June 26, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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A Dallas/Fort Worth air traffic controller says she's been slapped, verbally abused and almost run off the road by some of her colleagues -- all in the name of safety. Anne Whiteman became a federal whistle-blower when she claimed fellow controllers and managers at the DFW terminal radar approach control (TRACON) conspired to cover up dozens of serious separation errors. On Thursday, the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel issued a report backing Whiteman's claims, and the Special Counsel issued a statement saying the coverups "represent safety deficiencies and undermine the public's confidence in the air traffic control system." Whiteman began raising safety concerns in 1998, following the normal chain of command, after witnessing errors which, in spite of causing serious loss of separation between aircraft, were not reported as required by managers. She went as far as writing then FAA Administrator Jane Garvey but when nothing was done she contacted the Special Counsel's office, which investigates whistle-blower complaints. The investigation revealed a culture of coverups in which managers would not do the required investigations if controllers told them no problem had resulted from the errors.
FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the problems at DFW have been addressed. "We take the charges seriously and as soon as we became aware of them we took immediate corrective action," he told USA Today. Whiteman isn't so sure. She said the OIG/Special Counsel report heaped too much blame on a retired manager and relatively little on managers still working in the TRACON. "Nobody has been severely reprimanded," she said. John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the FAA's reporting procedures are to blame. "The agency has created a culture of underreporting of errors," he said. Indeed, both controllers and managers get bonuses if safety stats improve. Things for Whiteman have not ... Despite her vindication, Whiteman is anything but jubilant. "I don't know if 'disillusioned' is a good term. Disappointed. At times, shocked," she told the Dallas Morning News. The personal toll has been considerable. A colleague slapped her and called her an obscene name while a manager stood idly by. She claims another tried to run her off the road and another was so intent on deriding her that he lost track of the airplane he was controlling and sent it on a collision course with another. Probably the worst blow was losing her job in the TRACON (she's now the tower manager) with the understanding that she could never safely work there again. "It may be hard for the public to appreciate how difficult it is for whistle-blowers to report wrongdoing in the government," Special Prosecutor Scott Bloch said in a statement. "Ms. Whiteman should be commended for bringing to light these serious operational errors that threaten our very air safety and security."
Pilots and passengers are often blissfully oblivious of a near-collision. But at LAX June 19 a United Express jet was forced to abort its takeoff because a Continental Express jet had, according to controllers, moved beyond the taxiway hold bars to within about 40 feet of the runway. Controllers ordered the abort and the United pilots slammed on the brakes, skidding past the Continental plane with about 100 feet to spare. It was one of three separation incidents in a week and the fourth in a month. Before that, there hadn't been an error reported since November. Meanwhile, the state of safety at the New York TRACON (where controllers' overtime pay topped the charts exponentially) is frequently lost in a bickering match between the controllers' union and the FAA. And counterparts at Boston's Logan International are probing a near-collision at a runway intersection. An Aer Lingus A330 and a US Airways 737 were cleared to take off on intersecting runways. The Airbus lifted off before the intersection while the 737 accelerated toward it. Reports vary on how close the two came but the Aer Lingus pilot has filed a near-collision report, which means he thought they were closer than 500 feet. An anonymous controller told the Boston Globe he considered the two "exceptionally close."
JA AIR CENTER, YOUR GARMIN SOURCE, IS LOOKING
Inspired by government resolve to reopen the airport to GA, and in spite of the National Business Aviation Association's planned June 23 welcome-back-to-DCA reception, it doesn't look like GA flights will be landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) anytime soon. Some may find irony in the fact that the security requirement that created the most contention among GA operators is the one that's holding up the process with security gurus. Homeland Security officials are now apparently pondering the wisdom of actually inserting gun-carrying people onto airplanes that would not normally have such firepower. We speak, of course, of the requirement for DCA-bound GA flights to carry an armed law enforcement officer. According to the Washington Times, an unnamed TSA employee says the mandarins now must determine who qualifies as a law enforcement officer. Former TSA boss David Stone said that to ride shotgun on the bizjets that will use DCA, the guards must be law enforcement officers "in good standing." Nine days later he left the post and the lingering question of what exactly a law enforcement officer in good standing is. Does that mean moonlighting police officers, FBI agents looking to make a few extra bucks, or does a Brinks guard qualify? What about park rangers and conservation officers?
Some of the groups representing those who want back into DCA are furious at the delay. "We are just incredibly frustrated," said James Coyne, executive director of the National Air Transportation Association. "We have people who want to be able to travel to the airport for business and they're being told to wait and wait and wait." And wait they will until TSA gets this right, TSA spokeswoman Amy Von Walter told the Times. She told the paper there is no timetable to end the GA ban, despite indications from the agency last month that it was imminent. Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association, said he believes flights will resume, if not sooner, then later, and he's apparently willing to wait. Bolen said the TSA is breaking new ground in allowing anyone but federal air marshals and pilots who have passed the federal flight deck officers training program to carry guns on planes and "they are probably working on contingencies and talking about training issues," for this new type of security officer. "These things always seem to take longer than you think they will. But I think the decision has been made to make this work," he said.
While those in Washington debate the what-ifs of letting GA penetrate arguably the most secure airspace in the country, the good folks of Danbury, Conn., would be happy to come up with an effective and affordable way to prevent drunks from going for joyrides at the local airport. As AVweb told you Thursday, the pilot of beer-can-laden Cessna 172 is facing various charges after he landed the plane, reported stolen from Danbury, at Westchester County Airport in New York last Wednesday. Security guards reported that empties tumbled out as he and his teenaged passengers got out of the plane at about 4:15 a.m. Now, of course, Danbury officials must review security at their airport. Danbury has put padlocks on the airport gates (replacing the push-button code locks for which the combination was displayed for all to see), called for more police patrols at the airport and is in the process of hiring private security personnel to patrol the field. Danbury's pain is being spread among all the state's 130 airports, however. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has called for a statewide airport security review because of the incident. Meanwhile, local officials are preparing a shopping list of potential security initiatives ranging from background checks on student pilots to mandatory prop locks or wheel boots.
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Running the local airport can sometimes be a stressful, even unpopular position, but life-threatening? That's the underlying theme of an investigative report by a New Jersey newspaper that has federal, state and local officials re-opening their files on the suddenly mysterious crash of a light twin in Hillsborough in 1998. According to the report in the Ashbury Park Sunday Press, the pilot, 34-year-old Lino Fasio, was trying to buy Marlboro Airport -- to operate as an airport (developers who bribed the mayor had other plans) -- when the crash occurred. He had filed two previous complaints that his Piper Apache had been tampered with. The NTSB determined a "soft body impact," most likely a bird strike, had caused the tail of the Piper to separate in flight, even though no blood or remains were found. But five crash experts interviewed by the newspaper said that since there was no evidence of bird remains or blood on the tail, which ended up hundreds of feet from the rest of the wreckage, a bird strike was a very unlikely cause. Fasio and a passenger were killed. But Fasio wasn't the only one trying to buy the airport and the resulting transactions resulted in the area's biggest-ever political scandal. In April, former Marlboro Mayor Matthew V. Scannapieco pleaded guilty to taking $245,000 in bribes from developer Anthony Spalliero, who had a deal with a Staten Island company to build high-density housing on the 51-acre site reportedly worth $25 million. Spalliero has also been charged. In light of the newspaper report, the NTSB and FBI are reviewing the case as are state and local agencies. The airport closed in 2003 and has not been rezoned.
Grand Lake Regional Airport in Afton, Okla., could go to the highest bidder (and an unknown fate) in August even though the FAA has invested more than $1.3 million in improvements there. When airports accept federal money, they make a deal to keep the facility open to the public. But the public body that owns the airport, the Monkey Island Development Authority, couldn't pay $99,000 in legal fees it was ordered to pay from previous litigation and the U.S. Marshal's office was ordered to put the whole thing on the block. AOPA is at once amazed and alarmed by the situation. "AOPA has never seen the case where a grant obligated, publicly owned airport is ordered to be sold to fulfill an award of legal fees without any legal recognition that there are financial and contractual obligations owed by the airport," AOPA spokesman Bill Dunn said. Grand Lake is among 3,300 airports in the FAA's National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NSPIAS), which is designed to ensure comprehensive availability of facilities throughout the country. When the operating authority took FAA improvement money, it agreed to keep the airport open and accessible to the public. AOPA has filed a "friend of the court" motion in the case and the FAA has also filed a motion, through the Department of Justice, to stop the sale.
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SMA, the French company trying to convince the aviation world that diesel engines are the future, is now under the control of SAFRAN, the parent company of Snecma, a French jet engine maker. The piston-engine company was formerly a partnership of Snecma, Renault and EADS but SAFRAN bought out the other two. The diesel company is now a full subsidiary of SAFRAN and will retain the SMA name. In February, SMA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in France but the buyout deal from SAFRAN saved the company and it continues to pursue Supplementary Type Certification for installation of the diesel in older Cessna 182s.
The Office of Special Counsel, which handles issues raised by federal government whistle-blowers, says it's concerned that 1,228 A&P mechanics who may not have been properly certified have not yet been re-examined. Two whistle-blowers in the Orlando FSDO complained that a re-examination program for mechanics who had earned their papers through St. George Aviation was abruptly stopped after just 130 of about 2,000 graduates had been retested. The owner and an employee of St. George were convicted of issuing fraudulent A&P certificates. In some cases, students were not even tested. But after retesting 130 graduates, the FAA apparently thought it saw a trend developing. According to the OSC report, the FSDO was advised that because 79 percent of those retested passed the exam and since two years had elapsed since St. George's closure that "there was no conclusive measurable impact on aviation safety and the flying public." Gabriel Bruno, the FSDO manager, and Dorvin Hagen, his Supervisory Safety Inspector, disagreed and filed the whistle-blower complaint. Complicating the case is the fact that some of the mechanics have won a court injunction against being retested. The OSC acknowledges the injunction but wants the FAA to stay on top of the litigation with an eye to getting the remaining tests done. "Nothing could be more central to the nation's overall security and the well-being of our citizenry than aviation safety, of which the mechanics and inspectors form a critical link," said Special Counsel Scott Bloch. "Thanks to the efforts of the whistle-blowers, a problem was identified and is being corrected."
DON'T HAVE A LOW-LEVEL MONOXIDE MONITOR YET?
The next crop of air traffic controllers might be well-advised to brush up on their PlayStation or Xbox skills before applying. The FAA unveiled its new air traffic controller training school last week in Oklahoma City, prompting one newspaper to report that the training simulator "looks like a video game on steroids." Indeed, it looks like a lot of fun. The realistic console is surrounded by screens that present varying weather, traffic and other exterior conditions. "Any situation they will encounter in the field we can duplicate it here," FAA Course Manager David Colburn told The Associated Press. But, as entertaining as it might be, the new training system has the singular purpose of pumping out more controllers, better trained and in a shorter time than the old regimen. The FAA is facing a critical shortage of controllers and has committed to hiring 12,000 over the next 10 years. Congress is now considering an appropriations bill that would start the ball rolling with 600 hires in fiscal year 2006. As part of its hiring plan, the agency pledged to update and streamline training while reducing the number of washouts. The simulator allows students to experience realistic scenarios, including interaction with aircraft and between tower and radar controllers. There's even voice-recognition software helps them use the correct phraseology. But there's one feature on the simulator they'll never see on a real console and that's the pause button that lets them back up and try again.
On the financial brink just two years ago, Lancair Certified -- now producing what they call the fastest piston-single in the world -- is on a roll. The company has increased its workforce by 40 percent in the last six months and it's looking for about 70 more people to help meet demand for its fast and stylish piston singles, the Columbia 350 and the turbocharged Columbia 400. There are now 550 people on the floor at the Bend, Ore., plant and Ron Wright, the VP of manufacturing, said most have been trained on the job. "We recognize that not a lot of people will come to us with experience working with composites and assembling complex aircraft, so we've developed an excellent training program to help new employees get up to speed," Wright told Bend.com. It was just two years ago that Lancair, with $25 million in its order book, ran out of operating capital. With new money from Malaysia, the company was able to restart the production line for the 350 and continue certification work on the 400. The Robb Report recently named the 400 in its Best of the Best issue as the best personal aircraft.
FAA ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS ARE ON THE RISE!
Most pilots know the dangers of wake turbulence from heavy jets but residents near Sydney Airport in Australia have also become educated on its effect. Unfortunately for them, they can't steer their vortex-ravaged homes away from the peril. Since 2000, there have been at least 21 reports of damage caused by wingtip vortices from low-flying aircraft on approach to Sydney. Airservices Australia has paid almost $25,000 AUD to repair the homes. Most of the homes are roofed with heavy clay tiles, which weigh up to five pounds each. The wind gets under them and dislodges them, sometimes causing them to slide down the roof and onto the sidewalk below. "That is another reason why we're always on the lookout. Our property is right on the street," said Gordon Neilson, who's had his roof repaired four times since 2002. The damage occurs on especially calm days when there is no natural wind to disperse the vortices, which fall away from the overflying aircraft. Airservices Australia says it has no plans to change traffic patterns in and out of Sydney and will keep fixing the neighbors' roofs.
An off-duty flight attendant who wrote a bomb scare note and then claimed to find it in an aircraft washroom has been sentenced to five years in a federal prison. Gay Wilson was flying as a passenger on the American Airlines flight and told the court she wrote the note as a prank. Two fighters escorted the Boston-bound flight to Nashville after crew members reported the note...
The House of Representatives has passed a bill barring United Air Lines from defaulting on its pension plans but it might already be too late. The Pension Benefit Guaranty, a federal agency that bails out pension funds, has already taken over one of United's four funds...
A new automated control system for oceanic traffic is now operating in New York. The system, when fully deployed, will reduce spacing from 100 miles to 30 miles on most routes...
Wings to Adventure, featuring AVweb's Liz Swaine, debuts July 3 at 2:30 p.m. EST on the Outdoor Channel. The high-definition programming covers the gamut of aviation topics including aircraft profiles, places to fly and pilot tips. The shows will be repeated Mondays at 4:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 1:30 a.m.
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to email@example.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.
LOW-COST DIGITAL REPLACEMENT TRANSPONDERS!
AVmail: June 27, 2005
Reader mail this week about the Pinnacle and Payne Stewart crashes, why we fly and more.
As the Beacon Turns #91: A Great Storyteller Goes West
A long-time fixture in aviation and aviation writing passed away recently. Gordon "Bax" Baxter was, for many, the voice of old-time aviation, whether on the radio or in his prolific columns and books. AVweb's MIchael Maya Charles was a fellow FLYING magazine staffer and an admirer.
MIKE BUSCH'S SAVVY SEMINAR IS COMING TO A CITY NEAR YOU!
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Welcome to EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh.
As many know when you fly into EAA Airventure at Oshkosh you are asked not to reply to ATC radio communication -- just wiggle your wings and comply. While flying into EAA I heard the following conversation between a landing amphibian and the tower.
Tower: Amphibian say parking.
Tower: Amphibian say parking.
Tower: Amphibian say parking!
Amphibian: (In unsure voice) ... parking.
Tower: Very good. Now -- where -- are you parking?
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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The wing keeps it flying. The engine disposes of the fuel.
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