September 25, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by
Politics and airplanes may both be about the art of compromise but opponents to expansion of the contract tower program say a White House olive branch is covered in thorns. Rep. Peter DeFazio and Rep. James Oberstar have written their colleagues urging them to turn down the administration's proposal to drop a clause in the FAA Reauthorization Bill that allows the privatization of 69 FAA-run towers. The problem is, that section also guarantees that the other 94 percent of the air traffic control system will stay in government hands through the four-year term of the bill. "This change would not solve the problems that have been raised," the letter reads. The bill has been stalled on the privatization issue since Congress resumed sitting after Labor Day. The FAA's current funding legislation runs out Sept. 30. The White House had earlier threatened a veto if the privatization language was dropped and the FAA has warned that furloughs will be issued and airport projects halted if the money tap is turned off on Tuesday. Oberstar and DeFazio say a short-term funding extension could be granted, if necessary, so that "an acceptable reauthorization bill can be passed."
The compromise was offered on the eve of a formal hearing on the safety of the contract tower program. On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Aviation examined a recent report by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General Ken Mead, which stated that contract towers are much less expensive to run than government-staffed towers and report fewer errors. During testimony, the validity of the safety statistics in both FAA and contract towers was challenged by National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President John Carr. He said the Inspector General's report itself recognized weaknesses in the data because error reporting in both types of towers is voluntary and there are no standards and methods established to verify the reports. The value of the safety comparisons is also challenged by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which reviewed the report at the request of Oberstar. The GAO said there were "several potential limitations" with the safety data. "Comparisons of operational errors among types of air traffic control facilities ... cannot be used alone to provide valid conclusions about safety ..." the GAO summary says in part. It also says the data can't be used to draw conclusions about which type of tower is safer. Of course Mead had his chance to defend the report and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey was also to be on the witness stand, but we were unable to get their testimony before our deadline.
What has always made the privatization legislation unusual is that it exempted two VFR towers in Alaska. Fingers immediately pointed at Rep. Don Young, who, as a representative of that state, is also the chairman of the powerful Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, which incorporates the Aviation Subcommittee. Young did little to dispel accusations that he'd cut a side deal to maintain FAA service in Alaska when he appeared on a television show last week. In an interview on a show hosted by the American Association of Airport Executives, Young appeared to cite his own personal safety as justification for exempting Merrill Field, in Anchorage, from the privatization clause. Young failed to return AVweb's request for comment prior to publication. However, Young told the interviewer that the airspace around Merrill Field is complex, with heavy military traffic from a nearby Air Force Base, airliners on their way to and from the international airport and floatplanes using Lake Hood. "We decided at that time to leave it as it is (under FAA staffing) until we can find out there's a better way to do it," he said in the broadcast. He said the top-floor hotel room he normally occupies when he's in Anchorage is on the departure path from Merrill Field. "... Every morning I look out and there's one coming right at me. It's an interesting experience and I want to make sure everything is done right in that field." NATCA was buoyed by Young's assessment. "We are pleased to see that Chairman Young continues to uphold the position that only FAA-controlled towers should be in charge of the complex airspace around his home district," said NATCA spokesman Doug Church. "We would add that the airspace around the other 69 towers on the White House chopping block is also highly complex and should continue to be handled by federal controllers as well."
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Aircraft certifications are rare enough in this day and age, not to mention those that incorporate a major technological shift. Liberty Aerospace entered the history books earlier this week as the first manufacturer in the world to gain a Type Inspection Authorization (TIA) for their Liberty XL2 two-place piston single with Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC). The aircraft flies Continental's IOF 240, a 125-hp FADEC-equipped engine. "There's a degree of relief," said Liberty President Anthony Tiarks. "It's nice to be the first." Full certification is expected soon. All that's left is for FAA pilots to put the trim two-place touring plane through its paces and match the results of 132 knots on 5.5 gph reported by Liberty pilots. "We've been told it takes four to five weeks," said Tiarks. Liberty test pilots have spent the last four months wringing out the airplane, including 160 spins from every imaginable configuration. Tiarks said that because there is so much new technology and material in the airplane, the FAA-mandated testing was rigorous and thorough. In addition to FADEC and the combination of composite and aluminum construction, the XL2 incorporates some unique features, such as the finger-controlled brakes. Tiarks said the brake system helps avoid landing accidents caused by touching down with the brakes on and is among dozens of safety-related innovations. He also noted that the plane has been crash-tested to higher standards than other new designs.
There's nothing new about FADEC itself. Tiarks said that about the only jet aircraft still in the air today without it is the notoriously demanding Concorde and it will be out of service in a month. With respect to power adjustment, the Liberty will be something like a jet. The Teledyne Continental (TCM) PowerLink system replaces all the dials and knobs with a single lever. Power is expressed on a jet-like scale. While the pilot worries about the percentage of power he or she would like to tap, computers create the optimum combination of fuel and air to carry out his or her wishes. Quite the pitchman, TCM President Bryan Lewis said FADEC moves the care and feeding of a piston engine "beyond folklore to precise digital control" and said it was long overdue. Tiarks said production will begin as soon as the type certificate is signed. He said it will take about a year to clear the initial backlog of 55 orders, and full production is expected to be up to 240 airplanes a year. He said the modular design of the aircraft, with its easy repair and maintenance, is attractive to flying schools, but Liberty always had getting from A to B in mind during development. It will carry a payload of 603 pounds 600 miles at 132 knots, using about 5.5 gph. "Hopefully, it's a plane for all times and all people," he said.
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The rest of us could learn a lesson in air-crash survival from a couple of Minnesota tots. Three-year-old Lily Pearson and her big sister Grace, 4, defied monumental odds in surviving a plane crash that killed their mother Kathryn Pearson and uncle Charlie Erickson last Aug. 28. The Beechcraft twin piloted by Erickson went down in fog near Grand Marais, Minn. The girls were thrown from the plane. "They have no explanation as to how the girls survived," their father, Toby Pearson, told reporters in a news conference. But while sheer luck seems to have been a major factor, the girls themselves can claim some credit because they applied many of the same survival procedures drummed into student pilots. The older girl took charge of her sister and, after realizing the adults were dead, took steps to protect her. First, she kept them both away from the fire and the smoke. Then she found shelter in the remains of a seat and, right by the book (which neither could read) the pair waited by the wreck until help arrived about five hours later. "I protected her," said Grace. Their father said he called the reporters and camera crews into the hospital to say thanks to the rescuers and hospital personnel who helped save the girls. He was particularly appreciative of the actions of the unnamed rescue pilot who went looking for the downed plane in the fog. "It was nothing short of heroism," said Pearson. Grace is back home but Lily remains in the hospital undergoing skin-graft surgery and breathing with the aid of a tube.
The ad suggests something nothing less than revolutionary but, alas, Cessna's gussied-up 172, the SP model, doesn't really fly "fuel free." What it does, however, is fly on free fuel, the first $3,500 worth, anyway. The company's latest incentive supplies new owners with a fuel card that works at any FBO accepting Multiservice Fuel cards. The cards stop working after two years or at $3,500, whichever comes first. Assuming you can use the full $3,500 within the two years, it amounts to a 1.8 to 2.1 percent discount on the purchase price of the airplane, which ranges from $165,000 for a base model (with standard leather and a few other goodies missing on the plain-Jane Skyhawk) to $195,000 with air and all the electronics. The offer applies to all SPs currently in stock and those scheduled for delivery in 2003.
The final frontier may be coming to a museum or science center near you in the next five years. General Motors, Space Day Foundation, and Lockheed Martin have joined forces to sponsor a 12,000-square-foot traveling exhibition on the whos, the hows and, perhaps most important, the whys of space exploration. "SPACE: A Journey to Our Future" lifts off at Seattle's Pacific Science Center Nov. 22. It will be in Seattle until May 9 before heading off for a tour of up to 15 U.S. cities. "We hope this exhibit will help inspire the next generation of dreamers and explorers," said Dr. Adena Williams Loston, of NASA, which created the exhibit in conjunction with Clear Channel Exhibitions and the National Science Teachers Association. The massive exhibit will give visitors the chance to touch pieces of the moon and Mars, ride a lunar module simulator to a surface facsimile of the moon and visit a simulated scientific base on Mars. There will also be state-of-the-art audiovisual presentations of past exploits as well as live performances and child-friendly interactive displays. "Our exploration of space is an absolute necessity," said former astronaut Gene Cernan. "This exhibit could be the spark that lights the imagination of a future astronaut or a scientist in the space program." There's plenty for everyone to see and do but there's an educational emphasis for ages nine to 17.
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Well, the Windy City failed to live up to its name and so did the Wright Flyer. The Wright Redux Association's replica of the first real airplane couldn't break the surly bonds of a Chicago lawn last Saturday, despite three attempts. "The Wrights flew into a 25-mph wind. I think we could have flown if we had that," said Mike Gillian, pilot of the replica. Wind speeds on the lawn of the Museum of Science and Industry were estimated at just 5 mph and the faithful replica of the primitive engine just didn't have the power to compensate. Of course the Wrights, tenacious as they were about achieving their goal, probably wouldn't have left it at that and Wright Redux hasn't ruled out another attempt, possibly in October. Regardless of that outcome, the wood-and-fabric replica is headed for a display inside the museum. The Wright Experience, builders of the replica that will (hopefully) fly on Dec. 17 at Kitty Hawk, have undoubtedly taken notice of the Chicago experience and will keep praying for the typically blustery conditions of the Outer Banks.
An airspace dispute of a different sort is brewing off the windy coast of Maui as the FAA prepares to clamp down on what it claims is a hazard to operations at Kahului Airport on the Hawaiian island. The agency is planning to cancel a waiver that allows kiteboarding, or kitesurfing, within five miles of the airport. Local officials are afraid the ban will chase away tourists and eliminate up to 100 jobs now dependent on the dramatic sport. By tacking into the stiff marine breeze on what looks like a small surfboard, a rider can jump off a wave and then pivot the sail so it becomes a wing. Some of the best kitesurfers can turn that initial jump into a soaring flight more than 100 feet above the waves and, according to the FAA, it's somewhere they shouldn't be without a landing clearance. Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa is stepping in and asking state officials to help him fight the decision. We've seen how those things go, but the agency types are not entirely without sympathy in this case. They're planning to rescind the waiver on Oct. 15, three days after a major competition in the affected area is scheduled to end.
The TFR that early Tuesday set an ADIZ for the Class B airspace surrounding New York City from the surface up to but not including 18,000 feet also closed down all operations (except commercial carrier traffic flying into LaGuardia) within seven nm of the U.N. through 4:30 p.m. yesterday. The wording was passed on to weather briefers with the usual moment's notice and appears to have never made it to the FAA's Web site, but area pilots -- for the most part -- took it in stride. A call to the manager's office at non-towered Lincoln Park airfield tucked under the ADIZ in New Jersey was fielded by an individual who preferred not to be named (go figure), who offered, "The bottom line with the TFR is that it sucks, but it shouldn't stop you from flying. People are moving in and out today." At Republic field on Long Island, which operates with a control tower just inside the eastern boundary of the ADIZ, Assistant Airport Manager Shelly LaRose said business continued pretty much as usual with pilots receiving clearance and codes from the tower. New York-area pilots arguably fared better than ground-bound motorists -- the city's FDR drive (the highway that borders the east side of Manhattan and passes nearby and under the U.N. building) will have one section closed all week.
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Australia's charter and passenger carriers are urged to provide input on changes proposed on air regulations that apply to them. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority has revamped Part 121b, which covers charter and scheduled service in aircraft bigger than 5,700 kg. (12,500 lbs.)...
Two men have been arrested in the brazen theft of computers from Sydney Airport. A few weeks ago, men dressed as technicians made off with computers from the customs area. Although the computers contained all sorts of sensitive information, it appears the alleged thieves were only interested in the hardware for resale...
Rotorway International announced the sale of its 700th Exec. 162F kit helicopter. A cattle rancher from Australia will now spend his evenings and weekends piecing together the little chopper and eventually use it to wrangle cattle...
A backward illustration in the maintenance manual for the Beech 1900D is being studied as a possible contributing cause to two crashes of the popular commuter plane in the past year. The FAA is now looking into the possibility in connection with a crash that killed 21 people in Charlotte, N.C., last January and a crash that killed two last month off Cape Cod. Control issues were cited in both crashes
Tickets for the final scheduled flights of the Concorde are selling fast. Would-be history makers snapped up a third of the 450 seats available on the last four legs of British Airways' London-to-New York service. Prices are about $6,000 one-way...
A Canadian crew flying a specially equipped Twin Otter rescued a sick man from the South Pole last Sunday. A little spring twilight helped the pilots, from Calgary-based Ken Boreck Air, make an uneventful landing in temperatures hovering around 60 F. The unidentified patient has a bladder infection and is now being treated in hospital.
AVweb's AVscoop Award...
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Pete Connors 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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The 2003 National Air Tour: A Travelog (Part 1)
As previously reported in AVweb, the National Air Tour is being re-created, 75 years after the first time. Dozens of antique airplanes are barnstorming the country, and getting warm welcomes everywhere they go. AVweb's Brent Blue is helping out and sends this first report.
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We received over 100 pictures last week. Congratulations to this week's winner, Wynn O. Jones II, of Schofield, Wisc. The winning photo, titled "Red Radial" takes us back to
yesteryear, when bi-planes sporting big radial engines ruled the day. While jets and turboprops are exciting to watch, few things match the unique sound of a big radial. Great picture, Wynn! 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.
"Ready for lift off"
We received over 100 responses to our question last week on the pending FAA Reauthorization Bill. The vast majority (75 percent) of those responding felt the ongoing delays of this legislation are a result of the usual play of politics on Capitol Hill. Less than one-tenth (8 percent) mentioned the need to understand how the legislative process works, while only 3 percent expressed any interest with this bill.
To check out the complete results, go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw.
This week, we would like to know your thoughts on federal funding for aviation. Please go to http://www.avweb.com/qotw to respond.
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to email@example.com. Note, this address is ONLY for suggested QOTW questions, and NOT for QOTW answers.
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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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