January 9, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Some airline pilots say there should be some kind of system to inform them of recent laser attacks and some fresh thought put into what can be done to guard against them in light of a rash of incidents over the past couple of weeks. "Pilots want a generalized warning and training," Denis Breslin, vice president of the Allied Pilots Association, told The Associated Press. "I think that's not too much to ask." At least eight flight crews have reported being lased in recent weeks. Although there have been hundreds of lasing incidents reported over the years, the most recent ones follow warnings from the Transportation Security Administration and FBI that terrorists might be planning to use lasers against airliners. Terrorists ... as opposed to the non-terrorists that seem to be doing it now. The FAA says it's now working on a set of recommendations. Breslin said different lasers have differing properties and pilots need to know what they are so they can protect themselves. So far, the only advice they have is to shield their eyes if they see a bright green or yellow light. The FAA has actually studied the effects of lasers on cockpit crews and found that most pilots reported only brief distraction from the sudden bright light. The pilots were given tasks to perform in a simulator and then hit with lasers of varying power. All the pilots were able to complete the assigned maneuver in the simulator and lasers have never been the cause of an accident in the real world.
Now, it seems hard to believe that anything powered by a couple of AA batteries could potentially bring down an airplane but the pilots of a Citation lased while on approach to Teterboro Airport in New Jersey a couple of weeks ago were sufficiently moved by the experience to help local authorities track down the culprit. As AVweb reported on Thursday, David Banach, of Parsippany, N.J., is now facing federal charges under the Patriot Act for what his lawyer claims was an innocent mistake. Banach was using a Jasper green laser available over the Internet for $119 and sometimes used by astronomy buffs to point out stars and galaxies in the night sky. The green beam of light is apparently clearly visible as it slices through the darkness. Despite the apparent effectiveness of the lasers, there are those who doubt their danger. The Register, a Web site devoted to commentary on IT topics, unleashed its readers on the issue and many of them brought up technical issues that cast doubt on the ability of anyone to purposely shine a hand-held laser into a pilot's eyes from thousands of feet away. One even claimed to have tried it (unsuccessfully, thankfully) himself.
The laser used by Banach had five milliwatts of lasing power, the most allowed without a license. Although potentially harmful to the retina, such lasers aren't powerful enough to damage much else. Much more powerful hand-held devices are available, however, and the licensing issue is skirted by calling them "laser components" rather than finished products. Wicked Lasers is based outside the U.S. (hence not bound by the licensing requirements) and tells all its customers that it's their responsibility to comply with those laws. Wicked Lasers will sell you a "laser component" that's ten times more powerful than the current FDA limit, will burn holes in black plastic and has a range, they claim, of 20 miles. All the laser pointer companies AVweb visited had prominent disclaimers warning against pointing the devices at airplanes, vehicles, people and animals. Much more powerful lasers are available for much more money and some beams are invisible (infrared) ... but stinger-type missiles are probably substantially more effective.
FROM PORTABLE TO PANEL-MOUNT JA AIR CENTER IS THE PLACE TO BUY GARMIN
The cheers have turned to jeers among National Association of Air Traffic Specialists members as they get to the fine print of a placement plan for some of the automated flight service station (AFSS) workers who may (likely will) lose their jobs to privatization. You see, while AFSS workers would be out on the street this year, according to a news release issued by NAATS, there are no job vacancies left for them in the current fiscal year. According to the release, the FAA's Assistant Administrator for Human Resources, Ventris Gibson, said the 435 new controllers that will be hired this year would all come from outside the agency, which angered NAATS President Kate Breen. "This year there are over 435 controller jobs that could be filled by qualified employees within the FAA, employees that the FAA may involuntarily separate [we think that means fire] later this year," she said. In visits to AFSSs in Islip and Altoona, N.Y., last Tuesday, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said flight service workers who are also qualified to work as active controllers will have first crack at ATC vacancies. As many as 2,000 AFSS workers could lose their jobs in the privatization and virtually guaranteed contraction of the AFSS system. The form and function of the new system will be released later this month.
And while some of those who lose their jobs may eventually find themselves back in the FAA fold, for some it's the end of the line. In e-mails to AVweb, AFSS workers claim that career counselors are advising them to dust off their resumes and not expect a job with the FAA. According to Dave Vitko, who works at the Altoona AFSS, many of his colleagues are within months of retirement, but the new system could result in their being terminated before they reach the magic numbers. "I, for one, will end up approximately three months short of a 20-year controller retirement if the A-76 goes off as planned," Vitko said. In an interview with GovExec.com, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey says the agency is doing all it can to help out the potentially affected workers. Blakey said as many as 1,000 AFSS workers have the qualifications to apply for thousands of controller jobs that will open in the coming decade. Those who can't work as controllers will get first preference for other ATC-related jobs for which they are qualified. A manager who chooses to hire someone else over a displaced AFSS worker has to provide justification, in writing, to the FAA's chief operations officer, Russ Chew.
PILOTS, SAVE UP TO 70% ON YOUR LIFE INSURANCE!
If ever there was a plane suited to being stuck in a holding pattern for an hour (or 24), this is it. GlobalFlyer, the plane that Steve Fossett hopes to fly solo around the world in a few weeks, was stacked up near its destination of Salina, Kan., Friday on the repositioning flight from Scaled Composites' headquarters in Mojave, Calif. "We were kind of loitering around," said Fossett, who will spend about 80 hours in the cockpit on the record attempt. Friday's flight was something of a shakedown for the plane and was flown at 47,000 feet. The flight profile called for a long, slow descent (400 fpm) and ATC elected to let eight other planes land before allowing the descent. Once in the thick, cold air over Salina, Fossett did a low pass along Salina's massive 12,300-foot runway before meeting reporters on the ground. He said the airplane performed well but there are some (unspecified) adjustments to make before taking off on the record flight. At least three more test flights are planned. The town of Salina (population about 46,000) is buzzing about the international notoriety that will come with the record attempt and Fossett, in turn, complimented the town folk on their cooperation. "The real enthusiasm for helping us made this happen," Fossett said. "Without them, we would have gone somewhere else."
A Hood River, Ore., company has received $7 million in government funds to study the effectiveness of an innovative system designed to allow for precision approaches to airports where terrain or other constraints prevent the use of conventional navaids. Advanced Navigation and Positioning Corp. (ANPC) says the Transponder Landing System actually uses the rough terrain as part of a system that tracks an aircraft's position in the airport's terminal area and sends course-correction instructions to the cockpit. "By measuring and accounting for the radio signal reflections off of surrounding obstacles and terrain, the system is able to ensure guidance accuracy in areas erstwhile unable to support a precision approach," said Pete Kinkhead, the company's marketing director. There are 21 sites identified for evaluating the system, 12 of them in Alaska. But while Alaska's rural airport challenges are well-known, Kinkhead said the applications in the Lower 48 are equally significant. "Increasing demands on the nation's airspace capacity necessitate the availability of point-to-point service beyond the major hubs and all-weather accessibility to many underutilized airports," he said.
FAA ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS ARE ON THE RISE!
A bankruptcy judge has held his nose and decided that US Airways mechanics will be better off with lower-paying jobs rather than no jobs at all. But the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers can still likely accomplish the latter by going on strike. On Thursday, Judge Stephen S. Mitchell said US Airways could cancel its existing contract with its mechanics as a cost-cutting measure, but not until the union votes on the revised contract Jan. 22. In handing down his ruling, Mitchell conceded it wasn't fair to the workers. "But the question is, will there be any jobs left at all at the end of the day?" That type of question may be weighing heavily at United Air Lines where many current workers ponder the security of their positions and retired pilots ponder the loss of their pensions. UAL got massive concessions from its pilots with pay cuts and cancellation of their pension plan but it's all on the condition that other unions do the same. A bankruptcy judge agreed with leaders of unions representing flight attendants, mechanics and airport staff that conditions of one deal couldn't be imposed on other sets of negotiations. The flight attendants are now in negotiations and say they might hold intermittent strikes if the talks don't go well.
Alphabet groups continue to chip away at the hassle factor involved with the TSA's alien flight training rule. An interpretation released by the TSA last week significantly limits the circumstances under which proof of citizenship and background checks will be required for those flying aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds. To trigger the requirements, the TSA now says a pilot has to be undergoing flight training that "substantially enhances piloting skills." That means initial flight training, or multi-engine or instrument tickets, according to AOPA spokesman Andy Cebula. There's a major deadline looming for flight instructors. By Jan. 18, all instructors have to complete initial security awareness training, but they can do so online. Anyone planning to train foreign nationals has to register with the TSA through an FAA Flight Standards District Office and then check to ensure that the prospective student has been cleared.
IN CASE OF FIRE, AN EVAC-U8 ESCAPE HOOD CAN SAVE YOUR LIFE
On Dec. 27, The Washington Post ran a story about a V that's been seen landing at military airports around the Middle East. The story alleged that the plush jet was actually being used by the spymasters to take terrorism suspects to countries where, when prisoners are interrogated, amenities like the Geneva Convention are not strictly observed. The story included the N-number (N379P) and the name of the owner (Premier Executive Transport Services Inc.) Go ahead, look them up on the FAA's database . We did. Assuming the Post got the name and number right, someone's been tinkering with the FAA database. Not only does the company not exist anymore on the database, neither does the N-number. And all within a week over the holiday season. The Post's story says the plane was being used in an activity known as "rendition," in which secret transfers of prisoners are allowed under special presidential consent. But the Post's story kicked over an even bigger hornet's nest for the agency. Seems the journalists uncovered 325 fake identities while researching the story and showed them to the CIA brass, probably not long before those identities (and N379P) disappeared.
Accidents happen, but it certainly appears that something went off the USAF paper trail to cause an accident like this. First, we can't confirm exactly what happened here (and we'd love to hear from anyone who can) but based on the number of sources from which we obtained these photos and text, it sure looks like somebody removed a section of runway in Iraq and didn't inform the people who might expect to use it. The C-130 was landing on the night of Dec. 29 (it may have been a special-forces plane) when it hit the pit and instantly became a runway hazard itself. No one was killed but there were several injuries and the plane is a goner. Those of you with PowerPoint will want to see it with your own eyes. According to our sources, the existence of the pit had been reported earlier by the crew of another aircraft, but apparently no NOTAM was issued. The accident rated a couple of paragraphs in an American Forces Press Service report, which termed it a "landing accident." The report said 11 people were on board, there were injuries, and that an investigation is underway. Click through to download the content-unconfirmed (PowerPoint) file. It includes images. Not recommended for slower connections.
PROTECT & SHINE YOUR AIRCRAFT WITH A NAME YOU KNOW & TRUST AEROSHELL
In our Jan. 6 edition of AVflash, we incorrectly described James Schuster as the new president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. He's actually the chairman of the board of directors.
The FAA has again delayed, until Aug. 31, 2005, implementation of a rule that would stop air carriers from simply closing off seats in aircraft to allow them to comply with a less-expensive maintenance regime. To meet the nine-or-fewer regs, some operators placard or barricade the extra seats on larger aircraft. The new rule would require removal of the seats (STC required) or compliance with the 10-and-above rules...
Reno/Tahoe International Airport is getting a new ILS to (hopefully) ensure there are no further failures like the one that closed the airport last Thanksgiving. The new system will be installed in June and in the meantime an extra package of Band-Aids has been applied to the existing gear...
Two North Carolina Christian groups are sending a helicopter, airplane and pilots to help tsunami victims. JAARS and Samaritan's Purse will also take as many supplies as possible to help out with the relief effort...
Washington, D.C., and its environs will be closed to most GA traffic for eight hours on Inauguration Day Jan. 20. The federal government considers it a national security event and all VFR traffic is banned. IFR flights to Dulles and Baltimore-Washington will be allowed but it's expected the available parking will fill up quickly and subsequent flights will be diverted, too.
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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As the Beacon Turns #85: The Lost Art of Stick & Rudder
Did you think airline pilots -- flying planes with heavy-duty landing gear and doing crabbed landings -- never have to worry about stick-and-rudder skills? Wrong. AVweb's Michael Maya Charles and some fellow pilots commiserate on the lack of basic flying skills in this month's As The Beacon Turns column.
Reader mail this week about frost contamination, lasers, and still more about controller and pilot retirement ages.
SEE CLEARLY METHOD IMPROVES & STRENGTHENS VISION NATURALLY
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Flying with the wife.
Me: Skyhawk ##1, four miles south of the field, entering left downwind runway 22.
Other Pilot: N##2 crossing mid-field. I dont see you, do you have your lights on?
ME: We are all lit.
Wife: (over the intercom) That didn't sound right.
Me: Just to clarify, the plane is lit, not the pilot.
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 till everything stops.
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