November 17, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Managers of two of three Washington-area airports closed to transient traffic since 9/11 say flight service staff and even air traffic controllers continue to steer unauthorized flights in their direction, causing security alerts and landing pilots in hot water. The DC-3 airports -- College Park, Hyde Field and Potomac Airfield-- are within the 15-nm Flight Restriction Zone around Washington and are closed to all aircraft except those based at any of the three and flown by a specially screened pilot. Yet, incredibly, FAA staff continue to approve flight plans to two facilities have even vector unauthorized flights to one of them, according to airport managers. FAA spokesman William Shumann said he'd heard nothing about those types of incidents but will check into it. College Park manager Lee Schiek said he'd love to get a call from Shumann or anyone else at the FAA. "Since 9/11 there have been four recorded instances where a pilot has filed a flight plan and been vectored in (to land at College Park) by ATC," said Schiek. He said that in one case, a pilot checked with a Long Island FSDO before departing and asked directly how to fly into College Park. Schiek said the pilot was told to file an IFR flight plan, which he did. Along the way, the pilot was handled by Washington Center and the Potomac TRACON before touching down. According to Schiek, that pilot has been notified of impending sanctions by the FAA. Schiek said he knows at least one of the other three unauthorized pilots who landed there got a 60-day suspension. "Our federal government has put together a set of dysfunctional operating procedures based upon intellectually dishonest assumptions and delivered with a big degree of institutional arrogance," he said.
At Hyde Field, manager Stan Fetter said no unauthorized flights have actually made it into his airport but it's not for lack of trying. Fetter said he gets at least a dozen calls a week from people asking for information about fuel availability and the like and he has to politely remind them that his facility is off limits to them. "At least one or two a week will say something like, 'Gee, I just got off the phone with flight service, had a 20-minute briefing and filed a flight plan in there, and they didn't say a thing about that,'" Fetter told AVweb. Fetter stressed that it's always the pilot's responsibility to ensure he or she follows the rules, but the FAA also has a role to play in preventing airspace violations. It can't help that charts do not plot the ADIZ because of its "temporary" nature. AVweb is not aware of any date set to add the ADIZ to the charts, nor are we aware of any timeline to remove the "temporary" DC ADIZ. "While it is certainly the pilot's responsibility to get this information, it's a little tough when the people who are in charge leave critical items out, accept flight plans that violate the FRZ, and then ATC sends them merrily on their way even though the required authorizations are not there." Fetter said pilots and aircraft authorized to use the DC-3 are easily recognizable by their unique flight-planning requirements and transponder codes but he said the FAA and TSA simply haven't supplied the manpower and equipment necessary to administer the system effectively. "The FRZ is an administrative nightmare that causes more trouble than it's worth and creates far more problems than it solves," he said. "They created this monster, didn't provide even the minimum resources to implement it, and now they wonder why it doesn't work."
At Potomac Airfield, manager David Wartofsky shared with AVweb a security incident that raised an entirely new set of questions. A Connecticut doctor was intercepted in restricted airspace and escorted by a Blackhawk helicopter to Potomac. Once on the ground, it was clear the good doctor was no threat and, as far as the authorities were concerned, he was free to continue his trip. Trouble was, the surgeon wasn't among the DC-3-based group of pilots allowed clearances to fly out of those three airports. Wartofsky came to the rescue by finding a cleared pilot to take the errant pilot out of the sanitized zone. Wartofsky said it's an example of the bizarre circumstances that surface daily but he's also confident things will get better. "Within the FAA and TSA there are more competent people moving into positions [of authority]," he said. As they become established in their jobs, Wartofsky said he has hope that a "rational and user-friendly airspace security paradigm" will evolve. He said the key to that is focusing on people and their motives and developing a system to separate the good guys from the bad guys. "The mission and the methodology are confused," he said. The result has been that existing systems, given new and unfamiliar tasks, are crumbling under the strain. "By overwhelming the system, you undermine it," he said. "It still astonishes me, the confusion out there."
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EAA is demanding a full rewrite of proposed rules that would govern air tour operators. AVweb originally told you about the rules in our premiere Business AVflash issue and now Earl Lawrence, the vice president of government affairs, told AVweb the more he and his staff look at the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the National Air Tour Safety Standards, the more he believes the FAA should just start with a clean sheet of paper. He said other industry groups are rapidly reaching the same conclusion. "There seems to be agreement across the board that this wasn't well done and needs to go back for a rewrite," he said. He said EAA hopes to work with other groups in trying to force major amendments and AOPA wants all pilots to have a crack at commenting. In a release last Wednesday, AOPA called on the FAA to hold public meetings on the NPRM, rather than rely on the normal written comment process. Written comments will be accepted until Jan. 20. "It's urgent that the FAA act quickly on our request," said AOPA VP Melissa Bailey. "The FAA needs to hear directly from the people this rule is going to affect and there's not a lot of time left to set up and hold public meetings." The 62-page NPRM came out, without fanfare, in late October.
Lawrence said, "They're going to get stacks and stacks of paper that they're not going to have time to go through, anyway." For the average pilot, the only impact will come if they offer their services and airplane for a charity fundraiser. The rule boosts the required experience from 200 to 500 hours; Lawrence said he can't figure out why. He said it could be argued that a 200-hour new pilot, with recent training and experience, is safer than an older pilot who flies sporadically but has amassed the time over decades. "There doesn't seem to be any justification for [the minimum hours increase]," he said, but fatal accidents from 1983 to 2000 peaked for student and private pilots with 50 to 350 hours, according to the research of Gold Seal Instructor, author, teacher, and pilot Dr. Paul A. Craig in his book, The Killing Zone. That aside, EAA is also looking into how the rules might affect its own Ford Trimotor and B-17 flight operations at AirVenture. EAA regularly offers heritage aircraft rides at its Oshkosh headquarters and, during AirVenture, sells seats for short hops. There is also a private helicopter ride business operating throughout the fly-in. Lawrence said the B-17 already operates on a series of exemptions because it doesn't fit the normal civilian requirements but the Trimotor, especially, raises issues. Under the proposed rule, operations that are intended principally to demonstrate the aircraft are exempt. Only flights with the main purpose of providing an air tour are covered. But Lawrence said arguments could be made either way for the Trimotor operations at AirVenture and it comes down to the FAA administrator deciding which is which, instead of the requirements being clearly delineated in the regulations. "It's a definition that's not a definition," he said.
Most of the proposed regulations will affect businesses actively engaged in "air tour" activity. As Business AVflash reported last week, Part 91 operators will have to upgrade to either Part 121 or Part 135 status to continue offering air tours and it's estimated by the FAA that 700 Part 91 operators will simply stop doing it rather than put up at least $11,200 it's estimated the new certification will cost them. "Grounding airplanes is not an increase in safety," said Lawrence. He also noted that of the 11 accidents cited by the FAA as justification for the rule change, nine involved Part 135 carriers. "They have not demonstrated the safety need or the improvement that will result from this change," he said. AOPA agreed, saying the certification upgrade is based on a "jumble" of accidents that offers only "weak supporting data." In a letter to the FAA, the association said the agency didn't appear to weigh the interests of industry and pilots in its rulemaking. "We are concerned that the FAA has failed to consider the true impacts of this proposal," the letter reads. AOPA says the rules will cause "significant hardship" to small air tour operators but the FAA disagrees. The NPRM estimates that the 700 businesses that will stop air tour activities only spend about 10 hours a year doing it so the financial impact will be minimal and made up by other sources of revenue.
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A London newspaper put a retired RAF transport pilot in a simulator after a night on the town (click "More" below) following an incident involving three British Airways crew members whose alleged partying left their passengers with the hangover. The 55 passengers were transferred to other flights after the pilot, first officer and a female flight attendant were suspected to have been drinking before showing up late to take the flight from Oslo to London. Someone reported the trio to Oslo police and the flight was cancelled. The actions are supported by the results of the London paper's experiment: one part drunken retired RAF transport pilot, one part simulator ... shaken, not stirred. The night prior, Richard Parry, downed a bottle and a half of wine, at least three mixed drinks and an undetermined number of pints of beer. His beleaguered liver was only able to get his blood alcohol level to .087 by the next morning when he was put to the test. His first approach and landing in the simulator put the Trident on the runway but only after the warning horn reminded him to drop the gear. Mixed with a healthy crosswind, things got more interesting. Even though his alcohol level had dropped to .027, Parry couldn't keep the virtual airplane on the runway and almost hit the terminal. "There seemed no way to keep the plane straight -- every time I tried to compensate for the gusts of wind the aircraft seemed to overreact," he said. "If this had been a real airline situation we could have been looking at a serious tragedy." BA officials didn't need the convincing. The crew members involved in British Airways' latest incident were immediately suspended pending an investigation. "We have a zero tolerance for any alleged abuse of our rules," said a spokesman.
The battle over the FAA Reauthorization Bill's privatization language has reached a sort of desperate deal-making stage but there's no guarantee the latest gambit will work. A week after the White House refused to endorse a one-year moratorium on air traffic control privatization, a bipartisan group of senators has asked FAA Administrator Marion Blakey to put a similar guarantee in writing. Senate Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) joined Commerce Committee Chair John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Democrats Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia, Byron Dorgon, of North Dakota, and Fritz Hollings, of South Carolina, in signing the request letter. Conspicuously absent was Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), whose anti-privatization amendment on the original bill helped create the current stalemate. A Lautenberg spokesman said the senator is waiting to see Blakey's reaction and, if she agrees, he'll help write the language into the bill. Meanwhile the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) is concerned about the future of the bill. "To have the measure halted because of politics when so much is at stake is truly remarkable," said NATA President James Coyne. In turn, House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) urged NATA to encourage members to contact their senators to urge them to pass the measure. The House passed the bill by a narrow margin two weeks ago.
Aviation business people who think they've had it rough since 9/11 might pause to consider the plight of the North American Institute of Aviation in Conway, S.C. They might also note the never-say-die attitude of the flight school, which has certainly had more than the usual share of post-9/11 misery. "Hopefully we see the light at the end of the tunnel with this facility," owner Benjamin Creel told The Sun News as he presided over the groundbreaking for a new $1.2 million school. You see, the former building burned down 18 months ago. But the academy captured worldwide media attention a year ago when a former student tried to take a handgun aboard a plane in Sweden. "They say any publicity is good publicity, but I don't know," said Creel. And, like most schools, attendance has taken a beating in the last two years, especially for those like NAIA, which attracts mainly foreign students who come under more scrutiny for security. Creel said the new school will house three classrooms, offices, an observation tower and also serve as the air terminal. Perhaps they should consider adding a lightning rod....
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Squeezing more planes into less space (and using technology to keep them apart) may not be as safe as proponents of Reduced Vertical Separation Minima (RVSM) claim. Peter Ladkin, a computer scientist specializing in "dependable systems" at Germany's University of Bielfeld told NewScientist.com that reducing vertical separation from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet doesn't leave much wiggle room for pilots who have to take evasive action when their collision avoidance systems go off. In fact, he claims Eurocontrol, the pan-European air traffic control organization, ignored several incidents and accidents involving sudden altitude changes when it compiled its safety research. Eurocontrol officials deny Ladkin's claim, saying the ability of modern aircraft to maintain their height precisely keeps them safely separated. Ladkin says the planes themselves may be models of precision but when things go wrong -- and humans have to take over -- all that accuracy goes out the window. He said he's particularly concerned about the reaction of pilots and controllers to the warnings issued by the Airborne Collision Avoidance systems (ACAS) on newer aircraft. Ladkin cited three mishaps, a midair collision and two near-collisions, in which the 1,000 feet clearly wasn't enough. "I don't think we yet understand the behavioral side of ACAS interactions well enough to guarantee safety under RVSM," he said. Eurocontrol maintains that the collision rate resulting from RVSM will be one every 150 years but Ladkin says that's optimistic, given the holes he found in the supporting data.
The GA traffic diverted from Meigs helped push the comings and goings at Midway to record heights, even though there is supposed to be an airline slump going on. Almost 31,000 flights were recorded at Midway in October, the most in 13 years and up more than 10 percent from last year. According to controllers at the suddenly busier airport in Chicago, Midway has picked up part of the traffic that used Meigs before it was turned aircraft exclusive by the city last March. The loss of Meigs isn't the whole story, however, and is not even the biggest cause of the increase, according to the FAA. Agency officials say the increase has more to do with commercial jet traffic (ATA and Southwest have expanded in recent months) than the Meigs shuffle. Either way, controllers say it's time to redesign the airspace around Midway to give controllers more jurisdiction. "The thing is, right now there are airplanes that don't have to talk to controllers as they are flying by, " National Air Traffic Controllers Association spokesman Kevin Rojek told the Sun-Times. "They could be at 1,900 feet right under the approach to the runway." GA groups oppose airspace changes because of the additional procedures and regulations they'd bring, according to the Sun-Times.
Some manuals that support Cessna aircraft stretch 10,000 pages long, and some aircraft models are attached to as many as ten of them. For Cessna, updating one of those manuals is no small task, but a software company is hoping their efforts will make sense of the mess all those pages can make for pilots and mechanics, too. Cessna, working with Arbortext software, plans to offer customized manuals and catalogs so that pilots, field service personnel, and mechanics can quickly locate relevant information among pages or megabytes of the irrelevant. While the FAA requires flight manuals left to paper, service personnel may prefer CD-ROM or Web-based products to their maintenance manuals and parts catalogs. Manuals are currently published in different formats based on user requirements and federal regulations. Users will soon get to decide if the next generation is a marked improvement.
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All four on board survived the fiery crash of a Learjet that went down shortly after takeoff from St. Louis Downtown Airport. The plane skidded about 300 feet before stopping in a field about four miles from the airport. The survivors weren't immediately identified but the plane belonged to Multi-Aero Inc., a Festus, Mo., charter company...
Air Canada has been bailed out by a Hong Kong billionaire. The bankrupt carrier will get a $499 million injection from Victor Li, son of Li Ka-shing, in exchange for 31 percent of the company. Two top executives will each get a 1 percent stake in the airline if they pull it back to profitability. Shares, which once traded at $20, are now worth less than $1...
The FAA says its Alaska safety programs are working in light of a major decrease in accidents in the 49th state. There were 106 accidents in the first 10 months of the year, the lowest number in 10 years. Ironically, the number of fatalities increased, with 29 people dying this year, the most in several years...
Avid Aircraft has shut down its Ennis, Montana, factory and a recorded message indicates the owners are looking to move to a more populated area, possibly in the Midwest. Avid was founded in 1983 and, until recently, produced five kitplanes...
Three senior NASA managers will take over the agency's new safety and engineering center created in the wake of the Columbia disaster. Ralph Roe, Paul Munafo and Larry Crawford were named last week. Roe was the NASA official who, based on faulty analysis by other staff, concluded the foam that felled the shuttle was not a "safety of flight" issue...
Andrew Grant probably just wanted an airplane ride but he ended up in the history books. The 15-year-old German Valley, Ill.- boy became EAA's one millionth Young Eagle on Oct. 25. Andrew took the ride with Rick Ellis, who has flown more than 860 Young Eagles. Andrew's next ride is with Gen. Chuck Yeager at Kitty Hawk Dec. 17.
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Michael Davies, 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 the Washington ADIZ, the most-overpaid workers, 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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