May 30, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The FAA has confirmed it's investigating whether defective heat-treated steel found in dozens of New Piper aircraft made its way to other manufacturers. "It's something we are definitely looking into," FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen told AVweb. She said there is no evidence to date that the issue affects any other manufacturer but Charles Nelson, vice president of marketing for Wilco Inc., the Wichita steel distributor that supplied the steel to Piper, told AVweb any number of aircraft manufacturers or other types of industries could have taken delivery of specially heat-treated steel that is not as strong as it should be. "I've told them (the FAA) that every time I've talked to them," said Nelson, whose company is, perhaps unfairly, at the center of the grounding of at least 49 newly built Pipers last week. Wilco Inc. was the middleman in the delivery of specially treated steel to New Piper. Steel mills don't make the AMS 6345 "normalized" steel that is used in some airplane parts. Normalized steel is heated to specific temperatures and cooled at a controlled rate to increase its strength. As a steel distributor, Wilco arranged to have steel properly prepared after receiving an order from Piper earlier this year. Although there are many companies that can do the process, Piper wanted sheets of steel that were larger than most companies could treat. Nelson said he was aware of only one company that could do the job at that time.
Wilco sent the steel to Certified Steel Treating in Los Angeles at New Piper's request. When steel is normalized, an independent lab must test it -- the results are returned with the shipment. Nelson said all the paperwork was in order for the steel order, which was then forwarded to Piper. He confirmed that all of the treated steel in that particular order went to Piper. But he also said Certified treats steel for numerous other distributors. He said there's a good chance some of those distributors supply other aircraft manufacturers. Certified President Jeff Davis agreed his company treats steel "for lots of people" but he suggested the Piper order was an anomaly. "I haven't heard any complaints from anyone else," he said. But Nelson (of Wilco Inc., the steel distributor) said it could be that potentially defective heat-treated steel simply hasn't been discovered by other manufacturers yet and he's urging the FAA to look into that possibility. Davis (of Certified Steel, the treatment facility) said he hasn't been contacted by the FAA.
Meanwhile, New Piper is whittling down the number of aircraft that are grounded as it identifies those that contain parts made from the defective steel. The company originally issued a Mandatory Service Bulletin grounding 76 aircraft built since mid-January. Of those, 39 had been delivered to customers. Spokesman Mark Miller said that by last Friday, the number of affected aircraft had been cut to 49, of which 20 were in customers' hands, 23 were at dealers and six were still at the factory. Because the aircraft can't be flown, teams of service technicians must be sent to inspect and, as necessary, retrofit the affected aircraft with new steel parts. Miller said the steel is used throughout the aircraft for parts that need the extra strength. In some cases, the parts are readily accessible and easy to change but getting at others will require major disassembly of the aircraft. The fault was discovered when a production-line worker noticed that a seat belt bracket had bent. "The good news out of all this is the (quality control) system worked," Miller said. He said he's not sure how long it will take to retrofit the affected aircraft but the company is working flat-out to resolve the problem, starting with the airplanes that have already been delivered.
STOP PAYING MORE THAN NON-PILOTS FOR THE SAME LIFE INSURANCE POLICY
Airbus says it agrees with an NTSB recommendation that the rudder-control system on A300-600 aircraft be modified to prevent the kind of circumstances that sent an American Airlines flight tumbling briefly out of control over Florida in 1997. The NTSB is urging the FAA to issue an Airworthiness Directive for Airbus to modify the rudder-travel limiter system "so it can respond effectively to rapid airspeed changes such as those that might be experienced during upsets and not be adversely affected by pedal forces." The recommendation came from the NTSB's examination of the case of American Flight 903. The plane was at 16,000 feet when it banked steeply to the left and right, stalled and fell more than 3,000 feet. A crew member was seriously hurt and the plane slightly damaged.
The report makes no mention of Flight 587, which crashed in New York in 2001, killing a total of 265 people, but Forbes.com said the recommendations grew out of that investigation. In the New York disaster, the aircraft entered a series of rapid oscillations after hitting the wake turbulence of a Boeing 747 shortly after takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport. The vertical stabilizer came free of the airplane, as did both engines, before the aircraft crashed into suburban Belle Harbor. Among the dead were five people on the ground. The NTSB recommendation also says that other transport-category aircraft with rudder-limiting systems be evaluated to see if they share the same problems. It says Airworthiness Directives should be issued on any other aircraft that exhibit similar characteristics.
BAKED FRESH DAILY!
Another prominent airline-industry executive has joined Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson in the call for higher fees for general aviation. In anopinion piece, Jim May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, claims GA accounts for 40 percent of the flights handled by FAA centers and 69 percent of tower work but contributes only 2 percent of the revenue (through gasoline tax) needed to keep the systems operating. "The fees general aviation operators pay today don't even come close to covering the costs of the federal aviation services they receive," May wrote. About two months ago, Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson shared similar views with the captive audience reading the airline's in-flight magazine. However, while Anderson's opinions grew from a dispute with the Metropolitan Airports Commission over the subsidization of GA airports from money earned (a large proportion of it Northwest's) at Minneapolis-St. Paul International, May's comments are broadly based and aimed at GA in general. "Each user should pay its fair share," he wrote. May doesn't say what that fair share is and how it might be collected but he's sure to hear about his comments from the alphabets.
If you're working on your instrument rating or you need an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC), your world is about to change, and not entirely for the better, according to at least one training expert. The FAA has revised its instrument rating practical test standards. The 48 pages of new rules go into effect on Oct. 1, and one clause in particular will have widespread consequences, Richard Kaplan, a principal and instructor at Flight Level Aviation, told AVweb. He said the new rules require that a circling approach be demonstrated during the IPC. Not only does the requirement send the wrong message to pilots (that circling approaches are SOP) and decrease flexibility (the ability to adapt training to address the pilot's weaknesses), Kaplan claims, it will also increase costs to trainers, and, ultimately, pilots. Kaplan said the vast majority of IPCs are done on simulators and, more recently, on a sophisticated but relatively inexpensive PC-based system called an Advanced ATD. Under current rules, the PC system is approved for the entire IPC but the systems are not approved to check circling approaches. Also, said Kaplan, many of the hugely expensive simulators that a lot of schools use will no longer be approved for IPCs because they lack the wrap-around view needed for circling approaches. The wrap-around screens cost tens of thousands of dollars. The new rule might mean that parts of the IPC will have to be done in actual airplanes. Kaplan said the new rules also lay out the specific tasks to be demonstrated in the tests and checks and that inhibits the instructor's ability to individualize the check and turn it into a learning experience. "The FAA has removed the CFII's discretion and turned the IPC into just another hurdle to overcome," he said.
MAKE THE RIGHT WEATHER DECISIONS QUICKLY AND WITH CONFIDENCE!
It sounds like a familiar story but news that Israeli air traffic controllers are threatening to strike has a twist. The controllers aren't looking for more money, longer breaks or better benefits. They say they'll walk off the job if the government of Israel doesn't crack down on all the pirate radio stations operating in the country that are disrupting air traffic communications. "In light of the extent to which broadcast stations are appearing in our 'electronic skies,' an air crash is only a matter of time," the chairmen of the air traffic controllers union and the Israeli Pilots Union wrote in a joint statement to the government. Meanwhile, Israel's national airline is setting up satellite bases in North America to save money and time for flight crews. El Al will set up the bases in Toronto and Los Angeles and station pilots there for up to a month at a time. The bases will reduce the amount of deadheading pilots must do in their normal shift rotations. Despite the expense of setting up the accommodations and ensuring families get time together in North America, El Al told haaretz.com the plan will save the airline money in the long run. The bases will be in operation during the summer, over the holiday season and during Passover 2005.
The Forest Service cancelled air-tanker contracts in part because it was afraid of being sued if any of them crashed, according to a report in the Billings Gazette. In a remarkably candid interview (for a government official concerned about liability) Tony Kern, the Forest Service's assistant director of aviation management, said the safety of air crews and people on the ground was the first consideration but liability was also a concern. In late April, an NTSB report on two air-tanker crashes said many of the planes are potentially dangerous and, because they are "public use" aircraft, they are outside the FAA's certification jurisdiction while fighting fires. That put all the responsibility on the Forest Service and it responded May 10 by canceling contracts for 33 large tankers. Kern noted the decision was made a little easier by the unnamed mayor of an unnamed Rocky Mountain city who wrote a letter saying she expected the federal government to "guarantee" that the planes flying over her city "will not come apart over the heads of the public." Kern said her letter brought the issue home for the Forest Service. "This could end up with a plane landing on a school," Kern said. "You are talking about the potential for negligent homicide." Officials at Neptune Aviation, an air-tanker operator, told the Gazette they were shocked by Kern's admission of liability and said the comments could open up the Forest Service to lawsuits resulting from the 2002 crashes.
CPA MEMBERSHIP IS THE BEST $45 YOU CAN SPEND ON YOUR CESSNA!
The St. Augustine Airport Pilots Association is sending a bit of home to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The pilots group is taking $10 donations that will allow it to fill packages with snacks, toiletries, lip balm, eye drops and DVDs for soldiers fighting in those countries. "I think everybody should say thank you to our troops and this is a perfect way to do it," association member Bill Pacetti told the St. Augustine Record. Donations have come in from as far away as California and checks, made out to SAPA U.S. Troop Care Package, can be sent to 147 San Marco Ave., St. Augustine, FL 32084.
A plan by Brazil to start shooting down suspected drug runners has resulted in the U.S.'s threatening to withdraw aid. As early as July, Brazil says it will unleash the air force on aircraft whose pilots refuse to say who or what is on board. The U.S. wants to ensure safeguards are in place to protect innocent aircraft and occupants...
The runway lights went out at South Florida International Airport for the second time in three weeks last Friday. Nine incoming flights were diverted in the most recent three-hour outage but outbound flights got out before it got dark...
Helicopter logging is being tried in the swamps of Louisiana to prevent the environmental damage caused when ground equipment takes out the logs. Columbia Helicopters, of Oregon, is plucking the mature cypress trees from the swamp near Raceland...
A helicopter that crashed in India last year killing all 23 aboard had just been in for major maintenance. Newwindpress.com reports that there is no indication the MI-172 chopper had been tested after its tail rotor shaft and gearbox were replaced...
A Commemorative Air Force P-51C made an emergency off-field landing during an air show near Red Wing, Minn., on Saturday. The pilot was airlifted to hospital but his condition wasn't known at our deadline, nor was the fate of the aircraft, one of just four flying...
For NBC Dateline watchers, AVweb's interview with Captain Al Haynes.
FLIGHTMAX EX500 WITH INTEGRATED DATALINK-TRAINING SOFTWARE NOW AVAILABLE
As the Beacon Turns #77: The Big Non-Stop
Stepping up from domestic airline routes to international routes brings some perks to pilots -- like fewer flights per month -- but a 13-hour leg can really be a pain in the keister. AVweb's Michael Maya Charles just upgraded to the MD-11 and the Memphis to Tokyo route ... and now he spends his off-duty time catching up on sleep.
THUNDERSTORM SEASON IS HERE; IT'S TIME TO PREPARE
Reader mail this week about FSS privatization, firefighting tankers, Capstone in Alaska, airport noise and much more.
MORE KUDOS FOR MIKE BUSCH'S "SAVVY OWNER SEMINAR" ...
(Three runways, two intersections and a lesson in geometry.) While doing touch and goes at my home airport...
Tower: Experimental XYZ, cleared to land 17, hold short of 35.
Me (without thinking): Roger, cleared on 17, hold short of 35.
(Several seconds later.)
Voice on frequency: I want to see this!
Another voice: Me, too!
Tower: Uh, Experimental XYZ, make that hold short of 22.
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PILOT'S AUDIO UPDATE HELPS YOU BE A BETTER PILOT
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FIRST WORLD FLIGHT: THE ODYSSEY OF BILLY MITCHELL IS A MUST-READ!
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JOIN PLANE & PILOT MAGAZINE FOR A WEEKEND OF FLYING FUN & EDUCATION!
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