November 6, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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AOPA President Phil Boyer says the organization cannot afford to let down its guard, despite the apparent progress on two key issues it's been pouring much of its resources into in the last couple of years. "I ain't letting any grass grow and stand in the way of our continuing work," Boyer told AVweb Thursday, moments after Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta was given a standing ovation from about 1,000 AOPA members attending the group's annual meeting, held in Tampa this year. (Click through for a quick virtual tour.) Mineta told the crowd that he was opposed to user fees for general aviation and that he'd ordered a 90-day extension of the comment period, to include a public hearing, of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would make the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone permanent. Notwithstanding the shopping bag of gifts he brought with him, Boyer said just having the Secretary in the same room as the membership was significant. "I'm just honored that he'd take the time to attend," said Boyer. It's the first time a Transportation Secretary has attended the convention and Boyer said it's an indication of the regard Mineta holds for GA.
Although the immediate urgency lies with the ADIZ controversy, perhaps the most important (and jubilantly received) statement by Mineta was that he believes a fuel tax, and not user fees for GA, is the way to increase and stabilize revenue for the FAA. "I can tell you right now from my perspective [the solution] will not be user fees," he told the crowd. AOPA and other GA groups have been pushing for a fuel tax as the most equitable way of apportioning the cost of the system to those who use it. Although Boyer welcomed Mineta's position, he cautioned that there's a lot of detail left to be filled in. Boyer pointed out that Mineta knew he was talking to a predominantly piston-single crowd and wondered just what the Secretary's definition of general aviation includes. "Does that mean all of GA? GA is a huge universe," he told AVweb. "Does 'no user fees' mean that whole spectrum?" Meanwhile, Boyer said the airlines are lobbying hard to make GA pay more. He said their position is that, regardless of the size of aircraft, direct costs should be assessed to each aircraft based on the number of departures and time in the system. "That means a VLJ (very light jet) would pay as much as a 747 for the same flight," he said.
Far from resting on its laurels in rallying pilots to protest the permanence of the ADIZ, AOPA has actually ramped up its efforts to get even more pilots involved. There are now more than 18,000 comments posted on the NPRM and with another 90 days in which to gather input on docket # 17005, the point will have been made (and maybe already has). Although Boyer wants members and anyone else with an interest to keep those comments coming in, he's clearly now focused on the public hearing that Mineta has promised. No date or location has been set. Representation by all the interest groups is a given but AOPA is particularly concerned that the Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service and Department of Defense be there to hear for themselves why the ADIZ proposal has sparked such opposition. Boyer told AVweb he sent a letter to DHS, TSA and DOD leaders inviting them to attend and he's hoping they agree. He said it's well-known that the ADIZ is their idea and the FAA is merely the instrument used to enforce it. But Mineta also reminded those attending the meeting that the law is the law and so far pilots haven't exactly distinguished themselves in respecting it. "It is an issue of accountability and the general aviation community needs to work harder to police its members," he said.
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Diamond hopes to fly its D-Jet to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh next summer for its North American debut, according to a company representative we spoke with over the weekend at AOPA's convention in Tampa. Actually the folks around London, Ontario, will likely be the first to see it in flight as Diamond has decided to move development and construction of the five-place single-engine aircraft to its North American headquarters in Canada. "America is where the market is," Bernie Toller, of Diamond sales and marketing, told AVweb on a brisk walk between the hotel and convention center in Tampa during AOPA Expo. First flight is planned for March. The plane's public unveiling will actually be at the Berlin Air Show May 16 to May 21, next year. The company had planned to fly the plane by the end of this year but it's been busy with such things as developing two versions of its twin DA-42 and building a factory in China. Although it hasn't even displayed a mock-up of the jet, Toller said there are 78 firm orders for the aircraft, which the company has said it plans to sell for less than $1 million. The D-Jet is, in some ways, less capable than the very light jets (VLJs) under development. Its maximum altitude is 25,000 feet and it will cruise at 315 knots, but Diamond has always maintained that the D-Jet is aimed at a different market than VLJs. "I think we have a tremendous niche," he said.
Cirrus Design CEO Alan Klapmeier spoke a little about the personal jet his company intends to build. Although coy about timelines, design and price, Klapmeier left little doubt that the jet, if not a physical reality yet, is a conceptual given and it's also clear that he can't wait. "It's going to be so cool," Klapmeier told AVweb. He did confirm that it will be a single-engine aircraft, with a parachute, and he was adamant that it not be referred to as a VLJ. "It is not a VLJ," he stressed. Rather, it's aimed at the market between his company's advanced piston singles and the larger, generally twin-engine, VLJs. Like Diamond, Klapmeier said Cirrus sees tremendous market potential for personal jets but it won't announce its creation formally until the design is complete. New Piper is also intending to build a small jet but spokesman Chuck Suma said it's not imminent. "I don't think it's a matter of whether we'll build a jet," he said. "It's more a question of when." He said the market needs to shake out some before Piper jumps in. Suma is also suggesting Piper will stick with mostly conventional metal construction on the jet and on any other new products. "Composites have promise," he said, but can cause weight problems. He said it's most likely that "composites and metals will marry together" on new Pipers as more is learned about composite behavior. The company made its eleventh announcement regarding installation of an Avidyne glass suite in one of its models. The Seneca twin is next for glass, leaving only the Seminole as guardian of steam gauge technology at New Piper. Expect it to get glass, oh, say, around Sun 'n Fun.
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What do those building piston singles, very light jets (VLJs) and light sport aircraft (LSA) have in common? Everything ... and nothing ... and that's why it's so important they pull in the same direction. During a general session at AOPA Expo (followed by a news conference) in Tampa on Friday, Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier, Eclipse boss Vern Raburn and Dan Johnson, the spokesman for LSA manufacturers, shared a podium and bounced theories on everything from why we fly to what will keep us flying. "If we can change the way people think about travel, the future is gold," Raburn told reporters in the follow-up news conference. "The real competition is the automobile, not the airlines," Klapmeier told the crowd earlier. "We sell time." But they're also selling fun and that begins with easy, affordable access to aviation via the Sport Pilot/LSA initiative, added Johnson. Klapmeier said aviation has evolved into an exclusive club that doesn't welcome new members. To prosper, he said the barriers, some artificial, some practical, must be made less daunting so that general aviation can again become something that people see as a potential part of their lives. "We need to constantly innovate. We cannot be exclusive," he said. "We need to grow this industry."
"Accessibility" was a common theme in the sessions but it meant different things to different sectors. For Raburn and Eclipse, it's about what he views as the necessary conversion of general aviation to turbine engines. "The military did it in the 50s, the airlines did it in the 60s and business aviation did it in the 1970s," he said. "We need to turbinize general aviation." Klapmeier said general aviation became largely irrelevant when airline travel became more accessible. By changing "people's expectation of safety" and focusing on training to make learning to fly a more comfortable and less daunting experience, Klapmeier said general aviation becomes more appealing and he believes the next 10 years are pivotal. "We're right at that tipping point," he said. Raburn and Klapmeier agreed the Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft movement is crucial to that effort. Much has been made of the fact that there are U.S.-made LSAs (three of 17 models certified are American and one of them is an adaptation of a J-3 Cub) but Johnson said the 10-year head start that European manufacturers have, combined with stringent noise and environmental standards on the other side of the pond, have ensured that the new class of airplanes will have plenty of mass market appeal. For instance, most of the European entrants comply with German regulations that require a noise level of 55 dB at 500 feet, the equivalent of normal conversation. Quiet, capable and well-performing aircraft will entice more people to try flying and that's the underpinning of a successful industry.
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The Light Sport Aircraft category just got a whole lot more realistic for amphibious airplanes and their pilots. But there's still a nonsensical ring to the FAA's decision to modify a bizarre clause in the regulations that previously only allowed amphib gear to be "repositioned" while the plane was on the ground. Well, even the FAA could see the folly of such reasoning and pilots will now be able to "reposition" the gear in flight, LSA advocate Dan Johnson told reporters at AOPA Expo in Tampa. However, the rules stipulate that the gear may only be moved once (lest the gear becomes "retractable"). Just how the FAA intends to ensure that amphib owners don't try to squeeze an extra knot or two out of their planes by "repositioning" the gear after takeoff and then again for touching down on land is a mystery that also doesn't address things like great diversion flexibility of such aircraft. It would appear, however, that amphib owners are happy to let this particular sleeping dog lie...
Cirrus is now an aircraft operator, not just an aircraft manufacturer. The company recently bought SATS Air Taxi, which has been using Cirrus SR22 aircraft to carry passengers on point-to-point trips in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The brainchild of Steve Hanvey, the company was growing quickly on a word-of-mouth reputation for safe, efficient and relatively inexpensive service. It flies customers from the airport nearest them to the airport nearest where they want to go for a maximum of $495 an hour (block time rates can shave up to 20 percent off). Cirrus President Alan Klapmeier told reporters he used to be a naysayer on air taxis but now his company owns one. Hanvey said it's an education process but customers are "seeing value" to the point-to-point travel. They can be in a destination 350 miles away in two hours, less time than many have to spend driving to the nearest airport for what might be a series of regional flights in and out of hubs. And while the electronic helpers on board the SR22, like weather and traffic avoidance, that made it his pick, it's the parachute that has been the main selling point with passengers. Many who wouldn't normally step aboard an aircraft are soothed by the presence of the chute.
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Although many pilots wouldn't buy a plane with fewer than four seats, the dirty little secret is that many if not most of us fly alone a lot. An Arizona ranch hand has introduced a downright neighborly concept for putting like-minded pilots together that not only helps people out, but can reduce costs and boost the fun factor. Baldy (which he comes by honestly) Ivy established PilotShareTheRide a year ago and so far hundreds of pilots have connected with one another for trips, training and rides around the patch. "It's about sharing the love of flying and if you can share expenses, then so much the better." Pilots planning a flight register it on the Web site and describe their itinerary. If someone happens to be going their way (or just wants to get up in the air), he or she e-mails the pilot in the posting and they sort out the details between themselves. Ivy stresses that he's not arranging flights (that would be Part 135 work), he's just providing a kind of pilot matchmaking service that leaves it up to the individuals to decide when and where they fly. There are about 4200 pilots signed up and, at any one time, about 500 flight postings.
Symphony Aircraft Industries says a host of small problems (lining up suppliers, ensuring parts quality, etc.) and one large one (setting up the shareholders agreement to satisfy investors and take advantage of liberal tax incentives offered by the Canadian government) bogged down production in 2005 and it will only push 13 aircraft out the door of its Trois Rivieres plant by Dec. 31. With the problems all but solved, Symphony CEO Paul Costanzo said they're hoping to build 70 airplanes in 2006 and get full certification for the glass-panel version of the aircraft by late January. Costanzo said the aircraft is popular with individuals and flight schools, who want the glass version for use as a technically advanced aircraft (TAA) trainer. "We're positioned to be the undisputed king of the two-place market," Costanzo said. While they're waiting for the glass cockpit certification, the company is also adding electric trim and all aircraft will be equipped that way after it, too, is certified. With its high wing and lift struts that sweep back behind the doors, the Symphony was also being heralded as an ideal aerial photo platform -- except the windows don't open. Symphony solved that by getting it certified for flight with either or both doors off.
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The FAA will install new runway-incursion warning systems called Airport Surface Detection Equipment Model X (ASDE-X) at 15 large airports, starting in January, to replace the sometimes unreliable Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS) now in use. "Reducing the risk of runway incursions is one of our top safety initiatives," FAA Administrator Marion C. Blakey said in a statement. Although the U.S. hasn't had a serious incursion accident in recent years, there have been some highly publicized near-collisions in Boston, Los Angeles and New York. In some cases, the mishaps occurred because controllers had turned the AMASS off to stop all the false returns it emitted in bad weather. NATCA President John Carr said the new technology is "long overdue." The FAA moved up its announcement of the initiative to moot a news conference held by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association on the subject. ASDE-X combines radar and transponders to paint a constantly updated picture of surface activity. Each system costs $8.5 million and some airports will need two. The deployment begins in Seattle (if you've been to Seattle in January, you'll understand) but the FAA isn't saying how long it will take to install the others, only that it will be done "soon." ASDE-X was designed for smaller airports and has been in use at Milwaukee, Hobby Airport in Houston, Providence and Orlando for two years.
Alcohol and flying don't mix but if you're having a post-flight pop, reach for red wine if you can and you may extend your flying years. Dr. Ingrid Zimmer-Galler told a forum at AOPA Expo that the antioxidant properties of red wine (primarily resveratrol) have been shown to reduce the incidence of cataracts by up to 50 percent and may also help slow macular degeneration, the deterioration of the central area of the retina that we'll all get to a certain degree as we age. Zimmer-Galler said diet, exercise, healthy living and common-sense care of the eyes can go a long way to keeping them in shape for life and for flying. Cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration are the leading causes of vision problems for pilots and each has its own challenges. Cataracts can be fixed with surgery but it has to the right type of surgery or a pilot will lose his or her medical. Only mono-focus lens implants are approved by the FAA and most eye surgeons don't know that and may, as a matter of course, put in more modern multi-focus lenses. The FAA is now looking at changing the regs to reflect the modern techniques but it hasn't happened yet. Zimmer-Galler also advised the regular use of sunglasses to ward off all types of eye problems, but they're more important outside the cockpit, she said. "The windscreen filters out most of the (damaging) UV rays," she said.
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Maintenance of a Cessna Citation 500 that crashed Saturday just before 10 a.m. is a key subject of a lawsuit currently pending in State District Court, according to the Houston Chronicle. The 33-year-old jet was on a maintenance check ride, but crashed on takeoff, killing two...
A reader has sent in-flight photos of the Airbus A380 and A340-600 -- click through to view.
Northwest Airlines pilots could absorb temporary pay cuts of 24 percent as part of the effort to keep the airline alive. The pilots union has agreed to the cuts for two months while it negotiates longer-term concessions the airline says it needs to keep flying...
Groen Brothers has received $3 million from the federal government to study converting C-130 cargo planes into giant gyrodynes (gyrocopters with jet engines at the rotor tips). The company says it will be a cheap and easy way to supply the Army with heavy-lift VTOL capability...
Google has bought a used Boeing 767 that it plans to convert into a corporate aircraft. According to Webpronews, the plane used to toil for Qantas and was purchased by Google for $15 million. The plane will have two staterooms and seating for about 50.
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.
Night Flying Safety
Flying at night can be fun, but it's even more fun if we know the pitfalls and plan accordingly. If you think that nighttime flight is the same as daytime flight -- only with less light -- then you need to read on. Some illusions only occur at night and could end your flight prematurely. Master CFI Max Trescott talks about how to make your night flight a safe one.
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AVmail: November 7, 2005
Reader mail this week about fuel prices, closing Potomac Airfield and more.
GAMI CUSTOMERS RAVE ABOUT A SMOOTHER RIDE AND SAVING FUEL
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I was working on my multi-engine rating at an airport where the controllers had apparently grown very familiar with the routine for training flights. While on downwind in the Duchess with my instructor, I heard this:
Controller: Bonanza 123AB you will be following a Duchess on downwind ... he's about to lose an engine.
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