May 1, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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You never get a bill for it, and there's no entry for it on your books or your tax form, but that doesn't mean access to the National Airspace System is free. And just how (perhaps more important, who's) to pay for the increasingly expensive system was the subject of invitation-only meetings between FAA officials and aviation industry representatives last Monday and Tuesday. Nothing was resolved, but FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb aviation is changing and the FAA must adapt its method of doing business to meet forecast increases in traffic -- while revenues decrease. "To suggest that the status quo remain in place is appallingly naive," Martin said in an exclusive interview with AVweb. "It just doesn't add up." The FAA maintains that a number of divergent factors have precipitated the current funding situation. The FAA gets funding from two basic sources, the General Fund (where your check went on April 15) and the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is supported by fuel, passenger and cargo taxes. The way most in aviation have generally understood the two revenue streams is that John Q. Public pays for the day-to-day operations of the agency while the direct consumers (notice we didn't say users) of the system pay for infrastructure improvements through the taxes paid into the trust fund. However, there are some interpretations that suggest the distinction isn't black and white and in recent years the agency has dipped increasingly into the trust fund for wages, paper clips and toilet paper, diverting those funds from runways, navaids and airport projects.
And it now appears the initial softening-up period on the potential for user fees is over. The term was, until recently, banished from the FAA lexicon, but the volatile verbiage is now clearly on the table. "Some groups have some very strong views when terms like 'user fees' are used," Martin acknowledged. At the same time, he insists they are not a foregone conclusion. "I don't think there's any predetermined direction to go in this," he added. But he did say the intention is to dissolve the Trust Fund at the end of the current budget-allocation period in 2007, and that the new system that replaces it will need more revenue. "There is no revenue [now] for the FAA that matches up with what it costs," he said. And, as he predicted, the U-word provoked a voluble response. AOPA President Phil Boyer has been repeating his "No, no, no" mantra on user fees since long before the FAA started using the term and he continues to assert that it's the number-one issue among his group's 400,000-plus members. "The United States leads the world in general aviation," Boyer said. "Would that continue under a user-fee system?"
While some of the attendees, Boyer included, came away with the impression that user fees are the favored option, the National Business Aviation Association's position is that the current system of fuel taxes is perhaps the most fair. "There's no simpler and more accurate way to distinguish between heavy and light users of the system than to measure the amount of fuel burned," President Ed Bolen said. He also noted that the introduction of user fees would require establishment of another bureaucracy to administer, bill and collect the money. He claimed it cost some user-fee-based agencies in Europe up to $125 to process each transaction. And while opinions varied on revenue creation, there was virtual unanimity on the need for the FAA to get control of spending. EAA representative Doug Macnair said the FAA must get its house in order. "With user fees, we are talking about giving another blank check to a system of procurement that has proven itself to be inept," he said. Besides, Macnair said, we don't even know what the future National Airspace System (NAS) will (or should) look like so the funding discussions are premature. Macnair said GA associations "are unanimously opposed to the implementation of user fees, especially in the absence of cost controls, accountability and a clear road map for the future of the NAS."
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) weighed in with a 52-page analysis (pdf file) of not only the FAA's funding situation but a comparison with the way other countries fund and manage their aviation systems. NATCA's broad conclusion is that aviation affects virtually all facets of modern life and should therefore be a shared burden. The report, authored by NATCA Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin, acknowledges that direct consumers of aviation activities (i.e., passengers and cargo customers) should pay a significant portion of the FAA's costs but "they should not be required to fund the entire cost as there is a portion of the costs that is clearly in the public interest and therefore appropriately funded by the general treasury." The FAA's Martin said it's a simplistic argument considering the other pressures facing the government. "It's interesting to note that they were the only ones who suggested there isn't a funding problem," Martin said. He said those in aviation sometimes lose sight of the fact that it's really a small slice of a much bigger pie. "[The government] always has equally compelling and competing national interests [outside aviation] to consider," he said. "The trend in the general fund contribution is clear and an increased contribution is unlikely to be a long-term solution."
JA AIR CENTER, YOUR GARMIN SOURCE, IS LOOKING
The political momentum behind a bid to reopen Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) to charter and GA traffic appears to be unstoppable and the biggest question now seems to be when, not if, those operations will be allowed to resume. And since Washington will almost certainly remain under an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) for the foreseeable future, just how the security apparatus that tries (with varying degrees of success) to control access to the ADIZ will cope with the influx of non-scheduled flights is also a big question mark. For now, however, the focus is on cracking the political barriers. On April 6, a bill was put before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee calling for resumption of GA flights to DCA within 180 days of passage. It made it through committee with only one significant change: the 180-day term was cut to 60 days. The proposed bill was endorsed by the committee on April 27 and will go to the full house sometime in May. Meanwhile, the Homeland Security Committee, which is debating a reauthorization bill for the Department of Homeland Security, included a provision to reopen DCA to GA. It stuck with the 180-day timeline.
As with every legislative bid to reopen DCA to GA the alphabet groups, including AOPA and the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), are following the progress in minute detail. AOPA's legislative affairs staff met with the politicians involved to let them know about GA security measures that have already been implemented, such as Airport Watch and the guidelines established jointly between the industry and the Transportation Security Administration. NBAA President Ed Bolen said the initiatives are long overdue. "By their actions, House leaders are reaffirming that the time has long since come and gone for federal security officials to implement a plan that protects security while bringing economic activity back to National Airport," Bolen said.
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A major improvement in turboprop sales helped GA manufacturers record another strong quarter in the first three months of 2005. Turboprop sales jumped 67.6 percent over the same period last year with a total of 57 sales compared to 34 in Q1 2004, according to stats released by the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) last week. Gains in other sectors were more modest but all were on the plus side of the ledger and that bodes well for the continued recovery of the industry, said GAMA President Pete Bunce. "Strong industry billings speak for the overall health of the general aviation industry," Bunce said. Overall shipments were up 15.7 percent from 542 to 627 and the dollar value also jumped 14.1 percent from $2.4 billion to $2.7 billion. Piston sales were up 9.6 percent from 394 to 432 and bizjet shipments climbed a healthy 21.1 percent from 114 to 138.
Earth Day was celebrated in silence on California's high desert as an electric car company marked an aviation milestone. AC Propulsion's SoLong unmanned aerial vehicle (it looks like a big model glider) landed at 12:45 a.m. on April 22, having spent a little longer than 24 hours aloft flying on battery and solar power alone, the longest such flight of its type to date. "During the flight the SoLong had made no noise, consumed no fossil fuels, emitted no pollution and contributed nothing to global warming," according to a report in EV World. The aircraft, which has a 15.6-foot wingspan and weighs 25.3 pounds, was launched just after midnight with a full lithium ion battery to run its high-efficiency electric motor until dawn. As the sun rose, the solar panels on its wings gradually increased output until the battery was being charged again. The aircraft also took advantage of the solar energy that produced thermals, enabling the motor to be shut down as it rode the air currents. By mid-afternoon, the battery was fully charged and ready to power the UAV through half the night. In fact, it landed with a half-full battery. Multi-day flights are now being planned.
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The high price of avgas has a Brazilian plane-maker turning to alcohol. Neiva, a subsidiary of Embraer, delivered the world's first production model ethanol-powered crop duster in March and has plans to build 70 more this year. For 30 years, Brazil has been developing ethanol-fueled vehicles to reduce dependence on oil imports and at least a third of all cars produced there can run on alcohol. There are about 400 aircraft adapted to run on ethanol but the EMB 202 Ipanema is the first certified production aircraft. It's powered by a Lycoming IO-540. While Brazil lacks oil resources, it does have the ability to grow huge amounts of sugar cane, from which the ethanol is produced at about a quarter the cost of gasoline, which now runs at about $7 a gallon in Brazil. The ethanol-powered Ipanema costs about $14,000 more than the avgas version but the fuel savings, plus the greater durability and what the company claims is a 7-percent increase in power output from the modified engine, makes up for the higher initial cost. Neiva director Acir Padiha also noted that ethanol pollutes less and is a renewable resource, assuming you have the land and climate to grow millions of acres of sugar cane. The company is now planning to convert six-passenger Sertanejo and Minuano aircraft to ethanol.
At least 12 aircraft owners at Chino Airport in California have been unable to get to their airplanes for more than a month because of their neighbor's hobby of collecting luminescent dialed instruments. San Bernardino County officials say there are enough old airplane instruments painted with radium-226 inside two hangars occupied by Preservation Aviation Inc. to create a radiation hazard. Since March 10, authorities have barred access to neighboring hangars. Airport manager James Jenkins told the Daily Bulletin that the neighboring aircraft are not contaminated but the area around them is off-limits. The county estimates it will cost more than $200,000 to collect all the instruments and dispose of them safely. Because the county owns one of the hangars and the land under the other, it will undertake the cleanup but will be looking to get the money back from Preservation Aviation owner Jeff Pearson, who wasn't available to comment. This is the second time the company has been at the center of a radiation scare. The Chino investigation stemmed from the Environmental Protection Agency's 2004 probe of a North Hollywood warehouse in which Preservation Aviation stored thousands of radium-containing instruments. Radiation levels in that warehouse were 100 times greater than normal. The Los Angeles Daily News reported at the time that the cost of that cleanup was $7 million.
TAKE THE "SEARCH" OUT OF "SEARCH & RESCUE"
Everything needed to start your own amphibious airplane company will go on the auction block at EAA AirVenture on July 27. Starting at 4:30 p.m. in the Vette Theatre, on the AirVenture grounds next to the museum, Higgenbotham Auctioneers International will sell the type certificate, STCs, tooling, fixtures, engineering data and inventory for the Lake Amphibian series of aircraft. And although they aren't strictly part of the package, the staff members who know how to make the company make airplanes have indicated they'd like to join the new owner "to ensure that they be able to operate immediately as a fully functional aircraft manufacturer," according to a Higgenbotham news release. The Lake line is now owned by Revo Inc., which had previously indicated it intended to resume production. Lake was started by Herb Linblad and Dave Thurston in 1948 and produced hundreds of Buccaneer and Renegade models with the trademark pylon-mounted engine.
Growth can be a pain and the market's thirst for Cirrus airplanes may force the company to shift some of its production from Duluth to Grand Forks, N.D. Cirrus wants to build an additional 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space to increase production from 12 planes a week to 16. But problems with contaminated soils (and leasing issues on the proposed site) in Duluth could make the company look west, according to a story in the Duluth News Tribune. Cirrus spokesman Bill King said the company hopes to move into its new digs by the end of the year. "The truth is we need that space now," he said. The first choice for the building is land adjacent to its existing quarters. Not only is the soil contaminated, it's already leased to the Air National Guard. The Duluth Airport authority is fighting to allow the Cirrus expansion by providing $33,000 to help fund an assessment of the proposed site. "Cirrus has been a great business for Duluth and we need to do whatever we can to help them," said airport commissioner Todd Fedora. There are no such complications in Grand Forks, where Cirrus already has a plant making composite parts. If necessary, King said, a planned expansion of the Grand Forks plant could be increased to shift more manufacturing facilities from Duluth. King told the paper Cirrus would rather keep those operations in Duluth but it will do what it has to in order to meet production goals.
LANCAIR COLUMBIA 400 NOW CERTIFIED TO FL250
A second Delta Air Lines pilot has suffered eye injuries resulting from a laser being pointed at his aircraft. The unidentified first officer on a 737 was taken for medical treatment after reportedly being hit with the laser while the plane was on approach to Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport last Tuesday. The plane landed safely. FBI spokeswoman Lori Bailey said the pilot was lased when the plane was six miles out at about 9,000 feet. Details of the pilot's condition were not available. As AVweb told you in March, another Delta pilot told Congress of the effects of a laser attack on his airplane last September. Perry Winder testified that he suffered intense pain and the affected eye remains sensitive to light. He was off work for more than two weeks because of the incident, which happened while the plane approached Salt Lake City last September. Last March 10, the flying pilot on a Continental flight had to turn over the controls to the first officer after suffering blurred vision from a lasing.
A Nigerian-born flight student who fled the U.S. after being refused advanced training by a Georgia instructor has been arrested near London for allegedly obtaining a false passport. Zayad "Christopher" Hajaig was arrested at his home in Essex. Hajaig's altercation with flight instructor Jim Archer earlier this month sparked a terror alert. Hajaig, whose U.S. visitor's visa had expired, fled to England and insists he is not a terrorist....
The Lancair Columbia 400 has been dubbed the "Best of the Best" in the personal aircraft category in Robb Report's annual compilation of such things. The edition of the magazine, which monitors the accoutrements of the luxury lifestyle, hits the stands May 24...
An Australian who says he's come up with a device to conveniently weigh commercial aircraft is encountering resistance from airlines and others in aviation who seem to prefer the load sheet method of calculating weight and balance. Weight and balance has been cited in several recent commercial accidents and Geoff Ogilvie said his invention will take all the guesswork out of the process...
Air bags will be standard equipment in Mooney Bravos and Ovations with the FAA certification of the AmSafe Aviation Inflatable Restraints in Mooneys. The airbags pop out of the seatbelts.
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McCAULEY IS "THINKING FORWARD" FOR THEIR USERS!
AVmail: May 2, 2005
Reader mail this week about firefighting tankers, ATC privatization, the value of various aircraft and much more.
As the Beacon Turns #89: Send In the Drones
Who needs two pilots in an airline cockpit when one will do? For that matter, who needs one when a flight-sim-trained teenager can do it from the ground? Heck, get one of those brains in a dish and you don't even need the teen! AVweb's Michael Maya Charles ponders the future of airline cockpits in this month's As The Beacon Turns column.
ATTENTION, CESSNA OWNERS AND PILOTS
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IF YOU LOVE THE CHALLENGES AND REWARDS OF FLYING THE GAUGES
While flying into Cheyenne one spring day the tower anounced to pattern traffic...
Tower: Piper 1234 be aware of a flock of birds off of runway 12.
Piper 1234: Tower, we have birds in sight off our right wing.
Tower: Piper 1234 can you deternime what kind of birds they are? ...Geese?
Cessna 567: Tower we have a flock of cranes off of our left wing.
Tower: Cessna 567. Can you tell what kind of cranes?
Piper 1234: They appear to be unlit cranes.
Unidentified: Had that one coming...
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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Let's all be careful out there, okay?
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