AVwebBiz - Volume 13, Number 7

February 11, 2014

House Passes Sleep Apnea Rulemaking Bill

To thunderous applause from alphabet groups, the House passed a bill Tuesday that will force the FAA to go through a formal rulemaking process to institute its controversial sleep apnea measures. As we reported in November, FAA Air Surgeon Dr. Fred Tilton sent a newsletter to air medical examiners telling them that any pilot with a body mass index of 40 or higher would have to undergo an expensive evaluation at a sleep clinic to determine if he or she has obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and be cleared to maintain their certification. The memo caught the entire U.S. aviation community, including AMEs, by surprise. There was a flurry of protest but Tilton wouldn't back down. The FAA measure was widely criticized for its scope, cost and questionable impact on safety. The House bill was proposed last month and a parallel measure is before the Senate. 

In its statement on the House action, NBAA Chairman Ed Bolen said it's important that the FAA get input from the industry before introducing such measures. “The business aviation community thanks lawmakers for passing this measure seeking a fully transparent process for any consideration of OSA screening, including a mechanism for those in the industry – who have the most at stake from proposed regulatory action – to provide input on the matter,” said Bolen. “While sleep apnea is certainly an important health concern, it’s important that the agency weigh all factors on the issue, including analysis of data-driven justification, costs, benefits and other important criteria.” AOPA chimed in its approval. "We all want pilots to fly safely, and any policy changes should be based on transparency, public comment, and the opportunity to work together to identify more effective and less intrusive solutions," said AOPA President Mark Baker. The Air Line Pilots Association also voiced its approval. “A medical certificate for a commercial airline pilot is their livelihood, and any actions taken to change or alter the requirements to acquire or retain one needs to be thoroughly discussed in advance with leading industry stakeholders, including ALPA,” the union said.

Aircraft Cellphone Call Ban Sent To House

The House Transportation Committee has approved a bill that would ban passengers from talking on their cellphones in flight. The bill, which still must be debated by the full House, would ban only voice communications and would allow passengers to text, go online and email while on aircraft. A similar bill has also been proposed in the Senate. In an op-ed article in The Hill on Monday, Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said the closed quarters of an airplane cabin force people to become involuntary eavesdroppers on the private conversations of others and they shouldn't have to put up with it. "Usually, when we find ourselves forced to eavesdrop on a phone conversation that’s too loud, too close, or too personal, we can just walk away," he wrote. "However, for an airline passenger, walking away is not an option. When flying at 30,000 feet, there’s nowhere else to go."

Shuster introduced the bill last December after the FCC proposed scrapping the current ban on the use of cellphones on aircraft. The ban was originally imposed to protect the terrestrial cell networks from being overloaded by signals emanating from above but the FCC says modern networks can't be affected that way. Although surveys show widespread support for making smartphone users let their fingers do the talking, there are some opponents. Mark Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said the market should decide whether in-flight cellphone calls are appropriate. He noted that the bill will not prohibit the use of seatback Airfone systems offered on a few airlines. He said it should be up to the airlines to decide whether or not they'll allow cellphone calling on their aircraft.

FAA Bans PEDs In Airline Cockpits

Pilots must not use their laptops, iPads, or any other electronic device for personal use at any time while operating a Part 121 aircraft, whether for a passenger or cargo operation, the FAA said on Tuesday. The rule (PDF) reinforces procedures that already are standard at airlines, the FAA said. Also the "sterile cockpit" rule, enacted in 1981, already forbids pilots to engage in any distracting behavior during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff and landing. The new electronic-device rule was first proposed in January 2013, and takes effect in 60 days. The Air Line Pilots Association opposed the rule, on the grounds that it was "unnecessary, unenforceable and may have a negative effect on safety." 

The FAA said the rule aims to "ensure that certain non-essential activities do not contribute to the challenge of task management on the flight deck or a loss of situational awareness due to attention to non-essential tasks." Two incidents were cited by the FAA, one in which two pilots both were using their personal laptop computers during cruise flight and lost situational awareness, leading to a 150 mile fly-by of their destination, and another in which a pilot sent a text message during the taxi phase of the flight after the aircraft pushed back from the gate and before the takeoff sequence. "These incidents illustrate the potential for such devices to create a hazardous distraction during critical phases of flight," the FAA said.

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End Of The Road For Skycatcher?

Cessna will no longer sell the Skycatcher LSA, and the 80 or so aircraft still at the factory will be kept for use as spare parts, AOPA reported on Monday. A Cessna spokesman told AVweb an official statement would be released early on Tuesday, but by mid-afternoon the company had not posted an update. The Skycatcher has vanished from the Cessna website, and according to AOPA, "The decision [to stop selling the airplane] came in late January when dealers were notified that the aircraft is no longer in the Cessna lineup." Last October, Cessna CEO Scott Ernest told aviation reporters at NBAA 2013 in Las Vegas the Skycatcher had "no future," but he had no details to add when asked for elaboration, other than to say, "That program didn't have a business model that worked."

The Skycatcher program was launched in 2007. When Cessna delivered the first airplane, in 2011, the company said it had more than 1,000 orders. The base price jumped in 2011 from $114,000 to $149,000, and Cessna said it would add many popular options to the standard model. In 2012, the company said sales of the airplane had stalled in Europe, and they planned to transition it out of the light sport category and seek primary certification. "It's a unique, innovative product and we're happy to have found a solution that keeps it available to our European customers, and will make the aircraft more available to customers in many more parts of the world," Tracy Leopold, business leader for the Skycatcher program, said at the time. Those plans never came to fruition. Fewer than 200 Skycatchers have been delivered, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association database.

FAA OKs Eclipse Upgrades

The FAA has completed Supplemental Type Certification for the auto-throttle and anti-skid brake system on the Eclipse 550 twin-engine jet, Eclipse Aerospace said this week. The auto-throttle, developed in partnership with Innovative Solutions & Support, is a first for FAR Part 23 aircraft, Eclipse said. The system enables the autopilot to automatically adjust engine power settings and reduces pilot workload. The new braking system requires only a few components and doesn't rely on hydraulics, Eclipse said, allowing for easy operation and maintenance. The anti-skid brakes will stop the airplane at normal landing speeds in about 700 feet, Eclipse said.

"The development and certification of these new technologies is the result of a great team effort between Eclipse, Innovative Solutions & Support, Advent Aerospace, and the FAA," said Cary Winter, vice president for manufacturing at Eclipse. "The addition of these new technologies exemplifies our commitment to build the safest, simplest to operate, jet in the world." The Eclipse 550 is the all-new, factory-built version of the Eclipse 500 jet, in production since last year.

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Algerian C-130 Crashes (Updated)

At least 77 people, many of them women and children, may have been killed in the crash of an Algerian military transport aircraft Tuesday in northern Algeria. The C-130 was initially reported to be carrying 99 passengers and four crew but the Algerian government corrected that late Tuesday. The aircraft was taking military personnel and their families from a base at Tamanrasset to Constantine. At least one soldier is reported to have survived.

The aircraft went down in a mountainous area of Oum al-Bouaghi province, near the final destination of Constantine. Algerian officials told local media that gusty winds and bad weather were likely a contributing factor. Although primarily used for cargo and troop transport, a standard Herc can be configured to carry up to 92 passengers.

ALPA, FBI Launch Anti-Laser Campaign

Reports of lasers pointed at aircraft in flight have increased from 2,836 in 2010 to 3,960 in 2013 -- that's almost 11 incidents per day -- and this week the FBI and the Air Line Pilots Association joined with the FAA to announce a new "threat awareness campaign." The effort will target 12 cities with public service announcements, billboards, press releases and events featuring ALPA pilots and law enforcement officials. They aim to spread the word that laser attacks on aircraft are a criminal offense punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. "We applaud the FBI for recognizing how serious this situation is," said ALPA First Vice President Capt. Sean Cassidy.

The 12 cities are: Albuquerque, N.M.; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, Calif.; Philadelphia, Pa.; Phoenix, Ariz.; Cleveland, Ohio; Sacramento, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Ill.; and New York, N.Y. The campaign will run for 60 days. A key part of the program is reward money, says the FBI: The bureau will offer up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of any individual who intentionally aims a laser at an aircraft.

Orders, Unveiling At Singapore

VietJetAir set the bar for airliner orders at the Singapore Air Show on Tuesday with the purchase of 63 Airbus A320 aircraft worth about $6.4 billion. The show, which runs until Feb. 16, is expected to yield billions more in commercial, business and military orders. The VietJetAir order also includes options for 30 more aircraft and the package is a mix of its updated and re-engined A320 neo and A320 ceo (current engine option) and happened shortly after another showstopper for Airbus, the first public appearance of its A350 wide body. The plane is flying at the show and will be on static display, right next to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with which it will compete. Boeing issued a report saying the Asia Pacific Region will generate $1.9 trillion in aircraft sales in the next 20 years.

All the major OEMs are at the Singapore show as the region continues to grow in importance to their bottom lines. Cessna celebrated the first sale of a CJ4 to Japan while Gulfstream executives flew in from Hawaii on a G650 to open their new sales offices and set a speed record. Cessna's sister company Beechcraft is there with a couple of King Airs and a T-6 while Piper announced its new dealer for the region is WingsOverAsia, based in Singapore but covering Malaysia and Indonesia, too.

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Report Tallies Wrong-Airport Landings

image: CNN

Landing at the wrong airport, or starting an approach to the wrong airport, is not that unusual for commercial passenger and cargo aircraft, according to an analysis by The Associated Press this week. In an review of NASA safety reports, news accounts and other sources, the AP found 35 wrong-airport landings over the last 20 years and 115 wrong-airport approaches that broke off before touchdown. Not surprisingly, the mistakes are most likely to occur when two airports are located close together with runways at similar angles, the AP found, and often occur at night. The inquiry was inspired by two recent wrong-airport landings -- a 747 freighter in Kansas and a Southwest 737, with passengers on board, in Missouri.

FAA officials told the AP there are nearly 29,000 commercial aircraft flights daily in the U.S., but in the last 10 years, there have been only eight wrong-airport landings, and none caused death or injury. "The FAA reviews reported wrong-airport incidents to determine whether steps such as airfield lighting adjustments may reduce pilot confusion," the FAA said. The AP noted that a "particular trouble spot" is the Silicon Valley, south of San Francisco. Six pilots have reported that they intended to fly to Mineta San Jose International Airport, but instead lined up to land at Moffett Field, about 10 miles to the northwest. All of the crews either realized their mistake or were warned off by ATC.

Video: Exclusive Report -- Why Airplanes Land at the Wrong Airports

AVweb's has compiled the results of our in-depth investigation into why airplanes land at the wrong airports.

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Erosion Control: Airport Open House Day

I read a quote from tennis star Andre Agassi the other day that resonated with me. “What makes something special is not just what you have to gain but what you feel you have to lose.”

That pretty well describes how I feel about our annual airport open house day, which we held in Venice last weekend. It drew about 1000 people which, as these things go, is impressive attendance. But as we were standing around directing traffic into the parking lot, the inevitable question arose: Why are we doing this? What is the payback? What would happen if we don’t do it? What’s in it for the people who attend?

Ostensibly, airport events like this are intended to promote the airport, highlight the benefits of general aviation and let the non-flying public know that we exist. Not necessarily on the list is promoting new pilot starts. As I have observed recently, I’ve passed the pollyannish phase of hoping efforts to sell people on aviation will turn them into pilots. There’s a thin membrane between optimism and self-delusion and it’s as porous as a sponge.

But somehow, airport promotion is different. When I interviewed AOPA’s Mark Baker last fall, he said something that’s stayed with me: All aviation activity starts and ends with airports—healthy airports—and without them, you’re nowhere. Whether healthy airports will attract new pilots or not is academic, but if you don’t have them, you can’t even consider the question. Unless an airport has an intensely flight-active commercial and GA community—and I’m not sure ours does—it probably benefits from as much pilot support and community outreach as can be practically managed. We’re all painfully aware that the trend that best describes general aviation is atrophy and if it’s left to its own, atrophy will inevitably evolve into sclerosis. I think the realization of this gets to us all and that only contributes to the decline.

Things here in Venice have turned around of late, thanks to an involved city council and mayor and an energetic, competent airport manager, Chris Rozansky. Over the weekend, my friend Nick Carlucci reminded me that just a few years ago, during a period he calls “the troubles,” a majority of the city council was anti-airport and would have happily closed the airport. Now, the place is getting continual runway and taxiway improvements, hangar upgrades and generally good maintenance.

If our airport open house has a role in this, part of it may be to show the city fathers that pilots and owners are involved in the airport and the community is interested in it. When it comes time for them to vote on airport-related issues, having seen the interest in airport day might just make a difference. In other words, we aren’t so much promoting the airport as we are practicing erosion control. If all it takes is eight or 10 volunteers giving a day of their time to pull this off, that’s a good investment, in my view. I’m happy to make it.

The next step for us, I suppose, is to kick it up a notch for the attendees of these events. As it is now, we have a static display with representative airplanes, but not much else. I noticed that a lot of people showed up, stayed for five minutes, then left. Maybe they were expecting more. And if they were, it’s on us to figure out what “more” is.

But then isn’t that the trick of surviving in a declining industry? It’s folly to think that we’re going to see a growth rebound in general aviation for the short term. And by that I mean significant increases in activity or pilot starts. But just because GA is shrinking, doesn’t mean it’s dying. It will exist in some form for the foreseeable future and at some point in the distance, it will grow again. If all we’re able to do now to assure that is to provide healthy, well-maintained airports, we will have done all right.

I’m open to suggestions on how to improve an airport open house day.

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Podcast: Bach Flying

Author and avid pilot Richard Bach is back at the keyboard and back in the cockpit after surviving a serious crash in his beloved SeaRey amphib Puff 18 months ago. AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with him about the crash, the new book he wrote about the crash, and the fourth part of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Spoiler Alert: Crashing an airplane and almost dying is actually kind of cool, but hospitals suck.

Video: Hartzell's New Propeller Products

Although aircraft sales are still in the doldrums, Hartzell has stayed busy in its R&D shop, developing a range of new products that are lighter and more efficient than existing props.  Hartzell's Joe Brown gave AVweb an update recently.

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Video: Van's RV-12 S-LSA

Van's aircraft has dominated the kit market with the RV, line and now you can buy a factory-built RV-12 S-LSA model.  Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano flew the RV-12 at the 2014 U.S. Light Sport Expo in Sebring, Florida.  This video takes a detailed look at the aircraft.

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