November 24, 2003
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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In the rest of the world, there are winners and losers, but in the magical spin machine that is Washington, D.C., somehow there are only winners ... if you believe the talking heads. A blizzard of self-congratulatory words are flowing from combatants on all sides of the privatization controversy that had held up passage of the FAA Reauthorization Bill -- the money (for GA), jobs and programs it represents -- until late Friday. The Senate, by unanimous consent, suddenly passed the bill after months of political trench warfare, when FAA Administrator Marion Blakey extended a slim and short-lived olive branch. Blakey agreed, in writing, to a one-year moratorium on expansion of the contract tower program or any other privatization move. Apparently that was enough for the bitter foes engaged in dispute to all claim victory. The saga began last June when both the House and Senate passed versions of the bill that prevented further privatization of ATC for the full four-year term of the reauthorization bill. But the White House successfully pressured a conference committee preparing the final version of the bill to scrap the privatization ban and allow up to 69 control towers to be privatized, while the rest of the system remained untouchably government-run. Enough Republican representatives and senators opposed the privatization option that the Democrat-led opposition to the bill was able to stall it for almost two months. With hundreds of airport improvement projects stalled and other aviation-friendly measures on hold, pressure mounted on Congress to pass the legislation and the letter from Blakey offered the face-saving compromise needed to break the logjam.
FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb the one-year privatization ban was an easy compromise for the agency to make since it had no immediate plans to expand the contract tower program or any other aspect of ATC. Throughout the debate, Martin insisted that the privatization provision merely provided long-term flexibility needed to address looming staffing issues (as large numbers of Reagan-era controllers near retirement age). The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which has long said it would settle for nothing less than a permanent moratorium against further privatization, found reason to cheer Friday's events. "The American public can breathe a sigh of relief for now," said NATCA President John Carr in a release. "Congress has declared that selling out air traffic control to the lowest bidder will not be tolerated." Not for another year, anyway. NATCA spokesman Doug Church told AVweb that despite the moratorium's short duration, he considered it a victory and that the "House and Senate pushed it as far as they could." He acknowledged the fight is far from over. "There is another battle for another day," he said. Where and how that battle will be fought isn't clear since the FAA bill, once signed by the president, is set in stone for four years. Church said NATCA hasn't yet formulated a plan to resurrect the issue when the moratorium period runs out. In his statement, Carr said the final deal shows that "Congress knew that the flying public was not going to tolerate privatization." He said NATCA will be watching the government closely to ensure the terms of the compromise are met.
"NATCA President John Carr has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory," said long-time NATCA adversary Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). "He traded job-protection guarantees for 94 percent of our controllers in exchange for a letter from the administration restating the same thing that's been said for two years now." Mica, the aviation subcommittee chairman, called the bill's passage "a great win for the Bush administration and for our hard-hit aviation industry." He also chided Carr, suggesting NATCA's membership, on the whole, was better off with the original conference committee language and calling the campaign against the privatization language "a significant and costly failure" by Carr and the union leadership. Privatization wasn't the only contentious issue in the bill. Air cargo pilots are worried about losing jobs to cheaper foreign carriers as a result of the bill. In a letter to cargo pilots, Mike Armacuzi of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Master Executive Council alleged that Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens slipped a "cabotage" clause in the reauthorization bill. Armacuzi said the clause will allow foreign airlines to pick up and deliver freight within the U.S. and could affect the domestic industry. "What do you think the affect [sic] would be on your quality of life and income if you were to compete with pilots from Air China or Air Somalia?" he asks in his letter. Besides the potential loss of jobs, Armacuzi said there are concerns about the security of foreign carriers and the potential deterioration of the U.S. cargo fleet, making it less able to respond to military needs through the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program. "Are we to rely on Air Indonesia and other foreign carriers to deliver war materials to our forces in Iraq?" he wondered.
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Although federal authorities can't seem to stop violations of the most secure airspace in the country around Washington, government mandarins continue to fuss about the terrorism potential allegedly posed by the U.S.'s "19,000 general aviation airports." According to MSNBC, Cathleen Berrick of the General Accounting Office (GAO) recently told Congress that GA is "far more open and potentially vulnerable than commercial aviation" to terrorist activity. The foundation of that vulnerability is the fact that almost none of the passengers and gear aboard GA flights undergo any type of screening. However, despite the GAO's apparent concern, it doesn't seem like metal detectors and X-ray machines will be coming to your local airport anytime soon. The Transportation Security Administration's Brian Turmail told MSNBC that the TSA's approach to GA security is "threat based, risk managed." He said the agency must look at a variety of factors. "What is the threat posed by certain types of aircraft and how do we allocate limited resources to put in place the best possible security?" he said. So far, Turmail admitted the TSA's response has been to rely almost entirely on the implementation of industry initiatives, such as AOPA's Airport Watch, although it does do spot checks to ensure operators of aircraft heavier than 12,500 pounds have security screening procedures in place. It also keeps an eye on aircraft transactions and has cross-referenced all pilot certificates against a list of known terrorists.
In the eye of the security storm around Washington, FAA officials brace for a rash of airspace violations whenever good VFR weather happens on the weekend. And if it's not enough that F-16s and Blackhawks are sent in pursuit of the numerous real targets that blunder into the Washington zones, sometimes they have to chase phantoms, too. Last Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney and some staff were sent wherever important folks are sent in a security alert after what might have been a flock of geese set off the high-tech alarms watching the White House. Lt. Col Rob Garza, of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), told The Washington Post that scrambling the F-16s was the right thing to do on Thursday when a blip showed up within five miles of the White House. "There was a radar return and any there's a radar return of a possible airspace violation, our folks are going to respond," Garza said. Cheney and the staff were back at work in 15 minutes and now NORAD is looking at its tapes to see what might have caused what is assumed to be a false return. The blip didn't show up on FAA radars.
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An Airworthiness Directive was issued concerning possible metal fatigue in T-34 wing spars after a crash in 1999, and now the FAA is checking maintenance records on a Texas Air Aces T-34 that lost a wing during aerobatic maneuvers last Wednesday. The tandem military trainer, built in 1965 by Beechcraft, lost its right wing at about 7,000 feet where company President Don Wylie and William J. Eisenhauer were doing some flying. Both died when the plane crashed in a wooded area near Lake Conroe. Texas Air Aces provides simulated aerial combat rides and trains pilots in upset recovery. Another T-34 was also involved in the flight but returned safely to the airport. Company officials told the Houston Chronicle that they had "complied fully" with the AD but declined to say what, specifically, had been done to the airplane that crashed. NTSB spokesman Alex Lemishko said he found signs of a possible stress fracture in the forward spar of the wing and determined the wing came off in backwards and upwards motion. Lemishko also declined to comment on whether any work had been done on the crash plane's spars but said he'd be going through the logs to see if the AD requirements had been carried out. Other T-34s are permitted to fly while the investigation is underway.
The airplane classification hasn't been formally created but already the first convention of light-sport aircraft (LSA) manufacturers and suppliers is being organized. The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo will be held at Sebring Airport in Florida Oct. 28-31, 2004. "We are extremely excited about the advent of the light-sport aircraft category and the new sport pilot certificate and we look forward to this opportunity to display these aircraft and other products ..." said Expo Chairman Bob Wood. The new aircraft and certificate rules continue to grind through the approval process at the Department of Transportation. There's no firm estimate of when they will be finally enacted. Hard-surface commercial display sites will be available at the expo, as will camping and other amenities. In addition to the product displays, there will be educational forums on the new aircraft and certificate standards. EAA staff familiar with the rules will do the presentations. Sebring Airport hopes the expo will attract new business to the field. "We hope to create a cluster of light-sport aircraft activity that will benefit the economy of our community," said airport Executive Director Mike Willingham.
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Well, every place has to be famous for something and Montreal's propensity for freezing drizzle has earned it the starring role in a new aircraft icing study. Researchers from North America and Europe, including NASA and Canada's National Research Council, will be loading five airplanes full of high-tech gear to see if they can better predict icing conditions. The $2.4 million Alliance Icing Research Study will run from now until February. The decked-out airplanes will fly from Ottawa, Cleveland, Ohio, and Bangor, Maine, to Montreal at different altitudes when icing conditions are likely, and the data will be compared.
With the FAA paying deserved attention to the maintenance of aging aircraft, companies still selling new aircraft are reporting good news this week; Mooney and Cirrus both had reason to celebrate. Cirrus set a sales record by delivering 62 planes in October and brought its three-month total to 222 airplanes. By comparison, it took Cessna a full year to sell 559 piston singles in 2002. Cirrus Marketing VP John Bingham said the news isn't just good news for Cirrus, it's good for the whole industry. "We're breathing new life into an industry whose growth was projected to be flat for a decade," he said. Over at Mooney, a $5 million cash infusion is breathing more life into its resurrection. The company got the 25-year loan from BLX Commercial Capital LLC and it's guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition to the government guarantee, Mooney had to put its type certificate up as collateral for BLX. Mooney CEO Nelson Happy said the loan will allow the retirement of some short-term debt and free up money to be used in daily operations. Company Chairman Sam Rothman said the financial rearrangement is "an important step in paving the way for stronger financial performance next year."
You know you're having a bad day when the tail of your helicopter flies past the cockpit. The day gets considerably better when you get to tell the tale to friends and family. An instructor and student walked away without a scratch after they apparently severed the tail of the MD-500 with the chopper's own rotor during a training flight from the Greenville, S.C., airport. Instructor Jordan Gipe told The Greenville News he believes one of the rotors "flopped down" and hit the tail while he and the student were practicing autorotation. "It's not a good feeling," said Gipe. He managed to keep the spinning chopper level as it settled into some trees. Not so lucky were two Rhode Island men killed in a midair collision last week. Peter Coleman and Hardy Lebel, both of Westerly, were killed when the Cessna 180 they were flying took off and collided with a PA-28 that was landing on the same runway. The Piper pilot, Brooks Kay, and his grandparents Creighton and Gwendolun Kay walked away after a hard landing. The Cessna crashed nose-first from about 100 feet. Kay told investigators he radioed his intentions but didn't hear anything from the Cessna, which he had seen taxiing toward the runway. NTSB spokesman Steve Demko said it's possible the two pilots were monitoring different frequencies. Demko suggested to the Westerly Sun that such incidents are common in GA operations. "Accidents like this do occur and happen all the time," he said. "Hopefully we'll be able to develop recommendations out of this accident."
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The 21st century version of the Wright Flyer has flown. The faithful reproduction of the 1903 model, built by the Wright Experience, made its first hop on Thursday with Dr. Kevin Kochersberger at the controls as a tuneup for the Dec. 17 festivities in Kitty Hawk...
The aerobatic flying world is mourning the death of Jose Aresti. Aresti, 84, died Nov. 18 in Madrid. He came up with the system of diagrams used by aerobatic pilots to describe their exploits in competition. A trophy in his name is awarded to the World Aerobatics Champion each year...
Just in case you wanted to, American aircraft can now overfly Iraq. The FAA has amended SFAR 77 banning civilian flights over the country to allow flights above FL 200 and for those departing neighboring countries to climb to the minimum altitude over Iraq...
Four more aviation legends have been admitted to the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Former Apollo astronaut William A. Anders joins the U.S.'s first female licensed pilot, the late Harriet Quimby; flight test engineer, the late Jack Ridley; and aerobatics master Patty Wagstaff in the induction...
A new budget airline will soon be based at Dulles (IAD). Independence Air was formed by Atlantic Coastal Airlines, which formerly provided feeder service to United in the East. The new carrier announced it will buy 25 Airbuses to supplement its current fleet of mainly CRJs.
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Reader mail this week about the air tour NPRM, the Washington FRZ/ADIZ, new noise regulations and more.
AVweb's AVscoop Award...
Congratulations and an AVweb hat go out to Tammy Ryan, 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.
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