October 16, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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After allegedly taking an unlocked $7 million Citation VII from St. Augustine, Fla., where he'd landed earlier as the co-pilot on a charter flight, police say 22-year-old Daniel Andrew Wolcott, a commercial pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings, flew to Briscoe Field, near Gwinnett, Ga.. There he got on the phone to his friends and five of them arrived for the next part of the journey. Wolcott flew them to Winder, about 15 miles away, did a touch and go and returned to Briscoe, landing with about 500 pounds of fuel on board, according to a report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The next morning, Wolcott took a commercial flight to Jacksonville, hopped a cab to the St. Augustine Airport and assumed the right seat for the return trip of the charter. "My homeboy chartered this jet," said Nathaniel Baker, one of five buddies Wolcott is alleged to have called early last Sunday morning to come for a ride in the borrowed aircraft. "He chartered us a jet and we flew." However, the chain of events may suggest Wolcott instead shimmied up a 14-foot pole at St. Augustine and removed a webcam on the field at the airport and then absconded with the jet. Although the camera theft may be entirely coincidental and unrelated to Wolcott's alleged adventure, airport assistant manager Bryan Cooper told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution someone "took the camera" between midnight and 5 a.m. (Officials believe the jet was stolen around 3 a.m.) Camera aside, the jet flew through some of the nation's busiest airspace around Atlanta without ATC contact and with the transponder turned off. "He was flying the plane and letting the boys enjoy themselves," James Coffey, father of passenger Michael Coffey, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Wolcott was originally charged in Georgia with felony theft by receiving and the endangerment of the five passengers but authorities aren't yet done with him. Next in line was the state of Florida, which chipped in with grand theft charges. Federal charges are also likely and we'd wager he might soon expect a letter from the FAA. "I imagine the FAA will be looking hard at his pilot's license [sic]," FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett told the Journal-Constitution. Wolcott has come to authorities' attention at least twice before. On May 3, 2003, the Cessna 150G he was flying hit a flock of geese, according to Wolcott, who said he then attempted an emergency landing in a field. When it became apparent he wouldn't stop before hitting trees at the end of the field, he tried to go around but hit the same trees. Wolcott had 201 hours total time when the accident occurred. He escaped with minor injuries. AOPA is also reporting that several years ago Wolcott rented a plane from a Georgia flight school but didn't return it. It was later found in Chattanooga. Wolcott has so far refused to speak to reporters.
No one in officialdom seems to be too worried about the security implications of the alleged theft ... even as (some) general aviation readies to return to Washington National airport, Sept. 18 (many, many aircraft will still be excluded under extensive regulations). "I would just encourage increased vigilance at the various airports and the companies that have these aircraft to ensure better security," Emmett told the Journal-Constitution. "I don't think it requires any systems changes." The various alphabet groups are offering similar advice. "This is a good reminder for all pilots to follow the Airport Watch precepts, especially securing unattended aircraft, and report any suspicious activity," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "If as a community we can prevent thefts like this, we'll reduce the chance of more security regulation." Meanwhile, the airports involved are having a good look at security. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you it's a fortress because it's not," said Briscoe Field Manager Matt Smith. "That's something we're addressing." And while it's pretty easy to identify the problems, finding the solutions will be a little harder. "We need to go identify a source of funding, which is really what it comes down to," Smith said.
REDUCE COCKPIT NOISE WITH THE
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) has launched an impressive PR campaign on air traffic safety in correlation with its contract negotiations with the FAA. In the midst, the rest of us are getting an unprecedented look (both in terms of volume and detail) at the complex interplay between the agency, the employees and the traveling public. Equipment failures are nothing new in the U.S. or any other air traffic system and unless they tie up flights or cause accidents, the public rarely hears (or cares) about them. But in the context of FAA cutbacks and ATC/FAA contract negotiations the controllers union appears to be making a case that all the problems are rooted in an inflexible bureaucracy that refuses to listen to (the union's) reason. It's a public relations cat-and-mouse game that's appeared at Washington, Boston and Denver in the past week and it could be coming to a major airport near you. Recently, NATCA members experienced a significant technical glitch and the union issued a press release invoking what is becoming a familiar mantra about understaffing, tired equipment and administrative mismanagement. The FAA then responds with sterile facts about the glitch and the efforts to fix it.
The FAA says it's now fixed a problem with an antenna at Boston's Logan International that forced controllers to use a backup system requiring increased spacing between airliners, thus reducing capacity by about half for a couple of days. Furious local officials demanded an investigation into what they said was a slow federal response to the problems but the FAA's Laura Brown said everything that could be done, was done. "Our technicians were out working on this in bad weather 'round the clock," she told The Boston Globe. An antenna that had earlier tested fine was replaced with one scavenged from Bangor, Maine, and all the ghost returns that were cluttering screens disappeared. Boston officials are now demanding the backup system be as good as the main one to prevent a repeat of the cancelled flights, upset passengers and the toll on business. "It's been a tough couple of days for our customers," said Craig Coy, CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the problem has been returns dropping off the screens and it's proving a little harder to pin down. Since the middle of September, controllers have occasionally had radar returns briefly disappear, while the information tag remains. Brown told The Washington Post that it's believed that overlapping radars are the cause and upgrades are being done. And while Washington, Boston, New York, Chicago and other massive facilities are often cited as problem areas, rapidly growing airports like Denver are also getting their share of attention. A software upgrade recently went wrong in Denver and caused problems until new software was installed. But as Denver sees increasing traffic, the union is saying there aren't enough controllers to safely handle the load. "I'm comfortable with where my staffing is now," Steve Stcynske, manager of the terminal radar approach control facility in Denver told KMGH TV. "Safety was never compromised."
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A pilot and two teenage girls died in the crash of a Young Eagles flight on Saturday near Seattle. EAA officials said it was the first fatal crash in more than 500,000 Young Eagles flights, carrying a total of more than 1.2 million kids. "We are deeply saddened by the news of this tragic accident. Our hearts and deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the three individuals whose lives were lost," said Tom Poberezny, EAA president. The plane had just taken off from Paine Field, in Everett, when it failed to gain altitude and crashed on a vacant lot in a residential area. "He flew just over the trees and started to turn to his left and lost altitude, then disappeared behind the trees," witness Keirstin Smith told The Seattle Times. "I heard him hit a group of trees and saw smoke come up." All three aboard the Piper PA-28 were killed but there were no casualties on the ground. The girls, both in the ninth grade, were students at Aviation High School, a flying-oriented college preparation school that started two years ago to cater to students interested in aviation careers. About a dozen volunteer pilots were scheduled to fly students from Boeing Field to Paine Field and return. "Everyone affiliated with the high school is devastated by this and we are grieving with the families," Catherine Carbone-Rogers, a spokeswoman for the local school district, told the Times.
About 230 MidAtlantic Airways pilots are suing three airlines and their union for $400 million claiming they were duped into believing that MidAtlantic was its own (lower-paying) entity when it was, in fact, part of (higher-paying) US Airways. In fact, MidAtlantic hired some of the 1,800 pilots that had been laid off by US Airways. "As it turns out, there was no MidAtlantic," Michael Haber, the New York lawyer representing the pilots, told the Allegheny Times. "It was never anything except a name. These people were tricked into believing they worked for an entity that never existed." The suit claims MidAtlantic was operated under the same government certificate as US Airways. It also claims the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) was complicit in the scam. The pilots claim ALPA and US Airways camouflaged the fact that MidAtlantic was not a separate airline and negotiated wage and benefits packages for the regional carrier that were substantially less than what employees would receive as employees of US Airways. MidAtlantic was recently sold to Republic Airlines, which is also named in the suit, as is America West and Republic's investment company, Wexford Capital. US Airways released a statement saying the sale to Republic was done with the agreement of the union but neither ALPA nor Republic commented to the Times.
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An American aerospace engineer who made headlines last year when he blew the whistle on alleged deficiencies in the electronics controlling the pressurization valves on the Airbus A380 could wind up in jail just as the European Aviation Safety Agency has begun admitting there might be something to his claims. Joseph Mangan, who worked for the Austrian firm TTTech, told EASA in 2004 that flaws in the valve controls could cause a rapid decompression in the 800-seat airliner. His claims found little support and an Austrian court ordered him to stop talking about the issue. Mangan defied the court order and was fined $150,000, which he can't pay. Meanwhile, an unnamed EASA source was "able to confirm certain statements by Mr. Mangan," according to the London Daily Telegraph. For his part, Mangan could end up in jail for a year if he doesn't soon come up with money to pay his fine. EASA officials are continuing their investigation of the problem despite the furious denials of Airbus and TTTech. An EASA probe has reportedly discovered deficiencies similar to those revealed by Mangen and ordered Airbus to fix them. Eva Lichtenberger, a member of the European Parliament, has threatened to launch a formal complaint to the European Commission unless Airbus breaks its silence on the issue. Meanwhile, the A380 is set to stretch its wings a little in a transcontinental shakedown flight to Singapore and Sydney next month.
An Australian pilot who was criticized for recklessness two years ago has won one of aviation's highest honors. Jon Johanson, 49, was awarded the Federation Aeronautique Internationale gold medal for attaining 48 FAI world records, flying an RV-4 he built himself. "Jon's hard work, meticulous planning, initiative and commitment when building his own small aircraft were supremely demonstrated when he flew it over distances and terrains that would have challenged the most intrepid and skilful aviators in much larger, industrially produced aircraft," FAI secretary general Max Bishop said. However, officials at the joint U.S.-New Zealand McMurdo Base in Antarctica were less than enthusiastic when Johanson made an unscheduled visit there in 2003. McMurdo doesn't stock supplies for wayward adventurers so officials there refused to sell him the 400 liters of avgas he needed to continue his flight over the South Pole. He eventually got the gas from British adventurer Polly Vacher, who'd arranged to have the fuel shipped to McMurdo before abandoning her flight there. McMurdo officials were mildly critical of Johanson's unwelcome appearance. "The pilot should have made the decision to abandon his original flight plans much sooner when faced with these weather conditions and returned to Invercargill in New Zealand," a base spokesman said in a news release at the time.
Sino Swearingen says its SJ30-2 light bizjet will meet or exceed all advertised performance claims when the FAA grants its type certificate, scheduled for sometime in the next couple of months. The company claims that at 486 knots it's the fastest "light" bizjet and says that with a range of more than 2,500 nm, it's got the longest legs. Sino Swearingen is also hyping the pressurization system, which can maintain sea-level conditions to 41,000 feet. "It is good to know that our extensive flight test program has resulted in validation of our design goals," said John Siemens, the senior engineering test pilot on the project. Although a test pilot and one of the flight test aircraft were lost during high-speed flutter tests two years ago, there have been no problems so severe since. "It has been demonstrated to be safe in all corners of the flight envelope by company and FAA pilots," said Mario Asselin, Manager of Flight Sciences, Weight, and Future Programs. Sino Swearingen has four plants and 600 employees building the plane. It will be assembled in San Antonio, Texas.
The world's largest supplier of navigational information is getting ready to step into the market of synthetic vision. Jeppesen has announced it will begin selling a worldwide terrain database with a 90-meter resolution that meets aviation requirements by the end of the year. But the future promises even better systems, including 3-D displays using more detailed databases, and Jeppesen Chief Operating Officer Mark Van Tine said the company will be there. "High precision terrain data will soon find its way to the flight deck, and one day, [synthetic vision system] displays will be commonplace. Jeppesen is committed to developing and providing the databases that make these systems possible," Van Tine said in a company press release. Van Tine and other company officials had a glimpse at that future earlier this year on a flight through the Swiss Alps. Using high-resolution terrain data and accurate aeronautical data, they were able to render "amazingly precise 3-D synthetic views," he said. Jeppesen is in partnership with Swissphoto, which provided the terrain data to drive the software created by Technical University Darmstadt.
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A C172L and a Lancair 235 collided Friday over Ohio, killing four. The aircraft made contact at approximately 2:06 p.m. some 20 miles east of Akron-Canton airport, according to a release by the Ohio State Highway Patrol...
Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines have been turned down in their bids to move to Seattle's Boeing Field from Seattle/Tacoma International Airport. King County officials cited noise and traffic issues, not to mention the threat of extended legal action resulting from choosing one over the other...
The first operational deployment of F-22 Raptors is settling into Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The 27th Fighter Squadron, of the First Fighter Wing, will get to prove the plane's abilities to respond to far-flung crises, said an Air Force spokesman...
A flock of 20 whooping cranes, led by ultralights, is on its way to Florida. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is sponsoring this fifth "migration" of the birds, which were raised in a refuge in Wisconsin. There are now 42 Whooping Cranes migrating on their own in the wild.
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Father's Day TFR
To avoid those ubiquitous Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), it should be sufficient to get a briefing from Flight Service and ask for all the pertinent TFRs for your route. How wrong you would be ...
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(Be careful what you say, someone might be listening.)
Several months ago, whilst assigned to the Tracon, an incident occurred which still causes great laughter throughout our community.
It was a busy arrival session, the controller was working four VHF frequencies -- including approaches into a satellite airport and two UHF frequencies.
After sending numerous transmissions of, Blocked! (by some unknown aircraft chiming in at the wrong time) the controller finally screamed, "Darn it! Every time I key up, some idiot starts talking!
The entire room busted out laughing and, surprisingly, the controller did not get the humor (which only made it that much more funny for the rest of us).
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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