March 13, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
The Military Rewrites History?
Well, if NORAD had hoped to keep what it regarded as potentially "security sensitive information" (SSI) out of the public eye by this maneuver, we'd have to call the mission an abject failure. Chat rooms, news services and aviation groups are frothing over the agency's order (no, it was not a request) that the FAA remove from its Web site the transcript of a copiously recorded, televised and reported-upon public meeting concerning the government's proposal to make the Air Defense Identification Zone around Washington permanent. As is normal with meetings such as this, held in a hotel conference center with speakers invited (in fact, actively encouraged) to speak their minds so that government leaders can weigh their proposed actions against the sense of the public, a transcript of the proceedings was prepared and posted for use by those who couldn't make it to Washington that day. Now, in the interest of national security, it's gone. Last week, the FAA was ordered to remove the transcript while security officials checked it for sensitive information. If they were hoping no one would notice, they were to be disappointed. The buzz about NORAD's strategic informationectomy has so far been pretty much confined to aviation interests, most of whom were already familiar with the content and tone of the hearings.
If there was one speaker at the meeting who stood out in the minds of those attending, it was Lt. Cmdr. Tom Bush, a Navy F/A-18 pilot from Oceana Naval Air Station who regularly flies his Mooney to Washington on Navy business. It's possible that Lt. Cmdr. Bush (no relation) has some insights or operational experience that give him a more holistic view of the ADIZ, but, speaking as a private citizen at the hearing, even he didn't appear to give away any state secrets. He did offer some quotable comments ("Freedom and security are polar opposites, and I am not willing to give up my freedom for the sake of terrorists") but NORAD seems to have focused its attention on his more tangible calculation, as presented to the meeting, that while on an approved approach to Dulles, he could make a turn and have his Mooney over the White House in four minutes. Military officials were reportedly upset at the time and wanted the comment stricken from the record. Instead, it seems, they've stricken the whole record. NORAD spokesman Michael Kucharek told CNET News.com that "there were some operational security concerns revealed by this person who had knowledge but appeared as a public citizen, which we think was out of line. The disclosure of that information could go directly to national security concerns." Bush has been unavailable for comment and appears to have an unlisted phone number.
Defining User Fees, Defining GA
DC Pilots, a well-connected and media-savvy online association of those most directly affected by the ADIZ and other Washington-area flying challenges, was the first to notice the transcript's absence. From there, word spread quickly until AOPA was motivated by the event to file a Freedom of Information request to have the transcript (the whole thing) put "back in public view." AOPA President Phil Boyer is shouting his disdain from the rooftops. "How ridiculous can you get?" Boyer said. "These were public meetings covered by the news media. Nothing was said that wasn't already in the more than 21,000 written comments. Do they honestly think security information was disclosed during the public meetings?" As of Friday, it seems the TSA doesn't. The Transportation Security Administration has performed an assessment and on Friday, pronounced Bush's comments clear of any SSI. "We did a review of the testimony to make sure there was no SSI contained," TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter told CNET.com. "We did not find any." The circumstances surrounding both the meetings, and the flood of public comment (almost all negative and full of anecdotal evidence about the failure of the ADIZ), has prompted speculation that the removal of the transcript has more to do with public relations than national security. "There was nothing said that would help a terrorist, but there was certainly plenty said about operational problems, the economic impact, and general criticism of what most pilots view as bad public policy," Boyer noted.
Before entering a debate it's always helpful to get the terminology straight. When it comes to the possibility of metered user fees for non-commercial aircraft, the Department of Transportation, the airlines, business aviation and the piston crowd seem to have different views on just who should be included in the fee-paying group. Are business aircraft also general aviation aircraft that should be excluded from fees? Should single-engine air taxis be considered fee-paying commercial aircraft? "If they're talking about user fees on general aviation, they don't know what they're talking about," Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta told a House Appropriations Committee hearing last Tuesday morning. "I've seen the press stories, as has everybody else. But what is before [Office of Management and Budget] has no user fees imposed on general aviation." But what exactly is general aviation? Mineta made the comments after the Air Transport Association issued a statement calling on the DOT to scrap the current ticket and fuel tax system and to apportion the costs based on time spent in the system. The ATA says that will cut up to $2 billion in costs from the airlines and distribute them to other users of control and navigation services who are getting a subsidized ride at the moment.
Just how Mineta and his department define GA will shape the debate from here on. If GA means piston-powered, the DOT has cleared a huge political hurdle by ensuring the support of more than 400,000 pilots who rarely, if ever, see five digits on their altimeters. But if the definition of GA excludes business aviation then the much smaller but financially fortified voice of the turbine set may be ready to offer sound opposition. As AVweb reported on Thursday, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and National Air Transportation Association (NATA), which are predominantly fueled by Jet A, held a teleconference last week to express concern over the Air Transportation Association's push toward user fees. AOPA and EAA seem to feel a little more secure. "Secretary Mineta is a good friend of general aviation, and we have no doubt that as long as he has any power over the issue, he will oppose user fees on piston-engine general aviation," Boyer said in a news release. EAA hasn't even mentioned the current developments on its Web site.
Aviation groups appear to agree that the heart of the current discussion is control. And from the side of a business aviation group, it may appear the airlines are forming a cartel that seeks to dominate the decision-making process on aviation issues. NATA President Jim Coyne, a former Congressman, said the apparent attempt to impinge or eliminate Congressional oversight from the FAA will likely backfire. He told the Wednesday teleconference that sitting members he's talked to consider the aviation system to be a national resource and are offended at the suggestion that Congress's role in shaping that system be diminished. And, since it will be Congress's decision on how to reshape the FAA's funding formula, he's wondering about the wisdom of annoying members with this proposal. In recent weeks, there have been published interviews with key aviation bureaucrats who have mentioned the effect of political interference on the operational realities of the FAA. Chief Operating Officer Russ Chew referred to a Congressional order that requires the FAA to pay $3 million a year to monitor volcanoes in Hawaii. There's also been mention of the parochialism of members when modernization or cost-cutting affects facilities or jobs in their constituencies.
Increasingly fly-by-wire airliners are at greater risk of in-flight fires and crews often do exactly the wrong thing when smoke enters the cabin, according to a report to be released in Athens this week. The report, written by U.S. consultant John Cox, to be presented at the Flight Safety Foundation conference, says that three flights a day, worldwide, are interrupted by in-flight fires and that electrical problems are the biggest cause. A modern aircraft can have 100 miles of wire in it and much of it is inaccessible for normal inspection and maintenance. Over time, wires can become exposed, causing arcing or overheating. And when fires start, some time-honored strategies to deal with them can magnify the danger. The report says that when smoke enters the cabin, crews most often open the cockpit door or even windows to clear the smoke and improve visibility. "This tendency to open a flight deck door shows that crew training does not effectively address the importance of maintaining the smoke barrier," Cox wrote. Cox is the former safety chief of the Air Line Pilots Association.
UPS has announce that it will retrofit more than 100 of its Boeing 757 and 767 freighters with Class III electronic flight bags (EFB) that will eliminate (we've heard this before) much of the paper in the cockpit. The Boeing-developed EFBs will give pilots instant electronic access to weather and charts and enable data transfer with the ground or with other aircraft. And with 80 gigs on the hard drive, there's plenty of room for new software applications. "Ultimately, it will help pilots with navigation and allow them to space their aircraft on their own; call up the most complete and accurate long-range weather maps; warn of potential collisions on the ground; push the maintenance logbook into the digital age, and place the entire flight manual within easy electronic recall," UPS spokesman Bob Lekites said in a news release. Supplementing the EFBs is the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) systems already installed on the aircraft. ADS-B allows the company to track its aircraft anywhere in the world and it also allows similarly equipped aircraft to see each other in flight. UPS has also ordered eight new Boeing 747-400s with all the electronic gear installed at the factory.
Garmin has introduced the GMX 200, a new multi-function-display it says improves upon its popular MX20 with a bigger, easier-to-read display and better control and function features. The MFD will show every conceivable physical feature and navaid on a high resolution backlit screen that displays vivid colors and contrast in all lighting conditions in views from a quarter of a mile to 2,500 miles, says the company. "The GMX 200 concentrates information from different sources on one remarkable display" said Gary Kelley, Garmin's vice president of marketing. "The unit is easy-to-use and provides operators with an extra margin of safety in the cockpit." Too much information? Just dial it back. The device features a single button that the pilot uses to select or deselect features on the display and a rotary knob controls scalability and data input. The MFD comes preloaded with worldwide terrain, mapping and Jeppesen charts and updates are handled through an SD card slot. A split screen function allows data to be sorted and organized to the pilot's preference. STC is expected this summer and the starting price will be about $9,000.
After spending millions of dollars in the Alaska Capstone project proving that Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast systems keep order in the air in the absence of radar, the U.S.-taxpayer-driven project is about to pay dividends -- in China. It appears the world's biggest emerging economic powerhouse is prepared to take a giant technological leap over complex maintenance and labor-intensive ground-based navigation systems and go straight to ADS-B for managing its burgeoning GA numbers. And it will be an American company showing them how, at least in the early stages. ADS-B Technologies, of Anchorage, has signed a $2 million deal to equip 160 light aircraft (a significant percentage of China's current GA fleet) and build six ground stations at China's Civil Aviation University. ADS-B Technologies President Skip Nelson said China was an obvious market because it wants to rapidly expand private and business aviation but has hardly any navigation infrastructure. "It's essentially a blank sheet of paper in terms of western-style air-traffic control," Nelson said. In the Capstone project, the FAA paid for installation of ADS-B equipment in aircraft and on the ground as a means of cutting Alaska's high accident rate. Accident numbers have dropped substantially for Capstone-equipped operators.
Long thought to be caused by the economically successful but ergonomically disastrous economy-class seating in many airliners, deep vein thrombosis is also brought on by the thin air provided passengers, scientists have discovered. The leaner oxygen content in the 8,000-foot cabin pressure maintained in most airliners caused an increase in the level of thrombin, the marker that signifies clotting activity. Clotting, particularly in the large veins in passengers legs', can lead to tissue damage and even death if the clots break free and enter the lungs. The study, published in the British medical journal The Lancet, was commissioned by the World Health Organization and done by Dutch scientists from two medical centers. In the trial, 71 people were first asked to sit, airline style, on the ground, watching movies and generally behaving as if they were on an eight-hour flight. The same people were then put on airplanes for eight hours and the levels of thrombin compared. Since the only differing factor was the lower pressure and oxygen level during the flight, the scientists deduced that the air quality was a factor in clot production. British Airways said in a statement that it appreciates the efforts of the scientists but it didn't say it would increase the oxygen level on its airplanes. "We welcome research into deep vein thrombosis and look forward to reading this paper in full. We encourage passengers to remain active during a flight," an airline spokesman told the Daily Telegraph.
The future of satellite-based navigation may face its first big test just as we're getting used to using it. NASA scientists predict a major burst of solar activity in 2010 or 2011, enough to disrupt GPS and wireless data and communications. "The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one," said Mausumi Dikpati, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Dikpati said conditions are ripe for a solar storm second only to one experienced in 1958 when Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights), which is caused by sun spots, was visible in Mexico. The bands of energy also disrupt radio waves, something that could have a profound effect on the way we do business in five years. David Hathaway of the National Space Science & Technology Center (NSSTC) said the sun is currently quiet, with few flares and sunspots. But a pattern of energy flow he likens to conveyor belts is recharging the complex magnetic fields that create the solar outbursts and, based on previous observations of this 11-year cycle, the next period of activity is expected to be action-packed. And while the so-called Solar Max is a few years off, we'll start seeing evidence of sunspot activity much sooner. "I expect to see the first sunspots of the next cycle appear in late 2006 or 2007 -- and Solar Max to be underway by 2010 or 2011," Hathaway said.
Indian air force commanders say a woman's place is in the cockpit of a fighter jet but the delicate nature of cultural and social traditions in the country is keeping them from yankin' and bankin' with the men. "We have not been asked and the government's policy is that only men can qualify to fly fighter aircraft. But if you are asking if the women are capable, the answer is yes," Air Marshal B.N. Gokhale told the Calcutta Telegraph. More than capable, women consistently test better than men in training exercises. "I would recommend that women are put into fighter cockpits on the basis of performance," said Group Captain Chetan Bali, who heads up the faculty of flying at India's Air Force Academy. And lest there are those who believe that Western culture is far ahead when it comes to offering up our young women for combat duty, it's worth noting that the first U.S. female fighter pilot to unload an F/A-18's worth of missiles and laser-guided bombs in combat didn't do so until 2002 in the first wave of attacks against Iraq. Also, the first female pilot joined the Thunderbirds air demonstration team last fall and will perform with the team in the current air show season.
The FAA has proposed an Airworthiness Directive (AD) on Sandel ST3400 terrain awareness warning systems/radio magnetic indicator (TAWS/RMI) units. A combination software and input signal glitch caused a bearing error. New software is on the way...
Sport Pilot TV has been picked up by Time Warner and will soon be available to 40 million viewers. The program is now carried by Turner Media and airs weekly...
Helicopter Association International says its Heli Expo held last month in Dallas was its best attended. More than 16,000 delegates attended the convention. Next year's is in Orlando...
The FAA has proposed an Airworthiness Directive (AD) on PAC 750XL aircraft dropping their maximum takeoff weight from 7,500 lbs. to 7,125 until improperly age-hardened rivets in certain locations are replaced with nuts, bolts and washers.
Your Favorite FBOs
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AVweb's "FBO of the Week" contest is sponsored by Aviation Safety magazine, the monthly journal of risk management and accident prevention.Features
Thanks to all the pilots and AVweb readers who took time to nominate their favorite FBOs in our first-ever "FBO of the Week" contest. From nearly 50 nominations we've received since announcing the contest on Thursday, our first blue ribbon finds its target today.
AVweb's first "FBO of the Week" ribbon is awarded to Wilson Air Center at KMEM in Memphis, Tennessee. Established in 1996 by the late Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson, Wilson Air Center has been a consistent award-winner in the realm of FBOs and a consistent provider of outstanding service. Now it can add an AVweb "FBO of the Week" award to its many accolades.
Wilson Air Center was nominated (it turns out) by AVweb's own Mike Busch, who (like all submitters who bring a winning FBO to our attention) will receive an official AVweb baseball cap. (Sorry, Mike, but that's all you win -- though we appreciate the surprise of seeing your name next to the winning submission!)
Nominate Your Favorite FBOKeep those nominations coming. AVweb is actively seeking the best FBO's in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!
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CEO of the Cockpit #55: Walk-Around, 5 a.m., LAX
Even grizzled, old, jaded and chubby captains of wide-body airliners sometimes have to preflight their giant steeds. It may not resemble the preflight a young student would do, and mechanics no longer help out, but the tradition is alive and well for AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit.
Reader mail this week about position-and-hold, VLJs, the D.C. ADIZ and much more.
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Names Behind The News
Sometimes you just gotta tell it like it is...
While on short final for the center runway of KIWA during a busy time of day we overheard tower give instructions to the aircraft following behind us:
N1234: Gateway tower, N1234, with you ILS three-zero-charlie.
Tower: N1234, roger, number two cleared to land, there will be...
Well... there will be a lot of stuff happening before you land.
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