September 14, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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While the administration tries to turn up the heat, the FAA Reauthorization Bill remains stuck on the back burner over a single clause that has split traditional allies in aviation and in politics. It's been a long time since lobbyists and political tacticians have burned the midnight oil over an aviation matter but that's what's happening in Washington as the dispute over privatizing 69 so-called VFR towers grows into a full-blown legislative crisis. The current FAA funding bill expires Sept. 30 and the pressure is on to get it passed before then. "We should not be in this position," said Doug Church, spokesman for the embattled National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "They (the Bush administration) created this mess." NATCA has lined up some impressive political support to keep those towers in the government fold but has received tepid backing, at best, from aviation groups. The clause in question was a compromise reached in the Senate/House committee reconciliation of the bill in July. Both bodies had originally voted to not allow any further privatization of ATC functions. However, a veto threat from the administration prompted the clause allowing expansion of the Contract Tower Program, in which private firms run FAA-funded towers. Since then, NATCA has been fighting furiously to maintain the towers as government-run, union-staffed operations and it has apparently gathered enough political support from within the Republican majority of both houses to stop the bill dead in its tracks. Church insists the blame for the stalemate belongs with the White House for refusing to accept Congress's original position.
Alphabet groups, which have generally favored keeping air traffic control a government function, appear willing to concede the 69 towers to ensure the rest of the goodies contained in the bill are preserved. AOPA issued an analysis of the current situation last week that included an explanation of its position that "the total benefits of the bill to general aviation outweigh the concern over the 'qualified' anti-privatization language." The National Air Transportation Association also maintains there is too much good in the bill to jeopardize over a "theoretical labor-management tug of war." The controllers' concerns notwithstanding, there appears to be something for everyone in the bill. For instance, AOPA likes the $14 billion in airport construction (including some specifically for GA airports), changes to the "pilot insecurity rule" that ensure a third-party hearing for any airman stripped of his or her certificate, and the so-called "Meigs Rule," levying stiff fines to any jurisdiction that arbitrarily closes an airport without the FAA's required notice. NATA members recently held their Day On The Hill, in which about 100 members showed up in Washington to personally lobby on aviation-related topics. The FAA bill, with its $100 million in compensation for 9/11-affected businesses, was near the top of the agenda. NATA also lauded the $2 billion budgeted for airport explosives-detection equipment. "Too many critical areas of the aviation industry stand to suffer if this measure is not law by Sept. 30," said NATA President James Coyne.
The administration appears ready to flex its authority in the face of a stubborn Congress over the issue. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta recently wrote to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert threatening to furlough some FAA employees and freeze some airport construction projects if the bill isn't passed by the end of the month. NATCA is furious about the threat, saying funding authority can be extended by Congress beyond the expiration date of the current legislation. "This is scare tactics 101," said Church. Church said that as far as he knows, with just two weeks left before the theoretical deadline, a vote has not yet been scheduled. That suggests that the administration and the Republican leadership know they don't have the votes to carry the bill with the privatization language intact. AOPA has also reported that at least one unnamed senator has promised to filibuster the bill if it does make it to the floor in its present form. Mineta said in his letter that if the bill doesn't pass intact, "the President's senior advisers would recommend he veto the final bill." NATCA Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin is on C-SPAN at 9:30 a.m. Eastern today explaining the controllers' side of the story.
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The 500-mph barrier has been smashed at the Reno Air Races -- at least on paper. Dago Red, the intensely modified P-51 with Skip Holm on the stick, recorded an average speed of 507.105 mph during a qualifying heat Friday, becoming the first to do so. Dago Red also took the Unlimited Gold this weekend with Rare Bear in second. But the numbers might be a bit misleading since race organizers have changed the way they calculate speed and time for this year's races. The race distance used to be measured from pylon to pylon. The new calculation allows for the curving path of the aircraft around the course and the distance they travel is thus increased. Pilots were told to expect speed increases of about 2.5 percent, so, under the old measurement system, Dago Red would have missed the magic number by about five mph. Holm told the Reno Gazette-Journal he'll take the honor, regardless of the circumstances that helped him achieve it. "If they're going to make changes, they're going to have to live with them," he said. There was other excitement at the spectacle. Biplane racer Tom Aberle withdrew after breaking two propellers. He had plenty of spares but they were all made by the same company. "So, I will not risk myself, my peers or the crowd without further testing," said Aberle, who had won two qualifiers. Another biplane racer, Jacquie Warda, made an emergency landing with electrical problems and a T-6 flown by Gene McNeeley also called a mayday with fuel problems. Unlimited pilot and former astronaut Hoot Gibson was fined for low flying in his Sea Fury but he got to keep his second-place finish in the heat.
Reno evokes the full range of emotions, from the visceral to the nostalgic, and nobody felt them more than two of this year's 16 grand marshals. Retired Lt. Col. James Warren and retired Chief Master Sgt. Fred McLaurin fought two different kinds of conflict throughout their careers. As alumni of the Tuskegee Airmen, they did their duty while battling the kind of racial intolerance that would be unthinkable today. "We succeeded where we were expected to fail," McLaurin, a former T-6 mechanic, told the Gazette-Journal. "Nothing was done to help us. We had to succeed by guts and willpower." Warren was once refused entry to a Reno hotel while in uniform and helped lead a mutiny against the white-only policy at an officers club in Indiana in 1945. But all that's changed, he said, and he called the U.S. military "the most equal-opportunity community in America." Others faced different challenges on their way to Reno. For Dr. Brent Hisey, racing his $1.5 million Miss America P-51 is a lifelong dream come true. The Oklahoma neurosurgeon grew up "watching war movies and building models," of which the P-51 was a favorite. "I don't think there's anyone who ever regretted owning a Mustang," he said. But what about those of us who don't pull down a brain surgeon's salary? A pilot can get into Formula One racing for as little as $13,500, but Ray Debs wouldn't recommend it. "Practically every flight was an emergency," he said of the used racer he and his partner Curtis Weinman bought two years ago. The duo is now working on a new race plane and expect to put about $35,000 into it. "We'll be in the Gold Class next year," Debs told the Gazette-Journal.
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The rumors about Beechcraft and Hawker being up for sale just might be true. Raytheon's new CEO William Swanson told Bloomberg News last week he'd consider selling the aircraft division after fixing what ails it. "As soon as the market wakes up and people realize there is a rationalization that needs to take place, we'll be in the right position to be able to do that," Swanson said. The aircraft division is being extensively revamped, much to the disappointment of some workers who are seeing in-house jobs being sent to contractors. Raytheon has said that it wants to do only final assembly at its factories, mostly in Wichita. Swanson's comments might indicate the company is paring operations to make the aircraft division more attractive to potential buyers. It lost $4 million last year compared to $760 million in 2001. "You don't want to make a decision like that when you have to put your business in the right shape," he said. One thing is certain, the new CEO doesn't appear to have much attachment to the airplane business. He told Bloomberg it's not one of Raytheon's "core" businesses. Raytheon makes most of its money in electronics, particularly air traffic control and military equipment. Cessna has been rumored to be among the potential buyers and even Mooney Aerospace Group has expressed an interest.
The NTSB is recommending (PDF file) that the FAA order airlines to more thoroughly inspect aircraft that have encountered severe turbulence after the discovery of a composite delamination in an American Airlines Airbus A300 that was missed during the inspection specified in the maintenance manual. The NTSB said the plane, operating as Flight 903, was inspected after a severe upset incident in May 1997 and damage was found in the wings and engine pylons. Repairs were made and the plane returned to service. Five years later, based on the findings from the investigation of the suspected tail failure that brought down American Flight 587 in New York, the tail from the Flight 903 aircraft was put through an ultrasound. One of the attachment lugs was damaged. That plane got a new tail and it might not be the last if the FAA adopts the NTSB's recommendations. The NTSB wants the FAA to require all manufacturers of transport aircraft to review their inspection criteria for planes that have been through severe turbulence and extreme maneuvering. It also recommends the companies set G limits beyond which the aircraft must be inspected with direct supervision by the manufacturer. Any aircraft in service that is suspected to have exceeded those limits must be reported to the FAA, along with the results of the initial inspection, and the manufacturer must make sure the FAA knows about any incident in the future in which the manufacturer has been called in to take part in an inspection.
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Scaled Composites keeps marking milestones toward the capture of the $10 million X Prize to build the first civilian spacecraft. Last week, Environmental Aeroscience Corp. (eAc), one of two contractors competing to supply the rocket for the suborbital SpaceShipOne spacecraft, did a full-duration test of its hybrid rocket engine. Its competitor, SpaceDev, has already tested its entry. Both are hybrid engines, using aspects of both liquid and solid-fueled rockets to blast the spacecraft, and, eventually, its paying passengers, 62 miles high. The engines use nitrous oxide as an oxidizer and rubber as the fuel. Both are easily handled and won't react together in storage. The rubber has to be heated to high temperature first before the nitrous oxide is introduced to create the kick that will push SpaceShipOne to 2,500 mph for the flight to the edge of space. Scaled will decide on the engine soon.
Airports and housing developments don't mix, but try telling that to the community of Greenwood Village, near Centennial Airport in Colorado. The community recently approved a 387-lot subdivision less than 1.5 miles from the north end of the airport's main runway. Centennial is the closest airport to downtown Denver and the second-busiest GA field in the U.S. In 1998, the airport released land-use zoning guidelines that urged local governments to prohibit new homes in areas less than 1.5 miles from the runway ends. Now, Centennial officials are worried that other tax-hungry jurisdictions will do the same and noise complaints will put the airport out of business. But it's not like the new residents of Greenwood Village haven't been warned. Anyone buying a house in the new development is told about the airport and must sign a document saying they understand that airplanes will be flying overhead. The houses also have extra noise-proofing. The land in question used to be part of Arapahoe County and it denied a similar application a few years ago. Greenwood Village annexed the land a year ago and promptly permitted the development. Colorado Counties Inc. spokesman Larry Kallenberger said these types of issues are inevitable, given the circumstances. "You have competing interests here with a second-busiest general aviation airport bordering on the fastest-growing county [Douglas] in the country, next to another one of the fastest-growing counties in the country," he said.
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The cash-starved city of Cincinnati might be looking lustily at 230 acres of prime real estate it owns as a cash cow, but those using Blue Ash Airport hope not. The city has a $450,000 FAA grant in the bank to resurface the runway or do other improvements but it's decided not to spend it. Using the money would mean guaranteeing the future of the airport, as an airport, for another 20 years. "We're just trying to keep our options open," Transportation Director Eileen Enabnit told The Cincinnati Enquirer. The city will also give up a $150,000 annual grant from the FAA. Meanwhile, the runway is in need of some attention. Bill Christian, owner of Schmidt Aviation, said the potholes and uneven pavement are a liability issue. The city says the runway doesn't need replacing and the rough spots will be repaired. Although the rumor mill is full of stories of developers lining up to pluck the real-estate plum, Airports Manager Dan Dickten said the airport won't necessarily be sold for development. "There is no intention I am aware of to close the airport or not maintain it," Dickten said. But that doesn't wash with officials in Blue Ash, which is a separate jurisdiction from Cincinnati. "A lot of people are wondering and we're among them," said Blue Ash City Manager Marvin Thompson.
Someone must have thought of this before, but how do you guard against terrorists armed with remote-control aircraft? As we suffer any number of indignities on our trips through the National Airspace System, technology marches forward in pilotless vehicles, such as the system IBM engineers are fooling around with. The folks at Big Blue's Pervasive Computing Advanced Technology Laboratory have replaced the remote control on a model aircraft with a PDA that not only incorporates GPS navigation, it also beams an image back to the handheld computer's display. We'll spare you all the self-congratulatory jargon but it's basically done with a cellphone and off-the-shelf computer hardware and software. Sound too far out to be of any practical use? Consider the case of a conventional RC model and its semi-successful assault on a Sydney, Australia, prison last week. The Canadian Press reported that the model plane, with a three-foot wingspan, made a perfect landing between two cellblocks at the Silverwater Remand and Reception Center on Tuesday. Typical Aussie humor greeted the unscheduled landing but prison spokesman Cmdr. Don Rodgers allowed there could have been method to the apparent madness. "... There could also potentially be a more serious aspect to this event, such as a trial to introduce contraband into the jail," he said in a statement. No drugs or anything else was found on the plane. The owner is being asked to come forward to reclaim the plane. Or maybe he could throw the remote over the wall so the warden can play with it.
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Shortly after 3:15 p.m. yesterday, an U.S. Air Force Thunderbird was lost during a flight display at an air show in Idaho. Early reports say the pilot ejected safely, but his F-16 was dramatically destroyed in front of a crowd of thousands when it crashed on airport grounds at the Gunfighter Skies Air Show at Mountain Home Air Force Base. Witnesses told the Idaho Statesman the aircraft had performed a vertical climb and roll, pulling over the top, but as it dove, appeared to be "dropping like he had no control." Pilot Kris Stricklin of Nellis Air Force Base (Nevada) was treated by military medical personnel; the aircraft left a burning path near the control tower.
Peter Miranda, of Charlotte, N.C., is the 10,000th AOPA Skyspotter. Like his 9,999 predecessors, Miranda took an online course on how to properly file a PIREP. AOPA runs the program through its Air Safety Foundation...
Airlines, the New York Port Authority and Boeing could face lawsuits from Sept. 11 thanks to a federal judge's ruling. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said the potential defendants failed to prove that they didn't have the duty to protect victims from the extraordinary circumstances of the attacks...
If you ever wanted to own a piece of the Concorde, here's your chance. On Nov. 15, Christie's auction house in Paris will sell off, among other things, and Air France Concorde nose cone. The airline is clearing out its warehouses after decommissioning the supersonic airliner and proceeds go to a children's charity...
The Light-Sport process is creeping forward. Standards have been finalized for emergency parachutes for LSA aircraft and they'll now go to the entire committee for comment.
AVweb's AVscoop Award...
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Art Linaschke, this week's AVscoop winner. Submit news tips via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Rules and information are at http://www.avweb.com/contact/newstips.html.
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Pelican's Perch #73: Hurricane (Part 1)
It still gets less press than its more-famous compatriot, the Spitfire, but the Hawker Hurricane was the mainstay of the British fighter squadrons in the European theater of World War II. AVweb's John Deakin considers it one of his favorites, and his two-part pilot report begins this month.
Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles:
Reader mail this week about contract towers, whether new technology helps pilot safety, the public's perception of aviation and more.
Boston Center: Citation XXX, Boston Center now on 123.75.
Citation XXX: 127.35, have a nice day.
Boston Center: Citation XXX, that frequency is 123.75.
Citation XXX: Sorry, 123.75, we were dyslexic but were KO now.
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Let's all be careful out there, okay?
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