AVwebFlash Complete Issue: Volume 17, Number 17b

April 28, 2011

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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AVflash! Cirrus in the Legal Limelight back to top 

Cory Lidle NY Cirrus Crash Trial Begins

Lawyers put forth opening arguments Wednesday in a $50 million wrongful death suit against Cirrus Design over the October 2006 crash that killed Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his instructor Tyler Stanger. The two men were flying a Cirrus SR20 north along what was then the New York East River Class B exclusion area on the east side of Manhattan. The aircraft initiated a turn to the west to reverse course, drifted over Manhattan, descended, and impacted the face of a 520-foot apartment building at 333 feet above the ground. Lawyers arguing on behalf of Lidle's widow, who brought the suit, said that the aircraft's control system failed to provide adequate control throughout the maneuver. "If you can't control the airplane, you can't be at fault," said the plaintiff's attorney Todd Macaluso. Lawyers for Cirrus offered a different point of view, as has the NTSB. And a 2007 Cirrus mandatory Service Bulletin, and other issues, may complicate the court case.

In 2007, Cirrus offered a mandatory service bulletin and the FAA proposed an AD for certain SR20 and SR22 airplanes. At issue was the rudder-aileron interconnect system. The company required inspections and corrective action to prevent the possibility of control jamming, which had been found on certain aircraft. The original suit stated that "Cirrus airplanes have a history of aileron failures," that there have been "other accidents involving flight control failures" and that mis-rigging on some aircraft had caused "flight control problems." The NTSB did not indicate those potential problems as a factor in the Lidle accident. According to Lidle family attorney, Todd Macaluso, "The Lidle family has appealed the NTSB finding. It is on appeal to the NTSB." In its final report, the NTSB stated that there were no system, structural or engine malfunctions found. It found that the two men initiated a turn too close to buildings, that the turn was executed at an insufficient rate, and that neither Cirrus nor the airplane caused the crash. According to the NTSB, the cause of the accident was "the pilots' inadequate planning, judgment, and airmanship in the performance of a 180º turn maneuver inside of a limited turning space." It found the pilot in command had displayed "inadequate" in-flight planning and decision making, inadequate judgment, and inadequate aircraft handling. See the full report, online (PDF). The NTSB combined animation with actual video to create this visual reproduction of the accident; video online here.

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Safety and the Tower back to top 

Safety Issues May Affect FAA Funding

With the FAA reauthorization bill still tied up in Congress, ongoing uproars over the safety of the aviation system may affect the final version, according to a recent Reuters report. Republicans see an opportunity to push proposals to privatize more towers, consolidate facilities, and give FAA management more control over running the air traffic system, Reuters said. "Sleeping on the job, near misses -- those give me more ammunition when I go into negotiations," U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, told Reuters in an interview. Mica believes NATCA is too powerful, Reuters said, and he might now try to add new provisions to the bill that would make it easier to fire controllers who make mistakes.

The $59 billion FAA bill, which has been stalled for years, moved forward recently, with both the House and Senate passing their own version of the bill. Last week, Deborah Hersman, chairman of the NTSB, told U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello that she is concerned about several provisions now in the House version of the bill. One change would "add complexity to the rulemaking process," she wrote (PDF), delaying the implementation of new safety measures. Another provision would exempt air ambulance and cargo operators from fatigue-related crew scheduling rules, which could result in "tragic consequences," she said. Congress will return from recess in May and resume negotiations to develop a final bill that can be sent to the president.

French Controller Killed In Tower

The head air traffic controller at EuroAirport, in Mulhouse, France (an airport that saw 4.3 million passengers in 2007) was found at 8 a.m., Wednesday, stabbed to death on the 11th floor of the tower, outside of the control room. The airport is located in northeastern France, near the borders of Switzerland and Germany, and operates 70 flights daily, with 20 different airlines. The control tower is located in a "secure" area of the airport, where access is restricted. The controller's body was found between the elevator and a staircase that leads to the control room. Police say the victim, a 34-year-old father of one, had worked at the airport since 1998 and that evidence suggests the attack may have been personal.

According to a report in EstRepublicain.fr, the controller had been on the phone at least twice during his shift Wednesday, and one of those calls involved aggression. Police say there was no attempt to break into the tower or gain access to the control room. By late Wednesday, a murder weapon had not been found. The particular area where the attack took place is not equipped with video surveillance and investigators are looking at available electronic records and surveillance footage of parking lots. Investigators have so far rejected the possibility that the attack was associated with a terrorist plot. The murder did not interrupt operations at the airport.

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California Flight Training Laws Tweaked back to top 

New Bill May Protect California Flight Schools

A California law passed in 2009 that aimed to protect students from losing their tuition if a school closes down now may exempt flight-training facilities that don't collect up-front tuitions, NATA said this week. A bill providing the exemption was passed on Monday by a state senate committee. "This, however, is only the first step in getting relief for flight training into law," NATA said. The 2009 law imposed "burdensome requirements" on all providers of flight training, NATA said, including annual fees and numerous administrative chores, including a requirement to allow annual audits. An extension was passed last year to allow flight-training providers until July 2011 to comply, giving GA advocacy groups more time to try to work out a long-term solution.

The new bill says that flight instructors and flight schools that do not "require students to enter into written or oral contracts of indebtedness, do not require prepayment of tuition or fees, and do not accept prepayment of tuition or feeds in excess of $2,500" will be exempt from the 2009 law, AOPA said this week. The senate committee passed the bill unanimously after hearing testimony from AOPA California Region Representative John Pfeifer, flight instructor Marc Santacroce, and Bridgeford Flying Services CEO Mark Willey. Pfeifer said the 2009 law "clearly stated that it was the intent of the legislature to ensure a regulatory structure that provides an appropriate level of oversight. I submit that onerous and expansive regulations that put flight instructors out of business even while there is no financial risk to the flight students is far from an appropriate level of oversight." The bill will be reviewed next by the California Senate Appropriations Committee, AOPA said.

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No Use Tax for One Maine Visitor back to top 

Court Overturns Maine Use Tax Assessment

The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine has ordered the state to repay a Massachusetts aircraft owner about $26,000 after overturning a lower court ruling to do with the state's controversial use tax. As we first reported in 2007, Steve Kahn bought a Cirrus SR22 in 2003 and registered it in his home state. He used it to visit property he owns in Maine and for Angel Flight volunteer missions. After noting his tail number in Maine, state authorities invoked the use tax, which essentially levies sales tax on goods brought from outside the state and used within it. In a split ruling, the majority of court panelists ruled Kahn gets his money back, but that might not be the case for others testing the use tax.

The assenting panelists said the 6 to 7 percent of its time Kahn's SR22 spent in Maine during 2004 didn't amount to enough for the use tax to apply. But the panelists refused to put a figure on how much time in and out of the state warrants invocation of the tax and said each airplane owner will have to present his or her own case. "Although the parties seek a more categorical determination from us, we decline to establish any bright line," the court ruled. "Determining whether the use outside of Maine was substantial will require a careful examination of the unique facts of each case." The dissenting panelists said such matters are legislative in nature rather than judicial. When Kahn was assessed the taxes, the law did not specify the amount of time an airplane had to be parked or operated in Maine to be subject to the tax. In 2007, the state plugged that loophole by making the time limit 21 days. The state's aviation industry, led by Kestrel Aircraft, is trying to abolish the law entirely, saying it hurts the state's effort to attract aviation industries.

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News Briefs back to top 

Alaska Kids Build A Plane

A group of students at Chevak High School, located on the remote Alaskan tundra, worked together over the winter to build a Rans S-6s Coyote II experimental aircraft from a kit, and flew it for the first time on March 24. "The aircraft was beautifully built and was obviously the pride of the aeronautics class at the school," John Davis, a Designated Airworthiness Representative who flew in from Anchorage to inspect the airplane, told the Alaska Dispatch. Ryan Walker, a teacher at the school who is a CFI and A&P, bought the kit and guided the class as they built the aircraft. The project, which was sponsored by Build A Plane, AvSTEM, Rans, and others, was inspired by a similar project in nearby Hooper Bay, a Yu'pik Eskimo village.

"When news struck Chevak that the kids at Hooper Bay were getting to build an airplane, kids at Chevak actually borrowed their family's snow machines and traveled the 20 miles each way to Hooper Bay to help," Lyn Freeman, president of Build A Plane, told AVweb this week. "That caused a lot of interest at Chevak to follow in Hooper Bay's footsteps. The next summer, during the couple of months that the ocean is free of ice and a barge can get into Chevak, a big box was unloaded, a box containing the Rans airplane project. Now the Chevak kids had an airplane to build!" Ryan Walker, the teacher who guided the project, will be participating in Build A Plane's Teacher Day at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh this summer, on Tuesday, July 26, and the Coyote aircraft will be on display at the show. "Any teacher can register for this free event at BuildAPlane.org," Freeman said. Teachers also get a free lunch and free admission to AirVenture for the day.

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What You Missed in AVwebBiz This Week back to top 

Aviation Summit In Wichita

Kansas state officials, including Gov. Sam Brownback, heard from about 160 aviation industry officials that governments must play an active role in fostering aerospace. The forum, held in Wichita on Monday, brought together most of the power players in the Wichita-based businesses and the message was relatively consistent. "We are not looking for a handout, but tax policies are important to our business," David Coleal, the general manager of Bombardier Learjet in Wichita, is quoted by The Associated Press as saying. Cessna CEO Jack Pelton went a step further and suggested eliminating the corporate income tax on money aircraft companies spend buying supplies and services from other Kansas companies.

Others suggested the best thing government could do is be less involved in the day-to-day operations of aerospace companies. "Unnecessary regulation or overzealous enforcement increases our costs and makes us less competitive," the AP quotes Jeff Turner, CEO of Spirit AeroSystems, as saying. There was also a call to encourage and retain engineering graduates from local universities.

Prices On Smaller Bizjets Continue Slide

Some aircraft brokers say the price of used light and midsized jets has hit an all-time low and despite whispers of a recovery are staying stubbornly in the basement. "Basically, there are no buyers," Anne-Bart Tieleman, managing director of GA Finance in Amsterdam, told the Financial Times. "You can buy an almost brand new aircraft for 25-35 percent less than what you had to pay two or three years ago."

Analyst Richard Aboulafia told the FT that buyers in the low end of the market usually need financing and that's been hard to get. Correspondingly, buyers of big business jets tend to be the ultra-rich or governments and are thus insulated from the tight credit market. While the bottom end of the market has been in the tank for two years, sales of high-priced products are actually up slightly.

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

Question of the Week: What Can (Or Should) Government Do to Bolster Aerospace?

A meeting of 160 aerospace executives and Kansas state officials was held Monday, and the role of government in the industry was discussed.

How do you think the industry should be treated by government?
(click to answer)

Last Week's Question: Results

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What's On Your Mind?

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Survey: Have You Had a Recent Prop Overhaul or Bought a New Prop?

If so, our sister publication, Aviation Consumer, would like to hear from you. To take part in our propellor overhaul and purchase survey, just click the link:

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Opinion & Commentary back to top 

AVweb Insider Blog: No Good Deed — Cirrus Dodges a Legal Bullet

A Minnesota appeals court recently sided with Cirrus in rejecting the claim of survivors of a pilot and passenger who said the company was negligent in not training the pilot to recover from inadvertent IMC encounters. But a dissenting judge disagreed, saying that the plaintiffs had made the case. On the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli analyzes the case, which clearly shows how manufacturers face liability exposure even when they try to do the right thing.

Read more and join the conversation.

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AVweb Media: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 

Video: Practicing Slam-Dunk Approaches with 'IFR' Magazine

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

Eventually, every instrument pilot gets a slam-dunk approach. IFR magazine's Jeff Van West explains how to practice for the slam to remove the guesswork and even add the high-speed technique to your instrument flying toolbox.

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If that doesn't work, click here to download the video directly.

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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 

FBO of the Week: America Jet at SLN (Salina, KS)

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

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to America Jet at SLN. As you've probably deduced, you can find them at Salina Municipal Airport (KSLN) in Salina, Kansas.

AVweb reader Jeremy Phillips recommended the FBO after his visit a couple of weeks back, when "the line and maintenance crew went out of their way to make our trip the best one we ever had. ... They went out of their way to make things really easy for us."

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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Reader-Submitted Photos back to top 
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.

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