August 29, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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A story in Thursday's Boston Globe that warned in great detail of a neglected "small-plane terrorism threat" has drawn a response from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) -- the Washington think tank whose staff is quoted in the Globe as the basis for the story. "The Globe story is incomplete and does not take into account a broad range of findings that are still under development," CSIS spokesman Jay Farrar said in a statement posted on the CSIS Web site. The CSIS said its report is not yet finished, and "personal statements made before a study's completion ... do not place into context the full range of threats against the transportation system of the United States." The statement adds that "CSIS has not yet drawn any conclusions regarding the current vulnerability of, or recommendations to benefit, the entire transportation industry or general aviation in particular."
The Globe story quoted CSIS staff who said that Al Qaeda is known to have considered the use of small aircraft and helicopters for attacks on U.S. soil, and that sports stadiums are a "perfect target" for a Cessna 172 loaded with radiological material and explosives. "The no-fly zones over these stadiums are loosely enforced," the story says, quoting a CSIS staffer. An FAA official quoted in the story said that GA security efforts were dropped because they "would have cost too much." A TSA spokesman said, "These [small] planes aren't a focus for us. .... We don't have unlimited funds to deal with everything." The story continues, "Despite concerns expressed about general aviation after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, there are still no safety restrictions on these smaller planes, no metal detectors or screening of luggage. ... 'You can just drive up to your plane, load it with whatever you want and be off in 15 minutes,' said [a TSA spokesman]."
AOPA was quick to dash off a letter to The Boston Globe's editors, denouncing the story as "irresponsible," and noting that numerous GA security programs have been implemented since 9/11. Next time the Globe reports about GA issues, it should consult AOPA, the letter said. AOPA President Phil Boyer also responded to the story in an interview on a Washington, D.C., radio station, WTOP. Boyer told listeners that that most GA aircraft are operated in much the same way as other forms of personal transportation, like cars. "There's the general aviation airplane in which the pilot and the passengers know each other," Boyer said. "That's the norm." He added that the security measures imposed on commercial airlines and charter operations don't make sense for small airplanes used for personal transportation. The interviewer seemed to find Boyer's assurances "comforting," AOPA said.
FAA ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS ARE ON THE RISE!
With growing impatience, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) last week stepped up its call for more hiring, saying that it's not only a matter of a looming shortage -- many facilities already are understaffed. "We need action," said NATCA spokesman Doug Church in a news release Thursday. "In most locations, we cannot afford to wait on staffing any longer." Among the examples cited: Nashville Tower, authorized for 46 controllers, where 37 are certified and up to 14 controllers are expected to retire by the end of this year; Dayton Tower, where only 35 of 53 authorized controllers are certified; and Des Moines Tower, where only 24 of 34 authorized controllers are certified. Also mentioned were Tampa Tower, where 12 controllers out of 69 are eligible to retire, and where there will be an estimated shortage of 75 percent within the next six years; and Las Vegas TRACON, where 56 certified professional controllers are authorized but only 47 are on hand, with another six eligible to retire in the next year and 15 by 2007.
The controllers' union has also been pursuing a direct-to-the-public media campaign for more hiring. Last week, Church told The New York Times that this week's Republican National Convention could cause airline delays across the country, as controllers put other work on hold to deal with the increased security in New York City's airspace. The FAA disputed that, saying that the airspace restrictions will reduce local traffic, offsetting the increased workload. NATCA also cited a shortage of qualified controllers in the Bridgeport tower as a factor in the traffic conflict that affected Air Force Two last week.
We warned last month that it was happening, but amid all the angst over controller shortages, it seemed implausible that the FAA would actually yank its funding from a training center that churns out up to 70 percent of its en route controllers ... but that's what happened. The air traffic controller training center at Flying Cloud Airport, in Eden Prairie, Minn., will close down this fall, after the FAA decided to divert all of its training funds to Oklahoma City, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Thursday. The program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College had previously received up to $2 million a year from the FAA. The program graduates about 100 students a year, and employs 17 faculty and staff, including 12 former air traffic controllers. All 17 will probably have to be laid off, the school told the AP. The FAA budget is still wending its way through Washington's machinery, so there's always a chance that the funding will be restored. Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, told the AP he will try to amend the FAA budget when it comes to a House vote.
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An unidentified small private plane has been blamed as the cause of evasive action taken by Air Force Two, a military aircraft carrying Vice President Dick Cheney, early this month. The small aircraft came within 700 vertical feet and .44 mile (don't miss the decimal point) horizontally of Cheney's aircraft, setting off a traffic alert in the Air Force Two cockpit. Air Force Two was en route to White Plains, N.Y., at 7,500 feet when the conflict occurred, near Bridgeport, Conn., on Aug. 7. The FAA said Friday the event would not normally warrant an investigation, but because the vice president was involved, a report was sent to the Air Force. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association told Newsday that the controller on duty in the New York TRACON was a supervisor who had been called in, and was only minimally current on the system. "They only dabble in it," NATCA rep Dean Iacopelli said. "There is a real staffing crisis here." The FAA said both aircraft were flying VFR, and controllers were aware of the location of both aircraft at all times and acted appropriately.
As Russian investigators piece together what happened in last week's dual airline crash -- now officially labeled as a terrorist act -- U.S. officials, jittery over the intensifying campaign season, continue to scrutinize aviation activities. In Cleveland, Ohio, organizers are scrambling to get a waiver so they can go ahead with a planned air show this weekend after a stadium sports event was scheduled nearby. The FAA said that means no flying. If the show has to be cancelled, organizers said, the event is likely "doomed" for the future. Meanwhile, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, is getting used to a post-9/11 reality -- it may someday have to shoot down a passenger plane. "If we ever had to do that, the burden on the people who authorized the decision -- they would never be the same," said the head of intelligence for NORAD, who talked to the L.A. Times on the condition of "anonymity" (go figure). "Nor would the life of the fighter pilot who pulled the trigger." And last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced it has awarded $90 million to two contractors to build and test prototypes to determine whether a viable technology exists that could be deployed to address the potential threat that shoulder-fired missiles pose to U.S. commercial aircraft.
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The first U.S. Sport Aviation Expo, scheduled for Oct. 28-31 at Florida's Sebring Regional Airport, is drawing enthusiastic participation, EAA said last week. Extra exhibitor slots are being added, after the original allotment of 70 sold out, EAA said. The event will bring together Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) and kit manufacturers, component providers, dealers, flight schools, mechanic services, parts suppliers, insurance providers and others with possible business interests in the new world of Light Sport Aircraft. Several types of eligible LSAs, including fixed-wing, weight-shift trikes and powered parachutes, will be on static display, and flight demos will be continuous during the event. EAA reminds ultralight pilots of the Sept. 1 deadline to register for transition to the Sport Pilot certificate. Daily EAA educational forums about LSA and the Sport Pilot rule will be held. Camping will be available on the Sebring International Raceway. Hot-air balloon events are scheduled, and music is planned for Saturday night. General admission is $10 per day or $30 for all four days. Children ages 12 and under will be admitted free. EAA members are admitted for $8 per day and $25 for the full event. For more information and updates, go to the U.S. Sport Aviation Expo Web site.
Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., of Stratford, Conn., announced on Thursday that it has agreed to acquire Schweizer Aircraft Corp., a family-owned company based in Elmira, N.Y., that produces sailplanes, light helicopters, agricultural airplanes, reconnaissance aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). "Schweizer Aircraft is a great strategic fit for Sikorsky, providing us with proven leadership, a highly skilled and dedicated workforce, and immediate access to the light helicopter and UAV markets," Sikorsky President Steve Finger said in a news release. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The takeover, which has been approved by the leadership of both companies, is expected to be complete by late this year. "We have grown to the point where we can benefit from the increase in financial, technical and marketing resources that Sikorsky offers," said company President Paul Schweizer. Schweizer's 421 workers and management team are expected to remain in place after the acquisition.
Schweizer, which began operations in 1930, is the oldest privately owned aircraft manufacturer in the United States. The company has produced 2,160 sailplanes, 2,650 agricultural airplanes, more than 60 special-purpose fixed-wing aircraft and unmanned vehicles, and more than 900 helicopters. Schweizer manufactures three proprietary helicopters: the piston-powered Model 300C and 300CBi helicopters and the turbine-powered Model 333; two types of covert reconnaissance aircraft, the SA 2-37B and RU-38B; and the unmanned Fire Scout VTUAV air vehicle under subcontract to Northrop Grumman. Schweizer will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Sikorsky. Sikorsky is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, of Hartford, Conn.
IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN RECEIVE AVIATION WEATHER
Jim Londo, 60, of Everett, Wash., whose family helped found the Arlington Fly-In, died recently after a dramatic final flight. Londo and his nephew were passengers in a Cessna 185 flown by Londo's brother Bob on Aug. 21, when they went down in mountains 10 miles south of Toutle, Wash. The initial accident report cites weather of "1SM BKN001 OVC008." The Cessna caught fire on impact. Jim Londo, who was badly hurt and was himself burned over more than 60 percent of his body, dragged his unconscious brother from the burning wreck. They called for help with a cellphone, but rescue crews were unable to find the crash site. Jim Londo and his 16-year-old nephew, whose arm was broken, waited all night for help to arrive, as Bob, 47, who suffered first-degree burns to his face and legs, walked for hours through dense woods, leaving a trail of wreckage to find the way back. Rescuers arrived on the scene in the morning, but were unable to save Jim, who was lost to his injuries. In the mid-1990s, Londo had built one of the first GlaStar kitplanes for therapy as he recovered from a kick in the head from a horse. He was well-known at Arlington and in the Northwest aviation community. "If you met Jim and talked to him, you couldn't believe he was 60 years old. He had the enthusiasm of a teenager most of the time," his friend Jim Scott told the Everett Daily Herald. "That was his first love -- aviation and airplanes."
A new policy in Alaska that allows forest fires to burn unfettered unless structures are threatened has some aviation operators upset. "It's been a hot and dry summer here, great flying weather," R.D. Rosso, owner and chief pilot of Denali Air, told AVweb last week. "But I've lost more flying days to smoke this year than I ever lost to weather." Rosso said he's already been grounded about eight days out of the short summer flight-seeing season at Denali National Park, and that represents up to 100 passengers a day, at $240 apiece -- a substantial loss for a seasonal business. "If they can't fly today, it's not like they'll come back tomorrow," he said. "They're gone." About 100 separate fires are burning, and fewer than 10 percent are being fought by fire crews. Rosso said he's made multiple phone calls to the Bureau of Land Management to make sure they know the impact of their policies on small businesses like his. Alaska's flight-seeing companies are among the hardest hit by the smoke. Mike Moore, chief pilot of Northern Air Cargo, based in Anchorage, said the far-reaching smoke and haze has had minimal impact on his bottom line. "If a guy is waiting for his building supplies, and they don't get there today, they'll get there tomorrow," he told AVweb. "It's not that big a deal." The fires already have burned more than 5 million acres this year, the worst wildfire season ever recorded in the state.
DON'T BLINDLY RENEW YOUR AIRCRAFT'S INSURANCE WITHOUT SHOPPING
Eight sporty aircraft zooming over -- and under -- downtown Budapest at speeds up to 250 mph drew hundreds of thousands of spectators on Aug. 20, Red Bull says. Flying a track above the Danube River, the racers were required to fly between inflated pylons, underneath a bridge -- twice -- plus execute half and full rolls, and knife-edged and vertical flight. U.S. flyer Kirby Chambliss squeaked to a win at just under a minute and a half for the course. Red Bull says the huge turnout was boosted by holding the race on St. Stephen's Day, a national holiday in Hungary, and by the participation of Hungarian flyer Peter Besenyei, a three-time Aerobatics World Champion who is a national hero in his home country. Thousands more watched the races live on the Internet, Red Bull says. The next race in the international series will be held in Reno, Nev., Sept. 16-19.
TFRs over New York this week for the Republican National Convention...
The Society of Experimental Test Pilots says it will add sessions to its annual symposium due to an "unprecedented" response to its call for papers. The symposium is set for Sept. 15-18 in Los Angeles, and features a tour of the Mojave Spaceport...
The NBAA is offering six new scholarships for dispatchers and schedulers...
Flying-car update: NASA, Boeing, say it's in the works, and maybe 25 years away.
AVIDYNE'S NEW CMAX APPROACH CHARTS TAKE SITUATIONAL AWARENESS TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CEO of the Cockpit #36: Happier Times?
A meeting with a bunch of retired pilots inspires AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit to remember days gone by, and some of the great pilots he flew with. It doesn't make for very "P.C." stories, but they had some great times back in the jet-set days.
The Cessna, The Sky ... and the Cartoonist: Chapter One -- Introductory Flight
All pilots once were student pilots, a situation rife for guffaws around the flight club. John Ewing is a story-teller, former Disney animator, artist, and American now living in New Zealand. John documented his flight training in words and cartoons, and this month AVweb brings you the first chapter in his book.
MIKE BUSCH ANNOUNCES SPECIAL NEW YORK SEMINAR ON OCTOBER 2-3 ...
Reader mail this week about the great threat to the North, security in the bush, spin training, and much more.
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TRACK ALL IN-FLIGHT IFR AIRCRAFT IN REAL TIME!
Brown Field, south of San Diego has an 8,000-foot runway offering multiple intersection departures for smaller aircraft (and exits for larger ones)...
Experimental: Brown Tower, experimental ###, holding short of 26R on Bravo. Running late and ready to go.
Tower: Experimental ### hold short landing traffic ... Citation on four mile final.
Experimental: Hold short 26R, ###.
Tower: Experimental ###, can you make room over there on Bravo for the Citation coming off the active?
Experimental: We'll pull off into the run-up area, ###.
Tower: Thank you.
Experimental: Yup. But if there's anything else we could do ... like if they decide their limo needs shining ... please find someone else.
AVflash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest aviation news, articles, products, features and events featured on AVweb, the Internet's Aviation Magazine and News Service. http://www.avweb.com
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