June 5, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
FAA/NATCA Talks To Resume?
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill on Wednesday that would order resumption of contract negotiations between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the FAA. The bill, proposed last week by Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) would stop the FAA from imposing a contract on NATCA and require the two sides to sit down again. The vote will come two days after the deadline for congressional action on the dispute (we don't know how that works, either). It seems clear that Congress really doesn't want to get involved in the issues. "We take the clock off it," LaTourette told Congress Daily. "It just leaves them where we found them." On April 5, after eight months of negotiations ended with a mutual barrage of name-calling and general acrimony, the FAA declared an impasse. That sent the whole mess to Congress, which showed little interest in arbitrating a labor dispute. But legislators also appeared uncomfortable with allowing a settlement to be imposed. With the deadline looming, the political machinations began in earnest last week and there'll be a lot of fingers and toes crossed on both sides when legislators sit down Wednesday.
Pilots: An Endangered Species
Because the LaTourette-LoBiondo bill is jumping the line by not going through the usual vetting process in committee, it has to be introduced under a "suspension of the rules" with the blessing of House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader John Boehner. After that, it must pass with a two-thirds majority, the same level of support President Bush would need if he vetoed it. "We might as well get it now," LaTourette noted. Observers say the bill has a good chance to pass. The new bill is the much-softened culmination of a legislative path that began with a bid to strip the FAA of the power to exploit its powers in the impasse process. Not long after the impasse was declared, a bill was presented that would have automatically sent stalled contract talks between the FAA and the controllers to binding arbitration. A parallel bill was also introduced in the Senate. The House bill had a clear majority of support (including 75 Republicans) but there are reports that pressure from senior Republican members kept that bill stalled in committee and that the compromise LaTourette-LoBiondo bill has been agreed to by the majority of Republicans, many of whom oppose congressional intervention in a labor dispute. There are those in Congress who are itching to get into that fight, however. Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) is campaigning to defeat the bill as a way of reining in "out-of-control union compensation," he told the National Review.
"Since 1980, while the total U.S. population has grown by 25 percent, the pilot population has declined by the same percentage. And, worse, student starts are down by more than twice that rate," AOPA President Phil Boyer said in a news release. To counter the trend, AOPA is urging its members to help their friends become pilots. An expanded Project Pilot, formally announced at the AOPA Fly-In in Frederick, Md., over the weekend, will help pilots take an active role in helping their aviation-oriented friends and family members not only take that important first lesson but to stick with the challenging (but ultimately richly rewarding) learning and training regimen. "AOPA Project Pilot will help America's pilot population grow by giving student pilots the support they need to complete their training," the release said. With the average age of pilots and the number who are choosing (or being forced) to stop flying creeping higher, the possibility of a serious pilot shortage (and the power of its associated voice) is looming large. Obviously, a shortage of pilots will ripple through the whole system, affecting manufacturers, service and repair sectors.
Central to Project Pilot is a Web site designed for students and mentors to keep in contact. Students can use the site to track their progress and celebrate training milestones and also as a resource for the innumerable questions that always arise during training. Mentors nominate prospective students and, in turn, AOPA contacts them via e-mail and invites them to join the program. Various incentives, including sweepstakes entries, a newly developed magazine for student pilots and training aids, are designed to attract and hold on to the students. Honorary chairman is Erik Lindbergh, whom you might think was born to be a pilot. In fact, it took a spontaneous form of the Project Pilot ethos to get him in the air. As a young man, Lindbergh was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which curtailed many of the athletic activities that absorbed him. At the urging of a friend, Lindbergh began taking lessons at age 24 and soon after became an instructor. "I never would have become a pilot if it hadn't been for my friend pushing me," he told attendees at a Project Pilot workshop in Frederick. When the disease destroyed his knees, he took a seven-year hiatus from flying and, after knee replacement surgery, it was a former student that encouraged him to get current again. Lindbergh told the forum it was amazing "to help someone get started in flying and then to have it come full circle."
A total of 44 aircraft on display and more than 3,000 people attended AOPA's annual open house and fly-in. The event has been dogged by bad weather in recent years but this year the organizers' luck changed. Saturday morning started out with low ceilings but skies cleared by the afternoon and events went ahead as scheduled. According to AOPA, the various educational forums were full and there was plenty for attendees to see and do. Among the aircraft on display were two AOPA Sweepstakes prizes. This year's prize is a completely redone Cherokee Six and those on hand were able to inspect the recently installed panel. So far, the Six has had a new rudder, new prop and speed mods to the cowl done, in addition to the modern panel. Not far from the Six was the Twin Comanche Roy Wilbanks won in the 2004 Sweepstakes. He flew it to Frederick from South Carolina, where it's found a happy home. "I can't complain at all, "Wilbanks told AOPA staff. "Everybody loves the plane."
Pilots flying out of Oceanside Airport, near San Diego, say the local city council's shortsightedness will result in rent increases of as much as 50 percent this year. According to the North County Times, the city council meets Wednesday to consider raising rents on some old hangars from $400 to as much as $600 a month and to boost the monthly rate on recently built hangars 34 percent, from a range of $510-$740 to $685-$990. The airport offers a single 2,712-by-75-foot runway and single FBO. Tie-downs would go up a whopping 78 percent from $75 to $125 a month. Oceanside's director of public works, Peter Weiss, who termed the increases "pretty hefty," recently told the council that's the only way he can think of to cover a looming $80,000 budget deficit at the airport. The local pilots association is complaining that pilots are being expected to pick up the tab for a lack of foresight on the part of the council. Ben Meyers, president of the Oceanside Airport Association, said it was the council's decision to halt construction of new hangars late last year that's led to the revenue shortfall. New hangars were being built with low-interest loans from the state (and if Oceanside is like other Southern California airports there would be no shortage of potential tenants). "That's just going to irritate people there," he said. "I'd be very disappointed if the choice was to raise rates instead of taking the right approach and developing the airport appropriately." The airport master plan calls for construction of 100 hangars but it's been stonewalled by some members of council.
The alternative energy movement, says the FAA, at the behest of the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, is threatening development of wind turbine projects, tagged by President Bush to become a power-producing mainstay in the U.S. The DOD is currently studying whether wind turbines interfere with defense and homeland security radar systems and that means the FAA is no longer routinely signing off on windmill farm applications as posing no threat to air navigation. The study was to have been finished by the end of April but wind-power proponents fear it could drag on for months, effectively stalling windmill farms that have already been approved by every other agency. The de facto moratorium on windmill farms could end up costing those developing them millions of dollars in federal tax credits that expire at the end of 2007. Perhaps more important, the DOD/DHS opposition to the farms has disrupted momentum in a shift from development of gas and coal-fired plants to wind power, which is regarded as the cheapest form of alternative energy. Wisconsin has at least 10 projects stalled by the study and it has proponents worried. "This is the worst possible time to place roadblocks in the way of wind development, when Wisconsin is making critical decisions about building new generation," Katie Nekola, program director for Clean Wisconsin, told BusinessNorth.com. "Wind energy is by far the best choice we have, and has to be an available option."
Authorities are puzzling over what may have been the in-flight break-up of a PA-28 that killed four in Stafford County, N.J., just north of Atlantic City last Wednesday. NTSB Investigator David Muzio told the Press of Atlantic City that the airplane left a trail of debris about 2,000 feet long before the main wreckage came down in a wooded area near a highway. The pilot and three passengers died. "Initial information suggests that the aircraft was at (3,600 to) 3,700 feet, and the plane entered a rapid descent after that," Muzio said. According to the newspaper, witnesses said they heard an explosion just before the crash. Investigators found no evidence of fire or explosion. According to Weather Underground, weather at Atlantic City Airport, about 10 miles away, was benign at the time of the crash. Visibility was 10 miles and winds were 9 mph, gusting to 14 mph. There was no evidence of fire or explosion in the wreckage.
Owners of most bizjets and larger twins have been swept up in a complex registration system that has changed the rules for buying, selling and financing aircraft. The Aircraft Protocol to the Cape Town Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment came into effect on March 1 and was largely unnoticed in GA because its intention is to establish a uniform set of rules and standards to sell airliners and freighters to countries in the developing world. But limits on the weight and horsepower of aircraft that must be sold via this new registry also covers aircraft with as few as eight seats and powered by engines of 550 hp or greater -- a Cessna 421 fits the category. Writing on the business law Web site Mondaq, Thomas Gillespie and Robert Hill say it's a much different system than aircraft sellers are used to. "The Aircraft Protocol tries to minimize risks by centralizing information, standardizing procedure, and exporting key features of American and Canadian aviation law," say the authors, who work for the legal firm of Jones Day. "While it remains to be seen whether these changes will have the intended effects, there is no doubt that the changes have created a complicated regulatory regime that is fraught with pitfalls for the uninformed." Among the pitfalls is an extremely rigid protocol for registering an interest in an aircraft (or parts thereof). Participating countries are also free, to some degree, to interpret and apply the rules, which means buyers and sellers have to make sure they know which rules are being applied and which are not, depending on which country they are dealing with.
We all know the in-flight emergency mantra to "fly the airplane" but Monty Coles' handful on a flight from West Virginia to southern Ohio last week was of a different nature. Coles was just setting up to land his Piper Cherokee at Gallipolis, Ohio, when a four-and-a-half foot black snake slithered out of the instrument panel. After first swatting it to the floor (where the reptile landed under the rudder pedals) Coles finally grabbed the snake behind the head and held on while he called the tower -- as the snake wrapped itself around his arm and began reaching for anything else it could grab. "I told them I had one hand full of snake and the other hand full of plane. They cleared me in," he told The Associated Press. Coles told the AP that while nothing in his training could have prepared him for this, he did remember the standard admonishment from his instructor 25 years ago to fly the airplane, no matter what. After single-handedly landing the airplane, Coles even posed for pictures with his passenger. Then he let it go. "That snake resides in Ohio now," he said. "I wasn't about to bring it home. I don't mind snakes, but I sure like to know where they are." Assuming the snake is a black rat snake(a non-venomous constrictor), it should be right at home in Ohio, which is part of its normal range. Ironically, an old nickname for that species is the pilot snake (from the mistaken belief that they led rattlesnakes to safe denning sites). Had Coles' regular passengers -- his wife and a dachshund named Killer -- been on board, the ending might not have been as happy, however. "If my wife had been in the plane, I wouldn't have a wife, a plane, or myself," Coles said.
An outspoken Utah businessman is facing charges after allegedly flying his powered paraglider beside and over a busy interstate. And the FAA is also considering action against "Super" Dell Schanze for the incident about 10 days ago. As AVweb told you last week, motorists doing the morning commute on I-15 on May 24 complained of a low-flying paraglider and police responded. He's charged with creating a public nuisance, a class B misdemeanor, and disorderly conduct, an infraction, according to the Deseret News. The FAA charges will likely hang on the definition of a "congested area." FAA regs prohibit operation of paragliders and other ultralights over congested areas. At the time of his arrest, Schanze claimed he flew over an open field and was more than 500 feet above the freeway, which he said was legal. Others have a different interpretation. Whatever the decision of the courts and FAA, Schanze apparently will not meekly accept their judgment. He called the Draper, Utah, police, which laid the charges, "a bunch of monkeys that don't even use their heads" and suggested the charges were laid out of personal animosity toward him. Draper Police Sgt. Jerry Allred said personalities have nothing to do with it. "I want to make it clear this has nothing to do with Dell Schanze. This is about keeping the community safe," Allred said. Some lucky judge gets to sort this out starting June 13.
Both pilots died but their three passengers swam away with only minor injuries after the Learjet 35A they were on crashed in Long Island Sound just short of the Groton-New London Airport runway on Friday. According to the Hartford Courant, the plane went down just 100 yards short of the runway in shallow water. The passengers, three men in their 50's from Virginia on their way to play in a charity golf tournament, were covered in jet fuel but were able to walk away from the crash. The pilots were pronounced dead at the scene. According to Weather Underground, winds were moderate and visibility was about two miles at the time of the crash. The plane was owned by a company owned by televangelist Pat Robertson.
Mooney has introduced what it says is the fastest normally aspirated production single. The Ovation 3 has a 310-hp Continental I0-550 and will cruise at 197 knots, about nine knots faster than the Ovation 2, with its 280-hp engine...
There's an aviation industry brewing in a former coffee roasting plant in Alixco, Mexico. A group of Arizona investors has opened a kitplane factory in the facility, building the Bearhawk bush plane. It's the only operation of its kind in Mexico and has sold 73 kits...
Adam Aircraft and Jet Support Services Inc. have created a tip-to-tail maintenance package for the A500 piston twin and A700 jet. The hourly fee covers all normal maintenance as well as ADs and service bulletins...
Evergreen Aviation showed off its Boeing 747-200 firefighting aircraft to federal officials in Boise last week. The aircraft shot 20,500 gallons of water from nozzles on its belly, allowing it to effectively release the load at 400 feet, twice as high as smaller tankers normally operate...
The NTSB has confirmed that fatigue failure in the right wing caused the crash of an SNJ-6 at Kissimmee, Fla., a year ago. Both occupants of the warbird were killed when the wing came off. The FAA issued an emergency airworthiness directive requiring inspections of all T-6 derivatives shortly after.
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Names Behind The News
From a neighbor to the north...
"Last fall my wife and I headed to Oregon so that I could get some flight training that wasn't offered here in Canada. We approached the stern looking US Customs agent and got ready for the typical serious and pointed questions. He asked me my purpose of travel and I explained that I was obtaining pilot training. He then asked my wife for her passport and said, 'and you must be the next of kin.'"
"... Glad he wasn't speaking prophetically!"
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