March 30, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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They've tried just about everything else and now the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS) is taking a new tack to try and prevent the contracting out of flight service stations. NAATS claims the process constitutes age discrimination and filed suit today. The union is seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the contracting process (the winning bidder, Lockheed Martin, is already well into its pre-transition program) followed by a permanent injunction. NAATS director Mike Sheldon said the process could potentially leave almost 1,000 displaced workers without pensions, even though they are close to retirement age. "They will be without an annuity. They will be left with virtually nothing," he said. Under the Lockheed Martin plan, more than 1,000 of the existing 1,900 FSS workers will lose their jobs as the number of flight service stations is cut from 58 to 20 and the services are modernized. Those FSS staffers with tower or air traffic control experience will be able to apply for some of the hundreds of controller jobs that are opening up this year. Under normal circumstances, those applying for controller jobs must be younger than 31 so that when they hit the mandatory retirement age of 56 they'll have the 25 years required for a pension. Sheldon said the so-called Age 31 Waiver applies to a small minority of FSS staffers.
Sheldon said that if the contract proceeds on schedule, the FAA will save tens of millions of dollars by avoiding paying pensions to the displaced workers. He said that of 963 workers who will be left without a pension, roughly two-thirds are within five years of qualifying. According to the press release, the NAATS suit alleges the contracting process "is timed to deny substantial federal retirement benefits" to FSS workers who are more than 40 years old. Sheldon said the timing of the contract with the major retirement bubble of FSS workers only a few years away "is quite a coincidence." The FAA began the outsourcing program, called an A-76 process, about three years ago. Five organizations, including one representing the existing FSS system under the FAA, submitted bids. Lockheed Martin was picked in mid-February and will formally take over the system Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, the effort from within the FAA to derail the Lockheed bid remains in the hands of the FAA's Office of Dispute Resolution for Acquisition (ODRA). The FAA's Air Traffic Organization (ATO), which now runs the FSS system, submitted a bid in conjunction with Harris Corp. In what may be an unprecedented move, the ATO filed a protest over the award of the contract to Lockheed Martin, citing irregularities and incomplete work in the assessment process. The ATO's attorney, Cyrus Phillips, told AVweb he expected a decision on the challenge before now and he's unsure when it will be issued. In the meantime, Lockheed continues to carry out its transition program and Phillips is concerned staffing problems are on the horizon. Regardless of who takes over the system, Phillips said there will be about 1,000 fewer jobs available. Those likely to lose their jobs are undoubtedly already looking for alternatives and will soon start to quit their FSS positions as they find other work. But Phillips said the full workforce is needed now and in the early part of the Lockheed Martin contract because it will take time to implement all the new systems.
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There's a whole world of information available to pilots via their cellphones and AOPA says it's time it became legal to place that call. Everything from weather to airport information is available by cell but the Federal Communications Commission still outlaws the use of the phones in light aircraft. The FCC is now considering changing the rules and AOPA says the sooner the better. "Cellphones and other wireless technologies are invaluable tools for obtaining updated weather and other information in flight," said AOPA spokesman Randy Kenagy. "And the risk of interference with aircraft avionics for the typical general aviation flight is very slight." AOPA checked with cellphone companies and none place any restrictions on in-flight cellphone use. Besides, on the slim chance that the phone does bother the aircraft's electronics, it can simply be switched off. "The pilot isn't isolated from the passengers and has the immediate ability and responsibility to terminate the use of any device at any time if it is interfering with flight-critical electronics," Kenagy said.
It's a little different on airliners where interference could come from any of dozens of phones, BlackBerries or laptops in the back. But the technological hurdles are being overcome and it won't be long before wireless communication can be safely carried out on airliners. Well, at least the avionics will be safe. What about the safety of the cell yellers and their obnoxious ring tones as they discover they can pursue their favorite pastime in the air? It could be that the social implications of allowing cellphone use on airliners might be a tougher nut to crack than the technical ones, according to Beverly Wyse, a spokeswoman for Connexions, a Boeing company that has created a cellphone system for airliners. Wyse said company has come up with at least two strategies to "protect privacy." One might be to restrict cellphone use to text messaging only. Another would be to segregate those with cells from those who'd rather sleep, watch the movie or maybe even chat with their seatmates. This so-called "night zone" would be acoustically insulated to keep the sonic peace. Weren't cellphones supposed to simplify our lives?
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A Texas judge has signed a $96 million jury award against Lycoming stemming from the failure of about two dozen crankshafts in higher-powered six-cylinder engines. Judge Jerry Sandel awarded the full amount of the jury's recommended award to Navasota-based Interstate Southwest, which made the crankshaft castings for those engines. The seven-week trial ended in mid-February. As AVweb told you in February, the jury found Lycoming had fraudulently blamed Interstate for incorrectly heat-treating the crankshaft blanks. The failures resulted in the recall and repair of more than 1,800 engines. But the jury found that the crankshafts were under-designed and that a decision by Lycoming to add Vanadium to the alloy mix weakened the crankshafts. Lycoming is, of course, not accepting the ruling. Scott Cowan, of Jones Day, the law firm representing Lycoming, said the firm will immediately try to get a new trial. Failing that, the decision will be appealed. "We believe that we will prevail," said Cowan. However, Interstate lawyer Marty Rose said the judge has reconfirmed the original ruling. "This judgment sends a clear signal that the original verdict was sound," Rose said in a statement. Rose also said the judgment should effectively prevent Lycoming from pursuing a $173 million indemnity claim against Interstate.
Night flying and bad weather seem to go with drinking and flying, a Johns Hopkins study has determined. Yes, badly. Researchers found that most crashes (52 percent) involving imbibing pilots (that's about one in 200 pilots, according to testing done by the airlines) occurred at night and that in 64 percent of the alcohol-related crashes, worsening weather was also a factor. "Pilots should never mix alcohol consumption with flying because it can impair their ability to think about key functions in operating a plane," said researcher Guohua Li, a medical epidemiologist. Besides coming up with more reasons not to drink and fly, the researchers hope the study will lead to more effective programs to prevent drunk pilots from getting behind the yoke. The study team went through the medical records resulting from 313 crashes in which the pilot had more than .02 percent blood-alcohol content. The highest BAC? Someone who thought he or she could fly with .239 percent, six times the legal flying limit in most cases, and three times the most common driving limit.
IF YOUR CELL PHONE CAN SURF THE NET, IT CAN RECEIVE AVIATION WEATHER
(... So far.) An Air New Zealand pilot who is prone to fainting appears to be winning a legal battle to regain his flying privileges. Geoff Paterson, 52, of Auckland, a Boeing 767 captain, has fainted three times since 1990, although it's not clear whether he was flying at the time. After the first two faints, his medical was renewed on the condition that he always fly with another qualified pilot. After a swoon in 2002, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) pulled his ticket. But a judge in Wellington last week reversed the decision. Paterson isn't polishing up his brass quite yet, however, since the CAA is likely to appeal. Despite his condition, known as neurocardiogenic syncope, most of his fellow pilots support his bid to get back in the left seat, according to Paterson. "Every single pilot I have spoken to has shook [sic] my hand and said 'thank goodness justice prevailed.'" Airline Pilots Association President Paul Lyons said he applauded the judge's decision and hoped there would be no appeal.
Those who use a tiny airport in Florida have found that the little guy sometimes wins and that not all mega-corporations are single-mindedly profit-driven. Operators of Quest Air Soaring Center in Groveland, Fla., were both surprised and appalled earlier this year when Progress Energy put up a 90-foot power pole less than 100 feet from one of Groveland Airport's runways. According to Quest Air's Lisa Kain, apparently a local politician told the company it needn't bother with public input regarding its new power line construction project. Kain said the new power line was technically legal because it followed FAA regulations but it didn't take into consideration the type of operations at Groveland, which is heavily used by hang gliders. "The landing area is anywhere that doesn't have an obstacle," Kain said. "Centerlines don't mean anything." Kain was ready to do battle but found Progress Energy surprisingly understanding and accommodating. The company stopped construction of the line after hearing the safety concerns and has promised to take down the high wires, lower them and move them farther away from the airport. To do so, the company had to buy a piece of property for more than $300,000, said Kain. Progress has promised to have the work done in time for Quest Air to host the U.S. Hang Gliding National meet from April 15 to April 23. Kain said she'd rather not have power lines anywhere near the airport but the agreement reached with Progress Energy is a good one. "It still doesn't mean someone won't get fried but it's a lot better," she said.
FAA ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS ARE ON THE RISE!
A consortium led by an obscure British Columbia company has beaten Bombardier for one of the juiciest contracts ever tendered by the Canadian government. And Bombardier isn't taking it very well. Allied Wings, led by Kelowna Flightcraft, of Kelowna, B.C. (about 200 miles east of Vancouver) was awarded a 22-year, $1.77 billion (CAD) contract to provide flight training for the Canadian Armed Forces. Bombardier previously held the contract. The actual training will take place at new facilities to be built in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. News leaked about the decision more than a week ago and Bombardier, which is based in Quebec, openly accused the federal government of rigging the bidding process to favor the Kelowna bid as a way of shoring up Western Canadian political support for the ruling Liberal Party. Not so, two senior federal cabinet ministers told AVweb Wednesday at a news conference in Kelowna. "This had nothing to do with regional politics," said Industry Minister David Emerson. "We selected the best bid for Canada." Earlier this week, a senior executive with Bombardier accused the government of altering the bid process to make it possible for the Allied Wings bid to be considered. Zev Rosenzwieg told the Globe and Mail that Flightcraft couldn't raise financing the way the bid was originally structured so the bid rules were changed. "Where I come from, when you have a competition and one party can't meet the requirements, then they can't bid," Rosenzweig said. Defense Minister Bill Graham told the Kelowna news conference that the government has "taken the politics out" of the tendering process. Past governments have been accused of currying favor with Quebec voters by awarding big contracts to Bombardier. The new center will provide ab initio and advanced fixed-wing and helicopter training.
There are times when being forced to land by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) can be a good thing. In fact, it might even save a life. A 22-year-old California pilot got lost and strayed into Mexico last Tuesday after taking off from Glendale in a Cessna 152. By the time he got his bearings and crossed back into the U.S. near Nogales, the CBP was waiting for him -- and just in time. There was less than half a gallon of gas in the 152's tanks. After some time spent getting to know the border officials, the unidentified pilot was released and flew back to Glendale. Because he was not arrested, the CBP was not allowed to release his name.
YOU CAN EAT SOUP THAT'S BEEN TO THE MOON
It should be harder to book airline reservations as airlines start chopping seats to save money. Most major airlines are retiring old, inefficient planes and replacing them with smaller aircraft or simply chopping flights. The exception is Southwest, which expects to add 10 percent more capacity this year...
A New Mexico flight instructor has developed training material aimed specifically at younger student pilots. The books are aimed at the 12-16 age group, particularly those who fly infrequently. Included is a brochure for parents and instructors...
Pilots in the area of Ironwood, Michigan, are being encouraged to attend a security meeting concerning their local airport on April 14. Airport manager Joseph Braspenick called the meeting in the wake of the spate of mainstream media attention on GA security a couple of weeks ago. A TSA representative will address the pilots...
A Ugandan pilot has been arrested in the Congo after a crash that killed two bystanders. According to The Monitor in Kampala, the two were "walking on a runway" when "the wings of the shattered plane hit them." The plane was apparently blown into a building while taxiing.
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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Say Again? #48: Vectoring for Fun
IFR pilots who spend time in non-radar areas are glad to get back in "radar contact" so they don't have to spend all that time on the full approach procedures. But then come the dreaded words, "... vectors for spacing ..." AVweb's Don Brown explains why ATC likes giving vectors and why it is better and safer for pilots, too.
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*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb passed along a question from one of our readers: "What impact (if any) is the ATC shortage having on your flying habits?"
According to our readers, the answer is "not much."
40% of respondents told us they haven't seen much of a change, while another 32% said they couldn't see any effects of the shortage.
A significant 24% of you reported feeling less safe under current conditions but that's still less than 1 in 4 air travellers.
13 respondents (the remaining 3% of the survey population) even told us their flights have gotten better in recent months!
(For more on this week's "Question," be sure to check out Monday's AVmail.)
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
This week, AVweb wants to know when and where you use your cell phone when acting as Pilot in Command.
Click here to answer
Have an idea for a new QOTW? Send your suggestions to email@example.com.
This address is only for suggested QOTW questions, and not for QOTW answers or comments.
Use this form to send QOTW comments to our AVmail Editor.
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Submit a Photo | Rules | Tips | Questions
Current POTW Winner | Past POTW Winners
Quick! Grab a cold beverage and your best reading glasses, because this week our "POTW" submitters are battling it out in a game of chance!
There were so many outstanding selections this week that we've chosen two photos for each of the top three slots. All are outstanding photos, worthy of "POTW" honors so we're going to decide who appears in each slot with an old-fashioned coin toss.
(We know it sounds crazy, but hey it does mean more pictures than usual!)
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of readers who submit photos.
Our contenders for the #1 spot come from "POTW" regular contributors George Mock and Erez Boym. Both have submitted gorgeous photos over the last year, so let's see who the the fickle hand of fate favors today ... .
Used with permission of George Mock
"Coast Guard Helicopter at the Ambassador Bridge"
Our first quarter comes down on the side of
George Mock of Windsor, Ontario (Canada),
who notes that "the camera lens makes the ... helicopter
look like it is entangled in the wires of the Ambassador
Bridge over the Detroit River." We were won over
by the great color contrast, honestly.
here to view a large version of this image
Click here for a medium-sized version
Used with permission of Erez Boym
Coin-Toss Runner-Up #1
Erez Boym of Shimshit, Israel will also
be getting a hat for his winning contribution
because fate may be cruel, but Team POTW
knows a good photo when we see it!
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.
So if our top-spot contenders were both from "POTW" veterans, what do our second-place challengers have in common? Believe it or not, both come from Barrow, Alaska the northernmost city in the United States. Kathy Moulton and Janice Wright of Barrow go toe-to-toe for our #2 spot, and the coin favors ...
"Headed South The Only Direction Left"
Janice Wright's photo of Alaska Airlines Flight 144
departing Barrow edges out the competition in the
random coin toss. Janice tells us her photo was
taken at around 10am on February 15.
Our third and final coin toss decides the fate of two photos sent in by the same reader Loray Greiner of Bangkok, Philippines. Loray's name showed up on three of our final 15 selections, so let's see which of his photos the coin favors for this week's Official Number Three spot ... .
Used with permission of Loray Greiner
"Office? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Office"
"This shot was taken at a beautiful resort on
Siargao Island possibly the most remote,
most pristine, and relaxing corner of the
Philippine Islands," writes Loray Greiner.
Used with permission
Coin-Toss Runner-Up #3
"This DeHavilland Beaver is one of several in
South Vietnam colors that were captured by the Viet Cong,"
writes Loray. "This pic was taken in the '80s, and as far as I
know, they are still locked up in storage. ... All attempts to
'pry them loose' [have] failed. Such a shame."
We warned you it was going to be an odd
Stop counting and enjoy the extra pictures already!
Used with permission of Stoney Truett
Stoney Truett of Cayce, South Carolina
sent us this stark image we couldn't pass up.
Used with permission of Barrie Smith
"Barons Circus in Flight"
And finally, Barrie Smith of Christchurch, Canterbury
(New Zealand) reminds us that air show season is
a-comin' with this shot from the Classic Fighters Air Show
in Blenheim, New Zealand.
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.
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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 every part stops.
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