November 10, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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SUBSCRIPTION TO WEATHERTAP.COM IS A PERFECT PILOT GIFT
The NTSB is accusing the FAA of fudging the numbers when it comes to runway incursions, but FAA chief spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb the charge is "really unfounded." In its annual "Most Wanted List" of safety improvements, the NTSB suggests the number of incursions are dropping because FAA staff members simply don't report them. "The fact that such incidents are not being reported casts doubt on the FAA's claims that the runway incursion rate is declining," NTSB Chairman Engleman Conners said. The doubts were raised when the NTSB discovered FAA staff at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) didn't report a near-collision between a Boeing 747 and a Boeing 737 in August (shown with dramatic computer-generated re-enactment and cockpit voice recording voice-over on some TV news stations Tuesday). However, FAA spokesman Laura Brown told CNN said the incident hadn't been reported because the agency hasn't finished investigating it yet. Martin, speaking for the FAA, said the incident was certainly serious but there was no attempt by the FAA to conceal it. He said the investigation was caught up in a bureaucratic tangle over how to properly classify it. Martin said the agency stands by the figures showing that serious runway incursions have decreased from 22 in 2000 to six in 2003. The LAX mishap occurred when a tower controller cleared a Southwest 737 to take off from the same runway that an Asiana 747 had already been cleared to land on. The Asiana pilot spotted the 737 while on short final and went around. As a result of the incident, the NTSB is downgrading the FAA's response to runway incursion hazards from "open-acceptable" to "open-unacceptable" and recommending the FAA "review its reporting process."
The topics for the rest of the list are familiar but it's clear the NTSB is growing impatient with the FAA's implementation of new safety initiatives. For instance, the NTSB has been asking the agency for eight years to tighten up standards to help prevent aircraft icing, but the lack of progress has resulted in another "unacceptable" rating. Ditto for short-term measures to combat (explosive) vapor hazards in aircraft fuel tanks, although the NTSB did note that long-term solutions, by way of mandatory flammability-reduction systems in new aircraft, appear to be on the way. The well-known TWA Flight 800 incident is just one of several exploding Boeing incidents that brought the fuel-tank issue into the spotlight. The board continues to ask for a requirement that audio, data and video recorders have minimum recording times of two hours to allow investigators to get more information on events leading up to a crash. Although some progress has been made, the NTSB still rates the effort as unacceptable. The NTSB also wants child restraints to be installed on airliners, but they aren't required. Of course, little things like terrorists, stronger cockpit doors, armed pilots and airline bankruptcies may have caused some distractions at the FAA, but no one said it was going to be easy ...
The NTSB criticism comes a couple of days after FAA officials patted themselves on the back for some improvements made in the last year. In launching its annual "Flight Plan," the five-year road map for the agency, officials noted that crashes had declined and the FAA was handling more air traffic more efficiently. But the agency also told reporters there's trouble ahead as declining revenue from airline tickets and increased traffic resulting from the switch to smaller airliners combine to create a classic conundrum. "I think things are coming together in a bad way," said Ken Mead, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General. But even though the contents of the report paint a troubling picture, the report itself is a shining example of how to bring these things to light, at least according to the Association for Strategic Planning. The California group awarded the FAA its Richard Goodman Strategic Planning Award for the "Flight Plan" issued at this time last year. "This award and other recent recognition should change perceptions that it is not business as usual at the FAA," said Administrator Marion Blakey.
LOOK TO THE PIEDMONT HAWTHORNE AIRCRAFT SALES TEAM WHEN YOURE BUYING or SELLING YOUR NEXT AIRCRAFT
When Forbes Magazine this week came up with a David Letterman-style Top Ten list on why U.S. airlines are in trouble, it saved some of the blame for GA. What's more, the sector it singles out doesn't even exist yet. The venerable business journal claims that "a new generation of microjets ... will forever change air travel. Small jet air travel is quickly becoming more affordable, allowing travelers to bypass congested big-city airports." And while such sentiments might be music to the ears of the folks at Eclipse, Adam, Diamond and Cessna, for the majority of us still working on our first million, the harsh realities of the business are perhaps more relevant. Juxtaposed with the Forbes assessment was an ad for Citation Shares, a fractional company (75 percent owned by Cessna) that runs a fleet of Cessna jets. Last summer it unveiled the Vector JetCard, in which customers pay up front for 25 hours of flight time in their choice of a CJ1 ($84,995), Bravo ($99,995) or Excel ($144,995). Federal excise tax pushes the CJ1 price to $91,370 for the 25 hours and comes to $3654.80 an hour. Even if you fill up all five seats all the time it's not likely to give Jet Blue a run for its money.
Before the mini-jets take a serious swipe out of any airline's bottom line, the carriers have some rather more pressing problems to deal with. How about a collective debt of $100 billion (Canada's national debt is around $500 billion), losses of more than $25 billion since 9/11 and fuel prices going through the roof? Add to that a traveling public addicted to cheap air fares and, according to Forbes, there are bound to be a few more airlines augering in. But some will also prosper. Southwest, Jet Blue and Air Tran are no longer the annoying upstarts they were 15 years ago. The discounters command 30 percent of the market and, since they're structured to accommodate lower fares, they can make money when the so-called legacy carriers can't. According to one analyst, overall revenue has dropped $15 billion with revenue per seat mile dropping from about 13 cents a mile in 2000 to about 11.25 cents now. The big guys can no longer count on subsidizing the people in the back with the suits in the front section, either. With the tough economy, more and more business travelers are hunting down cheap fares, packing a lunch and putting on a set of noise-canceling headphones to drown out the crying babies.
Of course, the majors didn't get to be the majors without some things going for them and, although their employees can sometimes be their harshest critics, enlightened self-interest appears to be a factor in some recent concessions. Northwest pilots recently took a 15-percent pay cut for the next two years and relaxed clauses on adding regional jets. Delta pilots will finish voting on a similar package today but it won't prevent more job losses, at least among other staff. In addition to seeking concessions, Delta is cutting up to 6,000 jobs, largely by closing its Dallas hub. There will also be significant job losses in Atlanta. Up to 1,800 administrative, 2,000 technical and 3,100 customer-service staff will be affected. The airline will look for volunteers to take a severance package and then it will start furloughing.
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There's just something about flying. Ignoring all the doom and gloom surrounding the airline industry, young people continue to flock toward careers in aviation, according to the Daytona Beach News Herald's coverage of a recent aviation career fair. The News Herald sent a reporter to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's annual career fair and found optimism at every turn. "The demand will be there in five years," said future airline pilot Brian McCasey. "The objective is to get in now." Although some airlines are having a tough time, many GA businesses are flourishing, according to Michelle Ross, the human resources coordinator for World Airways, a Georgia-based charter operator. She said the business has been profitable for 18 months and needs more pilots and ground crew. And while there are any number of solid, practical reasons to look for a job in aviation, Phil Roberts, vice president of the staid management-consulting firm Unisys, said many people are drawn by the excitement and adventure of the business.
The Canadian Transportation Safety Board is trying to figure out why the drive belt came off a Robinson R-22 helicopter, resulting in a crash that killed its pilot in August. The chopper suffered the "sudden loss of power" over a lake on Vancouver Island. Spokesman Bill Yearwood said that although the pilot initiated autorotation, he apparently flared too high and the aircraft plunged vertically into McGyver Lake, near Campbell River. Yearwood said safety board technicians have spent the last couple of months going through the helicopter's drive system to see if the problem is a design fault or a maintenance error. He did say the belt appears to be the wrong size for the helicopter. Technicians are also examining the electrically operated belt-tensioning system.
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As technology marches on, some are bound to get stepped upon, but a Colorado company says it's doing its best to ease the pain some of its aircraft telephone customers are feeling. AirCell built its earlier systems around the analog cellphone networks that used to be the norm for ground-based cellphones. But now, most cellphones are digital and some cellular providers are phasing out analog systems. According to California pilot Chris Schwartz, that will soon make the $11,000 phone system he bought from AirCell three years ago nothing more than a "paperweight." He said he's also upset that Aircell's solution is to ask him to pay another $10,000 for a satellite phone. AirCell spokesman Bill Peltola told AVweb that's half the regular price for a satellite phone and most customers are happy with the arrangement. Peltola said the speed of the conversion from analog to digital caught his company by surprise and AirCell simply didn't have the market clout to keep the analog sites alive. "We are a small player when it comes to the dollars that move around in the cellular world," Peltola said. He said he understands the frustration of some analog system owners but noted there's been an "overwhelmingly positive response" from most who've been offered the half-price satcom system. The satellite systems, which use Boeing's constellation of 66 Iridium low-orbit satellites, offer worldwide service and can be used to get weather graphics and other information. Their coverage is guaranteed for at least 10 years. Digital service for phones and other devices will be available for aircraft in 18 months to two years, said Peltola.
Feeling blue that with November here, winter is not far behind? Grounded pilots have a good excuse to spend their time playing video games when they can't get a real flight fix. A study of cadets in the Israeli Air Force flight school showed that a game-playing group performed better in real-life flying tests than non-gaming cadets. Standard commercial combat-game software was used. The study found the games required skills in tracking, monitoring, situation assessment and memory, and honed workload-coping and attention-management skills. The video training was subsequently incorporated into the flight-school curriculum. Now, 10 years after that study, the same researchers are developing software targeted at improving the scores of basketball players. Aimed at college and professional teams, the "IntelliGym" products claim to give a competitive edge -- exercise for the brain. Can games for pilots be far behind?
NEW AIRCRAFT HOLIDAY SPECIAL! FRACTIONAL AIRCRAFT OWNERSHIP
Well, don't get the hankies out yet. 121.5 megahertz -- the longtime distress frequency for emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) -- is on its way out, but the funeral is not till 2009. The new frequency is 406 MHz, and it's more precise, more reliable, and less prone to interference from false signals, such as from malfunctioning TV sets or pizza ovens (yes, it's happened). So why is it taking so long to switch over? It's also more expensive. The new digital ELTs cost about $1,500, compared to about $500 for the venerable old style. But if you need somebody to come find you, how much would it be worth to know they have your GPS coordinates? "Sarsat takes the 'search' out of search and rescue!" says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs the program. The 406 MHz signals decrease rescue time by six hours, NOAA said, and are more reliable.
Last month, local emergency officials knocked on a Oregon man's door to find out what distress he was in -- and discovered that his Toshiba television was sending out a signal on 121.5. Such false alarms from electronic devices happen about twice a year, according to The New York Times. The new digital beacons are designed to work with satellites, and send signals filled with digital information, rather than 121.5's crude homing signal. They are also immune to electromagnetic interference, unlike the 170,000 old-style ELTs still in service. As for Chris van Rossman, of Oregon, Toshiba is sending him a new TV set. Meanwhile, he's adapting to life without television. "I've managed to get out of the house more often," he said, according to The New York Times. "So that's a good thing."
There aren't many places you can have this much leading-edge, high-tech fun and help restore a priceless piece of aviation history too. The Commemorative Air Force is unveiling its P-51 Mustang "Tuskegee Airmen" flight simulator at the Mall of America in St. Paul, Minn., today. The simulator will be set up at ACES Flight Simulation in the mall and part of the proceeds from taking a spin in it will help the Red Tail Project fix a rare P-51C damaged in an emergency landing earlier this year. The Red Tail Mustang is a flying tribute to the Tuskegee Airman, the all-black squadron formed to fly bomber escort in World War II. It's been undergoing an extensive (read expensive) restoration since it was damaged May 29. Red Tail Project Coordinator Stan Ross said the fully functional simulator will give patrons a taste of what it might have been like high above Europe in the mid-1940s. "When people can experience the realism of flying this remarkable aircraft, I believe they will quickly realize the importance of helping get the actual Red Tail Mustang back in the air," Ross said.
FLYING RENTED OR BORROWED AIRCRAFT?
MT composite propellers are now STC'd for Aviat Husky aircraft. MT sales rep Larry Schlasinger said the composite props are lighter and offer better climb and cruise performance...
You could get a real charge out of flying Korean Air if you don't behave. The Transportation Security Administration has given the airline approval to equip crew members with Taser guns to subdue would-be terrorists or other onboard threats. Others are bound to follow...
A potentially pricey change to maintenance regulations has been delayed by the FAA. The agency has put off, until the end of February, implementing regs that would bar Part 135 operators from blocking access to aircraft seats to reduce passenger capacity to nine. Planes with nine or fewer seats operate under less stringent maintenance requirements...
Onex Corp., a Canadian investment company, may buy Boeing's Kansas and Oklahoma commercial operations. British-based GKN PLC had been poised to buy the sites in Wichita, Kan., and Tulsa and McAlester, Okla., but pulled out of the deal for undisclosed reasons...
The city of Chicago has been given an extra 30 days to fight Meigs-related fines. The FAA gave the city until Dec. 3 to explain why it shouldn't have to pay back $1.5 million intended for repairs at O'Hare International Airport that it used instead tear up the runway at Meigs.
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com.
IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN RECEIVE AVIATION WEATHER
Say Again? #43: All Points Bulletin
Air Traffic Bulletins written for controllers may not seem important to a pilot, until you see one that starts, "A fatal aircraft crash ..." AVweb's Don Brown spends some time this month with a few points made for the benefit of controllers and, he hopes, pilots too.
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SEE CLEARLY METHOD IMPROVES & STRENGTHENS VISION NATURALLY
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb asked who you voted for in the U.S. Presidential elections and whether your candidate's positions on GA had affected your vote.
George W. Bush won a clear majority of the AVweb vote, but not because of his stands on GA. 52% of you reported casting a Republican ballot, but not because of the party's GA platform. Only 4% of our respondents said they voted for Bush specifically because of GA issues.
More John Kerry supporters were in his camp because of GA 8% of you reported being swayed by Kerry's positions on aviation. Another 25% cast a vote for Kerry based entirely on non-aviation issues.
1% of AVweb readers voted for Ralph Nader, though we didn't ask if it was because of his opinions on GA.
Another 8% of AVweb readers told us their candidate did not appear on our "exit poll." In fact, we completely forgot to offer a third party option (other than Nader) in our original poll, and a handful of our readers called us to task. As usual, our readers made a good point so we added an option for "my candidate isn't on the list" halfway through the week. (And that category still managed to score 8% of the vote! AVweb readers are an independent-minded group, indeed.)
3% of eligible American readers didn't vote at all, and another 5% of our readership reported being ineligible to vote in the U.S. elections.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
This week, we want to know how much you trust the FAA in its role as protector and police for the commercial aviation industry.
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Thanks to all our contributors for a great batch of "POTW" entries! This is the most submissions we've had since August, and almost every one was a "final ten" contender. With all the great images, it took a little longer to select this week's winners but when the dust had settled (and the pizza and soda had been finished off), Jim Haseltine walked away with top honors. An official AVweb baseball cap is on its way, Jim! (Just, uh, ignore that marinara sauce.)
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
copyright © Jim
"The Pride of South Dakota"
Jim Haseltine of Omaha, Nebraska tells us these F-16Cs
are from the 114th Fighter Wing of Sioux Falls, SD. He snapped
them as they were making a photo pass at Mount Rushmore.
here to view a large version of this image
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.
Tom Maxwell of Houston, Texas contributes an
alphabet soup of N-numbers from this year's
Land of Enchantment Fly-In.
Used with permission of Steven Holder
"Aerial Air Fighters"
Steven Holder of Naples, Florida sends in this
shot of refueling tankers from Dawson City, Yukon.
"I was grounded for several days because of IMC,"
explains Steven, "and I am VFR only."
And, because you sent us such a great mix
of submissions this week, two bonus photos:
copyright © Roy G.
"If I Had a Set of Wings, Man, I Know She Could Fly ..."
Roy Simkins of Limerick, PA says she's "not quite a
'little Deuce Coupe,' but she can still tug airplanes around."
Used with permission of
"A Dream Come True"
Herbert Lee Griffin Jr. of North Pole, Alaska
has finally achieved a lifelong goal of many pilots
that's his aircraft and his hangar! Congratulations, Lee!
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.
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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Fly it until each part stops moving.
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