April 3, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Sun 'N Fun '06
AVweb's special coverage of the Sun 'n Fun air show at Lakeland, Florida, begins today. Watch for special issues of AVwebFlash Wednesday and Friday this week.
In the mix of pre-Sun 'n Fun press releases that jams our inbox at this time of year, we haven't yet been able to detect any "brand new" airplane design announcements. April 1 produced some buzz that Mooney is stepping up to reclaim its former position as the "fastest" production single with a plane that will challenge the reigning speedster, the Columbia 400. But expect the Columbia 400SL to express some unusual attitude at the hands of air show performer extraordinaire, Sean D. Tucker. "All maneuvers demonstrated fall within the Columbia's higher G limit load for Utility Category aircraft," according to the press release. And Tucker adds, "The 400 recovers from spins more predictably than many aerobatic aircraft I've flown." Find the show at 30 locations across the country highlighting Tucker's Executive Pilot Awareness Training School -- first stop, Lakeland. On the lighter side, the Legend Cub Special is the latest copy Cub from American Legend. Have a look for it in the Cub Convoy that lands at Lakeland, today. And there will be engine news at this year's event. Frank Thielert, president of Thielert AG, will hold a news conference with Tim Archer, CEO of Superior Air Parts, to explain what the future holds for the newly-combined operation. Thielert, which makes diesel aircraft engines in Germany, has purchased Superior, which makes one model of certified gasoline engine and non-certified variants for the experimental market. The deal was finalized on Friday. Lycoming has also invited press attention at Sun 'n Fun but there's no indication of any product announcements.
As momentum picks up for the new Sport Pilot/Light Sport Aircraft category, so do the number of conforming models that are available. Four new fixed-wing models will be introduced at Sun 'n Fun, bringing the total number of approved S-LSA (factory-built) aircraft available to 30. There are three new weight-shift aircraft being unveiled and the total number of ready-to-fly models in that category will rise to 33. Look for lots of information booths on the new category as this is the year that the approved aircraft and certificated instructors will be available in numbers sufficient to address what industry officials hope will be a pent-up demand for the new category. Getting to Sun 'n Fun is part of the fun if you're flying and you're prepared. An army of experienced controllers and volunteers is waiting to help you get on the ground and parked as safely and efficiently as possible. The Sun 'n Fun NOTAM was issued earlier this year and is, of course, required reading for anyone heading to Lakeland.
FAA, NATCA Butt Heads (Again)
Organizers expect record attendance, both on the grounds and in the hundreds of commercial exhibits and booths that will sell everything from multimillion-dollar aircraft to nuts, bolts and rivets. For industry-leading Cirrus Design, Marketing Manager John Bingham says the show is a chance to "escape the tundra of Duluth" while launching the 2006 marketing plan. "To me, Sun 'n Fun means spring is at last here," Bingham told AVweb at the end of a completely unrelated interview last week. "We still have snow on the ground here," he said as he tidied up his desk for the annual migration sunward to Lakeland, where, it seems, the outlook is as bright as the Florida sunshine. Sun 'n Fun once was strongly affiliated with EAA but the two formally parted ways. That doesn't mean EAA won't be there, however. It will have a Members Village set up where, among other things, it will be giving away Sport Pilot student certificates. The Members' Sweepstakes grand prize Aviat Husky, on Wipaire Floats, will be on display and EAA staff will be there to meet and greet attendees. AOPA will also have a major presence and Friday will be AOPA Day, with a visit from President Phil Boyer.
Nobody said it was going to be easy but a negotiated settlement between the FAA and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association seems remote at best. Not only are the two sides far apart on the overriding issue of controller pay, they can't even agree on whether or not they're still talking. About all they can agree on is that there will be some kind of meeting on Tuesday. What is set to take place at that meeting is a matter of widely varying opinion. "We don't consider the talks to be broken down," FAA spokesman Greg Martin told AVweb on Saturday. Martin also hinted the purported end of negotiations on Friday was less than spontaneous. He noted that NATCA had issued a news release on the developments barely 20 minutes after the meeting broke up, saying it was "the fastest turnaround" for a press release he's ever seen. Negotiations began eight months ago and there was the customary optimism on both sides and expressions of good will. Things fell apart quickly with several public displays of the kind of acrimony that was widely expected to come from the talks. The union accused the FAA of stage-managing the talks to reach a stalemate so that it could declare an impasse and invoke an almost unique power that allows it to ask Congress to rule on the dispute. If Congress doesn't make a decision, the FAA's last offer becomes the new contract. The union battled back by convincing members of both houses to introduce bills that would strip the FAA of the power to impose a contract. Both bills are in the early stages of consideration.
It's kind of hard to believe that these folks attended the same meeting on Friday. In a teleconference with reporters, FAA chief negotiator Joe Miniachi said his understanding was that both sides would work on the few outstanding articles over the weekend and meet Tuesday to exchange final offers. "We are now scheduled to talk Tuesday," Miniachi told the teleconference. NATCA President John Carr couldn't have had a more opposing view. "Final offers have been exchanged and rejected and negotiations are over -- the mediator knows it, NATCA knows it, and the FAA knows it," Carr said in a news release issued after the FAA's teleconference. Assuming Carr doesn't have some sort of revelation over the weekend and the talks really are over, the flying public -- pilots and passengers -- likely won't notice anything. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said that despite the hair-pulling at the bargaining table, she considers the NATCA rank and file to be professionals dedicated to keeping the airspace safe, regardless of the rhetoric in Washington. In her crystal ball, there will be no repeat of the 1981 illegal strike that led to the firing of most controllers. "I do not, in any way shape or form, think there will be a strike," she said.
While issues like modernization, contracting out and working conditions have been discussed, these negotiations were (like most negotiations) about money, pure and simple, according to Blakey. "The differences between us are not minor," Blakey said. She said the agency is determined to bring controller salaries in line with other civil servants both for practical and philosophical reasons. She said controller salaries are a major factor in the FAA's spiraling costs and that controllers, in general, make far more money than other FAA employees. She said the FAA's offer won't result in any existing controllers losing any pay but it will start new hires at substantially less. The union says her math is wrong and cuts contained in the offer will send thousands of controllers into retirement, affecting safety. In a statement, the union claims that the FAA's budget actually harbors pay cuts of up to 40 percent (apparently through changes to shift differential, location and other pay bonuses) and that's enough that for about 25 percent of the workforce it actually makes more sense financially to retire. Carr insists up to 4,000 controllers who might otherwise be happy to keep working will head for the door if the package is forced on the union. Miniachi and Blakey said Carr is misrepresenting the FAA position and no existing controllers will lose income. "We are not talking about anyone taking a pay cut," Miniachi said.
The NTSB says the FAA should immediately address a potentially catastrophic problem lurking in the avionics bays of Bombardier CRJ-200 regional jets. Board investigators found that on rainy or snowy days, water gets on the floor beside the open door and can seep into the avionics bay causing electrical contactors to catch fire. They've done so seven times so far (six in the last six months) and, although there have been no fatal accidents, the hazards are obvious. In some instances, the screens up front have gone blank, at least temporarily and, well, fire is just a bad thing all around to have in an airliner cabin. The electrical contactors involved form the heart of the plane's electrical system. They're the link from the engine-mounted 30 KVA generators to all the things that use electricity on the plane. As an immediate measure, the NTSB wants electrical sources separated so that all the EFIS equipment doesn't quit at the same time, which compounds the emergency. It wants the contactors moisture-proofed somehow and it wants tests done to ensure the fixes work. Also, there are two types of contactors in use on the aircraft and only one has so far caught fire. The NTSB wants the fire-prone ones replaced.
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey says she can't tell the Senate whether user fees are planned for all or part of general aviation. Blakey told the Senate aviation subcommittee that because the funding package is currently under review by the administration, she couldn't talk about what, if any, user fees may be imposed (although we suspect that if they weren't being proposed she'd be able to say that). But she did say the current method of funding doesn't work. "At this point, our concern is that we are able to tie the costs of the system to the revenue and come up with a stable, cost-based system that is more equitable than the current system," she told the subcommittee. (Hear her own words in an AVweb audiocast that will be available for download April 7.) The administrator was also raked on the FAA's proposal to chop $1 billion from the airport improvement program. "I find it very shortsighted to cut rural airport funding at a time when aviation is seeing record numbers of passengers and projected traffic numbers," said subcommittee chairman Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) Blakey also couldn't put a number to the cost of modernizing the FAA.
Those of you who hoped the flying prototype of ATG's Javelin jet would make an appearance at Sun 'n Fun will be disappointed: The company says the plane will not take a break from its testing regimen. Currently, the aircraft is back in the hangar to get ready for more advanced flight tests. The prototype has made several flights, all of them deemed successful. The latest was the first with the gear retracted. Now it's being fitted with equipment to better analyze and record in-flight data as part of the test program. "Once completed, these enhancements will allow tests pilots to further expand the flight envelope with higher speeds and altitudes and actuate the flaps through their full range," says ATG. "Further flight tests will verify the prototype's predicted field and climb performance data." Cockpit video and audio equipment will be upgraded as will force measurement gear on the yoke and sensors on the pitot-static system. "These modifications will enable the flight test team to capture valuable data that will greatly assist with the development of the production aircraft," said Rob Fuschino, chief test pilot and VP of Operations. First deliveries of the two-place, fighter-like jet are anticipated in 2008.
There are times when having an Air Force fighter track you down and form up on your wing is a good thing. The crew of a King Air lost all of its electronic instruments on approach to Glasgow last week. Unfortunately, the British weather was living up to its reputation and finding an airport, let alone landing there, was out of the question. A nearby Royal Air Force Tornado crew heard the chatter and was summoned to help. The aerial ballet that followed took almost two hours before its happy ending. The fighter formed up on the King Air and used hand signals (the unspecified failure also knocked out the radios). Together, the crews of both aircraft managed to lead the seriously handicapped turboprop back to Glasgow. Weather was down there and also at Prestwick so the fighter crew headed for an RAF base where the King Air crew was able to land safely. Tornado pilot Flight Lieutenant Ted Threapleton said it would have been a tough assignment for a less capable aircraft and crew. "There was probably nobody else who could have helped because civilian aircraft don't have all the radars, radios and tracking equipment we do," he told The Scotsman. "We are also trained to fly in formation and do this type of shepherding."
The FAA has agreed to take some steps that should reduce the backlog and wait times many pilots experience when they need a special issuance medical certificate. With help (and pressure) from a special committee of EAA representatives, the agency has increased the number of doctors able to review special issuance applications and also expanded the list of conditions that don't require the file being sent to the FAA for review. "Eventually, nearly every pilot may face a choice between giving up flying or requesting a special issuance medical certification," EAA said in a press release. "That's why EAA has committed to finding a solution to the long, costly and sometimes exasperating process to an issue that affects or will affect many of its members." At the annual Meet the Administrator session at EAA AirVenture last summer, many of the questions directed at FAA Administrator Marion Blakey were related to special issuance medicals. EAA formed the committee and it was invited to Washington for talks last week. Although the measures promised by the FAA will provide some short-term relief, EAA is proposing even greater relaxation of medical processes, including making the examination interval for third class certificates five years instead of the current two or three.
News in Brief
A former RAF pilot who cheated death much more than most of us ever will finally passed away at the ripe old age of 102. Sqn. Leader Eric Foster died peacefully at his home in England, outliving Steve McQueen, the actor that played him in The Great Escape, by more than 50 years. McQueen died of lung cancer in 1980 at the age of 50. Foster's never-say-die attitude when it came to his distaste for German prisoner of war camps prompted his legendary status and was an influence in the creation of the movie. After surviving the crash of his Wellington bomber in Germany in 1940, Foster escaped from various enemy prison camps a total of seven times. Of course, the fact that he was a repeat escaper means he was better at the escaping part than he was at avoiding capture but it all made for a fascinating tale. After escaping by masquerading as German officer, a member of Hitler Youth, and shimmying down a fire escape, to name a few, he ended up in Stalag Luft III where his exploits formed the basis for the movie. It is perhaps fitting that it was Foster's acting ability that finally won him release. In 1945, he managed to convince his captors that he was insane and they sent him home. He was promoted to Sqn. Leader shortly after.
Space Adventures, which arranges space tourism trips for the wealthy, is looking for a broader market. The company has announced it intends to compete with Virgin Galactic for the suborbital space race using a Russian-designed spacecraft...
A government consultant and former state and municipal official is joining AOPA as its vice president of regional affairs. Greg Pecoraro will look after AOPA's involvement with airport issues throughout the country...
EAA has come up with a kit designed to help builders through the certification of their homebuilts. The kit comes with all the forms required and an instruction booklet to guide the proud new owners through the complex process. Wonder if there's a quick-build version...
EAA's 1929 Ford Tri-Motor will embark on a month-long tour of Eastern cities in June. The tour includes stops at seven airports.
AVweb's latest audio newscast is available today. Click here to listen.
Hear FAA spokesman Greg Martin in his own words as air traffic control contract negotiations reach new levels of dissonance. Listen to an update on the possibility of user fees for general aviation as Marion Blakey talks to Senators, hear Columbia's plan to stir up the air show this week at Sun 'n Fun; NTSB's call for action as CRJ's show a potential for fire; the passing of The Great Escape pilot, and more.
If you missed AVweb's Friday interview with Diamond Aircraft's Peter Mauer, find it online, here.
Subscribe to AVweb audiocasts and receive them automatically, or check this spot each Monday and Friday to download them individually for listening on your iPod, while sitting at your computer, or traveling with any MP3 player.
Reader mail this week about anti-missile systems, aging aircraft, ATC staffing and more.
Probable Cause #3: Trapped On Top
There are some among us who like to tempt fate by skirting the rules. But a Bonanza pilot who did that got more than he bargained for, as this report of Probable Cause explains. This report first appeared in AVweb's sister publication, IFR Refresher.
What's New for April
This month AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you a water-repellant glass treatment, window locks, an IFR communications DVD and much more.
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Nominate an FBO | Contest Rules & Tips | Questions | Past Winners<
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" contest is sponsored by Aviation Safety magazine, the monthly journal of risk management and accident prevention.
Thanks to all the pilots and AVweb readers who took time to nominate their favorite FBOs in our "FBO of the Week" contest. Today's ribbon finds its target in Florida.
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to BANYAN AIR SERVICE at FXE in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Jim Alkire wrote us to say, "WE FLY OUR CESSNA 180 INTO FXE FOR OUR ANNUAL CRUISE VACATION AND HAVE REPEATEDLY RECIEVED OUTSTANDING SERVICE AND PROFESSIONALISM FROM BANYAN. OUR RENTAL CAR IS PULLED UP TO THE PLANE AS THE PROP STOPS. THEIR LINEMEN SEEM GENUINELY HAPPY THAT WE ARE THERE..."
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!
Names Behind The News
Overheard while being vectored to the ILS 10 at KMSY the other day:
Approach: Jet 123, maintain 9,000.
Jet 123: Um, ok, we're gonna go through it.
Approach: That's ok, climb and maintain 10,000.
Jet 123: Uh, we're on our way back down to 9,000, now.
Approach: Well, 10 is available, you're welcome to climb and maintain 10,000.
Jet 123: Why are you doing this to us?
Approach: Well, I'm trying to separate you from traffic behind you, if that's OK.
Jet 123: That's fine, but we just zero-g'd an aircraft with a US Senator aboard. We'd rather not squash him, now.
Approach: If I'd known that, I'd have sent you back down to 5,000 first.
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Today's issue was written by news writer Russ Niles (bio).
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