May 4, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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A congressional hearing yesterday explored the question of what to do about the ailing Aviation Trust Fund as the House Aviation Subcommittee began to examine options. The Fund, which supports airports and the airspace system as well as FAA operations, is suffering from a dwindling reserve (which could be gone by 2008). The law that authorized the current funding structure, which depends largely on an airline ticket tax, expires in 2007. (The future of the fund beyond that is now under discussion. No decision has yet been made to dissolve it.) "That [ticket-tax] approach will not sustain us into the future," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told the panel yesterday. "I see a need for fundamental change." The Trust Fund (officially known as the Airport and Airway Trust Fund) has been in place since 1970. It gets it revenues from taxes on passenger tickets, flight segments, international arrivals and departures, frequent flier mileage awards, cargo and mail transportation, and fuel consumption. A general aviation jet fuel tax of 21.8 cents per gallon and the GA avgas tax of 19.3 cents per gallon together comprise just 2 percent of the trust fund revenue, according to the FAA, though NBAA calculates GA's contribution at 6 to 7 percent.
For the past four years, Trust Fund revenue estimates have been overly optimistic, resulting in a drain on the fund. If revenue projections for FYs 2005 and 2006 are as overoptimistic as they have been in recent years, the cash balance could potentially reach zero before the next reauthorization bill takes effect (FY 2008). Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey have called for a dialogue on alternative ways to finance the aviation system in the future.
"Tying fees to the cost of providing service protects both FAA and the customers who use FAA services," Blakey said. "We also believe that a cost-based revenue structure would provide incentives to our customers to use limited resources efficiently and to the FAA to operate efficiently, as stakeholder involvement can help us ensure that we are concentrating on services that the customer wants and is willing to pay for." But, Blakey said, those fees don't necessarily have to be user fees. "I want to be clear. I am not at this point advocating user fees, or endorsing new excise taxes, or urging debt financing, or seeking a bigger share of the General Fund." Blakey said there are many different ways to achieve the goal of a cost-based funding structure. "I am saying that we have an opportunity in the near future for positive change and we need to begin the discussion now. We need to have a funding mechanism that ensures our costs and revenues are aligned."
Considering that GA represents just 2 percent of the contributions to the Trust Fund, they were pretty well represented at yesterday's hearing. AOPA President Phil Boyer told the subcommittee that a user-fee system would denigrate safety. "A piecemeal system of fees and charges gives pilots a direct financial incentive to avoid using the safety features and programs provided within the National Airspace System," he said. National Air Transportation Association (NATA) President James Coyne told the committee that user fees could be more trouble than they're worth. "A system of user fees could add greater confusion and inefficiency to the air transportation system, cause a bureaucratic nightmare for both government and industry, jeopardize safety, and ultimately result in less revenue," he said. NBAA President Ed Bolen agreed, saying that the current fuel-tax system is fair and easy to use. "There are no forms to fill out and no checks to mail. There is just a simple transaction at the pump." Coyne also cited safety concerns. "One of the leading causes of general aviation accidents is unintentional flight into poor weather. A user-fee system would discourage small operators from using the very air traffic control services that could help keep them flying safely," he said. Boyer also made the point that general aviation is not what drives the FAA's costs. "A National Airspace System designed solely for general aviation would look vastly different and cost much less than the current system," Boyer said. Excise taxes on aviation fuel are the appropriate way for general aviation to help pay for the aviation system, not user fees, he concluded.
Wait a minute.... according to National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) Executive Vice President Ruth Marlin, there is no crisis in the Aviation Trust Fund. Marlin told the committee yesterday that "we should not underestimate the strength of the current FAA funding system and we should not tamper with it lightly. The Trust Fund is a stable and strong source of revenue. We should keep it that way by rejecting radical changes based on a manufactured 'crisis.' ... All indicators point to continued and future growth in Trust Fund revenues." NATCA maintains that the Trust Fund surpluses have provided a valuable source of stability, allowing aviation investment to continue through periods of brief decline. "Americans enjoy the best and safest aviation system in the world because of the structure built many years ago whose foundation rests on resources drawn both from the aviation taxes and the general public," Marlin said. "Reducing the contribution made by the public through general revenue could degrade the system, reduce efficiency and safety and restrict economic growth. These costs will be borne by every citizen not just the aviation industry."
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A new study at the University of Southern California suggests that the best way for pilots to train is to first learn on clear, low-clutter displays, which allow the eye to focus and quickly identify targets or patterns. When that training is followed by drills on "noisy," high-clutter displays, the eye quickly adapts. Research subjects who were trained in the opposite way -- starting with noisy displays then switching to simple ones -- didn't show the same progress. "That was a huge surprise to us," said researcher Zhong-Lin Lu. "Now you can simplify training a lot. ... High-noise training comes for free." Does this mean that pilots have an advantage in training on relatively simple-gauge instrument panels, then moving up to more "cluttered" electronic displays? The research didn't directly explore that question, but stay tuned. The findings appear in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Meanwhile, scientists at Stanford University are having some success with experimental technology that would allow people with vision loss to "see" again. The technique involves implanting a chip into the retina. The chip receives signals from a video camera that is mounted on a pair of goggles. The chip bypasses damaged photo-receptors and allows the eye to detect direction of motion and perceive colors, contrast, and brightness levels. The Stanford design has the potential to achieve a visual acuity of 20/80, researchers say, which would provide functional vision for reading books and using the computer, but not enough for flying -- even a third-class medical requires 20/40 vision -- at least, not yet. Similar research is underway at Johns Hopkins University, where scientists say human trials could begin within a year.
IN PRINT AND ONLINE, TRADE-A-PLANE GIVES YOU THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
The single-engine, very light Vantage jet, which was built by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites and flew way back in 1996, has been reborn. It's now morphed into a twin-engine very light jet (VLJ) living in Brazil. The original owners, Visionaire Corp., sank into bankruptcy with $35 million in debt. In 2003, Matt Eller of Eviation bought the company's assets for $441,000. Eller now has brought the prototype to Brazil, where former Embraer engineer Guido Pessotti is studying it and working to create a new, certifiable two-engine prototype called the EV-20 Vantage. The ambitious plans call for a roomy "air-limo" cabin that can seat up to eight passengers, offer a max speed of 436 knots, cruise at 51,000 feet, and take its first flight by December, aiming for joint Brazilian and U.S. certification in September 2006. The jet will be powered by two 2,100-pound-thrust Williams FJ44-1AP turbofans mounted on pylons on the aft fuselage. Pessotti showed the company's design at the Latin American Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition in Sao Paulo, Brazil, last month. Last week, the company completed its application for certification in Brazil.
The long-running battle among professional pilots to rescind the FAA's "age-60 rule" met a major roadblock on Monday when the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. A dozen pilots were trying to appeal a lower-court decision that the rule does not constitute age discrimination. The pilots argued that as long as they are competent and healthy they should be able to continue to fly. The effort had seemed to be gathering support recently when Southwest Airlines filed a "friend of the court" brief, arguing that the rule is arbitrary and deprives the airline of its most experienced pilots. Apparently the court was unmoved. In the past, airlines and pilots' unions have resisted attempts to get rid of the age cap. For the airlines, the rule limited the time pilots stayed at the top of the pay grid and saved them money. For the unions, it meant steady advancement for younger members. And for the retiring pilots themselves, the age limit guaranteed a well-funded retirement with, in most cases, plenty of years left to enjoy it. Those contemporarily cushy retirement packages are now on their way out and many older pilots say they need a few more years of work to get ready for retirement. The Air Line Pilots Association also has recently softened its decades-long support of the rule, and is undergoing a review of its position. Bills now pending in Congress would push the limit to 65 if passed.
PROTECT & SHINE YOUR AIRCRAFT WITH A NAME YOU KNOW & TRUST AEROSHELL
Over 70 NetJets pilots formed a picket line outside the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders' meeting in Omaha, Neb., on Saturday. The pilots passed out leaflets about their ongoing efforts to negotiate a contract with the fractional airline, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's conglomerate. "Our issues have seemingly fallen on deaf ears," pilot Alan Hayes said in a news release. "While all of these investors are enjoying the fruits of our labor, our pilots struggle to make ends meet." Hayes said that NetJets pilots, who are represented by the Teamsters union, are paid about half of the industry average compared to other pilots flying the same equipment. The pilots have been negotiating since 2001, when their last contract came up for renewal. "Eighteen percent of our pilots make a salary that qualifies them for public assistance," said Nick Reyer, a Teamsters official. "That is unacceptable." More than 80 percent of the 2,000 NetJets pilots rejected a contract proposal in August 2004.
One-quarter of the huge new Airbus A380 will be built from various composites and advanced materials -- 22 percent carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, and 3 percent "glare," a glass fiber-aluminum laminate, which is being used for the first time on a civil airliner. These materials, and the expectations that their use will increase (Boeing's 787 will be built almost entirely of composites) and that more very large airliners will be built, has raised questions at the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). "We're concerned about the capability of operators to conduct non-destructive testing (NDT) of these materials," said Dave Hayes, of ALPA's A380 Project Team. "If you hit them with a catering truck, which happens all the time in the real world, what have you damaged?" Hayes said ALPA is interested in what NDT methods are going to be assigned to the operator, and which are relegated to the manufacturer, and under what rules. "These are questions we're going to be asking other manufacturers who intend to use composite materials in their airplanes. Some of these materials are fairly exotic and require using sophisticated imaging techniques for NDT." Hayes said that regarding American Airlines Flight 587 -- the A300 that crashed in Belle Harbor, N.Y., in November 2001 -- "some aviation safety experts think that the airplane might have been weakened by a previous, documented encounter with severe turbulence."
WOMEN AVIATORS NEED A LITTLE BOOST?
It's pretty rare that we hear about a threatened airport, and then find out that the threat has subsided and all's well. But that's just what happened in Los Angeles County, when the Regional Planning Commission voted 4 to 1 on April 20 to retain Agua Dulce Airpark as a public-use airport. Some neighbors had asked that usage of the airport be restricted, and airport owner Barry Kirshner was prepared to accommodate them. Then he started to get reaction from the larger GA community, including the state Aeronautics Division, and realized that cutting off public access was not the answer. An FAA attorney told the commission that the county's proposed restrictions on the airpark would likely be pre-empted by federal law anyhow. "Today the commission recognized that Agua Dulce Airpark is a community asset and valuable resource," Kirshner said, after the vote. The proposed limitations on the airport would have been "excessively burdensome, unworkable, and unenforceable," according to the Aeronautics Division. "If adopted, we do not anticipate that these provisions would meaningfully promote flight safety or alleviate the complaints of the individuals surrounding the airport, except reduce its overall utility and capacity."
In the days of Internet forums, companies have to be careful about riling their customers -- those customers are likely to start chatting online, find other disgruntleds and build a crescendo of bad feeling. That seems to be what's happening with some users of JP Instruments' (JPI's) engine-monitor units. JPI has encoded the data output of its monitors so it can't be read by third-party software that owners would use to collect parameters and monitor the condition of their engines. Whether this is to protect itself liability-wise or to discourage competitors is unclear, but it has certainly made some customers unhappy. It seems the company is working on a fix, which may require a fee from users to translate the file format and perhaps leave those customers less than satisfied. Due to the changes, an upcoming article in Aviation Consumer finds that although the JPI units are still a good product, at least one rival company may prove a better choice for users who prefer non-encoded data output. For more details, check out Aviation Consumer's June issue.
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The Air Race Classic will launch this year from Purdue University, in Lafayette, Ind., on June 21. This annual cross-country race for women pilots, the only one of its kind, will cover more than 2,000 nautical miles. The round-robin route includes stops in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Ohio, and finally circles back to Indiana on June 24. Entries are limited to fixed-wing aircraft from 145 to 570 horsepower. Each airplane is flown by a team of two pilots, and is handicapped based on speed. There's some good news for procrastinators -- the entry deadline has been extended to May 8. Purdue alumnus and NASA astronaut Dr. Janice Voss will be the speaker at the Awards Gala on June 26. Purdue is also hosting a takeoff banquet, a community cookout, and a "blast-off breakfast" at the start of the race, plus a tour of the university's Amelia Earhart collection. Prizes totaling $15,000 will be awarded to the finishers.
A story in Monday's edition of AVweb said the FAA intends to dissolve the Airports and Airways Trust Fund at the end of the agency's current funding allocation in 2007. In fact, FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb that the Trust Fund expires in 2007. The future of the fund beyond that is under discussion in the FAA and with stakeholders in the industry, and no decision has been made to dissolve it.
A Fairchild Metroliner SA227-AC apparently caught fire and exploded while flying at 20,000 feet above New Zealand on Tuesday. The airplane was carrying mail; the two pilots on board died...
EAA Southwest Regional Fly-In coming May 12-15 at a new location, Hondo Airport, near San Antonio, Texas...
New 757s are no more, but companies are sprouting to convert the older airplanes into freight haulers...
Hops & Props fundraiser at EAA AirVenture Museum on May 14 will offer microbrews, hors d'oeuvres, and live entertainment, to benefit youth education programs...
ABC News is due to air a segment this week about the proposed legislation that would restrict the National Weather Service from offering its services for free...
Gulfstream G150 made its first flight on Monday, in Israel...
The New York Times takes a look at medical airlifts...
An airliner in Japan landed on a closed runway on Friday, following instructions from controllers. Nobody was hurt.
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Regional Accident Analysis: Know Your Local Risk Factors
Savvy pilots are always interested in learning how to avoid potential risks. However, most accident data is summarized on a national basis and may understate the risk of some factors in your local area. Max Trescott found profound differences in accident causes in the San Francisco Bay Area and explores how you can discover unique risks in your area.
What's New For May
This month AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you an adjustable LED emergency light, an experimental Light Sport Aircraft, visors, simulators and much more.
HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVwebs NO-COST twice monthly Business AVflash? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash also focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the Business of Aviation. Business AVflash is a must read. Watch for a Business AVflash regular feature, TSA WATCH: GA IN THE "SPOTLIGHT". Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/
TURN A CHECK FROM THE IRS INTO AN ILS OR GPS!
*** PREVIOUS RESULTS ***
Last week, AVweb asked how many of you are current in a taildragger.
The answer? Most of you.
61% of respondents are current, while another 26% chose our option NO, but I wish I were.
Only 113 of you (the remaining 13% of respondents) told us you weren't current.
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
With all this talk of user fees, are you starting to worry yet?
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With Sun 'n Fun squarely behind us, the number of "Picture of the Week" submissions is beginning its steady summer climb and we love it! Keep those photos coming; we need 'em to get in the proper summer spirit.
This week's top prize an official AVweb baseball cap goes to Mark Wuennenberg of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Congratulations, Mark just think of your new cap as a (very) late birthday present.
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Used with permission of Mark Wuennenberg
Mark Wuennenberg of Winnipeg, Manitoba
spent his 40th birthday at the Smithsonian Museum's
new Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles International Airport.
So, yes, the "tight squeeze" here is something of an optical
illusion. Still, as Mark points out, there's nothing to compare
to "enjoy[ing] your lunch under the wing of the Concorde"
and staring up at beautiful vintage planes all day.
here to view a large version of this image
Click here for a medium-sized version
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.
Used with permission of Bob Trout
Bob Trout of Brownsburg, Indiana
sums it up: "This man must be crazy."
(Is he done? Can we open our eyes now?)
Used with permission of Harry Clark
"Resting in the Sun"
Harry Clark of Burlington, Vermont
snapped this pic while he was in Key West
and noted that she "seems a very healthy
Albatross." Indeed and great
colors for a seaplane, too!
Sun 'n Fun wasn't the only place
with aviation action that's been
caught on film by our readers.
Stick around for this week's bonus pictures!
Used with permission of Clint Callahan
Clint Callahan of Santa Barbara, California
was one of several readers who sent us pictures
of the EAA's B-17 "Fuddy Duddy" this week.
The Flying Fortress will be touring the U.S.
for the next several weeks, scheduled to
arrive in Oshkosh during AirVenture.
Used with permission of Jody Smyers
"Misty Approach at LBB"
Jody Smyers of Lubbock, Texas
got this great image from prolonging
the exposure of a FedEx B-727
take-off on a Canon EOS 20D.
Used with permission of Randy Garmon
Randy Garmon of Columbus, Georgia
treats the airport construction crew watchers
in the crowd to this shot of a new ASR-11 radar tower
being built as a replacement for an aging ASR-8.
Randy tells us there's still a year to go before
the transition is complete.
copyright © Dave Gamble
"Ohio Valley RVators 'Buckeye Flight'"
Rick Gray of Vincent, Ohio writes:
"This photo of our Ohio Valley RVators 'Buckeye Flight'
was taken by Dave Gamble. Our photo ship was an RV6
piloted by Gary 'Shiner' Jasper. We take formation flying in our RVs
very seriously and practice often." Rick identifies the pilots as
himself (Lead), Bill "Popeye" Flaherty (Dash 2), Bud "Joker" Newhouse
(Dash 3), Luke "Hooter" Ellwood (Dash 4), and Glen "Dogg" Miller (Dash 5).
(Hmm, why is Rick the only RV pilot without a nickname?)
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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Fly it till every piece stops.
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