NewsWire Complete Issue

March 14, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ...
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Is It A Ride Or An Air Tour?

EAA Asks FAA To Forget The Air Tour NRPM...

The FAA should withdraw its proposal to impose new regulations on air-tour operators, EAA said last week, and start over. "The very foundation of this proposal is so flawed," EAA said in its 15-page comment, filed on Thursday, "... [the FAA should] re-evaluate the data and rewrite the proposed rule to more appropriately reflect any legitimate safety concerns." The FAA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, published last October (also available online here), would require sightseeing tours that now operate under Part 91 to be certificated and to comply with new rules regarding low-level flight, visibility and over-water ops. The NPRM also proposes new rules to cover flights during charitable events. The proposed rules would affect sightseeing flights including those conducted by flight schools, flights in unique aircraft such as EAA's B-17 bomber and Ford Tri-Motor, and vintage-aircraft flights around the country.

Faced with the costs of obtaining certification, most small businesses would just give up, says EAA. "Simply putting small commercial aviation enterprises out of business is not a rational or even ethically acceptable means of 'improving aviation safety,'" EAA said. The regulatory distinction between "air tour operators" and "sightseeing" flight operations should remain intact, EAA said. "We see air tour operators as being fairly substantial commercial ventures operating a fleet of aircraft ... we believe that operators conducting more casual 'sightseeing' flights using a single aircraft and more random general interest routing should not be held to the same standards as 'air tour operators.' In this regard, we believe that the existing exemption for 'sightseeing flights' from Part 119 and 135 is appropriate." Under current rules, sightseeing flights are allowed to operate under Part 91 as long as they fly nonstop within a 25-mile radius of the departure airport and land only at that airport. The proposed rule would require such operations to be certificated under Part 119. The FAA says that between 1993 and 2000, Part 91 air tours were involved in 75 accidents, with 38 fatalities. The FAA estimates its proposed changes would affect 1,670 operators and 3,100 aircraft that currently provide air tours under Part 91, and will cost $238 million over 10 years, but will save 130 lives over that period. The FAA estimated that about 700 operators would likely give up the business, but only if they fly 10 hours or less per year. EAA says the impact is likely to be much higher, and the FAA has not taken into account those losses, nor the losses to flight schools who use sightseeing flights not only as a source of incidental revenue but as a recruitment tool for attracting student starts.

...As Safety Record Is Disputed...

EAA said the safety statistics cited by the FAA fail to prove that there is any problem. "Nearly all of the accidents referenced in the NPRM occurred during operations that were either being conducted under a Part 135 certificate or were otherwise in violation of existing and adequate regulations," EAA said. "This leads us to believe that compliance and a lack of enforcement of existing regulations is at the heart of any notable safety deficiencies rather than a need for changing the regulations themselves." Already more than 1,800 comments have been filed to the NPRM docket, and the comment period extends until April 19.

The NPRM also would raise the minimum flight time for private pilots participating in charitable events from 200 hours to 500, and would require more recordkeeping by organizers. In its comments, EAA said it "opposes in the strongest terms" the inclusion of additional requirements on these operations. "Our Young Eagles program has successfully flown more than one million children and young adults over the last decade with a safety record that is remarkable," EAA said. Other GA advocacy groups are also working together to urge the FAA to recall the current NPRM, including AOPA, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), the National Air Transportation Association (NATA), Helicopter Association International, and the United States Air Tour Association. AOPA has called the proposal "a real slap in the face to private pilots who contribute their time and services to worthy causes, and to small business people just trying to earn an income." To view the NPRM comments, or add one of your own, go to the federal docket site and search for No. FAA-1998-4521, National Air Tour Safety Standards.

...But FAA Seems Determined

During an "online public meeting" conducted on the topic earlier this month, hundreds of e-mails were exchanged between concerned pilots and FAA staff. In the meeting, FAA spokeswoman Alberta Brown said the FAA is likely to be flexible on some parts of its NPRM, but not on others. "We may consider not regulating you under Part 135," she said. "We will likely not be willing to let you continue to conduct unlimited air tours with 200-hour private pilots. Additionally, consistent with the NTSB recommendations, the FAA is not inclined to maintain the current 25-mile exception." Brown said the FAA is concerned not only with accidents that have already occurred, but with trying to prevent future accidents. She also conceded that the accident statistics are problematic. "There is no accident category for [the] Part 91 25-mile exception," she said. "There is no accident category for charity/community events. All of these accidents are lumped into general aviation, which is a very broad term." Nevertheless, she said, "There have been plenty of accidents by Part 91operators conducting sightseeing."

Brown (in an e-mail labeled "3rd FAA response") asked for input on a suggestion to exempt operators who have only one or two vintage airplanes, fly fewer than 100 hours of sightseeing flights per year, and meet other criteria such as completing an annual flight check with the FAA and showing proof of insurance. She also said (in "2nd FAA response") that the NPRM's statement that hot-air balloons and gliders would be exempt was in error. NATA was critical of the FAA's conduct in the meeting, saying it was slow to respond and in some cases didn't respond at all. More than one-half of the FAA responses were posted over the last two days of the public meeting, and about 10 were posted after the meeting had officially closed, NATA said, leaving little time for dialogue. "We believe that this less-than-optimal response time is indicative of the overwhelming and unanticipated interest this rulemaking has generated," said NATA's Eric Byer. The online meeting closed on March 5, but the comments are still available online for viewing (users must fill out a brief registration form to access the threads).

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Aging Aircraft Face Regulatory Hurdles

T-34 Wing-Spar AD Takes Effect Today...

When the FAA published a rule a couple of weeks ago declaring invalid all the alternative methods of compliance (AMOCs) it had previously OK'd for dealing with T-34 wing-spar concerns, it left the fleet up in the air, so to speak. Would the new rule, which takes effect today, mean that the airplanes would have to be grounded? It seems that many will, because although the FAA had approved one revised AMOC by last Thursday, and at least two more are in the pipeline, the shops that are authorized to do the work are already backlogged. "These backlogs could lead to significant delays in scheduling and extended down time for aircraft owners," said AOPA's Luis Gutierrez. This month's Airworthiness Directive invalidated four previous AMOCs approved for the original AD, because the FAA said they do not address all four critical areas prone to fatigue cracks in the aircraft's wing-spar assemblies. Revisions of at least two more of the four former AMOCs have been submitted and are under expedited review. Affected aircraft include Raytheon Aircraft Corp. Beech Models 45 (YT-34), A45 (T-34A, B-45) and D45 (T-34B). The FAA has said T-34 owners may obtain ferry permits to move their aircraft to a location that can complete the required rear spar inspection, according to EAA.

...As Cessna Wing-Spar AD Appears Inevitable...

Meanwhile, Cessna twin drivers are also facing the prospect of a complicated, $70,000-per-aircraft Airworthiness Directive affecting their 400-series models. During a two-day meeting earlier this month with owners and industry reps, the FAA "made the case for potential structural problems with the twin Cessnas' wing spars," according to AOPA's Luis Gutierrez, "and justified the agency's moving forward with developing the directives." As proposed, the ADs would require an estimated 485 man-hours' work costing up to $70,000 per aircraft. That could ground much of the fleet of nearly 1,500 Cessna 401, 401A, 401B, 402, 402A, 402B, 402C, 411, 411A, and 414A aircraft and cost more than many of these aircraft are worth, AOPA said.

...And Worries Persist Of More To Come

According to the Cessna Twin Spar Corp., an owners' group, the 400-series AD is only the tip of the iceberg. "We have been assured by Cessna and FAA personnel (speaking off-the-record) that ALL twin Cessna models will soon be affected by similar ADs," according to the group's Web site. At the meeting, the FAA said it has no information that indicates an unsafe condition exists in other models. However, the FAA said it "is aware that Cessna is evaluating the adequacy of other models' spars, [and] FAA will evaluate Cessna's data when it is submitted." The PowerPoint presentations from the meeting are available online. Participants included the FAA, Cessna, GAMA, owners and others. At least one owner at the meeting complained that the proposed ADs set a new precedent, with the FAA acting to prevent accidents based on engineering analyses, rather than reacting to accident data. The problem of how to safely maintain aging aircraft is becoming more imperative as the GA fleet gets older. In a guide on the topic published last September, the FAA said that in 2000, the average age of the nation's 150,000 single-engine planes was 30 years, and by 2020 it may be approaching 50 years. Already, much of the GA fleet is being used well beyond the hours and years that were expected or intended when the aircraft were built, the FAA said. The regulations in force in the 1950s and before lacked standards regarding fatigue and continued airworthiness. For aging aircraft, the FAA said, normal annual inspections are probably not adequate to ensure safety.

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Congress To Hear From GA On DCA Access

The U.S. House tomorrow will hear testimony from GA industry folk who are hoping to secure access to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), which has been off-limits to non-scheduled operators since 9/11. The National Business Aviation Association's President Shelley Longmuir will be there, as will NATA President James K. Coyne. The hearing, which will be held at 2 p.m. at Signature Flight Support at DCA, is being held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Aviation, chaired by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). Also on the agenda is the continuing impact on GA operations of TFRs. The hearing also will likely look at the impact on airport-based businesses -- namely Signature, the only FBO at DCA -- as well as the surrounding community. A provision in the FAA reauthorization bill passed late last year requires the Department of Homeland Security to implement a security plan to permit GA aircraft to take off and land at the airport.

New Antenna Technology Could Improve Tracking Capabilities

A new method for embedding antennas in the load-bearing structures of composite aircraft wings could lead to antennas as large as the surface area of a wing, which would be able to detect slow-moving ground targets beneath dense foliage. That task had previously been impossible with conventional antennas. The antenna could also simultaneously track air-to-air missile threats. Northrop Grumman Corp. said last Thursday it will work with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to develop the technology. The five-year, $12 million effort could benefit unmanned aerial reconnaissance systems such as the Air Force's Global Hawk. Other aircraft that could use the system, called the Low-Band Structural Array (LOBSTAR), include the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Joint Unmanned Combat Air System and the Air Force Research Laboratory's future Sensor Craft concept.

"Conformal load-bearing antenna structure (CLAS) technology converts otherwise passive structures, such as a wing, into a system element that increases avionics performance and reduces airframe weight and cost," said Allen Lockyer, Northrop Grumman's LOBSTAR program manager. "It also allows us to implement mission functionality that simply would not be possible using conventional antenna technologies." Northrop Grumman has previously used CLAS technology to increase the functionality of other passive aircraft structures such as the tail and the fuselage, he said. The LOBSTAR program represents the first government-funded application of CLAS to low-frequency radar and large primary wing structures. "Five years ago, no one would have tried to integrate an antenna into a wing box that shared the primary structural load. That was just a no-no," said Kevin Alt, Northrop Grumman's LOBSTAR principal investigator. "But by bringing the right disciplines together, we've achieved some surprising and very significant results."

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Pilots Aim To Raise $100,000 For Angel Flight East

Tomorrow, two pilots in Virginia plan to take off and land at 100 airports in their state within 24 hours, to raise $100,000 for Angel Flight East. The record flight will begin and end at Dulles Airport, with landings at all 67 public-use runways in Virginia and selected military and private fields on the circuit. The trip will cover about 1,500 nautical miles and take 16 to 18 hours. Two Marine Corps pilots, Charles "Lindy" Kirkland and Robert "Blitz" Krieg, will fly a brand-new Centennial Edition SR22 compliments of Cirrus Design. Angel Flight East, a nonprofit organization, provides free air transportation for those in need of medical treatment far from home through its volunteer fleet of pilots and aircraft owners.

Kirkland flies with the "Marine One" helicopter squadron based at Quantico, Va., that provides air transport for the president and other high-ranking officials. Krieg is an EA6-B Prowler aviator who has flown numerous combat missions over Bosnia and Iraq from both land bases and aircraft carriers. He now instructs at the Quantico Marine Corps Base. Kirkland said his motivation for the flight is "really a culmination of several things. ... During the centennial year of aviation, I was reminded in so many ways just what an incredible invention the airplane has been. Plus, I'm real excited about general aviation and what it stands for, and an organization like Angel Flight East really epitomizes GA doing a great service. Then, I kind of got to thinking that it sure would be nice to see all the airports, and it just sort of snowballed from there." Angel Flight East's volunteer pilots provided about 1,100 missions to people in need in 2003. During its 11 years of service, Angel Flight East has helped over 4,500 people.

Float Planes OK After Midair

Two Cessna 185 float planes collided over Vancouver Island on Friday, but both were able to land safely. Both aircraft were on patrol for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but they were operating from different bases and communicating on different frequencies. According to Bill Yearwood, of Canada's Transportation Safety Board, "One aircraft was exiting Nanoose Bay when the other aircraft appeared in front of it in a steep bank." The float of one plane hit the tail of the other. "The pilots were able to maintain control of the aircraft," said Yearwood. "They established radio contact and assessed each other's damage in flight, and then proceeded to their home bases."

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FAA Issues Type Certificate To New Zealand Utility Aircraft

Pacific Aerospace Corp. (PAC) announced last week it has been issued a Type Certificate from the FAA for its PAC 750 XL single-engine piston airplane, the first passenger aircraft to be designed and manufactured in New Zealand. Targeted for the skydiving industry, the airplane has generated interest among operators for a variety of uses, and PAC says it has options to deliver 260 of them. The 750 XL is a fixed-gear, low-wing utility plane powered by a Pratt and Whitney PT6A-34 rated at 750 hp. It has a 4,400-pound useful load and a high-lift wing. The company says it can carry 17 fully equipped skydivers to 12,000 feet in about 12 minutes, and sells for about $1 million. The first year's production has gone to buyers in New Zealand, Australia, America, England, France and Switzerland. PAC, a 45-year-old company, also produces the CT4 series of military trainers, and supplies subassemblies for the airline industry. The 750 XL was derived from the PAC 750 CRESCO agricultural airplane, in production since 1977. PAC says it will secure delivery for a $50,000 deposit, and if you want to see the airplane at work, talk to them about arranging a quick trip down under. The authorized U.S. distributor is Utility Aircraft Corp., in Woodland, Calif. They don't have an airplane for demo flights yet because theirs was lost last December, when it ditched in the Pacific Ocean on its way to California, killing ferry pilot Kelvin Stark. A replacement aircraft is on order. The ditching set back the certification after the FAA requested an independent evaluation of the airplane's systems. An investigation by the Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand is still active.

Four Marines Die In Citation Crash

Four Marines died Wednesday night when their UC-35D aircraft, a military version of a Cessna Citation Encore, crashed on approach to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, near San Diego. The plane crashed about 8:45 p.m., about a mile and a half east of the airstrip, and burned. The crew didn't report any problems prior to the crash. They had been on a routine training mission to Grand Junction, Colo., and were on their way home. The aircraft was reportedly making an instrument approach, and there was fog in the area. It was the first deadly crash on the base in more than 20 years. The crash will be investigated by a military board. The Marines were identified as Lt. Col. T. Nicholson, 44; Lt. Col. Robert Zeisler, 46; Gunnery Sgt. Francisco Cortez, 42; and Lance Cpl. Jeremy Lindroth, 23.

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Women In Aviation Conference Wraps In Reno

Women in Aviation International (WAI) wrapped up its 15th annual conference Saturday night, closing as usual with a banquet and the distribution of dozens of scholarships and grants for flight and maintenance training. This year's largesse totaled over $400,000. More than 2,000 people came to the conference in Reno, Nev., in search of career opportunities, guidance, or just inspiration and camaraderie. At the opening session, Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James Roche got a standing ovation when he announced the U.S. Air Force will distribute information to its personnel about WAI and its programs. Women in Aviation International is a nonprofit organization that works to provide networking, mentoring and scholarship opportunities for women in the aviation and aerospace industries. Membership is open to all.

On The Fly...

A flight data recorder found in a locked cabinet in a United Nations office in New York appears to be the missing FDR from a Falcon 50 crash 10 years ago in Africa that killed the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and sparked a violent conflict that killed a half-million people...

A pilot flying for the national airline of Bangladesh needed first aid after a stray cat got into the cockpit and attacked him. The cat evaded capture and escaped when the plane landed, but was caught two hours later...

China is reportedly examining getting into the large-aircraft business, rather than depending on Airbus and Boeing to meet its anticipated demand of 2,400 jets in the next 20 years...

The FAA on Thursday grounded a Long Island charter operator, Air East, because of an accident last August that killed two pilots flying a Learjet in Connecticut. The FAA said questions have arisen about whether the aircraft was airworthy...

Northwest Airlines CEO complained that airlines subsidize private pilots; AOPA says Prez Phil Boyer has requested a meeting to straighten him out...

Lancair said last week it expects to bring a new composites oven online at the end of this month that will double production capacity of composite aircraft components...

The 2004 National Air Transportation Association Convention will take place May 18-20 in Las Vegas in conjunction with the Aviation Industry Week trade show...

Safire Aircraft says it will debut a full cockpit and cabin mock-up of its microjet at NBAA's annual convention in October...

Air Care Alliance will hold its annual meeting April 30 - May 1 in Palm Springs, Calif.

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Business AVflash

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

CEO of the Cockpit #30: Spring Cleaning
After being grounded due to a medical condition, AVweb's Ceo of the Cockpit returns to the flight line and finds himself a bit behind in his approach plate updates. This reminds him to go back and clean out the mental cobwebs around all key pre-flight procedures.

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

Reader mail this week about the de-ice debacle, C152 sport planes, age vs. accident rates and more.

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Short Final...

From our Gender Issues file...

During an IFR training flight, while getting vectored to the ILS-35, on a heading of 090...

Approach (female controller): Cardinal XXX, turn left heading 350 to intercept, cleared for the approach... Sorry for the bad vector, if you go through the localizer, continue left turn to 330 to intercept.

Cardinal XXX (male instructor): No problem, it was a perfect turn on...

... to the final approach course I mean!

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