NewsWire Complete Issue

April 25, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

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The FAA Pushes The Future Back...

As FAA Limits New Technology....

The FAA's efforts to modernize the National Airspace System, including the installation of new radar and approach systems, datalink technology, and digital radios, "face fundamental problems with respect to misjudging technological maturity, unexpected cost growth, or concerns about how to move forward in a cost-effective way," Department of Transportation Inspector General Ken Mead told a Senate panel last Thursday. Mead, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee about the FAA's budget request for fiscal year 2005, said plans for several programs will be put on hold, or face reduced budgets and delayed implementation schedules. Mead also said the FAA is considering using $30 million of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds to pay for air traffic control services in 2005, which would represent a shift from prior practice. AIP funds have previously been used for airport construction projects such as new runways and navaids, but not for ATC infrastructure.

...WAAS, STARS, And Much More Scaled Back Or Deferred.....

Among the projects facing cuts or delays is the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which became available on a limited basis last July. Mead says the FAA has revised its expectations for the program and now says WAAS will not be capable of providing Category I performance at most of the nation's airports. The reduced expectations mean a cut in funding. Also facing a reduction in planned deployment is STARS, the new radar system that has been plagued by cost overruns and implementation delays. Mead said the FAA will complete the first 50 installations of STARS, but plans for a second phase of 23 more sites have been suspended. So far, 19 of the systems are in operation.

Other new technologies facing cuts are the Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS), a new precision approach and landing system that was not as mature as the FAA expected. Category I LAAS was planned for 2006, and more demanding Category II / III performance is now a research-and-development effort with uncertain completion dates, Mead said. The FAA now believes it will take considerably longer, as much as 21 months, to complete just the first phase of LAAS. Also, the FAA is deferring plans to implement Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications because of concerns (1) about how quickly users would equip with new avionics, (2) that the approved program baseline of $167 million was materially understated and no longer valid, and (3) about the impact on the operations account, which is already overburdened. Also, the effort to replace aging analog radios with the digital Next Generation Air-to-Ground Communications System (NEXCOM) is under review, as costs for implementation run into the billions of dollars. NEXCOM was controversial with airlines because of the FAA's preferred technology. While the FAA will move forward with replacing older radios, Mead said, it has postponed making decisions about NEXCOM ground system development. The FAA already has obligated over $800 million on WAAS and expects to spend $100 million more on the system in fiscal year 2005. The FAA's decision not to pursue Category I performance will reduce the overall WAAS baseline costs by $300 to $400 million. "The [WAAS] program has a long history of uncertainty regarding how much the system will cost, when it will be delivered, and what benefits can be obtained," Mead said.

...As Controller Retirements Loom

Mead also raised concerns about the safety of the nation's air traffic control system. Although runway incursions decreased by 4 percent in fiscal year 2003, operational errors -- when controllers allow planes to come too close together in the air -- increased 12 percent, to 1,186, with an average of three operational errors each day and one high-risk error every week. In addition, about 7,000 air traffic controllers are expected to become eligible for retirement in the next nine years. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, testifying before the same Senate panel last week, said a new rule is in the works that would allow controllers to apply for a waiver to continue working beyond the current mandatory retirement age of 56. She also said the FAA is working to make its training programs more efficient in order to reduce the time it takes to train new controllers. Mead said that it may not be necessary to replace all of the retirees on a one-for-one basis, depending on such factors as future air traffic levels and new technologies. However, he said it is clear that as a result of the anticipated increases in attrition, the FAA will have to begin hiring and training controllers at levels it has not experienced since the early 1980s.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) already has raised alarms about the coming trend and its concerns over the FAA's lack of action to deal with it. "We need to start training 1,000 new controllers each year to meet demand, but there is not a plan in place or funding to make this happen," NATCA President John Carr said in a news release last week. "The FAA and Congress must work with us to ensure that there is a staffing plan in place to ensure safety is preserved." Mead also told the Senate panel the FAA must adapt its safety oversight to deal with the increased outsourcing of maintenance work by the airlines. While major air carriers outsourced 37 percent of their aircraft maintenance in 1996, the amount spent on outsourced maintenance increased to 47 percent of maintenance costs in 2002.

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Congress Pushes For Action Against Shoulder-Fired Missiles...

Threat Seen As Immediate...

With the announcement last week that the Israeli government is equipping its commercial aircraft with countermeasure systems to defend against shoulder-fired missiles, pressure is mounting here in the U.S. for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to quickly mandate similar protection for U.S. airliners. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) wrote to DHS Secretary Tom Ridge on Friday, "In light of Israel's actions and the obvious availability of appropriate technology, I ask that you accelerate the current DHS timetable so that our most vulnerable aircraft are protected by the end of this year." Under the current plan, Boxer said, the DHS would not even make a decision about the matter until 2006. "These weapons, also known as Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS)," Boxer wrote in a letter to Ridge, "are widely proliferated, relatively easy to use, available on the black market and in the possession of more than two dozen terrorist and non-state groups throughout the world. Al Qaeda is suspected of being behind previous shoulder-fired missile attacks against both commercial and military aircraft." Nearly three dozen handheld missiles have been fired at commercial airlines in other countries over the past 25 years, according to the San Jose Mercury News, and more than 500 people have been killed. Only one airliner was attacked in a non-combat zone, when two missiles missed an Arkia Israeli 767 as it left a Kenyan airport in November 2002.

...As House Pressures FAA...

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the Aviation Subcommittee, introduced a bill last month that would require the FAA to expedite the airworthiness certification of missile-defense systems for commercial aircraft. "The proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles is so widespread, so deep and so urgent that we have to go on defense and offence at the same time to protect ourselves," said Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill. "That means accelerating our efforts to equip our planes with anti-missile countermeasures, while aggressively pursuing and implementing an international SAM-Ban treaty to control the proliferation of shoulder-fired missiles." Mica said, "MANPADS and explosives carried on board aircraft are two of the greatest threats to commercial aviation. This bill will address the threat posed by MANPADS and we are continuing to work closely with TSA to address the threat of explosives. This legislation ... is intended to make clear that while the Department of Homeland Security is conducting research and development of missile defense equipment for commercial aircraft, interim solutions to the threat posed by MANPADS should be taken." The bill includes a provision requiring the FAA to, when appropriate, expedite their airworthiness certification of missile-defense systems for commercial aircraft and to avoid duplicating the efforts taken by the DHS during the missile-defense system R & D program, and a provision requiring the DHS to report to Congress, within one year, on the vulnerability assessment reports they are conducting at U.S. airports and any ground-based defense policies or procedures recommended through that process.

...And FAA Reviews Israeli System

The FAA is reportedly dubious of allowing El Al aircraft equipped with the system, called Flight Guard, to land at U.S. airports due to safety concerns about the flare-based technology. Israeli Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman is slated to discuss the issue with U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta today, according to Reuters. El Al's first Flight Guard-protected aircraft are expected to launch in June. The Flight Guard system automatically releases diversionary flares if a heat-seeking missile is detected by an on-board sensor. It reportedly costs about $1 million per airplane to install. The DHS recently awarded $2 million each to Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and United Air Lines to help find ways to protect commercial aircraft against the missiles. The companies are to report their initial findings by June.

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Tower Company Sues Dead Pilot's Family

The family of a Quebec man who died when his single-engine plane crashed into a 1,000-foot-high telecommunications tower in dense fog in 2001 is being sued for $2.5 million by the tower's owner, CTV News reported Saturday. The wreck remained tangled in the tower for several days, and the tower was destroyed with dynamite to retrieve the airplane and the pilot's body. The tower is owned by a U.S. company, SpectraSite, which wants more than $2.5 million from the family to cover the costs of the tower's destruction, the cost to rebuild, and lost revenue. The company says the pilot was at fault for flying in fog, CTV News said. The pilot's widow and children say they don't have that much money. The family may have to declare bankruptcy to avert a court battle. "It's very harsh," one man said in French to CTV. "Companies have to be poor to sue a family that has already lost so much." In a recent first-quarter financial report, SpectraSite reported its total assets at about $1.5 billion.

Air Tours -- Get 'Em While You Can

During this weekend's Festival of Roses in Orangeburg, S.C., some pilots at the local airport decided to get into the spirit of the event and host an open house. Anyone who wanted to see the festival from the air was invited to visit the field, and for a donation of $10 or so, they could take a ride in an airplane with the New Hawthorne Aviators, aka EAA Chapter 1367. Such non-commercial air tours would likely become defunct under new rules proposed by the FAA. Meanwhile, the FAA and the National Park Service will meet tomorrow to discuss whether to restrict commercial air tours over Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, in Nevada. Some operators fly across Lake Mead en route to Grand Canyon tours, which has raised a question whether they are then subject to the strict rules that govern Grand Canyon air-tour operators.

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NTSB Wants Enhanced Oversight Of Firefighting Aircraft

Advanced age plus severe stress put firefighting aircraft at risk of structural failure, and the maintenance and inspection programs currently in effect are inadequate, the NTSB said in safety recommendations issued on Friday. The board determined that fatigue cracking was the probable cause in three air-tanker accidents involving in-flight wing separations during firefighting operations. Inadequate fatigue-detection procedures were cited as a factor in all three crashes -- a June 2002 crash of a C-130 in Walker, Calif.; the July 2002 crash of a P4Y-2 in Estes Park, Colo.; and the August 1994 crash of a C-130 in Pearblossom, Calif. Eight crew members were killed in the three crashes. "We hope the release of these reports will raise operator awareness of the unique problems that affect these specialized aircraft, and the importance of a thorough maintenance program to detect safety issues and prevent accidents," NTSB Chairman Ellen Engleman-Conners said in a news release. The board recommended that the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior develop maintenance and inspection programs for firefighting aircraft that include consideration of the airplane's original design, age and operational stresses, as well as engineering evaluations to predict and prevent fatigue cracking. The board also recommended that the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior hire personnel with aviation engineering and maintenance expertise to oversee the new maintenance programs. The initial investigation of the Pearblossom accident in 1994 resulted in a different probable cause. However, a recent review of the accident information, including the examination of wreckage that was not recovered in the initial investigation, revealed previously undiscovered evidence of fatigue fracturing in right-side, center-wing fragments that supported revising the probable cause, the NTSB said. The board issued its safety recommendation letters to the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Interior and the FAA.

Pilots Plan To Explore Lewis & Clark Route

The Flight of Discovery, a team of general aviation pilots and scientists, plans to fly above the river corridors and overland routes followed by the Lewis and Clark expedition 200 years ago. The expedition, comprising eight fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters, will depart from Clarksville, Ind., on June 1 and arrive two weeks later in Astoria, Ore. "The challenge of our expedition," said biologist and Caravan pilot Mike Mann, "is to establish the amount of change from 'baseline' conditions that has occurred since the original Corps of Discovery expedition from 1803–1806." The group plans to document the current cultural and natural features along the route and compare them to the historical record of the Lewis and Clark expedition. "Documenting these changes," Mann said, "will constitute an environmental barometer that can aid future decision-makers -- today's students -- in addressing natural resource conservation/protection strategies and policies." The group is also donating a "Trunk of Discovery" to a number of school districts and educational institutions along the route of flight, which contains a GPS unit, binoculars, pilot's weather computer, plant press, and a mineral test kit for classroom use in lesson plans related to the expedition. Scientists in the group include geologists, agronomists, botanists, ecologists and anthropologists. "This is not just a flight of fun and adventure," Mann told AVweb in an e-mail, "but a real working mobile laboratory and scientific expedition. Our goal of utilizing general aviation is to allow us to get some busy working scientists to agree to take a reasonable amount of time off from their regular commitments and accomplish a task that would take an incredible amount of time [using] standard research methods. With the help of local schools and communities we will be able to accomplish our goals of educating the public, scientific research, and a positive use of general aviation aircraft for the benefit of all the local communities."

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Third Air Scout Group Starts In North Carolina

Air Scouts, a program of the Boy Scouts of America that was popular in the 1940s and '50s, is slowly reappearing as three Air Scouting groups are now underway, one each in Texas and Illinois, and now the newest one at Moore County Airport in North Carolina. The co-ed program for youth ages 14 to 20 provides a chance to learn about careers in aviation and participate in activities such as building model rockets, flying radio-controlled planes and visiting aviation museums. At Moore County Airport, about 28 youngsters have signed up so far for the program, The Pilot newspaper reported last week. The original Air Scout units were called Squadrons, and were subdivided into smaller groups called Flights. In 1949, Air Scouts became Air Explorers. In 1965, the classic Air Exploring ended, and in the '70s, Aviation Exploring became one of several National Explorer program areas.

XCOR Aerospace Receives Launch License

On Friday, XCOR Aerospace became the second company to receive a Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) mission license from the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The company, based in Mojave, Calif., said it will use the license to test RLV technologies prior to suborbital space travel. XCOR said it will be the first to use the license for an RLV that is launched and recovered from the ground. The FAA's first license, which went to Mojave's Scaled Composites, is being used to test SpaceShipOne, which is carried aloft on the White Knight aircraft and launched at altitude. XCOR's license is for test flights only, and does not cover passenger operations. The company will use the license to test Sphinx, a rocket-powered airplane still in the design stage, according to the Associated Press. The Sphinx is not competing for the X PRIZE, the Associated Press said. Testing will be done at the Mojave Airport. According to XCOR spokesman Randall Clague, "This license covers the full flight test program conducted in a designated test area. A significant feature of the license is that it allows the pilot to do an incremental series of flight tests -- without preplanning each trajectory." XCOR CEO Jeff Greason said, "Our goal is for RLV developers to conduct test flights with the flexibility and ease of development normally associated with experimental aircraft. The terms of this license represent significant progress towards this goal. It is helpful that RLV companies can obtain their launch licenses during vehicle design, prior to committing capital to build a vehicle." The license was issued at the Space Access conference in Phoenix, Ariz.

GIVE MOM A NEW PIPER AIRCRAFT TO FLY AROUND THE GREEK ISLES
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NBAA Update In Next Issue Of BizAVflash

If you're curious about what may appear to be outwardly erratic behavior among the highest ranks at the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) -- whose new president departed April 1 after nine months on the job -- read your Business AVflash. For subscribers (sign up is independent of the AVflash you're currently reading) AVweb's Business AVflash arrives twice each month. The next edition will hit your e-mail inbox this coming Wednesday. It will have the latest news on the developments at NBAA since mid-April, including details on dueling public statements by a departed senior staffer and the association, plus our regular coverage of the business aviation community and Business AVflash's regular, twice-monthly feature, TSA Watch. Not subscribed to Business AVflash? It's quick, it's easy and -- best of all -- it's FREE!. Click here to sign up!

On The Fly...

Another light jet enters the race, as Bob Bornhofen, designer of the Maverick kitbuilt twinjet, is reportedly working on a five-seat, single-engine Sport-Jet that would be certified. It's expected to be flying by the end of this year. The jet will feature a standard ballistic chute, according to AOPA...

The FAA will test ADS-B weather datalink with 100 aircraft on the U.S. East Coast this year...

The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) has launched a new Web site with a new domain name: www.nata.aero. The new Web site includes an expanded Press Room with biographies and pictures of key NATA staff, a NATA fact sheet, statistical information on the industry and archived press releases…

Peru's largest airline, Aero Continente, was blocked from U.S. airspace; FAA cites safety concerns...

To celebrate Earth Day, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta announced that the Bush Administration will provide $307 million in grants this year to soundproof homes and schools and combat noise pollution near airports in at least 29 communities across America.

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

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INSURANCE
Insuring the Transitioning Pilot
The aviation economy is finally starting to rebound, and that means more pilots getting ready to buy a plane or to step up to more-sophisticated aircraft. But beyond any FAA requirements, insurance requirements loom as a major factor that can financially make or break the transition to a new type of plane.

Business AVflash

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVweb’s NO-COST twice monthly Business AVflash? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash also focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the Business of Aviation. Business AVflash is a must read. Watch for a Business AVflash regular feature, TSA WATCH: GA IN THE "SPOTLIGHT". Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/

LAZY BUZZARD GOES RACING!!!
Lazy Buzzard has decided to send his pilot racing. Come late summer, the Lazy Buzzard Pitts Special will be tearing around the pylons at the Reno Air Races. Check out the site to see the Lazy Buzzard airplane and other great stuff!! Watch for Lazy Buzzard at air shows throughout the year. Be a part of it all and support Lazy Buzzard in his quest for Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness and Speed. Online at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/lazybuzzard/avflash.

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

http://www.avweb.com/avmail/

Reader mail this week about keeping ATC current on emergencies, fans of Ercoupes, and more.

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Short Final...

Overheard enroute from RMG to 45J...

Pilot: Approach, Skylane N###, Could I have a right turn direct my destination?

Approach: Standby. I'll check to see if that Dash 8 doing 200 knots up your five-o'clock feels like wearing you on his lapel...

Sponsor News and Special Offers

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SHOPPING DEALS

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REMINDER ... Specials Ending This Week

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GIVE MOM SOMETHING TO TICKLE HER FUNNY BONE & SHOW HER LOVE OF FLYING
For Mother's Day, the Carprop is perfect! The Carprop is a free-spinning propeller mounted on the front of a vehicle to indicate the driver's enthusiasm for flying. As the vehicle moves, the propeller spins — but when parked, the propeller goes horizontal so it doesn't interfere with the license plate numbers. SPECIAL: Complimentary sunglasses with any order placed online at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/carprop/avflash.

GLEIM OFFERING "AVWEB ONLY" SPECIALS
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SPONSOR NEWS

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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. http://www.avweb.com

Letters to the editor intended for publication in AVmail should be sent to mailto:editor@avweb.com.com. Have a comment or question? Send it to mailto:newsteam@avweb.com.

Today's issue written by News Writer Mary Grady:
http://www.avweb.com/contact/authors.html#mgrady
AVweb's editorial team: http://avweb.com/contact/authors.html.

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? A question on marketing? Send it to AVweb's sales team: mailto:sales@avweb.com.

Let's all be careful out there, okay?

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