NewsWire Complete Issue

April 21, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

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Air Tour NPRM Gets Another Look

Public Meetings Planned, Comment Period Extended...

After being bombarded by protests from angry air-tour operators, charity groups and vintage-aircraft organizations, the FAA says it will consider changes to its highly controversial National Air Tour Standards. "I think there's a willingness and a flexibility to accommodate some portions of the community," Greg Martin, the FAA's deputy director of communications, told AVweb. On Tuesday, the FAA announced that it was extending the comment period (until June 28) and holding two public meetings (in Washington, D.C., on May 11 and Las Vegas on May 21) to discuss the proposed rule, which by the FAA's own analysis would shut down the air-tour operations in about 700 businesses. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) was published last October and resulted in an unceasing torrent of protest. The FAA said the NPRM was designed to address safety concerns raised by the NTSB over air-tour crashes, most notably in Hawaii. But opponents to the rule said the FAA failed to make its case on the safety issue and was trying to implement a one-size-fits-all approach to a complex and diverse industry. Alphabet groups were virtually unanimous in their condemnation and some members of Congress also weighed in. The final straw may have been when the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration urged the FAA to withdraw the bill, as AVwebreported in early April.

...Notice Includes Questionnaire...

Tuesday's notice is unusual in that it includes a questionnaire of sorts targeting many of the specific concerns that have been raised over the proposed rule. Anyone taking advantage of the extended comment period is asked to cover 15 points raised in the questionnaire. The questions are clearly directed at Part 91 operators who, under the proposed rule, would be required to upgrade to Part 121 or Part 135 operating certificates. This provision has caused the most controversy. The questionnaire even invites pilots to do a little role-playing and imagine that it was they who were trying to achieve the safety goals of the rule without ruining businesses. "Are there ways we (FAA) could achieve the results intended by the proposed rule that would impose fewer burdens on the industry?" it asks. If you're planning on attending either (or both) of the public meetings, Tuesday's notice also includes a summary of how the FAA wants those to go. Be brief, do your homework and stick to the issue, are the main messages. The agency is particularly interested in any new information that might not have been included in the thousands of submissions received to date. The public-meeting option was also a thorny issue between the FAA and the alphabets in the original NPRM process. Instead of public meetings, the FAA originally scheduled a weeklong Internet forum that it defends in Tuesday's notice. The agency claims that many people who would not otherwise have been heard took advantage of the Web access opportunity.

...This Is How It Hurts

If the FAA wants a tally of the impact of the proposed rule, they might ask Harry and Loree Hirschmann, who opened a biplane sightseeing business in San Francisco last year. "It's a nice little business and we intended to grow into it but we're going to get stopped in our tracks if this goes through," Harry told the Contra Costa Times. Golden Gate Biplane Adventures now operates under a provision that allows sightseeing tours within 25 miles of the base airport to remain under Part 91 rules. The NPRM would eliminate that provision. Harry estimates the cost of converting from a Part 91 to Part 135 or Part 121 operator at a minimum of $60,000 a year, which he said is unrealistic for his business. To make the upgrade, businesses like Golden Gate would have to hire a dispatcher, have their own maintenance personnel and training programs and create an FAA-approved training program and manual. "It's like taking a kid with a paper route and requiring a maintenance person in the garage," AOPA spokesman Jeff Myers told the Times. At least one helicopter tour operator interviewed by the Times saw a benefit to the new rules. Rather than strictly operating sightseeing trips, John DuGan, of Bay Aeriel Helicopter Tours, said the proposal would allow him to expand into the charter business. "The more things you can offer, the more you're going to survive," he said.

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Bombers Drop Pilots

Unmanned Combat Plane Tested...

The military moved a step closer to taking pilots out of the action with the successful test of a new drone bomber. Under remote control, Boeing's X-45 Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) dropped a dummy bomb to within inches of a target truck on the desert at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The pilot was 80 miles away when he pickled the bomb. "It's absolutely a huge step forward for us," Boeing's Rob Horton told the Associated Press. "It shows the capability of an unmanned airplane to carry weapons." There's nothing new about drones packing heat. Armed versions of reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used in Afghanistan. Boeing claims the X-45 is the first drone built for the purpose of dropping bombs and sees a bright future for the tailless, stealthy-looking jet. Boeing hopes to build hundreds and the military has already said the drones have a role in performing extraordinarily dangerous missions such as taking out missile and radar sites to clear a path for manned fighters and bombers. Such security doesn't come cheap, however. Each X-45 will cost between $10 million and $15 million, but it's not clear if that includes all the stuff (and people) on the ground needed to make them work.

...Border Security By Drone

Chances are you won't have to join the military to encounter a UAV. They've been in limited use over U.S. airspace for years but the Department of Homeland Security wants to use them regularly to patrol the border between Arizona and Mexico. The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the flights are expected to start later this month and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is confident they'll help stem the tide of illegal immigrants and drugs. "It's deal terrain," commissioner Robert Bonner told the Union-Tribune. "There's nothing to hide. Not a tree in sight." Although there has naturally been some skepticism in the aviation community about sharing the skies with robots, the fears are unfounded, claims GA Aeronautical Systems President Thomas J. Cassidy. Cassidy, in a letter to Unmanned Systems magazine, says UAVs are just another blip on the screen to air traffic controllers. ATC instructions are relayed by the drone to its ground-bound pilot. They've even provided pilot reports (PIREPs) to help out other aircraft. Last year over eastern California, according to Cassidy, airliners were calling ATC looking for altitudes to avoid turbulence and controllers contacted the remote pilot of a UAV who reported "smooth ride" at the drone's altitude of 21,000 feet. "As far as the controller was concerned, the Predator B was just another airplane," Cassidy wrote.

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Cirrus Down -- No 'Chute This Time

A Cirrus SR22 crashed and burned Monday shortly after departure from Greenwood County Airport in South Carolina, killing all four souls on board. Corky Smith, an NTSB investigator working the site, told The Index-Journal witnesses saw the aircraft lift off the runway, climb to roughly 30 feet, then descend to roughly 10 feet over the runway. Then, before reaching the tree line, the aircraft "went straight up to about 400 feet, and then turned left." Whatever maneuver precipitated that description, it was not one from which the aircraft recovered. The SR22 impacted the ground and exploded. "I went to the crash site; I didn't even see the first piece of scrap. It was just a big burnt area where it had landed," Sheriff's Lt. Jimmy Boggs told the Associated Press. The aircraft, registered to Attic Aircraft Leasing in Marietta, Ga., was operated by AeroAtlanta Flight Center and was flown by Troy Sufferling, 37, of Kennesaw, Ga., with Olmedo Ochoa Jr. (31), Luis Garcia (29), and Manuel Chavez (27) in his charge. Spring has not been a benign season for Cirrus. Last week, mechanical problems stopped an insulin-dependent diabetic pilot who (along with Cirrus) had intended to use the stage of Sun 'n Fun as a launchpad for a record flight in a Cirrus SR22. Just prior to Sun 'n Fun, problems perceived by two separate Cirrus pilots persuaded them to each ride their Cirrus Aircraft Parachute Systems to the ground rather than trust themselves and the aircraft to fly more conventionally to the ground. Monday's crash is the only event of the four to bring fatalities.

Ercoupe Odyssey

Perhaps Allen Rothenberg. of Rockville, Md., saw our recent Ercoupe coverage, because he wrote to tell us he's planning a 13,000-mile trip in the low-wing plane-for-all-people around the perimeter of the lower 48 states to celebrate his 75th birthday. "I thought you might be interested in some information about an Ercoupe that not only will fly past the Sun 'n Fun airport but will log about 13,000 miles in, what for me, is an epic solo flight," Rothenberg wrote AVweb. The quirky little planes were designed to be easy to fly with the rudder and aileron controls linked to theoretically provide simplified car-like steering. The landing gear was castered to allow crosswind landings without rudder input. Many were retrofitted with rudder control. Rothenberg's sports a 90-hp Continental and will do about 100 mph. He's added an automotive GPS and transponder to the limited standard panel. His plan is to hit the farthest northern, eastern, southern and western airports in the lower 48 and he'll also touch down in the geographic center. He plans to leave May 15 and be back for his birthday on June 13.

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Pirate Radio Seized

When Frantzler Narcisse talked, pilots at Lantana Airport and Palm Beach International couldn't listen ... to each other and air traffic control. Authorities dismantled Narcisse's pirate radio station last week after pilots complained his signal was blocking communications at the two airports. "That was one hell of a dirty transmitter," Terry Jones, a news helicopter pilot, told The Palm Beach Post. FAA officials tuned into Narcisse's signal and found the illegal setup on the second floor of his Palm Beach home. He turned the radio equipment over to the FCC to avoid prosecution. In Australia, a teenager who pleaded guilty to interfering with radio communication at Perth Airport could be going to jail. Scott Bradley Pike pleaded guilty to two counts of illegal use of a transmitter without a license and in a matter likely to prejudice the safety of an aircraft. As AVweb told you last month, Pike was caught making bogus calls to ATC and aircraft. The court was told that in one transmission he threatened to "bring back explosives and blow up all of you bastards." He apparently also told one pilot to bail out because his aircraft was on fire and sang nursery rhymes in another transmission. He'd been smoking pot and drinking at the time. He could go to jail for two years or face $13,000 (AUD) in fines, or both.

Sport Pilot Revisions Almost Ready

The FAA says it will have a revised version of the Sport Pilot/Light-Sport Aircraft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in front of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in the next week or so. FAA spokeswoman Allison Duquette told AVweb Wednesday that the goal is to get the rule out "as soon as possible." About three weeks ago, the FAA withdrew the NPRM from the OMB, which must sign off on it, after the OMB raised concerns about parts of the proposed rule. The hang-ups have never been made public. "I can't discuss that because we are in rulemaking," said Duquette. She said she doesn't know how long the OMB will need to assess the revised NPRM but it has not placed any time limits on the process.

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ATC Systems "Seamless" In LAX Power Bump

Backup systems worked perfectly to maintain air traffic control and communications functions during a power failure at Los Angeles International Airport Monday. "The system worked seamlessly without interruption to air traffic operations," said FAA spokesman Greg Martin. Monday's power failure was in sharp contrast to one a week earlier in which the backup systems failed and parts of the system weren't restored for almost five hours. Martin said they're looking into the earlier failure, which delayed dozens of flights. FAA systems have a two-stage backup system. When the lights initially go off, batteries supply power to the computers and consoles until generators come online with a stable power source. In the April 12 incident, the batteries failed to kick in. Martin said the whole system didn't shut down, however. The DBRITE tower radar system and radio communications were restored almost immediately. The L.A. Times is reporting that a crow shorted out a power line to cause the outage. The most recent outage turned the lights off in some buildings for two hours.

Skydivers Establish New World Record

An international team of skydivers set a new record for formation skydiving at Zephyrhills, Fla., on Sunday. The team achieved a two-point formation with 121 skydivers. "Two points" means that after the first formation was complete, the group transitioned into a second formation before breaking off the effort at 6,000 feet. The event required 20 jumps altogether, from an altitude of 17,500 feet, using five aircraft, a Casa and four Twin Otters.

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Angels Help Marines

A volunteer flying group is helping casualties of the war in Iraq cope. Angel Flight West is playing a major role in getting loved ones to visit the wounded and attend the funerals of Marines based at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. The base has suffered a rash of casualties among its soldiers stationed in Iraq and that's put a strain on the families of those affected, some of whom live thousands of miles from the base. According to NBC, Angel Flight West appealed to its members for help and they responded immediately. The group, which normally flies people to medical treatment, has donated hundreds of thousands of frequent-flier points to family members and wounded soldiers heading home. Flights in private aircraft are also being arranged. Camp Pendleton officials have thanked the group.

New Sun 'n Fun 2004 Image Galleries

AVweb's Sun 'n Fun photo galleries are now complete with full size hi-res images (some as large as 2560x1920 pixels -- you can count the rivets on the wings or the hairs in the pilots nose) available for inspection or download. Air show aircraft in flight, on the ground, vintage aircraft on the grass, one of a kind aircraft on the grounds, shiny props, spinning props, duck before it hits you props, and an enormous wall of fire. Have a look, tell a friend, or just swipe your favorite to the desktop. ...And, if the spirit moves you, let us know which ones you like best. (We've got an office pool riding on it.)

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On The Fly...

A conference that puts pilots and air traffic controllers in the same room wrapped up in Dallas Wednesday. Sponsored by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, "Communicating for Safety" was aimed at raising issues and solving problems with air traffic communication. FAA COO Russ Chew attended...

The city of Bolingbrook, Ill., is choosing to preserve its airport over "100 new houses or some big-box retailers." The city is buying the airport for $13.2 million and planning $3.8 million in improvements, including runway lights, weather stations, hangars and lengthening the runway 400 feet...

Diamond Aircraft announced the maiden flight of a gasoline-powered version of its DA-42 twin. The original DA-42 launched with super-efficient Thielert 135-hp diesel engines. The latest sports a pair of 180-hp Lycomings and maxed at 180 knots, climbed at 2,000 fpm and burned 14 gph at 165 knots.

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AVweb's Question of the Week ...


Two weeks ago, AVweb was preparing for Sun 'n Fun and the 9/11 Commission was just beginning to hear the testimony of Condoleezza Rice — and we asked readers how they feel about "terror in the skies."  The overwhelming majority of you (almost 500 people, 63% of poll respondents) put your foot down and said that we're needlessly demonizing airplanes by painting them as potential weapons of terror.  But a respectable 15% of those polled said there are legitimate fears regarding air terror.  Of those who thought there was a clear and immediate danger in the skies, most agreed that commercial jets (like those used in the WTC attack) pose the greatest threat.  Only a handful of readers (less than 1%) are kept awake at night by the possibility of an ultralight invasion ... .


This week, AVweb wants to know what you think about the Sport Pilot initiative.  It's been a long time coming, but will it come to pass?  Click here to answer this week's polling question.

Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to

Note: This address is only for suggested QOTW questions, and not for QOTW answers.

New Articles and Features on AVweb

Quiz #80 -- Radar Contact
Don't you love that cozy feeling you get when an air traffic controller whispers, "Radar contact," in your headset? But what service attaches to these words? Whether IFR or VFR it helps to know your radar vs. non-radar terms and expectations.

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AVweb's Picture of the Week ...

Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions

Current POTW Winner | Past POTW Winners

Last week's Sun 'n Fun Fly-In preempted our usual reader-submitted "Picture of the Week."  Lots of AVweb readers must have been at the Fly-In, because our submissions actually dropped down to a manageable level for the first time in 2004.  We realize you guys need a break every once in a while — but how are we supposed to change the wallpaper on our computer monitors without hundreds of "POTW" entries to choose from?  Come on, people — Juston Taul's winning submission may look great on our monitors today, but tomorrow we'll need another gorgeous image to ogle!  (Your hat will be on the way shortly, Juston!)

Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.



"Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Fleet"
Embry-Riddle's own Juston Taul wasn't the photographer but "believed [this]
was too great a picture to not share with others" — and we have to agree

Click here to view a large version of this image

AVweb continues to receive a large number of excellent images for our POTW contest. Here are some of the runners-up. Click on the links below to view larger versions.

"Follow Me, Little Buddies"
Calvin Kitaura sends us this photo "taken by a birddog
pilot during last summer's fire season" in British Columbia, Canada

"Spinner Image"
William Rexer of Perrysburg, Ohio caught this eye-catching
reflection on the prop of a 1973 Aero Commander 690A

To enter next week's contest, click here.

A Reminder About Copyrights:  Please take a moment to consider the source of your image before submitting to our "Picture of the Week" contest.  If you did not take the photo yourself, ask yourself if you are indeed authorized to release publication rights to AVweb.  If you're uncertain, consult the POTW Rules or send us an e-mail.

Sponsor News and Special Offers

Access to AVweb and AVflash is provided by the support of our fine sponsors. We appreciate your patronage.


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We Welcome Your Feedback!

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.

Letters to the editor intended for publication in AVmail should be sent to Have a comment or question? Send it to

Today's issue written by News Writer Russ Niles:
AVweb's editorial team:

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