February 16, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
|This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ... Trade-A-Plane
THERE'S NO BETTER WAY TO BUY, SELL, AND FLY THAN TRADE-A-PLANE!
In a stunning verdict (the effects of which could ripple through the aviation world for years to come) a Texas jury has found Textron Lycoming entirely to blame for crankshaft failures in high-horsepower engines between 2000 and 2002. What's more, the Grimes County jurors found that Lycoming's investigation of the crankshaft failures was fraudulent and incorrectly put the blame on the manufacturer of the crankshaft forgings, Interstate Southwest, of Navasota, Texas. In fact, the FAA also accepted Lycoming's version that Interstate had improperly heat-treated the forgings, which weakened the steel and led to the failures. What the jury found was that the crankshafts were under-designed for high-horsepower engines, and that Lycoming changed the recipe for the steel alloy used in the cranks by adding vanadium (to make the metal easier and less expensive to work with) and that that weakened them. According to court documents obtained by AVweb, the jury found that the "sole cause" of the crankshaft failures was Lycoming's design. "The jurors found the combination of poor design and vanadium pushed these crankshafts beyond their limits," said Interstate attorney Hal Walker. The jury awarded Interstate $9.7 million in actual damages and $86.4 million in punitive damages. Interstate launched the suit in April of 2003. A month later, Lycoming answered with a suit filed in Pennsylvania claiming $173 million against Interstate. According to Interstate's lawyers, the Texas verdict effectively stops Lycoming from pursuing the Pennsylvania suit. "This is a total victory for our side," said Marty Rose, another Interstate lawyer.
Now, the legal wranglings have undoubtedly just begun (Lycoming will almost certainly appeal) but the Texas decision raises some practical and potentially disquieting questions about the whole crankshaft issue. These are questions we'd like to pose to Lycoming but we were unable to receive a response before our deadline. According to Interstate lawyer Marty Rose, the forging company's investigation revealed that the design of the crankshafts used in the brawny turbocharged 300-plus-horsepower six-cylinder engines in question was based on 40-year-old designs for four-cylinder engines with much lower horsepower. Rose told AVweb that their investigation revealed that even though the vanadium problem was fixed in replacement cranks installed in 1,400 engines recalled in 2002, the cranks are still under-designed for the stresses created by the big engines. "The [replacement] crankshafts don't have any safety margin," said Rose. "The normal operating stresses are right at the limit." Rose said Lycoming's conduct during the investigation and the trial will be the focus of hearings scheduled over the next couple of weeks. He said evidence heard in the jury's absence raised questions about Lycoming's handling of the crankshaft problem and hearings have been called to examine that evidence separately.
The decision also raises questions about the FAA's handling of the crankshaft problem. From the outset, the agency appears to have gone along with Lycoming's conclusion that Interstate was to blame for the weak cranks. The original Emergency Airworthiness Directive grounding Cessnas and Pipers with TIO-540 and LTIO-540 engines cites "a variation in the heat treatment process" (the jury did not agree) used during production of the cranks. FAA chief spokesman Greg Martin said the agency is studying the court decision and there's no word yet on further action. The AD and the resulting recall was one of the largest and most expensive ever undertaken. Lycoming tore down and repaired more than 1,400 engines over about eight months. The recall left owners without their planes for weeks or months while Lycoming paid for airline tickets and rental aircraft as part of a "Customer Care" package.
LIGHTSPEED AVIATION INTRODUCES NEW LINE OF HEADSETS
We sensed it at last year's Sun 'n' Fun and felt it strongly at AirVenture, and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association has now confirmed it: 2004 was a recovery year for most plane-makers and the future looks strong. "Bonus depreciation, coupled with the continuing growth of the U.S. economy helped make 2004 a turning point for our industry," said GAMA Chairman Jim Schuster. According to GAMA, industry billings totaled $11.9 billion, the third-highest ever, representing a 19.1-percent increase over 2003; the total number of airplanes shipped jumped 10.3 percent to 2,963. The 2004 total was a 20-year high for piston single sales. Business jet sales increased from 518 to 591 (14.1 percent) and piston single sales went from 1,896 in 2003 to 2051 in 2004, an 8.2-percent increase. In sharp contrast to previous years, turboprops recorded the heftiest increase in sales with an 18-percent jump over last year (272 to 321 sales).
Although the resurgence is being felt in every corner of the industry, there's one place in particular that is welcoming the news. Wichita-based companies accounted for the lion's share of the 2004 deliveries, shipping 1,277 airplanes (or about 43 percent) of the worldwide total. However, the hangover from the post-9/11 slump will likely be felt for years to come, particularly by rank-and-file workers in the industry. Thousands were laid off and, despite the recovery, not many are being rehired. Cessna will add about 600 people to its workforce this year but Raytheon and Bombardier, Wichita's other big manufacturers, won't be adding any. "The jobs issue will be an important one," Bombardier's Peter Edwards told The Wichita Eagle. "As we're raising rates of production, we're trying to improve the profitability of the industry as a whole." (We think that means building more planes with fewer people.)
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A private airport in San Antonio is seeing the effective length of its runway being whittled away by housing developments the FAA is powerless to stop and the local city council seems to endorse. Like so many urban airports, Twin-Oaks Airport was on the outskirts when it was built in the 1950s. Now, it's an island in a sea of chock-a-block development and the final straw may take the shape of a modest single-story house poised for construction less than 400 feet from the end of the runway. Despite its low profile, the house will encroach 10 feet into the approach path, cutting the useable length of the strip to 1,885 feet, too short for many insurance companies. Airport owner Bill Fowler claims he's tried to buy up land surrounding the airport for decades but the development kept coming. The FAA says it lacks the power to stop construction, even though the house is a safety hazard, and the city just keeps approving building permits even though it knows the new houses are potentially in harm's way. Last year, a two-story home was built off the end of the runway, encroaching four feet into the approach path. About 20 pilots keep planes at Twin-Oaks and some openly wonder why anyone would build a house that close to the runway. The answer may lie in figures uncovered by the Express-News, which found the owners of the new house paid 12 percent less than market value for the home.
As technological achievements go, the new Boeing 777-200LR may set a new standard for range and efficiency. Using lighter materials and more efficient engines, Boeing engineers were able to create a plane that can fly more than 10,000 miles nonstop. Now, they just have to come up with passengers and crew that can take 20 hours or more of confinement in the aluminum tube. The new plane is expected to be used by airlines to service less-important long-distance routes, such as Edinburgh to Perth, Australia, and Manchester to Shanghai. The busier routes are expected to be dominated by the new Airbus A380, although it won't be making many stops in the U.S. anytime soon. The 555-to-800-seat behemoth is simply too big for most U.S. airports. So far only JFK, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles are working on accommodating passengers from the super jumbo. Anchorage and Memphis want the cargo version to land there. From an airside perspective, the main problem is the wingspan of more than 250 feet, which will overlap runways and taxiways. Concerns also exist over runways, taxiways, bridges and support structures that might not stand the weight, either. Once it gets to the gate, terminals will have to be renovated to accommodate the burst of traffic.
IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN RECEIVE AVIATION WEATHER
British researchers say they have the answer to minimize the impact of air travel on global warming. Imperial College scientists say contrails should be a major consideration in determining the environmental factors at play as air travel increases by up to 5 percent a year. The council wants aircraft manufacturers to design planes that can fly lower but still burn the same amount of fuel or less than if they fly at the higher contrail-producing altitudes. They're even suggesting onboard sensing devices be installed on aircraft to alert pilots when they're creating that big plume of vapor. The scientists say contrails are currently overlooked as environmental hazards and that needs to be fixed. Even though lower-flying aircraft use more fuel and therefore create more emissions, the Imperial College professors say there's less environmental damage done that way. A Wisconsin climatologist's work seems to back that up. David Travis found that on the two days after 9/11 when all flights in the U.S. were grounded, there were larger temperature fluctuations at ground level. The contrails act like a blanket, dampening the fluctuations all over the country. However, other scientists say air travel has a minimal impact on climate compared to industry, vehicles and power plants.
The first on-ramp to the Highway In The Sky opens June 5. That's when NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) undergoes its first demonstration at Danville Airport in Virginia. While Boeing and Airbus work on bigger planes that can fly fatter ... and farther ... SATS is dedicated to creating infrastructure for point-to-point air travel that bypasses major airports and allows convenient and reliable access to thousands of small airports all over the country. SATS manager Jerry Hefner told graduateengineer.com that 93 percent of Americans live within 30 minutes of an underused rural airport (just don't try to find hangar space there). The challenge is to increase the use of these uncontrolled airports without increasing the number of midairs and weather-related crashes. The June demonstration will feature a GPS-based onboard anti-collision system that allows pilots to track nearby traffic. SATS will also use GPS to create predetermined routes from airport to airport (the aforementioned highways) and employ enhanced vision systems to allow pilots to land safely in bad weather. Hefner is a frequent flyer on NASA's fleet of bizjets and knows well the advantages of point-to-point travel over the airline hub-and-spoke system. "You don't have to do that more than once or twice to appreciate the advantages. It reduces the hassle and saves time," he said.
SWIM WITH THE MERMAIDS!
Is the nondirectional beacon (NDB) going the way of the Dodo? Well, not quite, but its extinction is closer with an FAA program to weed out underused NDB approaches around the country so it can spend more money developing GPS-WAAS approaches. Now, there are some airports that still rely heavily on NDB approaches and the FAA isn't going to mess with those, according to AOPA. However, it is going to try and find those NDBs that dutifully send their signals to nowhere because there are better alternatives available. "Most new aircraft aren't even equipped with an ADF receiver," AOPA notes in its release. AOPA says it has polled its members and most have no problem with NDBs being shut down where alternatives exist. The FAA recently sent letters to 430 airport managers asking if they have redundant NDBs and noting that it can't afford to add more GPS approaches unless it gets rid of some of the old stuff. "To meet the public's demand for WAAS-capable RNAV procedures, the FAA must manage the growth in the number of instrument approach procedures by eliminating redundant ground-based procedures," AOPA said.
In the chicken-and-egg world of aircraft design, it's not often a turboprop is copied from a pure jet. But that's exactly what the fertile minds at Aerocomp have come up with for their next homebuilt. The Comp Air 12 uses the same fuselage, wing and empennage as the Comp Air Jet, currently undergoing initial flight tests. But instead of a jet engine in the back, the new plane as a 1,400-horsepower Lycoming turbine up front. The $449,000 kit (including engine but minus avionics) will have its first flight by summer and should be available early next year. The jet kit should also be available about the same time. The turboprop version is expected to cruise at 275 knots over a range of 2,800 nm. Cabin configurations will vary but the first airplane will have seating for eight (nine if you include the enclosed lavatory). "The Comp Air 12 is a natural extension of our full line of turbine aircraft, which have been growing in size and passenger-carrying capabilities over the past several years," said a company release.
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Are UFOs finally getting the respect they deserve or is it all part of the ratings game? We'll let you be the judge as TV news icon Peter Jennings examines the topic in a two-hour special on ABC Feb. 24. Jennings denies it's a ratings thing, saying that the 80 million Americans who say they've seen a UFO "deserve a serious hearing from a serious reporter." Uh-huh...
As Steve Fossett prepares to go around the world in 80 hours (the flight is postponed to at least Feb. 21), The History Channel has announced a documentary on less-known but still-pivotal aerial circumnavigation. First Flight Around The World, which airs March 6, looks at an air race held in 1924 that took competitors around the world. Actual footage and re-enactments are used to tell the story...
Eight people died in the crash of a Cessna Citation in freezing drizzle in Colorado Wednesday. The plane went down five miles from Pueblo Airport. The plane was owned by electronics chain Circuit City and four of those who died were employees.
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.
DA40 DIAMOND STAR A FLEET FAVORITE
The Savvy Aviator #15: The Annual Inspection Trap
Your airplane is undergoing its annual inspection, and the shop tells you the aircraft needs some costly repair work. You disagree, but the IA says he's unwilling to sign off the annual until the work is done. What are your options?
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*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb asked what you thought about the privatization of FSS specifically, Lockheed-Martin's scheduled takeover of the system in October 2005.
The biggest segment of you (38% of respondents) thought the move would bring us "one step closer to user fees." Another substantial slice of our readership (30%) described themselves as "cautiously optimistic" about the move.
11% of you expected a bumpy transition with the potential for big problems, and 6% expressed excitement at the possibility of modernization and change.
Only 2% of you thought this was the best thing to ever happen to FSS, and 13% are preparing for the End Times.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
The Lycoming verdict. A jury has decided Lycoming must pay nearly $100 million as a result of crankshaft failures, plane crashes, and subsequent litigation. What do you think this bodes for Lycoming (and the aviation community)?
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Hot dog! It's time for another installment of AVweb's "Picture of the Week"!
We hope you'll forgive our enthusiasm, but this week's batch of submissions are something to get excited about. (And we promise, there's not a dead animal to be seen this week.) After much deliberation, we're giving this week's winning baseball cap to Lorraine Morris. Watch your inbox, Lorraine the hat is on its way.
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
Used with permission of Lorraine Morris
"T6 by Mt. Rushmore"
Lorraine Morris of Poplar Grove, Illinois
submitted this patriotic image of Mt. Rushmore.
For those old enough to remember when television
stations didn't broadcast 24/7, we were tempted
to save this one for our "sign-off" ... .
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.
"Off-Centerline But Sweet"
C.J. Anthony of Prescott, Arizona
took this high-energy shot during
a landing at Scottsdale Airport.
His caption pretty much says it all.
Used with permission of Gary Kegel
"Evening Balloon Flight in Arizona"
Who says we don't give enough time to balloonists?
Gary Kegel of Burns, Oregon takes us back to
Arizona for a slightly more subdued photo ... .
"POTW" submissions are pretty strong,
considering that the long winter months
have set in firmly. We know it's too cold
to go outside, so how about emptying out
those pictures from last summer and
sending us some warm-weather snapshots, eh?
Used with permission of Robert Shearer
"P3 Prop and Iceberg"
Robert Shearer of Auckland, New Zealand
sends us this photo "taken by one of our crew
on a patrol in the southern oceans just north of Antarctica."
Hmmm just what line of work are you in, Robert?
Used with permission of George Mock
Instead, we decided to let George Mock
of Windsor, Ontario (Canada) take us out this
week, with dual shots of Lighthouse Cove (near Windsor),
where the Thames River enters Lake St. Clair.
"Very busy marinas in the summer time," writes George,
but "all that changes in the winter."
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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