NewsWire Complete Issue

March 8, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

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Flight 587 Blamefest...

Public Filings Point Fingers...

The NTSB last Thursday issued its most recent investigation update as it works toward its final determination (expected this summer) of cause in the vertical-fin-and engines-shedding crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Belle Harbor, N.Y., on Nov. 12, 2001. And the high-stakes process of assessing blame for the event -- which killed 260 people on the aircraft and five more on the ground -- has swung into high gear. The airline, the Allied Pilots Association (APA), whose members were at the controls, and Airbus, which made the A300-600 that crashed, have reacted to the NTSB's latest release with public filings of their own (AVweb was unable to obtain a copy of Airbus' filing to post here). Each blames the other, to some degree, for the disaster. According to earlier findings already released by the NTSB, Flight 587 had just taken off from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York when it hit the wake turbulence of a Boeing 747. The NTSB suspects that during the pilot's efforts to compensate for the effects of the large wake, the vertical stabilizer of the Airbus broke free from the airframe. Both engines also tore free prior to impact and the remaining airframe crashed into Belle Harbor, not far from JFK. There were no survivors.

...Focus Still On Rudder Control...

The foundation of American's claims is a phenomenon called aircraft pilot coupling, which is "an unwanted, unexpected and abnormal interaction between the airplane and pilot causing the motion of the aircraft to be out of sync with the pilot's control inputs." The airline cites a study done for the NTSB by Dr. Ronald Hess, of the University of California, Davis, which showed the A300-600 rudder-control system to be so sensitive that three pilots, including an Airbus test pilot, were unable to adjust their control movements to deliver a half-travel rudder position during a ground test. According to American, Hess described the rudder-control system on the aircraft as "essentially an 'on-off' system, meaning either full rudder deflection or none." According to The Washington Post, Airbus blamed the pilots for using too much rudder. An A300-600, relative to other aircraft, requires less pressure to move the controls further as airspeed increases. Airbus claims the pilots overstressed the airframe and they further blamed American for not providing proper training in the use of the rudder. American has countered that the rudder on the A300-600 is so sensitive (7.32 times as sensitive as on a Boeing 767 flying at the same speed) that there was no way the pilots could have modulated the rudder action appropriately to prevent the apparent whipsaw effect that may be responsible for loss of the vertical fin and rudder. The APA generally agrees with the airline's assessment but it also agrees with Airbus that better training could have been provided.

...Airbus Accused Of Not Sharing Information

American also suggests that Airbus knew before the accident about the rudder peculiarities and failed to let the airline or government agencies know about it. "Unfortunately, this accident never should have happened and could have been prevented if Airbus had disclosed to American, the FAA, or the [National Transportation] Safety Board what it knew about the propensity of the flight control inputs that could cause structural damage to the vertical stabilizer," American said in its submission. The airline claims Airbus had known about the potential problems for 12 years but didn't tell anyone and continues to regard its internal communications on the topic as confidential. "The significance of Airbus's decision not to share safety-of-flight information cannot be overemphasized," the airline said. The airline and pilots also made recommendations aimed at preventing further accidents of this nature. American wants the FAA to do a detailed review of the A300-600's design-and-certification evaluations of its handling and flying qualities. It also wants the agency to force all manufacturers to develop FAA-approved upset-recovery procedures for their aircraft. It further urges the FAA redefine the term "maneuvering speed," since the accepted definition didn't apply in this case because the airframe failure occurred below the speed designated for this aircraft.

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Laws Catch Up To Private Space Race...

House Passes Key Bill...

U.S. space entrepreneurs have been tackling the technological and physical challenges of private space exploration for years but the fledgling industry may be on the cusp of overcoming its biggest obstacle. The government is poised to formally recognize its existence. The House, Friday, passed H.R. 3752, a bill to regulate and promote a commercial space industry. It still must pass the Senate and be signed by the president. "We think H.R. 3752 is very carefully crafted legislation which will help commercial human spaceflight develop in America," said Jeff Greason, president of Xcor Aerospace, which has already developed and tested rocket-engine prototypes with the eventual goal of providing rides for space tourists. The legislation puts the regulatory authority for all commercial suborbital flights under the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. It also creates an experimental permit that requires less red tape than existing permits required to build and test suborbital spacecraft. Finally, it extends government indemnification of the industry for three years, after which the protection will be phased out and, as Greason puts it, a "fly-at-your-own-risk" human spaceflight regime is established.

...And X PRIZE Plans Broadcast

Of course, the legislators are barely a step ahead of the actual creation of commercial human spaceflight. In fact, the X PRIZE Foundation is so confident that private rockets vying for its $10 million prize will start flying soon, it's signed a deal for the broadcast rights. Dan Rayburn has been retained to produce a series of three-hour webcasts on any of the more than 20 X PRIZE contestants that get to the manned, live firing stage. Rayburn said he plans to use the latest (what else?) streaming video technology to broadcast each event and that a huge worldwide audience is likely. Sponsorships, of course, will be available but don't look for beer commercials or cola challenges. The spots will be reserved for technology companies "who wish to participate in this once-in-a-lifetime event." The FAA is on board with the latest developments. The agency has committed a $11.9 million budget for its commercial human spaceflight regulatory arm, but the House Science Committee is worried not enough is being done to support the existing commercial space launch industry. The committee, in its assessment of the 2005 federal budget, said it's concerned that "burdensome and costly launch regulations ... will undermine the competitiveness of the existing U.S. expendable launch industry." The committee also wants the FAA to be more aggressive in helping U.S. commercial space providers to do business with the government.

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Armed Pilot's Gun Goes Missing

Southwest Airlines and the Transportation Security Administration are investigating the disappearance of a Federal Flight Deck Officer's (FFDO's) semi-automatic pistol stowed in his luggage aboard a flight from Las Vegas to Oakland. The pilots blame the TSA's insistence that the weapons be checked in baggage, when they are deadheading, for the disappearance of the guns. Pilots say that instead of picking up their gun-laden luggage from the cargo area, as the rules state, they often find it on the carousel with the rest of the passengers' bags. TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said the flight deck officers' jurisdiction ends at the cockpit door but Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) said that's asking for trouble. "When you separate the pilot from his gun, whether you put it in a lockbox or whether you make him put it in some other area, then you lose that security," Allard said. The Airline Pilots Security Alliance took the opportunity to claim that an average of one in five airline pilots allowed to carry guns in the cockpit has lost his or her gun in the last two months. "In the last 60 days, we believe 300 weapons have been misplaced," Dean Roberts, spokesman for the Airline Pilots Security Alliance, told Denver's Specific cases accounting for all 300 of those alleged losses were not listed. The TSA has not confirmed the number of lost guns but will investigate them. "Obviously, something might be wrong with the program," said the TSA's Melendez. Although the TSA will not confirm it, there are believed to be about 1,500 FFDOs.

Global Flyer Takes First Hop

The Global Flyer, Scaled Composites' jet-powered creation intended to circle the globe nonstop, had its first flight Friday and everything seemed to work well. Scaled's Web site says test pilot John Karkow took the long-winged, twin-tailed composite aircraft to 12,000 feet, cycled the gear and flew it from near the stall (54 knots) up to 110 knots. The descent and landing drag chutes were also tested. As AVweb told you in January, billionaire Steve Fossett hopes to be at the controls of the ungainly-looking creation to be the first to fly around the world nonstop and solo. Fellow billionaire Richard Branson is waiting in the wings as a backup if Fossett can't make the trip. In 1986, Voyager became the first aircraft to circumnavigate the earth nonstop but it had two pilots aboard.

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Boeing Dissolves ATC Division

Boeing is scaling back its bid to revolutionize the world's air traffic control system because the existing setup seems to be working just fine ... for now. The Chicago-based firm announced Thursday that it was dissolving its Air Traffic Management division, likely because it didn't have any customers for the satellite-based, computer data link-dependent system. The air traffic division was hatched in the halcyon days of 2000 when airline traffic was growing so fast that the control system seemed on the verge of collapse in some areas. Since 9/11, interest has evaporated in the system as more conventional technological solutions, and the outright intervention by government to reduce congestion by decree, as happened in Chicago two months ago with the forced reduction of flights to O'Hare, seem to be favored. Boeing insists the project isn't dead, it's just been moved to the Phantom Works where the research will continue but at a less urgent level. Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher said aviation regulators will eventually have to face the fact that the existing system won't be able to handle future loads. "When governments are ready to build an advanced air traffic management system, we will be ready to respond quickly," Stonecipher said in a statement. Other Boeing sidelines, like a plan to beam digital movies to theaters, have also been turfed, but one high-tech spinoff remains in operation. Connexion, which will offer broadband wireless Internet service on airliners, already has customers lined up for a launch next year.

FAA Helps Map China For VFR

Talk about your VFR landmarks. How about a 6,000-mile-long stone wall? The Great Wall, as it's come to be known, is just one of the things mapmaker George P. Sempeles had to work with as he helped the Chinese begin the enormous task of creating VFR charts for the world's third-largest country. Sempeles, of Winchester, Va., works for the FAA's National Aeronautical Charting Office and recently spent time in China teaching government engineers how to create the charts. China, you see, is entirely IFR (i.e., controlled) airspace. But that's about to change as the country learns to like the things money can buy and private aircraft ownership is one of the reforms. "Their task now is to actually learn and implement the entire industry of general aviation," he said. Well, there are others willing to teach those skills and they'll most likely be at the China GA Forum 2004 May 25 to May 28. More than 100 representatives of China's burgeoning GA community will be at the conference. An American company, Uniworld LLC, is behind the forum and company spokesman Andrew Edlefsen said it's designed to explore the simultaneous creation of the seven fundamental requirements for GA: airports, GA operators, FBOs, aircraft manufacture and sales, pilot training, infrastructure equipment supply, and finance. Uniworld is inviting aviation-related companies to attend the conference.

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Aussies Target Teens For Fighter Pilots

Every kid's dream, every parent's nightmare? The Royal Australian Air Force is said to be looking in malls, skateboard parks and high schools to fill the cockpits of its fighters. The air force is reportedly planning a recruiting drive aimed at teens as young as 13, according to the Weekend Australian. "The importance of influencing, where possible, 13-to-17-year olds is now recognized as a more effective strategy for fast-jet pilot recruiting," the paper quoted an air force report as saying. Apparently it's easier than simply retaining the existing pilots by paying them more. The report says almost two-thirds of Aussie fighter jocks quit after their compulsory 10-year service because of low pay and poor management. Wages range between $46,500 and $72,500 (USD) depending on experience. When you consider the millions of dollars it takes to train a fighter pilot, there might be something to that accusation about management. However, the air force is denying there's a pilot shortage and says it has enough to meet its needs.

Cirrus Aims For Top Spot

Last year it was Boeing's surrender to Airbus. Could this be the year that Cirrus overtakes Cessna as the world's leading producer of piston singles? If the early numbers are any indication, it could be shaping up that way. Although it's projecting to build at least 500 aircraft this year (vs. 459 in 2003), Cirrus took orders for 100 planes in January and February, about twice the projected number, and has ramped up production to two planes a day. Cessna expects to build about 600 piston singles in 2004. "We want to be the number-one manufacturer," Cirrus marketing spokesman John Bingham told The Wichita Eagle. Cessna isn't going to relinquish the top spot without a fight, however. Of course, Cessna hasn't always held so firm to the title of top piston single producer. For 10 years it didn't make any. It stopped production of all piston models in 1986 and didn't resume until 1996 at a new plant in Independence, Kansas. That was then and this is now. Cessna spokesperson Marilyn Richwine said the company is now doing everything it can to stay at the top of the heap, including offering glass cockpits in its higher-end models. The flat panels are standard in all Cirrus models. Richwine acknowledged Cirrus is "real competition" for Cessna but she pointed out that Cessna has delivered more than 185,000 aircraft and that more than 60 percent of the U.S. single-engine fleet is Cessna. "We still believe we have the proven record and the product stands behind that record," she said.

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Venture Development Corp. would like to know what you think about in-flight weather systems and they're conducting a short multiple-choice survey this week to find out. We've checked these guys out and this is bona fide market research. Click on the link here, complete the survey and you'll be eligible for a no-strings-attached $1,000 gift certificate from Sporty's. The drawing will be held next Monday and we'll report the winner. Find the survey, here.

On The Fly...

Lancair owners are being urged to inspect the fuel pressure transducer on Columbia 300 and 350 aircraft. The company issued the advisory after a transducer on a Columbia was found to be chafing against its mounting bracket. Lancair has also asked the FAA to issue an Airworthiness Directive...

The radios went silent at some European airports in remembrance of an air traffic controller killed in an apparent act of vengeance last week. Controllers un-keyed their mikes for one minute as the funeral for Peter Nielsen, who was stabbed to death, began. Nielsen was at the console when a cargo plane and passenger jet collided over Lake Constance in Switzerland in 2002. Vitaly Kaloyev, whose wife and two children died in the crash, is charged in Nielsen's death...

Investigators are now probing the role of the autopilot in the crash of a Flash Airlines Boeing 737 in Egypt in January. The pilot is heard on the cockpit voice data recorder asking for the autopilot to be switched on and then ordering it turned off after seeing something wrong. The plane crashed into the Red Sea, killing all 148 aboard...

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has added a jet simulator to its curriculum. Students will now be able to take a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical science featuring training on a Canadair Regional Jet simulator. The course will be available at the Daytona Beach and Prescott, Ariz., campuses...

Saturday was Tuskegee Airmen Day in Oakland, Calif. Mayor Jerry Brown declared the day in honor of the members of the black-only squadron that earned distinction in the World War II. Several members of the squadron live in the Bay area...

A Lebanon-born Muslim flight engineer for ATA is suing the airline, claiming discrimination is behind the airline's refusal to promote him to first officer. Ziad Elwazan, 50, has worked for ATA for 20 years and has flown in the right seat, but his latest promotion bid was rejected. The airline's chief pilot Dave Lindskoog said, in a letter to Elwazan, it's because he wasn't doing well enough in training.

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

De-Ice Debacle
"Caveat emptor" -- buyer beware, as they say. Watch out when someone asks you to sign something that says you'll pay whatever it takes for a service. In this case, the problem occurred when a pilot tried to get de-iced so he could fly home.

As the Beacon Turns #74: Backcountry Dreaming
Deep in the middle of a Colorado winter, AVweb's Michael Maya Charles remembers summers spent in the river valleys of the west -- finding remote airstrips from which to explore the natural world -- miles from anyone and from his usual perch in the stratosphere.

Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles:

Reader mail this week about no-fly zones, aging and accidents, and aviation politics.

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Short Final...

From our "been there, done that" files...

On my first cross-country with friends after passing my private pilot checkride (back in the late Paleolithic...), I was in the runup area, working through the pre-takeoff checklist. An uncharacteristically subdued voice said from the rear seat, "If she still has to read the directions, I don't think I want to go!"

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Let's all be careful out there, okay?

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