AVwebBiz - Volume 13, Number 10

March 4, 2014

User Fees Return In New Budget Plan

image: NBAA

A new federal budget plan released by the White House on Tuesday includes a proposal to "establish a surcharge for air traffic services of $100 per flight." NBAA President Ed Bolen said similar proposals in the last three budgets were stopped when the aviation community mobilized and asked elected officials to oppose the fees. "There is bipartisan opposition to user fees on Capitol Hill," Bolen said. NBAA will continue working with leaders in Congress, he said, "to support FAA funding and aviation system modernization without user fees for general aviation, so that our nation's aviation system can remain the world’s largest, safest and most efficient." General aviation already pays for its use of the aviation system through the fuel tax, Bolen added.

The budget proposal says the user fee would "more equitably distribute the cost of air traffic services across the aviation user community." All piston-powered aircraft would be exempt form the fee, as would military aircraft, aircraft operated by government agencies, air ambulances, aircraft operating outside controlled airspace, and aircraft flying from Canada to Canada. The $3.9 trillion budget proposal covers the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

GAMA President Pete Bunce also said on Tuesday he is "extremely disappointed" by the user-fee proposal. He added that "we are encouraged that the administration proposes making the R&D tax credit permanent," saying the credit will spur the development of new innovations.

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Energy Sector Leading Bizjet Recovery

Global business aviation activity grew by 4 percent in 2013 according to Jet Support Services Inc.'s (JSSI) annual report. While the solid increase was in itself encouraging, the company noted the uptick outpaced the 2.9 percent the International Monetary Fund's predicted the global economy would grow last year. "The global growth in flight hours is a positive indicator for the health of both the aviation industry and the economy as a whole," said Neil Book, president and CEO of JSSI. "When viewed by region, the data is generally consistent with macroeconomic trends across the globe. Business aviation continues its strong rebound in the U.S., with 6 percent year-over-year growth and 7 percent quarter-over-quarter growth," Book said. JSSI doesn't just count takeoffs and landings, however.

The company polls aircraft owners in various economic groupings to determine which sectors of the economy are using them the most. By far the biggest overall increase in aircraft usage was by the power and energy sector at 29 percent year-over-year, but if the last quarter results from the real estate industry are any indication, the buyer's market in much of the U.S. may be waning. Although real estate air traffic was up a relatively modest 6 percent over the year, it increased 62 percent in the final quarter of 2013. That flew in the face of a 13 percent decline by the construction industry. Financial services (-9) and healthcare (-9) were also down but manufacturing was up 10 percent.

Pipistrel Switches Engines for Panthera

Pipistrel’s sleek Panthera retractable, announced two years ago, will soon have a six-cylinder Lycoming IO-540 rather than the IO-390 originally planned. The engine switch was forced because Lycoming won’t be approving the IO-390 for mogas, according to Pipistrel. The IO-540 replacement, which Pipistrel says will improve short-field and high density altitude takeoff performance, will be approved for mogas use. The 540 is about 90 pounds heavier than the IO-390, according to Pipistrel’s Tine Tomazic, but because flight testing has confirmed a lower stall speed than originally envisioned, the Panthera’s allowable gross weight will increase by 210 pounds, increasing useful load.

 “Fuel capacity remains the same, 220 liters [58 gallons] because for the given mission, the airplane will not consume more fuel. We are targeting the same cruise speed of 200 knots true and the same 10.5 gallons per hour,” Tomazic said.

The Panthera has been in flight testing for more than a year with the IO-390 and although Pipistrel says the engine switch will cause some delays, the second airframe is already being fitted with the larger engine. The Panthera’s original design brief, Tomazic said, envisioned other powerplants, including an electric-hybrid version.

“The engine will go under the exact same cowl. When we designed the airplane from the start, it was to feature the hybrid electric and other engines as well; the six-cylinder was included in the original design of the engine cover. So the exterior of the airplane does not change at all,” said Tomazic.

Lycoming declined comment when asked why it decided not to certify the IO-390 for mogas, but Pipistrel speculates that it has to do with the high compression ratio of the IO-390. The 390 series produces up to 210 hp with a compression ratio of 8.7 to 1. According to Lycoming’s SI 1070 service instruction, eight engines in the IO-540 family are approved for mogas (93 AKI) use at compression ratios of between 7.3 and 8.5 to 1. These engines are rated between 235 and 270 hp.

“A lot of this decision was made because customers want good hot and high performance. We have lots of people coming from South Africa, from Argentina, from Mexico, from Colorado, places that would otherwise demand a turbocharger solution. But instead of going to a turbocharged four-cylinder, we decided to go for a normally aspirated six for maintenance and operational simplicity,” Tomazic said.

“Also, this engine supports multitude of fuels available worldwide, so we are now entering markets impossible to tackle before. The delay is assessed to be a couple of months worth,” Tomazic added.

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FAA Proposes 737 Autothrottle AD

Operators of about 500 Boeing 737 aircraft would have to replace or upgrade autothrottle computers to comply with a proposed airworthiness directive published by the FAA on Monday. The AD would mandate actions that Boeing already has recommended to operators via service bulletins. The AD was "prompted by reports in which a single, undetected, erroneous radio altimeter output caused the autothrottle to enter landing flare retard mode prematurely on approach," the FAA said. "We are issuing this AD to prevent a single, undetected, erroneous radio altimeter output from causing premature autothrottle landing flare retard and subsequent loss of automatic speed control, which could result in loss of control of the airplane."

According to The Wall Street Journal, the proposed AD stems from the 2009 crash of a Turkish Airlines 737, which crashed short of an Amsterdam runway after a faulty altimeter caused the automated throttles to prematurely roll back thrust. Nine people were killed. Operators will have three years to upgrade the autothrottle computer after the effective date of the AD. The work only takes about an hour, and there is no cost for parts for the operators, according to the FAA.

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Navy Pilot Killed In Training Crash

A U.S. Navy pilot was killed when an F/A-18C training aircraft crashed Saturday afternoon about 70 miles east of the Naval Air Station in Fallon, Nev. "Initial reports from the scene indicate the aircraft is a total loss," said Lt. Reagan Lauritzen, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Pacific Fleet in San Diego. "It took Navy personnel several hours to reach the crash site, as it was located in remote, rugged, mountainous terrain. A snow storm overnight in the area also hindered the effort." The aircraft was not carrying any weapons or other munitions, the Navy said.

The Navy said the aircraft was on loan to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center from the U.S. Marine Corps. The cause of the crash is under investigation, and the pilot's name has not been released.

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History in the Flesh

I think people who have been in wars not only think about the experience differently than those who have not, but their views of it change as they grow older. I thought of this the other day when I was in the local YMCA waging my own daily war against gravity.

“You know,” came a voice from behind me, “in my day, we used to call it spin, crash and burn.” It took me a moment, but then I realized that the elderly man who had said that was referring to a bicycle jersey I often wear that says Crash and Burn, Inc. on the back and one that draws a lot of comments. I knew instantly that he was a pilot, but when he said his flying career ended in 1945, I knew what that meant, too.

Ed Goulder was a flight leader in B-17s with the 384th Bomb Group. Against terrible odds during the awful year of 1943, Goulder completed 22.5 missions, the last ending in bailout over Belgium after an attack on a non-ferrous metal plant in Solingen, Germany. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW and was released in May of 1945. We chatted for a while and I commented how lucky he must have felt to survive even that many missions.

He told me in retrospect, he was most proud of having commanded two B-17s that had to be abandoned and which all 20 crewmen survived. The odds against that are as dismally low as they were for a crew to make the requisite 25 missions during 1943. The odds are astronomical when you consider that one of the bailouts he ordered was in dense fog, at night, somewhere over what the crew hoped was East Anglia. My palms sweat just thinking about that.

Although I have more than passing historical knowledge of World War II and the 8th Air Force, it’s always sobering to grasp the kind of horrific losses sustained during that year and to touch the living face of history, which Ed Goulder and the dwindling airmen of the war certainly represent.

I found the 8th Air Force records for the Solingen mission that Ed told me about and these revealed that of 23 B-17s dispatched from his group that day, only 14 completed the mission. Three aborted, one scrubbed, one returned early, one ditched and three failed to return. Depending on how you slice the numbers, that’s a loss rate of 17 percent and that’s 30 guys missing and 10 fished out of the channel. (Maybe.)

By modern standards, that would be a disaster, but it was just another day of war in 1943, unremarkable for being low or high. The 8th Air Force lost nearly 40 percent of the bombers it sent to England, most of those early in the war before the generals finally admitted that unescorted bombers actually couldn’t survive against a determined, capable defense. What guts it took to fly those missions against such certain risks of not returning. 

I asked Ed if he thinks about the experience much. “When I came home,” he said, “I went into electrical contracting and never thought about the war much,” he told me. “But about 10 years ago, after I retired, it came up more.” For a bit, he was in touch with some of his crewmates, but as they age, that contact has diminished. Ed is 91 now and gets around with the aid of a walker, but he still makes it to the gym. We should all do so well at that age.

A couple of times during our conversation, Ed observed that the U.S. has been to war 10 times since he returned from Germany. But I think the number may actually be higher than that, if you count all the brushfires and skirmishes like the Dominican Republic, Panama, the Mayaguez … it’s a long list. Often, in talking to these veterans, I’m struck by how many of them seem less interested in looking back than hoping the next generation won’t have their own war to contend with.

By happenstance, the week I ran into Ed, I was just finishing a re-read of William Shirer’s landmark The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was the final revision completed in 1990 before Shirer died three years later. While those of us born after World War II have grown accustomed to Pax Europa, Shirer evidently had no such sentiments. In his revised conclusion, he wasn’t so sure another major European conflict was impossible. Watching events during the past week, it’s sadly obvious that he had basis for that belief.

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