July 14, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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After a decade or so in the works (and an extended stay at the Office of Management and Budget) the highly anticipated Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft final rule may (very, very soon) be ready for prime time -- we'll let the real world be the judge. Ron Wagner of EAA told AVweb on Tuesday that EAA is "very optimistic that we will have a pre-Oshkosh rule ... it's imminent." Yesterday, the FAA's Sue Gardner -- program manager for the Sport Pilot program -- told AVweb she didn't have any news to report about the rule's progress. Other sources also told AVweb yesterday that the announcement is imminent ... but would not be immediate. Meanwhile, EAA has kept the light on (for years) waiting up for the rule and, EAA's Ron Wagner said, is hoping to prepare Sport Pilot materials and forum presentations before AirVenture opens. If able, they'll make good use of the time at Oshkosh to educate everyone about all the rule's final details. The show opens less than two weeks from now. As of our deadline, the rule was still at the Office of Management and Budget. From there, it could, theoretically, be a quick turnaround to prep it for publication in the Federal Register.
A "final rule," though, is just the first step in what will still be a long process of working out the real-world implications of new regulations. Wagner said that along with the rule itself, several Advisory Circulars are due for publication, and altogether it is a lot of complex material to be sorted through. As late as yesterday, some of the rule's critical details were not yet clear -- such as when it will become effective. Wagner said that normally a rule takes effect 30 days or more after publication ... but this one is very big and very complicated. Earlier, "there was some discussion that it might be implemented in stages, but we don't know," he said. That's the kind of detail that leaves the industry anxiously awaiting the publication in the Federal Register, and hoping to have a week's time at Oshkosh to hash it all out.
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The Symphony line of aircraft is back. Symphony Aircraft Industries (SAI) has bought the assets of the former OMF Aircraft Canada operation that closed early this year, SAI President Paul Costanzo announced in a media teleconference Tuesday afternoon. "I'm ecstatic about it," he said. "There have been some dark days, and it's nice to finally get here." Costanzo, who was formerly president of OMF Aircraft, worked for seven months to pull the deal together. The first order of business will be to get the two-seat Symphony 160 (which looks outwardly very much like the popular GlaStar kitplane) to market, he said. SAI will have up to 10 of the two-seaters from Germany for sale in North America by September, and plans to be turning out new 160s in Canada by December. OMF opened its new facility in Three Rivers, Quebec, just last September. Then on Dec. 9, the parent company in Germany, OMF GmbH, declared bankruptcy. OMF Canada ceased operations in January. In April, a new German company acquired the assets of OMF GmbH. SAI completed its purchase of all the assets of OMF Canada in June, tying up the final details in the last week.
"It was an extremely complicated situation," Costanzo said of the deal, involving companies in two countries, angry government agencies that had invested (and lost) money, and complex agreements about type designs and production certificates. At times, he wondered if it would even be possible to work it all out. "But I thought it was too good a product to let it go," he said. "The market is looking for an airplane like this." SAI has entered into a strategic alliance with the German company OMF Flugzeugwerke GmbH (OMFDE), to acquire the assets of OMF GmbH ... and apparently to add more oddly-organized consonants and vowels. OMFDE will produce the Symphony product line for the European market, as well as for Africa and the Middle East. The two companies will work to complement each other's efforts, and will supply components to each other. OMF Canada had about 23 employees when it closed, Costanzo said, and he hopes to ramp up to a staff of about 30 by the end of this year. A few key members of the former management team worked with him over the last seven months, he said, and will continue with the new company. The Quebec facility will shift from being a production site to a design and development facility, and aircraft will be assembled there from components that are for the most part built elsewhere. Costanzo said he is putting together a talented engineering team to work on future projects and develop and certify a family of four-place aircraft.
SAI is actively working to start production of the two-place Symphony 160, dealing with vendors and suppliers, and hiring manufacturing staff, the company said in a news release Tuesday. Development work has begun again on the Symphony 135D, a two-place 135-hp diesel, and the four-place Symphony 250. According to Costanzo, the 135D should be certified in Europe as an STC by the end of this year, with certification in the U.S. and Canada to follow shortly thereafter. Costanzo said he will have more details and more announcements to come during a news conference at AirVenture in Oshkosh later this month, and he will be there ready to sell airplanes. A VFR version of the 160 will sell for $129,600, IFR-equipped for $149,600, Costanzo said Tuesday. The cockpit will have a standard panel, though glass panels may become an option. Further pre-purchase details about the product line, including engines, avionics, and whether or not BRS chutes will be available, will be forthcoming in the fall, Costanzo said. Once the two-place program is underway, the future of the four-place line will be the next order of business. Costanzo said he expects first flight of the Symphony four-seater about this time next year, with type certification in Canada and the U.S. by September 2006.
Costanzo said in April at Sun 'n Fun that OMF had 44 aircraft on order, but declined this week to talk about the numbers. A lot of customers have been patient, he said. Last September, the company had announced that it would offer BRS chutes as a factory-installed option on the Symphony 160 and the diesel Symphony 135-TDI, and as standard equipment on the four-place aircraft, but Costanzo told AVweb yesterday that those decisions for the new line have not yet been made and won't be announced before October. A new Web site is in the works and will come online in stages over the next few months.
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At the FAA's instigation, Raytheon Aircraft Corporation recently issued mandatory service bulletins requiring inspection for and repair of any crack in the spar assemblies of Beechcraft Bonanzas and Barons. And while Part 91 operators don't have to comply with the service bulletins right now, if the FAA changes the airworthiness directives, the new service bulletins would become mandatory for everyone. AOPA and the American Bonanza Society have teamed up in a pre-emptive effort to prevent that. "This issue will ultimately affect owners of any older aircraft," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs. "That's because the FAA has changed its policy concerning cracks in structural members. Simply put, no more cracks."
Two experienced aerospace structures engineers have been contracted to determine what causes the cracks in the carry-through structure, bulkhead flanges, and fuselage skins, AOPA said yesterday. And data are being collected to determine what are the real safety issues and if the "cure" is worse than the problem.The issue directly concerns all owners of Bonanzas, Debonairs, Travel Airs, and normally aspirated Barons built between 1957 and the late 1980s, AOPA said. Previously (as was the case for the Beechcraft spar web), the FAA allowed, with periodic inspection, the existence of some cracks not deemed to be structurally significant (in many cases, the cracks could be stop-drilled). But with rising concern about aging aircraft, the FAA is becoming less tolerant of cracks and other indicators of metal fatigue. What that would mean is that aircraft that have continued to be operated for many years and many hours with known cracks under continued inspection would no longer be allowed to do so.
Owners would have to install a spar repair kit. But that brings with it a whole other set of problems, AOPA said. Installation of the kit is a delicate matter; done improperly, it may weaken the structure rather than reinforcing it. And there is a question whether Raytheon can produce enough kits to quickly repair affected aircraft. But there is dispute among various experts about whether the Bonanza-Baron cracking represents safety risk. Some contend the area where the cracks are most common is not structural. This is where AOPA and ABS have stepped in. "We've asked the FAA to give us time to develop data and research the most appropriate means of solving the problem," said Nancy Johnson, ABS executive director. In addition to hiring aerospace engineers, ABS is collecting hard data to help evaluate the scope of the problem. Beechcraft owners are requested to answer the questionnaire on ABS's Web site. "First and foremost, our concern is safety," said AOPA's Cebula. "This study should answer that. We also want to keep these great aircraft flying economically. Let's do what really needs to be done, but let's not fix what isn't really broken." AOPA has also prepared a regulatory brief on the issue.
CHECK WITH MARV BEFORE YOU BUY ANY PILOT SUPPLIES!
The FAA this week issued a straight-to-final-rule Airworthiness Directive (AD) that requires the control-wheel columns in many late-model New Piper aircraft to be inspected, and in many cases, modified with a retainer clip and thread-locking compound to prevent the control wheel from ... wait for it ... detaching. The AD was prompted by an accident in July 2003, when a pilot found that he had no aileron or elevator control. The pilot (who was not Al Haynes) landed the airplane on a dirt road using rudder and throttle to control movement, according to the NTSB preliminary report. The airplane was damaged, but the pilot was unhurt. A screw on the control wheel had backed out of its nut plate and caused the wheel to spin freely on the control column, the NTSB found. Further investigation revealed the screw was too short and the nut plate lacked proper locking features to prevent the screw from backing out and becoming disengaged, the FAA said. An investigation of sample fleets after the incident revealed that a large portion of the sampled airplanes had similar problems, the FAA said. New Piper issued a Service Bulletin in April that addresses the problem. The AD affects recently built New Piper Aircraft Inc. models PA-28-161, PA-28-181, PA-28R-201, and certain PA-32, PA-32R, PA-44, and PA-46 models.
Although this rule was posted as a Final Rule this week and there was no public-comment period, it was disseminated to various industry groups who were given a chance to respond to the FAA before it was published. And, according to AOPA, that process made all the difference for airplane owners. "The FAA originally proposed a repetitive 400-hour inspection," AOPA said in a news release yesterday. "But during the airworthiness-concern process, AOPA argued for a permanent fix to save owners the hassle and expense of repeated inspections. The final AD now specifies that if the screw needs to be replaced, it should be installed with Loctite thread-locking compound and a new retainer clip installed. That clip costs about $30." (AVweb sought comment from New Piper, but they were unable to respond before our deadline.) Owners of affected aircraft must have the control wheel inspected within 25 hours of service after Aug. 10 and the clip installed within 100 hours of service. Most owners will likely choose to have both done at the same time, AOPA said.
A BRAND NEW AIRCRAFT FOR THE COST OF A SECOND CAR!
Tower by tower, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) has been taking its show on the road, holding news conferences at busy airports around the country to voice concerns about understaffing. This week, media events at airports in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Honolulu followed similar ones held recently in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Seattle. At each conference, NATCA officials list for the local media the number of vacancies at each ATC facility, plus the number of imminent retirements. In Las Vegas on Monday, NATCA officials said there are only 35 fully trained controllers working at the local approach control facility, 21 short of the FAA-authorized total that should be there. The Las Vegas tower could face a shortage of 12 controllers within the next three years, NATCA said. In Chicago last week, NATCA said 56 percent of the controllers at the O'Hare tower could leave within the next five years. The Chicago TRACON's net loss of fully trained controllers since 1999 is 17, and it faces a shortage of nearly three dozen more controllers by the end of next year, according to NATCA. In Philadelphia earlier this month, NATCA said the tower and approach control facilities are facing a shortage of more than three dozen controllers over the next five years.
In Washington this week, NATCA lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill to approve $14 million for the training and hiring of new controllers in 2005. "Unless the funds for hiring are appropriated, staff shortages will inevitably lead to serious delays, congestion and, yes, safety concerns," NATCA President John Carr said in a news release Tuesday. "Given that it takes three to five years to train a controller -- and not everyone makes the cut -- this problem needs to be addressed now."
A new online guide to general aviation, unveiled Tuesday by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), was designed to educate the mass media, but it's likely to prove useful -- or at least interesting -- to many others. Among the information available at a click: profiles of GA manufacturers of airplanes, engines, avionics, and components; detailed information on nearly every airplane model since 1946, including range and speed information (let the debates begin), photos, the total number of airplanes shipped to date, and date of FAA certification; current quarterly shipment reports; and annual statistical reports on GA activities. The guide is up and running at GAMA's Web site. "GAMA has created the Media Guide to serve as a research tool for the media and others seeking timely information about our industry," GAMA President Ed Bolen said in a news release Tuesday. "It is our hope that it will prove useful whenever questions arise about general aviation airplanes, manufacturers, or industry information."
AVIDYNE ANNOUNCES MULTILINK MULTIPLE, COMPLEMENTARY SATELLITE DATALINK
Sometimes technological change is dramatic -- think pistons to jets -- but sometimes the subtle advances are just as revolutionary. One greatly appreciated part of an airplane that could one day be changing is the venerable pitot-static system. While doing away with a projecting pitot tube would also do away with a tiny bit of drag, the product of the probe's efforts offer an upside few of us would choose to turn down for less than a knot's gain. Still, the system can be inaccurate, especially at slow speeds, and is especially inadequate for helicopters. The Laser Air Speed Sensor Instrument project (LASSI) now in the works aims to develop optical sensors and ditch the tubes, replacing them with ultraviolet laser systems that would be more accurate, easier to maintain (that's the goal, anyway) ... and drag-free. The project, which started last year, is being worked on by BAE Systems, Advanced Optical Technology Ltd., Spectrum Technologies and the Department of Physics at Hull University in the U.K. For helicopters, LASSI will greatly improve the information provided to pilots during low-speed activities, BAE said. For fixed-wing aircraft, the reduction in drag achieved with the removal of pitot tubes will save fuel. The ability to "steer" the sensor will enable accurate vector measurements to be taken, which should improve the control of flight. For military aircraft, LASSI will enable a reduction in the radar cross-section of the aircraft, improving its survivability in enemy territory. LASSI could also be used for alternative applications such as mapping the airflow around buildings and structures, BAE said.
Steve Cunningham, a 41-year-old pilot who lost his sight at the age of 12, is working his way around Great Britain this week in a Piper Warrior to set records and raise funds for charity. He has a safety pilot on board, but is doing all the flying himself, with the help of a talking onboard computer. "The prompts come back every two seconds, and it will tell me things like whether I'm flying level, whether I'm banking to the right, banking to the left, in a descent or in a climb," Cunningham told reporters this week. "You don't fly an aircraft on what you can see, you fly an aircraft on the information that you are getting back from the control panel," he said. He just gets the information by sound rather than visually. (Unfortunately, he doesn't have one of those vibrotactile vests we told you about last year.) Cunningham said he spent three years learning to fly. He already has broken records for the fastest blind man on land and water. In 1999, he drove a Chrysler Dodge Viper over a measured course at 147.55 mph, and in 2000 he set a new world offshore powerboat record with a time of 74.4 mph in a V24 BAT boat, less than one second slower than the record for a fully sighted person in the same class of boat. Cunningham is also captain of the England Blind Football Team and an avid golfer. This week's record flight is raising cash for the Royal National Institute of the Blind and the British Deaf Association. Cunningham said he was also motivated by a desire to show what blind people can achieve.
AEROSHELL KNOWS WHAT PILOTS WANT TO PROTECT & SHINE THEIR AIRCRAFT
Aircraft may keep flying higher, faster, and more efficiently, but one thing seems to keep nagging at the world of aviation engineers -- and what some people really want is to fly just like a bird. Two projects underway this summer are working on the tricky mechanics of flapping flight. At Stanford University, a team of scientists and students funded with $1 million from the National Geographic Society are working to build a full-size flying replica of a pterosaur, a dinosaur with a 16-foot wingspan. A documentary about the project is due to air in 2006. At the University of Missouri, Prof. K.M. Isaac is inspired not by birds or beasts, but by bugs. He is studying the shape and weight of insect wings, and the frequency at which they flap, to help build robotic bugs with wingspans up to five feet. The bugs will be designed to fly in the low-density atmosphere of Mars. Scientists hope to perfect these interplanetary robo-bugs by the end of the decade.
The pilot of a single-engine Cessna was handcuffed and questioned when he landed at a Lancaster, Pa., airport last Friday after violating a TFR that accompanied a visit by President Bush...
Cessna and Learjet would get tax breaks worth up to a half-billion dollars over 10 years, in bills now pending in Congress, The Washington Post reported Monday...
At the recent Canadian Paragliding Nationals, the championship went to Will Gadd, holder of the world paragliding distance record...
Peru's largest airline, Aero Continente, was grounded Monday when it failed to obtain insurance, stranding hundreds of passengers in the midst of the tourist season...
The National Aeronautic Association said Tuesday that Adm. Wesley McDonald, U.S. Navy (Ret.), has won the Cliff Henderson Award for Achievement for his 56 years of support to American aviation...
The Department of Defense is conducting low-level flights in a Cessna 206 and a Twin Otter over the Washington, D.C., region this week to collect radar data...
Diamond Aircraft has appointed Premier Aircraft Sales of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a regional distribution center...
President Bush switched to a 757 on Monday when his 747 failed a preflight check due to a malfunctioning wing flap.
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Quiz #83 -- Oh No, LAHSO
LAHSO means Land And Hold Short Operations, and it's the FAA's controversial way to squeeze more air traffic onto the same old runways. Your task is to, well, land and hold short of other traffic. Got LAHSO? Hope so.
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Last week, AVweb asked the rather loaded question, "Are professional pilots overpaid?" Most of our respondents (professional pilots included) answered "no" only 1/3 of you thought those pilot salaries were a little high ... .
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Yet another Michiganite (Michigander?) takes home top honors in "PoTW"! Heather Johnson receives the golden AVweb baseball cap for her perfect shot of a de Havilland Tiger Moth. How are you guys doing it up there do you get a free camera with every checkride in now? No, don't tell us the secret just keep sending these amazing photos! As for the rest of you are you going to take this lying down? Is Michigan really the new capital amateur aviation photography? Well ... ?
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
Used with permission of Heather Johnson
"1945 de Havilland Tiger Moth over Michigan Farmland"
Heather Johnson of Milan, Michigan tells us, "As I understand it,
this is the last Tiger Moth to roll off the Morris production line." She also recommends
Marshall, Michigan (where the photo was taken) for its "vibrant GA community"
and Shuler's, a local restaurant with a free shuttle to the airport
Click here to view a large version of this image
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.
"The Concorde Joins the Intrepid"
Brinley Peck of Bear River, Nova Scotia tells us,
"I am not a professional photographer ... [but] the colors
seemed to really come out that day." Indeed they did, Mr. Peck!
copyright © Paul Drexler
"Col. Jim Riggins, USAF and His Long-EZE Over the AF Academy"
Burrall Sanders of Falcon, Colorado sends us this image of Col. Jim Riggins
(USAF) flying Sanders's 1956 Tri-Pacer over the Air Force Academy just last week;
Paul Drexler was the photographer
... and how could we look ourselves in the eye tomorrow if we didn't share
this photo Robbie Culver sent us from Waukegan, Illinois?
copyright © Robbie
"Hitchin' a Ride"
"I shot this photo of a skydiver riding the tail of a
King Air 200 at 12,500 feet," writes Culver.
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.
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