March 27, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Aging Aircraft Issues
Beginning today, AVweb introduces our twice weekly audio news service. You can listen to our audiocasts by downloading them for your iPOD or any MP3 player or directly to your computer by clicking on this link. The Monday audiocast will feature a summary of the weekend news while our Friday audiocast will include a news summary plus an indepth interview with an industry newsmaker. For Fridays AVweb Indepth, well hear from Peter Mauer, president of Diamond Aircrafts North American operations, on the surprisingly strong response to diesel-powered aircraft for the U.S. market.
The average GA aircraft is 35 years old, according to the FAA, and plenty of aircraft even older are still being flown every day. To address issues about how to regulate the fleet and keep it safe, the FAA's Small Airplane Directorate hosted an Aging Aircraft Summit in Kansas City, Mo., last week. Representatives from AOPA and EAA were there and agreed that one thing GA doesn't need is more regulation. "GA aircraft, regardless of age, are safe," said AOPA's Luis Gutierrez. The rate of accidents due to mechanical causes has remained stable over the past 20 years, he said. AOPA said the best way to increase GA safety and improve the maintenance of older aircraft is to educate pilots and aircraft owners. "Right now, there is a general consensus that more maintenance data needs to be made available to aircraft owners and A&Ps to ensure that aircraft are properly maintained," Gutierrez said.
Earl Lawrence, EAA's vice president of industry and regulatory affairs, says too much time and money is spent trying to comply with regulations that do nothing to improve the safety of aging aircraft, and in fact, the current rules have become an impediment to safety. "We need a different system," he told AVweb on Saturday. EAA and the Vintage Aircraft Association have asked the FAA to create a new category for vintage aircraft, Lawrence said. "Aircraft flown by private owners in low-stress, personal flying need to be able to modernize. We need to make it easier for owners to maintain their aircraft and keep them safe while cutting down on paperwork." The FAA liked the proposal, he said. It would make their work easier, and enable them to use their limited resources more efficiently. But that doesn't mean change will happen overnight. A 10- to 12-year time frame would not surprise anyone, Lawrence said.
FAA Under The Microscope
In their proposal for a new vintage category, EAA and the VAA said that such aircraft would not be limited in size or complexity; Part 43 airworthiness regulations would still apply; the installation of parts and items that are not PMA- or TSO-compliant would be allowed; and aircraft in the new category would lose any privileges to carry persons or property for hire. The owner would have the option to transfer to the new category or not. No specific age limits were proposed. Lawrence said that many fundamental safety issues associated with aging -- such as fatigue and corrosion -- can be found in aircraft of just about age, depending on how the aircraft is used and maintained, so aging is not just a matter of calendar years, but a combination of factors.
Earlier this month, more than 1,300 people met in Atlanta to address issues of aging aircraft in the commercial and defense fleet, at the 9th Joint FAA/DoD/NASA Conference on Aging Aircraft. The conference provided opportunities for networking about common problems and a showcase for vendors with new technology designed to alleviate those problems.
It's not only vintage aircraft owners who are struggling with FAA paperwork. "Certification has now become a risk and threatens our business plan," Cessna CEO Jack Pelton told a congressional panel last week in Wichita. The lack of FAA support creates delays in getting new products to buyers and harms competitiveness in the global market, he said. He cited one example of a 90-day delay in certifying upgrades to a bizjet, and said other delays occurred when certification needs were put into a queue with no timeline for when they might be addressed. Raytheon CEO Jim Schuster agreed, saying such delays could cause the "loss of our technological leadership, international competitiveness and, ultimately, jobs." The panel, headed by U.S. Rep. John Mica, (R-Fla.), also heard about concerns with tort reform and product liability, training and recruiting workers and engineers, price increases in aluminum and steel, and funding for aviation research, according to The Wichita Eagle.
The Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS), the union that represents support staff and technical workers in the FAA air-traffic system, complained last week about working conditions at Burlington (Vt.) International Airport. Radiation leaks inside a radar facility were detected last August but the FAA didn't alert workers until February, the union said. "We don't believe people were exposed at [radiation] levels above the accepted level," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told The Burlington Free Press. PASS said the incident reflects management's overall negligence regarding safety requirements, and cited other issues including exposure to PCBs, a fall on a faulty staircase and the storage of hazardous waste with inadequate safeguards. "Safety should be the FAA's number one concern, both for air travelers and for its employees," said Tom Brantley, PASS national president. "The agency has no excuse for allowing these hazardous working conditions to remain unaddressed. The FAA should investigate and report why supervisors in Burlington let their employees work in dangerous conditions for so long without any attempts to fix the problem." The situation is being assessed, said Brown. "We're very concerned about the safety of our employees and we take every precaution we can," she told The Free Press.
Three bombs exploded and police detonated two others on Friday morning at the homes of five workers who staff the contract tower at Walker Field Airport in Grand Junction, Colo. Nobody was hurt in the blasts, and the apparently homemade devices did little damage. At our deadline, authorities were searching for an individual -- a former air traffic controller employed by the subcontractor, who was fired about two years ago. Federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are handling the case. ATF agents said the bombs could have been intended to do much worse damage. "By definition a bomb is deadly," agent Tom Mangan told The Grand Junction Sentinel. "He added an additional form of lethality by adding an incendiary accelerant. The blasts could have caught the houses on fire." Investigators say timing devices detonated the bombs, so the suspect had about eight hours to leave the area before the search for him began.
The FAA last Thursday made final the proposed Airworthiness Directive it issued last December affecting almost 300 crankshafts in Lycoming engines. (This AD was proposed prior to the latest Lycoming Service Bulletin that "retires" some 5,100 crankshafts.) No comments were received, the FAA said, so it will adopt the AD as proposed. "Lycoming has said that it will supply the new parts free of charge, pay for the shipping, and pay for the labor cost of removing and reinstalling the engines," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA's director of regulatory and certification policy. "This will help soften the blow to aircraft owners and help save them a substantial amount of money." (Similar financing may not apply to owners of the 5,000 crankshafts to be retired.) Owners must comply within six months or 50 hours of time in service from the time the AD takes effect on April 27. The AD is the latest FAA action in a series of crankshaft problems in Lycoming engines. For more on the Service Bulletin issued by Lycoming earlier this month to "retire" some 5,100 crankshafts, click through.
A scramjet engine successfully completed a 10-minute test flight over south Australia on Saturday. "The rocket motors worked well and the nominal trajectory was executed as planned," the HyShot consortium said in a news release. The 4.5-foot-long craft comprised a scramjet engine attached to a rocket. It flew about 195 miles into space, then with the rockets switched off, plunged back toward Earth. At about 22 miles high the scramjet activated, pushing the craft to an estimated Mach 8, or about 5,000 mph ... then it crashed in the desert about 250 miles from the launch site (part of the plan). An international team of researchers, led by The University of Queensland, is analyzing data from the experiment. Another launch is planned for later this week. Program leader Allan Paull said it might be possible to have a scramjet-powered vehicle within the next 10 years or so for applications such as carrying vital organs for urgently needed medical transplant operations, but scramjet-powered passenger jets are still a long way off.
An aviation mechanic in Fargo, N.D., whose certificate was revoked after a plane crash in February 2005, now has agreed to pay a $2,500 fine for another incident last July. The mechanic was taxiing a single-engine airplane in order to perform maintenance work when the plane's propeller struck a pickup truck, causing substantial damage, The Associated Press reported last week. And why was he taxiing the airplane when he has lost his certificate? Although not certified, the mechanic still can perform certain maintenance procedures, but cannot inspect aircraft, the FAA said. In the 2005 plane crash, federal investigators said the mechanic improperly replaced an oil filter on a Cessna 177RG that crashed shortly after takeoff; the mechanic also falsified maintenance records. The pilot and passenger were seriously hurt in the crash. No injuries were reported in the taxi incident.
Use of the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) will be extended to allow operations within 200 feet above touchdown zone elevation, or height above touchdown (HAT), equivalent to the standard ILS Category I HAT, the FAA said Friday, a move that will provide more precision, all-weather approaches and will increase capacity at thousands of GA airports. "WAAS moves us another step closer to a satellite-based airspace system," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in a news release. "Less reliance on a ground-based infrastructure will result in improved safety, including enhanced approach and landing operations in marginal weather." The FAA plans to make these vertical-guidance approaches available at airports where there are no instrument landing systems. The lower minimums may require more stringent requirements for some airfields. Those airports that do not have the appropriate conditions for vertical-guidance approaches may require additional infrastructure and airspace upgrades. WAAS will be available to all pilots whose aircraft are equipped with the appropriate avionics, both GA pilots and commercial operators, the FAA said. The first procedures that allow operations down to 200 feet will be published in 2007. The FAA currently has more than 300 instrument procedures providing vertical guidance to higher HATs and is expecting to publish 300 additional procedures in 2006.
WAAS is a satellite-based navigation system designed to improve the accuracy, availability and integrity of signals from Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites. Before WAAS, the U.S. did not have the ability to provide horizontal and vertical navigation for precision approach operations for all users at all locations. WAAS will improve capacity and safety and will eventually reduce operations costs for the FAA by enabling the removal of a portion of existing ground-based navigation infrastructure. Over the past two years, WAAS has provided coverage to roughly 99 percent of the continental United States and has been available 99.87 percent of the time.
The FAA last week issued a proposed Airworthiness Directive that would affect certain Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) MU-2B series airplanes. The proposed AD aims to detect and correct improper rigging of the propeller feathering linkage. The improper rigging could result in an inability to feather the propeller, which could result in asymmetric drag and control difficulties that are outside of the operational envelope of the aircraft, the FAA said. Recent accidents and the service history of the Mitsubishi MU-2B series airplanes prompted the FAA to conduct an MU-2B Safety Evaluation. In conducting this evaluation, the team employed new analysis tools that provided a much more detailed root cause analysis of the MU-2B problems than was previously possible, the FAA said. About 400 airplanes are affected. Comments on this proposed AD must be submitted by May 2. The MU-2B has often been cited for concerns about its safe handling qualities. Last week, a wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in Michigan on behalf of the mother of a 33-year-old pilot who died when a Mitsubishi MU-2B-36 crashed during a cargo flight from Hagerstown, Md., to Bangor, Maine, in March 2004. The suit claims that "the aircraft [was] defective, unreasonably dangerous and/or unfit for its intended use," according to Donald J. Nolan of Nolan Law Group, who filed the suit. The NTSB found the probable cause of that crash was the pilot's loss of aircraft control for undetermined reasons, which resulted in an inadvertent stall/spin and subsequent impact with the ground. Icing was reported in the area, but NTSB investigators found propeller de-ice, engine intake heat, windshield anti-ice, and wing de-ice were all in the "off" position.
DeltaHawk, a small company based in Racine, Wis., has been working for about a decade to develop a diesel engine for GA aircraft -- the only such engines being built in the U.S., the company says. The engine first flew back in May 2003 in a Velocity RG, and since then has been making the rounds of trade shows as R&D continues. A few of the 200-hp engines have been built for experimental aircraft, but the company says it is still at least 18 months away from having an FAA-certified engine, and money problems are slowing down the process. With a little luck, the company hopes to sell more than 3,600 of the engines in 2010. The company will be exhibiting its technology at Sun 'n Fun, coming up in Lakeland, Fla., April 4-10. If you can't be there to check them out yourself, be sure to watch for AVweb's special online coverage, coming to your inbox on Monday, Wednesday and Friday that week.
In evacuation tests this weekend, Airbus successfully evacuated 853 filled seats, two cockpit crew with the aid of 18 cabin crew (a total of 873 humans) from 8 of 16 exits, ATWonline reported today. Only one leg was broken in the process...
British Airways to raise crew retirement age to 60 in an effort to curb pension costs
Cessna last week announced the first flight of its Citation Encore+ bizjet, equipped with new dual-channel FADEC engines and a full Pro Line 21 avionics suite...
SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon rocket on Friday, but shortly after liftoff it caught fire and was destroyed. The company says it hopes to try again within six months...
Rudders on certain Airbus A300s need immediate inspection, the NTSB said last week...
Two runway near-collisions at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago last week are under investigation by the NTSB...
A World War II airman whose body was found preserved in ice last October has been laid to rest in Minnesota...
Fuel sales are under scrutiny at five California airports.
Your Favorite FBOs
Drop us a line. If it caught your attention, it will probably interest someone else, too. Submit news tips via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to Preferred Jet Center at KRYY in Atlanta, Georgia.
John Austin wrote us to say, "I fly a 206 but am treated like I came in a jet!" ... "they bring my rental car out on the ramp, assist with my luggage" ... and when there for a brief visit "have been generous with a courtesy car."
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!
Click here for complete contest rules and here to nominate your favorite FBOAVmail and Featuers
Reader mail this week about taxi into position and hold and aging aircraft, and lots of comments about aging pilots.
FAA-Approved Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic (FIRC) from ASA
The Pilot's Lounge #98: Quit Flying? Are You Nuts?
"I'm just fine ... I don't need some doctor or FAA bureaucrat to tell me I can't fly any more." Sound like anyone you know? Sound like you? Yours may be the next NTSB accident report Rick Durden talks about in The Pilot's Lounge.
Tired of the High Cost of Fuel? GAMIjectors Are the Answer!
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Names Behind The News
Controllers on the ball...
Heard while established on a seven-mile final to Runway 1 at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, NY (FRG) January 1, 2002...
Arrow N1234: Republic Tower, Arrow 1234 nine miles north, landing with Victor.
Tower: Arrow 234 report the right downwind Runway 1.
Arrow 234: Tower, any chance we could get a straight in?
Tower: Arrow 234, you did say you were north didn't you?
Arrow 234: Yes, we are 7 mile s north.
Tower: Arrow 234, understand the only way I can give you a straight in for 1 is if I turn you around and have you continue for about 24,000 miles.
I had a little trouble navigating a straight approach while laughing so hard.
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Today's issue was written by news writer Mary Grady (bio).
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