March 6, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Land Of The Free And The DC ADIZ
The overwhelming sentiment of more than 20,000 written comments and dozens of personal presentations at two public meetings is that the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) surrounding Washington, D.C., is an operational, legal, safety and economic boondoggle that does almost nothing to enhance security and therefore should be scrapped. Well, that isn't going to happen. But there are some (vaguely) encouraging signs that voices opposed to a permanent ADIZ may have permeated the inner rings of the nation's security apparatus. It's even possible that some common-sense revisions may be in the works. Sources privy to some of the details spoke to AVweb on condition of anonymity, but what they tell us is that the frustration of operating in the restricted airspace may be reduced. At public hearings held in Virginia and Maryland last month, a panel of FAA, Department of Defense, Secret Service and Homeland Security representatives heard horror story upon horror story of dropped clearances, cases of mistaken identity and delays in gaining clearances that could have turned dangerous. They were also told of the huge economic cost of the airspace restrictions -- which, according to one source, actually caught their attention.
The permanent zone that will likely result from all this is almost certain to be round, or close to it. The current "Mickey Mouse ears" shape of the ADIZ invites navigational error and also makes it tough on those monitoring the airspace. Just how big the circle should be is another matter. GA proponents say 20 miles should be plenty. The security folks (who are really running this show) say bigger is better. And while a big donut hole should be a lot easier for pilots to avoid, smoothing out the shape of the zone may mean capturing some airports that now lie free between Mickey's ears. Those likely will not go down without a fight. Another proposal frequently floated during the hearings involved GA corridors -- another proposal that probably won't happen. Although corridors work well to separate VFR traffic from heavy metal in busy areas, they don't fit the bill for a security zone, which necessarily requires the identification and monitoring of each aircraft. And requiring all the usual ADIZ procedures and then funneling all GA aircraft through the corridors would only compound the problems that already exist and likely lead to even more incursions.
Another Eclipse First
If anything positive (for GA) results from this process, it will be that all the stakeholders will better understand each other's realities and goals and that should lead to some streamlining of the operational aspects of the new zone. That may mean adding capacity to the Potomac TRACON to deal specifically with the extra workload (which might be a touchy subject between the FAA and controllers at the moment). And with permanence comes familiarity. With the zone as a fixture, there should come a time when pilots simply cope with it as they would any of a hundred things that might require their attention on a cross-country flight ... sort of like how a dog gets used to an invisible electrified fence, maybe. But there's been talk of technological solutions, too. Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) on aircraft operating within the security zone might aid in the fundamental requirement of identification and tracking of individual aircraft. ADS-B can provide real-time tracking and identification data of aircraft to other aircraft. The question remains of who would foot the bill.
The very first customer who will fly away an Eclipse (no, it's not Bill Gates) took a personal interest in the creation of his airplane in a ceremony at the company's Albuquerque headquarters late last week. David Crowe, described only as a pilot and businessman, started the friction stir welding machine as it began work on his jet. The company's current certification projections target June 30 for FAA certification and Sept. 29 for completion of natural icing flight tests. Crowe, who put down his deposit in May of 2000, praised the dedication of the company and its employees for seeing the creation of the airplane to this point. "Folks who work here are not just punching timecards -- I can feel that every time I visit," he said. Eclipse line workers, and hundreds more who will join them, are now rolling up their sleeves to get 130 of the airplanes built by the end of the year, according to The Associated Press. The company broke ground on a new assembly building earlier this year and the number of employees is expected to almost double to more than 1,000 workers by year-end.
Eclipse spokesman Andrew Broom told reporters that by 2008 the company should be stir-welding about 1,000 of the six-place twinjets each year (the order book is now 2,400 strong) to fill a demand that could see 15,000 very light jets (VLJs) in the air by the end of the decade. "It depends on what the market bears," Broom told The Associated Press. Aviation consultant Michael Boyd said he predicts there will be a "stampede" of customers for the very light jets that are soon coming to the market. Cessna hopes to have ready for customers its Mustang (and Adam its A700) by year-end. All this while one new contender (currently flying its research prototype, the Spectrum 33) already has plans to vault the revolutionary field to the next level of performance economy and comfort. Meanwhile, back at Eclipse, CEO Vern Raburn told those at the ceremony the first bit of welding and drilling "is all part of the process of becoming a successful and enduring company." Raburn later told The Associated Press he considered it the "beginning of a whole new era in aviation." While the June 30 and Sept. 29 dates still loom, company officials are confident the production line will keep moving and that the roughest part of the road lies behind. "...we're pretty confident that any changes will be minor," Broom told The Associated Press.
As David Crowe's Eclipse 500 was beginning life, there were some furrowed brows in Washington wondering what his future flying activity, and that of thousands of others in the very light jet (VLJ) fraternity, will do to (or for) the aviation industry. "We're on the cusp of a new business model," FAA planner Nana Shellaberger told hundreds of aviation industry leaders at the agency's annual Forecast Conference last Tuesday. "We think this growth is more than somebody's pipe dream," added Sharon L. Pinkerton, another FAA planner who said the agency predicts about 1,650 mini jets will be sharing the flight levels by the end of the decade (others say it could be double that). As long as they generally steer clear of the big hubs (as the VLJ industry fully intends to do) it shouldn't be much of a problem. Eclipse and its competitors insist their planes are an alternative to the hub-and-spoke system that has actually reduced the speed of travel in the last decade. The manufacturers say private owners of VLJs will seek out the uncrowded suburban airports and that satellite navigation will make it possible to use them in marginal weather. Air taxis will whisk customers from point to point, rather than through the hub and spoke, reducing travel time, while the relatively inexpensive aircraft allow ticket prices in the range of a business-class fare. But at least one purveyor of little jets says the numbers being thrown around are optimistic. Cessna CEO Jack Pelton said in a speech to the Aero Club last week that a training bottleneck will be a limiting factor. And we'll all find out how the neighbors like the noise, later.
As AVweb reported on Thursday, the nation's airlines have agreed to a user-fee formula that they'll be using to lobby the FAA and Congress in a bid to reduce their own costs. And if the FAA (and the White House) are already leaning in the user-fee direction, that leaves GA as a voice in the wilderness. "When the FAA and all the airlines are in total agreement about something, it's not usually good for general aviation," opines AOPA in its assessment of the Forecast Conference. What it may lack in lobbying power at FAA headquarters AOPA makes up for in political clout, and this battle is destined for the floor of Congress, where there have already been some spirited skirmishes. And while many in Congress wouldn't know a 172 from a 747, something they do understand is power and AOPA President Phil Boyer is claiming the user-fee tack is all about freeing the FAA from Congressional oversight. "Make no mistake, this is about control. Neither the bureaucrats nor a select group of users should have the final say on how the system is run," he said. "The best interests of general aviation and the general public are served with Congress firmly in the left seat and in control." Boyer contends that without Congress watching spending, the FAA will be free to waste as much as it likes and pay for it on the backs of those who depend on the system. "If you are a monopoly, and you can charge your customer whatever it costs to do business, what incentive do you have to keep charges low?" he wondered.
Taxi-into-position-and-hold (TIPH) (scroll down to 3-9-4) clearances can speed up operations but they can also put aircraft in direct conflict if things go awry and recent stirrings suggest the FAA may be moving toward a nationwide ban on the practice. According to numerous e-mails received by AVweb, the practice will officially end March 20, but FAA sources weren't able to confirm that for AVweb prior to this publication. Already commenting, however, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association says the ban will have something opposite of the desired effect on safety. NATCA spokesman Doug Fralick said eliminating TIPH will make it much more difficult for controllers to judge how much time is needed to ensure the runway is clear for the next aircraft on approach, ultimately decreasing an airport's flights-per-hour capacity while adding more variables to a controller's equation. If the plane taking off is already on the runway and ready to go, the departure time is easy to predict, but if the next plane in line has to maneuver onto the runway, perhaps backtrack and get turned around, seconds can easily turn to minutes and the chance for conflict grows. "Therefore the likelihood is that spacing on finals will have to be increased, once again decreasing capacity while at the same time the FAA is doing all they can to increase capacity," Fralick noted. He also said the FAA is using a blanket approach to the issue when there are many airports that have never had a problem caused by TIPH. "The bottom line is that the loss of TIPH will make the airport environment a more dangerous place than it was before," Fralick said. "I couldn't imagine not being able to use this time proven tool."
The pilot of a Cessna 182 that was flying between 120 and 140 mph, at night, and low, over an interstate highway, was talking on his cellphone when the plane's wing was sheared off by electrical wires, according to the NTSB's preliminary report. Benjamin R. Hicklin, of Spottswood, Va., was talking with his partner in the airplane, a truck driver who was driving his tractor trailer on I-81 near Weyers Cave, Va., when the plane, which was maneuvering nearby, hit the wires and crashed into another truck hauling cars on the same highway. Hicklin, 30, was an ATP with more than 4,000 hours. He died in the crash, which occurred about 11:15 p.m. on Feb. 23. According to the Staunton News-Leader, police say Hicklin was apparently trying to position the plane so his partner in the truck below could see him. There was no indication that medical or mechanical causes played a role in the crash.
A Kansas company has been charged with fixing a helicopter (that had crashed and been submerged in the ocean) with parts from another helicopter (that had also crashed) and then selling the chopper to a Niagara Falls sightseeing company, which used it to carry passengers. A federal grand jury indicted Robert A. Schlotzhauer, 66, owner of Lee's Summit-based Falcon Helicopter Inc. (not to be confused with a Colorado company with a similar name) for, among other things, not following FAA regs and using non-certificated mechanics to assemble wrecked helicopters into saleable, but not necessarily airworthy, condition. Schlotzhauer "unduly placed at risk prospective pilots and passengers of two helicopters as a result of the fraud scheme," reads a written statement from U.S. Attorney Todd Graves quoted in the Kansas City Star. The government alleges that Falcon Helicopter bought an MD-369E that had crashed in the Pacific off Australia and stayed submerged for several hours. It then bought a second MD-369E that had crashed in England and scavenged parts from it to get the other one flying. A New York company bought the "reconditioned" chopper for $450,000 and started flying tourists over the falls, which it apparently did without incident before it was pulled from service. The other helicopter, a Eurocopter 120B, was bought as a wreck from an insurance company for $110,000 and repaired by Falcon. The company is alleged to have tried to sell it for $650,000 but an agent for a company looking into the deal alerted the FAA with concerns about the airworthiness of the aircraft.
A B-29 that has kept its Cold War secrets 200 feet below the surface of the Overton arm of Nevada's Lake Mead for almost 60 years will soon be open to the public -- members of the public that are qualified to use rebreathing equipment for those depths. Although the wreck was found five years ago, the National Park Service, which "owns" the bomber, had declared it off limits to even those few visitors who might be able to venture near it. The ban is expected to be lifted soon. The B-29 was conducting "atmospheric tests" that required it to alternate between minimum altitude and 30,000 feet when, according to an Air Force accident report, a faulty altimeter may have contributed to the pilot's taking the minimum altitude a little too low. The plane was skimming the glassy surface of the lake at 230 mph when it touched the surface, ripping off three engines. The big bomber skipped back into the air about 200 feet and the two pilots were able to make a controlled, tail-down ditching. "According to the altimeter setting used by the pilot and the altimeter setting at the time of the crash at the nearest AF installation, the pilot should have had approximately 300 feet of altitude," the report says. The crew and a civilian scientist all got out and the plane floated for about 12 minutes. The accident report still has the location of the crash site censored and only partial last names of those on board are included.
The only VLJ with optional ejection seats (standard if you buy the military version) continues to successfully perform in the early stages of its flight test program. The fighter-like ATG Javelin recently cycled its gear in flight for the first time. Speeds ranged between 130 and 180 knots and a series of 30-degree bank turns were done to assess stability. It was the first flight in several months for the prototype, which was being upgraded to include a (handy to have) manual gear extension and new (more slippery) canopy. The company also claims that its "market share" is up 37 percent and that development continues apace. "This has been a great start to the year. Flight test results continue to meet or exceed our expectations," said George Bye, Chairman of ATG. The company will be at Sun 'n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., next month but it's not clear if the prototype will fly there from headquarters in Englewood, Colo.
News in Brief
You can bet Russian airline pilots are extra careful with their transponder settings these days after the government passed a law allowing hijacked aircraft to be shot down in the name of security. Perhaps putting the law in context with Russian military action exhibited in recent bouts with terrorists, pilots have written President Vladimir Putin asking that the law be reconsidered. According to The Jurist, a publication of the University of Pittsburgh's law school, the pilots believe they'd be under quite enough stress from the hijacking without having to worry about the good guys coming after them, too. "The pilots fear such a policy will reduce flight safety as pilots' 'physiological and emotional state' would be drastically impaired," the Jurist writes. Apparently Germany had a similar law on the books until recently when its Constitutional Court ruled that such provisions "infringed on the right to life and human dignity," not to mention what it might do to ticket sales once potential passengers found out.
Don't blame lax security on the theft of a Cessna 182 from Marana Airport in Arizona last week. To get the plane airborne and headed for Mexico, the thief had to defeat keypad access, a padlock on the hangar and the plane's own locks...
The FAA is looking at new routes over New Jersey to try and pack more planes into the nation's most crowded airspace. The New Jersey State Assembly voted overwhelmingly to oppose the package...
The A380's impact is already being felt and it hasn't carried a single passenger. London Heathrow Airport is spending more than $800 million in improvements to gates, baggage handling and taxiways to accommodate the 555-seat airliner...
New Mexico has freed up $110 million to invest in a spaceport proposed for Upham. The site was chosen for its sparse population, high elevation and uncluttered airspace. It will be home to Virgin Galactic's commercial space venture.
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Probable Cause #1: Breakup In Flight
AVweb introduces a twice-monthly column investigating accidents and presenting lessons learned from them. This week in Probable Cause, we look at whether a faulty switch brought down a twin-turboprop. Quick recognition and a thorough scan could possibly have saved the day. This report first appeared in AVweb's sister publication, IFR Refresher.
What's New -- Products and Services for March 2006
This month AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you a Swiss army knife with altimeter, windscreen treatment, classic aircraft skill training, tools, TAWs and more.
Pilots Know They Need to Protect & Improve Their Eyes
Reader feedback on AVweb's news coverage and feature articles:
Reader mail this week about ATC, D.C. airspace, round-engine nostalgia and more.
Your Aircraft-Buying Helper -- Aviation Consumer's Used Aircraft Guide
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Names Behind The News
Overheard late last Friday night at my local non-towered airport...
C-G1234: Unicom, request Airport Advisory.
Unicom: Sorry, say again your sign?
C-G1234: I'm a Gemini. I like candle-light dinners and long walks on the beach ... but I don't see what that has to do with anything, right now.
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