November 20, 2005
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Is there life after 60 for airline pilots? By the end of next year there may be, as long as they're willing to share the cockpit with a (relatively) young whippersnapper. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed a bill last Thursday that would allow airline pilots to keep flying until their 65th birthday as long as another qualified pilot under the age of 60 is also on duty in the cockpit. The so-called Age 60 Rule has been in effect for more than 45 years and the FAA has resisted (sometimes vigorously) attempts to scrap it. Last July at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey reaffirmed her position that the rule was here to stay, but Congress could change all that. The bill would direct the Department of Transportation to adopt new International Civil Aviation Organization regulations, expected next November, to allow pilots to work to age 65 as long as there's a youngster in the other seat. The European Joint Aviation Authority already allows the practice. The bill would allow those pilots who have already lost their jobs to the Age 60 rule to reapply to become pilots but it prohibits them from suing their former employers to get their jobs back or their unions to regain their seniority. The bill also orders the NTSB to monitor and report the safety impact of the bill, if passed. The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration and, if passed, will have to be reconciled with a parallel bill in the House before going to the White House for the president's signature.
As the committee was finishing its work, the full Senate was busy ratifying a bill that, among other reforms, would allow pilots caught in the various airline pension-scheme defaults, either completed or imminent, to qualify for the full rate offered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that bails out bankrupt pension plans. Under current regulations, only those who retire at age 65 qualify for the maximum PBGC benefit of about $45,000 a year. Airline pilots, who must retire by 60, are only eligible for about $29,000. An amendment by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would qualify pilots for the full $45,000 if their pension plan goes bust. But the bill also contained provisions to make it easier for airlines to keep their pension funds afloat. The bill would extend the amount of time airlines have to stabilize their pension plans from 14 to 20 years. Northwest Airlines, whose pension fund is underfunded, released a statement saying the bill, if ultimately signed into law, would "allow Northwest to meet our pension obligations to employees and protect the [PBGC], which ultimately protects taxpayers." However, word from the White House is that the president will be urged to veto the bill if it includes the airline provision because the administration is opposed to any measure that would weaken pension funding requirements.
Of course, all the congressional help in the world won't help the legacy carriers if they can't help themselves and it seems like pilots at both Delta and Northwest are willing to pull the pin on their respective airlines. When it comes to concessions, pilots have the most to give and they've given up a total of $1.2 billion in wages and benefits to try and keep the struggling carriers afloat. The pilots, all members of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), have indicated they're running out of patience with demands that they work for less and are threatening to go on strike, even though they agree with Delta's prediction that a strike would result in a "murder-suicide" for the airline. "Is it a real threat? Yes it is," said Mark McClain, chair of the Northwest branch of ALPA. Last year, Northwest pilots took a 15-percent pay cut while other employees refused to accept cuts. Now, the airline wants to create a budget subsidiary using lower-paid pilots. "We've been championing the cause of saving Northwest Airlines, and management wants to pay us back by outsourcing a third of our jobs," McClain told The Associated Press. Delta has asked for a further 19 percent in wage cuts from pilots on top of the 32.5 percent they gave up last year. Both airlines will ask the bankruptcy court to toss out the existing contracts and that might spark the strikes. "I wouldn't be surprised to see some strikes," Lowell Peterson, a bankruptcy attorney who has worked on airline, cases told the AP. "Not because people really want to, but because there's nothing left."
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The Government Accountability Office is suggesting the FAA back away from rejigging its core funding mechanisms and, instead, concentrate on making do with less. And contracting out heads the list of ways the FAA could get its financial house in order while coping with major funding, technology and human resource challenges. "Some experts, and GAO's work, suggest that FAA pursue near-term options, such as contracting out more services," the report's synopsis reads. "After establishing a sound financial management record, FAA could pursue options for greater financial management flexibility." The synopsis doesn't pinpoint which services could be outsourced but it is critical of the FAA's current approach to saving money. The synopsis said that in anticipation of even tighter budgets in the future, the agency has eliminated funding for research and development of new technologies it will likely need to cope with future demands on the National Airspace System. The synopsis also points out that the FAA hasn't priced out its plan to hire 12,500 new air traffic controllers over the next 10 years and that's going to affect budgets in the future. The synopsis also notes that the FAA is attempting to change the "workforce culture" at the agency to be more "results-oriented" but the GAO says it will be years before this "impediment to ATC modernization" will be realized.
You could forgive the FAA for being confused on the outsourcing issue. While the GAO seems to be encouraging it, the other government watchdog that monitors the agency was sending a different message. Ken Mead, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General, testified before the Senate Transportation Committee that more and more airline maintenance is being outsourced and he said that means the FAA needs to step up its inspection of third-party maintenance facilities. He said outsourcing isn't the issue. "It is that maintenance, wherever it is done, requires oversight," he said. He said the FAA was warned two years ago about shortcomings with maintenance subcontractors and promised to increase inspections but has been slow to do so. Mead is particularly concerned about the increasing amount of maintenance being done in other countries. He told Congress that the FAA relies on foreign agencies to inspect the work done on U.S. planes but the reports are lacking in many respects. He said foreign inspectors didn't supply enough information and in many cases the reports weren't in English. "In a lot of cases, we couldn't make hide nor hair of them," Mead said. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told the meeting that at least 80 more inspectors will be hired and that no flags have been raised about maintenance. "We do not have any data that suggests contract maintenance is any less safe," Blakey said. The Aeronautical Repair Station Association also chimed in, saying contract maintenance has always been a factor in aviation and noting that the recent increase in outsourcing has coincided with the safest period for commercial aviation ever.
The GAO also took a look at the FAA's safety oversight system and, while it had to acknowledge the extraordinary safety record of U.S. commercial air operations, that doesn't mean there isn't room for a little tweaking. For instance, the GAO thinks the FAA spends too much time doing "traditional inspections" of airlines and not enough time looking for potential risk factors. The GAO also suggests beefed-up training for inspectors to ensure they understand the complex aircraft they are inspecting and, while it says the FAA training programs are generally good, there is a lack of evaluative standards to go with them. While those caught with deficiencies during FAA inspections might argue otherwise, the GAO says the FAA's enforcement program isn't as robust as it might be. For instance, the enforcement database isn't as useful as it might be because it's missing historical data on previous enforcement actions.
FLY WITH BOSE® AVIATION HEADSET X
A Maryland pilot who hopes to circumnavigate the globe via the two poles says someone apparently poured lacquer thinner into his aircraft's fuel tanks. "This is a hard thing to wrap my mind around," Gus McLeod told the Baltimore Sun. "I can't believe I would be so important that someone would want to hurt me." McLeod told the Sun he left his Firefly, a modified Velocity, outside his hangar one night with a can of laquer thinner on the ground beside it. He found the empty can the next day but apparently didn't suspect the new whereabouts of its contents. On a shakedown flight on Oct. 16, he experienced engine problems and upon landing found yellow goo in the fuel lines. Later tests confirmed the presence of laquer thinner in the fuel and inspection of the fiberglass fuel tank revealed they'd been partially dissolved, resulting in fuel-line blockage. McLeod has since moved the plane to a secure location and hopes to launch his second attempt at circumnavigation in the spring. He got within 1,000 miles of the South Pole on his first attempt last year before airframe ice forced him back. McLeod got in the record books in 2000 when he became the first to fly an open-cockpit biplane to the North Pole.
The FAA's annual revision of its five-year planning document, called its Flight Plan, continues the much-disputed tack that the existing funding structure for the agency, through the Airway and Airport Trust Fund, is falling short and a new method of funding is needed. AOPA President Phil Boyer said the fund is actually growing but the FAA is under intense pressure from airlines and from within the administration to establish a fee-for-service system. AOPA is also suggesting Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta was a little less than forthcoming when he told those attending his Q&A session at AOPA Expo earlier this month that "From my perspective, it will not be a user fee" that will dig the FAA out of the mire. AOPA lobbyist Andy Cebula said phrases like "from my perspective" are "code words in Washington." So, if we understand the language Mineta and Cebula are speaking, the "code" presumably allowed Mineta to say what people wanted to hear without meaning a word of it. AOPA is also concerned about the FAA's forthcoming decision on the implementation of automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) nationwide. Although AOPA believes in the technology, which allows pilots to independently monitor the position of other ADS-B-equipped aircraft, AOPA would fight any sudden requirement that all aircraft be ADS-B-equipped. "As much as I believe this is the technology of the future, there must be a reasonable phase-in period," Boyer said.
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About 2350 Beech Bonanzas, T-34s and Navions with certain prop and engine combinations will fall under a proposed Airworthiness Directive that will require immediate replacement of the prop on about 500 of the affected aircraft and RPM limits on the others. Based on test data supplied by McCauley, the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemakingcovering 3A32C406/82NDBX and D3A32C409/82NDBX propellers, installed on Continental IO520, TSIO520 or IO550 engines, saying McCauley's testing "identified stress conditions that affect the fatigue life and damage tolerance" of the props. AOPA is challenging the NPRM, saying there's no accident data to back up the proposed AD. The NPRM sets the service life of the affected props at 10,000 hours and requires that any props for which the accumulated hours to date are unknown also be replaced. The others will be under an operating restriction that prohibits continued operation between 2,350 and 2,450 RPM with a manifold pressure of more than 24 inches. The props will also undergo inspections for cracks every 100 hours and blades must be replaced ($10,500 per blade plus labor) or repaired as required.
Perhaps proving that no good mystery can be left that way, NBC News, without uncovering a shred of new information or evidence, is, according to the Palm Beach Post, "rekindling speculation" on what happened to a flight of five Navy Grumman Avengers that went missing 60 years ago off the coast of Florida in what became known as the Bermuda Triangle. Congress also voted to commemorate the anniversary with a resolution that passed 420-2 (Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., voted against). "Perhaps someday we will learn what happened and lay this mystery to rest," said Florida Republican Clay Shaw, who put the resolution forward. Apparently, the latest television probe, which will air Nov. 27, doesn't do that. Despite sending a couple of research ships to the area where the planes disappeared from radar on Dec. 5, 1945, the NBC "investigation" failed to turn up any new clues to the disappearance, which has spawned theories ranging from spatial disorientation to alien abduction. A search plane also went missing without a trace and the total death toll was 27.
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The pilot of a plane that collided with a skydiver, causing fatal injuries, has agreed to accept a nine-month suspension of all of his aviation certificates. But William J. Buchmann's lawyer, R. Patrick Phillips, says the 57-year-old pilot is not admitting that he violated any regulations, despite accusations by the FAA that he flew the aircraft in a "grossly careless or reckless manner" when it struck his longtime friend Albert "Gus" Wing over Deland Airport last April. "Our view is that this was an accident and nothing more," Phillips told the Orlando Sentinel. And while they mourned the loss of Wing, colleagues and patrons at Skydive Deland, including Wing's family, are rallying behind Buchmann, who's being kept on at the skydive center, doing ground jobs, while he serves the suspension. "He's one of the best, most competent pilots that [has] ever worked in our industry," said Skydive Deland owner Bob Hallett. Buchmann was returning to the airport after dropping a load of skydivers when the Twin Otter he was flying struck Wing about 600 feet above the ground, severing his legs. Wing managed to land safely but died later from his injuries. The FAA revoked Buchmann's certificates in August and he was scheduled to appear before an NTSB administrative judge to appeal the revocation last week, before striking the suspension deal with the FAA. The NTSB is still investigating the accident and the FAA is warning more sanctions against Buchmann could follow.
About 2,500 Special Olympics athletes will arrive in style at the U.S. Special Olympics National Games at Iowa State University next July. A fleet of 400 privately owned Cessna Citations will fly the athletes from 35 states to the Games. All of the flight time, pilot time and fuel will be donated by the owners of the planes. Cessna is coordinating the effort, called the Citation Special Olympics Airlift. A sign-up sheet is available by going to the link provided on the airlift information page. This is the fifth such effort for Citation owners. It started in 1987 with 132 Citations and the most recent airlift in 1999 involved 260 aircraft. Each plane will carry four to seven athletes, plus coaches and trainers in flights ranging from 90 minutes to three hours. At the end of the Games, the planes will again converge on Des Moines International Airport for the return trip.
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An ELT that activated while being shipped sparked a search in Ohio last week. First a pilot reported hearing a radio distress call and then, coincidentally, in the same area, the ELT went off. Civil Air Patrol searchers found the squawking ELT in the back of a delivery truck...
A news crew caught the belly landingof a King Air at Charlie Brown Airport in Fulton County, Ga., Thursday. None of the three occupants was hurt...
The first movie based on some of the events of 9/11 is in production in England. The movie, called Flight 93, will focus on the efforts of passengers aboard United Air Lines Flight 93 to prevent hijackers from crashing it into Washington, D.C., by forcing it down in Pennsylvania...
Hooters Air is citing sagging support -- and increased competition -- in its decision to phase out service to Rockford International Airport. Northwest and United have both added service to Rockford, effectively squeezing the upstart Hooters out.
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.
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AVmail: November 21, 2005
Reader mail this week about the EZ Rocket, light guns and more.
CEO of the Cockpit #51: Cockpit of the Apes
If a free-enterprise economy is Darwinian and if legacy airlines are dinosaurs, what are the little mammals and what are the cockroaches? And which will survive longest? AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit ponders this in the hypoxic cockpit of a 777 in this month's column.
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What to bring to the table when entering the pattern...
ATC: N1234, confirm you have current ATIS.
N1234: N1234 has Whiskey.
(Unidentified pilot): In that case, welcome to the party!
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