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November 27, 2005

NewsWire Complete Issue

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
This issue of AVweb's AVflash is brought to you by ... Teledyne-Continental Motors (TCM)

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FAA Takes Credit For Airline Safety...

Administrator Slams USA Today Editorial

In an unusually acerbic letter published in Friday's USA Today, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey claims that the near-perfect airline safety record of the past four years (several fatal commuter-line crashes don't appear to count in either Blakey's or USA Today's reckoning) is the result of the "enormous effort and singular focus by the FAA and the industry to achieve a historic safety record." Blakey was responding to a USA Today editorial that appeared the previous day that, in directly addressing airline passengers, asserts that they "have a right to know what's going on beneath the silvery skins of all those jetliners." The editorial refers to testimony by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General Ken Mead, who told a congressional committee he's concerned about FAA oversight of maintenance contractors. He suggested that contractors, particularly overseas companies, get less scrutiny than the maintenance departments of the airlines themselves. USA Today seized on the sentiment and reminded readers of the ValuJet crash in Florida (which, incidentally, was caused by a cargo bay fire started by leaking oxygen canisters and had nothing to do with operating parts of the airplane), the investigation of which showed weak monitoring of contract maintenance facilities.

...System Good, Getting Better, Says Blakey...

In her letter, Blakey said the FAA has moved away from a "checklist" approach to safety programs to a risk-based system in which inspectors can spot safety trends and then direct carriers to adjust their in-house safety programs to solve problems before they result in a crash. Blakey also appears to dispute Mead's suggestion that foreign-based maintenance contractors are under-inspected or that the inspections themselves are somehow deficient because they are carried out by the host country's aviation authorities. She claims that while U.S. maintenance shops undergo 30 audits a year, foreign operators get checked an average of 74 times a year, and in countries that have bilateral agreements with the U.S., contractors must maintain FAA certification to work on U.S. planes. But the editorial was skeptical of the FAA's defense of its safety programs. "That's eerily reminiscent of the FAA of a decade ago, which denied increasing signs that overburdened inspectors were not keeping up with a swiftly changing industry," the editorial read. However, Blakey says the proof is in the safety record, which now stands at one fatality for every 15 million passenger flights. "So it is disappointing that the newspaper continues an editorial position that ignores how the nation's airline safety program got to this point," Blakey wrote.

...Where The Fears Really Lie

While the focus appears to be on maintenance outsourcing, FAA officials privately admit that their greatest fear of an accident has nothing to do with a mechanical failure. Sources have told AVweb in the past that they consider the greatest risk for another airliner disaster to be on the ground and not in the air. And according to an FAA study, a cluster of three California airports, John Wayne, Long Beach and LAX, rank first, second and third in both the outright number of incursions and the number of incursions per 100,000 flights. Because LAX caters almost exclusively to airliners, the FAA is most concerned about its incursion rate, which is fueled by its design. Aircraft must cross active runways to get to the terminal. Boston's Logan Airport has also had an unusually bad year for incursions (15 so far) and officials are taking action. There are now limits on which runways can be used for takeoff and air traffic controllers are getting more training. The FAA and Massachusetts Port Authority are also going to speed up construction of a taxiway that will eliminate the need for aircraft to cross runways to get to the terminal. Logan may end up as a test bed for new anti-incursion technology, such as runway warning lights similar to traffic lights that would alert pilots to possible collisions. No timeline has been set for any of the projects and the FAA admits that not all problems will be solved. "We would be living in a dream world if we thought this would be a cure all," FAA spokesman Jim Peters told the Boston Globe.

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FAA Issues Airbus Nose Gear AD...

Inspections, Parts Replacements Ordered

Two months after the made-for-television landing of a JetBlue A320 with the nose gear cocked 90 degrees to the runway centerline (most prior incidents didn't make TV news), the FAA has issued an Airworthiness Directive (AD) that requires inspection of the nose gear on about 200 U.S.-registered planes and will likely affect another 650 in other countries. Although the landing at LAX, with smoke and sparks pouring from the twisted gear, provided a major ratings boost for the news channels, no one on board suffered a scratch. And while the authorities know that the combined failure of some lugs and the braking and steering control unit led to the wheels being misaligned, they don't know why and further ADs may follow. The AD becomes effective Nov. 30 but it's likely that most airlines have already done the work. Airbus issued a technical note on Oct. 18 and a JetBlue spokesman told Bloomberg News that all of its planes checked out fine. Airbus spokeswoman Mary Ann Greczyn said other carriers are reporting similar results. "We have not received any report from any airline worldwide of an unusual finding with their nose landing gear related to this issue," Greczyn said in an e-mail to Bloomberg. There were several earlier (and untelevised) incidents in which Airbus nose gear wheels were locked perpendicular to the centerline but there's no reference to them in the current AD.

...While Exploding Fuel Tanks Get More Time

And while no one has so much as broken a nail because of the nose gear issue, hundreds have been killed because of exploding fuel tanks and, according to the FAA's proposed AD, more such calamities are "virtually certain to occur." The agency has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that will not require the installation of specific hardware to address fuel-tank explosions, but rather will set flammability standards for the ullage, the space in the tank not occupied by fuel. It will be up to manufacturers and airlines to meet those standards, something the FAA says was not thought practical a few years ago but which is now economically viable. The most likely method of making the tanks explosion-proof is by displacing oxygen in the ullage with inert gases. The system developed by the FAA and industry passes compressed air through a membrane that separates nitrogen and pumps it into the tanks, preventing combustion. The agency and industry jointly researched such systems and Boeing has since applied for certification of a system it intends to install on all its new 747s. The focus used to be on eliminating sources of ignition but the NPRM says it's not likely that can be accomplished. If something isn't done, the FAA's computer models suggest that over the next 50 years fuel-tank explosions would claim at least nine aircraft.


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Aerial Advertising Ban Challenged In Hawaii

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will soon decide whether Hawaii has the legal authority to allow the city of Honolulu to ban aerial advertising. An anti-abortion group is appealing the ban, which has been in place since 2002, so it can pull above the beaches and other populated areas of the city 50-by-100-foot banners adorned with images of aborted fetuses. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform argues that airspace is a federal responsibility and the state, which has passed legislation supporting Honolulu's ban, has no business trying to regulate it. It would appear the FAA thinks the same way. The same court has already upheld the advertising ban once, but that was when the FAA handbook noted that aircraft flying lower than 1,000 feet must "understand and obey local and state ordinances that may prohibit or restrict banner tow operations." When the court took that passage into consideration in its earlier ruling, the FAA struck it from the handbook because it "wanted to make it perfectly clear that the FAA still retained sole authority over airspace," according to an FAA spokesman. Except over events covered by temporary flight restrictions, the FAA permits banner towing. If the court overturns the Hawaii ban, the state may ask for federal legislation on banner towing to, as the editorial writer for the Honolulu Star Bulletin put it, "keep the skies free of offensive images."

Congress Rejects User Fees -- For A Year

Congress has decided to maintain the status quo in funding the FAA and that means no user fees, at least not yet. The funding bill passed last week by Congress continues to bankroll the agency through the Airway and Airports Trust Fund and from general revenue. "Congress, acting as the board of directors for the FAA, has once again decided that the fairest, most responsible way to pay for aviation's benefits to all citizens is through excise taxes and general fund contributions," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "And that's why we want to make sure that Congress retains oversight of the FAA." However, the real political test will gear up next year as the FAA and Congress consider the expiration of the trust fund's 10-year mandate in 2007. The FAA has made it clear that it wants to change the existing funding, which is based on fuel taxes, to a system where revenue is tied directly to services provided. That screams user fees to AOPA and other alphabet groups, who warn that could lead to charges for everything from weather briefings to landings at federally funded airports. "Frankly, this is not something that we can allow to happen," said Boyer.

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Airliner Scare Over Turkey

From what we can make of a Turkish news report, warplanes from that country were scrambled to force down a German airliner that passed over on its way from Egypt to Munich -- but they apparently failed to intercept it. According to a somewhat sketchy translation of the Zaman Daily News, the A321 (airline unknown) reportedly crossed over Turkey without contact with air traffic control. The fighters were scrambled but, for reasons yet unexplained, didn't find the airliner. The news service quoted unnamed government sources describing the operation as a "fiasco." The news service said the airline was over Turkish territory for about 50 minutes and passed over both Ankara and Istanbul where contact with ATC is mandatory. It's speculated that the pilots were simply on the wrong frequency but authorities didn't know that at the time. "What worries us is that it is impossible to know the intention of the aircraft," a government official told the news service, on condition of anonymity. "If the pilot is malicious, if he changes the direction of flight and plunges; then the war plane shoots it down."

Indian Adventurer Claims Balloon Altitude Record

An Indian textiles tycoon is claiming to have established a new altitude record for hot air balloons. Vijaypat Singhania says he flew the specially designed balloon to 21,300 meters (70,000 feet) in a five-hour flight that covered about 150 miles on Saturday. "When I broke the record, I was euphoric. I screamed quite loudly," Singhania told The Associated Press. "This goes to show to the world that we are not bullock cart drivers, but we can compete against the best of the world." Instruments sealed within the balloon's capsule must be analyzed to determine the exact height of the flight. Singhania occupied a pressurized capsule hanging beneath the 150-foot-tall canopy. Indian television covered the record attempt live. The current record is held by Swede Per Lindstrand, who ascended to about 65,000 feet over Plano, Texas, in June 1988. Once verified, details of the feat will be sent to the Guinness Book of World Records.


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"New" Superior Engine Gets Production Certificate

Generally, if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck ... well, you know the rest. But the devil's in the details and as much as this engine looks (and presumably sounds) like a Lycoming 360, Superior Air Parts says its Vantage engine is "the newest FAA certified 180-horsepower piston engine." Last week, the FAA granted Superior a full production certificate for the engine, which was certified in April. Although in form it appears to be a Lycoming, Superior says there are significant improvements in design over the 50-year-old example and demand is strong for its "new" engine. The first engines off the assembly line will go to American Champion Aircraft for a new model called the High Country Explorer. Receipt of the production certificate also entitles Superior to obtain supplementary type certificates allowing installation of the engines in Piper Cherokees and Cessna 172s. Among the improvements cited by Superior is that the engine is certified to run on automotive gasoline.

Aviation History "Preserved"

Military aviation history isn't always about planes and pilots. Sometimes it's soaked into a patch of red paisley carpet or etched into a slab of wood. For pilots and crew who headed into harm's way in the Western Pacific, the watering hole known as The Cubi Bar at Cubi Point Naval Air Station in the Philippines was the closest thing to home. And now, anytime they're in the Pensacola area, they can visit their old haunt, check to see that their squadron plaque is still hanging and maybe play a game of shuffleboard. After Subic Bay closed in the early 1990s, the National Museum of Naval Aviation had the bar dismantled and shipped to Pensacola where it was reassembled down to the last detail. "Every squadron that was in the western Pacific, it was here. There's a lot naval history in this room," said former patron and Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan, who recently had lunch there. The bar was among the first places squadron members would head after months of duty. These days, the atmosphere is a little more sedate. "It was a forward deployed base with aviators who had been at sea for months," said Cmdr. Jeremy Gillespie, a former P-3 pilot who patronized the bar in its original location. "There was a lot more drinking and smoking, a lot of steam being blown off."

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On The Fly...

The existing record of 27.6 seconds for the longest paper airplane flight was never threatened in a competition in England last week. Competitors said the Leeds University Grand Hall was too small and planes kept hitting the walls. Longest flight was 6.55 seconds...

Flight 93 the movie is now Flight 93 the Web site. The British production is posting regular updates on the creation of what may be the first made-for-theaters release about 9/11...

NetJets pilots have reached a contract with the fractional ownership company. The two sides have been bargaining for four years and inked a five-year deal last week...

SpaceX hopes to reschedule the maiden launch of its Falcon 1 rocket for later this week after technical glitches scrubbed a planned launch on Sunday.

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.


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Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles:

AVmail: December 5, 2005
Reader mail this week about flight service, Airbus ADs, controller pay negotiations and more.

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New Articles and Features on AVweb

The Pilot's Lounge #94: It's The Medium, Manfred
There's a new aviation myth running around the Internet. It involves a conveyer-belt runway and misuse of aerodynamics and ... well, it's better if AVweb's Rick Durden explains it all himself in The Pilot's Lounge.

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Short Final...

I was practicing night landings when another aircraft departed the airport to the southeast. This is the communication I heard between that aircraft and the tower...

Departing Aircraft: Uh, Tower, N1234. Are you talkin' to this traffic out here? He's headed straight for us.

(short pause)

Departing Aircraft: Scratch that ... (timidly) ... we're looking at a planet.

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"Lift Off!" — Team Rocket F1 Evo shows off speed and looks; Reno 2005 highlights; "You Know Yo' Pitot?" — tips to help keep your six-pack intact; "Product Review: Garmin GPSMap 396"; "The Age of LSA: Where Are the American Manufacturers?!"; and "Build Your Skills Metal, Part 6" rounds out another exciting issue. Subscribe to Kitplanes at http://www.avweb.com/sponsors/kitplanes/avflash.
We Welcome Your Feedback!

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

Letters to the editor intended for publication in AVmail should be sent to mailto:editor@avweb.com.com. Have a comment or question? Send it to mailto:newsteam@avweb.com.

Today's issue written by News Writer Russ Niles:
AVweb's editorial team: http://avweb.com/contact/authors.html.

Have a product or service to advertise on AVweb? A question on marketing? Send it to AVweb's sales team: mailto:sales@avweb.com.

Freedom, independence, responsibility.

AVflash is now available in optional easier-to-read graphic format, which includes some photos and illustrations. If you prefer, you can continue to receive AVflash in text-only format. Simply follow these instructions and AVflash will continue to arrive as it always has, in text format.

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