October 19, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) claims an influential congressman is trying to create two new classifications of control towers: Democrat and Republican. NATCA President John Carr said his organization is outraged by a deal proposed by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, that would involve guaranteeing the retention of FAA-staffed towers in states represented by Republican senators who switch their vote and support the FAA Reauthorization Bill in its current form. "He wants to play Monty Hall and Let's Make a Deal (with air safety)," said Carr. Originally, both the House and the Senate supported provisions in the bill that guaranteed all existing FAA-run towers would remain in government hands. A conference report changed the language to allow 69 so-called VFR towers to become privatized. It also says the balance of the system is to remain government-run through the end of the bill's authority in 2007. Pre-conference language stipulated that ATC remain a government function in perpetuity. The political scrap that has ensued has held up the $60 billion bill, which was supposed to have been passed by the end of September, and put a hold on all the capital spending for airport improvements it contains. A continuing resolution that pays for the day-to-day operation of the agency runs out Oct. 31. Both sides have been beating the political bushes trying to shore up votes and Mica's towers-for-votes proposal is the latest, and most extreme, example. Mica told Aviation Daily he's willing to remove up to 30 towers from the list of 69 in exchange for support for the bill from Republican senators who originally voted in favor of the anti-privatization provisions. He said he's targeting Republicans because "we're not getting any Democratic support" for the reauthorization bill. Mica said he would take it "tower by tower" if necessary to appease anti-privatization Republican senators.
Naturally, privatization opponents are livid with the deal, saying it shows the true attitude of the Republican leadership toward air safety. "[This] tells our citizens that their safety is a political issue," Carr said in a conference call with reporters. "It's about trading towers for votes. If you live in a nice Republican community, you get an FAA tower, if you live in a Democrat community you get a contract tower." Carr said this "two-class system of safety" won't fly with the American public and the union is battling it strenuously. Gary Burns, a spokesman for Mica, told AVweb the issue is holding up the bill and all the benefits it will bring to aviation and there has to be some resolution to the impasse. Burns said the towers-for-votes deal is just one of several options being considered to get the bill through. He declined to elaborate on the other plans. "Some of these discussions we are having are evolving," he said. He also defended the partisan nature of the towers proposal, saying the Democrats have their minds made up on the issue. "We have to talk to people who are willing to take part in the process," Burns said. And, according to Burns, the lobbying and deal-making is having its effect. Mica said he already has the votes he needs in the House and Burns said the issue turns on a very few senators' positions. "We are very, very close," he said. Originally, 11 Republican senators voted in favor of the bill with the anti-privatization language.
Despite the high-level deal-making, political intrigue and Capitol Hill name-calling the issue has precipitated, the FAA continues to maintain that it has no plans to privatize any of the towers. Communications Director Greg Martin told AVweb the agency just wants to keep the option open in case operational conditions require it. "The FAA wants to preserve its flexibility to convert VFR, non-approach towers if circumstances warrant it," Martin said. He said looming retirement of thousands of government controllers and future funding constraints make that flexibility necessary. "They all add up to how we deploy our resources," he said. Martin also characterized the privatization issue as relatively insignificant compared to all of the measures in the bill that are currently on hold. "We simply cannot continue to withhold a $60 billion bill to aviation over this issue," he said. "We need to move and we need to pass this bill." Despite the intensity of the debate in recent weeks, alphabet groups aren't showing much appetite to get involved in the fray. The National Air Transportation Association and AOPA have both said in the past that the bill should not be held up because of the privatization issue.
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Bombardier is streamlining its business jet operations in a series of moves that will affect 1,150 jobs in the U.S. The Canadian-owned company announced last week it is moving production of the Challenger 300 from its Wichita plant to Montreal, where other models of the Challenger are made. The Wichita facility will continue to make Learjets. And although 350 jobs will be lost in Wichita, production of the Challenger 300 will be integrated into the existing capacity at the Montreal plant -- no new jobs are expected. There will, however, be some jobs added in both Montreal and Wichita at the expense of Tucson, Ariz. The company announced it will be closing its finishing plant in Tucson where all of the company's jets were outfitted with the plush perks of the high office they represent. Instead, the planes will be finished where they are started in Montreal and Wichita. But although 800 jobs will be lost in Tuscon, the company estimates only about 100 of those employees will be offered positions at the other plants. Bombardier Aerospace CEO Pierre Beaudoin said keeping the two airplane brands separate and integrating the finishing process with assembly will cut costs (about $25 million a year) and boost efficiency. Although the job losses in Wichita were a blow to a city that's already lost 12,000 jobs in the current industry slump, officials there are actually breathing a sigh of relief that the plant wasn't closed entirely, as was hinted by company officials early in the review process.
Of course, the soft market for bizjets gets most of the blame for this latest consolidation. With order books gathering dust, industry analysts say the only way for the companies to survive is to trim their operations. "They're desperate to cut costs and rightly so," consultant Richard Aboulafia told The Wichita Eagle. Employees at the Wichita plant did their share to help the company. The Machinists Union allowed its contract to be renegotiated and workers voted to freeze wages, delay pension increases and pay more of their own health-care costs. Agreeing to the concessions may have saved the plant. "If they hadn't, it could have gone the other way," said Bombardier spokesman Dave Franson. The worst may not be over for the bizjet market, according to Bombardier's chief competitor. Cessna officials released the company's financial details and market projections for the coming year, and the world's largest bizjet maker is predicting 2004 to be even worse than 2003. The company actually hit its target of 195 jets for this year but it expects to make at least 20 fewer jets next year. Things start looking better in 2005 when it can start delivering its backlog of about 200 Mustang mini-jets. The Citation Sovereign will also become available in 2005.
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In what looks like a case of shutting the barn door after the horses have left, Melbourne, Fla., authorities have enacted anti-noise rules for the local airport. You may recall that Melbourne Airport was (briefly) the headquarters of Aerogroup, an air-combat training company. Aerogroup had a contract to train pilots of the Royal Netherlands Air Force how to turn and burn in their F-16s. The nightly air shows caused such a ruckus among local residents, the company relocated to Jacksonville. Airport authority officials insist the new rules aren't aimed specifically at preventing Aerogroup (or anything like it) from returning to Melbourne, but they did include a ban on the use of afterburners. The rules also cover times for maintenance running of engines, restrict runway use and apply to any aircraft that don't meet current federal noise regulations. They would also apply to the U.S. military. Naturally, the folks who shouted Aerogroup out of town are delighted. "Obviously, the experience we've had with the F-16s has shown the airport that regulations need to be put in place to prevent that from happening again," Melbourne Village Mayor Rob Downey told Florida Today. And as one noise issue is seemingly resolved another is rearing its head out West. Neighbors of North Las Vegas Airport are banding together to fight the increasing traffic and noise from the facility. Although the residents say noise is definitely a factor in their complaints, they claim they're more concerned about safety in the increasingly crowded airspace over their homes. Stay tuned.
The Transportation Security Administration is hinting it may relax some of the restrictions placed on GA after 9/11. In testimony before a House Aviation Subcommittee hearing that was supposed to deal with airline security, TSA head Adm. James Loy said that GA was not as much of a threat as originally thought post-9/11. In written comments he said "more in-depth background checks" would assist in issuing waivers for individuals such as corporate pilots into certain restricted airspace. Loy also said, "We will advise the FAA about whether certain airspace restrictions add real security value and we will recommend that FAA engage in appropriate rulemaking to permanently codify those security-based airspace restrictions that add real security value." He said, too that the Washington ADIZ will remain for the time being. Loy's comments came days after the TSA issued an alert to airlines warning them of possible terrorist activity and hours before box cutters found in two aircraft washrooms prompted a search of all U.S. airliners for possible weapons. Loy's testimony made AOPA President Phil Boyer's day. "We've been vindicated," said Boyer. "Adm. Loy has reinforced what we've said all along; general aviation is not the threat." Boyer noted that GA has voluntarily adopted increased security measures and new rules on pilots, certification and flight training have also been enacted. There may also be some relief coming for commercial airline passengers from what Loy calls the "stupid rules" enacted after 9/11. On that list are the ban on beverages at security checkpoints, the check-in questions and the requirement that passengers remain seated for 30 minutes after takeoff or prior to arrival at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).
Baby seats in airplanes may sound like a good idea but they might actually increase the number of babies that die -- in car crashes. A report by a group of pediatricians says a proposed FAA regulation that would require infant restraint seats for children under the age of two doesn't make practical or economic sense. The suggested logic (flawed or not) is that having to buy a seat for a tot that can now sit on Mom or Dad's lap for free would push some families to drive instead of fly. The report offers that the family car is a much more perilous environment for a baby than flying commercially (they haven't discovered stress yet) so the pediatricians want the FAA to put the brakes on the regulation. According to the doctors, the baby-restraint rule would save only about four deaths in 10 years. If only 5 to 10 percent of families chose to drive instead of fly because of the increased cost, more babies would die on the road, the doctors claim. They also point out that if the average fare for a strapped-in baby was $200, the average cost per life saved would be $1.3 billion. "Many more lives could be saved by spending this money on other safety measures," said Dr. Thomas Newman, the study's main author.
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It's not just Chicago-area pilots who miss Meigs Field. The state of Wisconsin has formally asked the FAA to reopen the Meigs control tower even though the runway is unusable. Wisconsin transportation officials say the tower did a lot more than regulate the comings and goings at Meigs, before Mayor Richard Daley sent in heavy equipment to destroy it on March 30. They claim the tower helped pilots from Wisconsin navigate the route along Lake Michigan that small aircraft must use to avoid conflicts with airliners using O'Hare. "It helped people fly through Chicago without having to run into hurdles," said Gary Dikkens, airspace manager for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, efforts continue to convince politicians to reopen Meigs. The Friends of Meigs has polished up a proposal that would create a large area of the park Daley seems to want so badly but still accommodate the airport. In addition to creating at least 100 acres of additional park, the plan calls for improvements to the airport, including new Civil Air Patrol and Coast Guard Air Auxiliary facilities and an aviation museum. It would also enhance Meigs' role as a reliever airport to handle light jets and air taxi services. What's more, The Friends of Meigs claims all the funding and more can be obtained through federal grants. The plan was initially proposed months ago and got the cold shoulder from city hall. The organization hopes people will like what they see and sign an online petition to get city officials to consider the plan.
Staff at some Flight Service Stations will soon be able to provide pilots with up-to-the-minute information on TFRs and special-use airspace thanks to new software being developed for the Operation and Supportability Implementation System (OASIS). Jeff Barnes, the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists' expert on OASIS, said the new operating system will accommodate overlays of TFRs and also give graphic depictions of active, pending and past special use airspace. Barnes said NOTAMs are also getting a makeover to make them clearer to FSS briefers, who, presumably, will pass that clarity on to pilots. Unfortunately, OASIS has only been installed at 13 FSS facilities so far with 12 more on the way next year. Barnes hopes to have a mock-up of the system running at AOPA Expo at the end of the month, as one of hundreds of exhibitors at the huge convention. Expo, being held this year from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Philadelphia, is shaping up to be the biggest ever. Officials had to start a waiting list for static-display exhibitors wanting to join the show and more than 80 seminars are being offered. There will also be general open sessions featuring speakers like FAA Administrator Marion Blakey offering their thoughts on the future of GA. If you're looking for the latest in products for your airplane, more than 500 companies have registered in the exhibition hall. AVweb will be there, too, keeping you informed about what's going on at this important aviation event.
Next time you board an Air India or Indian Airlines flight, you might want to hope for a frumpy flight attendant. At least then you'll know that he or she was hired based on competence, not looks. As hard as it may be to believe, the Indian government has told the country's biggest airlines to set hiring standards that would land virtually any other carrier in front of a human-rights panel. "Being answerable to Parliament and based on the feedback we get from the market, I have suggested that presentability and physical appearance of a candidate be looked into first and academics later," Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the country's Minister of State for Civil Aviation, told The Indian Express. Rudy, who apparently doesn't realize that flight attendants do more than hand out peanuts and sell warm beer, said other airlines put their best face(s) forward so Indian carriers should also. The airlines say there is a massive logistical problem in implementing the hiring standards. More than 35,000 applications were received for 200 openings the last time Indian Airlines hired flight attendants and it just wasn't possible to have a look at each candidate. They were shortlisted based on a battery of written tests administered by the Indian Institute of Psychometry, which does this sort of selection for other Indian enterprises. Well, the minister agrees that it would be quite a chore to view each and every candidate so he's suggesting that at least one in 10 get a "physical assessment." Rudy says he's just making a suggestion and doesn't know if his edict is binding on the airlines. His critics say he should turn his attention to revitalizing and modernizing the country's air transportation system, which they claim is badly in need of a makeover.
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The definitive exhibit of the Wright Brothers' contribution to aviation opened last week at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. "The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age" includes 170 artifacts, including the actual aircraft that flew for the first time on Dec. 17, 1903. The Wright Flyer will be displayed at eye level so patrons can have a good look at its design and structure...
ADs have been finalized for Cessna 208 and Univair Aircraft Corporation aircraft. For the Cessnas, owners must inspect the right inboard flap bell crank for cracks, deformation and missing or incomplete welds. On Univair planes, inspection plates must be installed on outer wing panels to allow inspection for corrosion...
Eric R. Byer has been named to a new post with the National Air Transportation Association. He's been legislative affairs manager for five years and is now its director of government and industry affairs.
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Gabe Longwell 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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Overheard on the Mexico City ground control freq....
F-100: Ground control, F-100 ready to taxi.
Ground: F-100 clear to taxi to Runway 5 left. Follow the 767 ahead of you.
F-100: Where is the '67 going?
Ground: To Madrid ... but you just follow him till before the runway!!!
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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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