May 15, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
FAA's "Tough Medicine" A Bitter Pill
If there ever was an example of why AOPA and other alphabet groups want the FAA to continue to answer to Congress, the details of the latest FAA budget proposal offer illumination. In what FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has called "tough medicine for local programs," the agency has proposed cutting more than $750 million from airport improvement activities, including the $150,000 "entitlement grants" handed out unconditionally to more than 2,500 small GA airports. AOPA President Phil Boyer says the grant is often the only money small airports have for runway and equipment maintenance and improvements. The agency tried something similar with the 2006 budget but Congress restored the funding. AOPA is tuning its strategy for a similar result this go-around. AOPA has already revved up its lobbying machine and is finding support on both sides of the Senate. "I am very concerned about [what] cuts to the AIP program formula will mean specifically to the construction needs of airports," Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the appropriations transportation subcommittee, told FAA Administrator Marion Blakey during a May 4 hearing. At the same hearing, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said the FAA "deserves a better budget" and criticized the agency's current direction and management.
FSS Savings Plummet
At the May 4 hearing, Blakey was grilled repeatedly on the agency's plan to overhaul the funding basis for the FAA. For more than a year, Blakey has been saying revenue sources need to be based on the costs of providing services (read: user fees) but she hasn't revealed any details about how that system might work. AOPA's Boyer says implementing user fees is simply a method to cut Congress out of the decision-making loop and hand control of the airspace system over to the airlines. He also told AVweb in an AVweb podcast earlier this month that any step toward user fees in other countries has historically been just the beginning of an industry-wide trend. At the May 4 hearing, Blakey did say that the current system of fuel taxes seems to work for GA but she declined to elaborate. Blakey said the new funding formula is being reviewed by the White House. She said there are ways to measure use of services and attach fees accordingly and they've already been implemented in other countries. Authority for the fuel taxes and ticket taxes that now fund the Airport and Airway Trust Fund runs out in 2007 and any system to replace them would have to be in place before then -- after receiving approval from Congress.
The Department of Transportation's Inspector General will do a comprehensive audit of the FAA's contracting out of the Automated Flight Service Station system and it's already got a half-billion dollar discrepancy to investigate. When the contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin last year, the FAA said it would save $2.2 billion over the life of the deal. Now that figure has been revised to $1.7 billion -- an alteration that's piqued the interest of the Inspector General. "We are aware of the difference and will be looking into this as part of our review," IG spokesman David Barnes told Government Executive. Lockheed took over the system last October and is in the process of consolidating the 58 FSS operations into 20, which naturally means job losses and transfers for employees. It's by far the largest example of competitive outsourcing every undertaken by the government. Inspector General audits are often undertaken at the request of government members but Barnes said the IG is doing this one on its own initiative because of the landmark nature of the process.
"New" Nav Technology Boosts Efficiency, Safety
Of course, there are huge financial implications in the audit, but money isn't everything. The IG also intends to investigate whether the move has impaired safety or adversely affected service (Lockheed Martin had service guarantees built into the contract). Publications like AVweb are often a sounding board for those types of issues. There have been a few letters from pilots reporting service or safety issues but, while passionate, they've been comparatively few and far between. Whether that means pilots are being patient during the transition or that Lockheed is so far living up to its promises, we suppose the audit will tell. One group that has quite naturally been vocal through the whole process is the National Association of Air Traffic Specialists (NAATS). President Kate Breen seems to think the audit might be a whitewash. "If this is an honest-to-goodness audit, then I'm thrilled," she told Government Executive. Lockheed Martin won the contract over five other bidders, including a cooperative bid between NAATS and Harris Corp. Breen said the selection process seemed slanted in favor of the private contractor.
A system devised by Alaska Airlines and Boeing to help improve accessibility to notoriously difficult airports in the 50th state could soon help ensure better on-time performance on Lower 48 milk runs (relatively speaking). After experimenting with Required Navigation Performance (RNP) systems at some of the U.S.'s tougher airports (Palm Springs and San Francisco among them) the FAA has decided the system can be implemented by any airline that has the right equipment and training. "It's a game changer," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told The Wall Street Journal. RNP harnesses the on-board computing power of modern flight management systems and avionics with GPS technology to allow aircraft to be programmed to fly a specific route into and out of an airport. The route includes specific climbs and descents and deviations around obstacles, all controlled by the electronics. It eliminates the need for the traditional straight-line ILS approach that doesn't work well at some airports.
As AVweb reported more than a year ago, RNP has vastly improved accessibility to Palm Springs on the comparatively rare occasions when the weather is down there. Because terrain prevents implementation of a standard ILS, diversions were usually the only option in bad weather. RNP allows Alaska Airlines to land at Palm Springs with minima of 250 feet and three-quarters of a mile. But terrain isn't the only obstacle that hinders operations and RNP will find a use at airports surrounded by miles of flat expanses. For instance, Chicago Midway is limited by its short runways and proximity to O'Hare. Currently, there are plans for RNP approaches to airports ranging from New York's JFK to Long Beach, Calif. According to the Journal, pilots and controllers like the system because they know exactly where the plane is going and when it will get there. Delta, JetBlue and Continental are all training for the system now and should have their FAA approval soon.
English may be the language of aviation but that shouldn't be a barrier to getting a private pilot's certificate in countries that speak other tongues, according to a spokesman for an international pilots group. John Sheehan, secretary general of the International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, says English should only be a requirement for pilots who intend to fly IFR or in controlled airspace. The International Civil Aviation Organization recently passed an amendment that would make English proficiency a requirement for all pilots, regardless of the type of flying they do. "While this requirement may be justified for those using the IFR ATS system, it is difficult to justify for the casual VFR user," Sheehan said in a news release announcing IAOPA's petition against the proposal. IAOPA represents 470,000 pilots in 62 countries (the U.S. accounts for more than 400,000) and has observer status at ICAO. The new language requirement would require pilots to "demonstrate the ability to speak and understand the [English] language used for radiotelephony communications" and will take effect in 2008. Sheehan said the new requirement would put an unnecessary burden on the majority of the world's one million pilots who want to fly recreationally. "The required proficiency level will prove difficult and costly to both attain and maintain," Sheehan said.
Whether you're a flight school operator who wants to keep tabs on students or the anxious partner of a weekend warrior wondering when (if) your flying companion will be home for dinner, a British company might have the answer. Kinetic Avionics has developed a radio receiver and software package which picks up Mode S and ADS-B signals from aircraft within 100 or so miles (depending on terrain and antenna). In the case of ADS-B-equipped planes, it displays them on the computer screen as a realistic portrayal of an air traffic control monitor. Monitoring Times, a magazine which caters to amateur radio buffs, recently reviewed the gear and says it works as advertised, doesn't crash computers and can run on a modestly equipped PC. Kinetic makes distance measuring equipment (which is still a mandatory item for IFR in Europe, don't forget) and saw a potential market for small airports and operators who wanted to decode the data emitted by the Mode S and ADS-B transponders. Mode S kicks out transmission bursts that give identity and altitude information while ADS-B provides the GPS-derived position information that permits the virtual radar depiction. The system is not certified but it still got a ringing endorsement from Britain's Civil Aviation Authority, which, according to the Daily Telegraph, hailed it as a "major breakthrough for air safety." It sells for about $750. AVweb recently reported on another similar product currently on sale in the U.S.
The widow of a Texas pilot killed in a midair collision on final to Lakeland Linder Regional Airport the evening before the beginning of Sun 'n Fun in 2002 has settled her lawsuit with two defendants for a total of $700,000. Deborah Morrison is collecting $650,000 from the FAA and $50,000 from Sun 'n Fun's insurance company despite findings by the NTSB that both pilots ignored instructions from air traffic controllers, who saw the potential for a collision. Jerry Morrison was flying an RV-6 that was struck by a Piper Clipper (PA-16) flown by Stephen Pierce on final for Runway 27 right. The NTSB found Morrison ignored directions from ATC to slide left to line up with Runway 27 left and Pierce ignored instructions to "keep it high." The Piper's prop hit the RV-6's canopy and both planes went down. Pierce was seriously injured. The FAA didn't comment to the Lakeland Ledger on its decision to pay the settlement. Sun 'n Fun lawyer John Wendel said the fly-in's payment was a "business decision" and the organization has steadfastly denied any blame or involvement in the crash. Morrison also sued Pierce and the City of Lakeland. Pierce settled out of court for an unknown amount and the claim against Lakeland was dismissed.
The great thing about gear-up landings is they almost never result in any fatalities, unless you count dying of embarrassment. Somehow you expect guys like retired Capt. Dale Snodgrass (Top Gun grad, Navy Fighter Pilot of the Year) to be outside the grasp of "those who have and those who will," but "Snort" was at the helm of a vintage F-86 that went aluminum on concrete at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in March and it's been determined the only failure was Snodgrass's. "It's hard to believe that a guy with all that experience would not put down his landing gear," retired Maj. Jack Boileau, a former F-86 driver, told KVOA News. Snodgrass declined an interview. Boileau said Snodgrass would have had to be oblivious to warning lights and a cockpit alarm to belly land the F-86 "fighter jet." Snodgrass was training with other warbird pilots for the ensuing air show season when the mishap occurred. An Air Force spokesman told the TV station that it still has confidence in the 10,000-hour pilot (half of them in F-14s) and he remains on the air show schedule. Despite the fire that erupted in one of the jet's wing tanks, damage to the F-86, owned by a California air museum, is said to have been minor.
The UK Airprox (aircraft proximity) Board has called for the development of a lightweight (presumably battery-powered) transponder that can be installed on gliders after one came within a whisker of being obliterated by a Tornado fighter jet flying at 450 knots. The Tornado and the glider passed within 50 feet of one another at 9,000 feet above the Scottish Highlands last October. Glider pilot David Smith told the board inquiry he felt a "terrific thump from the slipstream and could smell the kerosene fumes" after the jet, one of 10 involved in an exercise, passed overhead. And while the world waits for an electronic solution, a British Air Force spokesman suggests that, in the meantime, adding a splash of color to gliders' paint scheme would help. Michael Mulford told the Scotsman newspaper that gliders "are white against a white sky, which can make them very difficult to see." Smith, the secretary of the Deeside Gliding Club, said he saw the Tornado coming at him and was just able to duck underneath it to avoid a collision. The pilot of the Tornado later reported he didn't see the glider until he was 200 yards away. The Airprox Board determined it was a category A incident (risk of collision) and noted that there had been four other close calls involving gliders in the past three years. It recommended that if some enterprising chap develops a glider-friendly transponder, that the Civil Aviation Authority make it compulsory equipment.
News in Brief
Jet-A (and lots of it) may be used to help fight forest fires this season. Two companies developing aerial bomber firefighting aircraft, so-called supertankers, from old airliners say they expect to have all approvals in place to accept firefighting contracts. In fact, Omni Air International says its DC-10 is ready to go to work, while Evergreen Aviation still has a few hoops to jump before its 747-200can tackle blazes. The aircraft represent a quantum leap in aerial firefighting capability. The DC-10 can carry up to 12,000 gallons of retardant or water (more than triple the capacity of the largest existing tankers) and the 747 can pack up to 24,000 gallons. Though they can't fill on the fly, they can get to and from the fire at 500 mph. Firefighting experts say the jets will have their uses but they're not a magic bullet. "I think there is a place for a very large air tanker in the fleet," Dennis Lamun, a member of the Interagency Airtanker Board and an aviation official with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, told the Albuquerque Tribune. "But it's got to be cost-effective no matter where you use it." Tanker pilot Walt Darran said smaller, more maneuverable tankers will still be needed and the supertankers will be a complement to them. Evergreen is planning a nationwide tour of demonstration flights with the 747 but firm dates haven't been set because the company is fine-tuning the spray system on the aircraft.
A New Zealand company says its decision to create a purpose-built two-place training aircraft is paying off. Alpha Aviation recently sold 12 aerobatics-friendly Alpha 160A aircraft and took options for 14 more from CTC Aviation, one of Britain's largest flight training companies. It beat Cessna, Diamond and Piper offers for the deal. The 160A is an updated version of the French-built Robin R2160. Company spokesman Richard Sealy said the world needs more trainers and some of the touring aircraft now being pressed into that kind of service don't have the strength and durability to handle the job. Alpha bought the rights to the Robin designs in 2004 and says it's updated and improved what was already a well-respected design. Meanwhile, Evektor, another manufacturer to watch, says it's considering building a U.S. assembly plant to handle a surge in demand. Evektor says it needs to expand its production capability in the Czech Republic to 150 aircraft a year. Its SportStar was the first aircraft to gain FAA approval under the Light Sport Aircraft category and the company says sales are strong in the U.S., but the company expects to soon offer a respectably fast and very luxurious four-plus-one seater, too. The company is also planning an expansion to South America.
Authorities are looking for vandals who did $1 million in damage to airport lighting at Brookley Field Industrial Complex in downtown Mobile, Ala., last month. Flights have not been disrupted...
Administrative workers at the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) have gone on strike after rejecting a contract offer from union brass. The union says it can't afford the wage and health benefit demands of the workers given the sacrifices pilots have made in recent years...
The FAA is recommending that all oil coolers (fuel and air type) serviced by Southwest Cooler Service be quarantined. It says an investigation revealed that coolers were improperly serviced and since it doesn't know how long it's been going on that all coolers handled by the company are suspect...
A former Comair flight attendant was found guilty of setting a fire in an aircraft lavatory. Turhan Lamons was the only attendant on the flight from Atlanta to Huntsville. The plane made a safe emergency landing. Lamons is also awaiting sentencing for calling Air Tran Airlines in 2005 and threatening a flight...
A pilot and passenger were killed when the Cessna 150 they were in crashed into the yard of a house in Forsyth County in Georgia. The plane's tail came to rest on the side of the house. Occupants of the house weren't injured...
A ten-foot section of vertical stabilizer from a crashed F-14 washed up in Ireland after apparently traveling 4,900 miles from the crash site off Florida. Squadron insignia and serial numbers were still legible and the Navy confirmed the part came from the Tomcat that crashed in 2002...
Excel Jet says it's moving closer to a first flight of its Sport-Jet prototype after installing the Williams FJ-33 engine and beginning taxi tests. The 4+1 single-engine jet will start certification tests soon and the resulting aircraft is expected to sell for about $1 million.
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Motor Head 13: The Lakeland Routine -- Engines Are The News
Sun 'n Fun means new product announcements, especially for engine manufacturers. AVweb's Marc Cook made his annual journey and saw some very interesting products for Experimentals and certified aircraft alike.
Probable Cause #6: Experience Can Kill You
A time-ridden cliché in aviation is, "Learn from your mistakes so you don't make them again." Of course, if what you learn is that you can press on in a bad situation and survive, someday you might not.
Maximum MPG ... Maximum MPG ... Maximum MPG!
Reader mail this week about ATC, UFOs, ethanol in mogas and much more.
Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to MARTINSVILLE AIRPORT AUTHORITY at KMTV, Martinsville, VA.
TED GULLIA wrote in to say, "FOR THE LAST 3-4 YEARS, I PLAN MY N-S TRIPS WITH A STOP AT MTV. ALTHOUGH I STOP 4-6 TIMES A YEAR (2-3 TRIPS, ONCE EACH WAY) I AM GREETED AS IF I WAS THEIR BEST CUSTOMER. I FLY A CHEROKEE ARROW SO MY FUEL PURCHASES HARDLY COMPARE WITH THE HEAVY IRON."
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See What ATC Sees -- And Then See What They Do with It
The AVweb Edition of Flight Explorer is the PC-based graphical aircraft situation display that gives a real-time picture of all IFR aircraft in-flight over the U.S. and Canada. Whether you're tracking a friend or want to learn more about the system in action, Flight Explorer has the information you need for just $9.95 a month. Check it out.
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Power Flow's Short Stack Approved for Pipers & Grummans
Power Flow Systems, manufacturers of FAA-certified tuned exhaust systems, have introduced a new "short stack" exhaust pipe for Piper PA-28 and Grumman AA5 series aircraft. The new STC'd short stack looks better while still providing up to 23 more available horsepower. For more information on this, and the right tuned exhaust system for your aircraft, go online.
Preview Highlights: The June Issue of IFR Magazine
"The Failures of SBT" -- applying scenario-based training is work; "Building a Homemade Glidescope"; "Is Your Estate Safe?" -- stacking the odds in your favor; "Getting ATC's Picture" -- IFR situational awareness must include ATC's mind's-eye of ATC to save you time, frustration, and your life; "Zero-Zero Departures" -- for Part 91, it's if, when, and how. Plus: The editor takes you exploring and more. Order your IFR subscription online.
Names Behind The News
The following exchange occurred between my student, the tower, and me at KLVK on 05/08/06...
Cessna N1234 (Student): Livermore tower Cessna 1234 at Sierra ready to taxi 25R with India.
Tower: Roger N1234 taxi to India.
[Student gives me the "Huh? You read it back," look.]
Cessna N1234 (Instructor): Tower N1234 confirm you want us to taxi to 25R. We don't have enough fuel to get to India.
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