By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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It's been almost a year since the federal government gave itself the power to, without any familiar due process, lift the airman certificates of those deemed "security risks" -- and now a whiff of civil rights has entered the picture. The FAA and TSA have implemented a third-party appeal process for those who get caught in the security dragnet. "It's in effect now," FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb. The new regulations, which were mandated by the recently approved FAA Reauthorization Bill, ensure the Transportation Safety Administration isn't the judge, jury and executioner in deciding who gets to fly and fix airplanes in the U.S. As AVweb reported, the "Ineligibility for an Airman Certificate Based on Security Grounds" rule caught the aviation industry and even aviation regulators off-guard when it was introduced and instantly enacted on Jan. 24, 2003. The rule was implemented in advance of the customary 90-day comment period, angering industry leaders. But what chilled them even more was the fact that the TSA became the sole arbiter of security-related revocations. The TSA implemented the revocations (through the FAA) and the TSA also heard the appeals of its own actions.
Under the new rules, appeals of security-related revocations are heard by an Administrative Law Judge. Formerly called Hearing Officers, these judges preside over hearings and appeals involving government agencies. If the affected airman disagrees with the judge's decision he or she can appeal to the Transportation Security Oversight Board, a very powerful group made up of the Secretary of Transportation, Attorney General, Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Defense and a representative of either the National Security Council or the Office of Homeland Security. As foreboding as it sounds, Martin said it's unlikely the average pilot needs to worry about facing that crowd. The original rule was established to pull the certificates of 11 foreign nationals who were on a terrorist watch list. In fact, the certificates were pulled long before the legislative formalities were looked after. Martin said he's unsure whether those originally targeted can apply the new rules retroactively for a third-party appeal. But he also said that's not likely to be an issue because they aren't even allowed in the country, much less allowed to hold a pilot's certificate.
The new rules also ensure that those making an appeal will have at least some idea of the charges against them. Under the original rule, the TSA could refuse to provide the accused with details of the allegations if the information, or the way it was obtained, was considered classified. Again, it was entirely the TSA's call. The amended regulations require the TSA, in consultation with the CIA, to prepare an "unclassified summary" of classified evidence against an airman. The administrative law judge hearing the case gets to look at the classified evidence as part of his or her deliberations. The accused can also ask the judge to review the unclassified version of the evidence, presumably to ensure that it's a fair representation of the secret stuff.
WIN A PAIR OF SCHEYDENS, AVIATION'S FINEST EYEWEAR
"Pilots will die" as a result of a possible consolidation of automated flight service stations, says a senior staff member at an AFSS he says is sure to close. Robert Shields, the support specialist at the Boise AFSS, said it's only a matter of time before his station, the smallest in the country, is shut down in a wholesale reorganization and downsizing of the AFSS system. "We are very concerned about what's going to happen to our pilots here in Idaho," said Shields, who's been making the rounds of the local media in Idaho, highlighting his concerns about pilots trying to navigate Idaho's rugged mountains and violent weather without knowledgeable briefers to help them. FAA spokesman William Shumann said the FAA has no plans to close Boise but conceded a future private contractor might. The FAA is currently conducting what is known as an "A-76 study" to determine whether flight services should be contracted out. Shields said pilots from all over are lured to Idaho's spectacular scenery and majestic back-country air strips, and therein lies the problem. "Most of the people who have accidents are in the mountains for the first time," Shields said.
The federal motivation for change was made obvious when FAA head Marion Blakey said of Flight Service late last year, "This is an area where the FAA is actively looking at the private-sector option." The administrator said, "It's costing $500 million per year ... $27 for every single communication Flight Service has. We don't think that's efficient." But AVweb more recently reported that -- in Idaho -- accident statistics for the year showed a 38-percent increase, with 57 percent more fatal crashes and 61 percent more fatalities when compared to averages over the previous 11 years. That was with the insights of briefers. The NTSB and FAA offered no explanation for the sharp increase, but the state's aeronautic division performed an analysis and concluded, "It's pilot error." Shields said that in bad weather, the local knowledge of the Boise briefers prevents countless accidents by allowing them to steer pilots clear of dangerous conditions. "It's a daily thing for us." There are those who would suggest perhaps those briefers didn't do so well last year, but those individuals might want to consider how the statistics may have differed if there had been no briefers at all. Shields says he's risking disciplinary action from the FAA by speaking out. Shumann said the goal of the A-76 study is to make the AFSS system "safer, more efficient and cost-effective. It's clearly in need of upgrading."
APPLES OR ORANGES? BE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE COMPARING
Long-time aircraft-owner-turned-A&P Mike Busch, co-founder of AVweb and its managing editor from 1995 to 2002, has a new venture -- he wants to help owners take more control of their aircraft outside the cockpit. Busch will hold a series of weekend Savvy Owner Seminars designed to help aircraft owners become more maintenance ... savvy ... and to give them the tools (figuratively) to become directly involved in maintenance decisions. "Owners have a lot more authority than they think they do," Busch told AVweb. The program is designed to teach pilots "how to have a better-maintained aircraft while spending less on maintenance." Busch said a lot of owners put themselves at the mercy of their mechanics and the results can be expensive. He said this "mechanic-as-God-syndrome" prevents owners from questioning decisions or seeking a second opinion when it's actually their responsibility to do so. FAA regs clearly put the onus on the owner to ensure maintenance is properly and effectively carried out. "My goal is to help owners feel more maintenance-savvy and empowered to manage the maintenance of their aircraft and to participate meaningfully in maintenance decisions," he said.
The seminars, the first of which will be held at Van Nuys, Calif., March 6 and 7, lead owners through various steps and toward an active role in their aircraft's maintenance program, including the fundamental task of choosing a shop and mechanic. "There's no such thing as a perfect mechanic," he said. The sheer scope of the A&P's profession ensures that some will be better than others at certain tasks. The trick for the owner is finding the right mechanic for their aircraft. The two intense days of presentations, problem-solving and breakout groups will also deal with coping with high parts costs, handling repairs away from home and troubleshooting elusive problems. "They'll take away dozens of specific tips and techniques for dealing with frustrating maintenance problems and saving thousands of dollars," Busch said. An aircraft owner since 1968, Busch took the A&P course about 10 years ago and has since become a consultant helping owners troubleshoot and fix the thorniest maintenance problems that have stumped their regular mechanics. For more information on dates, locations, tuition, etc., call Ann at 702-395-8109.
"Legitimate users have suffered very adversely over the years," watching the number of aerodromes shrink by 90 percent, "the consequence of a few illegal users abusing the system," said Christopher Read, manager of Airpak Express, a courier service. To the cynics, it may sound like a forecast for GA in the U.S., but in Jamaica the threat is not terrorists, it's drug smugglers. It seems they're switching back from boats to light aircraft as the conveyance of choice for getting cocaine and marijuana to market. "[It's] something that we are very, very concerned about," Carl Williams, Jamaica's top narcotics officer, told the Sunday Observer. It's also got legitimate GA operators in a lather (again), worried that increased security and even flight restrictions will take their toll (again). "We have a continued vested interest to ensure that our operations are maintained in a legitimate mode," Read said. About 10 years ago, the smugglers began using oceangoing speedboats for deliveries because authorities were getting too good at detecting and intercepting aircraft. Now, as more boats get seized, the drug runners are switching back to airplanes and changing tactics. In some cases the drugs are dropped in remote locations, while isolated landing strips are used by others. Read and other Jamaican-based operators have noticed the upsurge in traffic. "Up until a couple of years ago [local pilots] could tell you about every airplane in Jamaica," Read said. "Now, there are a number of airplanes at airports and nobody knows who the owners are or what the airplanes do for their existence."
AEROSHELL GIVES YOUR AIRPLANE SHINE AND PROTECTION
Australia's embattled aviation regulator says any future major changes will be preceded by a three-month training and education period. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has been roundly criticized by airlines, pilot groups and air traffic controllers for implementation of sweeping changes to its airspace regulations in November that the groups say allow light planes not under air traffic control to mix with airliners near major airports. The changes.have already caused a "serious incident" involving a Virgin Boeing 737 and a single-engine Tobago near Launceston. CASA CEO Bruce Byron said he'll also hold a series of meetings with stakeholder groups this month to hear firsthand the kinds of problems that have been created by the National Airspace System reforms. For the Boeing/Tobago incident, the Tobago pilot claims he was aware of the 737, and didn't think there was a conflict. The 737 driver thought otherwise and pulled up to avoid what he deemed a possible head-on collision. The Australia Transportation Safety Board classified the mishap a "serious incident" and recommended a review of education and training for pilots on the new system.
It's been a tough week on the Miami-to-London route. Passengers aboard two Britain-bound airliners discovered to their horror earlier this week that not all fatalities are caused by accidents. On Monday a 19-year-old woman aboard a Miami-to-Heathrow Virgin Atlantic flight died just before landing. No cause of death was immediately released. The day before, a British Airways flight diverted to Halifax for a sick woman who later died. After that flight resumed a male passenger became ill and died just before the plane reached London. So far, the incidents are considered to be a string of unrelated (other than the flight) events amounting to horrible coincidence.
FLY THE RUST OFF THIS WINTER!
A Virgin Blue crew (insert joke here) elected to continue a Jan. 14 flight from Hobart to Melbourne, Australia, despite an apparently deranged passenger's rantings that the flight would end in a 9/11-style tragedy. What followed wasn't fatal but it was almost certainly painful for those aboard. After initially being calmed by the cabin crew, the 23-year-old woman ended up taking her shirt and bra off, defecating in her pants and subjecting her fellow passengers to a 50-minute tirade. Although passengers told the Australian media they were "freaked out" by the incident, the airline apparently didn't think much of it. After landing (to the applause of the passengers) the pilot thanked the passengers for their patience and described the incident as "an environmental anomaly." Airline spokeswoman Amanda Bolger said the flight was never in any danger. "We believe that despite this person's unusual behavior, it did not affect the safety of passengers or the aircraft," said Bolger in a statement. The unidentified woman was released to her parents, which seems like a fitting conclusion.
Two years after mothballing his famed Gee Bee R2 racer replica, air show icon Delmar Benjamin spent five days last week at the wheel of a 27-foot U-Haul truck moving his pride and joy to its new home at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Fla., Jamie Beckett of The Flying Life magazine this week told AVweb. After logging 1500 hours with the Gee Bee, Benjamin is preparing his next project, which he refers to only as "a more unique airplane than this one." Kermit Weeks, the visionary owner of Fantasy of Flight, intends to have the aircraft flutter-tested prior to doing any flying himself in the muscular mini. However, once flutter testing is completed there is talk of Weeks and Benjamin flying the R2 along with the yellow-and-black Z-model Gee Bee that Weeks already owns and displays at Fantasy of Flight. Weeks says the addition of the familiar red-and-white Golden Age speedster to his stable of more than 160 aircraft "really fills a niche in the collection." Benjamin and the aircraft rolled onto the ramp early on Saturday morning, Jan. 17. By evening the airplane was in Fantasy of Flight's maintenance hangar with the wings and horizontal tail surfaces already bolted back on the airframe. Only the bright-red engine cowling, wheel pants and wing fairings remained on the hangar floor. By midday on Sunday the R2 was back in familiar form, looking like the powerhouse she truly is. One of the fastest racers of its day, the R2 won the Bendix race of 1932 with Jimmy Doolittle at the stick, setting a pace of better than 250 mph.
REGISTER NOW FOR THE 2004 GREAT LAKES INTERNATIONAL AVIATION CONFERENCE
American and United Airlines have agreed to cut five percent of flights (that's 62 flights) between 1 p.m. and 8p.m. in and out of O'Hare. The Department of Transportation hopes the reduction will cut down on flight delays. Delays at O'Hare ripple through the rest of the system causing problems at other airports. O'Hare's stated capacity is about 100 flights an hour but it handles about 2,800 flights a day...
Officials have narrowed the location of a new Central Texas GA airport to three. Taylor Airport, Birds Nest Airport and an area just southeast of Hutto, Texas are on the short list. Public meetings on the final selection will be held Jan. 27 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hutto City Hall and Jan. 8, same time at Manor Middle School...
Japan Air System grounded all its MD-80s after cracks were found in six engines on five of the jets. A total of 120 flights were cancelled so the Pratt and Whitney JT8D-2000 engines could be checked. The cracks were found on a stationary blade inside the engine that guides compressed air. No word on similar checks being done on the other 10,000 or so engines of that type in service...
Bradley International Airport, near Hartford, was evacuated Tuesday after cleaning crews discovered a "cutting instrument" in a bathroom. There was no immediate word on what the item was, exactly, or how long the airport was emptied...
An Air Midwest pilot claims he was demoted for pointing out safety problems but the airline denies it. Capt. David Bumpus says he lost his training status a day after telling his boss he believed he was being asked to do things that violated safety regulations concerning alcohol consumption and weight-and-balance limits. The airline said he was demoted for telling a crew scheduler that she must be "smoking crack" after she put him in a hotel an hour away from the airport...
Pilot error is being blamed for the crash of a Flash Airlines 737 in Egypt Jan. 3. Officials originally blamed a technical problem with the plane but changed their opinion after reviewing the flight data recorder. All 148 people aboard died when the plane crashed into the Red Sea shortly after takeoff from a resort...
A New Zealand helicopter pilot is on trial for six poaching-related charges. Michael Bradbury was flying the helicopter that a passenger shot seven deer from on a farm in Marlborough. Aerial hunting is apparently legal in New Zealand but Bradbury and his passenger are alleged to have taken the deer outside the permitted area and on private property.
Air Traffic Controller Attrition
The General Accounting Office found that most of the current air traffic controllers within the FAA will be retiring within the next 10 years. The FAA has done little to alleviate the controller workforce losses. Meanwhile, many young and experienced military controllers are trying very hard to get the FAA to consider them for these positions.
Private Pilot in 40 Hours -- It Can Be Done!
The FAA says you can get your first pilot's license in only 40 hours. The FAA also says almost nobody does it that fast. Whether you want bragging rights or you just need to keep costs down, it is possible to get the flight time down close to 40 hours, as long as you have a plan and the willingness to do a lot of preparation on the ground.
IF YOU LOVE THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS OF FLYING THE GAUGES, READ ON ...
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GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THE AIRCRAFT IN YOUR
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Security at general aviation airports is a big concern for readers of AVweb: We received almost 500 responses to our question about GA security last week! The vast majority of you (59 percent) think that GA security is already pretty tight. 120 respondents said their GA airport is more secure than Ft. Knox, and 143 readers thought their airports needed only improve security in specific areas.
To respond to this week's question, click here.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
This week, we would like to know your thoughts on the possible privatization of Flight Service.
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to email@example.com. Note: This address is only for suggested QOTW questions, and not for QOTW answers.
BENNETT AVIONICS, THEY DISCOUNT THE PRICE NOT THEIR
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"A Perfect Airshow Day"
Susan Birrell Post at the Indianapolis Air Show
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AVweb continues to receive a large number of excellent images for our POTW contest. Here are some of the runners-up. Click on the links below to view a larger version.
"Now Where Has the Ground Gone"
John Gili-Ross on his 50th birthday
"Sunset at Kill Devil Hill"
Ronald T. Robbins at Centennial of Flight
Sponsor News and Special Offers
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AVIATION CONSUMER'S USED AIRCRAFT
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FROM HILTON SOFTWARE IS A PILOT'S DREAM COME TRUE!
WingX is a Microsoft Pocket PC application designed by pilots for pilots using the latest Microsoft .NET technology. WingX enables pilots to perform complex calculations while down at the airport and away from their home PCs. Graphical weight and balance, route information with wind calculations, an E6B page, sunrise and sunset times, medical and pilot expiration date tracking, and FARs 1, 43, 61, 91, 119, 141, and 830 as well as the Pilot/Controller Glossary at your fingertips. This is amazing. See for yourself at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/hiltonsoftware.
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CHASE-DURER WATCHES COME IN STYLES FOR BOTH MEN AND
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OFF THE PRESS! ROD MACHADO'S PLANE TALK
This book is the pilot's choice, with 96 of Machado's most requested articles you've seen posted at FBOs. Most accidents are attributed to human factors, but how do you protect yourself? Rod Machado helps you think better in the cockpit while he stimulates your brain with knowledge and he'll keep you laughing, too. A great gift for any pilot, including yourself! Order at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/machado.
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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