June 6, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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With the fire season already under way in the Western states (and 33 heavy water bombers grounded), the U.S. Forest Service last Wednesday said it is "reconfiguring" its firefighting fleet. The agency will contract with private companies for 139 additional aircraft, in an effort to make up for the 33 aging air tankers whose contracts were canceled last month after the NTSB raised safety concerns. The $66 million in new contracts will pay for up to 46 single-engine airtankers, 26 heavy helicopters, 45 medium helicopters and two Canadair CL 215 water bombers. In addition, eight U.S. military C-130 aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System are available. "We are committed to using available resources to stop fires before they became unmanageable," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "These additional aircraft will enable fire managers to fully maintain their ability to stop nearly 99 percent of all fires on initial attack."
Meanwhile, pressure is mounting to get those 33 tankers back in the air. "While the safe operations of these aircraft is of paramount importance, we cannot lose sight of the fact that lives on the ground are also at risk," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said at a Senate hearing on the matter last Wednesday. The FAA responded with a set of guidelines that it says will help the Forest Service establish an effective maintenance and inspection program. Operators can start today to submit documentation to the FAA on each aircraft's flight history and maintenance for a safety review. Officials said the reviews might take 30 days or longer, and even then some of the tankers might not be allowed back into the air.
The FAA noted that it is only acting as an advisor to the Forest Service, and has no regulatory authority over the tankers. "Public" aircraft operations conducted by government agencies are not subject to FAA rules, which are limited to "civil" aviation. Mark Timmons, of Neptune Air Service in Montana, told the Senate panel that his industry is getting the runaround. "The operators of Heavy Airtankers are being held hostage by the FAA, DOA, DOI and NTSB in a series of finger-pointing with no one taking any responsibility," he said. "The result being, the public is being denied a critical resource in fighting wildland fire, and in the process putting their property and lives at risk." The air tankers deliver 20 percent of all retardant used to suppress wildfires. Timmonds added that important strides have been made in air-tanker safety in the last two years that were not included in the NTSB report. Other officials in the Western states are saying they need the air tankers back in the air ASAP. "What I don't want is some faceless little person with their eyes too close together who is speaking in tongues to give us the runaround and then we won't get the planes off the ground and put the fires out," said Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., in Thursday's Billings Gazette.
In 2002, two military-surplus C-130 air tankers contracted by the Forest Service crashed, killing five crewmembers, after the wings broke off of the planes. Three crewmembers died in 1994 in a similar accident. The average age of the large air tankers is 48, and some are more than 60 years old. Since 1958, more than 130 large air tanker crew members have died in accidents. When the Forest Service announced the cancellation of the contracts in May, it left little hope that the tankers would ever return to service. "Clearly the days of operating older aircraft of unknown airworthiness for firefighting operations are over," said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. "To continue to use these contract large airtankers when no mechanism exists to guarantee their airworthiness presents an unacceptable level of risk to the aviators, the firefighters on the ground and the communities we serve." McCain said the NTSB recommended that contracting agencies should develop a maintenance and inspection program to ensure the safe operation of the air tankers, but instead, the agencies simply canceled the contracts.
For the Southwest, the fire season is already peaking and will likely be over before any of the big tankers fly again. "The replacement planes and helicopters won't be enough," said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) last week. "We must get these air tankers back in service." The Southwest fire season usually ends when rains arrive in early July. The tankers are fast and can haul big loads of retardant, which can make a critical difference in the early stages of fighting a fire. The helicopters and single-engine craft "won't do the same job as the air tankers," said Jerry Williams, the Forest Service's national director of fire and aviation management. But helicopters have more flexibility and can make more frequent reloading trips to nearby water sources than can tankers, he said. Williams said it was possible the larger tankers could be recertified for use. "They may," he said. "It's a little early to tell." The Air Force Reserve sent two C-130s to Mesa, Ariz., late last month to help out. "We definitely don't know how long this could last," said Brig. Gen. Richard Moss, 302nd Airlift Wing commander. "They're working on a back-up [plan] but until that time, we're there if they need us."
THE PILOT INSURANCE CENTER (PIC) IS YOUR BEST CHOICE!
Dismayed by the FAA's newest plan to expand drug-testing programs for aviation maintenance workers, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) launched an industry survey last week to try to gather more information about the impact of the FAA proposal. ARSA said the FAA is "grossly understating both the number of companies [affected] and the economic impact the new rule would have." The FAA says its changes would impact about 300 companies, costing each one about $1,200 a year to test an average of 19 workers. ARSA says the proposal would affect many more companies and the costs would mount. Fears exist that ultimately that cost would trickle down throughout general aviation. Besides pre-employment drug testing, ARSA says, companies would have to pay for random, post-accident, reasonable-cause, return-to-duty, and follow-up drug and alcohol tests for all workers, including assistants, helpers, or trainees, plus provide additional training for workers and supervisors, and absorb the costs of paperwork. The rule would affect not only certificated repair stations but also non-certificated maintenance subcontractors, who provide specialized services to Part 121 or Part 135 air carriers in the United States. Those services include welding, heat treating, fabricating and machining small parts, and even dry cleaning or repairing consumer electronics prior to their reinstallation on aircraft. The new rule would apply no matter how far down the contract chain the company was.
The survey, which is posted at ARSA's Web site, has a form for certificated repair stations and another form for non-certificated maintenance subcontractors. ARSA says participation is critical to its efforts to prevent the extension of drug and alcohol testing requirements. The deadline to participate is June 18. The FAA says the proposed changes are necessary because airlines are outsourcing more and more maintenance, and there is a high drug-positive rate for maintenance workers. About half of all positive drug- and alcohol-test results reported by aviation employers are for maintenance workers, the FAA said. "If we do not require the testing of all employees who perform safety-sensitive functions directly or by contract (including by subcontract at any tier) for an employer, we would omit from testing employees in the aviation industry who have demonstrated a significant history of illegal drug use and alcohol misuse," the FAA said. "Therefore, we believe this proposal is in the interest of aviation safety." The FAA is accepting comments on the proposal until Aug. 16 at its Web site; type in Docket No. FAA-2002-11301.
While the FAA has rules about flying and drinking, those rules don't apply in criminal court. So when an allegedly drunk pilot raised havoc in the skies above Philadelphia early this year, the case frustrated prosecutors who found that Pennsylvania is one of three states with no law against flying drunk. They tried to convince the judge that the runway was a public highway, so the drunk-driving laws would apply, but the judge noted that the runway was on private property. The airspace above the county is also not a highway, the judge ruled. "It was a little frustrating," Montgomery County Asst. D.A. John Gradel told the Associated Press last week. Pilot John Salamone lost his FAA certificate and surrendered his medical after allegedly flying erratically in Philadelphia International's busy airspace in January. He was tried on charges of risking a catastrophe and reckless endangerment. The positive spin that GA can find in this story is that if it took 100 years of flying before anyone in Pennsylvania noticed that the state lacked such a law, there is obviously not a whole lot of drunken flying going on.
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After what seems like more lobs back and forth than a Ping-Pong ball, the ever-imminent sport pilot/light sport aircraft rule is out of the FAA and back in the hands of the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The FAA withdrew its proposal back in March after the OMB raised concerns about the cost/benefits analysis. The withdrawal was meant to be a strategic means to forestall rejection and keep the package on track. The OMB's approval is the last step needed before FAA can publish the rule as a done deal, according to EAA. In mid-April EAA collected thousands of signatures on a petition asking the OMB to expedite approval of the rule. Folks at the FAA told AVweb in late March that the revisions would take "a couple of weeks," and in late April, they would be done in maybe a "week or so." It took till early June, and nobody right now is saying how long it will take the OMB from here. The usual window for review is 90 days, but if they go longer, there's no penalty.
This week's International G8 Summit near Savannah, Ga., is bringing not only world leaders and restricted airspace to the region, but a new TSA presence at general aviation airports. Prior to the summit, the TSA will assign teams of Aviation Security Inspectors to about 28 GA airports located within the TFRs, Steven Calabro of the TSA's GA Directorate told EAA last week. The inspectors won't be there just to enforce regulations, but to provide information and enhance awareness during the summit. "We're hoping to become familiar with [each] airport, its operations and its surroundings," Calabro said, "More importantly, to be liaisons on issues that arise with aircraft operations and NOTAMs where they have the ability to get that information back to us at a command center, 24 hours a day during this event." Those "issues" may seem limited to TFR violations, not complaints. The effort is part of the TSA's new GA outreach program. The TSA hopes to make some introductions and establish points of contact with airport management, fixed-base operators and airport businesses, Calabro said. The inspectors also will be available to "work with airport assets in the event anything like a TFR violation or suspicious activity on the ground takes place," Calabro said. The TSA inspectors will keep track of information like aircraft on the ground, report any suspicious activity and support individual airports. "It's more of an outreach kind of thing and a training aid for [inspectors] to become educated on some general aviation issues," Calabro added. "The outreach program and related visits to airports is designed to promote airport, aircraft, and airmen security awareness and is not part of a regulatory enforcement policy." The G8 Summit will be held at Sea Island, Ga., tomorrow through Thursday. McKinnon Airport and Jekyll Island Airport will be closed during the event. Brunswick/Golden Isles Airport and Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport will allow only approved commercial passenger and cargo flights. Two TFRs will be in effect, and GA aircraft will restricted to departing or landing at an airport in the outer rings. Check the FAA Web site for more details and updates.
A BRAND NEW AIRCRAFT FOR THE COST OF A SECOND CAR!
Eleni Zeri, a 23-year-old tourist from Greece, died in March 2003 during a tandem hang-glider ride in the mountains of New Zealand after the pilot took off without properly securing her to the glider. Pilot Steve Parson, 53, of Canada, admitted that he had made a mistake, and last Friday apologized in court to the victim's mother. "Eleni was very brave. I'm so very, very sorry," Parson said. He was sentenced to serve 350 hours' community service and pay NZ$10,000 in reparation. After launch, when Parson realized Zeri was not secured, he wrapped his legs around her to try to keep her with him. She told him she couldn't hold on, and fell 500 feet to her death. New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said it will start next month to review and overhaul the regulations that affect commercial adventure-aviation operators. However, a CAA spokesman told the New Zealand Herald the review was not a response to Parson's case. "What happened in his case was in no way related to the regulations," said Bill Sommer. "The company he worked for had safety procedures in place that were in line with regulations, but he failed to follow them." However, the current regulations need to be streamlined to make compliance easier for operators and the CAA, he said.
Leaders from the nation's largest airlines went to Congress last Thursday with hats in hand, looking for help to stem their billion-dollar losses and rising fuel costs, and came away with zip. "Congress is not going to underwrite losing airline operations," said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. (Not this time, anyway.) "Some of our airlines must either reduce their costs dramatically or they will not survive." Apparently the committee thought $20 billion in aid after 9/11 should have been enough, and if the airlines are still losing money, they need to find ways to cut costs and restructure on their own -- or quietly fly off into the sunset. (Eleven passenger airlines are rated "junk bonds" by Standard & Poor's.) But Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, said what the airlines need is not a handout but tax relief. Twenty-six percent of the average ticket goes to taxes and security fees, he said.
From 2001 through 2003, the U.S. airline industry reported net losses of $23.2 billion, and it already has lost $1.6 billion in the first quarter of 2004. This $24.8 billion shortfall exceeds the total profits earned over the entire six-year period from 1995 to 2000. Industry debt currently runs well over $100 billion -- much of it due in the next 24 months. The situation is being exacerbated by a sustained run-up in fuel prices. The General Accounting Office told the committee, "The airline industry is being transformed into two industries, profitable low-cost point-to-point airlines that continue to grow and extend their reach into ever more markets, and the major network legacy airlines that account for the vast majority of the industry's losses. Although legacy airlines still control two-thirds of all domestic traffic, possess profitable overseas routes, and have a valuable domestic route structure, until these airlines are able to bring their unit costs closer to those of low-cost airlines and align their services with fares that passengers are willing to pay ... they are unlikely to be able improve their financial condition."
NONIN FLIGHTSTAT MARKED DOWN TO $367.35 AT AEROMEDIX
Last month, Boeing introduced real-time, WiFi-based, high-speed Internet connections for commercial travelers, and now a project is in the works to offer the service to bizjets by next year. A strategic agreement with Connexion by Boeing enables Rockwell Collins to offer connectivity services on business aircraft worldwide. The new service, called Collins eXchange, is projected to be available next year. It will combine broadband Internet access with direct broadcast satellite to create real-time, global two-way Ku-band data coverage, according to Rockwell. Business aviation operators and passengers can use Collins eXchange to access the Internet and firewall-protected corporate intranets; send outgoing e-mails or open attachments from incoming e-mails; get the news, weather or destination information; or view direct broadcast television programming. The service will also enhance air-to-ground communications for flight-crew personnel.
With jobs in many sectors of aviation evaporating over the last few years, it's encouraging to hear that graduates from one school last week all left their ceremony with job offers in hand. All 12 graduates from Arizona's Pima Community College in aviation structural repair are already hired, and the college says the program has a 97-percent placement rate in the 12 years it's been running. Graduates of the intensive 10-month-long course had hundreds of jobs to choose from across the country, instructor Mark Heywood told the Tucson Citizen. "Gulfstream [in Savannah, Ga.] has 85 openings," he said. "They would have taken every one of our graduates if they had applied." PCC has started a 19-month-long A&P program and will graduate its first class in May 2005. "Hamilton and Gulfstream have already stood in front of the class and said, 'I'll hire every one of you,'" Heywood said. "There's an even higher demand for A&P than for structures."
FOR AVIATION PROFESSIONALS WHO WORK WITH YOU ON YOUR AIRCRAFT INSURANCE
The trailer for "The Aviator," Hollywood's "true story" about Howard Hughes and his aircraft, is now online. The movie, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, is scheduled for release in December...
The pilot died when his North American T-28 crashed near Tampa (Fla.) North Aero Park on Thursday. Pilot Joseph Rendzio, 74, had spent six years refurbishing the plane. Though Rendzio crashed into trees and nobody on the ground was hurt, the accident has inflamed opposition among neighbors to the airport, citing fears of a plane hitting a house...
The Flight of Discovery, a group of scientists and pilots following the route of Lewis and Clark by air, is underway...
The TSA has changed a rule that prevented armed pilots from carrying their weapons on board when flying as passengers, according to The Dallas Morning News...
British airline pilots say proposed changes in flight-time rules are dangerous...
Seattle's Museum of Flight opened its new Personal Courage Wing yesterday, exhibiting fighter aircraft from World Wars I and II...
Cessna's Citation Sovereign got its type certificate from the FAA last week. The 12-passenger jet has the largest cabin in the Citation line, and cruises at 459 knots...
An L.A. Times staff writer took a Be A Pilot ride; here's his report.
CEO of the Cockpit #33: Dog Is My Co-Pilot
Even a hard-nosed old captain like AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit has a soft spot for some people and even some animals. Especially ones that are willing to go flying on those dark and stormy nights. This is a dog story, but it's a pilot's dog story.
FLIGHTMAX EX500 WITH INTEGRATED DATALINK-TRAINING SOFTWARE NOW AVAILABLE
Reader mail this week about GA usage fees, drug smugglers, circling approaches in the PTS and much more.
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IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN RECEIVE AVIATION WEATHER
When communications run afowl...
(Overheard May 15, 2004.)
Tower: Landing traffic, be advised that there's still a turkey on the runway.
Pilot (speaking immediately): Tower, Cessna ### clear of the active.
Tower: Thank you ... (laughter) ... but I meant the real turkey.
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