NewsWire Complete Issue

August 14, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff

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A Boeing 737 flown by Helios Airways, a Cyprus airline, crashed into a mountainside north of Athens yesterday after the pilot reported problems with cabin air systems. There were no survivors. According to early reports, the jet departed from Cyprus at 9 a.m. and lost contact with controllers at 10:30 a.m. Two Greek F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the aircraft, and one of the F-16 pilots reported abeam the airliner at 34,000 feet that he could not see the captain in the cockpit and the co-pilot appeared to be slumped in his seat, according to Reuters. The Associated Press reported that Greek government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said on a subsequent flyby, the F-16 pilots, "saw two people apparently trying to take control of the Boeing 737. It was unclear whether they were passengers or pilots." More...

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NATCA Decries Malfunctioning Equipment...

The Long, Hot ATC Summer

Two recent near-collisions on runways, one at Boston's Logan Airport and one at New York's John F. Kennedy, show that the FAA's automated warning system is flawed, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said last week. The system, known as Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS), is unreliable during heavy precipitation, NATCA said. "This results in controllers not having this safety alerting system to help them when they need it the most -- during bad weather and periods of low visibility," said Doug Fralick, NATCA's safety and technology director. During the JFK incident, the system had been suppressed because the rain caused it to give off multiple false alarms. AMASS is a software enhancement to the Airport Surface Detection Equipment Model 3 (ASDE-3), which provides controllers with aural and visual alerts to potential collisions on the runway. It processes data from the ASDE-3 and Automated Radar Terminal Systems (ARTS) to predict aircraft movement for arriving and departing aircraft and detects aircraft and vehicles that infringe on the runway surface. It does this by correlating speed, time and distance algorithms to assess potential collision situations.

...As Critics Question, FAA Defends...

The NTSB has also raised questions about whether the AMASS system is an effective tool for preventing runway incursions. Alerts may occur as little as 8 to 11 seconds before a potential collision, the NTSB said. In at least one incident, at Los Angeles International in August 2004, there are "strong indications" that AMASS didn't alert the controller until it was too late to take corrective action, the NTSB said. The NTSB also says a system is needed that would warn pilots directly of potential conflicts, rather than alerting controllers. FAA spokesman Jim Peters told The Boston Globe the AMASS system was never designed to work in all conditions and its creators warned about ''false targets" in rain. Peters said the system successfully alerted air traffic controllers about a potential collision in November 2001, and added that a software solution that would fix some problems with the system is being tested in San Diego.

...And FAA Counts Controllers' Shortcomings

Meanwhile, the stress between controllers and the FAA is evident at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) on Long Island, where the FAA recently counted errors occurring at six times the average rate, The New York Times reported on Saturday. NATCA says that's because the FAA has cut back on staffing, but the FAA says it's because it has increased supervision at the center and now errors are being caught that were previously unreported. With new oversight at the TRACON, controllers are now spending four and a half hours per shift at their screens, up from 3 hours and 39 minutes, and overtime expenses are down by $50,000 a week, the Times said.


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"Commercialized" Air Traffic Control Bad For GA, AOPA Says...

GAO Report Scrutinized

A recent report (PDF file) by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) previously reported by AVweb said safety remains intact when governments shift their air traffic control duties to the private sector. But that may not be telling the whole story, AOPA said last week. The report evaluated the "commercialized" ATC systems in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, but limited its safety study to data on direct measures such as loss of separation, AOPA said. "GAO did not consider indirect safety impacts, such as pilots declining to use services because of the extraordinary costs charged by some of these systems," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. The five foreign systems combined handle an average of about 14.5 million aircraft operations a year. Just five of the FAA's 22 air route traffic control centers handle more traffic than that, AOPA said. The whole U.S. system handles nearly 94 million operations a year.

...User Fees No Panacea

The GAO report also found that despite implementation of user fees, air traffic systems still face budget problems if the industry suffers an economic downturn. The commercialized systems need to have fallback strategies such as a reserve fund, a cost-cutting plan, or some alternative to user fees, the GAO said. Also, some systems have increased or plan to increase the costs of service to small or remote locations. And while all of the air traffic systems claimed greater efficiency over their government-operated predecessors, the GAO couldn't document the claims, AOPA said. The "predecessor organizations did not necessarily gather or publicly report comparable data," the GAO report said. "Consequently ... comparisons of performance before and after commercialization are generally not feasible," the GAO said.


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Blue Angel No. 1, "Butch" Voris, Dies

Retired Navy Capt. Roy "Butch" Voris, the founder and original flight leader of the Blue Angels precision flying team, died last Tuesday at his home in Monterey, Calif. He was 86. Voris was a flying ace in World War II and shot down eight Japanese fighters. After the war, he was asked to organize a flight team to showcase naval aviation, and on June 15, 1946, he led the Blue Angels and their Grumman F-6F Hellcats in their first public performance, at Jacksonville, Fla. Voris survived a midair collision during a Blue Angels show at Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1952, in which one pilot was killed. Voris brought his plane in despite lack of control and a severed tail. He retired from the Navy in 1963 and worked as an executive at Grumman Aircraft Corporation and as a spokesman for NASA during the 1970 moon shots. Voris was a member of the Naval Aviation Hall of Honor in Pensacola, Fla., and the International Air Show Hall of Fame. He was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, 11 Air Medals, three Presidential Unit Citations and a Purple Heart. A biography, "First Blue," by Robert K. Wilcox, was published last year.

Presidential Helis Conflict With Airliner

An American Airlines MD-80 had to make a go-around at Chicago's O'Hare Airport last Wednesday afternoon after two helicopters departing with President Bush's party -- but not carrying the president -- strayed into its approach path, the local CBS-2 news reported on Thursday. The two helicopters, carrying press and staffers, were heading north near the runway centerline as the airliner was landing to the south, CBS-2 said. The airline pilot aborted the landing and climbed out to the left. The two helicopters also made left turns. Marine One, the helicopter carrying Mr. Bush, was not involved in the incident. CBS-2 said the FAA acknowledged that the go-around took place, but no investigation was pending because no loss of minimum separation occurred. The airliner had departed from Salt Lake City and had 136 people on board.

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Congressmen Push FAA To Evaluate MU-2

The FAA has agreed to evaluate the safety of the Mitsubishi MU-2B-60 twin turboprop, after several members of Congress from Colorado asked for the airplane to be grounded. Two MU-2s have crashed in Colorado in the last year, killing three people. The FAA will not ground the aircraft, but will examine its record and check operational procedures and pilot training, The Washington Times reported on Thursday. Further, the FAA "won't hesitate to do that [ground the fleet] if we have the data to support it," FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette told the Times. Mitsubishi disputes claims that the aircraft is unsafe, the Times said. Last year, after four fatal crashes in MU-2s, Mitsubishi recommended that pilots get specialized simulator training specific to the aircraft. The FAA conducted a review of the aircraft's safety record in the mid-1980s and found no major problems. After another review in 1996, the FAA required changes in pilot training prior to flying in icing conditions. The current review is expected to take about two months.

Airport, Public Good, And Eminent Domain

Building a new general-aviation airport doesn't fall into the same category as building a freeway or other public project, according to a recent editorial in The Roanoke (Va.) Times. A proposed airport in Franklin County would require taking land from 18 private owners by eminent domain. "Who, exactly, would use an airport limited to private planes and corporate jets?" the newspaper asks. "A handful of rich and powerful people and air enthusiasts." Claims that the community and local economy would benefit are "vague ... uncertain ... dubious," the editorial says. The landowners have formed a coalition to fight the project, which would require 330 acres. The county may have the right to take the land, under a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that said there is nothing to stop local communities from using the power of eminent domain to promote economic development. Several studies have been completed, and a decision is expected later this year on whether to proceed to the next step, which would be an environmental impact assessment.

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L-19 Recovered From Lake After 47 Years

A Cessna L-19 Bird Dog was recovered on Saturday from the bottom of a Minnesota lake, where it had rested beneath 40 feet of water since 1958. The recovery team used a large winch mounted on a pontoon boat to hoist the airplane, then towed it to shore. Divers also found a flight log, parachutes and headphones. The wreck was discovered by accident in July 2004, when fishermen in search of walleye scanned the area with an underwater camera. The Army airplane crashed after the pilot, Capt. Richard P. Carey, reported he was low on fuel and then apparently hit some seagulls and crashed into the lake. Carey was killed and his body was recovered two weeks later, but the aircraft was never found. Local organizations, including an American Legion post and an EAA chapter, plan to restore the airplane and display it as a memorial to its pilot.

Beyond Flying Cars, To Personal Air Transportation

The folks at NASA would like to clarify that their $250,000 Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) Centennial Challenge is seeking out practical ideas for improving personal, on-demand air transportation, and the common concept of a vehicle that transforms from airplane to car is not necessarily the answer to that challenge. "The goal of the PAV Centennial Challenge is to develop affordable, efficient and safe PAVs that are able to quietly land at very small airports that are close-in to small communities, saving time spent on ground transportation and making flying more accessible to people across America," the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation says at its Web site, which has many more details about the challenge. The CAFE Foundation is working with NASA to administer and execute the competition. "NASA and CAFE engineers have designed the contest rules to fairly reward PAVs that are affordable, safe, quiet, fast, easy to use and efficient in near all-weather, door-to-door travel. To win, a team vehicle must demonstrate its performance in all these areas -- by flying a 'decathlon-like' array of tasks," the CAFE Foundation said.

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In-Cockpit Video: Bird Strike

An AVweb reader recently passed along in-cockpit video of a Canada Air Force CT-155 Hawk before, as, and after its in-flight ingestion of a bird. The aircraft's heads up display is visible, the bird is visible, as is the last image caught on camera -- a farmer's field. Synopsis of the May 14, 2004 accident is available, here. The accident aircraft carried a crew of two. One student and one instructor pilot. One pilot survived the experience with minor injuries, the other was seriously injured. The video is available, here.

On The Fly...

A 2001 Cessna 182T, N999KS, was reported stolen from Glendale (Ariz.) Airport on Aug. 10; any information can be sent via e-mail to the Aviation Crime Prevention Institute. A $5000 reward is offered...

A maintenance crew was moving the FedEx aircraft that crossed an active runway without a clearance at Logan Airport in Boston last week...

The Transportation Security Administration named Joseph Terrell as the new federal security director for Pittsburgh International Airport...

A bullet that struck a sheriff's helicopter in Albuquerque hit a control pedal, and if it had missed that, would likely have hit the pilot in the chest, investigators said last week. The pilot, who is a veteran of the Iraq war, says he will retire from flying...

Thousands remained stranded over the weekend at Heathrow Airport, after a labor dispute at British Airways cancelled flights and stranded 70,000 passengers...

As of Saturday, 92 comments were filed in the FAA docket regarding proposed changes to D.C. airspace. You can find them all, and more, online; just enter number 17005...

Aircraft are grounded pending an investigation at Culver Academies flight-training camp in Indiana, after an instructor and student drowned when their Piper Warrior crashed into a lake.

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

Motor Head #8: Return from Oshkosh -- Engines in the Headlines<
Oshkosh was a good destination for the engine lover last month. New airframes sometimes inspire new powerplants, and even the big boys had some R&D news, as AVweb's Marc Cook explains in this month's Motor Head column.

Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles:

AVmail: August 15, 2005
Reader mail this week about security and ATC privatization around the world, the miracle in Toronto and much more.

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Short Final...

All things considered, this might not be so far off...

After a long flight, I was draining the sumps in an FBO's men's room where the urinals were crowded closely together.

A wide bodied pilot pulled up behind me, surveyed the scene, and asked,

"What is this, taxi into position and hold?"

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Freedom, independence, responsibility.

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