August 21, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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AOPA is repeating its mantra of "no user fees" as the FAA gathers stakeholder input on its next five-year plan. In a letter to the agency, AOPA maintains the so-called Flight Plan, which plots the agency's direction for the coming half decade, has taken a turn toward general aviation user fees, and President Phil Boyer clearly isn't happy about it. "The FAA should never forget that GA is a critical customer -- especially since the GA pilot is the only one who pays the bills out of his own pocket," Boyer said. He said that while the Flight Plan doesn't directly reference user fees, "it certainly lays the groundwork." Boyer said AOPA doesn't believe the current funding structure for the FAA is unsustainable if the agency cuts costs but his suggestion on how that might be achieved might be as controversial as the FAA's seemingly inexorable slide toward user fees. "For example, the recent decision to modernize Flight Service Station operations at lower costs is a model for how they need to act in the future," he said. FSS operations have been contracted out to Lockheed Martin in a program that will result in thousands of job losses and the consolidation of more than half of the existing flight service stations. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has repeatedly said that air traffic control services will not be privatized but then she doesn't call the FSS process privatization, because the FAA retains overall control and supervision. Instead, it's called competitive outsourcing and it's definitely something the National Air Traffic Controllers Association would have some strong opinions on.
Although Blakey rarely misses a public opportunity to stress the agency's commitment to maintaining the system of airports throughout the country (she called it a "national treasure" at her Meet The Administrator session at EAA AirVenture), the fact is that rarely a day goes by that an airport somewhere isn't under intense pressure because of development, noise or perceived nuisance, safety or, more recently, security concerns. Although closures continue, Boyer reminded the FAA that "keeping airports open and operating must continue to be a major role" of the agency. The implementation of the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft designations is expected to add thousands of additional aircraft and pilots to the system in a relatively short time. Often pitched as the economic shot in the arm that GA needs, the new class of pilots need room to fly, park and maintain their little planes. "If some of the projections for expanded use of general aviation become a reality, access to non-air carrier airports is essential to the success of the growth," Boyer said.
As AVweb reported last week, Boyer took Russ Chew, the FAA's Chief Operating Officer, out for a spin in Boyer's Cessna 172. But it was more than a sightseeing trip. Boyer's Skyhawk is decked out in the latest GPS/WAAS gear for satellite-based precision approaches. In the Flight Plan comments, Boyer urges the addition of more GPS/WAAS approaches at GA airports to improve their utility and efficiency but noted that rules that were designed for major airports will prohibit many GA facilities (many of which don't have ground-based ILS equipment) from getting the GPS approaches. For instance, the rules currently require full-length parallel taxiways and extensive clear zones. At many GA airports, those requirements are not financially or physically possible, but neither are they necessary, Boyer says.
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A Helios Airways Boeing 737-300 full of unconscious or semiconscious crew and passengers ran out of fuel with a student pilot / flight attendant at the controls before crashing in Greece last week, according to a report in Flight International. The flight's cockpit voice recorder has been recovered (in pieces), but its contents have not been publicly disclosed. The magazine said it obtained an exclusive interview with Capt. Akrivos Tsolakis, the head of the Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board, who confirmed earlier reports that a male flight attendant, identified by a Macedonian news agency as Andreas Prodromou, who had a few hours of private pilot instruction, managed to take the plane off autopilot and begin a descent. If true, that might help explain the plane's final maneuvers, which included "a descent from 37,000 feet to 2,000 feet and then an ascent to 7,000 feet," according to a report from The Associated Press. Meanwhile, the coroner has reported carbon monoxide was not responsible for rendering the aircraft's occupants unconscious -- decompression still ranks high in suspected causes. Late reports state that the plane ran out of fuel as it passed through 7,000 feet (and after about three hours in the air, on a scheduled 80-minute flight). It crashed about 25 miles northeast of Athens. According to Flight International, Tsolakis said Prodromou and another flight attendant were able to stay conscious by using portable oxygen tanks after the rest of the crew and passengers passed out when the air conditioning and pressurization system malfunctioned. The magazine said Tsolakis noted that the plane's air conditioning had been fixed five times in the previous two months. On the crash flight, the captain reported air conditioning problems a few minutes into the flight but the plane continued to climb, likely on autopilot, to 34,000 feet. The last radio communication with the plane was 11 minutes into the flight.
One question that arises out of the flight-attendant-at-the-helm scenario is why that flight attendant, who apparently managed to disengage the autopilot, was unable to use the radio to call for help. In fact, one aviation expert interviewed by The Associated Press suggested the lack of communication was deliberate. "Someone knew how to work the airplane," said Paul Czysz. "Obviously he didn't want to contact the tower." However, the online version of a Bulgarian newspaper, Information Agency Focus, quoting an unnamed technician for Olympic Airlines, reported that there were radio problems with the plane. The newspaper said the Olympic Airlines technician claimed that a Helios official was told that the captain of the crash airplane informed controllers of the communications problem but was told by the tower to continue the flight. Meanwhile, the airline issued a statement insisting the aircraft was properly maintained and the crew properly trained and qualified for the flight. It said the "partial, inaccurate or sensationalist reporting of events surrounding the accident serves no purpose except to increase the confusion and distress of the families of those on board."
The crash of a West Caribbean MD-82 last Tuesday in Venezuela seems a little more straightforward but it's not without its share of mystery. The pilots reported that both engines failed on the airliner, which went down in northern Venezuela on a flight from Panama to Martinique, killing all 160 people aboard. Officials are now wondering if fuel contamination was to blame for the flameout (there was plenty of fuel on board) and why, instead of gliding to earth, the plane hit the ground in a 7,000-fpm dive. Colombian officials who inspected the plane prior to the flight said it was airworthy. "It was a complete inspection and the aircraft was ready to fly," Col. Eduardo Montealegre, acting head of Colombia's Civil Aviation Department, told reporters. West Caribbean has had its share of difficulties since it was founded in 1998. Last March, one of its Czech-built Let L-410 turboprops crashed on takeoff from an island off the coast of Colombia, killing six passengers and two crew. It has also been penalized for weight issues and crew training problems.
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Possibly one of the most prominent examples of an urban airport system of reliever airports is under intense scrutiny, in no small part because the big airport's biggest customer is on the financial ropes. According to The Associated Press, Minneapolis's Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC) is lifting every rock trying to find ways to cut expenses at six reliever airports that, by all accounts, do a remarkable job of keeping GA out of the way of the big iron at the MAC's big airport, Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP). But even though they are credited with infusing $1.4 billion into the local economy, the little airports either lose money or barely break even and, partly at the urging of financially strapped Northwest Airlines that's caused fee increases and speculation that some of the airports might be closed. Northwest mechanics went on strike Friday, with union negotiator Jim Young saying the mechanics would rather see the airline go into bankruptcy than agree to Northwest's terms, according to CBS news. Gary Schmidt, MAC's director of reliever airports, said small airports rarely make money but there is intense pressure from Northwest to let them fend for themselves. "Its [Northwest's] position is that every penny not spent on relievers could be spent at the international airport. That's where the pressure is," Schmidt said. Northwest wants two of the six closed. But operators at the small airports maintain any gains made by closing or curtailing the small airports will be lost with the impact on scheduling if more GA aircraft are forced to use the international airport. They also say MAC should spend even more money on improvements at the relievers to make them more attractive to potential customers, thus making them more financially viable. A task force is studying the operation of the six airports and MAC commissioner Jack Lanners said it's trying to do its work objectively in the face of the pressure from Northwest. "We're trying to push those motives aside while we figure this out," he said.
EAA is asking the FAA for some flexibility to smooth the transition of ultralight aircraft and pilots into the new Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft regime. As it stands, pilots who try to follow the rules could find themselves grounded for months because the system hasn't quite caught up to the demands that need to be placed on it. Of particular concern are the rules that apply to two-place ultralights and so-called "fat" ultralights. As it stands, planes must make the transition by Jan. 31, 2008, and pilots must be certificated by Jan. 31, 2007, if they want their flight experience counted while qualifying for the certificate. The problem is that once an airplane is registered, it must have an airworthiness certificate. Also, sport pilot flight tests must be done on registered aircraft. Because the system is so new, there aren't many Designated Airworthiness Representatives (DARs) or Sport Pilot Examiners to handle the initial influx. The U.S. Ultralight Association has asked for a two-year extension on both deadlines but EAA says there's a better way. EAA is asking that the FAA allow planes to be registered immediately but allowed to fly under the old Part 103 rules (i.e., no airworthiness inspection) until the Sport Pilot system catches up with the transition. EAA is also asking that pilots be allowed to take their Sport Pilot practical exams on two-place aircraft that are registered but do not yet have an airworthiness certificate. Despite the hiccup, EAA remains upbeat on the process, saying "impressive progress" has been made in implementing the new rules in the year since their adoption.
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If your airplane has some of the latest electronic gear, your flight-planning nomenclature is changing. Effective Sept. 1, 2005, the FAA is adopting several new suffixes to be used in identifying the navigation gear on board. The new designations apply specifically to RNAV and RVSM capabilities. There are also some significant changes to the definitions of certain suffixes that already exist. The FAA has published a table of the new suffixes and definition changes and it's important to note that the new suffixes should not be used until Sept. 1. A flight plan containing any of the unfamiliar letters will likely be rejected before that date.
If they can make a shortstop see the ball better off the hitter's bat, could Nike MAXSIGHT colored contact lenses help a pilot pick out potentially conflicting traffic or see the runway better on an ILS approach? The sports megalith, in conjunction with Bausch and Lomb, has developed contact lenses in both prescription and non-prescription formats that it claims help athletes perform better. Two "sports-specific" tints have been developed that are said to improve key aspects of vision on the field and court and, from the product description, it seems like they might help in the cockpit, too. According to the product literature, the lenses filter "specific wavelengths of light to visually enhance key elements in sport, such as a ball, filtering most of the blue light and manipulating the remaining colors of the visible spectrum to enhance critical details in the sporting environment." The lenses are also said to give athletes "an exceptional view of contours on a given field of play, reduced sun glare and the ability to track fast-moving game activity under variable light conditions." The lenses must be fitted by an eye care professional and are scheduled to be available at optical shops in late summer.
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Pilots in the Houston area are beginning to wonder what it will be like to share the airspace with a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles slated for deployment at Ellington Field. The Air Force has announced that 12 Predators will be based at Ellington as it prepares to take away the F-16s currently attached to the 14th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. Ellington is in the middle of some pretty busy and complex airspace. It's actually within Houston's Class B and is seven miles from William P. Hobby Airport and 24 miles from George Bush Intercontinental. "I wonder how the UAVs will integrate with normal piloted traffic in this very busy airspace," inquired an AVweb reader who tipped us to the story. However, the airspace issues were not addressed in the breathless announcement about the deployment, which will come with about 450 jobs. Gov. Rick Perry said the UAVs will be used to patrol the Texas coast and also to watch for illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border. The Coast Guard also wants to use the planes.
Homebuilders rejoice -- your mistakes probably aren't that bad. British officials are wondering how the pilot and passengers (including two aircraft mechanics) on board a Cessna 210 could fly the plane for two hours without realizing -- or expressing particular care -- that a five-foot section of one wing was missing. The unnamed pilot, from a community called Dozy (we couldn't make that up), apparently hit a tree on takeoff from an airport in Ireland on his way to deliver the mechanics to a broken Boeing 767 in Portugal. The collision took off more than a third of the wing, including a fuel tank. It wasn't until the plane ran low on fuel over the English Channel that the pilot realized something was wrong and made an emergency landing at Jersey International Airport. He recalled the takeoff collision but said he thought the plane had been "struck by a little bird."
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Well, at least he had his seatbelt on. Powered parachute pilot Don Beatty, of Great Falls, Mt., dangled upside down from the seat of his machine for almost three hours on Saturday after the chute got tangled in a 230,000-volt power line near Great Falls. He was finally rescued by a crane after emergency crews scratched their heads for awhile on how best to get him down without killing him. The pilot said pilot error was the cause of the mishap. "I've been flying around here for seven years," Beatty said. "I just screwed up." He said he was watching combines harvest a field below when he flew into the line. He was tired and cramped but otherwise unhurt and declined an ambulance ride.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds cut short a demonstration on Chicago's waterfront Saturday when two of the planes made contact and one lost a missile rail. The four-foot chunk of composite fell into Lake Michigan. Sunday's performance was cancelled because of the mishap...
Cessna CEO Jack Pelton has been named vice chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA). Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier was named chair of the Security Issues Committee and six board members, including Mooney CEO Gretchen Hahn, Honeywell CEO Rob Gillette, Woodward Governor Company's Martin Glass, Embraer's Scott Kalister, Honeywell's Tim Mahoney and Smiths Aerospace's Simon Prior, were named...
Three Florida civic officials were aboard a Cessna twin that hit a turkey vulture. The big bird tore a hole in the plane's wing and caused a fuel leak. It made an emergency landing at Merritt Island Airport...
You've heard of aviation universities and now an aviation high school will open in Riverside, Calif., in September. Wathen Aviation High School will cover the California high school curriculum but with an aviation bias. For instance, optional English literature classes will focus on the works of Saint-Exupery, Lindbergh and Gann.
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Professional "Contract" Pilots -- Are You Protected?
Professional pilots are always covered by an aircraft owner's insurance, right? Well, if not, it's enough to be qualified under the open-pilot clause, right? Short answer: Nope. Read this article by the V.P. of an aviation insurance agency and then check the fine print on the insurance policy.
What's New -- Products and Services for August 2005
This month AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you high-altitude training, an airplane cleaning kit, an extremely lightweight headset and much more.
AVmail: August 22, 2005
Reader mail this week about the price of avfuel, FAA rules on hangar rent, eminent domain and more.
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Identification by dialect...
While enjoying a chartered King Air flight, a fellow passenger and I were passing time trying to guess from what part of the country the crew originated. The conversation came to an abrupt end when we noticed one of the landing lights seemed to be shining oddly skyward,
Voice In The Cockpit: Look there, one landing light is possum huntin'.
My Friend: Deep south?
Me: I'll take that bet.
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