November 28, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Probably the longest-running debate in aviation circles (besides how to properly lean an engine) took a twist this week. After decades of defending mandatory retirement at age 60 for airline pilots, the largest pilots' union has agreed that it might be time for a change. "We have to be convinced (a change) would not affect safety," John Mazor, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), told the St. Petersburg Times. "But there's enough there to warrant a re-examination. Everybody understands that age 60 is an arbitrary number." The union plans to poll its 64,000 members in the spring. Critics of the regulation, enacted in 1959, argue that today's 60-year-olds are more active, healthier and better-equipped for the job than their counterparts 40 years ago. They also argue that advances in aircraft and navigation technology have changed the job over the years.
The union's stance isn't the only thing that's changed in the debate. The strong dose of emotionalism that has always characterized the issue is giving way to more practical arguments. As struggling airlines work with worker unions to slash salaries (up to 35 percent at some carriers) and dump once-lavish pension plans, some senior pilots are facing a retirement cash crunch. "Sixty-three would have been nice," Jim Hamilton, a US Airways pilot who will turn 60 this week, told the Times. "No one knows how long you'll live or if you'll outlive your money." More than 40 other countries have raised their pilot retirement age to 63 or 65. Mazor acknowledged that part of the impetus behind the union's review is that some pilots are hurting financially. The union fought the rule for the first 20 years after its enactment but then changed its position in 1980 because of the FAA's intractability on the issue. It changed its focus, instead, to negotiating the generous retirement packages that are now in jeopardy.
Last we heard, the FAA remains adamant in upholding the rule. It's a topic that always comes up at the annual Meet The Boss session at EAA AirVenture and current FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has consistently refused to consider a change. Could it be taken out of the FAA's hands? Congress in 2001 considered (and eventually voted against) a bill to raise the age to 63. ALPA lobbied against that bill but a change in the union's position might be enough to sway Congress, said Kit Darby, a United pilot who runs a pilot career-consulting business called AIR Inc. Meanwhile, there continues to be no shortage of grass-roots opposition to the rule. A new organization, Airline Pilots Against Age Discrimination, has launched a Web site and is conducting a letter-writing campaign. Its slogan is: "The best safety device on our nation's airliners is an experienced pilot!"
NOTE: See AVweb's prior coverage, which includes issues surrounding medical factors, accidents and age.
JA AIR CENTER YOUR GARMIN SOURCE PRE-HOLIDAY SPECIAL!
Theoretically, you should be able to get your next weather briefing in person if you want to. With some prompting from AOPA, the FAA has determined that there's no good reason to keep pilots out of flight service stations and towers as long as the security threat remains at yellow or below. According to AOPA, that means that FSSs should be open for walk-in briefings and that pilots should be allowed into air traffic control facilities for "operational purposes" that include tours and Operation Raincheck programs. But you might want to check first. The FAA says access is conditional on there being staff to conduct the tours and if the threat level goes up the doors might be locked again. The issue was raised during a session with Transportation Security Administration chief Adm. David Stone at AOPA Expo last month.
New fees recommended by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) could decimate the ranks of FAA designees who "volunteer their service for the betterment of recreational aviation," according to EAA. A couple of weeks ago, the GAO suggested the FAA improve oversight of safety and certification programs and pay for it by charging application and registration fees to the non-FAA people who do most of that work. But EAA's Earl Lawrence claims many of those who inspect recreational aircraft and conduct flight exams do so voluntarily and they're already saving the FAA millions of dollars in the process. The designee program was initiated because the agency doesn't have the staff and resources to get all the work done itself. "There is no better way to dry up a pool of people willing to devote time to help aviation than to begin charging them for their willingness to serve," said Lawrence. The fees are a long way from reality, however. It would take congressional legislation, something EAA and virtually every other alphabet group would surely fight.
WHAT DO APPLYING FOR LIFE INSURANCE & A RAMP CHECK HAVE IN COMMON?
It could soon be illegal to fly an airplane drunk in Pennsylvania (but don't do it anywhere else, either). Last January, when John Salamone took his plane on an allegedly drunken spree of busted regs and near-collisions through some of the country's most crowded airspace, prosecutors discovered that there actually isn't a law against drinking and flying in Pennsylvania. A judge decided the state's impaired-driving laws didn't apply, and Salamone was eventually convicted of reckless endangerment and risking a catastrophe. He faces up to nine years in prison when he's sentenced later this year. On Friday, the state House and Senate both passed the Flying While Impaired Bill. Gov. Ed Rendell has to sign the bill to enact the law but it's doubtful he'll oppose it. In addition to drunk-driving laws, the state also has laws against operating a boat while under the influence. Rep. Kate Harper, who co-sponsored the bill, said she was surprised (as were many others) to discover there wasn't a similar law for pilots. "I don't think we have that many incidents of drunk flying, but even one is too many," she told the Times Herald newspaper.
Air Canada contends the country's language laws are hurting its ability to compete with budget-priced rivals. Representatives of the struggling airline, which recently emerged from court-ordered bankruptcy restructuring, appeared before a House of Commons committee pleading for relaxation of rules that force it to comply with the Official Languages Act, a law that ensures service in French and English. Air Canada claims the rule, which doesn't apply to competitors like WestJet and Jetsgo, costs it $140 million (Canadian) a year in language training. But instead of a sympathetic ear, the airline got a tongue-lashing ... in both official languages. One committee member complained that he was bumped to an executive-class seat but the flight attendant up front couldn't speak French. Another called the presentation "deplorable," while others ripped the airline's choice of French Canadian singer Celine Dion as the centerpiece of a new ad campaign. The bilingual rule for Air Canada was imposed when it took over Canadian Airlines and commanded 95 percent of the market. Spokesman Duncan Dee said that since the airline has lost more than a third of its market since then, the budget carriers should either be forced to comply with the language laws or the rules should be relaxed for Air Canada.
DO YOUR HOLIDAY SHOPPING AT THE MARV GOLDEN PILOT SHOP
New Zealand aviation officials failed to take action against a pilot involved in a fatal crash despite numerous warnings about his competence and attitude, a coroner's inquest was told on Thursday. The inquest is reviewing a June 6, 2003, crash near Christchurch that killed pilot Michael Bannerman and seven passengers aboard the Air Adventures Piper Chieftain. As AVweb told you last week, the inquest raised questions about the Civil Aviation Authority's (CAA's) medical standards. Records presented at the inquest showed that another pilot complained in writing to the CAA that Bannerman had repeatedly breached CAA rules and that another pilot had warned of Bannerman's "get-home-itis." The recent focus has been on the CAA's safety reporting and enforcement process, which "failed horribly," according to Jonathan Eaton, the lawyer for the families of the seven passengers. CAA spokesman Mervyn Falconer said he spoke with Bannerman, who denied all of the allegations. Falconer said he took Bannerman at his word and gave the pilot a stern warning that the rules must be obeyed and that Air Adventures would be watched. He said complaints are handled on a case-by-case basis and, without hard evidence of wrongdoing, nothing more could be done.
Well, when you're running a space program with mostly volunteers, you have to expect some hiccups. The da Vinci Project, a Canadian effort to launch a civilian space flight, has pushed back test flights because of the looming holiday season. "Over the holidays, some people become extremely available and other people become totally unavailable," said project leader Brian Feeney. Feeney is now targeting January to begin test flights from Kindersley, Saskatchewan, which isn't at its best in January. A helium balloon will first hoist the capsule before rocket engines ignite to boost it to an altitude of 100 kilometers. Feeney plans to fly the manned flights himself.
NEW ASF INTERACTIVE COURSE OFFERS WINGS CREDIT
An Alaska pilot clearly made the best of his bad luck this week. In fact, his forced landing and/or crash in a remote area of Alaska sounds, from initial reports, like a week at the beach (a very cold one). On Saturday, the crew aboard a Coast Guard C-130 found Michael Holman, 46, of Wasilla, beside a bonfire at Dogfish Bay, about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage. The Hercules was on a training mission unrelated to the search for Holman. He was spotted outside the 3,600-square-mile search area. He told the Coast Guard crew, via handheld radio, that he had plenty of food and water and was staying in a cabin. Rescuers weren't able to reach him Saturday and he was to have been picked up on Sunday. Details of the cause of his impromptu vacation were sketchy and it's not known what happened to the Maule ML-7 he was flying, although Maj. Chris Kobi, of the National Guard's Rescue Coordination Center, said there were some reports the plane was destroyed or washed out to sea. Holman left last Monday on a flight from Palmer to Seldovia, which is about 25 miles from where he was found. Searchers were optimistic he would be found alive. He was described as an experienced former United Air Lines pilot who carried survival gear. Wonder if he took his fishing rod with him?
Add the urge to show off and an unfortunately placed power line and you get a Thanksgiving tragedy a Mississippi family will never forget. As friends and relatives watched, Tim Mitchell, 38, flew a very low pass in his Cessna 195 over his home in Montgomery County. The plane's landing gear hit the power line and the plane crashed, killing Mitchell and his nine-year-old son, Adam. "He was going to fly over the house so that all the other kids could see the plane," Chastity Sawyer, one of the witnesses, told the Clarion-Ledger. Mitchell had taken other kids in the family for rides earlier in the day as part of the Thanksgiving festivities. The vintage Cessna crashed in the back yard of Mitchell's inlaws' house. Mitchell had been a pilot for about two years and flew for recreation, Sawyer said.
HOLIDAY SPECIAL ON DOUG RITTER'S SURVIVAL GEAR FROM AEROMEDIX.COM
An early winter storm knocked out the DME at Reno-Tahoe International Airport Saturday, canceling 69 flights and stranding 2,000 passengers. Airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said it was the second such failure of the FAA-operated equipment in a month and he described it as "inexcusable."
The FAA's hazardous-materials enforcement process needs improvement, according to the Department of Transportation's inspector general. A report calls the agency's effort to keep explosive, toxic and caustic materials out of airplanes "cumbersome, lengthy and sometimes ineffectual," but the agency points to the recent safety record as proof the system is working...
Save Concorde Group is asking Airbus to restore the supersonic airliner's certificate of airworthiness. On Friday, the first anniversary of the last flight of the Concorde, the group presented a 20,000-name petition to the British division of the company. Airbus looked after maintenance on the airliner for British Airways, which retired it in October 2003...
Witnesses and investigators said a Robinson R-22 exploded in midair before crashing in a field near Arlington, Wash., on Saturday. Witness Loren Kraetz told The Seattle Times he heard the engine on the helicopter suddenly rev up before the aircraft exploded. Two people on board were killed...
The cross-country journey of a restored UH-1 Huey helicopter to a series of reunions with those who flew the helicopter in Vietnam is the subject of an award-winning documentary just released on video and DVD. "In the Shadow of the Blade" can be ordered online or by calling 817-691-9723...
Dozens of vintage, classic and modern aircraft will converge on Lakeland Linder Regional Airport Dec. 4 for a vintage aircraft fly-in hosted by Sun 'n Fun and the Florida Sport Antique and Classic Association. Festivities begin with a pancake breakfast.
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.
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The Pilot's Lounge #81: Emergencies -- What You Don't Practice Can Kill
Seems like all we do in our training (and flight reviews) is practice for emergencies. Then why do pilots keep screwing up when a real emergency pops up? AVweb's Rick Durden wonders if we're really practicing the right kind of emergencies -- and whether we need to try some more realistic simulations -- this month in The Pilot's Lounge.
Reader mail this week about the FAA Designee Report, pilot glasses, pumpkin bombing and much more.
NARCO'S HOLIDAY SALE
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WHICH SIX-PLACE RETRACTABLE HAS THE BEST SAFETY RECORD?
(Translated from French)
Heard on 126.7...
Pilot No. 1: Cheerokee 140, C-1234, 2 miles south of Rougemont at 2000 feet in direction of Quebec. For any conflict contact GBBM on 126.7.
Pilot No. 2: Thank you...
... Can we talk about Palestine?
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