February 15, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The city of Chicago could face almost $100,000 in fines for its sudden closure of Meigs Field last March 30 but an incipient FAA investigation won't bring the beloved airport back to life. As AVweb told you last Thursday, the FAA has agreed (almost a year later) to an investigation into the late-night destruction of Meigs' lone runway while aircraft were parked on the ramp. The closure allegedly violated notice provisions, which require an airport owner to provide at least 30 and up to 90 days of warning to the FAA that it intends to close an airport. In what some likened to the act of a dictator, Mayor Richard Daley at midnight sent a battalion of heavy equipment, under police guard, into the sealed-off airport and ordered workmen to carve large X's out of the runway. Daley originally said it was done to safeguard downtown Chicago from a terrorist attack, but it's universally acknowledged that the overriding reason was to convert the waterfront property into a park. In fact, the first new trees are scheduled to be planted in the spring.
Soon after the excavators had done their work, the FAA acknowledged that Daley had the legal right to close the airport. However, federal law requires that an airport owner give at least 90 days of notice. In an emergency, or for national security concerns, only 30 days of notice is required if the airport has a published instrument approach, which Meigs had. Chicago notified the FAA of Meigs' closure the day after the runway was wrecked. If the FAA finds Chicago guilty, it can fine the city $1,100 per day for anywhere from two to 90 days of absent notice. We haven't seen any figures on the cost of wrecking the runway but the resulting fine may not even be as much as that. Still, the FAA thinks the investigation and potential penalty will be a deterrent. FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said the investigation "sends a message to the city and any other airport sponsors that we do take a closing like this very seriously." As a result of the Meigs escapade, Congress has enacted a law that would increase fines for such abrupt closures to $10,000 a day.
Chicago officials have vigorously defended Meigs' closure and the relatively small fine isn't going to change their minds on the future of the airport. However, Meigs supporters did their best to draw what encouragement they could from the announcement of the investigation. "It's good there will be an investigation and the public will hear about it," said Rachel Goodstein, president of Friends of Meigs (FOM). The group also hopes the investigation will raise the profile of an alternative plan they've devised for Meigs that would include a park and an airport. The group's Parks and Planes effort attempts to reconcile the city's (Daley's) desire for a park with a functioning airport. The FOM is proposing a meadow, walking trails, fishing spots and even an artificial scuba reef to share Northerly Island with the airport. Even with the runway and terminal buildings, the FOM claims the resulting greenbelt would be bigger than any other waterfront park created in the last 50 years. Supporters of the plan are urged to submit comments to the Chicago Park District, which is inviting public input on the design of the park.
TRADE-A-PLANE HAS EVERYTHING THAT KEEPS YOU FLYING AND MUCH MORE!
Two more congressmen and the state of Tennessee have joined the fight against a controversial set of proposed rules governing air tour operators and sightseeing flights by businesses and charity groups. The National Air Tour Safety Standards were introduced as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) last October amid howls of protest from many aviation sectors. Now Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) have written FAA Administrator Marion Blakey with their concerns, as has the Aeronautics Division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The proposed rule would force all air tour businesses to conform to Part 121 or Part 135 standards and it would stiffen restrictions on volunteer and charity flights.
The NPRM resulted in so many public comments (1535 to date) that the FAA extended the comment period to April 19. AOPA demanded public meetings, but the FAA said it couldn't afford the traveling road show required to hear from all affected operators. So, it proposed something called the "virtual public meeting" in which comments and questions could be submitted over the Internet. As of Sunday, there was no evidence of it, but there were reports the controversial Web forum would be on the FAA site from today until March 5. When it extended the comment period, the FAA said it would publish a Notice of Virtual Public Meeting in the Federal Register, but we weren't able to find one. Meanwhile, AOPA and its congressional supporters continue to call for face-to-face meetings. AOPA says the Internet session would make a nice addition to public meetings but can't replace them. "This is a flawed proposal and should not move forward in its current form," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "That is why FAA public meetings are important, but failing that, Congress must get involved."
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As AVweb reported Thursday, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) delivered a bushel of bad news (along with some bright spots in piston single sales) in its annual report, and the phones started ringing in corporate communications offices. "Cessna's 2003 production numbers and market share are lower than 2002's due to our revised Citation delivery schedule," Cessna spokeswoman Jessica Meyers said in a statement. The company sold a third fewer Citations in 2003 (196) than it did in 2002. Cessna's order books are fat (493 planes worth $3.28 billion) for its CJ3, Mustang, XLS and Sovereign models, aircraft that are still under development. Another big name, New Piper, bucked the overall recovery trend in piston aircraft and saw a 20-percent drop in sales. Raytheon actually sold four more airplanes (263) in 2003 than in 2002. Raytheon CEO Jim Schuster said an emphasis on quality made the difference. Meanwhile, New Piper spokesman Mark Miller said, "We expect sales to be roughly flat this year but we feel cautiously optimistic about the direction of the industry." Some of Raytheon's sales came at Cessna's expense. Just for fun, we thought we'd have a look at what the mandarins of aviation were saying at the same time last year and things haven't changed much. "Although the numbers are down, this is not the biggest one-year decrease our industry has ever experienced," said then-GAMA Chairman Bill Boisture.
Decreasing numbers aren't always bad news. EAA says the number of experimental aircraft accidents dropped 25 percent in the one-year period ending September 2003 over the previous 12 months and fatalities were down by 36 percent. The better safety record came as new experimental registrations hit record levels and the number of homebuilts on the registry topped 25,000. EAA says its various safety programs and the overall attitude of its members and chapters were a big factor but we'll wager that better designs, better kits, better materials and simpler processes also played a part. EAA President Tom Poberezny said there's a wealth of experience and help waiting for anyone who wants to build an airplane. He said groups like EAA's Homebuilt Aircraft Council, a volunteer committee of experienced homebuilders, have shaped programs available to anyone who's taken on the challenge of building and flying their own airplane. "EAA members, chapters and staff will keep working to enhance this year's good news even further," Poberezny said.
FEBRUARY SPECIALS FROM MARV GOLDEN YOUR ONE-STOP PILOT SHOP!
A mechanic and his supervisors have been cleared of any wrongdoing over maladjusted elevator cables suspected of playing a role in the crash of a US Airways Express Beech 1900 on Jan. 8, 2003. All 21 people aboard the commuter flight, operated for the airline by Air Midwest, died when it climbed sharply after takeoff, stalled and crashed into a hangar at Charlotte Airport. According to The Charlotte Observer, the FAA has sent letters to mechanic Brian Zias; George States, a mechanic who inspected Zias' work; and Richard Tucker, foreman of the Huntington, W.Va., shop where the work was done, telling them they "may consider the matter closed." But the paper also quotes unnamed sources as saying the letters don't necessarily indicate the maintenance was done correctly. Two days before the crash, Zias adjusted the elevator cables and, with States' approval, skipped steps in the maintenance manual, according to the Observer. The manual itself has come under criticism from Air Midwest, which said better instructions in the manual could have prevented the mis-rigging of the cables. Raytheon is now revising the manuals to make them easier to follow. The NTSB is expected to issue its final report on the causes of the crash at a Feb. 26 hearing in Washington, D.C.
What happens when an Apache tangles with two Trojans (pages 4,5)? Broken airplanes and, we suspect, broken hearts. The T-28s were resting peacefully outside their hangars at Hicks Airfield (T67) near Fort Worth on the afternoon of Jan. 9, but it was the wrong place at the wrong time. The NTSB report says the pilot thought the right engine failed on a Piper Apache just after takeoff, causing the twin to veer off its takeoff path and slam into the old warbirds. The Apache was a write-off, but it's not known if the Trojans can be fixed. There were injuries but no fatalities in the crash. Likewise in another off-runway excursion that cost Uncle Sam tens of millions of dollars earlier this month in England, when an F-15 veered off the runway at 150 knots. According to AVweb's sources, the Eagle, a new, updated E version, blew a tire on landing, headed for the turf -- where it dug in -- and stood on its nose before breaking in half. Amazingly, the pilot had some bumps and bruises, but his weapon system operator broke both arms. They rode the aircraft into the dirt and did not eject. The plane was returning from a deployment to the U.S.
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Well, we can't wait for this one to show up on Warbird Alley at Oshkosh. A Washington broker is selling what he claims is the only privately owned F/A-18A in the world on eBay. What's more, the seller claims the aircraft was used by the Blue Angels in the early 1990s. The high bid (last we checked) was a bargain-basement $1.05 million for the somewhat disassembled aircraft (that cost somewhere near $18 million new). The aircraft is in pretty good shape according to seller Landa and Associates. The engines have been zero-timed and there's a parts spare. It has less than 4,000 hours total time and, for a guaranteed price of $9 million, could be made airworthy. Since the posting went up last Monday, more than 50,000 people have viewed the posting but when we looked, only one had bid. No, it's too early for April Fool's jokes. Broker Mike Landa says this is the real deal. We'll leave it to the Armed Forces ... and FBI. Among those who have taken notice, however, are an FBI agent who visited Landa on Tuesday and the Blue Angels, who confirmed the plane was one of theirs and that is was stricken from the Navy record in 1994 -- Blue Angels spokesman Mike Blankenship told the Pensacola News Journal he had no idea how it ended up in private hands. Landa told the News Journal the aircraft was acquired legally and has an N-number. Good luck finding it in the FAA aircraft registry. Landa says the plane is being stored in California and agrees there must have been "a screw-up" for it to end up in private hands. We'll keep watching for it, but we won't hold our breath.
Sometimes stuff happens and when it happens on airplanes it can have hilarious results. For some reason, a collection of funny flying stories came our way this week and they're too good not to pass on. What happens when dry ice goes down a DC-8's toilet? How about discovering new ways to vomit in the back of an F-14 or developing a battle strategy when a toy blimp attacks in the middle of the night? Then, of course, there's flying a helicopter, which would be a lot more fun if all those instruments didn't block the view. Enjoy.
DOC BLUE'S EMERGENCY MEDICAL KIT DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT!
Our Thursday report noting that Mooney will offer buyers the new Garmin G1000 PFD in new production aircraft gave the impression that Cirrus, too, is offering the G1000. In fact, Cirrus aircraft are equipped with the Avidyne Entegra system while the Mooneys will have the G1000 system. Diamond DA40 buyers will have their choice of the Entegra or the G1000.
A Maryland pilot has touched down in Antarctica in his bid to fly over both poles solo. Gus McLeod landed at Argentina's Mirambio Base Saturday. He was forced to turn back on an earlier flight because of ice...
The Canadian province of Alberta has eliminated its aviation fuel tax on international flights. Carriers, including WestJet and Air Canada, which fly to the U.S., welcomed the 1.5-percent drop in fuel costs. Now they'd like the same break on domestic flights...
Frontier Airlines' maintenance division has been awarded its fifth consecutive FAA Diamond Star Award. The award recognizes airlines that have at least 25 percent of their mechanics complete training beyond their normal certifications...
Phillip Woodruff, 59, is the National Aeronautic Association's pick for top aerospace educator in 2003. Woodruff is a senior manager with the Federal Aviation Administration headquarters in Washington, D.C. He'll get the Frank G. Brewer Trophy for almost 40 years of work in promoting aviation programs.
How can you give a talk to pilots who know a lot more about flying than you do? One way is not to talk. But when confronted with a receptive audience, AVweb's CEO talked about what he knows: flying airliners and being a good airline captain.
DIAMOND ENGINEERS REDESIGN DA40 PANEL TO OPTIMIZE FORM AND FUNCTION Diamond's DA40 is the platform for the first certified installation of Garmin's new integrated glass panel. The G1000 offers better situational awareness by rolling the functions of conventional panel-mounted instruments into two 10-inch sunlight-readable displays, including digital audio, a WAAS-capable IFR GPS, VHF navigation with ILS and VHF communication, 8.33-kHz-channel spacing, Mode S, solid-state attitude and heading, a digital air data computer and optional weather and terrain data all hooked up to a Bendix/King KAP two-axis autopilot. The jet-style, laser-etched polycarbonate overlay adds the final high-tech touch. For more information on the DA40, and Diamond Aircraft's other innovative aircraft designs, go to http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/diamond/avflash.
Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles:
Reader mail this week about pilots breaking airplanes, acquiring deadly weapons, buying lots of planes and more.
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Overheard at Bankstown Airport in suburban Sydney...
Tower: ABC, cleared for takeoff. Caution for a rabbit at the far end of the runway.
ABC: Roger rabbit...
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PILOT'S AUDIO UPDATE
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AVIATION SAFETY DELIVERS! MARCH ISSUE HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:
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MIKE BUSCH'S SAVVY SEMINAR COMING TO MEMPHIS, VAN NUYS, HARRISBURG & OSHKOSH!
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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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