January 29, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ... Scheyden Eyewear
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A $100 million provision for relief to GA companies hurt by the airspace restrictions following 9/11, in keeping with the fate of all other such efforts so far in Washington, has failed to make the final cut in the 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. As late as last week, the provision was still intact, but it had vanished by last Thursday, when the Senate passed the bill, putting an abrupt end to efforts by Democrats to keep it in play. President Bush signed the bill into law on Friday. Pete West, of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), told AVweb this week, "The classic line in this town is this: Now we have to work on the '05 appropriations process." In other words, there's always next year. "Senators [Richard] Shelby (R-Ala.) and [Patty] Murray (D-Wash.), and others, were working with us, and they were confident they could get this passed, but other Senate priorities superseded their effort," West said. More controversial measures diverted funding and focus from general aviation, the NBAA said.
Although the FAA's $60 billion reauthorization bill stretches over four years, GA advocates don't have to wait four years to take their next shot, West said. The spending bills still need to be voted on every year. "Appropriations is an annual process, and we can work for GA relief in fiscal year 2005," he told AVweb. Talks should begin soon in Washington about spending in 2005, he said, but it's a long, slow road. "The reality is, these GA companies have been hurting since September 2001, and we need to stop the bleeding now," he said. But with a war and a deficit and domestic demands on the budget, not to mention an election, that is easier said than done. On a positive note, West added, the bill included $3.4 billion for airport improvement projects, which is an increase of $100 million over last time. But how much of that will go to GA airports is not yet clear.
LIGHTSPEED ON THE MOVE
The U.S. airspace system is bursting at the seams, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said this week, and if thousands of "micro-jet" air taxis and unmanned aircraft start sharing the skies too, demand for services will intensify. In a speech at the Aero Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Mineta announced plans aimed at tripling airspace capacity in the next 15 to 20 years, modernizing GPS navigation, and enhancing on-board technologies to maximize safety. "If America wants to retain its global air transportation leadership, we need to modernize and transform our air transportation system -- starting right now," Mineta said. "The changes that are coming are too big, too fundamental, for incremental adaptations of the infrastructure." Mineta said that without the changes, gridlock would be inevitable. As an example, he cited the recent efforts by the FAA to reduce delays at Chicago's O'Hare Airport by asking two major airlines to reduce their peak operations by 5 percent. That was a necessary step, Mineta said, but rationing airport use cannot work as a long-term strategy.
Mineta said the FAA already has set in motion plans to build seven new air traffic control towers, five new terminal air traffic control facilities, and new advanced radar systems at 12 airports, and to install the STARS air traffic control system at 14 airports. He added that seven airports are building new runways and four major hub airports -- Boston, Charlotte, Denver and Minneapolis -- will be getting advanced weather satellite/radar systems to minimize weather-related delays for commercial travelers. "We must develop a system based on 21st century technology that will help reduce future air traffic delays, improve airport management and maximize the safety and efficiency of our nation's aviation system," he said. Mineta warned that passenger demand for air travel is on the rise, and gridlock in the skies is a real possibility. "I've challenged my department to develop a comprehensive strategy to promote technology that will offer added capacity to relieve congestion, while supporting a strong commercial capability, facilitating private-sector expansion and creating jobs," Mineta said.
But while the Department of Transportation is busily planning for the future, the folks at the White House are worrying about today's bottom line. In a proposal due next Monday, the Bush administration will propose a 16-percent cut in spending on air-traffic-control equipment and facilities, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. The $471 million cut would affect the FAA's $2.9 billion facilities and equipment budget for fiscal year 2005, which begins October 1 of this year. The cuts would mean postponing or scaling back projects aimed at making air travel more efficient. The FAA is under pressure to rein in spending, which has expanded 70 percent since 1996 to $14 billion this year. The increase has been fueled at least in part by the agency's "lack of basic contract oversight," the Department of Transportation's inspector general told Congress in October.
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After the 1999 closures of Robert Mueller Municipal Airport and Austin Executive Airpark in Austin, Texas, legislation was enacted in 2001 (HB 2522) to "establish a state airport in Central Texas that is open to the general public" -- with the caveat that the existing Mueller property is not in the running.. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) held two public meetings in the Austin area this week to discuss the site-selection process for the airport. After site selection is complete, another year will be required to complete the master plan ... and another five to build the airport. After considering 20 potential locations, consultants have winnowed the field to three -- the existing Taylor Municipal Airport (T74), the tiny Bird's Nest Airport (6R4) near Manor, and an area southeast of the town of Hutto. TxDOT Aviation Director David Fulton, a pilot and aircraft owner, says the preferred idea is to build a new airport, not simply expand an existing one, to accommodate pilots displaced from Mueller and Executive plus the 580 new aircraft projected for Central Texas in the next 20 years. But the legislation doesn't mandate "new" and in any case it may come down to public support. Hutto residents -- in a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday night -- made it clear that they weren't interested in "low-flying airplanes knocking the shingles off our little Victorian houses," in the words of one landowner. Let's hope the residents of Taylor and Manor see things in a different light. Plans for a much-needed reliever airport in Central Texas are moving ahead, albeit slower than a Cub in a stiff headwind.
A new report by AOPA's Air Safety Foundation (ASF) about flight-training safety shows that instructional flight is safer than most other types of GA flying, AOPA said on Monday. But the study also revealed the two types of instructional accidents with the highest fatality rates: low-level maneuvering flight and midair collisions. "In the one case, instructors are inadvertently allowing a simulated emergency to degenerate into a real one," said ASF Executive Director Bruce Landsberg. "In the other, what should be an asset -- a second set of eyes in the cockpit -- isn't paying dividends." The study analyzed data from 2,295 instructional accidents from 1992 to 2001, both dual and solo. Of those, 201 accidents (9 percent) were fatal. One-third of fatal accidents during dual instruction occurred during low-level maneuvering, a third of those while practicing emergency procedures, AOPA said. Midairs accounted for about one-sixth of all instructional accidents. The ASF analysis showed that the rate of instructional accidents continues to decline along with the overall accident rate, and also that fatal accidents are a very small percentage of the overall number of GA accidents. The study also includes recommendations for instructors and students to help avoid common hazards. The full ASF instructional safety study is available online on the ASF General Aviation Safety Database, listed under "Topic Studies."
A BRAND-NEW AIRCRAFT FOR THE COST OF A SECOND CAR!
Boeing is considering selling off its 75-year-old manufacturing facility in Wichita, which employs more than 12,000 workers, according to a report in Sunday's Seattle Times. The Times said its report was based on internal documents it obtained from a "company insider," and Boeing would neither confirm nor deny its plans. Yesterday, The Wichita Eagle reported that Kansas officials talked with Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher about the Times report, and were reassured that no sale is imminent -- but the company is "always reviewing its plans." Meanwhile, the Times also reported this week that Raytheon Aircraft is close to making a deal to sell its Wichita fabrication division to a British company, GKN Aerospace, but Raytheon officials would not comment on the story. GKN officials did not respond to requests for comment from the Wichita Business Journal. Stonecipher is visiting Wichita this week, his first visit to the city since he took over as CEO in December. Boeing already has laid off nearly half its Wichita workforce in the last five years, according to the Eagle.
The FAA has issued advance notice of its plans to implement Domestic Reduced Vertical Separation Minimums (RVSM) at 0901 UTC on Jan. 20, 2005. The RVSM program allows vertical separation to be reduced from 2,000 feet to 1,000 feet between Flight Levels 290 to 410 (inclusive), which the FAA says will allow aircraft to safely fly more optimum profiles, gain fuel savings, and increase airspace capacity. Aircraft must be equipped with altimeters, altitude control systems (autopilots), and altitude alerters that meet RVSM performance tolerances, and operator maintenance and operations programs must incorporate RVSM policies and practices. Implementation is planned for the airspace of the lower 48 states of the United States, Alaska, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico High Offshore Airspace (including Houston and Miami Oceanic airspace), and the San Juan ICAO Flight Information Region. On the same date and time and at the same flight levels, Canada and Mexico are planning RVSM implementation. An update for the Aeronautical Information Manual with details of the new rules is expected to be published later this year. Interestingly, the thousands of single-pilot, six-seat jets that are now in development, and scheduled to enter the airways over the next few years, are designed to fly at altitudes up to 41,000 feet -- so that increased airspace capacity might come in handy.
DON'T BLINDLY RENEW YOUR AIRCRAFT'S INSURANCE WITHOUT SHOPPING
The FAA on Tuesday posted its official notice that it is reopening the comment period on its proposed Cessna wing-spar Airworthiness Directives, and also announced that it will hold a public meeting on the matter in March. The Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association (RACCA) said in its January newsletter the AD would virtually destroy the economic viability of older C-402 aircraft. "The cost of the wing-structure modification represents a large percentage of the aircraft's total market value," RACCA said. An ad hoc owners' group called the Cessna Twin Spars Corp. argues that the rules will cost $43,100 per airplane to implement, and they want time to develop safe and economical alternative means of compliance. The FAA will hold the public meeting on March 3 and 4, starting at 9 a.m. both days, at the Hilton at Washington Dulles Airport, in Herndon, Va. Comments on the proposed rules will be accepted until April 5. RACCA asked Cessna for recorded instances of wing failures, cracking in primary wing structures, and the propagation of primary structure cracks appearing in properly maintained aircraft. Robert Vila, president of the Cessna Twin Spars Corp., told AVweb his group's efforts are hampered by the lack of Cessna data, which the company is withholding as proprietary information. "Without the Cessna data to review, our organization would have to replicate the testing and computer modeling that Cessna has already accomplished," Vila said. The group also warns that although the current AD proposal affects only 400-series twins, it expects that other Cessna twins are likely to be subjected to similar ADs.
A Cessna 210 with four people on board landed on Interstate 40 in Memphis on Sunday morning, after the engine quit. The airplane's gear nicked the top of a GMC Jimmy in the westbound lane, but then touched down on the pavement, with no injuries and little damage. The pilot, who wasn't identified, did a good job except for running out of fuel, Memphis Police Maj. Harvey Sullivan told local reporters. The pilot was on his way from Albany, Ga., to Fayetteville, Ark., the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported, and planned to refuel in Memphis. "Next time, he should use an airport," Sullivan said.
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An underwater camera on Monday found the wreck of a Cessna Caravan that crashed in Lake Erie on Jan. 17; all 10 people on board were killed...
The California skydiving company whose new PAC 750XL airplane was lost on a ferry flight from New Zealand has ordered a new aircraft from the same manufacturer, Pacific Aerospace...
Officials in California's Contra Costa County are defending their local airport, asking the FAA to keep Buchanan Field open and deny developers' requests to build homes on the property...
Groen Brothers Aviation said Tuesday it is opening a dealership in Moscow, Russia, to sell the AAI SparrowHawk gyroplane and provide service, pilot training and builder-assist programs for SparrowHawk customers in the region...
In 2003, 28 percent of all fatal airliner accidents happened in Africa, which accounts for only 3 percent of all world air traffic...
The Air Care Alliance will hold its annual conference in Southern California, April 30 and May 1, 2004.
The Savvy Aviator #1: From Appliance Operator to Maintenance-Savvy
There's a lot more to aircraft ownership than knowing how to fly. In the inaugural edition of his new column, AVweb co-founder Mike Busch recounts his gradual transformation from a classic "appliance operator" to maintenance-involved owner, and finally to A&P mechanic.
Quiz #77 -- We Want Information
What do you know and when should you know it? Information changes on any flight. Ceilings drop, winds shift, and -- sadly -- special use airspace (SUA) pops up on short notice. Let's take off and see what information is available.
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Nearly three quarters of more than 350 AVweb readers responding to last week's question would prefer no privatization of Flight Service -- 33 percent felt the move could impact a pilot's safety. While the FAA considers taking the leap, only a quarter of our poll's respondents indicated that they were open to any change at all ... and three percent think the tasks performed by Flight Service could just as easily be performed by monkeys.
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