February 20, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
House Joins FAA Contract War
About 30 members of the House have introduced a companion bill to a Senate document that would ultimately force binding arbitration if the FAA and its unionized workers can't reach a voluntary contract settlement. The bill's introduction earned support from both sides of the House (12 Republicans signed on) with Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) leading the effort. The bill, called the FAA Fair Labor Management Dispute Resolution Act of 2006, would eliminate a clause in current legislation that could result in the FAA's last, "best" offer being forced on the workers. "This bill would propose a small change in the law, but it would make a big difference by restoring fairness and true accountability to the negotiation process," John Carr, president of the National Association of Air Traffic Controllers (NATCA), said in a news release. Other unions are also pleased. "We are encouraged to see that members of Congress on both sides of the aisle recognize the need for fair collective bargaining," Tom Brantley, president of the Professional Airways Systems Specialists, said in a news release. Four of five of PASS's bargaining units are currently at an impasse in negotiations with the FAA, although their difficulties don't get near the attention that the fractious talks between the agency and NATCA do.
Under the current rules, the FAA has the ability to declare an impasse in negotiations. That sends the whole package to the Republican-controlled Congress for consideration. If, as is widely speculated would be the case, Congress fails to deal with the contract within 60 days, the FAA deal that was on the table when the impasse was declared would by default become the new contract. Naturally, the union leaders are unlikely to see this as a fair arrangement and have lobbied tirelessly to kick that particular piece of legislation aside. The unions got their first break a month ago when Senate Democrats launched their bill. The bipartisan House bill is an exact replica of the Senate bill. The FAA isn't likely to react quietly. The agency also has friends and influence on the Hill and there's a good chance House members will be getting letters from the agency urging them to vote against the bill. In a Jan. 13 letter to Sen. Barack Obama, who sponsored the Senate bill, FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said the agency still hoped for a voluntary agreement but that the FAA's impasse-declaration right was a necessary balance to the unions' unique ability to bargain on wage and benefits issues. Virtually all other federal employees get their pay set unilaterally by management.
(More) Flying Car Concepts
FAA spokesman Greg Martin called the union-inspired legislation another delaying tactic in a set of negotiations that, after six months with little movement, has already gone on too long. "Ironically, this [proposed] legislation contains a mediation clause and we've already called for mediation twice. At any time, without the legislation, NATCA can take us up on mediation so we can get moving closer on key issues," Martin told AVweb. "Clearly, NATCA's determination to push this legislation can be seen as delaying in the context of the evergreen clause." What Martin isn't saying is that, for now, the FAA may have been out-politicked. Although it has the legal authority to declare an impasse at any time, it would be political dynamite if the agency did so while legislation concerning the impasse authority is before Congress. In the meantime the existing contract (which the FAA says is far too rich) prevails so some may believe the union holds an interest in stretching negotiations as long as possible. If the new legislation passes, the FAA and its unions would go through a three-step process to settle impasses. The first step would be mediation, which the FAA has requested, but which NATCA has dismissed as a "first step" toward declaring an impasse. If mediation fails, then the dispute would go to Congress, which would again have 60 days to rule. The key part of the proposed legislation is what happens if Congress fails to act. Currently, the FAA's last offer stands. Under the proposed legislation, Congress's failure to deal with the dispute would automatically trigger binding arbitration. Although the bill has a very long way to go before it can become law, PASS's Brantley said the fact that it's on the table at all should get the FAA's attention. "The fact that both the House and Senate have introduced this legislation should send a very strong message to the FAA that the current process is unreasonable," he said.
A trio of Massachusetts Institute of Technology grads is determined to create something that has so far eluded both the aviation and automotive industry and their idea seems to be carrying a fair bit of weight in academic circles. An outside panel of scientists and technologists have awarded Carl Dietrich the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for, among other inventions (like a desktop fusion reactor and a lower-cost rocket engine), a "flying SUV" he calls Transition. And with help from fellow brainiacs Samuel Schweighart and Anna Mracek, the apparently undisputed genius has formed a company called Terrafugia (terra means earth, fugia means escape) and hopes to have something to show us at this year's EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. All three members of the team are pilots and admit to some self-indulgence in their choice of school projects. "We want this thing as soon as possible, because we want to use it," Mracek told the MIT publication The Tech. And the trio is only a little modest about the impact its craft might have. "We're not going for a radical transformation to just throw society into 'The Jetsons,'" said Mracek. "[But] if this is the commercial reality we think it can be, changes will occur in the world."
The MIT group deals with the snide remarks, knowing smiles and barely concealed giggles with a single line on its Web site: "Why will Terrafugia succeed where so many others have failed?" the group asks rhetorically. Given the source, the answer might be obvious. In a word, it's engineering. The trio says it's taking an engineering approach to the project. What they've come up with is a two-place vehicle with an airplane-like fuselage and fold-out wings. It will have a 100-hp engine driving a tail-mounted pusher prop and weigh in at 1,320 pounds, qualifying it for light sport aircraft (LSA) status. In fact, Dietrich says, the no-medical, low-cost Sport Pilot certificate option was a major factor in the decision to design the drive-to-the-airport-and-fly-away machine. It's that last little bit that allows the MIT group to avoid a rat's nest of engineering hurdles by sidestepping what has often been the major impetus behind flying cars. Rather than take off from the driveway and soar over the stressed-out commuters below, Transition will join them on the freeway on its way to the airport. Once on the ramp, the wings will fold out and head for the runway like any other plane. Not much detail is available on the way it all comes together but presumably it will be fleshed out a little more in time for Oshkosh. In the meantime, Merton Flemings, who's taught engineering and materials science at MIT for 50 years, says Dietrich's plan is the real deal. "With the advent of new materials and new engines and this innovative design, he's got a chance to make it work," Flemings said. "I think the time has come."
While the MIT folks go straight to their ultimate creation, Larry Neal, of Butterfly LLC in Bridgeport, Texas, is taking the launch of his combination of a three-wheeled motorcycle and gyrocopter in a more methodical way. Neal's friend John Frena, who's trying to turn up the hype while Neal keeps his nose to the grindstone, says the Flying Motorcycle is less than a month from becoming fully functional in the air and on the ground and will demonstrate both capabilities at Lakeland. As AVweb told you last week, the Flying Motorcycle has already flown for local TV cameras. Frena said the single-seat Flying Motorcycle is designed as a commuter vehicle. The owner has but to drive (ride?) to the nearest clear patch 200 feet long and he or she can take off into the (so far) uncluttered air. As Neal finishes off the Flying Motorcycle, work continues on the two-place version, which Frena claims has more creature comforts. It won't be ready for Sun 'n Fun.
While the U.S. is having trouble keeping people from pointing lasers at airplanes, it seems the Australians have convincingly dealt with another type of threat to aviation: flying tomatoes. Southport Magistrate Alex Chilcott put Anthony Douglas Donohue, 35, of Sorrento, in Queensland, on two years of probation after the man admitted threatening to bring down a helicopter by shooting tomatoes from a "homemade bazooka." Donohue became annoyed over the helicopter's repetitive survey flights over the house he shares with his parents and called in the threats to Air Services Australia, the government agency that regulates civil aviation. "I have a homemade bazooka and if that helicopter is here again tomorrow I will fire the bazooka at this guv," Donohue was quoted by prosecutors as saying, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The court was also told his ammunition of choice was tomatoes. The threats were taken seriously and the helicopter pilot returned to base (whether out of fear ... or because it was his turn to wash the helicopter). It turns out Donohue was bluffing. There was no homemade bazooka and his defense lawyer said Donohue was under stress from a variety of sources when the chopper noise pushed him over the edge. The judge made psychiatric counseling a condition of Donohue's probation.
Eclipse Aviation has joined the ranks of Orville Wright, Chuck Yeager's sonic boom and the B-2 bomber, among many others, in winning the National Aeronautic Association's Collier Trophy, considered among the most prestigious aviation awards. In a press release announcing the winner, NAA CEO David Ivey says Eclipse is "applying innovations created in the technology industry to drive down cost, increase performance, improve safety, and spur a new type of air travel -- the air taxi." The release also paraphrases and quotes Ivey as saying "the selection committee's criteria included recognition of the rich heritage of the Collier Trophy, and 'the spirit of entrepreneurship, technical innovation, and the impact on American aviation,' exemplified by the Eclipse 500." ... Which may be Ivey's way of saying that Eclipse's accomplishments might not fit a strict interpretation of the award's criteria as outlined on the NAA Web site. According to the Web site, the Collier winner must have proven its contribution to aviation in the real world and not just on the drawing board. The site says the prize is awarded "for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year." [our emphasis]. By the end of 2005, the year for which the award is given, Eclipse had just announced that certification for the 500 would be delayed until sometime after March of 2006 because of a supplier problem. The company says first customer deliveries will take place shortly after certification. FAA certification flights are now being carried out.
The FAA says a 2.2-pound chunk of metal that smashed through the roof of a Broward, Fla., home, cracked four skylights, sliced through a den and finally came to rest, scorching hot, on the pool deck, where it cracked tiles, didn't come from an airplane. But the owner of the house is alleging a cover-up. "I think someone's covering someone's a-- for not inspecting a plane," Robert Amchir told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper. It's going to cost him about $10,000 to repair the various holes in his house caused by the metal, which blasted through last Wednesday afternoon. FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said several airworthiness inspectors examined the metal and none could identify it as an aircraft part. They thought it might be a counterweight of some sort used in machinery. "Our investigation is closed," she said. But if it didn't come from an airplane, where did it come from? Amchir said there's nothing in the neighborhood that could have flung it high enough or hard enough to cause that kind of damage. His house is near Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale Airport and he believes it must have come from a passing airliner. The fact that it was so hot likely led to the idea that the material came from an engine. However, airport officials told the Sun-Sentinel that there were no reports of problems with aircraft arriving or departing the airport on Wednesday. Broward police are investigating and Amchir said he's hiring a lawyer. (Maybe they need to look a little higher than the sky.)
As AVweb told you in January, Israeli government-owned defense contractors have come up with a retrofit missile defense system for airliners and they didn't fool around putting it to use. The national airline El Al now carries the Flight Guard system on each of its 29 aircraft. It took three years to develop and certify the system, partly due to consideration for perhaps less security-conscious countries' concerns regarding the possibility of an El Al aircraft on approach launching conventional magnesium flares over (or into) densely populated areas. Flight Guard uses infrared-emitting flares that are presumably less likely to start fires. There's no official word from the FAA on the system but El Al continues to operate flights from LAX, O'Hare, JFK and Miami. Although the system's certification was announced with some fanfare, now that it's operational the airline refuses to discuss it, citing security regulations. Web sites that used to describe the system in some detail appear to have been removed. The systems cost about $1 million per installation and consist of the flare launchers and multiple antennae spread throughout the aircraft to detect incoming missiles. The systems are specifically designed to protect against man-portable air defense systems (shoulder-launched missiles) that have proliferated among terrorist groups all over the world.
A British military helicopter pilot says his aircraft didn't cause a Cessna landing on a nearby runway to suddenly veer off the pavement. Flt. Lieut. Peter Binstead was taking off adjacent to the runway as Hugh Paton was landing at St. Mawgan Airport in Cornwall when Paton's plane left the runway and crashed in flames. Paton's wife and two daughters got out of the burning plane but Paton later died from severe burns. The 2001 crash was the subject of an inquest last week. Although the ministry of defense and Binstead have denied responsibility for the crash, the British government paid the family about $8 million in an out-of-court settlement. Binstead told the inquest he was about 50 feet above the ground and about halfway between the taxiway and runway when the accident occurred. Paton's wife Elizabeth said she could hear the helicopter in spite of her headset and the plane began to rock from side to side "as if in a whirlwind." She said her husband tried desperately to control the plane but couldn't. "The situation seemed impossible and I said to Hugh, 'Is this it?' and he replied 'I'm afraid so,'" she told the inquest. "There was a clear sense of finality and catastrophe and I said, 'Oh lovely.'"
Airbus is downplaying test results in which an A380 wing undergoing static testing failed slightly before the required design limit. The wings are supposed to take 1.5 times the design load limit but this one failed at 1.45 times, about 3.3 percent shy of the certification requirement. Airbus spokeswoman Barbara Kracht said the wing will need some "refinements" but the aircraft is on schedule for certification and first deliveries late this year. "We will need to find out from the data what is really needed but it's certainly not a redesign of the wing," Kracht told Associated Press. An A380 recently successfully completed cold-weather testing in northern Canada and the crew threw in some polar navigation tests after the five day stay in Iqaluit, in the northern territory of Nunavut. An A380 in Singapore Airlines, livery is heading to the Asian Aerospace air show in Singapore next week. Singapore Airlines will put the first A380 into service, followed by Emirates and Qantas.
The publicity has died down but the FAA says people are still pointing lasers at airplanes and it intends to crack down on those responsible. Last Monday, at least 16 aircraft were lased near Detroit Metropolitan Airport, the second such rash of incidents there in six months. "We treat it as a very serious matter," FBI Special Agent Dawn Clenney said. "Laser beams can disorient pilots responsible for an airplane full of passengers." There were 305 laser pointing incidents between late 2004 and early 2006, according to The Associated Press. Meanwhile, the New Jersey man who became the unwitting poster child for laser incidents has been put on probation for shining a light into the cockpit of a Cessna Citation. David Banach, of Parsippany, N.J., gained national attention in late 2004 after he was arrested for first lasing the business jet and then the police helicopter sent to investigate. Banach said at the time he was just pointing at stars but he eventually pleaded guilty to violating the Patriot Act. In a tearful statement to the court, Banach said he'll never commit another crime. U.S. District Judge John C. Lifland was apparently convinced. "The public need not worry about further crimes being committed by Mr. Banach," Lifland said before imposing the two years of probation. So, maybe cracking down starting ... Now!
A retired Air Force pilot is the FAA's new top doctor. Dr. Frederick Tilton is replacing Dr. Jon Jordan as Federal Air Surgeon after serving six years as Jordan's deputy. Tilton logged 4,000 hours in the Air Force, starting with the B-47 and ending with the F-15 before retiring as a colonel in 1988...
The FAA is holding a public meeting at next week's Helicopter Association International Heli Expo in Dallas. The meeting is being held to brief delegates on helicopter-related safety initiatives planned by the agency...
United Air Lines pilots clinging to a faint hope that their pensions will be restored are likely to be disappointed, say airline officials. A district court judge overturned a bankruptcy court ruling that allowed United to dump its pension obligations but the ruling isn't expected to result in the restoration of the pensions...
Microbes growing in water inside the fuel tanks of about half of American Airlines planes is resulting in slightly false readings on fuel gauges. The microbes attach to sensors and throw them off. So far the problem has been confined to MD-80 aircraft and other unidentified airlines are also reporting problems...
A few loose wires in an equipment shed caused an ILS failure at Reno-Tahoe International Airport last week. The failure resulted in five diversions. A technician is on call over the long weekend to ensure the system stays up over the busy tourist period.
The Pilot's Lounge #97: Precautionary Landings
You probably only flew an approach to an off-airport field as part of your "power-failure" training -- and you probably didn't actually land on that crop field (balloons and gliders excepted, of course). But if that's the only thing that will save your life when you get caught scud-running, shouldn't you practice?
Radar contact. Paul Berge identifies the differences in meaning for both VFR and IFR pilots when a controller says "radar contact". He also tells you what it doesn't mean for any pilot engaged in either type of flight. Click through to learn.
Reader mail this week about Global Flyer, GA sales records, POTW and more.
Use the Best -- ASA 2006 Test Books, Software, & DVDs for FAA Exam Prep
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Names Behind The News
While doing some work, heard the following exchange on Kennedy Tower freq:
Twr: Cactus 51, turn right zulu and golf, hold behind the plane that's stopped to recycle.
Cactus 51: Cactus 51 we'll make the right zulu and golf, behind the recycled airplane ... whatever that means.
Trw: C'mon Cactus, you guys should know what that means, you fly Airbus' -- it's when the screens go blank and you have to restart them all.
Cactus 51: Oh, yeah, we know about that. We just thought it was 'cause we were out of quarters.
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