AVwebFlash - Volume 16, Number 51a

December 20, 2010

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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AVflash! The Flight Planning Flap back to top 

FlightPrep's Patent Could Be Upheld: Patent Attorney

FlightPrep's online flight planning patent could very well stand up to a court challenge says pilot and patent attorney Lionel Lavenue. In an exclusive podcast interview with AVweb, Lavenue says the emotion and sentiment being expressed by those angered by FlightPrep's preliminary efforts to enforce the patent mean little in front of a jury. Much of the ire against Flight Prep stems from a feeling that they are attacking the "little guys" and requesting nondisclosure agreements to prevent those involved from talking to the press or each other. Lavenue says Flight Prep's strategy is actually quite normal, and protects the patent holder from an immediate countersuit of "a declaratory judgment of non-infringement." He also says it's common to approach smaller companies first before going after the more powerful entities to see what the counter arguments might emerge. "The patent is not without warts," Lavenue said but he he also noted that a jury deciding infringement doesn't need to meet the "beyond a shadow of a doubt" level of certainty. In fact, they only need a "51 percent" certainty — more sure than not there's an infringement. Major players such as AOPA/Jeppesen, Flight Aware and Fltplan.com have all been contacted by Flight Prep and have all said they don't infringe and will not discuss the issue with Flight Prep. This could come back to haunt them in court, Lavenue said.

FlightPrep's overtures to other flight planning Web sites has been circulated and it appears the same letter went to all of them. FlightPrep asks to enter into a nondisclosure agreement to discuss the matter before negotiating a licensing agreement. After consulting with a patent attorney, Fltplan.com owner Ken Wilson said it was felt the patent their website and technology didn't infringe. Fltplan.com and other sites we contacted haven't heard more from Flight Prep since the conversation ended in September. According to Lavenue, if RunwayFinder loses its lawsuit in court, that would significantly strengthen FlightPrep's position and that it's likely major players would find it cheaper to reach a licensing agreement rather than enter a court fight. At least one web site, not yet hit with a lawsuit, has told AVweb they intend to fight if challenged.

Related Content:

RunwayFinder To Fight FlightPrep Patent

RunwayFinder owner Dave Parsons says he will fight the patent awarded FlightPrep for online flight planning. In a blog post Parsons says he thinks he's found enough holes in the patent to defend his service's technology against it. "I think there is a clear path toward fighting the lawsuit against RunwayFinder, and potentially a way to invalidate their patent," Parsons wrote. He plans to represent himself and he won't have much time to prepare. He must answer the lawsuit filed by FlightPrep by Dec. 28. Meanwhile. FlightPrep is defending itself in the court of public opinion.

In its most recent blog post, FlightPrep attempts to clear up what it claims are misconceptions about the patent, the lawsuit and the players involved. It also notes that patent protection is a constitutional right established to promote and reward innovation. Parsons' plan to fight the patent is a sharp reversal of his original decision to simply close the popular website. However, even after he shut the site down, FlightPrep declined to withdraw the suit. Although the court documents filed so far don't appear to specify damages, Parsons has previously quoted FlightPrep as calculating the damages in the millions of dollars based on a multiplication of the number of unique visits RunwayFinder gets each month (about 25,000) by the cost of FlightPrep's annual subscription of $149.

Related Content:

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Finding the Money, Part I back to top 

Controllers May Be Exempt From Federal Pay Freeze

Air traffic controllers are among the highest-paid U.S. government workers and may find themselves exempt from a federal employee pay freeze proposed by the Obama administration. The U.S. employs about 15,500 controllers who earn an average of $136,000 per year. Those controllers last year negotiated a contract with the FAA that provides raises of at least 3 percent annually over three years. On Dec. 8, the House approved a proposal from President Barack Obama that would apply a two-year pay freeze to roughly 2 million federal workers, including controllers, in a bid to save the government $60 billion. The House has approved it, but Senate has yet to act on the measure. Meanwhile, the president's ability to apply the freeze to controllers may hinge on the wording of a 1996 law that created the controllers' collective-bargaining process.

In recent years controllers have fought bitter battles with the FAA regarding compensation and work hours that led them to work under FAA-imposed work rules when contract negotiations stalled. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made settling FAA/controller disputes a top priority when he entered office. Obama's pay freeze may complicate matters. If the freeze is found to be legal with regard to the 1996 law, the government faces the possibility of losing any goodwill earned from controllers after a series of bitter contract disputes. If controllers are made exempt, the government will lose an estimated $669 million to controllers salaries, according to Businessweek. And controllers aren't the only segment of FAA workers that arrive at compensation packages through collective bargaining agreements.

GAMA: New Tax Law "Critical" To GA Recovery

A bill Friday signed into law by President Barack Obama contains provisions "that are critical to the recovery of the general aviation manufacturing industry," GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce said in a statement issued the same day. The president's signature Friday afternoon has made the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010 the law of the land. According to Bunce, it allows for 100 percent depreciation of capital investments, "including aircraft engines, avionics, and other upgrades to aircraft" during 2011 and 50 percent in 2012. General aviation aircraft, said Bunce, because of their longer production cycle, "will also be eligible for 100 percent depreciation in 2012 and 40 percent in 2013." GAMA says the new law will boost job growth in 2011 and beyond, and also provides specific additional incentives for manufacturers that will help them start growing again.

Buyer-side tax advantages aside, the law extends through the next two years research and development tax credits for manufacturers. GAMA says it will also allow businesses to receive credit for the current year's research expenses and helps companies plan development in 2011. "We could not be more pleased by the bipartisan effort that resulted in a swift passage of this tax bill," said Bunce. According to GAMA, the law provides incentives and certainty that will increase demand and allow aviation manufacturers to grow by encouraging investment.

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Finding the Money, Part II back to top 

Panel: Airlines, Bizjets Should Get ADS-B Funds

The Future of Aviation Advisory Committee Wednesday urged the government to help pay for the cost of installing ADS-B equipment ... in airliners and business jets. The group suggested operators could match federal aid with commitments such as lowered emissions. That option may be most palatable for carriers, because lowered emissions are a byproduct of improved fuel efficiency and fleet modernization that is likely to occur, regardless. The committee was formed by charter in April 2010 and charged with delivering recommendations, information and advice to the Secretary of Transportation regarding the competitiveness of the U.S. aviation industry. Its membership includes the presidents of airlines, government employees, union leaders, a representative from Boeing's commercial airplanes division and Jack Pelton, from Cessna. (See the full list here.) Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he plans to have a timetable by mid-February that will implement the recommendations but no decision has yet been made on financial aid for bizjets and airliners. Pelton had some specific comments.

"There have to be incentives to equip early," Pelton said in a Wednesday conference call. "We want to see accelerated benefits." LaHood estimated in May that the cost of equipment upgrades would range roughly between roughly $2 billion and $4 billion. The effectiveness of ADS-B technology is reliant in part on the number of operators using it. As it is, operators are required by 2020 to equip their cockpits with ADS-B hardware. The advisory committee's recommendations were not limited to ADS-B. A total of 23 recommendations were put forth on matters ranging from safety to labor and the environment. Among them is a call for responsible regulatory intervention to reduce the influence of speculative trading on fuel-price volatility, a cause already pursued supported by Delta Air Lines, as we reported earlier.

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The Next Roswell It's Not ... back to top 

Israeli-Made Mexican Drone Parachutes Into Texas

Department of Homeland Security officials said Friday that the unmanned aerial vehicle that crash landed in El Paso Tuesday was an Israeli-built Mexican-government-operated drone and that it's no cause for alarm. The UAV reportedly went off course during a test flight, fell out of control and landed under parachute largely undamaged in a suburban yard less than one half-mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. The single-engine Orbiter Mini UAV has a wingspan of about seven feet; it flies at roughly 50 knots, powered by a brushless electric motor that can carry it to about 18,000 feet. It is capable of autonomous launch and recovery, four hours of endurance, and can carry a payload of up to 3.3 pounds. The aircraft can be outfitted with an advanced data link system for surveillance purposes. According to U.S. officials who spoke to the media, none of it is cause for concern.

"There is nothing to support that they were spying on us," an U.S. official told CNN. "There is nothing to cause alarm or suspicion." The vehicle was reportedly returned to the Mexican government by U.S. Border Patrol officers in coordination with multiple other agencies. U.S. sources have said the Mexican government was using the Orbiter Mini UAV for surveillance of the border. A spokesman for NORAD told CNN the agency was tracking the vehicle in real time and did not consider it to be a threat. A citizen reported the crash and Border Patrol agents responded. The vehicle determined to be the property of the Mexican government and was returned to Mexican officials at an international bridge. A spokesman for local U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes said the congressman's office is looking into the incident.

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News Briefs back to top 

Catering Truck Grounds A380

click for larger version

It's been a rough couple of months for the A380 fleet and the latest incident, although far less dramatic than the uncontained engine failure of a Qantas super jumbo, could nonetheless ground an Emirates A380 for months. It was felled by a catering truck at Toronto's Pearson International Airport and speculation on various forums is that it will be there until February as technicians work under a temporary structure to repair damage to the leading edge of the right wing. The A380 has been moved to an unused area of the terminal and a blue tarp encloses the area of the repair.

The mishap occurred Dec. 6 at the scissor-lift catering truck was supplying the upper floor of the aircraft, which was to leave for Dubai that night. The scissor mechanism failed and the truck body fell onto the leading edge of the right wing. There were no injuries. The on-the-spot repairs outside in the Canadian winter suggest the damage was severe enough to prevent a ferry flight and that hangar space was not available at Pearson.

Ash-Scattering Plane In Crash

A New Jersey pilot and his passenger came uncomfortably close to becoming metaphors for their mission when the Cessna 182 they were in crashed on takeoff from Greenwood Lake Airport Saturday. The aircraft is owned by Last Wish LLC, which specializes in scattering the cremated remains of those who'd like to spend eternity as part of their favorite hunting, fishing or recreational sites. It's not clear if there was a silent witness to the crash but pilot William Fallon and his passenger Mark Gangi avoided joining the dearly departed and are in the hospital with a variety of injuries, some of them serious.

As for the crash itself, it would appear something went wrong just after takeoff, as the wreck ended up at the end of the runway. "It looks like they hit the ground, nosed it and spun around," West Milford Acting Police Chief Gene Chiosie told local media. The remains of the 182 are undoubtedly headed for the scrapyard.

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Opinion & Commentary back to top 

AVweb Insider Blog: Remembering Stephen Baltz

He was just an 11-year-old kid from Chicago on his way alone to New York. But when a TWA Connie and a United DC-8 collided over Staten Island, he became known as the "boy who fell from the sky." Fifty years later, commenting on the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli associates Baltz's life with a tragedy that reshaped the air traffic system.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb Insider Blog: The Chinese Grab Continental

There's not much point in worrying about the Chinese hollowing out U.S. aerospace manufacturing, says Paul Bertorelli on the AVweb Insider blog. They've got a lot of money to invest, and a lot of it is coming to the U.S. For Mobile, that could translate to actual jobs; for the industry at large, it could be a fast track diesel development that might not have happened otherwise.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb Insider Blog: The Best of Jobs, The Worst of Jobs

A recent news report listed commercial pilot as one of the "top jobs for 2011." On the AVweb Insider blog, Mary Grady sees where that's true — and where it's not.

Read more and join the conversation.

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AVweb Audio — Are You Listening? back to top 

FlightPrep in the Left Seat on Patent

File Size 22.1 MB / Running Time 24:12

Podcast Index | How to Listen | Subscribe Via RSS

FlightPrep's patent on online flight planning isn't perfect, but it doesn't have to be to fend off challenges. IFR editor and Aviation Consumer contributor Jeff Van West spoke with patent attorney and pilot Lionel Lavenue about how patents are generally a good thing and how difficult it might be for those fighting this one to win.

Click here to listen. (22.1 MB, 24:12)

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The Top Reporter on Our Crack Staff ... Is You! back to top 

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

Bonus Depreciation Stories and Resources on AVweb.com
Fantastic Pricing and Tax Incentives make 2010 an ideal time to buy or upgrade an aircraft. We've compiled special offers on new or used planes, avionics, engines and more on the resource page. The pricing, rebates or incentives are available to everyone. Consult your tax advisor regarding the potential bonus depreciation benefits, and check our resources page for stories, podcasts, and videos related to bonus depreciation.
AVweb Media: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 

Video: AVweb Flies the Kitfox LSA

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

Everyone complains that light sport aircraft are too expensive, but Kitfox is doing something about it. AVweb recently went to Homedale, Idaho to try out Kitfox's new moderately priced LSA. Here's a full video report.

(And here's a link to last month's podcast interview with Paul Leadabrand about the Kitfox.)

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: Burrows Aviation (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Burrows Aviation at Sheboygan County Municipal Airport (KSBM) in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

A little mechanical trouble goes a long way toward revealing the quality of an FBO. When AVweb reader Armand Bendersky "flew into SBM in my Seneca II for lunch at their excellent restaurant," he didn't realize he'd be facing a dead battery when he got ready to depart. Here's how it played out:

I called, and Rob came all the way across the airport riding a tug in sub-zero weather. [He] towed me to their main hanger and warmed and charged the plane. Rob and another young man couldn't have been more helpful. They had already arranged for a rental car in the event that I couldn't get the plane started and went above and beyond in service.

Armand already knew Burrows as a reliable destination for good food, but now he knows the service is top-notch, too.

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

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The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 

Short Final

Overheard in IFR Magazine's 'On the Air' Section
Overheard in IFR Magazine's "On the Air"

Heard near Allentown, Pennsylvania some years back:

"Allentown approach, Commuter 123, inbound with information —"

[long pause]

"Oh, hell. I threw it away already."

John Price
Plainfield, New Jersey

Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Scott Simmons

Jeff van West
Mariano Rosales

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? A question on marketing? Send it to AVweb's sales team.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your PDA or handheld device), there's also a text-only version of AVwebFlash. For complete instructions on making the switch, click here.

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.