AVwebFlash Complete Issue: Volume 19, Number 13a

March 25, 2013

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
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Tower Closures: Readers React back to top 
 

AVweb Reader Survey Results: Mixed Support for Tower Closings

Although some pilots think closing towers at small general aviation airports may negatively impact flight safety and convenience, nearly half of them -- about 45 percent -- say they support the closings anyway and not even one in five believes the towers should remain open. And by overwhelming margins, AVweb readers told us that the FAA should be expected to trim its budget to reduce federal spending and that advocacy groups like AOPA shouldn't pressure the FAA to keep towers open at low-traffic airports where they simply aren't needed.

These are some of the findings from AVweb's reader survey last week on the hot-button issue of closing control towers to meet budget requirements under congressional sequestration. The FAA initially proposed a list of nearly 200 towers for potential closure, but on Friday, it announced a final list (PDF) winnowed down to 149, with some states having most of their towers shuttered. AVweb's survey, which was published last week, queried readers about their views on the tower closures. By the weekend, we had heard from 1,464 readers, many of whom took the time to write detailed comments.

Respondent Comments

A handful of the questions we asked were open-ended queries. We've compiled the reader responses to these in PDFs you can read here:

If there was any consensus in our data, it was that many readers simply felt they didn't have enough information to judge whether specific towers should be closed or not, but 76 percent told us they watched the list closely. To the question of, do tower closings negatively impact safety? the plurality -- 30 percent -- said it depends, which we surmise means the answer depends on traffic levels and how skilled pilots are in operating at non-towered airports.

"Depends on the ability of the pilot(s) who were trained at towered fields and use towered fields almost exclusively to be able to be pilots who can manage without a controller to point out aircraft and tell them when it's ok to land," wrote one reader. "It all depends on the location. But does closing any of the towers automatically impact safety? "Absolutely not," wrote Bill Ludlow.

Nonetheless, some readers believe the FAA's cut on tower closures will cause problems at some airports with a busy mix of piston aircraft, jets and helicopters.

"I fly out of GTU (Georgetown, Texas)," wrote Richard Donnelly, Jr.

"We have a heavy mix of student and corporate traffic. The closure of this tower is definitely a hazard to this flying community," he said. Georgetown's tower is one of 13 contract towers to be closed in the state of Texas, the second largest number. At 14, Florida will have the most tower closings, including Lakeland-Linder. Another reader, an instructor, had this to say: "Absolutely ridiculous and very sad that our government resorts to such blackmail. I'm concerned that my student pilots will be adversely affected amidst the heavy commuter and jet traffic at the airport where I teach. Citations and Gulfstreams won't conform to standard traffic patterns and will just blast into the airport regardless of established traffic or patterns. This becomes a hazard and accident waiting to happen, especially with the inexperienced student pilot, who may not know how to react when confronted with a confusing traffic situation. We've all been there and have had some incident that was 'pretty scary' or 'way too close.' Hopefully this will lead to increased vigilance around airports and no mid-airs."

But if anyone assumes that all pilots think towers are a good idea, our survey didn't find evidence of that. In fact, a number of readers questioned why some towers are necessary at all at many small airports. "Are you kidding me? Open your eyes. Think. Use your head. Wow. Oh, yes, can you please send me my bubble to live so I don't get hurt," wrote one reader.

The pilot community doesn't seem wholly convinced that towers contribute much to safety. Altogether, 23 percent told us safety is definitely negatively impacted when a towers closes, 16 percent said it was somewhat impacted, but 26 percent said safety was affected hardly at all if a tower goes.

Our survey made the assumption that readers accept the notion that towers add a least some reduced risk to the equation, plus convenience at low-traffic airports, so we asked if pilots would be willing to give that up. "This is a bad question. Towers slow traffic and the safety issue is questionable," wrote James Guldi.

Added another reader: "What convenience and safety would I be giving up? Everyone will self-announce on the tower frequency, and we'll all land and take off like big boys and girls."

Despite the flawed assumption in our question, 45 percent of survey takers told us they would give up whatever benefits a tower provides, while only 17 percent said they wouldn't want to. Once again, even with the tower closure list announced, 27 percent of pilots told us their decision would have to be airport dependent. But we were surprised at the number of pilots who just don't see significant benefits in towers at small airports at all. Many wondered why some of these towers were opened in the first place.

"There are too many towers at airports which don't really need them. Two of the three in the Milwaukee area could close with little serious impact," said one Wisconsin pilot. "Waukesha (UES) used to have much more traffic during the 1960s and 1970s before the tower opened. We did just fine."

Not too surprisingly, pilots based at airports with towers tend to think shutting them down introduces more risk than do those based at non-towered airports. (The survey sample was close to evenly split, with 54 percent based at fields with towers and 46 percent at airports without towers.) Among the pilots and owners at airport with towers, about half -- 47 percent -- said they thought closing towers definitely or somewhat impacted safety negatively while 31 percent of the non-tower-based pilots said the same.

Although we heard sympathy for controllers losing their jobs, the majority of pilots in our survey -- almost 70 percent -- said job preservation should not be a factor in tower closures for FAA cutbacks. Further, 85 percent said that in a time of government budget reductions, the FAA should be expected to do its share.

The numbers were similar when we asked if readers thought AOPA and other advocacy groups should pressure the FAA to keep even low-traffic towers open. Seventy one percent said they shouldn't, while only 18 percent said they should. To put a finer point on this, some readers said the advocacy groups should get more involved in specific tower evaluations, rather than blanket efforts to resist all the cuts.

"AOPA and other groups should help FAA in the process of which towers to close safely and do it in cooperation using positive influence instead of negative fighting," wrote Carl Olsen.

Some AOPA members believe the association should take a much broader view of cutting waste out services to GA rather than lobbying for everything they can get.

"AOPA ought to be leading the discussion on where waste really might be in the FAA, and what we can do about it. I don't see them doing that. Tower operations are far from the only place where waste exists in the FAA. We should be discussing many," said Steve Cornelius.

 
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Tower Closures: Just the Facts back to top 
 

Tower Closing Criteria Detailed

If the tower at the local airport was supposed to be closed but wasn't it's because someone convinced the FAA that closing it would pose a threat to national security. At least 24 towers that would normally have been closed under the mathematical limits set by the agency before sequestration took effect (fewer than 150,000 movements and fewer than 10,000 airline operations annually) were spared the budge axe and Government Executive Magazine posted a list of four main criteria that interpret national security in a variety of ways.

The airports that were spared proved to the FAA that closure would pose a direct threat to national security in its usual definition; that closure would result in adverse economic impact beyond the local community; that closure would have a significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or the financial system; or that the airport is an essential alternate for a major hub. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said a lot of airports made persuasive cases but the majority failed because the funding cut has to come from somewhere. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the suddenly towerless airports will get some attention in the transition "to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports."

FAA Tower Closures By The Numbers

The FAA will close 149 federal contract towers beginning April 7, in response to sequestration's budget cuts, the agency announced Friday. The newly revised list is online here (PDF). The agency says closures will be phased in over a four-week period. At least 38 states are affected. Florida is one of the nation's most populous states and it also stands to hold the crown for most closures, served with 14 fewer towers unless changes are made before early May. The FAA says economic impact and threats to national security were considerations as they decided which towers to close. Some of the nation's most populous states hold top spots for the most closures, but one from that group will see very few.

The top five most populous states as listed by worldatlas.com are N.Y., Calif., Ill., Fla., and Texas. Of those, Texas currently has 13 airports on the list for closure, California shows eight and Illinois shows five. New York will lose only two. The complete list of proposed tower closures originally included 189 towers -- 40 of those have been spared. Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Virginia, New Hampshire and New Jersey will each only lose one control tower. To meet the budget cuts demanded by sequestration, the FAA must trim almost $600 million out of its nearly $48 billion budget. The agency employs roughly 47,000 people, the majority of whom are controllers. The FAA says community response made its decisions regarding closure difficult and the agency will work with airports to ensure "procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports." At this time, additional closures are not expected. Find the FAA's news release here.

 
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Tower Closures: ATC at Sun 'n Fun back to top 
 

FAA Controllers At SNF

Although the tower at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Florida is on the FAA's list for closure (so is Wittman Regional's in Oshkosh) the facility will be manned as usual by FAA controllers through Sun 'n Fun. Under the sequestration closure plan, Lakeland is among 149 towers being closed due to sequestration cuts and was to be shuttered on April 7. But the big show starts April 9 and FAA controllers will be on the job the day before as traffic floods into the area. "Contrary to popular belief, the issues in Washington, D.C. will not deter the aviation community from coming together to share the thrills and excitement of the 39th Annual SUN 'n FUN International Fly-In & Expo," says a rather jubilant news release from SNF President John Leenhouts.

What's not been made clear is who is going to pay for the workforce. About 36 controllers and more than a dozen technical staff will be on hand for the show and most of them will need accommodation and other travel expenses, too. Last week, Lakeland Linder Airport Manager Gene Conrad said the plan was for the airport, the city, Polk County and Sun 'n Fun to share the cost, but he did not immediately return our email request for more details.

 
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Garmin: Cockpit Tech for All back to top 
 

Garmin's Big Push into the Experimental/LSA Market

Although sales of avionics for certified aircraft have been in the doldrums, Garmin International seems to be bullish on the experimental and light sport markets, introducing this week no fewer than seven new products for that segment, all with sophisticated capability and eye-opening low prices. Garmin's flagship product, the G3X EFIS, will get a new low-cost and lighter ADAHRS system and a new engine indication product that will drop the price of the complete package to $4375. Sweetening the deal will be additional modules for the G3X, including an integrated autopilot with similar capabilities as the popular GFC 700 certified system, an angle-of-attack system for stall awareness and a hard-mount remote ADS-B receiver based on the GDL39 portable product.

Garmin's VP for aviation sales, Carl Wolf, said these new products bring a level of sophistication and capability heretofore not offered in the experimental and light sport categories. And although light sport sales haven't seen big numbers, buyers of these aircraft tilt toward tricking them out with panels as capable as those found in top-end, IFR-certified airplanes. Moreover, the new products are lighter than some equipment now on the market and with many LSAs pushing their empty weight limits, Garmin clearly sees an opportunity to grab some sales. In addition to the ADAHRS and autopilot itself, Garmin has also developed a new lightweight autopilot servo that weighs a mere 1.4 pounds. Garmin says the servo is smart, with the capability to back drive a brushless DC motor, providing additional protection in the event of trim runaways or autopilot failures. The servo also has a clutch to decouple the trim motor when the autopilot is disengaged, reducing the friction the pilot will feel in the control circuitry. The autopilot will have the option of adding the GMC 305, a dedicated control panel similar to the GFC 700. This adds control wheel capability for pitch and airspeed selection and includes the auto leveling (LVL) button found in the more expensive certified autopilot. A two-axis version of the autopilot will be available in May, selling for $1500, while the control panel will be available as a $750 option.

The new ADAHRS, called the GSU 25, can be installed as a single or dual unit and it can be added to an existing G3X system. As an option, it has a built-in angle-of-attack indicator using data supplied by a pitot-like pressure probe. The ADAHRS is expected to be available in April, selling for $799, while the AoA probe can be added for $199 in an unheated version or $299 for a heated version. The new engine indication system is called the GEA 24 and allows for more tailoring of the output to suit specific engines and other system indications such as fuel level, flaps and trim position. Also available in April, the GEA 24 will sell for $599. The remote-mount ADS-B, called the GDL 39R, will sell for $799 and is expected to deliver in June.

And Garmin hasn't forgotten homebuilders interested in flying IFR in their aircraft. The new GAD 29 is an ARINC 429 adapter to interface the G3X with Garmin's IFR-capable GTN and GNS series navigators. This module will be available in July for $425. AVweb will have more reporting on these products in our coverage from the Aircraft Electronics Association show in Las Vegas this week. You can find out more at Garmin.com/experimental.

 
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LAS Battle Not Over Yet back to top 
 

Beechcraft Files Lawsuit To Halt USAF Tucano Contract

Thursday, Beechcraft announced that it has filed suit in Federal Claims Court "to contest the U.S. Air Force's decision" to move forward with a $427 million contract awarded to Embraer/Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). The Air Force has twice selected the Embraer/SNC Super Tucano over Beechcraft Corporation's AT-6 for its Light Air Support program, but Beechcraft's maneuverings have so far blocked performance of the contract. Beechcraft's new lawsuit aims to halt execution of the contract "while the Government Accountability Office (GAO) continues to review Beechcraft's protest."

To overcome Beechcraft's second appeal, the Pentagon applied a rarely used power to override a congressional review of Beechcraft's second appeal, citing "unusual and compelling circumstances." That effectively swept aside barriers to performing the contract, until Beechcraft's latest lawsuit. The contract would supply 20 aircraft to the Afghanistan Air Force. Beechcraft maintains that the Super Tucano will cost significantly more than the AT-6. Embraer's Super Tucano would be produced with SNC as its primary contractor. The project is expected to create up to 1,400 new jobs mostly at a facility in Jacksonville, Fla., where Embraer has signed a 10-year lease on a 40,000-square-foot building. Lawsuit aside, the GAO is expected to comment on the Beechcraft protest within 90 days.

 
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More than Meets the Eye back to top 
 

Fake Airline Pilot Removed From Cockpit

Frenchman Philippe Jernnard is being held on $1 million bond after being found in the cockpit jump seat of a US Airways flight at Philadelphia International Airport, Wednesday, posing as an Air France pilot. Jernnard was found by the flight's crew at some point during the boarding process. When questioned, he identified himself as a 747 pilot for Air France, according to CBS news. Jernnard held a valid ticket for the flight to West Palm Beach and was wearing a white shirt with an Air France logo and a jacket with epaulets. Jernnard reportedly became irritable when asked for identification and the crew called police to the gate.

Jernnard was removed from the flight and has been charged with criminal trespass, tampering with records, forgery, impersonating a person privately employed and presenting false ID to law enforcement, CBS reported. Additional federal charges may be added. Air France has released a statement that Jernnard was in possession of "a very poor fake badge, which in no way resembled the Air France Crew Member Certificate." The company denied that Jernnard is associated with the airline and said "this person was not wearing an Air France uniform" nor was he carrying official badging or crew baggage. It is not yet clear how Jernnard gained access to the cockpit or specifically for what purpose. The FBI has joined the investigation. Jernnard is being held pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 5.

Barefoot Bandit Gains Boeing Mentor

A 57-year-old Boeing project manager named Jonathan Standridge has decided to take a personal role in the rehabilitation of convicted airplane thief 21-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, aka the "Barefoot Bandit." Harris-Moore is serving a seven-year sentence for crimes related to the boats, cars and airplanes that he stole or took on joy rides. Pending charges may extend the term. Standridge told The Associated Press that his motivation in helping Harris-Moore stems from a second chance granted to him when he was young. Standridge says he believes that chance gave him a brighter future. "That is what I'm passing on to Colt," he said.

In visits to the Washington state prison that holds Harris-Moore, Standridge says told the young man that, once his life is re-established, it will be his task to repay the favor. Harris-Moore earned popular recognition as the Barefoot Bandit during a two-year burglary spree that included flights in small airplanes stolen from airports in the Northwest. He was arrested in the Bahamas after flying himself there in an aircraft he'd stolen from an airport in Indiana. Standridge says Harris-Moore hopes to earn an aeronautical engineering degree while incarcerated, aims to pursue a pilot's certificate and one day design his own aircraft. Standridge was convinced through early correspondence with Harris-Moore that the young criminal isn't just highly motivated, but is a "young man who was looking to change his life."

 
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Opinion & Commentary back to top 
 

AVweb Insider Blog: Tower Closures -- Talk to Your Neighbor

We tried to forestall Paul Bertorelli from writing another blog about tower closures, but he wiggled out of the restraints and shook off the sedative. But he does make one relatively lucid point in his latest post to the AVweb Insider blog: When your neighbor or a co-worker asks about this close of control towers thing, try to inject some sanity into the conversation.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb Insider Blog: But Which Towers?

Communities and pilots alike have always accepted the notion that the federal government has a definite role in building aviation infrastructure. But does that apply to control towers and sleepy little fields that don't really need them? The FAA is about to answer that question. On the AVweb Insider blog, Paul Bertorelli gives you a shot at offering your own opinion.

Read more and join the conversation.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 255,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

 
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Your Favorite FBOs back to top 
 

FBO of the Week: Baxley Municipal Airport (KBHC, Baxley, Georgia)

Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs

AVweb's latest "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Baxley Municipal Airport (KBHC) in Baxley, Georgia.

AVweb reader Robert Inman recommends adding it to your Sun 'n Fun flight plan:

This facility has been completely remodeled with an emphasis on pilot efficiency and comfort. The young manager, Tyler Beach, is as pround as can be as he gives you a tour, including two bedrooms for those who might get stranded there by weather — all at no charge. There are a brand-new ramp, self-service pumps (although Tyler helped pump the fuel, and the cheapest fuel in Georgia. This is a great place to stop on your visit to Sun 'n Fun!

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

 
AVweb Video: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 
 

Video: Bad Elf's New GPS Module

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

Although tablets like the iPad have decent on-board GPS receivers, they aren't necessarily the most robust in hanging onto a position fix. As a result, a number of companies make portable remote GPS units that Bluetooth position fixes into the tablet. In this AVweb video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano reviews a new product from Bad Elf called the GPS Pro. Besides basic GPS, it also includes datalogging.

Don't see a video screen?
Try disabling ad blockers and refreshing this page.
If that doesn't work, click here to watch on YouTube

Video: Total Eclipse Flight Demo

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

Eclipse is touring the country with its Total Eclipse, a factory re-do of the original EA500. But the airplane is a good stand-in for new production airplanes, which will be called Eclipse 550s. AVweb recently took a flight demo in a Total Eclipse and prepared this video report.

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Reader-Submitted Photos back to top 
 

Picture of the Week: AVweb's Flying Photography Showcase

Our latest winning photo comes from Jonathan Hewitt of Lynchburg, VA. Click here for the rest of this week's submissions.
 
The Lighter Side of Flight back to top 
 

Short Final

I don't remember the exact date, but I overheard this conversation with ATC about 35 years ago. Those were the days when we had the old surplus DGs and transponders were not required near busy terminals. Weather was clear, but a cloud layer had formed over the airport and trapped some students on top.

Lost Pilot:
"Tower, this is Cessna 123, and I am lost."

ATC:
"Roger. Can you tell me your last known position?"

Lost Pilot:
"Yes. I was just west of Ft. Lauderdale, but I can longer see the ground."

ATC:
"Do you have a transponder?"

Lost Pilot:
"No."

ATC:
"O.K. Turn to a heading of 360."

Lost Pilot:
"I don't have that number!"

ATC:
"What does your heading indicator say?"

Lost Pilot:
"It says E."

ATC:
"O.K. Turn to N."

Lost Pilot:
"O.K."

ATC:
"Roger. Now turn to W."

Lost Pilot:
"O.K."

ATC:
"Roger. Radar-identified, and now we will steer you to a VFR airport so you can land."

Lost Pilot:
"Thank you!"


Cal W. Tax
via e-mail

Heard Anything Funny on the Radio?

Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

 
Names Behind the News back to top 
 

Meet the AVwebFlash Team

AVwebFlash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the world's premier independent aviation news resource.

The AVwebFlash team is:

Publisher
Tom Bliss

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Editor-in-Chief
Russ Niles

Webmaster
Scott Simmons

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Contributors
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Ad Coordinator
Karen Lund

Avionics Editor
Larry Anglisano

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? Your advertising can reach over 225,000 loyal AVwebFlash, AVwebBiz, and AVweb home page readers every week. Over 80% of our readers are active pilots and aircraft owners. That's why our advertisers grow with us, year after year. For ad rates and scheduling, click here or contact Tom Bliss, via e-mail or via telephone [(480) 525-7481].

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

If you're having trouble reading this newsletter in its HTML-rich format (or if you'd prefer a lighter, simpler format for your phone or handheld device), there's also a text-only version of AVwebFlash. For complete instructions on making the switch, click here.

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate.