which includes finalizing details of the vehicle's interior, as well as flight suits and training programs for customers. Seats are offered at $250,000 for flights to 364,000 feet at speeds reaching 2,500 miles per hour. More than 600 people have put down money for tickets, according to the company. Thursday's flight was the second test of SpaceShipTwo, following an April 29 flight that saw it reach 55,000 feet and 1.2 Mach. The vehicle was hauled aloft for each flight by WhiteKnightTwo -- the twin-fuselage aircraft specifically built for that purpose. The company originally planned to begin service in December of this year but now plans to initiate passenger service in 2014.

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Pipistrel Offers Flex Wing

Thursday, Pipistrel announced its new Sinus Flex model, an aircraft that the company says offers its pilot "three aircraft in one" with the use of interchangeable wing tips. The company says the "Flex wingtips" can be swapped out in "about five minutes." The outer five-foot portion of each wing can be replaced with either a shorter or longer structural wing extension. Effectively, the company's "Flex" offering is a standard Sinus model with the addition of interchangeable wing tips. The shorter tips turn the model into the short-winged, faster-cruising and easier-to-store Virus model. The bolt-on long-wing tip extensions convert the plane into the company's Sinus motorglider. The option isn't entirely restricted to new buyers.

Pipistrel says that changing wingtips involves one bolt and about 10 turns with a wrench. The tips "slide easily into the wing and back out." Existing owners of Sinus aircraft, according to the company, can purchase a set of Flex wings that include both sets (the longer and shorter) of exchangeable tips "and thus get another whole aircraft for the price of a set of wings." Each set of tips includes fitted leather storage bags.

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Bombardier Sells Flexjet Fractional Business

Bombardier has sold its Flexjet fractional business to U.S. private equity firm Directional Aviation Capital in a deal that could reap the Canadian bizjet maker up to $5.2 billion in orders. Bombardier sold Flexjet, which currently operates 79 mostly high-end aircraft, for $185 million. But the deal comes with a firm order for 85 aircraft worth $1.8 billion and options for 160 more to bring the total potential to $5.2 billion. Directional CEO Ken Ricci said growth will flow from the fundamentals Flexjet has already established. “Flexjet is an extremely well-run, profitable business known for its unmatched focus on owner and operational experience,” said Ricci. “There is tremendous opportunity for a bespoke brand in the private travel market and Flexjet, with its enhanced fleet, is uniquely suited to fill that void.” 

The market liked the announcement and Bombardier shares went up 5 percent. Meanwhile, the company has obtained permission from Transport Canada to begin flying the test article of its CSeries single-aisle airliner. The aircraft has been under development for about six years and is about a year behind schedule for its first flight. Bombardier says the fly-by-wire CSeries will be up to 30 percent more cost-efficient than comparable existing small airliners. It might fly by Sept. 17.

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Cadet Glider Lands On Roof

Photo: Trevor Batstone

A teenaged member of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets was taken to hospital with minor injuries Sunday after his Schweizer SGS 2-33A glider ended up on the roof of a convenience store about a half mile short of the runway at Langley Regional Airport in the Vancouver suburb. It's not clear if the unidentified pilot, who would be at least 16 but no older than 18, intended to land on the roof but it turned out better than many thought it might. “He was very lucky,” said Capt. Amelie Leduc, a senior officer with the cadet organization in British Columbia. “It was very fortunate the cadet was alive and walked out of the aircraft. He has minor injuries, if anything.”

Witnesses said the aircraft hit a tree, narrowly missing power lines, before coming to rest on the roof. The belly wheel punched a hole in the roof and the aircraft's wings were damaged. The cadet got himself out of the aircraft and was waiting for firefighters when they arrived. Leduc said the teen is an experienced glider pilot and also holds a private pilot's license. Cadet pilots attend summer camps to earn their wings and when they return to their squadrons they take other cadets on familiarization flights. "This was a normal training flight that occurs that this cadet in particular has done many, many times." The glider was dismantled and taken off the roof and will be inspected to see if it can be repaired. It's owned by the cadet organization.

UAV Hunting License Applications Mount

The Colorado town that will vote in October on a controversial ordinance to issue hunting licenses to shoot down unmanned aircraft over the town has been flooded with applications. It has prompted the town to put a whimsical spin on the plan. More than 1,000 people have sent Deer Trail Town Clerk Kim Oldfield $25 for the license, which, if legalized in a referendum by the 380 registered voters in the town of 600, would give them the right to bring down a UAV over the town. Now, some forward-thinking residents are thinking about ways the town could cash in on the law and perhaps create a festival atmosphere around it.

Oldfield told Reuters there have been proposals for a modified skeet shooting competition in which the targets are remote control model aircraft. And although the referendum, if passed, will technically give people the right to shoot at drones (at least under municipal regulations) Oldfield insists it's all in fun. "Our intention is really not to allow people to shoot things out of the sky," she said. But the resident who first proposed the ordinance is sticking to his original premise that Big Brother is not welcome in Deer Trail and the intent of the law would be to keep "the surveillance society" out. Phillip Steel says he's selling his own mock licenses until the real ones come into effect and he'll keep selling them even if the referendum fails. "They can't vote me out," he said. Meanwhile the FAA continues to warn that anyone intent on giving a UAV a belly full of lead will be breaking federal laws, the type of which people go to jail for breaking. "Shooting at an unmanned aircraft could result in criminal or civil liability, just as would firing at a manned airplane," the agency said in a statement issued to Reuters.

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Video: Redbird's Redhawk Diesel -- A Detailed Look

At AirVenture, the really cool airplane wasn't from an airplane manufacturer but from Redbird, the guys who build motion simulators.  They showed off a nicely refurb'd Cessna 172 with a diesel engine from Continental, and they invited us to come fly it at their San Marcos, Texas Skyport.  So we did.  In this video, we offer a detailed analysis of the Redhawk, along with a closer look at the airplane's performance and cost figures.

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Airline Travel as GA's Savior

A staple of the aviation magazine business used to be stories about how a general aviation airplane could be used to fly faster and cheaper than the airlines. The evergreen headline was, “We Beat the Airlines.” Right. You don’t see those stories much anymore and I needn’t explain why.

But could they come back? Could those heady days of yesteryear, where a 10-gallon-an-hour Mooney could occasionally outdo a Boeing or an Embraer on certain routes return? Not a chance, but permit a few pixels of delusional fantasizing. If the trend of owners deserting their airplanes for cheap airline tickets suddenly slows and reverses itself, it won’t be because fuel got cheaper or airplanes became more affordable. It will be because the airlines finally drive enough of their customers bat&%$ crazy that they’ll pay about anything to avoid that Delta flight between Atlanta and Dallas.

My rule of thumb used to be thirds. If I could do the trip on the airline for a third of the cost in the GA airplane, I could justify it by making a few stops along the way or departing and arriving on my own schedule. I never considered the airline torture factor because there was no torture factor. But lately, thanks to unbundled pricing, higher load factors, seat pitch that challenges the limits of human tolerance and diminishing route choices, all there is the torture. The typical airline trip—and I take a lot of them—has become an exercise in what the hell are they going to do to me next?

I was in Texas two weeks ago and discovered that American Airlines—which already has about 15 boarding classes--has now invented another one which, like all the others, is intended to squeeze money out of us poor bastards who are engaged in the warfare of modern travel: the endless struggle for a tiny slice of space in the overhead compartments.

I forget what they called it, but anyone who has no carry-on bags boards ahead of what is usually Zone 1, Zone 1 now being allowed onto the airplane about 30 seconds before the cabin door shuts. It’s pretty clever, really. They want to nick you for the $25 for the baggage fee and they’re willing to punish you to get it. But as I was running the math in my head, I figured that these people don’t have much baggage anyway, so they’re less likely to hog the overhead, displacing my modest roll aboard to the baggage bay. Since I don’t care when I get on as long as there’s room for the bag, I didn’t take the bait. This time. (It’s not a question of money, but security. My bag is loaded with small but expensive video gear.)

Time reports this week that all of this is about to get worse. Maybe much worse. The airlines are rapidly shaving capacity and dumping routes, with the predictable impact on fares. As I’ve said before, that’s fine with me. Flying seats around at below cost, long a habit of U.S. carriers, got us to where we are today. The larger market trend might be toward the extremes: full service luxury seats at $3500 from New York to Los Angeles at one end of the spectrum, $400 for a no-frills bench on the same route where water costs $5 and they charge you to use the lav. (Don’t laugh; could happen.) It also means paying extra for an aisle seat, more for a window seat, space in the overhead and to carry on anything that won’t fit in your pocket. And maybe not even that.

This allows the airline to offer, in Delta’s words, “a customized and differentiated experience.” That’s MBAspeak for we’re going to keep torturing you until you pay as much as we can get out of you.

New aircraft will probably makes things worse yet. Boeing is configuring the 787 with eight or nine abreast, meaning more middle seats and fewer aisles and windows. Some airlines are even considering making the center seats narrower, just to pressure passengers yet more to cough up money for an upgrade that really should be just a civilized seat. But this is what you get when an unregulated market buys purely on price, not value.

So in my fantasy world, airline travel becomes so unpleasant for enough people that a couple of things might happen. One is that organized, affordable on-demand charter gains a toe-hold. Remember DayJet and Eclipse? Maybe the timing was just wrong. Maybe that market was on the verge of gelling but only needed the push of truly intolerable airline service to become a reality. Also, recall that a couple of operations tried regional taxis with piston aircraft, including Cirrus and Diamond models.

The other thing is that damn the cost, owners get back into their GA airplanes for at least some of their travel. Although I don’t see the economics changing much, if not worsening, at least you could get on the airplane when you could board when you please and enjoy a seat with a good view, leg room and rudder pedals. What a concept.

I know, I know. Never happen. But hoping that it does at least has entertainment value.

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

AVweb's Aircraft Cylinder Survey: Give Us Your Views

With a massive AD against ECI cylinders in the offing, we would like to know reader experiences not just with ECI cylinders, but other brands as well. If you've got five minutes to spare, you can tell us about your satisfaction--or lack thereof--with aircraft cylinders you've been flying behind. Just click here to take the survey.

We're asking specific multiple choice questions about cylinders, but also soliciting open-ended comments about reader experiences with cylinders. And yes, the proposed AD against ECI cylinders for head-to-barrel separation is definitely covered in the survey. This is your chance to tell us about these kinds of failures, not just on ECI cylinders, but for others as well. We'll publish the results in future AVweb news coverage.

Video: Electronics International Unveils New Multi-Purpose Instrument

While old airframes may keep soldiering on, the instruments and radios in the panels usually don't.  At AirVenture this year, Electronics International rolled out a new instrument designed to replace older instruments, including tachometers, engines instruments, and other indicators.  In this video, EI's Tyler Speed gives us a quick product tour of the new CGR-30P.

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Video: PS Engineering's PAR200 Multi-Function Audio System

There's a need for affordable audio system upgrades for basic aircraft.  PS Engineering attempts to answer the call with the PAR200 -- a three-in-one system that combines an advanced audio panel, a stereo intercom, and a remote comm radio.  In this video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano takes a look at the unit during it's introduction at AirVenture 2013 at Oshkosh.

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