April 24, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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The House Aviation Subcommittee last Wednesday held a hearing on the commercialization of air traffic services, saying the FAA is now in crisis and at a "crossroads." The FAA has failed to meet schedules and deploy new technology despite billions of dollars in spending, the committee said. At least 30 other countries have switched from government services to private providers. The committee heard testimony from representatives of Nav Canada and a German air-traffic agency, but noted that in terms of operational scale and airspace complexity it is difficult to compare the U.S. National Airspace System and foreign systems. The United States has about 60 percent of the world's air traffic activity.
U.S. air traffic controllers handle more than 64 million takeoffs and landings each year, and Cleveland controllers alone handle more operations annually than Canada's entire privatized system ... according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). NATCA President John Carr last week spoke out against privatization. "We have the world's safest, largest and most complex system. Why in the world would we ever dream of changing it?" Carr said. "Risking the public's safety by putting air traffic control up for sale should never be an option." The fiscal crunch at the FAA is also raising more fears of user fees. "There is going to be increasing noise about the FAA's funding difficulties and who pays for what," said AOPA President Phil Boyer last week. "Our members want a safe and efficient air transportation system. And they want it without user fees."
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The National Weather Service (NWS) would be restricted from offering any products to the public that are or could be provided by the commercial weather industry, under legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate recently by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). The "National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005" would "modernize the description of the National Weather Service's roles within the national weather enterprise," Santorum said, and essentially it would yank the popular NWS Web site off the Internet. The bill already has attracted opposition among those who value NWS products. "The weather service proved so instrumental and popular and helpful in the wake of the hurricanes. How can you make an argument that we should pull it off the Net now?" said Dan McLaughlin, spokesman for Sen. Bill Nelson, (D-Fla.), in The Palm Beach Post. "What are you going to do, charge hurricane victims to go online, or give them a pop-up ad?"
The effort seems to be driven by the NWS's recently revamped Web site, which makes weather data more easily available. AccuWeather, a private weather provider based in Pennsylvania, has been critical of the NWS and supportive of the bill to change it. AccuWeather spokesman Barry Myers told the Post the bill would improve public safety by making the weather service devote its efforts to hurricanes, tsunamis and other dangers, rather than duplicating products already available from the private sector. But NWS spokesman Ed Johnson said it doesn't work that way. "If someone claims that our core mission is just warning the public of hazardous conditions, that's really impossible unless we forecast the weather all the time. You don't just plug in your clock when you want to know what time it is."
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Three crew members died last Wednesday when a Lockheed P-3B firefighting air tanker crashed immediately following a fire-retardant training drop in Lassen National Forest near Chico, Calif. Killed were Brian Bruns, 45, of Minden, Nev.; Paul Cockrell, 52, of Fresno; and chief pilot Thomas Joseph Lynch, 41, of Redding. "They were extremely good pilots," said Terry Unsworth, CEO of Aero Union Corporation of Chico, which owned and operated the aircraft. "This is a very tragic incident." The accident flight was the seventh flight of the day for that aircraft. The purpose of the flights was to conduct qualification checks for pilots who were scheduled to conduct firefighting operations during the upcoming fire season. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, which happened at about 6:50 p.m., according to the NTSB. There were no distress calls from the crew, the company said. Dispatchers called 911 when the aircraft failed to return on time. The crash sparked an intense wildfire that burned about two acres. The accident aircraft was manufactured in 1966 and was formerly operated by the U.S. Navy. It was powered by four Allison T56A11 turboprop engines.
The air tanker that crashed was one of 10 aircraft the National Interagency Fire Center approved last Monday to return to the firefighting fleet, saying it would monitor them closely for signs of fatigue. The 10 included seven of Aero Union's P-3 Orions. Two fatal crashes in 2002 led to the grounding of large air tankers that year. The NTSB noted in a press release on Thursday that it had issued five recommendations last year to the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior and the FAA as a result of several accidents involving structural failure of firefighting aircraft, while noting that it is unknown at this time if the Chico accident is related to structural failure.
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Over the weekend, Germany hosted its 15th Aero Friedrichshafen International General Aviation Trade Fair, a biennial show that is Europe's premier GA event, with 543 exhibitors from 28 countries in nine exhibit halls. AOPA's Thomas A. Horne was there, and reported that Diamond Aircraft CEO Christian Dries revealed that the Austrian company already is building a new manufacturing facility in China. The factory will be big enough to employ 1,700 workers and build 600 aircraft a year. Dries also said Diamond is building a special-edition Twin Star for law-enforcement and sports-coverage operations. The DA42 MPP (multipurpose platform) will have a nose-mounted, gyro-stabilized, triple optical sensor built in Russia. Demand for the MPP is "more than we can produce," said Dries. Also, Dries said the single-engine D-Jet is expected to fly by the end of this year, according to Horne. Diamond also announced recently that the fixed-pitch version of the Diamond Star has received certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency. FAA certification for the DA40-FP is expected in mid-May, the company said. The DA40-FP has lower acquisition and operating costs, simplified operation and lower maintenance times.
The new Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) category in the U.S. has attracted a lot of attention in Germany, where many aviators would like to see similar rules adopted. "The chances aren't so bad," said Reiner H ls, of the German Aero Club, with what sounds to us like at least a hint of optimism. To promote the idea, EAA sent Mary Jones, editor of EAA Sport Pilot, and Dan Johnson, LSA marketing consultant, over to Aero Friedrichshafen to talk about the rules and also to look at potential new European LSA candidates. "There's much interest in LSA here in Europe and in the sport pilot rules," Jones said. "People are very interested in all aspects of the rule and how it might affect European flying." The show ran Thursday to Sunday. Daily air shows featured Yaks, a ME-109, synchronized gliders and Walter Extra flying the Extra 500. The fair attracts visitors from across Europe, Asia and the U.S.
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For those of you who fell asleep in math class, Mooney is offering a refresher course, and under their calculations, Mooney (surprise) comes out consistently on top. In a recent press release, Mooney introduced The Value Factor, an "industry standard," which is determined by multiplying the airplane's best-power true airspeed by its best-power range (in nautical miles) and dividing that total by its suggested list price. Under this formula, Mooney's Bravo and Ovation2 GX models outscored selected Lancair, Cirrus, New Piper and Cessna types. "There are, of course, a lot of factors which contribute to an airplane's overall value," said David Copeland, Mooney's vice president of sales and marketing. True, and some math never changes -- if the total amount of money in your pocket is greater than the price of the airplane you really really want (for whatever reason), that equals one airplane sold, no long division required.
While many air traffic controllers are still working with 1970s-era screens that are inferior to what you get today on a giveaway cellphone, the government has come up with another $57 million to continue deployment of the delay-plagued color-display Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System, or STARS. That's enough for 14 FAA systems, plus nine more for the Department of Defense. The FAA originally budgeted $940 million to upgrade 172 sites, and last year cut that down to 47 sites at a cost of $1.46 billion. Thirty-one FAA and 21 DoD sites are currently controlling air traffic with STARS. The condition of aging displays at Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and St. Louis "has become critical," a report by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General said last December. Controller displays at Denver are locking up randomly, at a rate of a little over once a week. A report last year by the Government Accountability Office found that the FAA's troubles with getting STARS online were a result of its own failures in management of the project.
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While the coming very light jets have been widely touted as the tool for a new point-to-point on-demand transportation system, Bismarck, N.D., is making plans to move forward on that model with airplanes that are available now -- the Cirrus SR22-GTS. City and state officials have been studying the plan for three years, and now are ready to award a contract to a private company that will run the local airline, called Point2Point Airways. The business plan calls for the company to start with five planes or fewer, and grow to 15 within two years, according to The Associated Press. The airline already has received more than $2 million in federal and state money. The routes would connect smaller cities such as Grand Forks, Bismarck, Fargo, and Duluth, Minn., that now have no direct air service.
Florida skydiver Albert "Gus" Wing III, 50, died after he collided with the wing of the Twin Otter that he jumped from Saturday morning, severing both legs at the knees. After the impact at 600 feet, Wing controlled his parachute to a landing but died from his injuries later at Halifax Medical Center. The aircraft landed safely...
A man who shot at a powered parachute that flew near his land in Michigan will have to stay in jail during an annual ultralight festival for the next five years, under a plea agreement reached last week...
A new AMOC will allow most T-34 owners 60 hours' flight, with a few restrictions. The aircraft are not to exceed +2.5 Gs or achieve zero-G flight. They must stay below 152 knots, can't fly aerobatics and shall avoid flight into turbulence known to be moderate or severe. The aircraft must also complete a surface eddy current inspection, according to AOPA...
Jeppesen will remake charts to clarify departure procedures for Teterboro, N.J.,, after complaints of too many deviations in the crowded airspace near New York...
Airport workers at Los Angeles International Airport are losing their handy RV lot, because the airport started to let non-affiliated people move in and problems arose...
The U.S. Aerobatic Team is raising money to get its airplanes and pilots to Spain for the World Championships in June. The U.S. military usually provides transport, but can't do it this year...
Owners of Cessna Citations are invited to a customer conference in Wichita, May 2-4, hosted by Cessna.
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AVmail: April 25, 2005
Reader mail this week about privatizing FSS, firefighting planes, Meigs Field and much more.
Motor Head #6: Who Will Make Your Next Engine?
The "big two" engine manufacturers are no longer the only game in town for small piston engines. Aftermarket "clones" are here, and the new LSA market will further stir the pot. AVweb's Marc Cook reports from Sun 'n Fun.
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