AVweb Biz - Volume 12, Number 13

October 8, 2013

Mooney Sold To Chinese Company: Report

Mooney Aircraft Company has reportedly been sold to a Chinese company, and indications are the intention is to resume production, build aircraft components and service the used aircraft market, mainly in China and Asia. Meijing Group, a Chinese real estate company, expected to close the deal on Tuesday and finalize the sale sometime in November,†according to CRI.com, a Chinese news website. The website quoted an unnamed Meijing executive as its source. The website says the U.S. government's Office of Foreign Investment signed off on the proposed deal on Oct. 2. After-hours phone and email messages to Mooney's Kerrville, Texas, headquarters were not immediately returned. There was a hint of a revival of the storied planemaker when it unexpectedly showed up at AirVenture Oshkosh this year, as we reported†from the show.

At the time, Mooney officials attending their modest booth were circumspect about resuming production but they did assure AVweb that all certifications had been maintained and that the existing fleet was being properly supported. According to cri.com, Meijing Group is looking to diversify. It's based in Zhengzhou, which has been designated China's first air economic zone. "Since then, [Zhengzhou] has been on a fast track of transitioning from a railway-pivoted economy to an aerotropolis," the website reported.

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Redbird To End $1 Avgas Two Weeks Early

Redbird Skyport's offer to fill your airplane's tank for $1 a gallon during October has drawn so much activity that the organizers have decided to end the promotion two weeks early, spokesman Jeff Van West said on Tuesday. "In preparing for this experiment, we planned for traffic averaging eight times normal," said Van West. "Actual response has been four times higher than that -- over 30 times our normal volume. By the end of the first week, we'd reached our data collection goal for the entire month." The incessant demand has become "unmanageable" for the Skyport staff, he said.

"We have three trucks running full-time and wait times might still approach two hours, and we can't get fuel delivered fast enough to guarantee we don't run out," he said. "Not to mention conditions for our staff; they're icing their joints through the day due to the unrelenting workload." The FBO, in San Marcos, Texas, usually pumps about 4,000 gallons of 100LL in a month. Van West projected that by October 15 they will have pumped over 90,000 gallons. Van West said that to continue at that rate for the entire month is "physically and economically unviable," but the Skyport is committed to handling the demand through AOPA Summit in nearby Fort Worth, and up to the 15th. "We regret having to make any changes to the plan," Van West added, "but our goal was both data collection and stirring an infusion of activity in the GA community. On both those counts, we've already succeeded several times over even our boldest projections. So we view the experiment as a success."

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AOPA Responds To Patent Suit

As expected, AOPA has filed a detailed defense (PDF, PDF) of its FlyQ online flight planning tool against a $66 million patent infringement suit (PDF) launched July 29 by SD Holdings LLC, a Washington State company that holds two patents concerning online travel and flight planning services. AOPA asked the U.S. District Court in Portland, OR for dismissal of the suit or, alternatively, to have the case moved to Maryland, where AOPA is based. One of the attorneys arguing for AOPA is patent attorney Lionel Lavenue, who spoke to Aviation Consumer's Jeff Van West†in 2010†about the viability of such suits. AOPA spokeswoman Katie Prybil said the 39-page response disputes the patent infringement claims. "AOPA requests dismissal due to the fact there is no basis for SDHís patent infringement allegations against FlyQ Web, AOPAís online aviation flight planning tool that is available to members free of charge," said Prybil in an email to AVweb. †"AOPA explains that SDH does not assert a tenable claim of patent infringement, and therefore that the only allegation of patent infringement is defective, and that SDH lacks any good-faith basis to assert patent infringement against AOPA." SD Holdings says that online flight planning is worth money and it wants a slice for its patents, which cover the "Process for Generating Travel Plans on the Internet" (7,640,098) and the "Process for Generating Computer Flight Plans on the Internet" (8,447,512). SD Holdings says a reasonable price for an online flight planner is $150 and a reasonable royalty is 10 percent. So, $15 times 400,000 AOPA members equals $6 million. Further, it says it has "lost profits" of $150 x 400,000 members for $60 million. AVweb is unaware of any online flight planning tools being offered by any company identifying itself as SD Holdings, and a Google search doesn't turn up any.

The earlier patent†(7,640,098)†was awarded to FlightPrep, an online flight planning provider owned by patent holders Roger Stenbock and Kyle Everson. FlightPrep took action against a number of online flight planning Web sites in late 2010, demanding licensing fees and a non-disclosure agreement on the nature of those arrangements. A company operating under the name FlightPrep Inc. and offering many of the same services as the former company is now owned by Ross Neher. Neher was the general manager and vice president of FlightPrep when it was involved in the earlier suits. He spoke to AVweb about the nature of the earlier suits in a 2010 podcast interview. According to Washington State records, SD Holdings lists its office at an address that real estate Web site Zillow says is an upscale condo in a heritage building in downtown Spokane.

Correction And Clarification

A story that appeared in the Oct. 6 edition of AVwebFlash incorrectly stated that SD Holdings, LLC owns FlightPrep. FlightPrep was dissolved in 2012 and a new company, FlightPrep Inc., established that year. FlightPrep Inc. is in fact owned by Ross Neher, the general manager and vice president of the former FlightPrep. AVweb interviewed Neher in his former capacity in 2010. AVweb apologizes for the error.

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Red Bull Air Races Back For 2014

The Red Bull Air Races, which were placed on hiatus after the 2011 season, will return in 2014, Red Bull announced on Tuesday. Seven races will be held in six countries on three continents, starting Feb. 28, in Abu Dhabi. During the three-year break, changes were made to enhance safety and improve the overall race experience, the organization said. Pilots now will compete with standard engines and propellers, and the rules have been modified to prevent any pilots from exceeding the set limits. The inflatable pylons will be constructed from new material that makes it easier for them to burst apart if they are clipped by an airplane, and the heights will be raised from 65 feet to about 82 feet. The tour will include two races in the U.S., Dallas/Fort Worth in September, and Las Vegas in October.

Other stops will include Malaysia, Poland, the UK, and China. The pilot field will include three former title-winners, Paul Bonhomme of Britain, Hannes Arch of Austria, and American Kirby Chambliss. Also competing are Nigel Lamb (UK), Matt Hall (Australia), Peter Besenyei (Hungary), Nicolas Ivanoff (France), Michael Goulian (USA), Matthias Dolderer (Germany), Yoshi Muroya (Japan), Pete McLeod (Canada) and Martin Sonka (Czech Republic).

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Video: Jeppesen Global Support and Command Center Tour

Navigation data giant Jeppesen is determined to increase the performance of its technical support department to better serve the market of electronic data users. †AVweb's Larry Anglisano visited the Jeppesen Global Support and Command Center at the company's headquarters in Colorado for a tour.

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Guest Blog: Shutdown Hits Flight Training

As AVweb has been reporting, the partial government shutdown has impacted aviation at a number a levels, from aircraft registration to aircraft safety inspection. But the effect on the provision on airman FAA knowledge tests is more critical than many realize.

Along with the shutdown of the knowledge test process, the provision of FAA airman practical tests are additionally affected in some important ways. While FAA Designated Pilot Examiners (DPEs) havenít been told to stop offering their services, the system they use to process applications for pilots seeking ratings or certificates is government run and if anything breaks, itís possible that no one will be there to fix it.

Currently, it is currently up and runningófor now. †For authorized practical tests, should the system fail, examiners, instructors, and applicants could go back to paper applications, but these--along with those being submitted digitally--are going to pile up during any time the FAA staff is furloughed.

Itís reasonable to think that even when FAA staff is able to return from furlough, which we hope is soon, the applications that have been submitted in the interim will be delayed in processing. The potential for expiration of temporary airman certificates issued (which only last 120 days) may lead to added workload for local FAA offices needing to re-issue temporary certificates that have expired. If an airman lets a certificate expire, he or she will no longer have a valid pilot certificate.

Any processing of practical tests that require FAA staff to be present will be halted during this shutdown. The most pronounced result of this is the initial flight instructor test. These tests are typically either administered directly by FAA staff or are deferred by FAA staff to appropriately qualified FAA DPEs if FAA staff arenít available. Even when deferred, FAA staff must interact with the applicant to assign the test. If FAA staff arenít in the office, this is not possible, effectively stopping the flow of any new CFI applicants.

Circling back to the knowledge test issue, in the short run, the effect will be limited for those that have already completed knowledge tests. In the longer term, if tests arenít administered, this will stop all processing of pilot applicants for ratings or certificates. This will effectively stop any training providers, including local FBOs, colleges and universities, or even airlines from moving pilot candidates through ratings and certificates.

For pilot candidates in collegiate or university aviation programs, this may halt their progress through expensive academic programs. When these programs are unable to move pilots through the system, not only will government staff be out of work, but all of the civilian DPEs that provide these tests will have effectively been laid off and no longer able to work.

If the shutdown continues without relief, or the FAA staff that oversee these activities arenít fully reinstated and allowed to return to work, it will stop pilot training in the U.S. eventually, even if this doesnít happen all at once. With concerns about pilot shortages growing more urgent each year, the shutdown is a significant worry for the industry, if it isnít ended soon.† It has the potential to affect the transportation infrastructure's ability to provide qualified pilots. And this wonít necessarily take months to notice. Pilot training facilities are already hitting the roadblock of knowledge tests and this is likely to grow worse by the day.

Jason Blair is a designated pilot examiner and former director of the National Flight Instructors Association.

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

Video: A Visit to the Curtiss Museum

AVweb travels to Hammondsport, New York for the 2013 Curtiss Seaplane Homecoming, including a visit to the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum of local history.

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Video: Continental's Zulu Flight Center

For more than a year, Continental Motors has been experimenting with a new flight training center based in an upscale mall in Spanish Fort, Alabama. †AVweb recently visited the center and interviewed Gloria Liu for a briefing on the training works.

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Mogas: The Great Missed Opportunity

Every time I do research or reader surveys on mogas for airplanes, I come away thinking I must be living in an alternate universe. Or maybe the people I talk to are. In todayís news columns, weíre reporting on the results of our recent avgas survey, which revealed some interesting movement in opinions toward mogas.

Bottom line: mogas negatives are down and positives are up, meaning more people say theyíre interested in using it and fewer people say they wouldnít even consider it. Yet, the mogas market gains very little traction. Itís not much more available than it was two years ago, when last we did a similar survey.

I have a theory to explain the shifting opinion. Some of it may be attributable to survey error, but based on the comments I read, more owners are seeing aviation as a sunset activity and although readers who took the survey have confidence that a 100-octane replacement will eventually appear, thereís real worry that it wonít be affordable. Thus the interest in mogas.

And the industry dithers on. EAA and AOPA have shown little or no interest in promoting mogas as an option, yet itís the single most potent factor to reduce the cost of flying. On average, where mogas is available, itís about $1.40 cheaper than avgas and if your airplane burns eight to 10 GPH and you fly 50 hours a year, thatís up to $700 a year in savings. At some airports itís more, at others, less. The savings would at least pay for a few months of hangar rent. To be fair, the alphabets havenít gotten behind mogas for several legitimate reasons, one of which is the resistance of FBOs to install the tankage, knowing they wonít sell much mogas.

Fair enough, I guess. But the biases against mogas are, in my view, utterly unfounded. Yes, itís true it may be hard to find premium mogas without ethanol in some areas, but complaints about vapor pressure-related problems, lack of octane and engine and carburetor deposits caused by mogas are never substantiated in our surveys. I thought reader Jack Thompson put it best in replying to the survey: ďI've been using mogas for 25-plus years with nothing but good results. I'm a mechanical professional engineer, and I'm appalled at the institutional ignorance and head-in-the-sand attitude of the industry on this topic. Pure lunacy.Ē

There may be a confluence of events that will yet inject life into mogas, however. First, Lycomingís SI 1070 bulletin approves a long list of engines for mogas, provided the fuel meets certain octane and vapor pressure requirements and a new company called Airworthy Autogas proposes to make and distribute that very fuel. This should, once and for all, address at least some of the unfounded beefs against mogas. Oh, and third, Iím not alone in believing the replacement for avgas, when it eventually arrives, will cost more than 100LL does now. Iím guessing a buck more, so the Delta between mogas and avgas could rise to $2 or more. Airworthy Autogas will, however, cost a little more than traditional mogas, but maybe that will be a good tradeoff against its pedigree. In mogasís favor is the ever-growing number of Rotax engines that can burn it, as many owners of those aircraft do. Just to be clear, no one is saying mogas will substitute for 100-octane in those high-compression or high-octane engines that require it. Thatís a separate problem.

When I spoke to Airworthy Autogasís Mark Ellery about mogas, he asked me if I would use it. Good question, because I suffer the same biases as many others. For the Cub, Iíd worry about the effects of unintended ethanol on seals and o-rings and, frankly, I hate the smell of mogas. But if I had an airplane that burned more than four gallons an hour and/or someone would dispense branded mogasóand Airworthy will be thatóthen Iíd warm to the idea. I think others might, too. By branded, I mean someoneís name is on the pump so I know whoís providing it.

So perhaps weíre at a crossroads of opportunity. An aggressive company is addressing biases against mogas at a time when more expensive 100-octaneówhich many aircraft simply donít needóseems to be on the horizon. (Nothing is worse than presuming owners of low-compression engines have to pay more for fuel just to support a 100-octane ecosystem.)

If the economics of Airworthy Autogas prove workable, it then becomes purely a marketing and promotional challenge. Can the company and the industry promote it well enough to defeat the unsubstantiated biases against mogas in general? Will owners begin to demand it? If so, perhaps we could generate enough demand to double or triple the number of airports willing to pump mogas. And thatís where Iíd like to see AOPA and EAA go with this idea. If the two associations could pair up in promoting mogasóif Airworthy Autogas, so be itómaybe we could get somewhere.

Otherwise, Iím not sure I see any bright shining path to at least arrest the rising cost of flying airplanes, much less reduce it.

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