April 3, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ... Teledyne-Continental Motors (TCM)
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Some say that in a homebuilt, every flight is a test flight, and a California pilot is putting his RV-8 through the ringer. While thousands of fellow EAA members and other aviation enthusiasts are getting ready for the annual trip to Sun 'n Fun in Florida starting April 12 (of course, AVweb will be there with special coverage next Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the following Monday), Bill Randolph, of EAA Chapter 119 in Watsonville, Calif., should have arrived at or be close to Bali, where he'll visit his son on the final leg of his round-the-world trip. Randolph left Watsonville on March 9 and the peppy RV helps him cover some pretty significant distances on each leg. After stops in Abilene, Fort Lauderdale, San Juan, Trinidad and Fortaleza, Brazil, Randolph tackled the Atlantic. The flight from Brazil to Dakar, Senegal, took 14 hours (three hours longer than planned because of headwinds). But Randolph apparently likes flying over water. Chapter 119 is providing daily updates on its Web site based on Randolph's almost daily calls to his wife, Shirley. In his account of the ocean crossing he's reported to have said that he "feels free" over the water. Maybe that's a good thing. About 20,000 miles of his 26,000-mile trip is over water.
Now, anyone in the surprisingly small club of those who've flown around the world will tell you that the flying is the easy part. It's getting permission to fly in countries that rarely see small private aircraft (let alone homebuilts) that can be the most time-consuming and stressful part of the journey. So far he's dealt with a put-out tribal chief in Senegal, had the Greek air force looking for him (they didn't find him), been surrounded by police and military in Cypress and waded through a quagmire of bureaucracy in India. Ironically, however, one of his most unpleasant experiences was just before leaving the good old U.S. of A., Shirley Randolph told AVweb. Randolph said some of the surliest people her husband has met en route were in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where folks at the airport "refused" to help him find a hotel for the night (it was spring break) and appeared otherwise to be generally rude. But she said the nastiness of that encounter has been more than made up by the kindness of strangers along the route, including a hotel owner in Brazil who lent Randolph an expensive headset after his failed. "You can give it back to me when you return, don't worry," Randolph quoted the hotel owner as saying.
Assuming he makes it, Randolph will be among a handful of people on the list kept by Earthrounders who've flown a homebuilt around the world. So far, Australian adventurer Jon Johanson is the only RV owner (on that list) to make the trip and he's done it twice, including a loop over the North Pole, in his RV-4. Randolph's successful jaunt would be another feather in the cap for Van's Aircraft, which makes the RV series of kit planes. (Experimentals -- originating from all manufacturers -- now make up about 10 percent of the GA fleet.) According to the RV company Web site, Randolph's is one of 4,118 flying RVs, making it the most popular homebuilt. In fact, if all those RVs were registered in the U.S. (we don't know how many aren't), they'd represent about 20 percent of the homebuilt total, which weighs in at about 22,000 finished flying aircraft, according to figures supplied to us by the FAA.
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Maybe there's something to all this safety stuff after all. According to stats released by the NTSB, general aviation accidents and the accident rate were at their lowest level since 1938 in 2004 and there's even better news than that. "It's also the lowest number of fatal accidents [and] the second-lowest fatal accident rate -- ever," said Bruce Landsberg, executive director of AOPA's Air Safety Foundation. Last year there were 1,614 GA accidents, 127 fewer than in 2003, and fatal accidents dropped from 352 to 312. Only 1999 had a lower fatal accident rate. According to the foundation, that makes 2004 "general aviation's safest year yet." "Clearly, we're doing something right, but when it comes to safety, we can always do it better," Landsberg said. The foundation recently added an Online Safety Center that offers interactive training courses, quizzes and downloadable publications on the full gamut of flight-safety topics. And it would seem like the focus on safety, not to mention better training, equipment, information and flight aids, has made a major difference. According to the foundation, in 1974 there were 4,425 GA accidents compared to the 1,614 last year.
The broader picture seems to be following the same pattern, although one airliner accident is enough to skew the stats in the commercial category. Fortunately, there have been no crashes of large passenger airliners in the U.S. since 2001. In 2004, there was a single Part 121 accident involving an American Connection Jetstream 32 turboprop that crashed while on an instrument approach to Kirksville, Mo. There were 13 fatalities. There were a total of 101 non-GA crashes in 2003 compared to 123 the year before. Air taxis were safer, too. Air taxi operations accounted for 68 of the 101 commercial crashes in 2004 compared to 75 of the 123 in 2003. The total number of people who died in all fatal crashes combined was 635 in 2004, down from 695 the year before.
While U.S. officials celebrated an improving safety record, a couple of Aero Kenya pilots were actively contributing to improving their country's stats. Capt. Kai Tinga and First Officer Mary Mukulu performed two emergency landings (one as a reaction to an onboard fire) in less than two weeks, but we won't likely get to hear about their second adventure unless they quit the airline. "You just want to blow this issue out of proportion," the Nairobi Standard quoted an unnamed airline official as saying, after the pilots were told not to comment. The pilots were flying Czech-built Let L-410 turboprops when they ran into problems. After the first incident (and before the airline had considered the advisability of adrenaline-charged pilots talking to the media) Capt. Tinga told the Standard that an engine caught fire while the aircraft cruised at 12,000 feet on a flight from Nairobi to Eldoret. The plane was still burning when they got it on the ground at Kabarak. Last Thursday, a cargo door blew off the plane and hit a prop five minutes after leaving Eldoret for Nairobi. Tinga and Mukulu shut down the affected engine and returned to Eldoret. They were nowhere to be found when the cameras got there and the passengers were having tea, far away from prying eyes...
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Operators of 1,600 older Boeing airliners may have to fork out a total of up to $660 million (an average of about $400,000 per plane) to replace insulation in the cabin walls if they want to keep them flying beyond 2011. The FAA Friday issued a release proposing an Airworthiness Directive that identifies the transparent film on the insulation, called AN-26, as a potential fire hazard. The film was manufactured by Orcon Corp. between 1981 and 1988. The film apparently no longer meets fire spread standards, which Boeing attributes to age and contamination. Operators of Boeing 737s, the most commonly used airliner in the world and the smallest of the affected aircraft (727, 747, 757 and 767 models are also affected) will spend 4,200 hours removing and replacing the insulation. It'll take almost four times that long on a jumbo. Boeing is working on another, less expensive solution. The plane-maker is developing a spray-on coating that it hopes will correct the problem. The spray is expected to be ready in a year but it will still cost $400 million, or about $250,000 per plane. The problem was discovered after a fire in the cargo hold of a parked airplane in 2002. Of the 1,600 planes affected, 831 are registered in the U.S. Other countries generally adopt FAA directives of this sort. Operators will have six years to comply.
While the future of the flight service station contract is anything but settled, employees who will lose their jobs in the eventual transformation of the system now know how they will be dealt with. The FAA and the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists have reached a reduction in force (RIF) agreement that the FAA calls a "generous compensation package" and the union calls "the least any terminated employee could ask." The deal gives displaced workers a week's pay for each of the first ten years of service and two weeks for every year beyond the tenth. It also gives them first crack at any FAA jobs that come open for which they are qualified for two years. As always, the devil is in the details and both sides got some significant concessions, according NAATS spokesman Mike Sheldon. Sheldon said the initial deal offered the employees would have knocked them off the priority hiring list if they had accepted or even been offered a job that paid as much or more as they made with the FAA. The catch, according to Sheldon, was that the clause applied even to short-term employment that will be offered to existing employees by contractor Lockheed Martin to keep the system running during the transition phase. Under the new deal, transition jobs are exempt from the priority hiring scheme. Sheldon said the FAA got a major concession when the union agreed that employees would get only two months' notice of their imminent departure. Once the notice is given, affected employees can take up to 32 hours per pay period to look for another job; an earlier notice period could have left the system desperately short-staffed during the busy summer season. Sheldon said the deal has no effect on the union's age-discrimination lawsuit against the FAA or protests filed to try to stop the contract process.
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India's civil aviation rules were written in 1937, two years before Igor Sikorsky first flew a helicopter, and they apparently haven't been substantially amended to include rotorcraft. The day after two senior Indian politicians were killed in a helicopter crash (apparently not an uncommon occurrence in India) Indian officials agreed they should revamp their regs -- and this time include rules for helicopters. "There is a need for more stringent control in civil aviation rules," air Marshal P.S. Ahluwalia, of the Indian air force, told reporters. He added the rules need to "spell out" operating restrictions for helicopters. The Indian regs, which are based on the 1934 Aircraft Act, also haven't taken into account the technological advances in fixed-wing aircraft, which may mean that pilot certification rules may not be quite up to date either. Ahluwalia said he's particularly interested in amending the process for certifying civilian helicopter pilots.
Air-tour operators who use quieter airplanes in the Grand Canyon could be rewarded with more flights and routes under a long-awaited set of noise guidelines published last week in the Federal Register by the FAA. The rules set maximum noise levels for various types of aircraft and allow aircraft with greater seating capacity to make more racket than smaller planes. The goal is to have half of the national park free of noise 75 to 100 percent of the time. "We've been asking the FAA for years to do this," Steve Bassett, head of the U.S. Air Tours Association (USATA), told The Associated Press. Under current restrictions on routes and frequency of flights through the park, there's room to fly about 800,000 tourists through the canyon each year. If those rules were lifted, the number would triple. Under the new guidelines, companies that use quieter equipment could eventually get greater access to the park. "Aircraft that meet the quiet technology standards should get something back," Bassett told the AP. "If you're going to fly quieter stuff, there should be some incentive." Aircraft noise standards for the Grand Canyon have been under discussion for almost 20 years.
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The door was opened with the sport pilot regulations and now AOPA is asking that recreational certificate holders also be allowed to forego flight medicals. AOPA has formally applied to the Department of Transportation to make the medical standard for rec pilots the same as for sport pilots, namely a valid state driver's license. AOPA maintains that medical causes account for less than 2 percent of accidents and most of those wouldn't have been detected on a flight medical. The FAA, perhaps unwittingly, is helping AOPA's cause. In the sport pilot final rule, the agency renders an opinion similar to that of AOPA's. "Medical conditions are not a significant cause of accidents in aircraft that are used for sport and recreational purposes," the rule reads. When the recreational pilot category was being created in the 1970s, the FAA rejected the relaxation of medical standards then lobbied for by AOPA.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has waded into a simmering dispute between tenants and the management of Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Basler Flight Services complained to the department's Bureau of Aeronautics claiming a competitor, Orion Flight Services, is getting preferential treatment from the airport by getting time to pay back rent and because it hasn't lived up to a clause in its contract to build a 10,000-square-foot building to house all its business activities. But the bureau said other tenants -- including Basler -- have been cut slack by the airport in the past and the dealings with Orion aren't any different. Basler President Rod McNeil called the report "a farce." In response to the clamor, Airport Director Ruth Elliot has negotiated a payback plan with Orion that will see the company pay interest on the $30,000 in back rent and fuel fees it owes. But Elliot says she doesn't want to take a hard line with companies that are doing what they can to live up to their obligations. "I would hope I don't have to come across as all business, no feelings, no heart," she told the Northwestern newspaper. Others would like to see a little more backbone at the top. "I expect contract to be a contract," said Sonex President Jeremy Monnett. "If I sign a lease to pay X amount of rent, the least the county should expect is I pay it on time." See you in July, folks.
RISK MANAGEMENT IS AN AREA OF AVIATION INSURANCE OFTEN OVERLOOKED
Bombardier is withholding $130 million (CAD) in dividend payments this year to cope with red ink and to help fund development of a new airliner. It's the first time in 32 years that the company has not issued dividends...
We'll probably never know what happened to aerobatic pilot Ian Groom last April 30. The NTSB report on Groom's crash into the ocean off Fort Lauderdale gives no indication why he failed to pull out of a flat spin that he initiated as part of his practice for an air show routine...
If a tsunami threatens Hawaii, the Civil Air Patrol will do its best to warn people. CAP conducted a drill last week in which its aircraft flew low over beaches and waterfront areas. If the real thing were to occur, the aircraft would use sirens, yelpers and loud hailers to urge people to higher ground...
One of Canada's oldest flying clubs has closed. Winnipeg Flying Club directors agreed to wind up the club's business operations on March 30. The club had been operating for 78 years but a recent downturn in business has squeezed revenues. The aircraft and buildings will be sold and then there are plans to reopen the club at a future date...
Hail caused at least $2.1 million in damage to aircraft at Whiting Naval Air Station in Florida 10 days ago. Ninety six of 121 TH-57 helicopters suffered moderate to severe damage to rotors and windshields and 50 of 151 T-34s were damaged by the baseball-sized hail. Buildings also suffered...
Pilots looking for a job might consider Malaysia. The government is considering setting up a new flying academy to help cope with a chronic shortage of pilots. There are only 150 helicopter and 2,800 fixed-wing pilots in the country but it's not known if foreign pilots are being invited to take up the slack.
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As the Beacon Turns #88: Putting on the Wings
Some milestones in an aviation career have traditional recognition -- how many of you had your shirttail cut off after soloing? -- but far too often such events slide past because there is so much farther yet to go. AVweb's Michael Maya Charles has watched one young pilot work his way up through the aviation food chain, and Michael was proud to stand with him as he joined Michael's airline.
AVmail: April 4, 2005
Reader mail this week about the ATC shortage, aging pilots, the new Marine One and more.
MODERNIZING YOUR KT76 DOESN'T GET ANY EASIER!
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Overheard while flying through Chattanooga, this exchange with approach control and an aerial photo operation...
Skylane 12345: Chattanooga we would like to take pictures of the Chockamauga Dam, one rolling to right and one to left.
Control: Approved. Maintain VFR.
Skylane 12345: Chattanooga, we need to climb to 10,000 to take a couple more.
Control: Approved, maintain VFR.
Skylane 12345: Chattanooga, we would like to shoot one more from the south.
Control: DAM photo approved.
Unknown: Bet he wont ask again.
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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