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The FAA says its main funding source, the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, is going broke and now is the time to start fixing it -- and it appears at least part of the solution will be found in pilots'
wallets. Earlier this week, various industry groups, from pilots associations to airlines, began receiving a package from FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that includes a survey of sorts into how they'd like to pay to operate the agency after the current trust fund's mandate runs out in
2007. And make no mistake, the question is not whether the payments will be made, it's how much and by whom. A summary of the package appeared in Tuesday's Federal Register and says that
user fees are a main focus of the discussion. "One major component of this work is an ongoing study that would allocate FAA's air traffic control costs to users of the system," the Federal Register
document reads. The document says the trust fund balance is low and dropping and stable funding must be restored to keep the agency operating and to pay for new technology needed to cope with
increasing demand. Fundamental to the new funding structure will be a link between the cost of the services provided and those who use the services. The FAA has spent much of the last year improving
its cost accounting systems to provide the data it needs to get a handle on who pays for what.
AOPA spokesman Chris Dancy said the document is of "grave concern" to the pilot group and could result in a nationwide mobilization of its 400,000 members to protest. "We're working very hard on this
issue. It is our number one issue," Dancy said. AOPA has been vocally opposing any talk of user fees since before the agency first started talking about them in 2004. Dancy said that as a stakeholder,
AOPA is glad that it is being given the chance for input but he also noted that the questions in the survey appear loaded in the direction of user fees as the funding solution. AOPA staff will make a
formal submission on the document but Dancy said there are some fundamental arguments against user fees. AOPA maintains that the trust fund is viable but that too much of the FAA's budget is dependent
on it. "The entire U.S. population benefits from aviation," Dancy said. It follows that everyone should pay to keep planes in the air. He said AOPA's position is that at least 25 percent of FAA
funding should come from general revenue. "The trust fund is only in trouble if you remove that funding," he said.
FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the Federal Register document is a continuation of the process started with a forum held earlier this year in which stakeholder groups were asked to come up with
alternative methods of funding the FAA. He said there's a genuine desire on the part of the FAA to design a funding structure that has the support of stakeholders and, at this stage, all options,
including user fees, must be open. "You can't immediately start removing questions from the table," he said. Dancy said one of AOPA's concerns is that the process seems to be reaching an advanced
stage quickly in a kind of political vacuum. Because the trust fund authorization doesn't run out until 2007, the current Congress has no jurisdiction. The Congress formed after next year's mid-term
elections will have the responsibility. That means that groups like AOPA can't go over the FAA's head to Congress now to try and halt the process. "The fact that they're making such a strong push [for
user fees] so early causes serious concern," Dancy said.
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Sometimes it takes a little while for a head-office personnel shuffle to sink in but apparently not at New Piper. The Vero Beach plant was
evacuated Tuesday after receiving a bomb threat. The threat came a day after CEO Chuck Suma was shifted to the position of Vice Chairman to make way for James K. Bass. A Piper worker who spoke on
condition of anonymity said the move shocked employees and the bomb scare was related to the announcement. The Vero Beach Sheriff's Office dispatch center received the threat at 8:42 a.m. Tuesday. A
spokeswoman for the dispatch center told AVweb the call came from a security guard who received a phone call in which the threat was made. He also told police that fire alarms at the building
were triggered at the same time the call was received. (Nice touch.) The building was searched but there was no report of a bomb being found.
Bass, once a senior vice president at Sony Corp., is more recently the former head of Suntron, an electronics company. Bass moved Suntron's manufacturing operations to Mexico where the company is now
expanding, according to TCPalm.com. A New Piper news release, which saw limited distribution,
said Bass has been hired to "lead New Piper Aircraft into the future." Piper officials have not yet offered tremendous insight into the head-office shuffle and Suma has also reportedly declined
comment. Suma will stay on as vice chairman of New Piper and will look after contact with regulatory agencies, dealers and customer organizations, according to the release issued by the company.
According to TCPalm.com, Bass quit Suntron last May. The company had been losing money for four years and its sales had dropped by 50 percent, prompting closure of five plants. With Bass at the helm,
Suntron moved its manufacturing operations to Tijuana and, in January, announced expansion of the plant there from 45,000 square feet to 110,000 square feet. In contrast, Piper seemed to be recovering
from a terrible year in 2004 in which its plants were hit by three hurricanes. Sales were up, coinciding with the company's decision to offer glass panels in the full range of aircraft models.
Mexico is also a factor in the latest news from Cessna. The company announced last week that it's building a 62,000-square-foot plant in Chihuahua
where wire harnesses and "small sheet metal parts" will be manufactured. The move eliminates 110 jobs in Wichita and Cessna wouldn't tell the Wichita Business Journal how much the new facility is
costing. "We're doing it to not only improve our business processes, but to improve our costs," said Cessna spokesman Dick Ziegler. Ziegler told the Business Journal that the Mexico plant will help
make the company more competitive. "And I don't know of any business, in any industry, that is engaged in manufacturing that doesn't look for ways to cut costs." The American employees losing their
jobs will have the chance to apply for other openings. The new plant opens next March. Raytheon moved its wire harness work to Mexico in 2003 but it's having them built by a contractor there.
It's come a long way in a year but there are still some details to be worked out before the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft rule spawns an
industry that lives up to its full potential. That's EAA's take on the process, a year after implementation of the rule. "Some in the aviation community are amazed at how quickly airplanes and
interest in sport pilot emerged after the rule became reality last September," said Earl Lawrence, who's been EAA's point man on the rule. Although it's now possible to buy any of more than a dozen
flight-ready LSAs, there are some significant issues barring access to them for many people. Lawrence said training has to be ramped up to meet demand, the pilot medical certification process ironed
out and some lingering certification issues, particularly with ultralights, need to be resolved. "These are challenges but this consensus effort among government, industry and consumers has shown that
things can get done in a cooperative, timely manner," Lawrence said. Meanwhile, private enterprise continues to forge ahead with making the most of the LSA options available. Sportplanes.com was among
the first out of the gate to open dealerships and flight schools and recently announced a partnership with South Lakeland Sport Aviation in the establishment of a sales, service and training outlet at
South Lakeland Airport in Florida.
Chelton Flight System's new AP-3C digital
autopilot was recently given STC approval for Cherokee Six and Cessna 210 aircraft, bringing the number of light aircraft certified for its installation to more than a dozen. The company says new
STCs are coming at the rate of about one a month and more are pending for a wide range of aircraft, from Grumman Cheetahs to Rockwell Commanders. Chelton says digital means less maintenance and a
smoother ride. The AP-3C requires only three components while conventional autopilots may need up to six, some of which require regular maintenance. The company also says the $12,650 system dampens
the effects of turbulence because the altitude-hold function is based on an attitude gyro instead of rate-based deviation or an averaging formula. It's also the first autopilot designed for GA to
feature vertical nav steering when coupled with an electronic flight information system, WAAS GPS or flight management system.
The NTSB says the system the FAA relies on in part to prevent runway incursions doesn't work and it wants the agency to speed up development of more effective devices. In a speech to the American
Association of Airport Executives earlier this week, Acting NTSB Chairman Mark Rosenker said the Airport Movement Area Safety System didn't help prevent close calls at JFK and Logan Airports in the
past four months because it was turned off to prevent nuisance alerts caused by bad weather. In the JFK incident, a cargo aircraft was able to barely clear a passenger plane that mistakenly crossed
the runway. The system did work at LAX on Aug. 19, 2004, but its warning came only about 10 seconds before an Asiana Airlines Boeing 747 would have landed on top of a Southwest 737 if the Asiana pilot
hadn't gone around. "That is not good enough," Rosenker said. He noted the FAA is working on new systems and urged them to get them in operation as soon as possible.
As if fuel prices weren't high enough, the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to enact a rule that's bound to increase them more. The National Air Transportation Association (NATA) says it's
taking the fight against the EPA's Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) to Congress after the agency didn't live up to promises to better explain the impact of the rules to aviation
fuel providers. The new rule would require fuel suppliers to park their trucks in containment areas in case they leak when not in use. Not only are the containment areas difficult and expensive to
build, say critics, they raise safety concerns. For the sake of efficiency, a fuel supplier would likely build a single containment area to house all its trucks. In the rare case that one leaked and
ignited, it would probably result in a huge explosion and fire that would threaten anything nearby. NATA wants the rule stopped in its tracks and has written all 535 members of Congress.
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The F-14 Tomcat is going down fighting. The last operational deployment of the big swing-wing fighter began earlier this week with the last remaining squadrons VF-31 Tomcatters and VF-213 (Blacklions)
flying aboard the carrier Theodore Roosevelt for a tour to the Persian Gulf. "Epic, historic, I'm looking for words," said Cmdr. Rick "Twig" LaBranche as he led the pilots and crew aboard the
Roosevelt. "They understand that being the last Tomcat squadron is a historic event." The F-14 first saw service in the early 1970s and has seen action in all major conflicts since. Described by
LaBranche as the Harley Davidson of fighter aircraft, it is giving way to the leaner and more efficient FA/18 Super Hornet. For every flight hour, an F-14 needed up to 60 hours of maintenance. The
Super Hornet gets by on 10 to 15 hours and takes up a lot less room, with wingspan a full 20 feet shorter than the Tomcat's.
If you don't mind donating your time, your plane and your fuel to help Katrina victims, the need is still there. In fact, in contrast to the situation in the early days of the disaster when there was
little for private pilots to do, there are tons of supplies waiting at various staging areas for someone to take them where they are needed. Texas pilots continue to help out the Lago Vista Mercy
flights operating out of Rusty Allen Airport and anyone who wants to join them can call 512-267-0120 or 512-731-1553 or e-mail email@example.com to register.
Operation Brother's Keeper, out of Atlanta, also needs pilots. Numbers are 404-783-1836 or 404-783-1846. Angel Flight believes operations will continue until the end of the month and many pilots are
returning to their jobs. Angel Flight can be reached at 877-621-7177. Private aircraft have carried hundreds of tons of relief supplies into the disaster zone in the past two weeks.
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The National Air Traffic Controllers Association says staffing shortages are behind the increase in errors at the country's busiest terminal radar approach control (TRACON). NATCA says there
have been 18 reportable errors in the past year compared to seven in the previous year at the Southern California TRACON. In that time, the union says staffing levels have dropped 12 percent...
Mooney Airplane Co. has hired Richard Kravit as its new director of contracts and general counsel. Kravit comes to Mooney from M7 Aerospace LP, the company that bought the U.S. assets of
Colombian police arrested the pilot of a King Air loaded with 1.5 tons of cocaine at a remote island airport. The pilot landed there with mechanical problems and was left holding the bag(s)
when two passengers jumped from the plane before police arrived...
Delta and Northwest both filed for bankruptcy yesterday, that puts the number at four of this country's big six carriers currently restructuring under Chapter 11 protection...
Viperjet announced yesterday that test pilot Len Fox flew the Viperjet MKII two-place, tandem seat, fully aerobatic kit jet aircraft to
300 knots at 25,000 feet (517 mph). The aircraft was pushed by 2850 lbs of thrust generated by a General Electric J-85/CJ-610. According to the company, the MKII is "a capable, cross-country
COLUMNS Say Again? #54: ATC 206 -- Holding
Nobody wants to wait. Pilots in a hold are bored and yet anxious to finish the flight. But if you're in a hold, you can bet the controller is not at all bored. AVweb's Don Brown suggests ways to make
holding easier and safer in the next course in his 200-series of communication classes.
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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/
FAA ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS ARE ON THE RISE! Legal claims for airspace incursions have increased over 150%
all requiring legal counsel. That's why pilots are enrolling in the AOPA Legal Services Plan for affordable, dependable legal protection when they unwittingly violate FAA rules. The
AOPA Legal Services Plan provides protection in a variety of situations where you might need legal support. Plus, the plan gives you unlimited consultation on most aviation matters covered by
the plan, an annual review of key aviation documents, and one no-cost half-hour consultation with an AOPA Legal Services Plan panel attorney regarding aviation-related matters not otherwise
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Last week, an AVweb reader wanted to know how the wide
availability of global positioning technology has affected pilots'
flying habits. Naturally, we put the question to our readers
and got some not-too-surprising results:
A whopping 87% of those who responded told us GPS is their
primary navigation aid.
A mere 7% prefer navs and ADF to GPS, while even fewer readers
(6% of those polled) rely primarily on paper charts.
Two readers admitted that GPS is too complex for them or
perhaps too much of a hassle to learn but they weren't enough to
make up a full 1% of the sampling. (Sorry, guys.)
*** THIS WEEK'S QUESTION ***
It seems there are those who feel the services pilots receive
from air traffic control to other weather and flight services do
not come with a direct cost. With user fees on the tip of everyone's
tongues, AVweb wants to know how much you'd be willing to pay for
We're sorely tempted to put on our stern face and wag our collective
finger at you guys. For the third week in a row, the number of
pictures submitted to our "POTW" contest is lagging well below the
average for this time of year. But, frankly, the photos that
are coming in are uniformly spectacular. With only 48 pictures
submitted this week, we had 27 in our final round of selections.
The odd result is that we're getting fewer submissions but working
harder to decide which ones make the final cut.
We'd like to have more pictures, of course but as long as the
quality is this high, we really can't complain.
A note about formatting:As most of you have noticed,
we've been tinkering with the format of pop-ups on this page for the
past two weeks. Despite our best attempts at testing, some of you
had trouble with photos from our
September 1 and
September 8 editions. We believe we've solved most of the
compatibility issues (with invaluable and much-appreciated assistance
from a handful of readers), but if you experience problems this week,
let us know. Please tell us what browser (and version) you're
using and what specific problems you encounter. We may not be able
to answer everyone directly (particularly if we can solve your problem
from here), but we are reading and tracking each problem with an eye
toward solving it.
Due to privacy issues, AVweb does not publish e-mail addresses of
readers who submit photos.
*** THIS WEEK'S WINNERS ***
Used with permission
of Mark Silvestri
"Kicking the Rudder!" You won't catch Patty Wagstaff standing still, but that didn't stop Mark Silvestri
of Upton, Massachusetts
from getting a photo. Rather than wait for a dull moment,
Mark caught Patty in action in her Extra 300S at the Patuxent
River (Maryland) Air Show a few days ago. Way to go, Mark!
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
Used with permission of
"One Last Night Mission?"
While Mark was at the air show,
Robert Oberbeck of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin was
taking things a little slower at the
Aircraft Museum in California. Even though his shutter speeds
were a little lower, Robert's photo of this RA-5 Vigilante on
display is no less breath-taking. Nice work!
Photograph by Guy
Used with permission
of Brian Blazey
"Is This Close Enough?"
Brian Blazey and
Guy Matthews of Palmyra, New York have plenty of fun
on their weekends, too. Take this photo,
for example which Brian tells us they got by
using hand signals to maneuver a
J-3 Piper Cub into close range.
Man, you guys are getting good
at this "POTW" thing. See for yourselves:
with permission of Ryan Pemberton
"All That in a Cub?"
Speaking of Piper Cubs,
Ryan Pembeton of Spokane, Washington
spent the week at AirVenture camping under
the wing of his girlfriend's Cub. "With two tents
and 10+ chairs, we ... had a few people ask,
'How did you fit it all in?' The answer?
'It's got the big C-65 in it!'" Riiiight.
with permission of Kent Cook
"Look Out, Snoopy!" Kent Cook
of East Peoria, Illinois
sends us this photo of a low-level pass made
by Frank Ryder in the late '80s in his 3/4-scale
Fokker triplane. According to Kent, Ryder
had close to a hundred aircraft on display
in his WWI equipment museum, but (sadly) the
museum disappeared when Ryder passed away.
with permission of Ed Georges
"Open for Business" Ed Georges
of Long Beach, California has
been volunteering along the hurricane-devastated
Gulf Coast. He was kind enough to share some
airplane photos this week and included this one
of the Gulfport-Biloxi FBO in Mississippi. We're
glad to see these folks open for business in spite
of enormous difficulties thanks in large part to
the many generous aviation personnel who are
volunteering their skills, services, and aircraft
to the relief effort every day.
"Watching Airplanes Take Off 40 Years Later" Kevin Korterud of Norcross, Georgia
"I'm with the CAF Dixie Wing in Atlanta. While stopping
with the CAF P-51 in my old home town of Columbus, Ohio,
my sister and her family came out. We took a few pictures around
the P-51, but this one of my nephew struck me as being unique.
He is looking out of the old North American aviation hangars where
they used to build A-5 Vigilantes. I was in the same spot
40 years ago looking at planes taking off with my dad."
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,
send us an e-mail.
Sponsor News and Special Offers
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AVIATION CONSUMER YOUR UNBIASED PRODUCTS & SERVICES REPORT In the October issue of
Aviation Consumer: "SMA's Diesel Conversion" back in the aero-diesel market contemplating a price reduction; "Why New Engines Struggle" with elusive benefits, new engines haven't
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