June 16, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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On Tuesday, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told a Congressional panel that the maximum retirement age of 56 for air traffic controllers might need to be raised, to help deal with an unprecedented avalanche of retirements. More than 7,000 controllers, almost half the workforce, are expected to leave in the next nine years, as the cohort of workers hired in the early 1980s -- after President Ronald Reagan fired more than 12,000 striking controllers -- reaches retirement age. "At Congress's request," Blakey told the House Aviation Subcommittee, "we are preparing regulations that would permit a controller, under certain conditions, to remain in the workforce beyond the mandatory separation age of 56." The FAA currently employs over 20,000 employees who manage the air traffic control system. Approximately 15,272 of these employees are air traffic specialists responsible for controlling the takeoff, landing and ground movement of planes.
Ruth Marlin, executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told the panel that raising the retirement age will not solve the problem -- it's time now to start hiring at least 1,000 new controllers. The FAA's plan to collect more data before taking action will only make things worse, she said. "We can do yet another round of studies and reports but the answer is plainly in front of all of us," Marlin said. "The FAA must immediately begin hiring and training the next generation of air traffic controllers to prepare for the inevitable shortage. And Congress must provide the FAA with resources to do so." Marlin said that even if waivers were made available to allow controllers to work beyond age 56, few would likely choose to do so.
George Ebbs Jr., president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), testified on Tuesday that the government's training program for new hires in Oklahoma City is redundant and unnecessary, and also asked that training rules be relaxed to allow candidates who already have a college degree to advance more quickly. If ERAU could send its graduates directly to on-the-job training, Ebbs said, "the FAA could realize significant savings in both time and expense. " Ebbs also said that an accelerated program for college graduates could enable ERAU to train an additional 600 controllers per year. Blakey said the FAA already is looking at ways to improve its training and shorten the time it takes to train our controller workforce. "This may require a greater investment in simulator training that will achieve both those goals," she said.
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With the onset of summer, the big show at Oshkosh is just six weeks away, and this year promises to be an interesting one in the wide-open spaces of Wisconsin. Though the buzz over new jets has eased off a bit as the trek to certification proves long and slow, and insurance requirements for the owner/pilot loom high, interest seems to be picking up as some of the players start inching closer to that finish line. Still, the only example of a light jet flying with its (destined for) production engines is the Adam A700. Eclipse says it is working on three copies of its first certification flight-test aircraft, all of which will feature Pratt & Whitney Canada PW610F engines. First flight of its prototype is expected by the end of the year, Eclipse says. The single-engine Diamond D-Jet is still in early stages of development, the company said yesterday, so don't look for it in the skies this summer. At Avocet, CEO David Tait stepped down in April, though he remains on the advisory board. Their ProJet is still in the design phase. Cessna recently has been testing the PW615F it plans to fly on its Citation Mustang, scheduled for certification in 2006. Safire Aircraft Co. recently suspended operations pending a hoped-for infusion of cash, as AVweb's Business NewsWire reported yesterday.
It seems already like ancient history, but among the first in this crop of light jets to ever bolt into the sky was the Maverick Jet, a twin-engine kitbuilt that was flying at Oshkosh three years ago, back when some of the current contenders weren't even mock-ups yet. The Florida-based company has been selling copies that are assembled at its Build Assist Center, and may try to certify the airplane for production. Meanwhile, the folks at Aerocomp Inc. told AVweb yesterday they'll be flying their new eight-place, single-engine kitjet within a month (going over our notes, you might not want to hold them to that time frame ... but it likely will get done), and plan to have it on exhibit at the show. Aerocomp says the eight-seater, with a pressurized fuselage built of a proprietary carbon-fiber hybrid sandwich, will cruise at 400 mph. Dan Hanchette at Viper Aircraft told AVweb yesterday they are working on a new model of their two-set ViperJet kit, which will be pressurized and have longer range and more power. Their demo of the original two-seater has already been flying for three years. Aviation Technology Group says its Javelin jet, memorable thus far as a flashy two-seater mock-up, will be ready for FAA certification in 2007.
While Diamond won't have its single-engine D-Jet ready, it will be showing off its DA42 Twin Star, making its North American debut at Oshkosh with a fresh European certification. EAA says it expects a record number of exhibitors to show up this summer with new technology, both in the cockpit and in aircraft design. Of course, fingers are crossed that the federal bureaucracy will loosen its grip on the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft final rule and let it fly at Oshkosh, but after so many trip-ups and delays, nobody is making any predictions on that. Finally, if you're flying in, it's not too soon to start planning -- the NOTAM is available online. As ever, the mantra at AirVenture is more, more, more, as the ramp fills up throughout the week with aircraft and visitors from around the world. And as always, AVweb's news team will be there to cover it all for you in words and pictures. Look for us at the Belvoir/AVweb booth.
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Aeromedical certifying authorities -- such as the FAA's Office of Aviation Medicine -- should begin to study and license pilots on anti-depressant medication, the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) said in a position paper published last month. The proposal is "stunning," says Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) Dr. Brent Blue, who said he has tried for years to get medicated pilots licensed. "The appearance of this paper was an unexpected triumph of rational thought in pilot certification," he told AVweb yesterday. The paper proposes that aeromedical certifying authorities remove the current absolute prohibitions that bar pilots from flying while taking anti-depressants. The 10-page proposal, Blue said, would allow a test group of pilots to fly under the watchful eye of psychological specialists, AMEs and perhaps aeromedically trained psychiatrists. The results would be closely monitored, leading to a routine certification procedure. The test would determine whether a pilot on medication can fly as well as a pilot who is physically and mentally healthy, and unmedicated. So far, the FAA is moving slowly on the proposal, Blue said, but it's likely that the first pilots to be tested -- and approved -- would be those with third-class medicals. "The fact that the prestigious AsMA has produced a positive stance ... bodes well for a sooner rather than later change," Blue said. The policy recommendations appeared in the May 2004 edition of Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, the official journal of the AsMA.
In a first for the annual Air Race Classic, this year's route will start and finish in the same place. The race will launch from Colonel James Jabara Airport, Wichita, Kan., on June 23, and cover 2,200 nautical miles above Colorado, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Missouri, returning to Wichita by June 26. Each aircraft is flown by a team of two female pilots. Each plane is handicapped based primarily on horsepower and design. The winners are determined by how well the planes exceeded their handicaps in ground speed. Altitude, wind, pilot skill, weather and aircraft condition are among the factors that influence the final score. "The round-robin format is pretty unusual and it means we won't always have the wind at our back, like in previous races," says Amanda J. Gruden, a flight instructor for Western Michigan University, who will fly a Cessna 172 in the race with Sarah Tower, a recent WMU graduate. "This competition is all about winds," Gruden said. "The lower the altitude you fly the better, because the wind speeds are slower and more consistent at low altitudes."
A BRAND NEW AIRCRAFT FOR THE COST OF A SECOND CAR!
Mooney Aerospace Group Ltd. (MASG), the former parent company of Mooney Airplane Co. (MAC), filed last Thursday for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court in Maryland. MASG sold its interest in MAC to an investor earlier this month, so the filing has no impact on the aircraft manufacturer, based in Kerrville, Texas. In court papers, MASG listed liabilities of $65.5 million and no assets. "The bankruptcy doesn't affect the airplane company," said J. Nelson Happy, president of MASG. "What we were able to do was lift these major financial issues away from the manufacturing operation." Unfortunately, that may not be the notion conjured in an aircraft buyer's mind when he or she hears Mooney and bankruptcy. MASG recently lost a court case in California, in which it was ordered to pay almost $24 million to its former landlord at Long Beach Airport, where it had been based in the form of Advanced Aeronautical Structures Inc., or AASI, the developer of the JetCruzer aircraft. The AASI plant was closed in early 2003 when MASG moved to Kerrville to take over the Mooney operation.
Today, the 12th and final public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (known as the 9-11 Commission) will examine the immediate response to the attacks by the FAA and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). One focus of the hearing is expected to be how the decision was made to scramble fighter jets and whether to empower those jets to shoot down the hijacked airliners. An early version of a report to be made public today, according to The New York Times, says a better response from NORAD might have enabled the fighter jets to reach one airliner and shoot it down before it hit the Pentagon. The FAA's response on 9/11 also is harshly criticized, the Times said. "The Commission has to ask some important questions about that day," Commission Vice Chair Lee H. Hamilton said in a statement this week. "What was federal government protocol ... How is the federal government now prepared to respond, in the event of future attacks?" Addressing the panel from the FAA will be Monte Belger, former acting deputy administrator; Jeff Griffith, former deputy director, air traffic control; John White, former facility manager, Air Traffic Control Systems Command Center; and Benedict Sliney, operations manager, New York Terminal Radar Approach Control. Also scheduled to appear are Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, USAF Commander, NORAD; and U.S. Northern Command Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, USAF (Ret.), former Commander, Continental United States NORAD Region. The hearing will be held in the NTSB Conference Center in Washington, D.C.
DIAMOND AIRCRAFT ANNOUNCES DIAMONDFEST 2004
Officials at the U.S. Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday cleared 45 aircraft to return to service; the aircraft had been grounded in January and again in April for safety concerns. The Academy says it has resolved all issues about the safety of the fleet. Affected aircraft include: TG-10B\C\D unpowered gliders and TG-14 motor-gliders, T-41 and Cessna 150 single-engine aircraft, and UV-18 Twin Otter jump-platform aircraft. Changes made to address the maintenance issues included a detailed nose-to-tail audit of all aircraft components, improved documentation procedures, and modified maintenance contracts to allow for stronger contractor oversight. The Academy also hired additional contract employees. Other actions include a new spare-parts acquisition plan and an Air Force multi-agency review of glider and motor-glider capability, reliability, maintainability and sustainability. Additionally, plans call for transforming the academy's 34th Operations Group to bring its procedures more in line with operational Air Force flying practices. Academy soaring, jump and cadet flying team operations, with more than 120,000 sorties and 20,000 parachute jumps per year, provide cadet leadership opportunities, the Academy said in a news release.
The June 2002 crash of a Piper Malibu that lost a portion of wing and crashed outside Orlando, Fla., killing all three aboard has resulted in a wrongful-death lawsuit naming six separate companies. The suit claims that not only were the aircraft design and manufacturer deficient, but so was the autopilot, the turbine (conversion), and work performed on the aircraft prior to the fatal flight. As a result, New Piper Aircraft Inc., Rocket Engineering Corp., Honeywell International Inc., Pratt & Whitney Canada, Jetprop LLC., and Naples Air Center Inc. have all been named. The NTSB's report states the aircraft was cruising at 26,000 feet and averaging 230 knots -- convective SIGMETS for nearby areas listed tops above FL450. "He was flying very fast in extreme weather," Naples Air Center's chief executive officer, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. The NTSB report says the aircraft was equipped with a PT6A-34 turbo-prop and the aircraft had posted 38.2 hours since its March annual before losing a wing panel on its final flight. The NTSB determined that the aircraft was flying toward, "heavy thunderstorm when the pilot requested to deviate...". Minutes later, "the pilot reported seeing a hole and attempted to fly through it." Ballistic trajectory estimates suggest the radar pod and wing panel separated at roughly 26,000 feet.
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Check out the Web site for the World Ballooning Championships underway in Australia this week, and find out what a nudie is...
Scuba divers in Australia want to sink a Russian-built MiG fighter jet captured by their forces in Iraq, to create an artificial reef and attract tourists...
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, N.Y., opens for the season Saturday, featuring weekend air shows with vintage aircraft, biplane rides, and a museum...
Two Qantas pilots were charged last week with reckless operation of an aircraft for taking off in a B737 at night without activating the airport lights. The flight took place in October 2001...
About 24 propellers built by Hamilton Sundstrand Corp. are affected by a new FAA Airworthiness Directive that requires suspect blades to be removed and replaced....
Zeppelin-NT of Germany delivered its first airship on Saturday, to a Japanese company. The new owners plan to use the 12-seat, 247-foot craft for sightseeing trips and advertising, and will fly it to Japan later this summer...
Boeing on Monday won a U.S. Navy contract to develop a fleet of submarine-hunting aircraft derived from the 737 airframe. The contract, which Boeing won over incumbent Lockheed Martin, is worth up to $20 billion for up to 100 airplanes.
If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Drop us a line. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com.
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Quiz #82 -- Navigate Through Turbulent Times
Smooth skies are the stuff flying dreams are made of, but bouncing past a thunderstorm or trailing in the wake of a low-flying whale can shake you awake. Cinch your seatbelts and see how you'd rate these turbulence encounters.
THE NEW ASA AIRCRAFT FLIGHT LOG IS EASY AND COMPLETE
Last week, AVweb asked our readers to pick a side when it comes to those pesky TFRs (temporary flight restrictions) that have become all-too-common in the post-9/11 world. The overwhelming majority 85% of respondents, or 565 people said that TFRs are often inane, indecipherable, and (at their most harmless) utterly useless. But the remaining 15% of you defended TFRs, saying the restrictions are often necessary to protect pilots, passengers, and leaders in these dangerous times.
This week, we want to ask a similar question about aviation lawsuits. Do they serve higher a purpose, or are they merely a distraction from the real business of aviation? As before, we know you may not fully agree with either statement but for the purposes of the poll, we ask that you pick a side.
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This address is only for suggested QOTW questions, and not for QOTW answers.
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We predicted it, and it came true! No, not the results of NBA Finals the flood of "aircraft at sunset" pictures that arrived at AVweb headquarters following last week's themed edition of "POTW." While the photos are spectacular, we can't run sunset photos all the time so this week we've opted to supply three completely unrelated images for your ogling pleasure. For his walk down memory lane with two airplanes, a classic Corvette, and a camera, Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. takes home "POTW" honors. This means Dr. Boas will be receiving a coveted AVweb baseball cap just in time for baseball season! (Hmm, we'd better get back to making predictions ... .)
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
"Old, Older, Oldest"
Dr. Edward E. Boas Jr. of Chesapeake City, Maryland sends us this photo
of his 1966 Cessna Skylane C182J, his 1957 Corvette, and (in the background)
his friend's one-owner 1946 Piper J3 not only did the friend buy the Piper new in '46;
the Corvette is serial number 0002! Thanks for sharing the trip down memory lane, Dr. Boas!
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Click here for a medium-sized version
AVweb continues to receive a large number of excellent images for our POTW contest. Here are some of the runners-up. Click on the links below to view larger versions.
Photographer Viktor Veres experienced the thrill of flight
firsthand on a short flight from Budaörs-Szombathely, Hungary
in the biplane of aerobatic champ Zoltan Veres (no relation);
photo taken at about 130 knots
"Very, Very Cold Morning in Kabul"
Henk Boneschans of Pretoria, South Africa sends us this
image of a Bell 212 helicopter 30 minutes before take-off in Kabul;
the temperature was only 10˚C
To enter next week's contest, click here.
A Reminder About Copyrights: Please take a moment to consider the source of your image before submitting to our "Picture of the Week" contest. If you did not take the photo yourself, ask yourself if you are indeed authorized to release publication rights to AVweb. If you're uncertain, consult the POTW Rules or send us an e-mail.