May 8, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Charging For Air Traffic Control
Organizers of a small but growing fly-in at Alleghan Airport, near Grand Rapids, Mich., say the FAA intends to charge them $3,200 to set up and staff a temporary tower for their event in late June. Andy Millin, one of the organizers of the West Michigan Fly-In, told AVweb this week that, barring a change of heart from the feds, his group will scrape together the money because they believe the tower is essential to the safe running of the event. "We're not willing to take the chance," Millin said. But by writing that check, Millin said he understands the watershed precedent the group will be setting. "The tower is clearly a safety measure and is well within the mandate of the FAA," Millin said. "We would like to refuse the payment as we feel this is the service the FAA is supposed to be there for. However, this is a genuine safety consideration and we just can't roll the dice on this one." The fly-in was started five years ago following a wake-up call delivered by the local civic government, which had apparently been trying to secretly sell the airport land. The local EAA chapter and other groups organized the event to boost interest in the airport and protect its future. There are static displays, sightseeing flights and a car show, and up to 300 Young Eagles flights are launched. With up to 500 operations in a five-hour period, including up to 120 visiting aircraft, the tower is regarded as a necessity. As a bonus, most of the controllers working the fly-in have Oshkosh experience and the procedures established draw heavily on that expertise.
Millin said that local FAA officials tried to cancel the deployment of the temporary tower last year, citing budgetary concerns. A concerted protest by EAA, fly-in officials and the controllers themselves prompted the agency to relent. However, this year, after Millin sent his standard request for the service, he got a letter from Nancy B. Kort, the FAA's area director for central terminal operations, saying that free temporary tower services are a thing of the past. "Due to increased demands on our FAA facilities to manage resources and account for all expenses, we are asking you and all sponsors requesting our services to reimburse the FAA for these costs," she wrote. "We are committed to providing safety services at a reasonable cost and look forward to working with you in the future." The cost recovery request may be the unintentional result of a big-picture effort to revamp the FAA. Those "increased demands" for accountability and cost control that Kort mentions may have their roots in the agency's massive structural and cultural reorganization as it tries to modernize airspace management. In testimony before the Senate's transportation subcommittee last Thursday, Dr. Gerald Gillingham, of the Government Accountability Office, said the FAA is making headway in transforming to a performance-based organization where managers are rewarded for cost control and efficiency. He said a cornerstone of the effort is the FAA "using its performance management system to hold its managers accountable for controlling costs."
An Alcohol Problem
Millin said he believes his fly-in is the thin edge of the wedge and that charging for these types of services could become the norm throughout the country if the practice isn't stopped immediately. In fact, he said FAA officials he's spoken with are predicting that major events, such as EAA AirVenture and Sun 'n Fun, will be asked to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the FAA for ATC services starting in 2007. Messages left for FAA spokesmen in the Great Lakes Region weren't returned but EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski said his organization has heard nothing about being charged for the so-called "World's Busiest Tower" historically manned by volunteers at AirVenture. And he said EAA's position on such a notion is clear. "That would be a user fee and EAA's position is that it opposes user fees," he told AVweb. Knapinski also invited the West Michigan Fly-In officials to contact EAA regarding their circumstances and Millin said some adroitly applied pressure now might resolve the issue not only for his fly-in but for similar events all over the country. He said his sense is that FAA officials are tentative about charging the fees (they didn't know exactly who should receive the money) and are essentially seeing if they can get away with it. "My feeling is that they want to see if we accept the charge," Millin said. "If we do, then I think they will continue down this path."
It looks like the future of mogas use in airplanes is limited unless something is done to reduce the U.S.'s growing preference for ethanol as a fuel additive. Most states are considering laws requiring up to 10 percent ethanol in all or most automotive gasoline and the federal government seems poised to make it easier for oil companies to make the switch by reducing, suspending or even canceling a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol (which is generally a lot cheaper than the domestic variety). That's bad news for aircraft owners who've obtained supplementary type certificates (STCs) allowing the use of automotive fuel in their engines. Ethanol-blended fuels are not permitted under the STCs. Whether or not a 10-percent blend will hurt aircraft engines is a hotly debated topic but the regulations make it a moot point. Nor does there seem to be any stopping the widespread use of ethanol to replace a fuel additive called MTBE, which has caused environmental problems. MTBE is to be phased out in coming years and the use of ethanol in gasoline is expected to increase from 4 billion gallons this year to 7.5 billion gallons next year.
With ethanol in the news so much, some aircraft owners are apparently concerned that avgas will also be getting a shot of alcohol. That isn't going to happen, according to Woody Cahall, AOPA's vice president of aviation services. "Members are concerned that ethanol is being added to avgas, which could adversely affect engine operation. Ethanol is not being added to avgas," Cahall said in a statement. But he acknowledged that those with mogas STCs, particularly those with older aircraft designed for the old 80 octane avgas, may find trouble because they aren't allowed to use alcohol blends. Although the use of ethanol is becoming more widespread, EAA has made some headway in easing the impact on aircraft owners. Montana followed EAA's advice and exempted premium 91-octane fuel from ethanol blending. Wisconsin is considering similar legislation and Idaho recently shelved its ethanol law for further study. EAA says keeping at least one type of gasoline ethanol-free ensures availability not only to aircraft owners but also for vintage cars, snowmobiles, boats and motorcycles that might also be harmed by ethanol.
You know spring is here when the AirVenture NOTAM is published. The bible for those planning on flying to the world's biggest fly-in (July 24-30) is a must-read for everyone making the trip by air -- even if they've done it a dozen times before. Chances are, if you're reading this you'll simply download the online version but hard-copy pamphlets are available for free, also. Since channeling thousands of aircraft, ranging from gyrocopters to airliners, into a single airport in a compressed time period is an evolving art, there are always a few changes to the procedures and this year is no exception. A new VFR holding pattern has been established over Green Lake, there's a displaced threshold on Runway 27 and the airport will be closed a half-hour earlier than in previous years for the air show. NORDO arrivals are restricted to 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily.
Last year's event is a tough act to follow (SpaceShipOne, GlobalFlyer, HondaJet) but aviation is such a diverse endeavor, and AirVenture such a huge show, that there's never any shortage of things that you just can't see anywhere else. For instance, warbird buffs will be pleased to know that one of the largest gatherings of World War II heavy bombers will be at this year's show. One of two flying examples of the Lancaster bomber left in the world will be making the trip from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum to join a B-29, a B-24 and up to five B-17s at AirVenture. And, can you believe the most popular airplane of all time turns 50 this year? Cessna is planning a major celebration to mark 50 years of the 172 and its brawnier cousin, the 182. A specially designated area in the North 40 has been set aside for up to 500 aircraft to park together. By registering to park in the Cessna Base Camp, participants can camp with like-minded souls and be close to special events marking the big birthday.
Organizers of the Monaco Air Duluth Airshow are getting a hard-won lesson in public relations after their president told the owners of six homes bordering the airport they'd have to be somewhere else during the show. Ryan Kern told the six families that since their houses were in the air show box, they'd have to leave home from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. for each of the three days (July 5-7) of the performance (he did offer them air show passes), according to the Duluth News Tribune. Well, the good folks of Lavacque Road in Hermantown, Minn., are reasonable folks who don't appear to want to spoil anyone's fun but they did kind of balk at Kern's apparently self-imposed powers of eviction. The local police also noted that private property rights supersede the air show's operational challenges. Fortunately, cooler heads (and a little spending money) prevailed. David Boe, the show's public relations director, said the intent was never to try to evict people and he apologized for any misunderstanding. Then he offered each of the families $250 in cash and a $50 restaurant certificate to find something else to do on those days. "We really didn't want to ruin the air show for everyone," Melissa Pagnac told the News Tribune. "This is kind of a shocker. I never understood the whole ordeal." Pagnac's mother-in-law, Allison, said there's some inconvenience but nothing she's not prepared to handle. "I'd rather stay in my home, but what am I going to do? You can't cancel the air show," she said.
It may be the ultimate irony that airline pilots can easily find lucrative jobs -- as long as they're willing to travel. According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, American pilots are flying the coop on cash-starved, morale-depressed, pension-gutting domestic carriers and landing high-paying jobs in Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. Former U.S. Airways pilot Brian Murray now works for Emirates Airlines and says it's like returning to the Golden Age of aviation in the U.S. He told the Journal that pilots are "treated with respect in this part of the world. We're driven to work. We're put in four- and five-star hotels, on the concierge floors. Captains are treated as vice presidents of the organization." And there's no shortage of work. Asia will be the hotbed of aviation growth in the next couple of decades with as many as 6,000 pilot jobs opening up each year, according to Boeing. Globally, 18,000 aircraft will be added to the worldwide fleet over the next 20 years, translating to about 18,000 pilot jobs per year, many of them in countries that don't have the training facilities necessary to meet the demand. Murray says the 1,350 pilots at Emirates come from 70 countries.
Vacationers heading for the open road this summer might want to pick a route to their local airport. With gas prices topping $3 a gallon, airfare on some routes might be cheaper than driving or close enough in cost that the speed and convenience will tip the balance. "With the price of gas, you have to evaluate closely whether you're saving much by not flying," Stan Gadek, chief financial officer of AirTran Airways, told Knight Ridder Newspapers. Although fuel prices have driven up airfares, there's still fierce competition on well-traveled routes. But checking airfares shouldn't be your only mathematical exercise. It could be that flying yourself will be comparable to driving. An AVweb staffer did the math -- for fuel only -- after filling his sporty car with $3.45-a-gallon premium (the cheapest in the area) and figured there would be about a $7 (and two hour) difference in cost between flying 180 miles and driving that far. Now, your mileage will vary (his speedy homebuilt will cover that distance in an hour, burning eight gallons, and your car may fare better on the highway) but the fuel-cost comparisons have likely never looked more favorable, regardless of what you fly and drive. And, honestly, what would you rather do?
A former Vietnam helicopter pilot hailed as a hero for his emergency landing of a DC-3 on a residential street in Ft. Lauderdale last year is facing 20 charges relating to what authorities discovered in the plane. The DC-3 was carrying a load of granite bound for the Bahamas when it went down. Authorities subsequently discovered there was no customs paperwork with the rock and they also allege that pilot Charles Riggs doesn't have the FAA's authorization to fly cargo to the Bahamas, something they claim he'd done numerous times in the two years prior to the accident. The most serious charge is the lack of customs declaration but Riggs' lawyer, Chris Mancini, said Riggs intended to stop at a nearby airport to get the form. "They'll never prove that he intended to violate the law in any way," Mancini told The Associated Press. The DC-3 had engine trouble and Riggs was forced to put it down in a heavily populated part of Ft. Lauderdale in June of 2005. He managed to avoid buildings and people on the ground in doing so. He and two passengers were slightly hurt but there were no deaths. Mancini said the charges don't diminish the deed. "The guy still, I think, is a hero for navigating that plane as safely as he did," Mancini said. Riggs is free on $100,000 bail.
A 16-year-old Tennessee boy who took a Piper Cherokee on a wild joyride last Feb. 1, possibly to impress his girlfriend, has been put on a year's probation by a youth court. Nathan Frost, of Rockvale, has also been ordered not to apply for a pilot certificate until he's 18. The boy pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment, theft of a truck, attempted burglary and vandalizing a mailbox in the spectacular example of teenage drama that culminated with a pre-dawn buzzing of a neighborhood. Among the witnesses were amazed sheriff's deputies who said it was like watching an air show and described the boy as a "good pilot." Frost landed safely at Murfreesboro Airport and was arrested. After pleading guilty to the charges Feb. 16, Frost was placed under house arrest but he was put in youth detention when he violated the terms. During his probation he will have to keep up his psychological counseling and perform 100 hours of community service -- well away from airports, we presume.
News in Brief
A Boise, Idaho, pilot can expect a call from the FAA (if he hasn't already had one) after authorities in Sun Valley reported that an aircraft landed on a runway, littered with heavy equipment, that had been closed for some extension work. But, according to SunValleyonline, what particularly annoyed the folks at Friedman Field was that the pilot declared a fuel emergency to justify his April 27 landing and then took off again, from the same closed runway, without taking on any fuel. The airport operations manager told the news service the pilot took off "without clearance, without approval and in defiance of the airport manager's directive." In the meantime, he'd dropped off a passenger (believed to be his sister) who grabbed a cab and left the airport. As of Friday, the legal and regulatory ramifications of the alleged actions had not been sorted out. The airport's single runway was closed April 23 to add 600 feet at one end to allow heavier takeoff weights during the summer. The closed runway was marked at both ends with lit Xs and the pilot who landed there had to avoid the markers and the various pieces of equipment, pipe and supplies that are being used in the project. FAA officials wouldn't comment to the news service on the incident but civic officials say they're contemplating charges against the pilot.
A Vietnam War-era aircraft carrier, the USS Oriskany, will be sunk in the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola as an artificial reef. Before the sinking, more than 400 veterans who served on the ship are expected at a reception being held, in part, to remember 32 airmen killed and two still listed as missing from operations on the ship...
Seawind says it took nine orders for its speedy amphibian at Sun 'n Fun. The aircraft will be manufactured in Quebec and the company says it expects Transport Canada certification in August...
XPrize founder Peter Diamandis will receive the 2006 Lindbergh Award, which is handed out to those who push the envelope in human endeavors. Also getting a Lindbergh this year is Arctic explorer Will Steger.
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Names Behind The News
While working as a controller at Ellsworth Approach Control in the 80's, I heard this exchange.
ATC: Western 474, Ellsworth Approach Control is utilizing a certain phase of the radar called circular polarization, which allows us to depict only the most severe areas of weather on the radar display.
Western 474: Approach, say again, please.
[Without error, ATC repeated the alert, (which I had never heard before!)]
[Second Long Pause...]
Western 474: Approach, we don't know what's going on down there, but the co-pilot seems to think that somebody just circumsized a polar bear.
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