May 2, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Finally, there's some evidence the long-anticipated (and, perhaps, optimistically forecast) recovery in the aviation industry may have begun. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association's (GAMA's) first-quarter delivery and billing stats show healthy increases on both sides of the ledger for the full range of GA aircraft. Some cautious observers may be quick to point out that figures for last year were so deeply in the tank that these hopeful signs should be put in perspective. However, improvement is improvement and GAMA's figures do point to an overall 21.1-percent increase in billings and 9.7-percent increase in shipments over the first quarter of 2003. Perhaps the most significant figure in the report is the jump in bizjet sales. They went up to 115 from 101 (13.9 percent) worldwide, perhaps suggesting that corporations are loosening the purse strings in anticipation of a general economic recovery. Piston sales, which were the only bright spot in the 2003 figures, maintained a reasonable growth rate with an increase of 9.1 percent to 394 shipments (only six were twins) in the first quarter of 2004, from 361 in the first three months of 2003. Turboprop sales increased by just one delivery from 31 to 32 (3.2 percent).
The perspective granted by recent history may offer a glimpse at just how "recovery" is relative. Compare Friday's figures with those of the first quarter of 2001 and you might want to put away the champagne in favor of a shot of scotch. The recent improvement compares with overall sales from the early 2001 boom by reaching a point that's 15.8 percent lower. There were 642 sales in the first quarter of 2001 compared to 541 in the same period in 2004, and billings are off by 35 percent (currently $2.38 billion vs. $3.64 billion in 2001). As tenuous as the good news is, GAMA President Ed Bolen said he hopes Congress will play a big role in maintaining the current momentum by renewing a key tax incentive. Bonus depreciation, in which buyers of big-ticket items (like airplanes) for business are allowed to more quickly depreciate the purchase and claim a big first-year tax break, has acted like a government-sponsored discount program for the industry -- but it only applies to goods put in service before Jan. 1, 2005. GAMA wants the government to extend the placed-in-service deadline for aircraft because they take so much longer to build than many other items. "We need Congress to quickly extend bonus depreciation to ensure we keep this momentum going through the end of the year and into 2005," Bolen said.
Another way to gauge recovery (albeit unscientifically) is by the number of aircraft in the air. AVweb columnist Don Brown works at Atlanta Center (ZTL) and he says record-high traffic has caught everyone's attention there. "As far as the controllers at Atlanta Center can tell, the recovery is already here," Brown told AVweb. He said it's not uncommon for special events in the Southeast (like The Masters and Sun 'n Fun) to push the traffic count to around 10,000 operations per day. But on an ordinary weekday in late April, the count hit 10,175. "I believe it to be the first time ZTL broke 10,000 operations in one day without a special event occurring in our airspace," Brown said. Brown, who is the ZTL safety representative for the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers, said a report is being prepared on the record-setting day to assess staffing levels. In the meantime, with the summer travel season approaching, there doesn't seem like there's anywhere for those figures to go but up. Stay tuned ...
THE PILOT INSURANCE CENTER (PIC) IS YOUR BEST CHOICE!
Northwest Airlines is suggesting one or two Minneapolis-area reliever airports could be closed or some 2,000 private aircraft owners could be charged to reduce the financial toll on airlines using Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). The airline is the biggest customer of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which runs MSP and six GA airports in the Twin Cities area. The MAC is currently subsidizing operations at the small airports (the subsidy varies between $1.3 million and $7.9 million, depending on who's calculating it) with revenues from MSP. Northwest, as MSP's biggest tenant, claims the subsidies indirectly affect its bottom line and at a MAC meeting last week, the airline said it wants the subsidies to end. Northwest suggested potential airport closures, stopping expansion projects and hefty fee increases for the 2,000 private aircraft owners on local airports as ways to establish alternate means for what it views as the current subsidization, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. (Possibly) affected airports include Anoka County/Blaine, Crystal, Flying Cloud, Airlake in Lakevill, Lake Elmo and St. Paul Downtown. At the hearing Northwest spokeswoman Kathleen Nelson acknowledged that the relievers do keep small planes out of MSP. But she said the private aircraft owners at the six smaller airports are getting a bargain on rates and it's time they covered their own costs.
Of course, GA pilots in the area are opposed to the airline's position and AOPA President Phil Boyer was at the meeting, along with hundreds of potentially affected pilots. Boyer even met with Minnesota Gov. Tom Pawlenty on the issue. Boyer told the commission that Minneapolis' system of hub and reliever airports is a model and it shouldn't be dismantled "just because ... Northwest Airlines ... finds itself in economic difficulty -- again." He said the fee increases being pushed by Northwest would put rates well above the national average. Boyer suggested other ways of controlling expenses at the reliever airports, such as getting local taxpayers to chip in for airport improvements. He also said the smorgasbord of alternative airports gets GA out of the way of the airlines, reducing delays and ultimately saving them money. Commission staff members will make a report on proposed fees on May 13 and a public meeting will be held in June. Stay tuned ...
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Tributes are pouring in for a respected aerobatic pilot who died in a crash in Florida on Friday. Ian Groom, 58, was practicing a flat spin, which he'd earlier said was his signature maneuver, but for unknown reasons his Su-31 didn't recover and crashed into the Atlantic about 2,000 feet offshore from Ft. Lauderdale. Groom was quickly recovered from the crash site but rescue workers couldn't save him. Groom was preparing to perform in the annual Air and Sea Show, which went ahead as scheduled. Saturday's air show was dedicated to Groom, and the Canadian Armed Forces Snowbirds flew a missing-man formation in tribute. Although Groom was best-known for his aerobatics career (in 2002 he set a world record flying 57 snap rolls in 26 seconds), he also helped others avoid accidents. Groom, who was originally from South Africa, became a U.S. citizen in 1995. After 9/11 he volunteered to provide upset training to pilots with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He trained more than 100 pilots in methods to recover from aircraft that had gone out of control. Groom was also a certified flight instructor, an FAA accident prevention counselor, a quality evaluation pilot of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, the holder of an FAA level-one waiver, and an aerobatics competency evaluator (ACE). He is survived by his wife, Mimi, and son, Daniel.
An All Nippon Airways pilot is being tested for a sleep disorder after he nodded off twice on a March flight -- with a government flight inspector in the cockpit. In fact it was the inspector, on board for a routine review, who noticed the 50-year-old pilot was dozing about five minutes after the Tokyo-to-Yamaguchi-Ube flight reached altitude. The inspector told the co-pilot, who woke the pilot. A few minutes later, the pilot was back in dreamland and the co-pilot yelled at him to wake him up. "I was bathed by the sun and dozed off in spite of myself," the unidentified pilot is quoted as telling airline officials, according to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. There was no mention of drug or alcohol suspicions and the pilot reportedly told officials he'd had seven hours of sleep before working an early-morning flight. The 12,000-hour pilot is being tested for sleep apnea, in which pauses in breathing prevent a full, deep sleep. There were 174 passengers on the Boeing 767.
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The closure of Meigs Field (for security reasons, remember?) has been implicated in an incident that gave a Chicago baseball stadium full of people a collective case of the jitters. The FAA is investigating whether an ATA Boeing 737-800 was dangerously (or illegally) low when it passed over U.S. Cellular Field on approach to Midway Airport on Thursday. According to CBS 2 Chicago, the closure of Meigs eliminated restricted airspace that had previously kept aircraft approaching Midway away from the stadium. Of course, that doesn't really explain why the 737 was, according to the FAA, just 700 feet AGL when it was still 6.5 miles from the runway. Baseball announcer Ken Harrelson has no doubt the plane was unusually low. "I guarantee you, if there were passengers on that plane, they may have been able to see the numbers on the guys' backs on the field," Harrelson told the TV station. "I have never seen a plane, in all the years that we have been there, an airplane that low," he said. "And it scared me, it really did."
Pilots using busy Teterboro Airport (TEB) in New Jersey are used to sharing the crowded airspace with other pilots -- but with Ferris-wheel riders? A major amusement park proposed for an area just south of TEB would include a 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel that would encroach more than 100 feet into the navigable airspace 11,000 feet south of the runway, according to Bill Leavens, AOPA's eastern region rep. The giant ride would also penetrate the VFR Traffic Pattern Airspace climb/descent area by 66 feet for category C and D aircraft. Another proposal would also have pilots dodging an antenna farm not far from the amusement park, Leavens said. Fun, fun, fun. The 421-foot antennas would be put up 2.47 nm southeast of TEB. The towers would poke 214 feet higher than is currently permitted at that location. The public can comment on the perceived impact of the proposals by writing Robert P. Alexander, FAA Eastern Region, 1 Aviation Plaza-AEA-520, Jamaica, N.Y. 11434. In the Ferris-wheel case, cite Aeronautical Study 2004-AEA-785-OE and in the antenna case cite 2004-AEA-633-OE.
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Some Hollywood stunt pilots are helping NASA ensure a three-year, $200 million experiment doesn't shatter on the floor of the Utah desert. Somehow, NASA designed an experiment that can withstand the rigors of launch, spend three years in space and survive re-entry, but might not survive a parafoil landing. The Genesis probe carries almost-pure silicon plates to gather solar wind particles, which (scientists hope) will give clues to the origins of the universe. The plates are fragile, so to soften the return to Earth when the probe releases a capsule full of them on Sept. 8, the plan is to grab the parachuting capsule in flight and lower it gently to the ground with a helicopter -- and they've been testing it. Dan Rudert, who's flown for such films as The Hulk and S.W.A.T., successfully made a practice snatch at about 7,000 feet and brought a stand-in capsule to Michael Army Air Field last week. Rudert said he didn't know what to make of the NASA plan when he was first approached. "You picture flames coming off of it as it's coming in," he told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Some people carry signs, others might launch lawsuits, but Jay Wade prefers a more direct approach to possibly saving his job. The 51-year-old Tennessee flight service specialist is launching a bid to take over the whole FSS system through the A-76 competitive outsourcing process now underway. To accomplish his goal, he'll merely have to convince the FAA that his company, Wade &Associates LLC, is more qualified to run the $500-million-a-year system than some of the biggest names in aviation technology and services, including Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Computer Sciences Corp., not to mention the existing FSS organization, which recently teamed up with Harris Corp. for a bid. Wade told Government Executive Magazine he has unique qualifications for the job. "This contract manager has personally done over 150,000 pilot weather briefings without a single weather-related accident, so I think I'm profoundly qualified," he said. Wade's bid was almost stopped before it started when the FAA originally required proof of $110 million in cash reserves from prospective bidders. With a world headquarters in his living room in Franklin, Tenn., no clients and no revenue, Wade had no hope of meeting the qualification. The FAA suddenly dropped the requirement and now Wade is getting ready for the next step.
On May 3, the FAA will let the bidders know what's expected of them. They, in turn, must have technical proposals ready by August and financial details prepared by September. According to the FAA, a decision will be made on whether to proceed with the contracting out sometime between December and March of 2005. Wade dismisses charges he's just a troublemaker for the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists, which represents most FSS personnel. He says he's not in the union and doesn't think the in-house bid will protect jobs. "I'm just trying to bid on my job and help other people who aren't in the union," he said.
BUYING OR SELLING AN AIRCRAFT?
When the skies were empty of civilian aircraft over North America on Sept. 13, 2001, some volunteer pilots took to the air on a unique medical mission. Last week Lifeline Pilots was honored with the National Aeronautic Association's Public Benefit Flying Team award in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The Lifeline pilots, Lyle Clapper, Norbert Ptaszek, Ward and David Montgomery and Mark and Donna Turek, were granted special permission to fly live skin tissue and blood platelets from St. Paul, Minn., to medical centers in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Bethesda, Md. Lifeline Pilots normally flies financially distressed patients to distant medical care but the Sept. 13, 2001, flights "took our mission to a higher level," said Executive Director Keith Laken. Of course, the flights required high-level permission from the FAA, complete with discrete transponder codes. In Bethesda, armed guards met the plane to take the blood platelets to the military hospital, which was under security lockdown. Mark Turek, who made one of the flights with his wife, Donna, said cruising the empty skies in the tense days that followed the terrorist attacks was "... an interesting time. People needed family togetherness and our flight allowed us to have that and help others at the same time."
The NTSB wants training and marking standards in place regarding aircraft parachutes. It's recommended that airport and rescue personnel be trained to recognize and disable undeployed chutes (using common tools) and that a set of markings and warning labels be established...
A British group is trying to get Concorde back in the air. Save-Concorde Group is trying to raise the almost $3 million needed to get Concorde 216 back in flying shape and also cover the $6,500 operating costs to put the plane in air shows...
Part theme park, part museum, part educational facility, the Kalamazoo Air Zoo is now open. The unique assemblage of attractions, including a collection of 80 vintage aircraft, opened May 1...
A Northwest Airlines pilot who tried to land in a tornado has offered an explanation. Keloland TV says Capt. Michael Hughes told the FAA he was preoccupied helping an injured passenger who'd fallen from a jetway and didn't get a message to call airline dispatch about the storms before taking off for Sioux Falls. He's been suspended for 45 days...
EAA officials met with Office of Management and Budget leaders last week on Sport Pilot. EAA presented a 10,000-name petition (gathered in 10 days) supporting the new rule and stressed the economic and other benefits of the rule. The OMB will get a revised version of the rule in the next week or so after the FAA withdrew the original to make some unidentified changes.
NOT ALL AIRCRAFT HULL & LIABILITY INSURANCE IS CREATED EQUAL
As the Beacon Turns #76: Who Cares?
Remember some of those questions you were asked on your pilot knowledge test or even in the oral exam -- the questions that were totally irrelevant to what you really need to know to fly safely? They're still around, even in the exams for the airlines. AVweb's Michael Maya Charles has been having answers to such questions force-fed in his MD-11 ground school.
Reader mail this week about Sport Pilot delays, the future of new aviation technology, Garmin's pricing policy and more.
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From our brain burps file...
Tower: Fokker 170, hold position.
Fokker 170: I don't know how to do that.
Manila Tower: [Airliner] 2, hold position. Fokker 170, continue approach, cleared to land.
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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
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