January 30, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
The Future Of Air Traffic Control
As the FAA and NATCA continue their acrimonious contract talks and debate over staffing, funding, safety priorities, equipment, pay rates and just about everything else, the controllers union last week announced that four Democratic senators are introducing a bill that would prevent the FAA from unilaterally imposing a "last, best offer." NATCA President John Carr wrote to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey that he hopes the move will encourage her to stop making "misleading statements" and trying to "drive our negotiations to impasse." The bill is sponsored by Senators Barack Obama (Ill.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), and Daniel Inouye (Hawaii). Carr says the FAA's apparent goal is to drive the talks to impasse and impose a contract, "gutting established principles of collective bargaining."
FAA: MU-2B OK; Pilots, Mechanics Need Help
The legislation would require both sides to submit to binding arbitration. Senator Obama said he introduced the bill "to help defuse the growing management-labor tension at the FAA." The Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) union applauded NATCA's move, saying under the current rules, there is no incentive for the FAA to negotiate. "The FAA is playing games by refusing to negotiate in good faith, knowing full well that in the end its contract demands will ultimately be forced upon public servants who are committed to keeping our skies the safest in the world," said Tom Brantley, national president of PASS.
The design of the Mitsubishi MU-2B twin turboprop is not inherently unsafe, the FAA said in a safety report released last week. The airplane has been involved in 11 accidents in the last two years, in which 12 people died. The FAA's analysis found that compared to similar twin-turboprop airplanes, the MU-2B accident rate is about twice as high. The fatal rate is about 2.5 times higher, while fatal accident rates in icing conditions are four times higher. An MU-2B pilot is seven times more likely to lose control and have a fatal accident during an emergency compared to pilots flying similar airplanes in similar situations. The airplane is complex and high-performance, the FAA said, and pilots and maintenance workers need better training to properly handle and fly it. The safety review was undertaken after several members of Congress from Colorado asked for the airplane to be grounded, following two fatal crashes at Centennial Airport.
The FAA found that the use of MU-2B airplanes has changed. Originally marketed as a corporate aircraft in the 1960s, it is used more today for cargo hauling and private operations. This switch means the aircraft is now "in the hands of pilots and maintenance providers who, in general, have less experience in high-performance airplanes than when it was used primarily as corporate transportation," the FAA said. Those pilots aren't getting the kind of training and proficiency checks that corporate pilots would, and they may operate a variety of aircraft, not just the MU-2B. Further, this shift in usage exposes the airplanes to more frequent night flight operations. Mitsubishi spokesman Scott Sobel told The Associated Press the company stands behind the aircraft's safety record when used properly. "MU-2 aircraft operators need to be trained according to the manufacturer's flight manual procedures, which have been in place for decades to maintain safety standards," Sobel said.
AOPA said it was satisfied with the FAA's report. "The FAA heeded our recommendation and will likely issue a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) to require specific MU-2B training," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "We think this is the right result and a much better solution than issuing an airworthiness directive." But AOPA did have a nitpick with the report, which says that for single-pilot IFR operations using an autopilot, compliance with the AD requiring the installation of trim-in-motion and autopilot disconnect systems is recommended. "The report doesn't mention the alternate means of compliance (AMOC) to this AD, which we believe offers an equivalent level of safety," said Gutierrez. "The FAA should make it clear that the AMOC is also acceptable."
If poking along at 170 knots in your Cirrus SR22 isn't good enough, George Braly, founder of General Aviation Modifications Inc. , home to GAMIjectors, is working on a solution to retain that speed into the higher altitudes for even better true airspeeds. "We have a turbo-normalizer in flight test now that will make the SR22 into a 200-knot airplane," says Braly. (And they may well do better than that.) He's working on getting STC approval from the FAA and finessing the system, which he expects to have ready for market sometime later this year -- hopefully in time for Oshkosh. Braly has years of experience on similar systems, notably for Bonanzas, but says this one has been designed from scratch, with a lot of unique components. "I'm enthused about it," he told AVweb over the weekend. "It will make your SR22 go faster, give it more range, go higher, and do it on less fuel." Braly says the Bonanza system requires about two or three weeks of downtime and costs about $45,000. The Cirrus system will be in that ballpark, he said, probably more expensive but not a whole lot more. The project is being developed along with GAMI's sister company, Tornado Alley Turbo.
It was a very good year for pistons, for jets, and for customer service, Cessna CEO Jack Pelton reported last Thursday. In 2005, Cessna delivered 249 Citation jets, 822 single-engine pistons, and 86 Caravan single-engine turboprops; won FAA certification for two new jets -- the CJ1+ and CJ2+; and built its order book up to 788 jets and 1,198 single-engine aircraft with a total value of $6.3 billion, Pelton said. He attributed the success to "a broad product line that is responsive to the marketplace, emerging global markets, and implementation of lean manufacturing processes." Other milestones for the year, Pelton said, were the type certification of the Garmin G1000-equipped Skyhawk; delivery of the 6,000th single engine piston airplane since the restart of production in 1996; and unveiling the Citation Encore+ at the NBAA annual convention in November.
Amid all the rancor between the controllers union and the FAA, NATCA will take a break tonight to remember what the mission is all about -- helping pilots to fly safely, especially when the going gets tough. Ten controllers will be honored as the second annual Archie League Medal of Safety winners. NATCA developed the Medal of Safety as a way to recognize examples of the heroic work of controllers who helped ensure that emergency situations ended safely. This year's winners will be honored for helping a VFR pilot to find his way out of IMC in Alaska, warning forgetful pilots to lower their gear before landing, helping a panicky lost pilot to get back home, and more. The awards are named for the first air traffic controller. NATCA members nominated their colleagues, and the winners were then selected by an independent committee.
When Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta made a veiled reference to user fees in a speech to the Aero Club of Washington last week, alarm bells went off at EAA headquarters in Oshkosh. "EAA has been loud and consistent on this point," said Doug Macnair, EAA's vice president of government relations. "We are categorically opposed to user fees for general aviation, especially since the FAA has not shown effective cost controls or accountability for the capital improvement programs it wants to undertake. The major airlines and commercial operators favor user fees because they hope to offload many of the costs for operations and services on to general aviation, even though the nation's air traffic system is truly designed to serve the air carriers, not general aviation." He added that if the FAA operations budget was properly funded from the general fund as intended, and capital improvements covered by the Aviation Trust Fund, the issue would be resolved. Because the National Airspace System benefits every citizen of the nation whether they fly or not, Congress has long held that the FAA and the upkeep of the infrastructure should be paid from the nation's general fund. In addition, general aviation pilots pay a fuel tax to the Aviation Trust Fund, which is supposedly earmarked for modernization and infrastructure improvements. However, the FAA has been funding its operations budget from the trust fund, draining it of the revenue needed for capital improvements and modernization, EAA said.
Pilots should not include the effect of thrust reversers when computing safe landing distances for jet aircraft, the NTSB said last week. Calculations tend to assume the thrust reversers will deploy immediately, when in practice there can be a lag of several seconds. The difference can be critical, especially when runway conditions are poor, the NTSB said. The thrust-reverser credit was used when calculating the safe landing distance required for a Southwest 737-7H4 that landed at Chicago Midway Airport on Dec. 8, during a snow storm. The airplane ran off the runway, crashed through a fence, and hit two cars, killing a 6-year-old boy. If the thrust-reverser credit had not been employed, the calculations would have shown that a safe landing was not possible, the NTSB said. "We believe this recommendation needs the immediate attention of the FAA since we will be experiencing winter weather conditions in many areas of our nation for several more months to come," NTSB Acting Chairman Mark Rosenker said. The board asked the FAA to immediately prohibit all Part 121 operators from using the reverse thrust credit in landing performance calculations. Although the recommendation would prohibit the thrust-reverser credit on all runways, its practical effect would be felt on planned landings only on contaminated runways, which is when the credit is included in stopping distance calculations.
A Czechoslovakian-made Albatros L-39 jet crashed in Ketchikan, Alaska, last Wednesday, killing the pilot. The pilot apparently ejected from the jet before it hit the ground, and was found strapped into his seat about 100 yards from the wreckage. The jet crashed into a small trailer park, causing extensive damage but no serious injuries. The pilot was identified as Stephen Freeman, 32, of San Diego, Calif. Various reports last week said the jet had been sold to an Alaskan charter company and was being repossessed; or that the Alaskan company was only considering the sale and had rejected it; or that Freeman was considering buying the aircraft and was testing it out. Freeman was a retired Marine. The Aero Vodochody L-39 aircraft is a low-wing, tandem-seat, all-metal turbofan-powered aircraft built in the 1970s. About 200 of the popular warbirds are privately owned and flying in the U.S.
You might suspect that watching a sailplane competition -- even in a spectacular setting amid New Zealand's rugged Omarama mountains -- would be about as exciting as watching a lawn bowling match. But at last week's Gliding Grand Prix there may have been some who strongly disagree. A week's worth of daily press releases painted the televised event as: "tense ... dramatic ... challenging ... historic ... competitive ... adrenalin-charged ... thrilling." The excitement included one finish with multiple aircraft crossing the finish line within seconds of each other. It all finished up yesterday, with New Zealander Ben Flewett taking first prize. "Aviation and television history was made in Omarama this week," said Grand Prix director Peter Newport. "We have created an exciting new spectator sport, the repercussions of which will filter out around the world. I firmly believe if this weekend's coverage is anything to go by, people will soon be glued to their television screens following one of the world's fastest, most skilled and compelling sports." Hey, if they can get bazillions of people to watch golf tournaments on TV, why not?
The GlobalFlyer could launch on Wednesday, weather permitting. Steve Fossett plans to take off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and fly farther than any other aircraft in history...
New York's busy LaGuardia Airport will get a new control tower, to be completed by 2009 at a cost of $40 million. The new facility will be 100 feet taller than the current dilapidated tower, eliminating "blind spots" and enhancing safety...
AOPA's Air Safety Foundation has posted a new online "mini-course" about using GPS for VFR pilots, just 15 minutes long and it's free...
Helicopter pilots who fight wildfires in Oregon are running into opposition over use of a "wild and scenic" river for training runs...
A Navy instructor and a student pilot were killed Friday when their T-34C Turbo Mentor crashed near a runway used for practice landings and takeoffs in Corpus Christi, Texas...
An unmanned tiltrotor's first flight last week was successful. The Bell R918 Eagle Eye Unmanned Aircraft System hovered for nine minutes, then flew again for half an hour...
In Udon Thani, Thailand, the Royal Thai Air Force is completing formation flight training in five C-130s, which they'll use to attempt the world's largest skydiving formation, beginning this week. More than 400 skydivers from around the world will attempt a 400-person skydive.
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Motor Head #11: One Thousand (Not So Easy) Pieces
Wonder why airplane engines cost so much? Just try to build one. AVweb's Motor Head, Marc Cook, did (well, he helped anyway) and found it to be very enlightening. And then he flew a Turbo Cirrus ...
Dick Taylor takes on the IFR crowd, making sure you understand the requirements and the not-so-common sense behind selecting suitable and legal alternate airports. Click through to make sure you've got it right.
Reader mail this week about killer kites, radioactive instruments, the new look of AVwebFlash and much more.
Use the Best ASA 2006 Test Books, Software, & DVDs for FAA Exam Prep
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Names Behind The News
Submitted by a friend of AVweb...
Heard over the UNICOM:
Cessna XYZ: "Cessna XYZ taking runway 10."
Unknown voice: "Well, don't take it very far. There's another plane on final."
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