September 18, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by
Imagine an FAA where friendliness, fair play and good "customer" relations are the priorities. Visit your local FSDO in coming months and the agency's brass is hoping you're in for a surprise. The FAA Office of Regulation and Certification ("AVR") is pressing ahead with its new AVR Customer Service Initiative to treat the pilots more like customers. Now, we don't expect to see door greeters or free roses on Mother's Day but the agency we sometimes love to hate has promised to try and make our visits to its facilities a bit more pleasant, depending, of course, on the circumstances. FAA employees are being reminded to be consistent and fair in applying the rules, resolve disputes quickly and make better decisions regarding documents, regulations and certification. But courtesy is a two-way street and the agency is looking for some respect from us, too. Namely, it hopes we understand that safety is the FAA's main priority and that if we do have a beef, we should articulate it in a professional manner, make sure we have all the documentation and use the chain of command to elevate concerns.
Well, since this attitude might be new to some employees, the FAA has embarked on a comprehensive training program that has so far included memos and checklists circulated to all staff. "The Customer Service initiative enables us to better document AVR decisions; helps us to be consistent and fair in application of our regulations; and promotes earlier resolution of disagreements," reads one of the memos. But what if an FAA employee is caught in a customer-relations situation without being able to put his hands on the latest memo? The agency has issued a Wallet Information Card, which among other things asks the employees, "Have you considered the customer and FAA perspectives on this issue?" It might be a little unfair to expect a trip to the FAA office to become a walk in the park overnight but the agency will be monitoring the smile index throughout its organization. The FAA says it will judge the success of the AVR initiative by using the government's Customer Satisfaction Index Survey. Aviation groups are also keeping watch and AOPA says it will judge the programs success by the recorded experiences its employees and members have with the agency.
Is there a nice way to tell a pilot his or her certificate has been pulled? The FAA and the Department of Homeland Security are quietly continuing a practice to bar pilots -- on the basis of "security concerns" -- from flying our friendly skies. The Associated Press reports that in July the Homeland Security Department directed U.S. and foreign anti-terrorism entities to review crew lists for foreign commercial flights using U.S. airspace. Sixteen pilots raised suspicions and five have been denied permission to fly into the United States. The agency, however, did not provide the reasons for the denials nor the names of the affected pilots. "It does not necessarily mean that they were in fact associated with terrorists, although it could be," Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for border transportation, told the Associated Press. Hutchinson added the pilots could have simply overstayed previous visas or been connected to some crime in the past. The agency also said the pilots would have to reapply for visas to re-enter, but the likelihood of those being approved would be slim. To date, 13 foreign pilots have had their U.S. licenses taken away because of security considerations since the Sept. 11 terror attacks but seven of those appealed and three were reinstated after a review.
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The FAA hopes to have its Reauthorization Bill in place by the end of the month despite a proposal by a senator to delay Congress' vote on $60 billion package by six months. John Rockefeller (D.-W.Va.) has proposed a bill that would extend the funding authority of the agency for six months so Congress can reconsider a section of the bill that would permit the privatization of 69 so-called VFR towers. But a top FAA official says he doubts Rockefeller's bill will pass. "We just don't see that proposal having any support," Communications Director Greg Martin told AVweb. "It's entirely too premature to suggest an extension is a possibility." Martin said agency brass hope Congress will simply schedule a vote on the whole bill before the agency's funding authority runs out on Sept. 30. "There's nothing more to be learned (about the contract tower issue)," Martin said. Rockefeller said there is widespread concern among both Republican and Democrat politicians about the privatization issue and pointed out that the Senate voted to keep air traffic control under government control "out of a deep sense that the safety of our skies is a basic governmental function." He didn't mention that almost 200 towers are already run by private contractors and, according to a recent Department of Transportation Inspector General's report, operate much more economically and report fewer mistakes than comparable FAA facilities. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) lauded the extension proposal.
If, as Martin predicts, the funding extension bill fails, then what happens if the full Reauthorization Bill isn't passed by Sept. 30? Another top FAA official is predicting thousands of furloughs and the halting of dozens of airport projects. "It's not something we're bluffing about," Woodie Woodward, the FAA's associate administrator for airports, told a conference of airport directors in Tampa on Tuesday, just before Rockefeller made his announcement. "It's a real dire situation." Although it appears that essential core services would be maintained, the furloughs would cut a broad swath through FAA offices throughout the country. Woodward said airspace redesign, environmental clearance and grant applications for airport projects would grind to a halt and safety inspections would be done by a skeleton crew. According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, NATCA accused the FAA of posturing in front of the airport directors, noting that funding deadlines have been missed before without any interruption of service. In a statement Tuesday, NATCA President John Carr urged supporters to stand firm. "We must not allow the Bush administration to blackmail the Senate and House with airport shutdowns and furloughs only to pursue a political ideology," Carr said.
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Raytheon Aircraft Co., which may or may not be for sale, has come under the Security and Exchange Commissions microscope lately, likely compounding the headaches it's already enduring in the soft post-9/11 economy. In January, the SEC began to look into how Raytheon Aircraft recognized revenues from 1997 to 2001. The investigation specifically focused on the manufacturers regional aircraft business. The SECs investigations -- the third federal inquiry for Raytheon Co. since 2001-- focuses on a transaction in October 2001 in which Raytheon took a $693 million charge on its 19-seat commuter aircraft business. In one of its filings, the SEC wrote, "This matter involves violations of Regulation FD by Raytheon through its Chief Financial Officer, (Frank) Caine. Caine selectively disclosed quarterly and semi-annual earnings guidance, the prototypical disclosures Regulation FD aimed to prohibit, to sell-side equity analysts (collectively, the 'Street'). Caine's disclosures concerned Raytheon's estimate of its expected quarterly distribution of earnings per share ('EPS') for 2001 overall, and for the first quarter in particular. Specifically, Caine communicated to the analysts that their first quarter EPS estimates were too high." Caine resigned from Raytheon in April 2000.
Philadelphia may be home to several historic treasures, but aviation will be the main draw next month. The city is playing host to a couple of major aviation events that will surely draw in thousands of enthusiasts. The Franklin Air Show, The Franklin Institute's newest exhibit on aviation, opens to the public Oct. 18 after seven months of intensive renovations. Aside from the Franklin Institutes exhibit, the upcoming AOPA Expo will also make the headlines in Philly from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1. The Franklin Air Show is a 5,000-square-foot permanent exhibit that will "immerse visitors in the simulated environment of an actual air show and introduce them to the history, majesty, science and technology of powered flight." The centerpiece of The Franklin Air Show is the Wright 1911 Model B Flyer, claimed to be the most intact Wright airplane remaining in the world. AOPA's big show will host over 60 aircraft this year on static display at the Philadelphia International Airport. Inside the exhibit hall, seminars will cover topics such as safety, medical issues and TFRs. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey will also attend the event.
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On September 2, 1998, Swissair Flight 111 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all aboard. Now, four years later, the FAA has yet to act on recommendations by Canadas Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and the NTSB to increase the length of time flight data and cockpit voice recorders gather data. The Canadian agency also wants the so-called black boxes to have independent power supplies. In this crash, both devices stopped working six minutes before the crash, denying investigators crucial information about the MD-11's final few minutes. The safety board recommended that cockpit voice recorders, which now capture the previous 30 minutes of a flight, be upgraded to record for two hours. To date, this action has not been taken by the FAA and that has drawn fire from the NTSB and critics within the industry. Meanwhile, TSB investigators have focused on a possible ignition of the aircraft's insulation, which led to a fire and loss of control, as a contributing cause to the accident. The aircraft was approximately one hour into a flight from New York to Geneva when the crew reported smoke in the cockpit and later crashed into the Atlantic.
While many engineers have spent countless hours and dollars trying to design the next propulsion system, a South Carolina teenager has worked with the basics -- namely a paper airplane and a lot of creativity -- to come up with some ideas of his own. Apparently, its paid off, as Hilton Head High School sophomore Ben Rosenberg has been invited for an all-expense-paid trip to Japan to continue his work with laser propulsion. Ben will get to work in the Tokyo Institute of Technology's labs for two weeks with Takashi Yabe, a professor and chief laser researcher, who is looking at ways to use lasers to propel spacecraft and airplanes. It makes perfect sense that Rosenberg would work with Yabe, since the Japanese researcher was the student's inspiration. Rosenberg began his own research, developed ideas and even experimented with them after reading an international science-fair newsletter article about Yabe's work with lasers. Rosenberg contacted Yabe by e-mail and got advice about designing his experiments and continued to correspond with the researcher periodically. The help was beneficial, as Rosenberg's most recent plane flew 75 centimeters and skidded another 30 centimeters for an overall movement of 105 centimeters after being fired upon by an intense military laser at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. Now, the pair will work together on other laser-based projects.
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The Australian and British governments arent taking any chances with cellphones on airliners. The Aussie Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has published an article calling for restricted use of cellphones aboard airliners after tests in England determined cellphones caused compass freeze, navigational instrument errors, communication interference and false warning reports. In the latest edition of its Flight Safety Australia magazine, CASA says that while a link between electronic devices and in-flight incidents has been difficult to prove in the past, evidence is increasing and is being supported by controlled testing. Because of these findings, the article calls on aircraft cabin crew to "take firm action where passengers use electronic devices when they are prohibited and to make a detailed report of all incidents." As AVweb recently reported, Continental Airlines now allows the use of cellphones after its aircraft land and an FAA-Commissioned Cellphone Study is underway to further understand the effects of these devices aboard aircraft.
As part of its ongoing travels, the National Air Tour stopped in Wichita last weekend. The group -- scheduled to fly until September 24 -- left for Kansas City on Saturday and will be in Greenville, S.C. today...
A couple in New Zealand found a nasty surprise all over their home. The house, which lies under the flight path of the Wellington Airport, was found covered with a substance thought to be human excrement. Initial speculation is that the putrid substance fell from an overflying aircraft but investigators are still sniffing for clues...
Work has begun to fix the Manassas (Virginia) Airports aging 25-year-old runway. Over the next two months, crews will refurbish the 5,700-foot runway and its adjacent offramps and taxiway. During that time, air traffic will rely on the airport's 3,700-foot runway
Airport managers attended a major conference in Tampa this week. The 12th Annual Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) Conference and Exhibition highlighted the role airports play in the aviation industry. Several keynote speakers attended the event, including: John Mica (R-Fla.), Chairman, House Aviation Subcommittee; Brian Flemming, Chairman, Canadian Air Transport Security Authority; and key officials from the Department of Homeland Security.
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AVweb's AVscoop Award...
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Tony Molina, this week's AVscoop winner. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com. Rules and information are at http://www.avweb.com/contact/newstips.html.
Say Again? #28: ATC 203 -- IFR Flight Plan
Everybody who flies a flight IFR has to file a flight plan. Even if it's just a pop-up clearance with ATC, there's gonna be a flight plan somewhere. But pilots (and others) are still not following the rules, and safety is being compromised. AVweb's Don Brown continues his 200-series of online IFR "courses" with this discussion of what should and shouldn't be in an IFR flight plan.
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We received over 100 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Karen Ness, of Munster, IN. Her winning photo -- appropriately titled "Tails" -- was taken the first day
of the National Air Tour, which appeared at Karens home field (KIGQ) on Lansing, IL. The pictured S-26 and other aircraft all participated in this historic event. Great picture, Karen! Your
AVweb hat is on the way.
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
AVweb continues to receive a large number of excellent images for our POTW contest. Here are some of the runners-up. Click on the links below to view a larger version.
To check out the complete results, please go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw.
Sponsor News and Special Offers
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WAS A POTENTIAL CATASTROPHE AVERTED ABOARD AN AIRTRAN DC-9 FROM ATLANTA? The NTSB has released its report on the fire which affected AirTran flight 956 detailing how the flightcrew recognized an unfolding problem and how they responded. Don't miss the story in September's NTSB Reporter. Order your subscription at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/ntsbrepo
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AVflash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest aviation news, articles, products, features and events featured on AVweb, the Internet's Aviation Magazine and News Service. http://www.avweb.com
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Let's all be careful out there, okay?
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