AVwebFlash Complete Issue: Volume 13, Number 49a

December 3, 2007

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Year's Biggest Stories Not Over Yet ... back to top 
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NASA Employees Defend Study

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, the union representing NASA employees who oversaw a controversial pilot safety study, says it was done properly and the data is valid, contrary to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin’s statements to Congress a month ago, according to an Associated Press story. Griffin appeared before a House oversight committee Oct. 31 and said, among other things, that the National Aviation Operations Monitoring System (NAOMS) was flawed because the 8,000 commercial and private pilots were surveyed anonymously and that could have resulted in duplication of safety-related incidents being reported. The contractor that did the study has also defended the veracity of the data, at least some of which is unlikely to be made public because NASA says doing so would violate the confidentiality promises it made. NASA originally intended to keep all the survey results secret but came under pressure from the media and Congress to share what it found out. The data apparently show a much higher rate of safety-related incidents than show up in FAA reports.

The union, in a letter to the House Science and Technology Committee, said it did its own analysis of the events and found "no valid scientific basis for the administrator's technical criticism." It said keeping the results buried would amount to a waste of millions of dollars and the loss of years of "valuable aviation safety research and development because of repeated judgment failures by NASA's senior leadership." NASA spokesman David Mould said the agency is standing behind its boss. "If someone disagrees, we still believe what we said. It was correct," he said. Union spokesman Matt Biggs suggested the comments by Griffin about the alleged flaws in the study were taken personally by his members. [It’s] "like getting shot in the back by your commanding officer," Biggs said.

FAA Funding/User Fee Debate Stalled

It is expected that more popular matters might easily absorb the attention of senators through the end of the year and FAA reauthorization -- the government's decision on how the FAA is funded and whether or not you'll be paying user fees -- will await the attention of a new year. As it stands, the Senate Finance Committee is at odds with the Commerce Committee about how the FAA's ADS-B powered "next-gen" airspace management ideal should be funded. The Finance Committee supports the continued use of excise taxes, while the Commerce Aviation Subcommittee has sought departure and additional jet fuel taxes, plus a proposed $25 per flight surcharge. Reauthorization has been extended twice without the formal approval of a new plan. The current deadline is Dec. 14, but insiders stress the main issue is where the funds will come from, not whether the funding will be there. Still, there are other complications.

A current House provision would have the FAA and the air traffic controllers union submit to binding arbitration to resolve a contract dispute previously solved when the FAA moved to impose its work rules on the controllers.

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Noise and Medical News back to top 

Santa Monica's Attempt To Ban Jets

Already noise-conscious, busy Santa Monica airport (SMO) just north of LAX is set to adopt a city council ordinance prohibiting category C and D aircraft (those aircraft with approach speeds of 121 knots or more, but less than 166 knots) from using its sole 4,973-by-150-foot runway in spite of a letter from the FAA that calls the move "flatly illegal." With a Dec. 5 meeting set for SMO representatives and the FAA, the issue may yet end in court. Category C and D aircraft (Gulfstream IV, Challenger and Citation X aircraft, and the like) account for about 8,500 operations per year at SMO and half of its jet traffic. Violation of the ordinance, which the Council says is proposed for safety concerns, would incur a $1,000 fine. The FAA has stated it will use "all available means" to prevent implementation of the ordinance. Proponents say the FAA's own guidelines call for runway safety areas of 1,000 feet at either end of runways accommodating category C and D aircraft. Santa Monica presently has none ... but it does have homes within 300 feet of the runway's ends.

Regardless, the FAA sees SMO as a "federally-obligated reliever airport" and is clearly posturing to suggest it will take action. The December meeting will send a delegation from Santa Monica that includes its city attorney to Washington to discuss the issue. Many involved in the dispute do not believe the December meeting will provide a definitive outcome, but expect a court battle may follow.

Pilots On Anti-Depressants "Safer"

The first study on the safety records of pilots taking anti-depressants suggests they're no more likely to crash an aircraft than those who don't need the drugs. The study was done in Australia, the only place it could be done since it's the only country that allows pilots to take anti-depressants and keep their medicals. "There was virtually no difference in the number of incidents or accidents," Professor Kathy Griffiths, a mental health researcher from Australian National University, told a mental-health conference in Australia. "But importantly, there was a tendency for more accidents in the period prior to pilots going on to anti-depressants, but not once they were on them."

Use of anti-depressants is medically disqualifying in all other jurisdictions, but Australia has allowed them since 1993 and up until 2004 the medicated and unmedicated pilots groups each had five major accidents. The unmedicated had 15 incidents compared to 18 for those on the drugs but that wasn't considered a significant difference. "This really confirms for the first time that the longstanding liberal policy of supervised anti-depressant use introduced by CASA to allow medicated pilots is a good one," said Professor James Ross, a co-investigator and former aviation medical specialist with Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). "But it does raise a lot of questions about what is happening in all these other countries, where presumably people secretly take medication unsupervised, or they just fly depressed, increasing their chance of incident."

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Aviation Safety back to top 

172 Lands On Ultralight

The pilot of an Avid ultralight was killed Saturday when a Cessna 172 flown by a 15-year-old student collided with it from above as both were on final for the same runway at Latrobe Valley Regional Airport in the Gippsland town of Traralgon in Australia. "It appears the Cessna had hit the ultralight while both were attempting to land and the Cessna came in on top of the aircraft during the final approach," Civil Aviation Safety Authority spokesman Peter Gibson told the Sunday Herald Sun. The student pilot was able to land safely without injury but the ultralight "disintegrated on impact," caught fire and left a debris field 500 yards across, according to the newspaper.

Gibson said that the Australian Transportation Safety Board would be investigating. At the airport, members of the local flying fraternity were awaiting formal identification of the pilot. "I think people have been doing what people do in an emergency. They've all been pulling together working, making sure that everything was done that could be done. I don't think they've had time to be shaken up yet," said airport manager Noel Cooper. Gippsland Ultralight and Leisure Flyers member Vin Martin said the club had an "excellent" safety record. "The club's been going for 20-odd years. There's been a few fatalities in that time but there hasn't been too many to speak of."

South African Airline Grounded

Nationwide Airlines, which hit the headlines three weeks ago when an engine on one of its aging Boeing 737-200s sheared from the wing on takeoff, has been grounded by South Africa's Civil Aviation Authority on the suspicion that it's using unapproved parts. The CAA says it found some bolts that don't have the correct paper trail and it was investigating the pirate parts possibility when the 737 lost the engine Nov. 7. The flying pilot, Trevor Arnold, is up for an award from the South Africa Airline Pilots Association, for his actions during the emergency.

The grounding of the budget airline stranded 6,000 passengers, and their problems may not be over. The International Air Transport Authority has suspended Nationwide from its interchangeable ticket arrangement, which means that other airlines won't accept their tickets for replacement flights. Nationwide's managers are reportedly in closed-door meetings with CAA officials trying to sort out all the issues.

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Retirement and Incarceration back to top 

Idaho's Oldest Crop-Duster Retires

After 43 years and 150,000 takeoffs and landings (!), 74-year-old crop-duster Don Taylor says it's time to take on some milder pursuits—like skydiving, hang gliding, scuba diving and the little aerobatic aircraft he's building. "If it was just up to me, I'd still be up there," Taylor told the Idaho Statesman as he reflected on one of the longest crop-dusting careers ever recorded. "Flying has always been a miracle to me."

The Statesman did some digging on this story and found that a career crop-duster has a one-in-three chance of dying on the job. Taylor told the newspaper that ego is the biggest determining factor in pilot survival. "You have to realize your limitations," he said. "The most dangerous thing is an ego. People with big egos think they can break the rules. You can't." With that kind of experience, close calls are inevitable and Taylor has had his share, but they've never shaken the grip crop-dusting holds on him. "To me it's a miracle," he said. "I have the feeling that flying a crop duster is like being a cellist; it's an extension of your physical and mental abilities. It's so graceful. I'm going to miss that."

Aircraft Theft Gone Bad

An individual has been charged after $5,000 worth of headsets were stolen from an aircraft that he allegedly drove off a taxiway and into a soybean field at La Porte City (Indiana) Airport. The arrest is likely among the preferred results after the aircraft's operator (presumably the alleged thief) failed to negotiate a turn from taxiway to runway and got stuck in the field. The alleged thief was charged with Class D felony theft and also as a Class C felony habitual traffic offender, but it seems that criminal mischief may be the charge that applies to damage done during the theft -- chopped soybean plants and associated aircraft damage.

Failing to steal the corporate-owned airplane, which had been parked outside of the terminal, the thief is alleged to have stolen five $1,000 headsets from its cabin.

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India's Booming Pilot Population back to top 

Indian Government Streamlines Foreign Pilot Certification

U.S. ATPs who hit the age 60 wall at home can be flying for a living again in "a few days" in India thanks to a new certification process there. India is scrambling for qualified pilots as its industry grows and the deep well of experience from the U.S. is an obvious target (since Congress hasn't yet dealt with its own plans to raise the mandatory retirement age to 65). "In most countries, pilots from the U.S. who have crossed 60 years are allowed to fly anyway," unnamed "officials" told Daily News and Analysis, under the headline "Soon, More Senior Citizen Pilots In Indian Skies".

Although India has been aggressively trying to train its own pilots, the rapid growth of airline travel in the emerging economic giant has outstripped demand. The industry needs 4,754 pilots but only has 3,950 homegrown pilots. "The shortfall is being met with foreign pilots. Currently, 804 foreign pilots are employed with various airlines," Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told the news service.

Glut Of New Pilots In India

Yes, you read that right. As international organizations sound the alarm over a worldwide pilot shortage, as regional airlines in the U.S. and Australia cut routes because they lack cockpit crews and as airlines the world over shamelessly poach pilots from competitors, young pilots in India say there’s just too many of them. "Things are going from bad to worse," Gautam Singh, who’s been in the right seat of a budget carrier’s aircraft for 18 months, told The Times of India "But if I leave, there are 10 freshers waiting to take my place."

It seems that a lot of young Indians heeded the call of the airlines in recent years and went to Canada and the U.S. for training only to return and find out that the shortage applied to left-seaters and not them. Faced with a surplus of first officers, the budget airlines began cutting pay, flight hours and even started putting first officers and cabin crew in cheaper hotels than the captains. "That's humiliating," said another first officer, Nishant Gupta. "And that's because the demand for us has gone down. I don't mind getting less salary, but treat me with respect.”

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News Briefs back to top 

Painting The Town Red

Singapore air force officials were red-faced last week after a ground test by the elite Black Knights air demonstration team left a lasting impression on its neighbors. According to air force officials quoted by the Straits Times, the Black Knights were trying out a new dye intended to create a red smoke trail from their F-16s. However, it also turned about 200 ton of unharvested vegetables, numerous cars, and anything else in its path (including a pet cat) varying shades of red, after high winds carried the smoke over the neighborhood.

It took a week for the air force to fess up that the mess was caused by the test, which was carried out at Tengah Air Base. "We are currently conducting further investigations and have suspended all such trials. Standard aviation dye was used in this trial," air force spokesman Col. Darius Lim told the newspaper. He stressed the dye doesn't pose a health hazard but farmers whose crops were coated have been told to destroy the 10 truckloads of leafy greens they were growing. There's no word on the color or health of the cat.

On the Fly ...

NASA is under criticism for allowing an engineering company to keep two jet engines paid for by NASA after the project it was working on was cancelled. DuPont Aerospace retained the $1.5 million worth of engines after the DP-2 project, a VTOL aircraft was cancelled (after more than $63 million was spent on it) ...

The parents of a skydiver killed in the crash of a Cessna Grand Caravan in October are suing Cessna claiming the aircraft was defective and shouldn’t have been flying in icing conditions. Bryan Jones was among 10 who died in the crash in the Cascade Mountains ...

High school and college students can enter a new NASA competition to predict what a “21st century equivalent of a DC-3” might look and operate like. High school students will write essays while the college competition calls for designs.

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New on AVweb back to top 

The Pilot's Lounge #120: Cobra

The warbird circuit will start seeing a new "snake" in the air, and AVweb's Rick Durden got to fly with a Cobra charmer.

Click here to read Rick Durden's column.

AVweb's Monday Podcast: Air Taxi Association President Joe Leader Responds to Richard Aboulafia

File Size 9.7 MB / Running Time 10:35

Podcast Index | How to Listen | Subscribe Via RSS

In last Monday's AVwebAudio podcast, we spoke with aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia, whose consistent message has been that very light jets and the air taxi business they are helping to spawn will not be the market explosion that some are claiming. Well, as you might expect, there are differing opinions on that topic, and Joe Leader, president of the Air Taxi Association is one of the industry's prominent spokesmen. He spoke with AVweb's Russ Niles from VLJ West, a forum for owners and operators of the new jets held in San Diego earlier this week.

Click here to listen. (9.7 MB, 10:35)

Video of the Week: Airbus A380 Tail Scrape

Recommend a Video | VOTW Archive

Last week, we showed you an A310 from FlyboyTV and promised more big-iron videos in the weeks to come — and since we mislabelled the A310 as an A380 on the home page, this might be a good opportunity to show you a real A380 doing some interesting testing. In this clip, the pilots bring the Airbus across the runway at minimum allowable airspeed and weather a pretty significant-looking tailstrike.

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'Nuff said!

Don't forget to send us links to any interesting videos you find out there. If you're impressed by it, there's a good chance other AVweb readers will be too. And if we use a video you recommend on AVweb, we'll send out an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you."

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We Couldn't Do It Without Our Readers back to top 

AVmail: Dec. 3, 2007

Reader mail this week about instructor shortages, mechanics' liability, Cessna's China connection and more.

Click here to read this week's letters to the editor.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something that 130,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

Did Your Battery Die? Tell Us About It

Our sister publication, Aviation Consumer, will soon publish an in-depth report on aircraft batteries. As part of that report, the magazine would like to hear about your experiences with aircraft batteries -- good, bad or otherwise.

To take part in our online survey, click here.

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: Montgomery County Aviation (Wings Field at KLOM, Philadelphia, PA)

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Montgomery County Aviation at KLOM's Wings Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

AVweb reader Brett Justus recommended the FBO, telling us that "'Brotherly Service' is abundant at this FBO":

I received exceptional service all the way around. Most notably, though, I needed a quick aircraft wash for some important clients the next morning (potential investors), and there was only an hour and a half of daylight left. The entire staff jumped on it immediately to get it done and charged a ridiculously low price. Definitely the place to land if you're going to Philly!

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

There's Only 22 Shopping Days — Choose Gifts from AVweb's Holiday Marketplace
When purchasing gifts for family, friends, and flying buddies, go to AVweb's Holiday Marketplace. AVweb is the place to find perfect gifts for pilots and aviation enthusiasts. And for yourself — forward the link to your family and friends as a hint as to what you want! It's easy online, with AVweb!
The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 

Short Final

Romance in the air is alive and well. While on a CAP flight I heard the following over departure control:

Bonanza 123, squawk 4567.

A short while later ...

Bonanza 123, do you have a passenger named [woman's first name] aboard?

Bonanza 123:

Can you put her on? We are holding an important message for her.

Bonanza 123:
Stand by.


Bonanza 123 (woman's voice):
This is [woman's name].

We have been asked to relay a message to you from [man's name] in [aircraft number]. Are you ready to copy?


Bonanza 123 (woman's voice):

[Man's name] sends the following message: "Will you marry me?"

Bonanza 123:
[garbled transmission]

We didn't get that. What is your answer?

Bonanza 123 (woman's voice):
I would be honored.

Bonanza 123, we copy and will relay.


Cap Flight 2237:
Cap Flight 2237 offers best wishes to the bride.

Delta 0000:
Delta 0000 offers best wishes to the bride.

Bonanza 123, Cap Flight 2237 and Delta 0000 send best wishes to the bride.

Bonanza 123 (woman's voice again): Thank you.

CAP Flight 2237:
Nice to know romance on the airways is alive and well. Over 3,000 hours up here, and I never heard anything like that.

Me either. We have never played cupid before.

Tom Simmons

More AVweb for Your Inbox back to top 

AVwebBiz: AVweb's Business Aviation Newsletter

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVweb's NO-COST weekly business aviation newsletter, AVwebBiz? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the business aviation industry. Business AVflash is a must read. Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/.

Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

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