June 19, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
FAA Cost Savings Take Legislative Hit
The House dealt a significant blow (psychologically, anyway) to the FAA's cost-cutting plans last week when it included language in the agency's appropriations bill that would prevent it from spending money to combine terminal radar approach control (TRACON) facilities. The FAA says it can save millions of dollars a year by having larger and fewer TRACONs but the political fallout that has ensued may prevent the move. Although a similar measure would have to be passed by the Senate, there are indications of similar support there. At least one member of the Senate's appropriation's committee, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), supports such an amendment and he believes the majority of his colleagues will also. "The House amendment showed it had strong, nationwide support ... and that really helps its chances in the Senate," Dan Whiting, a spokesman for Craig, told the Idaho Statesman.
Although Democrats have traditionally been opposed to these types of measures, this amendment has bilateral support and was sparked by the FAA's intention to move the Palm Beach TRACON to Miami. Two Republicans, Mark Foley and Clay Shaw, joined Democrat Robert Wexler in backing the amendment, which was proposed by Alcee Hastings, another Florida Democrat. In a letter to FAA Administrator Marion Blakey, Hastings said putting all of South Florida's TRACONs under one roof would be a risky venture. "If a terrorist attack or natural disaster were to strike the Miami TRACON, then all three major international airports would lose their approach radar systems," the congressmen wrote. The amendment would also cancel the proposed shifting of the Boise TRACON 300 miles south to Salt Lake City. The move is tied to the construction of a new tower at Boise Airport and the FAA claims it will save about $2.5 million over 25 years. Local officials told the Idaho Statesman they dispute the cost savings and are worried about the effect on safety in the mountainous area.
FAA Looks Hard At Diesels
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told reporters that other TRACON consolidations have been accomplished with no impact on safety and they do save money. She also discounted the Florida delegation's fears about hurricanes and other threats to service. "When we build a facility in an area prone to natural disasters, we make the facility capable of handling those kinds of events," Brown said. "We also have procedures in place so other facilities can handle the air space that that facility handles." The National Air Traffic Controllers Association disagreed with Brown, saying the consolidations threaten safety. "It's a win for the residents of South Florida," said Shane Ahern, South Florida president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who opposes the FAA proposal because of safety issues. "They can't concentrate risk by concentrating facilities in a hurricane-prone area." NATCA headquarters in Washington also issued a press release applauding the amendment.
Anyone who's owned a vehicle with one knows that a diesel engine is a different animal, requiring different care and feeding. Well, the same goes for aircraft applications and the FAA has come out with a list of special conditions that must be satisfied before the switch is made from 100LL to Jet-A. And while you'd expect there to be some regulatory requirements, the list is (so far) pretty long and deals with some rather esoteric distinctions between the two types of mills. Although aircraft diesels have been flying in several types of GA aircraft for almost a decade, supplementary type certificates seem to be fairly rare. According to our research, the U.S. has approved an STC for use of the Thielert 1.7-liter diesel in later model Cessna 172s, while the Thielert is also approved for Piper Cherokees in Europe. Europe has also approved the SMA diesel for conversion of the Cessna 182.
In a torrent of regulatory verbosity last week, the FAA issued five diesel-related notices of proposed special conditions dealing with its concerns about putting Jet-A-powered engines in planes designed to use 100 LL. It detailed the many and varied factors that those seeking diesel STCs from the two main manufacturers will have to consider and prove not to be a threat to the safety of the aircraft. For instance, diesels tend to vibrate more (or differently) and the FAA wants to ensure the vibration (including the shaking that would result from one cylinder shutting down) isn't beyond the tolerances of the airplane. It's also concerned about the effect of diesel on fuel-system components, the adaptation of wiring and other systems, fuel grades, fuel filters and a host of other technicalities. There are also requirements to protect the full authority digital engine controls (FADEC) from electrical interference. What isn't clear (to us, anyway) is the effect of the issuance of the documents. It seems likely that the engine manufacturers have anticipated, and maybe even consulted with the FAA, on the technical details of this kind of engine swap and the documentation is an important step in moving the STC approval process forward. Since the comment period expires July 14, we'll know soon enough.
Delta Air Lines will try to dump its dysfunctional employee pension program on the beleaguered Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. effective Sept. 2. The bankrupt airline intends to apply to the courts to rid itself of the costly burden today. Delta's pensions are believed to be under-funded by about $10 billion. The move has been expected for some time and Delta's pilots have already said they won't oppose it. Word of the action came in a letter from Delta CEO Gerald Grinstein to Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson on Friday. "I want to be sure you are aware of a necessary but difficult step Delta must take, why that step is essential to the long-term survival of our company," said Grinstein's letter. Isakson is backing a pension reform bill that Delta and other airlines have been pushing.
The first Cessna Mustang not designated for FAA certification testing took flight last week in a two hour and 20 minute flight that put it through all its functionality tests. The aircraft, serial number 003, is the first to come off the production line at Cessna's Independence, Kan., assembly plant (which is where the company's piston singles are made) and is destined to become the customer demonstration aircraft. Revenue-producing aircraft, serial numbers 004 to 015, are on the line in Independence in anticipation of certification by the end of the year and first deliveries in 2007. Cessna has orders for about 240 Mustangs, which will cost about $3 million each, among the most expensive of the so-called very light jets (VLJs). The Mustang program was announced in 2002 and the prototype flew last year, making its first public appearance at EAA AirVenture.
While regular airports all over the country struggle for survival, spaceports, which some might argue are a tad less practical, are a growth industry. Oklahoma is the latest to move to the starting line trying to cash in on the private space race. The Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority (OSIDA) was issued a Launch Site Operator Certificate by the FAA for its spaceport at Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark, located adjacent to the town of Burns Flat, Okla. OSIDA spokesman Bill Khourie is predicting big things for the Oklahoma Spaceport. "The dream of many that Oklahoma would become the planet's premier location for the launch and recovery of suborbital reusable space vehicles is now a reality," he told Space.com. Rocketplane Ltd. will be its first space-bound tenant. Rocketplane is developing a suborbital space vehicle that looks like a business jet and behaves like one in the atmosphere. Its two jet engines would allow conventional takeoff and landing capability while the LOX/Kerosene rocket engine aims to provide the kick necessary to reach an altitude of 100 kilometers, the edge of space. Rocketplane hopes to take paying customers to experience "three to four minutes" of weightlessness by next year. (Note: This is something you can do right now, without a spaceship ... for 30-45 seconds at a time ... and less than $4,000 paid to a company devoted to that sort of thing.) The Oklahoma site is the sixth certified spaceport in the U.S. and there will likely be a seventh, soon. Virgin Galactic owner Sir Richard Branson is working with the state of New Mexico to establish the base of operations for his company's commercial space venture at Upham, N.M.
Power to the people of a rural Chicago suburb may come at the expense of a small private airport. ComEd is proposing to string high-voltage power lines about 410 feet from one end of the main runway at Reid Airport, near Huntley. The airport has an FAA certificate and is owned and operated by Bruce Starrenburg. He flies a T-6 out of the grass strip and other aircraft drop in from time to time. There are about 10-20 operations a week from the field, which is part of the 230-acre farm purchased by his father-in-law Howard Reid, then a Delta Air Lines pilot, in 1971. For 35 years Reid, and later Starrenburg, lived the dream of flying from their home but it seems likely the dream will end in 2008 with the completion of the power project. The $30 million project will provide needed capacity increases in the rapidly growing area and the utility company's right of way through the area follows a toll highway adjacent to the airport. Burying the cable would add $10 million to the cost. Starrenburg is vowing to fight the project. The utility will finalize its plans by the end of the year.
A well-known Colorado engine and general repair shop closed down earlier this month, maybe for good. Employees of Firewall Forward, in Loveland, Co., returned from lunch to find the doors locked. A total of 38 employees are out of work. Company CEO Andrew Chumney said the company had no other choice when its bank called about $1 million in loans. Chumney told The Coloradoan that Firewall Foreward was current with its payments but the bank pulled the financing based on the company's inability to turn a profit. He estimates the company will need an immediate cash injection of $2.5 million to get going again. The twin demons of undercapitalization and insufficient cash flow kept the company struggling, Chumney said. He said there have been three prospective buyers but none have gone through with a deal. The company had annual revenues of about $6 million. Chumney said all employees would receive the pay owed to them. There was no immediate word on the fate of work in progress.
AOPA is fighting a potentially expensive NTSB ruling that it believes would allow manufacturers' service bulletins to carry the same legal weight as an airworthiness directive on Part 91 aircraft. The case revolved around an A&P mechanic's engine repair that did not comply with instructions contained in publications issued by the engine and parts manufacturers. The upshot of the legalese, according to AOPA, is that the NTSB's ruling in that case changes the service bulletins from an advisory nature to mandatory under the law. "That is neither AOPA's nor the FAA's interpretation of the regulations," said Luis Gutierrez, AOPA director of regulatory and certification policy. "Service bulletins are considered advisory, not mandatory, for Part 91 operators." Now, while it seems prudent that service bulletins be complied with, the difference here is in who decides what's mandatory. AOPA and the FAA believe that responsibility lies with the FAA and not with individual companies. AOPA also notes that not all service bulletins become ADs and that's the way it should be because not all SBs relate to immediate airworthiness concerns. Gutierrez said the FAA has issued several clear statements on the issue and AOPA will use them as ammunition in its fight.
Blimps are often shown on television but a new aircraft from the Lightship Group is the television. The company, which builds advertising and promotion blimps, has figured out how to attach an array of LED screens to the envelope of a 170-by-55-foot blimp and display any image that could normally be played through a television. It can only display red during the day, but at night it can show a full color image. Full color for the day is coming. Lightship spokesman Toby Page told The Associated Press the sky-high screen is a real head-turner. "It totally rises above the clutter because this is the only one of its kind in the world," he said. The blimp was shown publicly in Las Vegas in April but has been under wraps since. It's soon headed to an undisclosed overseas location where it will work under a one-year, $5 million contract. Page said it's worth the price because blimps not only get noticed by people who see them, they attract free media coverage.
The NTSB says commercial pilots need training to detect snow and ice on the airframe and has asked the FAA to come up with an appropriate program. The recommendation grew out of the NTSB's investigation of the Challenger crash that killed three people in Colorado in 2004, including the son of NBC Sports executive Dick Ebersol
Chalk's Ocean Airways Turbo Mallards remain idle, six months after being grounded by the crash of one of the vintage aircraft off Miami due to fatigue cracks in the wings. The FAA still hasn't come up with an approved inspection program for the aircraft...
A Swiss partnership has successfully tested a small rocket-powered helicopter that uses 50 percent hydrogen peroxide as fuel. Rocket engines on the rotor tips provide the power
A couple of Tomcats prowled their old neighborhood last week. The F-14s were on display at the old Grumman plant at Republic Airport on Long Island as part of their final farewell. The fighters will be retired in September...
Air show pilot Scott Manning died Friday when his BD5-J went down at Carp Airport, outside Ottawa, Ontario. Manning was practicing for an appearance in an Ottawa air show.
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Ever wonder what the national average is for a gallon of avgas? Need to find up-to-the-minute fuel prices at all the FBOs along your route? Starting this week, you'll be able to answer those questions with our handy AVweb Fuel Finder (to your right).
Featuring data provided by AirNav, the Fuel Finder will appear every Thursday in AVwebFlash -- listing the latest prices for 100LL and Jet A, along with a quick view of how those prices have changed in the last seven days. To get local fuel prices, just enter a U.S. ZIP Code or a 3- or 4-letter Airport Identifier into the Fuel Finder and click "Go."
Online Now: Listent to, or take today's news with you. Find exclusive interviews featuring NATCA president John Carr, New Piper CEO Jim Bass, Hal Shevers for Sporty's Pilot Shop, Light Sport guru Dan Johnson, Excel Jet's Bob Bornhofen, Adam Aircraft's Joe Walker, FAA administrator Marion Blakey, Cirrus Design's Alan Klapmeier and more. AVweb's Podcast index, is available online -- pick and choose your pleasure, or subscribe free and receive AVweb's podcasts automatically for listening on your computer, iPod, or while traveling with any MP3 player.
The Pilot's Lounge #101: Balloonatics
A quiet evening with little wind may be good for students to practice landings, but it's even better for those who like a flight in a balloon. AVweb's Rick Durden went along for a slow, relaxing, wind-directed flight.
Your Favorite FBO's
Reader mail this week about British Airway's 747, NATCA vs. FAA, VLJs for commuting pilots and more.
DA40 Diamond Star a Fleet Favorite
Nominate an FBO | Rules | Tips | Questions | Winning FBOs
AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to HOUMA JET CENTER at KHUM, Houma, LA.
CAROL SCANLON told us, "THE BEST FBO RED CARPET TREATMENT AND FUEL PRICES IN THE COUNTRY. THEY NOT ONLY TAKE CARE OF YOUR PLANE THE SERVICE TO THE PILOT AND CREW IS WONDERFUL. THEIR EXTRA CARING TOUCH IS ONE THAT MAKES YOU PLAN TO STOP THERE ON EVERY CROSS COUNTRY TRIP."
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Aviation Consumer's June Issue Reviews the Costs & Practicality of Fractional Ownerships
Plus: "Which Oil Lab Is Best?"; "Save a Little O2" -- a review of two new oxygen-conserving devices; "PS Engineering's PMA8000B: Top Dog Audio" -- it's that good; "Mooney's Comeback"; "Columbia E-Charts" -- Columbia Aircraft addresses cockpit electronic charts; and "Used Aircraft Guide: Piper Seminole." Don't miss an issue of the only publication that has the guts to tell it like it is! Order gutsy Aviation Consumer online.
Names Behind The News
No, that's not what I said.
"I was about to lift off with my instructor from a class D airport in a Robinson R-44. The route of flight would take us very near neighboring Class C airspace. The controller questioned us after we gave our initial heading..."
Controller: Staying clear of all airspaces?
My instructor: ...Except yours.
Controller: Did you just say, 'Up yours'?
We were both laughing too hard to respond.
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