February 29, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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When an Air Midwest Beech 1900D crashed in Charlotte, N.C., in January 2003, killing all 21 aboard, the loss of pitch control on takeoff brought it down, the NTSB said in its final report on Thursday. The loss of control was the result of incorrect rigging of the elevator control system and a center of gravity that was substantially aft of the certified aft limit. But the underlying causes were poor maintenance practices, inadequate training of mechanics and a lack of oversight by the FAA. "This accident shows how important it is for everyone involved in the safety chain to do their jobs properly," said NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman-Conners. Air Midwest Flight 5481, doing business as US Airways Express, crashed shortly after takeoff from Runway 18R at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport on Jan. 8, 2003. Two crew members and 19 passengers aboard the airplane were killed. One person on the ground received minor injuries. Impact forces and a post-crash fire destroyed the airplane.
The NTSB issued a list of 21 safety recommendations directed at the FAA. The FAA should specify that all critical flight systems must pass a functional check before they are signed off, the board said. Procedures for on-the-job training of mechanics need to be beefed up and clarified. Maintenance workers must scrupulously follow proper procedures -- if they had done so, the improperly rigged elevator would have been caught and corrected, the safety board said. The NTSB also found that the FAA was well aware of serious deficiencies in Air Midwest's maintenance-training program but failed to deal with them. For its part, the FAA notified the mechanics who worked on the plane that they didn't violate any federal regulations, The Charlotte Observer reported. The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) on Thursday endorsed the NTSB findings, noting that the board "clearly confirmed that the Flight 5481 pilots did their jobs correctly." In a news release, ALPA said, "Taken together, the board's recommendations constitute an exhaustive overhaul of Part 121 air carrier maintenance programs, including Air Midwest's. ... Clearly, the time is right for government and industry to move forward together to address these issues."
The NTSB also said the weight averages used by air carriers to calculate weight and balance are inadequate. The airlines need to collect current and specific data that takes into account seasonal and regional differences to develop better estimates. Further, systems should be created for collecting actual weight data for each flight instead of relying on estimates. Pilots of small aircraft already know how to get accurate weights, of course -- you ask passengers to step onto a scale. But people don't always like to do that, so airlines don't like to ask them. "There is a passenger dignity issue involved," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. One solution, he said, might be to discreetly weigh the passengers and their carry-ons together. If the FAA had collected data to determine average passenger and baggage weights, the NTSB said, it would have known that the averages in use by Air Midwest were inadequate. Even though Air Midwest revised its weight-and-balance program in the wake of the accident, it is still unacceptable, the NTSB said, because it may result in an inaccurate calculation of an airplane's center of gravity position. Also, if the FAA had issued better weight-and-balance guidance, the airplane's center of gravity would not have been so far aft, the board said. "It is imperative that the recommendations we've issued today be implemented so that tragedies like this not be repeated," Engleman-Conners said. An FAA committee has been working since June to collect weight data in various seasons and regions, and is expected to make recommendations next month.
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The FAA has published a new Advisory Circular (AC) that for the first time provides guidance to aircraft owners, operators and technicians on the thorny topic of how to obtain FAA field approvals for aircraft alterations. The 35-page document is the FAA's attempt to clarify and standardize its policies and make that information available to the public. The Aircraft Electronics Association called the AC "a significant step forward in standardization of the field approval process," but also said some details are vague and subject to misinterpretation, and that it places an administrative burden on the applicant. The AC contains no new regulations, the FAA said, but compiles information that can help pilots determine if a proposed alteration is eligible for a field approval, and provides procedures to follow to efficiently obtain the approval.
The FAA is well aware that its mounds of regulations can accumulate over time into something of a twisted morass. So it is asking for input from the aviation community for help in deciding where it should amend, remove or simplify its regs. "Getting public comments is a necessary element of our effort to make our regulations more effective and less burdensome," the FAA said in its request for comments, published last Wednesday. Commentators are asked to limit their remarks to the three regulations they consider most urgently in need of review, and list them in priority order. This is the first review that includes 14 CFR Chapter III, the regulations governing commercial space transportation. The agency has been through four rounds of review and received 1,250 comments since 1992, when it was told to weed out "unnecessary and burdensome" regs.
The FAA said its goal is to identify regulations that impose undue regulatory burden; are no longer necessary; or overlay, duplicate, or conflict with other federal regulations. The FAA will review the issues addressed by commentators and will publish a summary that indicates, where appropriate, how it will adjust its regulatory priorities. Comments will be taken until May 25, and can be filed online. The Docket Number is FAA200417168. Parts 125 and 135 of the regs are already in the midst of a regulatory review, so any comments on those parts should be directed to that rule-making committee, the FAA said. Also, the FAA asks for "specific suggestions where rules could be developed as performance-based rather than prescriptive, and any specific plain language that might be used, and suggested language on how those rules should be written." We'd start with that sentence, because we think this is what the FAA is trying to say: "Give us your ideas about how we can write rules that set performance standards and let you decide how to get there. And while you're at it, tell us how to say it in a way that you can understand."
TRADE-A-PLANE, THE WORLD'S LARGEST AVIATION RESOURCE
EAA raised the red flag Friday to warn of an amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 titled, "Secure Existing Aviation Loopholes Act." The document includes a section titled "Security Requirements For General Aviation" and its measures would place additional restrictions on general aviation beyond what is already under consideration by the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). On Feb. 11, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) proposed the bill (H.R. 3798 that would require the DHS to establish no-fly zones around nuclear plants and chemical facilities for the duration of any high threat levels, including level orange or above. The zones could also be implemented anywhere else the DHS might designate, at any time it deems appropriate. The bill would also require all GA airports to complete "vulnerability assessments" and develop a plan for addressing those vulnerabilities.
"The Transportation Security Administration and the FAA have assessed, and continue to do so, the security risks general aviation poses and are taking the appropriate actions," said EAA spokesman Earl Lawrence. "Mandated no-fly zones will not improve national security, nor will mandatory vulnerability assessments." General aviation organizations have been working continuously with the TSA to develop GA airport security guidelines since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Let the TSA and industry develop these guidelines before imposing new restrictive federal laws on an already heavily regulated industry," Lawrence said. The bill has been referred to the Congressional Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and in addition to the Committee on Ways and Means, for consideration. Co-sponsors of the bill include Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii); Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.); Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.); Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.); Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.); Rep. Major Owens (D-N.Y.); and Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-N.Y.). To find contact information for your representative, visit the House Web site. To read the text of the bill, go to thomas.loc.gov and type in HR 3798.
The folks at Honda might not like to talk much about their little jet, or its little engines -- which it plans to manufacture under a recent deal with GE -- but everyone else in the aviation world sure wants to talk about them. On Friday, Garmin announced that its G1000 integrated avionics system is onboard and flying in the experimental HondaJet. The jet is equipped with a three-panel configuration of the G1000 system -- a 10-inch multifunction display flanked on either side by 10-inch primary flight displays, Garmin said. The jet is currently undergoing 200 hours of additional flight-testing at Piedmont Triad Airport in Greensboro, N.C., Garmin said. "We are pleased to be associated with the experimental HondaJet program, because it represents multiple technology innovations that hold much promise," said Gary Kelley, Garmin's director of marketing. The experimental six-seat HondaJet is powered by two fuel-efficient HF118 turbofan engines mounted in a unique over-the-wing configuration. The HondaJet also incorporates a new fuselage design and airfoil innovations. The jet completed its first flight in December.
IF YOU LOVE THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS OF FLYING THE GAUGES ...
A radio-controlled model plane, the intrepid Flyin' Tiger and the ubiquitous Steve Fossett were among the most memorable aviation record-setters of 2003, the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) said on Thursday. The model airplane TAM-5 became the first aircraft of its type to cross the Atlantic Ocean, traveling 1,882 miles from Newfoundland to Ireland in under 39 hours. Bruce Bohannon pushed his homebuilt Flyin' Tiger to 47,067 feet for a piston-engine altitude record in Texas. Fossett zoomed coast-to-coast in a Citation X in under three hours, averaging 726 mph, then made the same trip the next day in a turboprop Piaggio Avanti, setting another record at 546 mph. Last year being the Centennial of the Wright brothers' first flight (remember?) it was also a banner year for those folks who work to set new aviation records. One of the more unusual records was set by Randolph Pentel and Mark Anderson, who flew around the border of the continental U.S. on Dec. 16 and 17. The pair took off in a Cessna Citation Ultra from International Falls, Minn., and returned 45 hours and 27 minutes later. All of these record-setters and many others will gather at the NAA's Spring Awards Reception and Ceremony, to be held April 26 in Washington, D.C.
Improper installation of a spring may mean that some shoulder restraints installed in some Cessna aircraft will not restrain. The FAA has added 10 more serial numbers to its long list of Cessna airplanes affected by a proposed Airworthiness Directive (AD) regarding shoulder harnesses. The 10 additional numbers belong to Model TU206D aircraft. Because of the change, the FAA is also extending its comment period on the proposed AD until April 9. The FAA estimates this proposed AD affects 75,329 Cessna airplanes in the U.S. registry that have Cessna-designed, add-on shoulder-harness assembly accessory kits for the pilot/co-pilot seats. To comply, owners must have the shoulder harness inspected, and if a retainer spring is found, it must be removed. Estimated cost per airplane is $65 for one hour of labor.
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The folks with the Air Care Alliance are putting out a call to all volunteer pilots who fly for charitable causes to support a bill now in Congress that would provide "Good Samaritan" liability relief. Letters from pilots and face-to-face meetings with representatives are a vital tool in gaining support for the bill, the Alliance says. At its Web site, the Alliance has posted detailed suggestions for finding your Congressional representatives, what to talk to them about, and how to lobby for their support. If enacted, this legislation would address concerns about limited, high cost or unavailable liability insurance for public-benefit flying. The legislation would amend the existing Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, adding relief for volunteer pilots to that originally provided for others in that "Good Samaritan" law. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Ed Schrock (R-Va.), and has been referred to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.
The TSA held a meeting Friday about security at repair stations -- and the stand taken by the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) was that not only has the TSA failed to show that there is any problem with repair-station security, but the effort to improve it might actually make it worse. "We are concerned that, while the current risks may be small, the process of publicly developing new -- and, some would say, unnecessary ---security mandates may actually create new threats and vulnerabilities," ARSA legislative counsel Christian Klein told the TSA. "We wonder whether the TSA, by raising these issues and drawing attention to perceived security gaps, is not potentially creating a greater problem than it is solving." In an audit last year, the Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General said that it found "security vulnerabilities" at repair stations located at general aviation airports. The TSA will accept written comments on the topic online until March 29 -- the docket number is TSA-2004-17131.
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The Aviation Foundation of America seeks support to stop air-tour regs as the FAA's online meeting continues....
Entry kits now available online for this year's cross-country air races sponsored by U.S. Air Race...
AirVenture this summer will open a new homebuilt camping area and headquarters...
Liberty Aerospace won the 2004 Aerospace Industry Award in the general aviation category at a ceremony in Singapore last week...
Nine died in a Super King Air 200 crash in Bosnia last Thursday, including Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. The NTSB sent a representative to assist the investigation.
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AVweb's Business AVflash this week sneaks a peek at the draft that may become a formal outline for regulated general aviation security. Some new jets are rolling off the line at Cessna while business aviation celebrates its "safest" year and a close look at GAMA's annual numbers may show reason for economic optimism. Sign up and read the latest...
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Pelican's Perch #78: Props Driving Engines
If your CFI (or mechanic) instructed you never to let the propeller drive the engine, or never to run the engine "oversquare," it's time for a reality check. AVweb's John Deakin addresses a few more of these engine myths that started back in the days of radial-engines.
Reader mail this week about the Army's Comanche helicopter, the scenic tour NPRM, and more.
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From our "Fans of the new Business AVflash" file:
re: Business AVflash Volume 2, Issue 4 -- February 25, 2004.
You referred to "East Overshoe, Wyoming" in your article about the TSA. East Overshoe is in Connecticut. The town you're thinking of is Medicine Breath, Wyoming.
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Let's all be careful out there, okay?
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