October 11, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
|This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ... JA Air Center
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To balance the all-too-common overload of gloom and doom in the news, today we have a roundup of positive new things happening in the aviation world. For starters, Shiloh Airport, a pretty little field in Rockingham County, N.C. (which describes itself as "a pilots' airport run by pilots") is about to become the home of Opus Aircraft, a brand-new factory for building Light Sport Aircraft. Partners Frank Auman Jr. and Tony Dawson, local businessmen with aviation interests, plan to build the ARV Super 2, a British design first developed in the 1980s, the Triad Area Business Journal reported over the weekend. They'll hire 10 to 20 workers and build up to 50 airplanes a year to start, the Business Journal said. The airplanes are expected to sell for $50,000 to $70,000. The partners said they expect to begin production by early next year. The airport is in the midst of a five-year, $5 million renovation, during which a new terminal and hangars will be built, and new lights and nav equipment will be installed. If Opus succeeds in its plan, and brings forth 50 new Light Sport Aircraft that are safe and functional and sell like hotcakes, we think that would qualify as a positive new thing for aviation.
While Howard Stern's jump to a satellite station (provided by Sirius Radio) got all the media hype last week, over in Duluth, Minn., the aviation world got its own boost into the satellite age via XM Radio. Cirrus Design announced on Thursday that its satellite datalink weather option is now a reality. Dr. Robert Segal of Las Cruces, N.M., became the first customer to take delivery of fully integrated satellite datalink weather in a Cirrus SR22-G2. The recently certified XM weather datalink is a $7,490 factory-installed option, and users can subscribe to receive real-time information services such as NEXRAD, METARs, SIGMETs, AIRMETs, TFRs and lightning updates. The data feeds into the Avidyne multifunction display. Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier said in a news release, "Real-time in-cockpit weather provides reliable weather information to aid the pilot in the decision-making process -- particularly on longer flights. We have always believed that pilots should have access to as much information as possible to improve situational awareness. Real-time weather datalink is a key element that can greatly increase the safety and utility of general aviation." More ways to access more data in the cockpit -- another good new thing.
Meanwhile, at Adam Aircraft, in Englewood, Colo., good news has been on a roll. First there was the recent word that the Williams engine for their AdamJet was FAA-certified and good to go. Then the company received Type Inspection Authorization from the FAA for its A500 Centerline Twin, a major milestone on the road to getting the all-important Type Certificate. And last Friday, the company made two announcements: Adam Aircraft will guarantee insurance to fly the A700 jet for pilots who first buy and fly the A500 twin (that's the catch), and the FAA has accepted Adam's A700 Transition Training Syllabus under its FAA-Industry Training Standard (FITS) program. Since the A500 and A700 share the same side-stick flight controls, Avidyne avionics, circuit-breaker location and switch positioning, and also have similar takeoff, landing, approach and maneuvering characteristics, the A500 is an ideal training platform for the A700, the company said. To qualify for the insurance-assurance program, customers must place an order on both A500 and A700 aircraft. They are required to have a Private Pilot certificate, instrument privileges, 1,000 hours total time, 500 hours in complex aircraft and 200 hours in the A500 at the time of A700 delivery. If, for any reason, customers do not receive insurance coverage on the A700, the deposit will be refunded in full, the company said.
The FITS training program is the second one developed by Adam. The FITS' aim is to enhance safety by developing flight-training programs that are more convenient, more accessible, less expensive, scenario-based and more relevant to today's pilots. Instead of training pilots to pass practical tests, FITS will focus on decision-making, risk management and single-pilot resource-management skills, to help pilots expertly manage real-world challenges. The type-specific training is considered by many to be a boost on the path to insurability for pilots of the next generation of very-light jets. "With a FITS program for both the A500 and A700, we have created a consistent training protocol, which will support and encourage customer growth within our product line," said David Thompson, director of pilot training for Adam Aircraft.
THE PILOT INSURANCE CHALLENGE
Last week on Capitol Hill, the nascent "alternative space industry" barely deflected a potential meltdown -- a bill that was written to help boost space tourism came within hours of being passed with a new provision that some say would have killed the whole idea. In its original form, the legislation would have allowed paying passengers to fly into space as long as they were fully informed about the risks and signed a consent form. But during House-Senate negotiations, the bill was amended to charge the FAA with responsibility for the "safety of crew and spaceflight participants." Rick Tumlinson, founder of the Space Frontier Foundation, told National Public Radio's Science Friday last week, "What was going to happen was, some Senate staffers who didn't really know what was going on had put a little clause in there that would have basically said that the FAA is totally responsible for the safety of anybody riding in these rockets. In other words, you could be in a situation where you couldn't even basically sign away your rights, like you would if you go skiing." If faced with such a responsibility, and liability, it's unlikely the FAA could approve any passenger flights in the near future.
XCOR President Jeff Greason, who is working to build a rocket plane that can fly off a runway, told MSNBC, "No one in their right mind would suggest that in the first 10 or 20 years we're going to reach levels of safety in the vehicle that are indistinguishable from the safety of being on the ground. The only way we're going to learn how to be safe is to get out there and fly." The original bill notes that "space transportation is inherently risky," while the amended version adds this phrase: "but the industry should be held to the highest standards of safety when transporting humans." The bill was yanked at the last minute after objections arose. For now it's on hold, but it still may be renegotiated and resurface later this year for a vote. Tumlinson said supporters of space tourism should contact their Senators, especially if they're on the Commerce Committee, and tell them they support the House version of the bill, which would allow people to take the risks and fly in space without being overly regulated. If the correct version is passed, it "would be a real boon," Tumlinson said, "because some people are holding back on investing until they know what the regulatory environment's like."
While lots of companies are eager to develop new space technologies, they won't get far without financial backing. One source of that money, paradoxically, may be NASA. "NASA has just received close to 4,000 proposals for advanced technologies for space exploration from private companies, and they will be giving away something like $600 million over the next year or so for new concepts, new ideas and new technologies," Jerry Grey, director for aerospace policy at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, told NPR on Friday. Meanwhile, Walt Anderson, CEO of Orbital Recovery Corp., warned the annual conference of the Space Frontier Foundation on Saturday that fledgling U.S. companies may lose out to entrepreneurs around the globe if the U.S. doesn't get the regulatory climate right. "Europe has the same type of regulations as ours to prevent technologies from falling into the wrong hands," Anderson said, as reported by the Associated Press. "The difference is their implementation of those same recommendations is more realistic and allows us to run our business. ... We have to keep in mind that the United States, while we've brought a lot of technology into the world, may no longer be the center of the universe for space forever." Later this month, the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee will hold an all-day meeting in Washington, D.C., and will address such issues as funding, insurance and training of the next generation of aerospace technicians.
Futron Corp., whose space-tourism market study has been frequently cited by the alternative-space entrepreneurs, recently released the entire 79-page study to the public domain. The study, originally published in 2002, is based on a poll of affluent Americans. The poll gauged the level of interest in, and willingness to pay for, space tourism experiences among those people with the means to afford such flights. Futron used the poll results to generate a 20-year forecast for consumer demand for orbital and suborbital space tourism. Among Futron's findings: The overall space tourism market could generate revenues in excess of $1 billion per year by 2021; suborbital space tourism has the potential for 15,000 passengers and $700 million in revenues per year by 2021; and orbital space tourism could attract 60 passengers and $300 million in revenues per year by 2021. "Futron worked very hard over the course of several months to objectively and accurately analyze the space tourism market," said Phil McAlister, director of Futron's Space & Telecommunications Division. "We hope that our efforts, as captured in this report, will benefit the many people interested in this promising market."
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The Yankee Air Museum's 50,000-square-foot hangar, at Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti, Mich., burned to the ground Saturday evening, destroying at least four airplanes and countless aviation artifacts. The crew of a B-25D who had just returned from a flight were able to save the airplane and the museum's two other flying classics -- a C-47 and a B-17G. The hangar, which is owned by the Wayne County Airport Authority, has been cited in the past for fire and structural safety concerns, according to the Detroit News. A 2001 report, commissioned by the museum, said the 63-year-old building lacked a fire-suppression system and proper fire exits. No one was hurt in the fire and the cause has not yet been determined. Museum President Jon Stevens told the Detroit News damage is estimated at between $5 million and $7 million. "Obviously, we had concerns with the old building," Stevens said. "We have been working over the last three years to raise money. At this time, we cannot do so." The hangar was originally built as part of a plant designed by Henry Ford to produce B-24 Liberator bombers on assembly lines for World War II. "It's a terrible loss, not only for us, who have put so much time and our hearts into that place, but really it's a loss for southeast Michigan and the aviation world," museum member Raymond Nickels told the News.
More aircraft will be patrolling the border between the Northeastern U.S. and Canada, now that a new Air and Marine Operations (AMO) Center has opened in Plattsburgh, N.Y., on the site of a former Air Force base. (All of North America can now sleep a little easier.) The center is the second of five new branches planned for the northern border. The first, located in Bellingham, Wash., opened in August. The other three are tentatively planned for Michigan, North Dakota and Montana. Charles Stallworth, director of Air and Marine operations, told the Associated Press the five bases will enable agents to respond anywhere along the 4,000-mile border within an hour. Two prop planes, two helicopters and 40 people will be based at the new facility, the Associated Press said. High-speed boats from the base will patrol Lake Champlain. Agents are on the watch for illegal aliens and drug smugglers as well as terrorist activity. The AMO also operates a training branch in Oklahoma City and an operations center in California. It has over 1,000 employees and a fleet of 134 aircraft and 72 vessels.
CS&A REPRESENTS OVER 40 MAJOR PROPERTY & CASUALTY UNDERWRITING COMPANIES
The FAA is increasing efforts to study airline maintenance mistakes and find ways to prevent them, The Charlotte Observer reported on Thursday. Such errors have been blamed for contributing to the crashes of commuter planes in Charlotte, N.C., and Cape Cod, Mass., last year. Two new inspectors who specialize in maintenance "human factors" have been hired by the FAA, the Observer said. Bill Johnson and Jay Hines will study how human factors such as fatigue and poor communication among mechanics can cause maintenance mistakes. Former NTSB member John Goglia told the Observer he is encouraged by the FAA's effort, but there is a long way to go to achieve results. The NTSB issued its probable-cause report on the Cape Cod crash in August, and found the elevator trim system had been mis-rigged. The safety board came to a similar conclusion in its report on the Charlotte crash, issued in June. The aircraft in both cases was a Beech 1900D. Two pilots died in the Cape Cod crash, and the Charlotte accident killed all 21 on board. From 1994 to 2003, maintenance problems contributed to 42 percent of fatal airline accidents in the United States, excluding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a study by the Observer. That was up from 16 percent the previous decade.
The Maori, New Zealand's native people, triggered an uproar last week when they said they may start charging fees for the use of airspace above Lake Taupo, a popular tourist destination on the North Island. The fees would apply not only to floatplane landings, but overflights ... bungee jumping ... and bridges across the rivers that flow into the lake. In 1992, the Maori and the government signed a "deed of settlement" giving ownership of Lake Taupo and its waters to the tribe. That deed gives the tribe half of all fishing license money and revenue from ramp, marina and mooring charges, which generates about $1 million (NZ) for the Maori. The airspace grab prompted political finger-pointing over who was to blame for the "sloppy" deed, as well as concern that it would anger non-Maori New Zealanders and worsen race relations. Another group of Maori had suggested last month that their land rights extend all the way to outer space, and they might begin charging fees to airliners and satellites that traverse it.
AVIDYNE CERTIFIES XM DATALINK WEATHER SOLUTION
As the legacy airlines struggle to avoid bankruptcy, several are duking it out with their workers, slashing pay and benefits. In the process, some airline pilots are speaking out about the frustrations of their jobs -- it seems it's just not as much fun as it used to be. To squeeze out more productivity, airlines are scheduling quick turnarounds and bunking the crews in cheap, boring hotels close to the airports. Security rules restrict their contact with passengers, they have to go through tedious security checks like everyone else. "It is pretty demeaning to stand there with four stripes on your uniform and take off your shoes," US Airways Capt. Jeffrey Duisik told The Charlotte Observer. (There are minds that wonder why a pilot would need a weapon to take an airplane down.) As of 2002, the median annual earnings of airline pilots was about $110,000. But most pilots make salaries in that range only for a small portion of their 30 or more years in the cockpit, US Airways pilot-union chairman Bill Pollock told the Observer. Under a tentative agreement between the union and the airline, pilots will take an 18-percent pay cut, reducing the average pay from $154,900 to $127,018. Maximum monthly flight hours will increase from 85 to 95, and vacation days are capped at 21 per year. A running forum at pprune.com, a Web site for flight crews, has logged 62 comments from pilots and ex-pilots on the topic of "Are you still enjoying it?!!" Many describe a stressed-out, worn-out, discouraging climate at today's airlines. According to one, "If you're flying for an airline, just accept you are doing it for the money, and find your fun elsewhere!" Others cite "crushing tedium ... a subtle blend of fatigue, frustration, boredom, broken up by periods of high stress ... wouldn't pursue airline flying again ... a real grind." But some take a more philosophical tone: "Yes, opting out sometimes seems like a good idea, but, if I'd been in any other job, I would have died of boredom years ago and after 39 years, it's still the best way in the world to earn a living."
The world's biggest lighter-than-air flying event, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, wrapped up its 33rd annual edition yesterday in Albuquerque, N.M. For nine days, 750 balloons from all over the world participated in activities ranging from mass ascensions with all the balloons taking off together, to special-shape rodeos, to balloon glows with acres of tethered balloons lighting up the immense park after dusk. Wind and rain caused some delays and cancelled a few events. Yesterday morning, a balloon (the head of Smokey The Bear) got tangled in a radio tower, but the occupants were able to climb down (about 700 feet) safely. In the America's Challenge gas-balloon race, several teams landed early due to thunderstorms, but the first-place team, Richard Abruzzo and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, flew about 600 miles. It's the fifth first-place finish for Abruzzo. The Albuquerque fiesta claims the reputation as the most photographed event on the planet. For many years Kodak was the title sponsor.
SCOPED OUT NEW AVIONICS & FOUND THEM WAY ABOVE YOUR BUDGET?
The U.S. House passed a bill last week that includes an extension of the bonus-depreciation tax break for new GA aircraft...
Bombardier Aerospace will lay off 2,000 workers in Montreal and Belfast due to slowing demand for its 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet...
Kirby Chambliss took top place at the U.S. National Aerobatic Championships, held in Texas recently. It was his fourth win...
Boeing's 7E7 design is using consolidated systems and lightweight materials to slim down by thousands of pounds, all in an effort to save fuel...
Wires found cut in cockpit of Malaysian Airlines Airbus A330 last week; officials suspect vandalism rather than terrorism...
The National Aeronautic Association announced last week that David Ivey has taken over as its new president and CEO.
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The Wide, Wild Skies Of Alaska
The vastness of Alaska presents both an enticement and a threat to the pilots who fly there. AVweb Newswriter Mary Grady visited Anchorage this summer and filed this report on how Alaska's aviation community is working to get the job done without getting killed in the process.
Reader mail this week about civilian astronauts, ATC staffing, presidential TFRs and more.
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