November 3, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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FAA Administrator Marion Blakey opened AOPA Expo 2003 with good intentions for the future of GA, and a newly certified engine for now, but by the end of her presentation pilots paying attention to the fine print may have been left a little confused. Blakey announced in her speech that the FAA Wednesday granted a new type certificate for Thielert's 135-hp diesel Centurion 1.7 -- two are worn by Diamond's 180-knots-on-10-gph TwinStar flying in Europe. The fine print says the engines, which incorporate auto parts, will have a $19,000, 1000-hour TBR (time before replacement) in the U.S. Beyond the fine print is the fact that the cost is similar to an overhaul of engines with similar torque and by the time aircraft turning the engine are available in the U.S. the TBR will likely be higher. Blakey also said "we're your voice at the table" when it comes to TFRs but announced that "the FAA doesn't call the shots on this at all," leaving the attending sample of some 1,200 pilots silently helpless. Attendees learned the DC ADIZ will likely stay until the hodgepodge of Secret Service, homeland security, intelligence community and other agencies decide otherwise that GA is not a threat. The other TFRs will likely come and go and Blakey says the FAA will try harder to make sure you know where the restrictions are, as evidenced by a Web site designed especially for that purpose. The site went online Thursday. For it's part, AOPA last week launched its own "Real-Time Flight Planner," which incorporates "up-to-the-minute" graphical, text and plain-language TFR information along with overlaid DUATs weather.
The administrator addressed Meigs directly: "What happened to Chicago's Merrill C. Meigs Field on March 30 ... was a travesty. The national air system is national. No one should carve out a piece at will." Blakey then noted the reauthorization bill's "Meigs Provision," which, for those paying attention, does not claim airports for the FAA, but fines those who might close one without at least a requisite 30-day notice. Asked after her speech if privatization might extend beyond the proposed 69 towers and on to Flight Service, Blakey said, "this is an area where the FAA is actively looking at the private sector option." The administrator said of the current system, "It's costing $500 million per year. That's $27 for every single communication Flight Service has. We don't think that's efficient." However, the administrator made clear that the FAA is moving through a process with both efficiency and enhanced services as the end goal. She reassured the audience that services would not be diminished and that the FAA was interested in what Flight Service says it can do to optimize efficiency. "We want to provide enhanced services ... not just efficient service," Blakey said. Speaking for his masses, AOPA president Phil Boyer added, "We've been actively involved ... rest assured no one wants to pay for a weather briefing. We're not going to make a mistake like that." Blakey restated, for the umpteenth time, that the FAA has no intention to privatize the U.S. air traffic control system and that language in the stalled reauthorization bill allowing for privatization of a fixed number of towers exists to build in flexibility for how the administration allocates resources.
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As of this moment, some seven manufacturers promising a new generation of light jets sit on a collective order roster tallying well more than 2,000 aircraft. The light jets promise certification for single-pilot operations from nearly all GA airports. Some offer acquisition costs below that of a brand-new light twin, operating costs similar to light twins and performance well beyond that, but speakers at AOPA Expo 2003 made clear you won't find any light-twin pilots flying them, not without a lot of work, anyway. The problems include placating insurance brokers, finding time for recurrent training, and magically convincing airline pilot groups that squalls of "non-professionals" sharing airspace traditionally occupied by their own well-defined (and well-regulated) group is a good thing. The hurdles are so huge that companies are now coming to the front with plans to resolve the problems. Guardian Jet announced at AOPA Expo consulting and management solutions designed to take the owner/operator from light-jet hopeful to light-jet PIC. The soon-to-boom light-jet market is still led by only one example flying with the same engines it expects to receive certification with, Adam's A700. With the A500, a piston twin, and the A700, a twin-jet, the naming convention leaves room (at least numerically) for a third intermediate aircraft. The right A600 could allow Adam's customers to transition smoothly (without jumping from piston to jet), keeping insurance brokers happy, while keeping customers within the Adam product line. While the jets have the potential to facilitate aviation and air travel, for the masses it may be quite some time before it does much for the pilot/owner/operator.
If you can't fly the jets at least you can have single-lever power. The major players from at least five engine manufacturers all seem to agree on one thing -- FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) is the way of the future and if you plan on flying far into the future it will likely be with FADEC on board. For many manufacturers it will solve the problem of fuel availability -- if 100LL ever does go away, FADEC will deal with whatever you put in the tanks, mixed grades and all, and figure it all out from inside your engine. Honda/Continental (gas/100LL), Superior Air Parts (100LL), Bombardier (gasoline) and SMA (diesel) all intend to introduce engines in the 200-hp ballpark over the next few years (the final decision on the Honda engine should be made near the end of this year). All will offer FADEC standard. Thielert's newly certified 135-hp turbo-diesel runs with FADEC (on the Diamond TwinStar), as does Continental's IOF 240, 125-hp engine (on the Liberty XL2). Bombardier's new entries, expected to enter the market in 2005, will have FADEC. Rated at just 135 hp, the Thielert puts out enough power to seek STC or factory installation on Cessna 172s, Piper 28s, the Diamond DA40 and DA42, OMF's Symphony and more. While current certification standards set a life limit at a relatively low 1000 hours for Thielert's offering, industry insiders expect that limit to sharply increase, first to 2100 hours with an end goal of 3000 hours, as operational experience proves the engine's longevity overseas. The replacement cost should match that of an overhaul for similarly powerful engines.
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As enormous political pressure bears down on a handful of senators holding the key to the future of the FAA reauthorization bill, forces opposing the bill's handling of air traffic control privatization welcomed a powerful ally. AOPA President Phil Boyer said in a statement Friday that while the 400,000-strong organization supports many of the provisions in the $60 billion bill, he's afraid that the current language (or lack of it) opens the door to a Canadian- and British-style user-pay system. "... Future administrators or administrations have all the authority they need to turn the keys over to a NavCanada or NATS-type company," Boyer said. His comments came after the House of Representatives, in a 211-207 vote , endorsed the revised reauthorization bill, which was stripped of all language pertaining to air traffic control privatization. The previous incarnation of the bill permitted privatization of up to 69 mostly VFR towers, while guaranteeing the balance of the system stayed in government hands. AOPA stood alone among the mainstream alphabet groups in opposing the bill. Last Wednesday, AOPA stayed away from a Capitol Hill news conference at which six groups, including EAA, showed up to support passage of the legislation. The next day, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey spoke at the opening day of AOPA Expo, the group's annual convention, and chided her hosts for skipping the news conference. "I'm told that AOPA would usually be front and center on issues like this," she said. "That's why we were more than a little surprised that AOPA wasn't there." Blakey told about 1,200 delegates she's opposed to a fee-for-service system and has no plans to privatize ATC. Most of the other groups have issued statements saying there is too much good in the bill to have it held up by what they consider to be a relatively insignificant issue. "We feel this is one of the most general aviation-friendly FAA reauthorization bills to come along in recent memory and we want the bill to move forward," said EAA spokesman Doug Macnair.
Automated weather systems have greatly enhanced our weather data collection but a new system is proving to outdo humans and other forecast models as well. Last week, Harris Corporation unveiled a fuzzy logic-based system for automated, short-term ceiling and visibility forecasts. The announcement was part of the product demonstrations during the Air Traffic Control Association's (ATCA's) 48th Annual International Technical Program and Exhibits, held Oct. 26-30, in Washington, D.C. Harris claims its forecast-system prototype is designed to produce automated ceiling, visibility, wind and weather forecasts for 465 terminal locations in the continental United States. Harris claims these forecasts, which are generated upon arrival of each new METAR, are more accurate than the numerical models and other assets of the official National Weather Service forecasts. Harris is also demonstrating a prototype tool for automated forecasts of thunderstorm potential. In addition to the forecasting units, Harris -- the prime contractor for the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure program -- will provide improved telecommunications services to more than 5,000 FAA facilities nationwide.
Well, any midair collision you walk away from is a good one, right? The folks at Extra Aircraft are counting their lucky stars after the prototype of the company's entry to the high-performance touring/business market very nearly became a tragic NTSB statistic, taking the celebrated founder of the company, Walter Extra, with it. Extra, whose German company is synonymous with high-performance aerobatic aircraft, was at the controls of the EA-500 when a wingtip passed through the propeller arc of a Cessna 182 accompanying his and another Extra aircraft to the National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) convention earlier this month in Orlando. Extra's U.S. President Ken Weaver said Extra "heard a noise" and advised the other aircraft he was turning back to St. Augustine, where the trio had left a few minutes earlier. All three aircraft landed safely and a nick was discovered on a wingtip fairing of the Extra 500. Weaver said the fairing is a cosmetic part made of composite. He said technicians "mixed up some goop" and had the fairing fixed in minutes. With a little blast of paint, the aircraft was airworthy (and show-worthy) again and the entourage headed for Orlando the next day, presumably with a little more separation. Weaver said the incident occurred while Extra was moving from one side of the 182, piloted by a company official, to the other and he simply misjudged the distance. Weaver said he couldn't explain why the trio was in such tight formation. "We aren't the Blue Angels," he said. The mishap was reported to the NTSB and German authorities (where the 500 is registered) and no further investigation is anticipated. The aircraft has been shown at both NBAA and AOPA Expo since and Weaver said response has been favorable. But if you look really, really closely at the left wingtip....
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EAA and AOPA have both launched campaigns to save a Florida airport from the condo crowd. A powerful lobby of local developers has forced a vote on the future of St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport (SPG) and as the plebiscite looms on Tuesday, both sides are firing salvos of advertising and direct mail at the people who will decide. "Never before have we seen a local developer agenda try to circumvent federal regulations by taking an airport closure proposal to voters," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. The anti-airport forces are proposing that half the waterfront airport be dedicated as a park (sound familiar?) while the rest faces an unspecified future. According to EAA, the park proponents are the same well-heeled developers who lobbied unsuccessfully last year to have the airport closed so they could build condos there. Public opinion seems to be in favor of keeping the airport open and the alphabet groups are also pointing out that if the airport is closed, St. Petersburg will have to pay back federal grant money used to improve the airport in recent years. Those grants come with the condition that the airport remain viable for at least 20 years after the money is spent.
While many of us are somewhat familiar with TCAS (Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System) and GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) some new high-tech in-cockpit technology promises to go a step beyond the current level of safety-conscious warnings. Honeywell Aerospace is studying whether to produce a product that would take over the aircraft's flight controls from a pilot who did not respond to alert and audio warnings from an impending in-flight collision. Honeywell spokesman Ron Crotty told The Wichita Eagle the device would return control authority to the pilot once the danger threat was eliminated. Before you begin to imagine the scenario of a runaway airplane, Crotty explained the device would likely come with an option for pilots to override the system. At the moment, this system is only in the discovery stage, but you'll remember this is not the first use of control-limiting equipment. Fly-by-wire systems have been employed in commercial and military aircraft. Airbus' fly-by-wire fleet has the capability to limit control movement when the aircraft nears a stall or other dangerous flight condition.
A Canadian coroner's jury is recommending tougher standards for northern pilots (particularly inexperienced ones) and better emergency equipment in its assessment of a crash that resulted in four deaths in the Northwest Territories Dec. 31, 2001. The jurors found that 23-year-old pilot Dana Wentzell took off in bad weather despite warnings from more experienced pilots, according to the Canadian Press. The Cessna 172 crashed into a mountain near Fort Good Hope, NWT, about 500 miles northwest of the capital city of Yellowknife. Passenger Kole Crook, 27, died on impact but Wentzell and sisters Ashley, 18, and Lindsay Andrew, 11, survived the crash only to die of exposure before rescuers found them. The jury said northern pilots need more training on decision-making and also suggested a probation period for inexperienced fliers. The jury also recommended that all aircraft flying in the North carry satellite telephones and that emergency locaters be upgraded. Wentzell flew for Ursus Air, which the inquest was told had been sanctioned for violating Transport Canada regulations.
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More box-cutters were found on U.S. airliners last week. Authorities are investigating whether the tools were smuggled onto US Airways planes in Boston and Philadelphia or whether some strikingly forgetful maintenance staff left them on board...
There's no trick to being hauled off an airliner for questioning. Just ask the guy who packed his suitcase full of pipes, batteries, wires and electronics before heading off from Palm Beach for a Halloween celebration in Chicago. He apparently intended to make "proton packs" for his Ghostbuster costume but nearly lost the whole works to a bomb-squad detonation...
Two of British Airways' retired Concordes will be sent to U.S. museums. One will go to New York's Intrepid Sea Air Space Museum, where it will be strapped to a barge. The other will go to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, near Seattle...
Investigators found cocaine in peanut packages carried on an Avianca flight from Colombia to Miami. Drug-sniffing dogs zeroed in on the snack packs and the feds quickly realized they weren't just hungry. The packs contained more than $20,000 worth of the drug...
John Travolta will emcee the First Flight Centennial celebrations at Kitty Hawk Dec. 17. Travolta, known in aviation circles as much for his flying as his acting, will also do a fly-past in his private Boeing 707...
Airworthiness Directives have been issued for certain Aerostars regarding possible fuel pump leaks and for Hartzell composite propellers. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was issued for Pacific Aerospace Corporationmodels Fu24-954 and FU24A-954 aircraft for possible cracks in the vertical fin base.
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Jerry Lund, 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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Reader mail this week about poor GA piston sales, ATC privatization and more.
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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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