April 17, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
User Fee Battle, Canadian Style
The head of Canada's largest pilots' group says U.S. aviators would be wise to consider what's happening north of the border as the specter of user fees hangs over American GA. Kevin Psutka, head of the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA), says Nav Canada's unilateral decision to impose daily fees on GA aircraft using the country's seven largest airports is an example of what privatization can lead to in the hands of a monopoly. "Everybody in the country should be writing their member of parliament about this," Psutka told AVweb. Nav Canada, the private, non-profit company that runs the country's airspace and pilot services network, claims the $10 daily charge for aircraft weighing less than 6,600 pounds (and larger planes declared as being for personal use only) using the seven big airports is a means of more equitably sharing the costs of running the larger, more complex facilities. Nav Canada took over Canadian air traffic control, weather and flight-planning services almost 10 years ago and levied a flat yearly charge for private use of the system. Commercial carriers are assessed individually according to aircraft type and flight frequency and foreign users of the system are also dinged when they visit Canadian airspace. Nav Canada proposed the daily charge last November and, after reviewing comments received on the proposal, decided last week to go ahead with them.
Psutka says COPA's only recourse now is to launch an appeal to the Canadian Transportation Agency, the government body that oversees matters such as this. He said the daily charge violates a fundamental safety consideration that resulted in the flat fee (currently $71 CAD per year for aircraft weighing less than 4,400 pounds). The daily charge will apply to Canada's most capable airports in terms of weather operating ability, facilities and services. Psutka says the charge, even though it's only $10, could influence pilots to use an alternative airport that may, for instance, not have a precision approach, rather than submit to the charge. He said the flat charge was specifically instituted so that financial considerations did not enter the flight-planning process. But while the new charge on private recreational aircraft is getting the limelight, fees have also risen on larger aircraft. For instance, the daily charges on propeller aircraft weighing more than 6,600 pounds (MTOW) have gone up on a sliding scale, based on weight, to a minimum of $39 and a maximum of $2,441 (for propeller aircraft weighing more than 47,000 pounds). Bizjet owners will pay $193 for planes up to 13,600 pounds and $318 for aircraft weighing up to 16,500 pounds. Airlines are charged directly based on a more complex set of user-pay criteria.
Point2Point Takes Off Slowly
AOPA says the Canadian experience proves the main point in its continued opposition to the imposition of user fees by the FAA. President Phil Boyer says that private corporations are always looking for new sources of revenue and that's the wrong foundation on which to base the management of the airspace system. "Air traffic control is not a commodity that can be supplied by the lowest bidder, nor charged on a per-use basis," Boyer said. "It is about protecting public safety, in the air and on the ground. Everyone has a stake in that, and that makes air traffic control a government function that is rightfully paid for with taxes." Boyer agreed with Psutka that airlines are trying to offload costs and GA makes an inviting target. "We can't let the camel get his nose under the tent here in the United States," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "This is the perfect example of why any FAA proposal for fee-for-service would ultimately be bad news for general aviation. User fees would inevitably trickle down to the pilots of light general aviation aircraft."
A North Dakota air taxi service using Cirrus SR22 aircraft quietly began service in January and is apparently working the kinks out. Point2Point now has eight employees (including two pilots) and operates two aircraft. It's averaging two flights a day carrying business travelers on short hops that would otherwise mean a long drive. Chief Financial Officer Mike Boreman told the Bismarck Tribune that he's happy with the way things are going. "Considering the funding was turned on for Point2Point in January, I don't think we could have moved any faster," Boreman said. "I'm pleased with the progress we've made." The city of Bismarck directed a federal transportation grant worth $1.25 million to Point2Point's parent company, EASE LLC, in January and the company plans to open an office in Bismarck in mid-May, along with some fanfare. Founder John Boehle told the Tribune he didn't want the service to be overwhelmed with customers in the early going so it's kept a low profile. It's awaiting FAA approval to expand service and hopes to have seven planes in the air by the end of the year. "What we've been doing since the execution of the contract with the city of Bismarck is to fly to our present capacity and prepare for the launch event." Cirrus Design also owns an air taxi business called SATS Air, which operates in the Southeast, and Cirrus CEO Alan Klapmeier told AVweb the company is doing well.
Linear Air, based in Lexington, Mass., says it's seen revenues increase 450 percent in a year in its on-demand and semi-scheduled service using eight-seat Cessna Caravans. The luxury-appointed Caravans carry customers to up to 500 destinations in the Northeast and eastern Canada as well as seasonal service to the Caribbean. The company, which recently added a fourth Caravan to keep up with demand, will look to convince investors its future business warrants 30 Eclipse 500s. CEO William Herp says the Eclipses will allow major expansion of the service. "We're looking forward to expanding our ability to serve frustrated airline travelers and those looking for better private charter economics on short-hops," Herp said. Linear Air needs $50 million to buy the Eclipses and it's banking on its experience with the Caravans to convince lenders it's a good idea. Despite the obvious differences in the aircraft, Herp claims the Caravan operation has a lot in common with the proposed Eclipse service. "We've built a sizable customer base flying Cessna Caravans, and we're confident that the Caravan is a good proxy for the trip profile and operating cost of the VLJs," he said.
Delta Air Lines and the union representing its 6,000 pilots have reached a tentative deal on long-term wage and benefit cuts but no details are being released. The deal averts a potential strike the union threatened for next week. The union leadership took the weekend to go over the deal and will inform its members of its recommendations in the next couple of days. Lee Moak told the Chicago Tribune the analysis will be done "in an unrushed, methodical manner." The deal must also be approved by a bankruptcy court. Delta has been in bankruptcy since last September. Delta pilots had already given up about $1 billion in concessions. Until this deal was reached, the airline was trying to get the existing contract cancelled so it could impose another $300 million in cuts. The union said the additional cuts were asking too much of its members. A tribunal that was looking at the issue of canceling the previous contract is taking a break while the union considers the latest deal. Details could be released this week.
The FAA says it's willing to go back to the bargaining table with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association as long as there's some movement on the fundamental issue of pay for new hires. The FAA wants to impose a two-tier pay system that would start the 12,000 or so new controllers to be hired over the next 10 years at rates much lower than the pay received by existing controllers. The pay for new controllers has emerged as the key issue in the events that led to the FAA declaring impasse in the dispute. FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the agency would welcome renewed efforts at a voluntary agreement. "We need to see some movement on the pay scale for new hires," he told AVweb. We contacted NATCA repeatedly for comment but President John Carr was unable to respond in time for our deadline. The FAA declared impasse last week after receiving a final offer from the union it says falls $600 million short of the agency's requirements for the contract. "We welcome the opportunity to go back to the bargaining table," he said. "But we need to see some genuine and meaningful willingness to close the $600 million gap we have." Declaring an impasse sends the contract to Congress to rule on a settlement. If Congress fails to act within 90 days, the FAA's last, best offer will be imposed. Last week Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) urged the two sides to get back to the talks. "I believe that the FAA moved too quickly in declaring an impasse in the ongoing negotiations with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and sending the matter to Congress. An impasse is not in the best interest of either party -- politicizing the negotiations and putting the question of a reasonable settlement at risk. I believe they should instead come back to the negotiating table to find an equitable resolution," said Snowe in a news release.
A massive effort to replace communications and data lines that stitch together the air traffic control system is (surprise, surprise) behind schedule and not achieving its financial goals, according to the New York Times. The Times story also says the program has caused three failures that resulted in flight delays. However, Harris Corp., which won the contract to do the conversion, said in a news release last week that the work is on schedule and will reduce the FAA's costs. The program, called the FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure, was awarded to Harris Corp. three years ago, and will replace all the lines linking 4,400 installations, including remote mountain radio and radar sites. It's supposed to be done by the end of the year but likely won't be finished until the end of 2007, according to the Times story. The delays will eat into the cost savings that were supposed to result from its completion. Part of the problem seems to be transition from the Verizon-run old system and the Harris takeover. Ideally, Harris's installation should coincide with Verizon's decommissioning of equipment but that doesn't always happen. "It's a dis-coordinated process," Verizon spokesman Jerry Edgerton told the Times. He said the company will follow orders to disconnect lines and then "in total panic mode they sent us re-connect orders." In some cases, such instances trap aircraft on the ground. On March 6, a new Harris line failed in Chicago, knocking out radar service. The FAA said the old Verizon line (which presumably worked) had been disconnected prematurely. The Times said scores of flights were delayed.
The FAA is clearing away at least some red tape so as not to impede the certification schedule of Cessna's new Mustang mini jet. The current regulations don't address some of the unique design and performance parameters raised by the Mustang and the normal process for adding the rules necessary to accommodate the plane's certification involves advance notice followed by a 90-day comment period. However, the agency has ruled that since the new criteria apply only to the Mustang, the notice and comment period can be waived and the certification process can proceed unimpeded. There is a long list of design and performance criteria addressed in the new rule, much of it relating to the new-design Pratt and Whitney Canada (PWC) engines and the triple-screen Garmin glass avionics suite. Although the special standards were enacted without prior public comment, comments are being invited after the fact and must be received by the agency by May 8.
An Illinois flight instructor who his lawyer says mistakenly signed off a student's logbook has lost his commercial and instructor's ticket for six months, even though all the training was properly provided. Mark Clements, owner of Northwest Aviation, supervised the computer simulation part of a student's training while another instructor actually went flying with him. Clements signed off the logbook, when it should have been the other instructor's signature. It somehow came to the attention of the FAA, who charged him with submitting "false or fraudulent" records to the FAA. "It was just the wrong guy who signed the flight book," Clements' attorney John Scott Hoff told the Pioneer Press. "Had he just had (the other instructor) sign it, there would not have been a problem." Hoff said all the training recorded in the logbook was properly provided and recorded. Hoff said the normal suspension for this type of violation is a year but the FAA cut it in half because of the circumstances. FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said the suspension had nothing to do with an incident in February in which one of Northwest's aircraft made an emergency landing on a freeway. Clements can continue to run the flight school but he can't be actively involved in any instruction until the suspension has been served.
News in Brief
An Alaska air charter company with mysterious ties to at least two intelligence organizations is getting back six of eight L-39 Albatross jets seized by the federal government earlier this year. The planes were taken after Security Aviation and one of its principals, Rob "Commander" Kane, were charged with illegal possession of rocket launchers. The government has now determined that at least six of the planes couldn't be fitted with the rockets and it's still examining the other two. A judge has been asked to dismiss the six aircraft from the case and talks are underway to transfer them back to the company. Meanwhile, documents unsealed last Wednesday revealed that, contrary to earlier statements by prosecutors, the federal government now concedes that Kane worked for at least two intelligence agencies. Kane's role with the feds and its relation to the charges against him will not be part of his defense, however, according to Kane's lawyer Paul Stockler. "It's not going to matter. It's not part of our defense. We weren't raising as a defense that this was part of his past work for government agencies," Stockler told the Anchorage Daily News. The weapons charges appear to be an aside to the FBI's charges that Kane and company owner Mark Avery are involved in fraud relating to a trust account of which Avery is one of the trustees. The FBI alleges that money from the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust was used to buy aircraft and other equipment.
A two-foot chunk of ice fell through the roof of a college gymnasium in Loma Linda, Calif. College officials bagged the "opaque" ice and the FAA is trying to find out if it came from a passing airliner. More airborne ice fell in a park in Oakland...
Transcripts from one of two public hearings on the future of the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone are back on the FAA's Web site, in their original form. The transcripts were pulled for review by defense officials fearing they may contain sensitive information. Apparently they didn't...
Workers who spend hours on end at a computer are at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the affliction normally associated with long airline flights in economy seats. Experts recommend those toiling at computers get up and move around regularly. (Getting up and moving around now.)
Your Favorite FBOs
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Probable Cause #4: Scud Runner
There are many aspects to flying safely, and FAA regs just scratch the surface. An experienced Marine helicopter pilot seemed to have the skills necessary to fly close to the earth; but he forgot how quickly new towers are built, as we learn in this week's Probable Cause column.
Dr. Fredrick Tilton, Federal Air Surgeon
With a new Federal Air Surgeon in office -- one who is also a pilot -- many are wondering if changes will come to the medical certification process. Bureaucracies move slowly, but AVweb's Dr. Brent Blue learned about some interesting plans when he interviewed Dr. Frederick Tilton.
Reader mail this week about Sun 'n Fun ATC, Lycoming crankshafts, avgas prices and more.
Bonanza & Baron Owners: Learn to Save Thousands on Maintenance
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Names Behind The News
Proudly flying my new Lancair Columbia 350 into Tucson International, having been cleared for the visual to 11L, I heard this interchange with a regional jet:
Tower: RJ1234 you're cleared for the visual following the Columbia on a one mile final.
RJ1234: ...I'm following the Space Shuttle?!!
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