A congressional committee on Wednesday heard a litany of concerns about the FAA's oversight of the certification of the Eclipse very light jet, including a report that the FAA okayed the jet for a
single pilot even though the FAA's Flight Standardization Board had determined that the aircraft required a two-pilot crew. The House Aviation Subcommittee heard from Calvin Scovel, the Inspector
General for the Transportation Department, who said his investigation showed that FAA employees were given "marching orders" by management and a target date was set for the jet's certification. "It
was a calendar-driven process ... with a predetermined outcome," he said. He added that FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell told him that the FAA, which recently completed a "special review" of the
E500's type certificate, will also review the production certificate. When asked by U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes, of North Carolina, if the Eclipse jet is a safe airplane to fly, Scovel responded, "My office
has no evidence that it is unsafe." Scovel later said that given the information that was available to the FAA on Sept. 30, 2006, when it awarded the type certificate, "a reasonable decision would
have been to defer the granting of the type certificate."
Among the concerns cited by the committee were avionics software issues; the lack of a drainage system for the pitot-static system, which made it subject to clogging from ice; intermittent false
stall warnings; blanking or freezing of the cockpit displays; and flaps sticking in position. The committee also noted that the European Aviation Safety Agency, which normally certifies aircraft
"automatically" if they are approved by the FAA, declined to do so with the EA500, and is conducting its own testing and review of the aircraft. The Inspector General said there are "inherent risks"
associated with a new aircraft utilizing new technology, produced by a new manufacturer, and marketed with a new business model for its use, and the FAA should have exercised heightened scrutiny in
certifying the aircraft.
Based on the interim results of the Inspector General's investigation, he recommended that FAA (1) reassess the propriety of its single-pilot certification for the EA500, (2) expedite its Notice of
Proposed Rulemaking to clarify certification requirements for VLJs, (3) evaluate the propriety of allowing new, inexperienced manufacturers to certify their own aircraft for airworthiness prior to
design certification, (4) discontinue prioritizing specific manufacturers' programs in its Performance Plan to avoid the appearance of favoritism or the perception of diminished vigilance in its
oversight mission, and (5) implement a "cooling-off" period for its aircraft certification safety inspectors and engineers before allowing them to accept positions with the manufacturers they formerly
The committee heard from a panel of current and former FAA staffers who described a pattern of pressure from FAA management to meet the timeline for Eclipse certification. FAA software engineer
Dennis Wallace said he had reported that the E500's software was not ready to be certified, and was "surprised" to hear that the type certificate was awarded anyway, on a Saturday afternoon. He
described a meeting where staffers were told they were expected to "save the company" -- meaning Eclipse -- and said there was strong pressure from FAA management to certify the jet on time. David
Downey, who was in charge of the Eclipse program for the FAA until he was removed by upper management, said he and others felt "trapped," and that in his years at the FAA, "nothing else comes close"
to the kind of pressure that was brought to bear on Eclipse's behalf. "No Eclipse tactic was out of bounds," he said. After Downey was removed from his position, FAA headquarters required him to
undergo a "peer appraisal," and the Eclipse chief operating officer was among those certifying his performance. "It would appear that this was an obvious conflict of interest," the committee said in
its report. Downey has since left the FAA for the private sector. Other FAA staffers testified that they believed bonuses and other benefits for FAA managers were tied to awarding the type certificate
by the end of the fiscal year. Rep. Leonard Boswell, of Iowa, told the FAA employees who testified to contact him personally if they experience any retribution from the FAA.
A common theme during the hearing was that the FAA must move away from its "customer service" model, which has led to too-cozy relationships with manufacturers, and ensure that public safety
remains the agency's number-one priority. The committee also encouraged management to do a better job of listening to objections from its staff. A panel of FAA officials said they would work toward
improving in those areas. Near the end of the lengthy proceedings, Peg Billson, general manager of the Eclipse manufacturing division, was called to testify. She said that nobody at Eclipse Aviation
was interviewed for the Inspector General's report, and she hoped to clear up misconceptions and misinformation about the company and the airplane. "It was a very confused and frustrating time," she
said of the certification process. She said that she gave the FAA test pilots "an immature airplane" to evaluate, and their concerns were based on the characteristics of that non-conforming aircraft.
"We had some false starts," she said. Rep. Boswell told Billson the Inspector General's report, and the hearing, were not about Eclipse, but about the FAA and their procedures. "It's our role to
provide aggressive oversight to ensure that the FAA is doing their job," he said.
For more information:
Click here to read the committee's summary of the topics to be covered in the hearing.
Click here to read a summary of the Inspector General's report, with a link to the full text.
Click here to watch the archived video from the hearing (all five hours of it).
Click here to read the printed testimony from the FAA's Nicholas Sabatini, associate administrator
for aviation safety.
Click here for the written testimony from NATCA President Pat Forrey.
(PDF) Forrey did not appear at the hearing, but Aircraft Certification National Representative Tomaso DiPaolo was there as NATCA's representative.
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Although the congressional panel that met in Washington on Wednesday said the issue wasn't Eclipse, but the FAA's allegedly inadequate oversight and flawed procedures, Eclipse Aviation has issued a
"fact sheet" in response to the inspector general's testimony and other matters that arose at the hearing. The fact sheet, which is posted at an Eclipse Web site called eclipsefacts.com, disputes several statements made by the inspector general. It's not true, Eclipse said, that problems with the jet's tires
occurred because they were designed for landings on soft fields. The tire supplier failed to meet durability standards as promised, Eclipse says, and a change in tire type is pending. Also, Eclipse
says it's not true that EASA has declined to certify the EA500 to fly in Europe -- that certification is now in the works and is expected within 60 days. Eclipse notes that a statement was made at the
hearing that one pilot who flew for Eclipse's largest customer [DayJet, which flies all the jets with two-pilot crews] "lacked the confidence that the aircraft could be operated safely by a single
pilot." Eclipse says this is hearsay and "selectively choosing a single pilot to push the agenda of changing the Single Pilot certification of the Eclipse 500." However, the inspector general's report also states that the FAA Flight Standardization Board determined, prior to FAA certification, that the
aircraft required a two-pilot crew.
Eclipse also said that the results of the FAA's Special Certification Review confirmed that the Eclipse 500 is safe and was properly certified. "The Eclipse 500 is one of the safest and most tested
aircraft ever introduced into the market," the statement says. "The safety record reflects relatively small incidents and no injuries or fatalities. This safety record is a testimony to the fact that
the aircraft was certified correctly following FAA established procedures, testing and certification requirements."
Aircraft Spruce West Holds Annual Super Sale & Fly-In
Join the Aircraft Spruce Team Saturday, September 27, 2008, 7am-3pm in Corona, California. It's that time of year when Aircraft Spruce offers spectacular discounts on their most
popular products and a chance for customers to meet vendors. Enjoy seminars by Garmin, Team Nemisis, the FAA, and Aircraft Spruce's Avionics Specialist Ryan Deck. Aircraft will be on display,
and hourly raffles will be held. Call Aircraft Spruce at 1 (877) 4-SPRUCE, or
While Hurricane Ike has faded from memory for most of the country, those hit by the storm will think of little else in coming weeks as the cleanup goes on. In the aviation world,
nowhere did the storm wreak more havoc than at the Lone Star Flight Museum, in Galveston. As we mentioned in earlier issues, the museum took a direct hit but the scope of the damage wasn't clear until
we received these photos from a reader there. As much as eight feet of water filled some of the facilities and priceless aircraft were inundated. According to a report from the museum, the inventory
in the gift shop was destroyed, as were many exhibits. The major need now is fresh water to flush out the aircraft that were hit by the storm surge. Of course, the buildings took a major pounding too
and extensive repairs will be required. Some aircraft were moved in advance of the storm and are fine.
General aviation pilots are often frustrated in their efforts to lend a hand with their aircraft after a natural disaster, but Fred Quarles, of Operation Teacup, is welcoming help from willing
aircraft owners. Volunteers can expect "No pay, no thanks, hard work, little sleep, and all the alligators you want," Quarles said this week. "The bonus is all the armadillos you want, and expenses
are tax deductible." Volunteers can visit his Web site and sign up via e-mail, and Quarles will contact you with flight assignments. Pilots
are needed to fly medical evacuation flights into Texas and Louisiana and to take supplies to Haiti and the Bahamas. If volunteers have spare rooms at home, they are welcome to take home a few people
and give them a dry place to stay and a few meals till things settle down and they can go home. There are about 40,000 people homeless just in the Houston area, Quarles said.
This is a big job and may last for several months. "We will have a party when the work is done," he said. For more information, contact Quarles at (434) 220-4880.
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The Thielert engine factory in Liechtenstein is continuing to build and deliver diesel engines and spare parts while sorting through various offers from new investors who hopefully will rescue the
company from insolvency, company representatives told the media in a conference call from Europe on Tuesday. Asked whether a new owner will honor the warranties that are currently worthless paper in
the hands of engine owners, spokesman Christoph Moller said that will be up to the new investors to decide. "We are not authorized to tell the new investors what to do with their company," he said.
Gunter Kappler, head of technology at Thielert, said that even if Diamond Aircraft switches to their own Austro diesel engine, as they have said they plan to do, Thielert has enough other customers to
keep the company viable. Also, the company is focused now on extending the life of life-limited components from 300 hours to 600 hours, though Moller said he couldn't give a timeline for when that
goal would be reached. He also said it would be up to the new investor to figure out the problems associated with a lack of service centers in North America -- engines now must be shipped to the
factory in Europe for inspection and repair. And he added that since the factory is still operating and the service center is open, "There is no reason from our side that aircraft are AOG" -- a claim
that aircraft owners whose Thielert engines are now up against life limits and no apparently viable options to keep them in the air, are sure to dispute.
Todd House, the founder of the Thielert Engine Owners Group, also called in to the conference, but his questions were politely defrayed by the company representatives. "This is a press conference,
and you are welcome to listen in, but we are taking questions from the media only," they said. They added that a meeting with representatives from the owners group is scheduled for later this week and
all of House's concerns would be addressed at that time. For more on this story, click here for analysis from Paul
Bertorelli, editor-in-chief of Aviation Consumer, in the AVweb Insider Blog.
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The NTSB on Tuesday released a special report identifying several recurring safety issues with parachute jump operations, and recommended improvements in aircraft maintenance and pilot training. The
report was prompted by a crash in July 2006 in Missouri, when an engine failed shortly after takeoff in a de Havilland DHC-6-100. The pilot and five parachutists were killed, and two other
parachutists were seriously injured. Since 1980, 172 people have died in 32 skydiving-related accidents that had nothing to do with the act of actually jumping from the airplane and deploying the
chute. The board found a "pattern of safety deficiencies" in aircraft maintenance, pilot training, and FAA oversight. For example, the board found in its final report on the 2006 accident, released
this week, that more parachutists may have survived if better restraints had been used. "This clearly emphasizes the importance of implementing our recommendations designed to increase survivability
when an accident does occur," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker.
The board made recommendations to the FAA and USPA regarding dual-point restraint systems for parachutists. "As this activity increases in popularity, we have to ensure that safe operations are
adhered to by all operators," said NTSB Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker. "Our recommendations in the areas of maintenance and training will move this industry forward in preventing these types of
More than $7,500 in donations were collected to cover the lost pay of an American Airlines pilot suspended for allegedly taxiing too slow. A supervisor pilot was taxiing behind him
and initiated the suspension for what he said was the other pilot's failure to clear a runway fast enough ...
A leaked report says the flaps on a Spanair MD-82 that crashed on takeoff in Madrid last month were not in the takeoff position. The report also said a cockpit warning that should have alerted the
pilots did not work ...
Prince William will follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Prince Andrew, and fly a military helicopter. William will be deployed on Apache attack helicopters.
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Last week, on the seventh anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attack, we asked AVweb readers to give us their opinion on air security today.
34% of those who took time to answer our informal poll agreed with the assessment that security is improved greatly, but there are still holes that determined terrorists could
exploit. Other opinions were scattered pretty evenly across the various options we provided, including 14% of readers who chose the perennial OTHER (my opinion doesn't appear as a
For a complete (real-time) breakdown of reader responses, click here. (You may be asked to register and answer if you haven't already participated in this poll.)
THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
With so many members of the general aviation community donating their time, skills, money, and resources to the hurricane recovery effort in Texas, we'd like to know how much
volunteering you've done.
There's no such things as cheap gas. Nonetheless, prices vary as much as $3 per gallon from one FBO to another and that's more than $100 on a typical fill-up. Our sister publication, Aviation Consumer, is conducting a survey on how pilots find the best prices on gas.
(The results will appear in a future issue of Aviation Consumer. For subscription information, click here.)
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Thielert's insolvency master says it has found investors for the troubled diesel engine maker. AVweb Editorial Director Paul Bertorelli doesn't see how they find value in the company, and
that's the subject of his latest post to the AVweb Insider Blog.
Diamond Aircraft Distributors Offer Tax Advantage Program
September 30th is the deadline to take advantage of up to $300,000 in depreciation opportunities on a new Diamond DA40 XLS. Diamond Aircraft distributors are also offering a $3,000 cash
back incentive, to pay for the tax and legal services needed to take advantage of this tax savings opportunity.
Go online for full
The world's most important business aviation event, the National Business Aviation Association's annual convention, is coming up Oct. 6-8 in Orlando and there will be hundreds of product announcements
and updates. AVweb will be there with daily coverage of the events, news conferences and announcements that make this show so important but if your company has something more than 100,000
business aviation decision-makers need to know about, we're encouraging you to let us know in advance. That way we can give your news the full attention it deserves and make sure it's released in a
timely fashion during our coverage. Don't worry. We'll strictly observe all embargos. Send your advance material to firstname.lastname@example.org and thanks for your help in making our coverage the most
Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips
via email to email@example.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.
Q: What's the Difference Between a $10,000 Annual and a $2,500 Annual? A: SAMM Mike Busch and his team of seasoned maintenance professionals are saving their aircraft-owner clients thousands of dollars a year in parts and labor not to mention hours of hassle
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AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Galaxy Aviation at KSUA in Stuart, Florida.
AVweb reader Adam Green recommended the FBO:
Enroute VFR and had to divert to Stuart due to weather. Galaxy's line guys were ready to greet us, and promptly helped us out of our Cessna and refueled. Inside, Vanessa and team were as friendly as
can be and offered my girlfriend and Milo (the dog) coffee, popcorn, and dog treats. ... They even loaned us a car with a GPS, and gave us a list of local restaurants with directions so we could run
out and grab a bite to eat. When we returned, we had a few hours to kill and their HD Satellite televisions in every corner were great entertainment. We even moved into the pilot's lounge where they
offered us pillows and blankets, and gave us fresh popcorn to munch on. Thanks, Galaxy; this was a great FBO experience. Can't wait to come back!
AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!
Attention, Turboprop Operators! Reserve October 28-30 on Your Calendars Turboprop Expo 2008, October 28-30 in Scottsdale, AZ, will offer specialized programs including seminar tracks for airframe and turboprop engine topics as well as operational and ownership
information. Dr. David Strahle will present his informative and acclaimed seminar: Understanding Nexrad Imagery. Enjoy the relaxing surroundings of a classic resort and network with industry
leaders at Turboprop Expo 2008.
For more information
and to register, visit online.
Each week, we go through dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of reader-submitted photos and pick the very best to share with you on Thursday mornings. The top photos are featured on
AVweb's home page, and one photo that stands above the others is awarded an AVweb baseball cap as our "Picture of the Week." Want to see your photo on
AVweb.com? Click here to submit it to our weekly contest.
*** THIS WEEK'S WINNERS ***
It's time again to hold our submission bag upside-down and shake out all the exciting, unusual, and downright keen photos that came in over the last seven days so we can share them
with the world.
Gary Dikkers of Madison, Wisconsin takes some pretty incredible photos as a matter of course but it's been quite a while since he's found
himself at the top of our submission pile, and it's probably time Gary got a new AVweb cap. (We're not 100% sure, but we think the design has changed twice since Gary earned the top spot a
copule of years ago.)
Featured here, of course, are the amazing AeroShell Aerobatic Team thrilling the crowd at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.
Another name we're starting to recognize from the submission box is Gini Shilt of El Dorado Springs, Missouri. Given Gini's location, we're pretty
certain those are the remnants of Hurricane Ike soaking the floor of the hangar ... .
What at first seems to be an eerie glow can be seen for what it is in the full-size version of this photo
namely, dew highlighted by the searing flash of Bill Ryan's camera in an otherwise dark environment. (Bill joins us this week from Middletown, Maryland, by the
Alan Snowie's 7:8 Scale Nieuport Over Bellingham Bay, Washington
Another Washingtonian, Kerry Sim of Blaine, flies us out this week against a serene backdrop. The shot, Kerry tells us, was taken from a Bellanca
Scout flown by Merrill Wien. "He's colder than he looks," Kerry writes, confirming at least one of our suspicions about this photo ... .
You'll find more reader-submitted photos in the slideshow on AVweb's home page. Don't miss 'em!
A quick note for submitters: If you've got several photos that you feel are "POTW" material, your best bet is to submit them one-a-week! That gives your photos a greater chance of
seeing print on AVweb, and it makes the selection process a little easier on us, too. ;)
A Reminder About Copyrights:
Please take a moment to consider the source of your image before submitting to our "Picture of the Week" contest. If you did not take the photo yourself, ask yourself if you are indeed authorized to
release publication rights to AVweb. If you're uncertain, consult the POTW Rules or or send us an e-mail.
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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:
Publisher Timothy Cole
Editorial Director, Aviation Publications Paul Bertorelli
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