NewsWire Complete Issue

March 21, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

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Golf Course Versus Airport

FAA Demands $13.3 Million...

The golf course might win. A 20-year-old agreement between the feds and a city is now contested. It seems an FAA grant paid for (most of) the cost of 267 acres of land for future airport expansion in Ocean City, Md. The FAA now claims that Ocean City isn't living up to its end of the deal and the FAA wants to be paid back for the land -- land that has since sprouted Eagle's Landing, a highly acclaimed golf course owned by the city. Municipal officials in the resort community have warned the FAA to back off on its demand for $13.3 million in compensation for the federally funded, city-owned land now known as Eagle's Landing Golf Course. Actually, the city has implied that if the FAA doesn't back down, the airport might have to go. "The lack of a workable solution may force the town to ponder the future of the airport," Mayor Jim Mathias told the FAA in a letter obtained by the Maryland Coast Dispatch. Eagle's Landing Golf Course is rated one of the top 75 public courses in the U.S. by Golf Digest and at least two of its holes are barely a wedge shot from the nearest runway. The airport Web site even notes there's a "golf course on the field." The recent controversy has prompted some city council members to consider selling the golf course to cover the cost of the FAA demands. There are about a dozen privately owned golf courses in the immediate area.

...When Politics And Practicality Meet...

The golf course was built by the city, with FAA approval, on the condition that 10 percent of the revenue from the course (green fees are $69, with a cart, in high season) be put into an airport improvement fund. The agreement also stipulated that any future airport expansion be carried out on the golf course land, which is what the land was purchased for in the first place. The FAA says Ocean City broke the agreement by ensuring two runway expansions didn't encroach on the golf course. "Based on the information available, it is the FAA's determination that the Town of Ocean City has not adhered to the interim agreement," wrote the FAA's Airports Division Manager William Flannagan in a Feb. 10 letter to the city. In the letter, also quoted by the Dispatch, Flannagan gave Ocean City until April 10 to pay the $13.3 million (it's not known what the land originally cost) and also provide accounting records from the golf course, presumably to assess whether the airport improvement fund was getting the 10-percent cut required under the agreement. The deal apparently soured in 2000 when city officials told the FAA they had decided not to plan any further improvements to the airport. When the FAA and state transportation officials rejected that notion, the city came up with a new plan that included two safety-related runway extensions. However, a task force formed to make the recommendations steered the runway renovations away from any intrusion on the golf course. The FAA reminded the city that doing so would breach the original agreement allowing the golf course and threatened to cancel the deal. The city has since asked that the FAA reclassify the golf course as a "buffer zone" to protect residential areas from noise.

...City Seeks Compromise

If the $13.3 million check and financial records aren't in Washington by April 10, Flannagan said he'll turn the affair over to the Office of Inspector General for an investigation. The FAA has also threatened to cut off maintenance and upkeep grants for the airport, which the Dispatch says run between $100,000 and $500,000 a year. City officials said they were shocked at the ultimatum because they thought they had already reached a compromise with the FAA. Mathias, the city mayor, remains curiously optimistic that some sort of compromise can be reached before April 10. "There's got to be a reasonable place here," he told the Dispatch. But the FAA doesn't seem in a conciliatory mood and its rancor could hurt a couple of nonprofit groups. It's accusing Ocean City of subsidizing the Lions Club and Humane Society by allowing them to lease parcels of the federally purchased land for below fair market value.

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ETOPS Rule Flawed, Say Groups

Postponement Requested...

Alphabet groups claim the FAA hasn't done its homework in a proposal to set a maximum 180-minute diversion time limit for the extended operations (ETOPS) of Part 135 aircraft (qualified commercial aircraft could be allowed to fly up to three hours from any suitable landing site). In written comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), both the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) and National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) say the FAA can't accurately predict the fallout from the restrictions because there is no comprehensive database of aircraft performance to determine how operators might be affected by such a rule. NATA has asked that further action on the rule be postponed and that the comment period, which closed a week ago, be extended another 90 days. NATA's director of government and industry affairs, Eric Byer, said 180 minutes means different things to different operators of different aircraft. For flight-planning purposes, operators would have to translate the three hours into the distance they could travel on a single engine in a particular make and model of aircraft under a wide variety of circumstances. But the manufacturers haven't come up with those speed tables so the calculations are impossible, says Byer. "If data essential to analyzing the rule does not exist, how could the FAA have reasonably determined the impact?" he wondered.

...Information "Inaccurate"...

Under the rule, operators would be required to remain within 180 minutes of an "adequate airport" on all flights outside the continental U.S. But by meeting additional ETOPS operational and equipment requirements, the FAA would permit a 240-minute (four-hour) single-engine diversion. In its comments, the NBAA echoed NATA's concerns about the lack of information and also caught a major inaccuracy in the FAA's assessment of economic impact. The NPRM says that no flights beyond 180 minutes' diversion range are now permitted, so the new rule will actually give operators willing to pay extra for the 240-minute standard more flexibility and save them $777 million over 10 years. Contrarily, the NBAA and NATA say no such 180-minute rule exists and that the FAA routinely allows flights beyond that time limit and therefore the economic analysis is without basis. The NBAA says that the costs of compliance to the new rule could put some small operators out of business. Among them would be air ambulance operators who fly from Hawaii to the West Coast, some of whom would be beyond the 240-minute cap. It suggests an exemption for those operators. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association agrees with the 180-minute diversion limit but suggests the new regs be phased in.

...Midway Funded Through Sept. 30

Meanwhile, an important emergency landing site in the Pacific Ocean that figures in ETOPS planning for airline flights and long-range business aircraft flights will remain open ... at least until Sept. 30. Midway Island's airport was to have closed on Jan. 30 because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which used to maintain it, ran out of money. The Department of Transportation came up with $3.2 million to keep it open until the end of the current fiscal year. FAA spokesman William Shumann said beyond that date the fate of the field is unknown. The runway at the former U.S. Naval station showed its value last Jan. 6 when a Continental Airlines Boeing 777, with 279 passengers aboard, was forced to land there with engine trouble. The diversion came about three weeks before the scheduled closure of Midway and prompted a hurried response from the Department of Transportation. On Jan. 27, Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) announced the funding had been secured for the balance of the current fiscal year. "The emergency landing earlier this month, which ensured the safety of the nearly 300 people on board, dramatically underscores the importance of this runway," Inouye said in a news release. "Midway currently serves as the only emergency landing facility in this region of the Pacific."

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"Lethal Country" Saves Pilot

A place that calls itself "Lethal Country" might not be your first choice in an emergency but a Mooney pilot says the folks at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico (slogan: "America's Most Lethal Warfighting Team") likely saved his life. Dr. George Carlson wasn't having the best of days in the left seat after he hit a power line while trying to land in stormy weather at nearby Clovis Municipal Airport. The impact caused radio problems but Cannon controllers were finally able to guide him to a safe landing on the base. "Protecting human life is job number one here in 'Lethal Country,'" said Col. Lee Wight, Operations Group Commander for the 27th Fighter Wing based at Cannon. "Our controllers spared no effort and showed great skill ..." Carlson spent the night at the base and later told public relations staff that he was in serious trouble before the military stepped in. He said he was almost out of fuel, suffering spatial disorientation and icing up when the Cannon controllers found a way to communicate with him using his transponder. "They saved my life. Without them, I would surely have crashed." Carlson was on a flight from San Francisco to Ardmore, Okla.

Parasail, Banner-Tower "Midair"

They don't happen like this every day. No one was hurt last Thursday near Gulf Shores, Ala., when the towline pulling a teenage girl on a parasail behind a boat crossed the line on an advertising banner being towed by an airplane. The banner-tower quickly released the banner and it fell harmlessly away. The age and identity of the girl were not immediately known. There was a second parasailor being towed by the same boat but her line didn't come in contact with the banner. The parasailors were about 300 feet above the water at the time. Steve Vrondran, owner of Perdido Key Parasail, told the Mobile Register it's the first incident of this nature that he's heard of and the banner-towers and parasailors generally give each other a wide berth. "The canopies are 37 feet in diameter and brightly colored. Usually they see them and go around them," said Vrondran. "If we don't think they're moving, we'll move." The two groups will meet with city officials to see if there's a need to beef up safety and operating regulations.

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GAO, NATA Tangle Over GA Security

The General Accounting Office (GAO) made "completely inappropriate" comments about security at general aviation airports in a report that should have been confined to concerns about aerial advertising, says the National Air Transportation Association (NATA). As AVweb told you earlier this month, the GAO released a report examining the potential security threat of allowing banner-towers to resume operations at sports stadiums. "The report the GAO was tasked to accomplish was on aerial advertising flights, not on security at general aviation airports and the supposed inconsistencies in background checks," said Eric Byer, NATA's director of government and industry affairs. "Considering that the GAO is in the midst of conducting an investigation into general aviation airport security, the comments are completely inappropriate." While the report said the TSA doesn't seem very worried about banner-towers, it did find gaps in the screening processes used to check out the banner-towing pilots. It said that factors were identified that could limit the effectiveness of the background checks and there were inconsistencies in the gathering and processing of the information. The GAO concluded there were a variety of factors that make general aviation vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Banner-towers remain banned from stadium overflights thanks to a congressional order contained in a recent appropriations bill.

But For The Grace...

Sometimes you see the wreckage and wonder how anyone got out alive. If this Beech Baron had been flying a few inches to the right, we likely wouldn't be wondering how Robert Hollis Gates, of Tehachapi, Calif., managed to land the plane safely after a midair with a Cessna 180 last Jan. 16. The Baron lost a section of fuselage, but Gates walked away with cuts and bruises. The 180 broke up in flight and the pilot, 40-year-old David Lazerson, a civilian test pilot instructor at Edwards Air Force Base and deputy director of the Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force, was killed. According to the NTSB report, Gates said he was in cruise climb between 5,500 and 6,500 feet near Tehachapi when he saw the right gear leg of the Cessna coming at him from one o' clock. He ducked, then saw a dirt strip and managed to set the Baron down. AVweb wasn't able to reach Gates.

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Aussies Consider Alcohol, Drug Testing

Australian pilots may face random drug and alcohol testing after an investigation determined that drugs and alcohol might have contributed to a crash that killed a charter pilot and his five tourist passengers in 2002. Cause of the crash was an engine malfunction on takeoff, followed by a low-level stall in a turn by the Cherokee Six on Hamilton Island. The probe by the Australia Transport Safety Bureau said pilot Andrew Morris, 27, of Brisbane, had consumed alcohol and a painkiller called Panadeine the night before the crash and had only seven hours of sleep. He also had the active ingredient in marijuana in his system. That was enough for the bureau to recommend testing, noting that road, rail and marine workers are subject to alcohol testing. Australia's AOPA said testing is unnecessary. President Ron Lawford said most pilots don't use drugs or alcohol prior to flight. Last year, Qantas staff at Sydney walked off the job when the company initiated drug-testing trials, saying it was a violation of privacy. Still, Transport Minister John Anderson said it's something worth looking into. He commissioned a review of the topic.

Wright Replica At Ford Museum

Sixty years later, Henry Ford's dream has been fulfilled ... well, sort of. Ford wrote Orville Wright in 1943 reminding him that if he ever wanted to part with the airplane that flew at Kitty Hawk, Ford had just the place for it in Dearborn. Well, the (mostly) original Flyer went to the Smithsonian instead and the Henry Ford Museum now has the replica that didn't fly in Kitty Hawk last November. Edsel Ford II didn't see it as a consolation prize when The Wright Experience aircraft was officially unveiled in Dearborn on Friday. "Sometimes you don't get what you wish for in life. Sometimes you get something better," he said. That spin was made possible by the fact that the plane in the Smithsonian is a re-jigged and repaired version of the original machine. The first Flyer was damaged in a flood and crashed twice and the ensuing repairs required parts that were not original equipment. Therefore, in Ford's (and EAA's) estimation, the replica is actually "a far more accurate representation of the original plans than is the repaired and modified one that hangs at the Smithsonian," according to the EAA release. Can't wait for the letters ...

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On The Fly...

Next time you flip on your GPS, pause for moment to consider what's running it. The U.S. Air Force Space Command launched its 50th GPS satellite on Saturday to replace one that's nearing the end of its life. The tab? $45 million for the satellite, plus whatever it costs for the ride from Cape Canaveral to geosynchronous orbit via a Delta 2 rocket...

The Indian air force is free to put weapons on 66 "trainers" it bought from Britain, according to the Times of London. The British government won't normally sell such hardware if it thinks it might be used as a weapon (India and Pakistan are in an uneasy truce) but Indian newspapers said the $2 billion deal was contingent on the air force doing what they wanted with the nimble little jets. For the record, India says the planes will be used as advanced trainers to prepare pilots for its crash-prone Mig-21s...

Montreal-based Bombardier will keep its military pilot training division after winning a $270 million contract to train Canadian CF-18 pilots. U.S.-based L-3 Communications, which makes F-18 simulators, is a partner in the bid. Training will take place at Canadian Forces Bases in Cold Lake, Alberta, and Bagotville, Quebec...

Two Marine pilots successfully landed at 102 Virginia airports in a single day to raise money for Angel Flight East. Lt. Col Lindy Kirkland and Maj. Rob Krieg flew a Cirrus more than 1,600 miles last Wednesday, completing the mission in a little over 16 hours...

Four winners of the National General Aviation Awards have been named. They are Doug Stewart, of North Egremont, Mass., the CFI of the Year; Gary Goodpaster, of Cincinnati, Ohio, the Maintenance Technician of the Year; Keith Lewis, of Spartanburg, S.C., the Avionics Technician of the Year; and Walt Schamel, of Winter Haven, Fla., the Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey will present the awards at EAA AirVenture 2004…

A cockpit voice recorder found at the UN didn't come from a missile attack that killed two African leaders. Authorities say the black box contains 30 minutes of normal cockpit conversation in French. When the box was found in a file cabinet at the U.N., initial speculation was that it was from a Falcon business jet carrying the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda that was hit by two missiles while landing at Kigali 10 years ago.

Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles

Reader mail this week includes a rebuttal from Atlantic Aviation about the de-ice debacle, airline subsidies for GA, traffic jams at Nantucket and more.

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

The Pilot's Lounge #72: PAMA -- A Maintenance Organization For Fixers And Flyers
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Short Final...

Overheard while approaching the control zone in Wellington, New Zealand.......

ZKxxx: Request entry into the zone with Charlie 1021, currently 20 miles to the south west at 2500.

Wellington Tower: Cleared to enter the zone via the Sinclair Sector 1500 feet or below.

ZKxxx: Cleared to enter the zone via Sinclair at 1500 or below.

(A few minutes later...)

Tower: ZKxxx, suggest you descend to 1500 immediate to avoid a fast approaching pile of paperwork.

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