May 16, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ... ZuluworksGENERAL AVIATION WELCOMES ZULUWORKS
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Despite two reports saying that large air tankers may be unsafe to fly, federal and state representatives are mounting pressure on the FAA to get 33 grounded heavy fire-bomber aircraft in the air in time for the forest fire season. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said Thursday he and other members of the House Resources Committee are meeting with the FAA on Tuesday to ask the agency to do an "emergency review" of the planes. "I think you saw bipartisan support to get these tankers flying," Walden told the Bend Bulletin. That may mean quickly passing legislation to give the FAA the authority to certify the highly modified aircraft, many of them decades-old ex-military planes. The FAA currently defines many of the tankers as "public-use" aircraft and does not directly oversee their airworthiness in their firefighting role. Instead, that responsibility has been shifted to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as well as the contractors who supply the planes. The aircraft owners insist the planes are thoroughly maintained and inspected but the NTSB says service records are unavailable for many of the ex-military aircraft and information is lacking on the effects of the unusual loads put on the aircraft in firefighting use.
This week's controversy erupted from an April 23 NTSB report on the crashes of three air tankers (two C-130As and a PB4Y2 Privateer) in the 2002 firefighting season. It said "no effective mechanism currently exists to ensure the continuing airworthiness of these firefighting aircraft." But an earlier report (finished in December 2002 and apparently ignored for the 2003 firefighting season) commissioned by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management paints an even more disturbing picture of the state of the large tanker fleet and suggests the government's penny-pinching ways have created a culture where unacceptable risk is taken for granted. The report, prepared hastily by a five-member independent panel in the wake of the 2002 crashes, reaches many of the same conclusions contained in the recent NTSB document and even predicts the grounding of the fleet. But it also says that firefighting contracts essentially ignore safety in the "widespread short-term pursuit of cost efficiency." It further says the miserly contracts "contain disincentives to flight safety" and calls the large air-tanker safety record "deplorable."
Of course, the people whose livelihood depends on flying these airplanes don't agree with the reports and say they are needlessly being put out of business. "We have a maintenance program that exceeds the airlines," Neptune Aviation CEO Mark Timmons told The Missoulian. "What we have here is a very shoddy research paper by the safety board and most of the people who have read it are horrified." Timmons said the NTSB only looked at the practices of one company involved in the 2002 crashes (Wyoming-based Hawkins and Powers) and extrapolated the findings to the whole industry. "In doing so, they presented a report with all sorts of fallacies and incorrect information," Timmons said. At least one U.S. company, Air Tractor, could benefit. Air Tractor makes purpose-built single-engine air tankers that drop smaller loads (about 800 gallons vs. up to 3,000 gallons in the largest aircraft) but may be able to do so more precisely. In a news release, Air Tractor said its AT-802 tanker "is set to play a critical role" in the coming season. It comes in a wheeled version that must be refilled at a tanker base or on amphibious floats that can scoop up water from a lake or pond. But proponents of the large aircraft say the bigger loads they carry are critical to the control of fires at the early stages. They also have the fuel reserves and speed to fight fires hundreds of miles from their bases. Canadian operators of large tankers might also benefit from the grounding of the U.S. fleet, depending, of course, on the fire situation north of the border. Last year, Canada had one of its worst fire seasons ever and dry conditions are prevailing over much of the West.
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Most of us have heard about the potential for a staffing crisis in the air traffic control system as Reagan-era controllers reach retirement age, but could technology supply part of the solution? A few days after controllers mount their annual legislative conference and "Hill visits" in Washington, D.C., NASA's Langley Research Center will unveil a technology-based system that might (one day) put some air traffic control decisions in the cockpit. The Distributed Air/Ground Traffic Management system allows pilots to "plan their own routes and safely and seamlessly fit into the traffic flow," according to a NASA press release. Researchers and pilots will use simulators to show the system to reporters at a news conference May 20 but a live test of the system is planned for June. In the May 20 simulation, airline pilots and researchers will "fly" simulated aircraft into a mock-up of Dallas-Fort Worth airspace. Controllers in California will be able to watch their progress but the pilots will use the "autonomous flight management system" to fit themselves into the flow. In the real simulation in June, the researchers will gather extensive data on how well the system works ... or doesn't.
Today and Tuesday, hundreds of air traffic controllers are in Washington for their annual show of lobbying strength, and their message this year is that a staffing crisis is fast approaching. In a news release, the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA) says the controller shortage is an accepted reality throughout the federal agencies involved. "We must act now to hire and train more controllers to avert a looming shortage," NATCA said. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.) brought that message to his constituents in a news conference last Thursday. He told reporters that delays and congestion are likely if there aren't enough controllers. He said Newark-Liberty International's tower is supposed to have 40 controllers but now has 29, six of whom will be eligible to retire in five years. Lautenberg said that since it takes five or six years to properly train a controller, now is the time to start hiring new ones. Lautenberg called the potential shortage "a significant security concern."
THE PILOT INSURANCE CENTER (PIC) IS YOUR BEST CHOICE!
Since we've been visiting space for more than 40 years it's almost hard to believe that this kind of "first" was still open. Last Thursday, Mike Melvill went into the record books as the first pilot to take a privately funded aircraft into space. The 62-year-old test pilot rode Scaled Composites' rocket plane SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 40 miles (211,400 feet) after being dropped from its mother ship, the White Knight, over the high desert just east of Los Angeles. He then glided the unique craft to a landing at Mojave Airport. "Watching the blue sky go completely black was the highlight of my career," Melvill told reporters. Now, unless some of the other competitors have some tricks up their sleeve, Thursday's flight solidifies the Scaled team's lead in the race to win the X PRIZE, a $10 million award to the first private concern to launch passengers to an altitude of 100 kilometers (about 60 miles), recover them safely and then do it all over again within two weeks. Although Scaled President Burt Rutan has never discussed the cost of his firm's venture, it's almost certainly a lot more than the prize money will cover. Billionaire Paul Allen is funding the effort. The goal of the X PRIZE is to promote safe and reliable private space flights to create a space tourism industry in the next 15 years.
We all know about the effect of the seemingly permanent security measures imposed on GA airports in the immediate area of Washington, D.C. But all that lost business had to go somewhere and several area airports -- just outside the ADIZ -- are booming. Take Frederick, Md., for instance. According to the Gazette newspaper, revenues have almost doubled since 9/11 and traffic is up 20 percent. Compare that to Washington Executive/Hyde Field, where revenues are less than 10 percent of pre-9/11 levels, said manager Stan Fetter. But rather than knuckle under, Fetter said the airport is actually expanding, building new hangars in the hopes of attracting pilots who don't mind dealing with the transponder, communication and security measures imposed on them. Meanwhile, federal authorities cracked the door a little on the operations of the little-known agency charged with keeping the skies over D.C. clear of unauthorized aircraft. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) held an open house to display the Citation and Blackhawk aircraft it uses to intercept -- and discourage -- pilots who stray (so far, all by accident) into the restricted airspace. The military used to do all of that work but ICE has been lightening the load for 16 months. ICE aircraft are unarmed but fighters at nearby Andrews Air Force Base are always on alert if needed. "We are the cop on the beat in the skies," said Charles Stallworth, director of air and marine operations for ICE.
CPA MEMBERSHIP IS THE BEST $45 YOU CAN SPEND ON YOUR CESSNA!
The first "aircraft-level" certification for Garmin's G1000 glass cockpit system is a reality -- in Europe -- as is the first diesel-powered twin. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) conferred type certification on the Diamond DA42 at the Berlin Air Show. It was the newly formed EASA's first new aircraft certification. The G1000 system comes standard in the DA42 and is what Garmin calls the "first truly integrated, all-glass flightdeck in this aircraft class." You don't have wait in line to buy a TwinStar to get the G1000, however. Cessna announced last October that it would offer some of its piston singles with the multifunction display and primary flight display option. It now appears some of those aircraft have made it to the market. Vista Aviation, of Los Angeles, says it has a G1000-equipped 182 in stock. About the same time Cessna announced it was putting the G1000 in its aircraft, Diamond also said it would be offering the option in its DA40 four-place single, but it's not clear from the company's Web site whether deliveries have begun.
Raytheon has settled a pending lawsuit by its shareholders out of court. The company, which maintains the suit was without merit, nevertheless agreed to pay $210 million in cash and $200 million in stock to stop the class action suit. The deal has to be approved by the courts. Raytheon said it expects its insurance carriers to pick up $75 million of the tab. Raytheon said it is "pleased to put the uncertainty of the class action litigation behind it" and that the decision is "in the best interests of its shareholders." In the meantime, Mooney Airplane Company is moving ahead with a three-year business plan the company says has been endorsed by its employees and groups representing the owners of about 8,000 aircraft. Managing Director Tom Gray said the plan is to double sales to 70 aircraft in 2004 and add new features. It's also going to expand the sales force, add employees and improve production methods over the next three years, but the company press release didn't say just how all that would be accomplished. It did, however, say that it's important for everyone with a stake in Mooney to be aware of what the recently revived company is up to. "It was very important for us to get all of our team members on board to support this exciting new period for Mooney," Gray said. "The plan was met with overwhelming support. Now we begin the exciting task of implementing this plan and enhancing our value to the Mooney customer." The legendary company was plucked from bankruptcy two years ago by the Mooney Aerospace Group and remains based in Kerrville, Texas.
FLIGHTMAX EX500 WITH INTEGRATED DATALINK-TRAINING SOFTWARE NOW AVAILABLE
Perhaps the single most important factor in the aircraft business's tenuous recovery (according to some) appears to be headed for an extension. The Wichita Eagle is reporting that an extension of the bonus depreciation tax incentive for airplanes is part of a tax package that has been passed by the Senate. Bonus depreciation allows businesses to depreciate large purchases (like airplanes) much faster in the first year, thus reducing the net cost of the purchases by reducing the company's tax bill. The current measure was due to expire at the end of September but aircraft companies and industry associations lobbied to extend the provision for airplanes because they take so much longer to build than many other items. In its annual report, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association cited the tax incentive as a key factor in the across-the-board increase in aircraft sales in 2003.
In an uncharacteristically generous move by a state aviation official (and one that might get him in trouble with colleagues in other states) John Roeller is trying to convince the Florida Department of Transportation to pay $3 million for hangars to house planes displaced when a Tampa-area airport closes in October. Pasco County is selling Tampa Bay Executive Airport to an unnamed developer and owners of the 100 or so airplanes there have until Oct. 1 to find them new homes. The hangars would likely be built at the three closest publicly owned airports at Zephyrhills, Clearwater and Hernando Airport. "That's our effort now, to try to scrape up money to fill that gap," said Roeller, the state DOT's representative for the Tampa area. Just because he's asking doesn't mean he'll get the money, however. Also, local authorities are going to have to come up with at least 20 percent of the cost of the hangars. Closure of the airport didn't come as much of a surprise to the aircraft owners. They've known for some time that the county had it on the market. Roeller said airports are an important draw for businesses, but Pasco County spokeswoman Mary Jane Stanley said Tampa Bay Executive hasn't been a factor in luring new businesses. While most of the displaced pilots are looking for alternatives, Bill Stewart is, instead, looking for a buyer for his plane. "It's left a lot of people out in the cold," he said.
NOT ALL AIRCRAFT AUDIO PANELS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Boeing has served (tentative) notice that it's not quite ready to surrender the jumbo market to Airbus. The Chicago-based plane-maker is floating the idea of an "advanced" and slightly stretched version of the 34-year-old 747 that would seat 450 passengers on long-haul flights. Airbus's super-sized 380 will seat 550 on two decks and has already attracted 129 firm orders. Boeing has been trying to find interest in a revamped 747 for almost a decade (the last renovation of the design was the 400 series in 1989) without success. The "A" model would potentially make use of currently vacant space for conference rooms and other amenities. But its biggest advantage might be its (relatively) small size. Virgin Atlantic announced this week that it is deferring delivery of its first A380 by 18 months partly because it's afraid that Los Angeles International Airport won't be ready to handle the big plane in the way the airline envisions. Virgin Atlantic wants passenger convenience in boarding to be similar to that of a 747 or A340. The airline said it's also investigating the sorts of amenities (duty-free shops, casinos, etc.) it might be able to stuff in the huge open spaces below decks.
A Harvard student says his award-winning project is the first step toward a flying motorcycle. Kyle Clark said the simulator he built for his term project will evolve into the CyclePlane, which sounds like the ultimate mid-life crisis machine. "The recent release of lightweight super-powered sport bikes makes this aircraft not only possible, but fast, efficient and elegant," he said. Go, Kyle...
Delta Air Lines pilots have agreed to help keep the airline's biggest planes in the air this summer. A combination of retirements and vacations led to a potential shortage of pilots for Boeing 777s and 767s but the union and company worked out a compromise. The planes are big money-makers and Delta needs the cash...
The Professional Helicopter Pilots Association will host its first Human Factors Safety Conference Oct. 15 to Oct. 17 in Biloxi, Miss. Registration for the conference will begin on June 15...
EAA has posted the AirVenture NOTAM online and anyone planning to fly to Oshkosh this year should start now indelibly stamping the information on his or her brain. It's soooo embarrassing to screw up in front of all those people...
Pilots are flocking to Haifa, Israel, for the country's annual fly-in. The pilots will compete in air navigation competitions and take sightseeing trips to places like the Golan Heights and the Negev desert...
A cargo pilot was killed Friday when the MU-2 he was flying crashed a half-mile from Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Thomas Lennon was making his sixth flight of the night carrying checks between Philadelphia and BWI.
IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN
The Pilot's Lounge #74: Getting The Rust Off Without Declaring Bankruptcy
If it has a been a winter without much flying, you're probably itching to jump into the plane. But if you want to do it safely, you'd better do some work to get back in the game. AVweb's Rick Durden has found ways to keep the cost of refresher training down, and put fun back in your practice.
Reader mail this week about the start of firefighting season, housing developments at airports, FSS privatization and more.
TAKE TO THE AIR THIS SPRING, WITH PILOT GETAWAYS MAGAZINE
Everybody's a critic...
Overheard on a busy training day while joining the traffic pattern at Caldwell airport, N.J...
Tower: Cessna ###, traffic at your one o'clock and 1,200.
Cessna ###: We've got a Piper flying an extremely tight pattern ... or a go-around.
Tower: Piper ###, traffic, a Cessna, at your five o'clock and 1,300.
Piper: We've got a Cessna flying and extremely distant downwind ... or landing somewhere else.
WINGX FOR THE POCKET PC NOW HAS OVER 270 AIRCRAFT MODELS!
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DOC BLUE'S EMERGENCY MEDICAL KIT DON'T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT IT!
Do you carry a first-aid kit in your airplane or car? AVweb's Dr. Brent Blue says drugstore first-aid kits are packed with mostly useless stuff. Dr. Blue has assembled his own traveling medical kit for dealing with all sorts of medical problems, based on his long experience as an emergency room doctor, frequent traveler, pilot, outdoorsman, and dad. It would cost more than $500 to duplicate this kit, but it's available on sale from Aeromedix for $333. Order online at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/aeromedi/avflash.
LONGER DAYS AND WARMER WEATHER MEAN IT'S TIME TO GO FLYING!
If you do the bulk of your flying in the summer months, this is an excellent time to upgrade your aircraft's panel. Take advantage of Bennett Avionics' quality used avionics and professional service. You CAN have the equipment you need in time for all your summer trips, with Bennett Avionics. See for yourself at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/bennett/avflash.
DAD COULD BE THE WINNER OF A NEW PIPER FOR A TWO-WEEK GREEK ISLES TOUR
Global Aviation is sponsoring a fantastic contest: Order a sterling silver, numbered aviation key for Father's Day (June 20), and Dad will be entered in a drawing for an all-expenses-paid use of a new Piper Aircraft to tour the Greek Islands, plus airline tickets and hotel accommodations. For complete details and to order Dad's key (or one for yourself), go to http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/global/avflash.
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IF YOU LOVE THE CHALLENGES & REWARDS OF
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AVIATION CONSUMER'S JUNE ISSUE REPORTS ON:
The best aircraft tires; how the new ProxAlert R5 traffic alerter stacks up; know what to look for in an insurance company; satellite radio for under $250; online flight planners; and the "Used Aircraft Guide" reviews the Commander 112/114. If you are looking for unbiased reviews and reports, Aviation Consumer is the magazine for you. No advertising, just straight talk. Order your subscription at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/belvoir/avcons/avflash.
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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