June 26, 2006
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
Transportation Secretary Departs, D.C. Rumor Mill Churns
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey is considered among the front runners to replace Norm Mineta as Secretary of Transportation and, if she gets the job, it could raise the stakes in the looming battle over the shape and form of the FAA's next-generation structure and operation. Mineta, who will resign effective July 7 (download the letter of resignation from Secretary Norman Y. Mineta to President Bush, here), appeared to be a moderating influence on Blakey's apparent ambition to institute widespread user fees throughout the system. He was occasionally at odds with (or seemingly confused by) the FAA's drive toward a user-pay system, particularly when it concerned GA. He publicly stated his opposition to GA user fees in several high-profile forums, including AOPA Expo in Tampa last November. However, it should also be noted that the statements were never unequivocal and he worried business aviation officials earlier this year when he seemed to suggest that business aviation was somehow distinct from general aviation (and thus ripe to be assessed user fees). On the other hand, since direction for the overhaul of the FAA seems to be coming from the Oval Office, the name on the door at the Department of Transportation may not matter much and Blakey certainly has the credentials. Before taking over the FAA, she was head of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Aviation groups are unanimous in their disappointment that Mineta is leaving and AOPA President Phil Boyer said in a news release that he was an ally for GA. He also said the administration should choose a successor whose values mirror Mineta's. "It is critical that the Bush Administration chooses a successor who has the same level of understanding of the value of general aviation as Norm consistently displayed," Boyer said. "He understood the importance of GA pilots and promoting safety. That's one reason he has repeatedly opposed user fees on GA." National Air Transportation Association President Jim Coyne said Mineta worked hard in cabinet to ensure aviation projects got priority. "Working with leaders in both political parties, Secretary Mineta successfully made transportation policy a top priority in Congress among both Republicans and Democrats," Coyne said.
FAA And Airspace Modernization
The FAA didn't have much to say on the resignation. Blakey issued a four-line news release that noted Mineta's long career. "His work made terrific contributions to reducing congestion and to the safest period in aviation history," Blakey said. "He has certainly left his mark on our skies." Other groups chimed in on the safety angle and the National Business Aviation Association credited Mineta with reshaping general aviation to make it able to adapt to changing market and operating conditions. "Norm Mineta's understanding of the general aviation sector helped guide to passage the General Aviation Revitalization Act, which was fundamental to the future of general aviation," said NBAA President Ed Bolen. "The nation owes Secretary Mineta a debt of gratitude for his tremendous service." Those outside the industry are lauding Mineta for his overhaul of civil aviation security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Bloomberg News' story on Mineta focused almost entirely on his security accomplishments, quoting Washington officials on his decisiveness and effectiveness in dealing with the shutting down and then return of aviation activity. But Mineta refused to take the credit in his resignation letter to President George W. Bush. "From the earliest moments of that horrible day and for weeks and months after, the personnel of the department performed quickly, courageously and effectively,'' Mineta said in his resignation letter to Bush dated June 20.
Now, we all know that satellite-based systems will largely replace curve-of-the-earth-hampered ground stations and we all know that it will require some extra equipment on board. But is VFR going to be somehow limited or discouraged in the process? The GAO seems to think so. The Government Accountability Office recently released its latest in the series of updates on just how the FAA is doing with its modernization plans (better, it turns out). That document contains vaguely disturbing references to just how VFR fits into the Next Generation Air Traffic System (NGATS). The report contains three references (p. 2, 5 and 29) calling it a "critical policy issue" to determine "the extent to which NGATS will accommodate visual flights versus instrument-only flights." It's not clear from the document's wording what that all means but clearly there's some discussion at the FAA on how to fit the majority of GA flights into a system that, it appears, will rely heavily on instrumentation to keep us from banging into one another. The "the level of monitoring needed by pilots when automation is ensuring safe separation from surrounding aircraft" is another concern as is the inevitably of the screens going blank.
GA Pilot Reps Get Together In Canada
The GAO report says the FAA, which was reorganized in 2004 to include the Air Traffic Organization, is doing better at buying and implementing the technology that will be required to accommodate the three-fold increase in air traffic that is anticipated by 2025 (that FAA-estimated growth is questioned by some in the industry). While a couple of years ago it was a given that FAA procurement projects would go sideways, the GAO says that for the second year in a row the agency has managed to bring new projects on line in time and within 10 percent of budget 80 percent of the time. But, then, the process is far from over. The report says there some bumps ahead. "However, ATO faces several challenges, including sustaining and institutionalizing its progress toward operating effectively as a performance-based organization, hiring and training thousands of air traffic controllers, ensuring stakeholder involvement in major system acquisitions, and keeping acquisitions on schedule and within budget," the report says.
Representatives of pilot groups in dozens of countries have resolved at a meeting last week in Canada to press their respective governments to adopt uniform standards for "sense and avoid" capabilities in unmanned aerial vehicles. AOPA has been lobbying aggressively for those standards since the FAA threw up temporary flight restrictions on the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year to "protect" the UAVs used to catch illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. The resolution was among several passed at the International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association general assembly in Toronto last week. UAV use has become a global threat to general aviation in recent years and delegates agreed that measures were needed to protect GA from drones -- not the other way around. The meeting, which included representation from more than 30 countries, also agreed to ask the International Civil Aviation Organization (at which IAOPA has observer status) for greater cross-compatibility of pilot certificate standards between countries. Delegates were also concerned about overzealous security measures trampling on GA pilot privileges and were urged to remind their leaders of the value of GA and the need to protect airports.
While pilot groups in other countries can do little to directly influence the debate on user fees in the U.S., AOPA can learn from those delegates who have plenty of experience with the fee-based systems used in their own countries. The U.S. remains the only major aviation-invested country with a mainly government-run aviation services sector (although the recent takeover of flight service stations by Lockheed Martin chips away at that distinction). AOPA President Phil Boyer (who's also IAOPA president) didn't have to look far for validation of his anti-user-fee stance. Canadian Owner and Pilots Association President Kevin Psutka told delegates the numbers are clear -- pilots pay more under user fees. Although Canadian pilots pay a relatively modest $71 flat fee to Nav Canada, the non-profit company that runs air traffic control and pilot information services in that country, Canadian pilots also pay aviation fuel taxes. He estimates the annual bill for Canadian pilots is about $225, whether or not they use any Nav Canada services. In the U.S., GA pilots also pay at the pumps through a fuel tax, but the (estimated) annual bill averages closer to $90 per pilot.
A bill that's been lurking under the legislative radar in New York for almost four years has been revived by the state Senate and will hurt the flight training industry there, according to local schools and pilot organizations. In 2002, New York, like many other states, thought it prudent to step into federal jurisdiction by trying to institute background checks on student pilots. As protests grew and federal regulations came into play, most states simply dropped their initiatives. However, New York's background-check law has remained on the legislative agenda and was revived last week by a vote in the Senate. If passed by the Assembly and finally adopted as law, it would prevent anyone from taking flying lessons without approval from the state's division of criminal justice services. Industry spokesmen say that will scare away prospective pilots. Richard Kaylor, of Richmor Aviation, which operates three flight schools in upstate New York, told Business First of Buffalo that schools are already required to submit names of students to the federal government so they can be checked against terrorist watch lists so the state initiative is redundant. AOPA spokesman Craig Dotlo said the law would deter students because of the time lag that would be required to process the background check, giving them time to find other activities. Dotlo, a former FBI agent, also noted that any terrorist who does his homework would be careful to avoid circumstances that would trigger something in the check. "What possible good is this doing except preventing flight schools from being profitable?" Dotlo said.
The endurance and fortitude of two Wisconsin pilots (not to mention the wearability of certain parts of their anatomy) was put to the test last week as they raised money for sick children and (possibly) set an aviation record. Matt McDaniel and Dr. Bruce Kaufmann took a total of 17 hours to land at all 102 public-use, paved airports in the state, as well as a private field and a military base. But the real mission was to raise $10,000 for the pediatric neurosurgery unit at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin (click "more" for details). Kaufmann runs the neurosurgery unit and owns the Cirrus SR-22 used in the effort. McDaniel (who has held the Master CFI designation) is a Boeing 717 pilot for Midwest Airlines and owns Progressive Aviation Services, which specializes in Cirrus. The duo got an early start on their flight. McDaniel and Kaufmann were wheels up from Lawrence J. Timmerman Airport in Milwaukee at 4:15 a.m. June 20 and three fuel stops later, were back on the ground at their departure point at 9:15 p.m. Stats for the flight are still being verified, but the numbers gathered by the pilots indicate they covered a lot of ground. McDaniel said they flew a total of 2,119 nm at an average ground speed of 156 knots. The pilots donated all expenses associated with the flight and are accepting donations for the hospital.
U.S. airports will spend at least $927 million to prepare for the arrival of the Airbus A380, and the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee says not a nickel of it should come from federal coffers. Rep. John Mica said last week the Airport Improvement Fund shouldn't be used to beef up runways and bridges and expand terminals for the 555-seat jet because of the squabble the U.S. is having with the European Union over alleged subsidies paid to Airbus's manufacturer, EADS. If the government follows through on Mica's suggestion, it would knock a big hole in the plans of 18 airports to get ready for the double-decker jets. The airports plan to pay for about half the cost using the AIP. The balance of funding would be drawn from airport revenues and passenger-derived airport improvement fees, according to a report released by the Government Accountability Office last week. Although some in Washington believe the GAO's estimates are high, the report says the improvement costs may actually escalate if the FAA doesn't cut some airports slack on runway and taxiway widths. Some airports are apparently hoping to accommodate the jet on existing 150-foot-wide runways. Current FAA guidelines call for 150-foot runways to be widened to 200 feet with a 25-foot strip of reduced strength pavement down each side. Meanwhile, subsidies or not, Airbus is having a tough time meeting its delivery schedule. Development delays have pushed back the schedule by almost a year and some cash-tight customers are considering backing out of their orders.
The FAA says it's willing to work with the L.A. County Sheriff's Department in its quest to use a surveillance drone on official police business. But the feds left no ambiguity about who rules the skies when they ordered the Skyseer unmanned aerial vehicle grounded just before the department was about to launch a demo flight for reporters. "We said, 'Hey, you still haven't submitted the paperwork for this,'" FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told the Daily Breeze "He said, 'This is just a demo.' We've told him he can't operate these UAVs. We said, 'You have conditions you have to satisfy before you can fly it.' "The Sheriff's Office insists it had the approvals it needed for the demo flight but agreed to cancel until the dispute was sorted out. The Skyseer weighs in at about $30,000, is about the size of a remote control aircraft and has a sophisticated video monitoring system aboard. It has about an hour's endurance and the Sheriff's Office says it will be handy for monitoring hostage situations, looking for lost hikers and following bad guys trying to escape from police.
Excel-Jet officials say it might have been wake turbulence or some kind of freak meteorological event that turned their Sport-Jet prototype on its wing and sent it cartwheeling along the runway at Colorado Springs Airport on June 22. According to a news release from Excel-Jet, witnesses reported the plane rolled 90 degrees about 30 feet above the runway while taking off on its 25th test flight. It struck a wing and cartwheeled onto its tail, causing substantial damage. Both pilots were checked at the hospital and released. The aircraft was nearing the end of its initial round of flight testing and the company had just received word that it had been approved to fly at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh next month. Excel-Jet CEO Bob Bornhofen said the plane had performed well in previous flights and the company says either wake turbulence or a microburst from unspecified "unusual weather conditions" may have caused the upset. "Sport-Jet has explored the majority of its flight envelope without problems," Bornhofen said. While the program has obviously suffered a major setback, Bornhofen said the silver lining is that the composite cockpit cage proved it protects pilots in a crash. "The carbon roll-cage style designed fuselage of Sport-Jet provided significant protection for its occupants and, according to an insurance expert, was instrumental in minimizing the injuries," the company release said.
News in Brief
The FAA is ignoring the wishes of the House and breaking a promise to four Florida congressmen with a secret plan to speed up consolidation of the Palm Beach terminal radar approach control center into Miami, according to Rep Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). Hastings says on his Web site it's unbelievable that the agency would pursue its controversial cost-cutting plan in the face of a House vote ten days ago on a bill that would prevent the FAA from spending money from its 2007 budget on consolidating TRACONs. The Senate hasn't considered a parallel bill yet, although that's supposed to happen in July. Hastings, who sponsored the bill, suggested the FAA's decision to press ahead with consolidation may have been "political retribution" -- the agency working to punish those spearheading opposition. The FAA hasn't yet commented on the allegations. Hastings sponsored the bill out of fear that closing the Palm Beach facility would concentrate all of south Florida's air traffic control resources in one facility. He said any number of disasters, including hurricanes and terrorist attacks, could take out the center and leave the screens in the whole region blank. The FAA says it's already thought of that and builds its facilities accordingly. Hastings also alleges that in a meeting between his staff and FAA personnel in April, his staff was promised that no consolidation would take place until 2009 at the earliest. Controllers recently told him they've been ordered to get ready for a move to Miami in 2008.
Symphony Aircraft Industries has filed for creditor protection under Canadian bankruptcy laws. The company produces the Symphony 160 (a $160,000, 130 KTAS, two-seat high-wing) and is now seeking $6-10 million in fresh capital to continue operations at its Trois Rivieres plant in Quebec. CEO Paul Costanza told AVweb yesterday he's been having trouble raising venture capital in Canada and is considering moving the plant to the United States. The company plans to hold a news conference, Tuesday.
Pensions: Delta Air Lines has given formal notice that it intends to wind up its pilots' pension program as part of its plan to emerge from bankruptcy. The pilots have swallowed the bitter pill without protest, acknowledging the unsustainable pension plan is threatening the airline as a whole...
Alaska air traffic controllers say FAA Administrator Marion Blakey tarnished their reputations when she said they were bending the rules while handling traffic with the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system. The controllers say the problem is with the gear, not them, and they've asked for an apology...
Two FAA pilots were uninjured when the nose gear of their King Air collapsed on landing at Bradley International Airport. The mishap closed the main runway for three hours but there was little damage to the plane...
Columbia Aircraft engineers, the FAA and insurance companies are scrambling to assess and repair damage to 60 aircraft caught in a freak hailstorm at the Bend, Ore., factory on June 12. In a letter to customers, CEO Bing Landis said the golf-ball-sized hail appears to have caused only cosmetic damage.
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June 26, 2006
This month AVweb's survey of the latest products and services for pilots, mechanics and aircraft owners brings you speed pants, high-lift wing tips, engine oil and much more.
Probable Cause #9: Personal Minimums
Pilots flying under the rules of FAR Part 91 are allowed to attempt an instrument approach even when the weather is below minimums. But when skills are rusty, it may be time to be more conservative, as we see in this week's Probable Cause report.
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AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to COOK AVIATION, INC. at KBMG, Bloomington, IN.
Two separate submissions offered strong praise for Cook. RAY ANDRAKA told us, "SERVICE ABOVE AND BEYOND, INCLUDING MEETING ME AT THE PLANE WITH MY RENTAL CAR." And Savvy Aviator's Mike Busch wrote, "NOT ONLY DOES COOK AVIATION HAVE AMONG THE LOWEST FUEL PRICES IN THE REGION ($3.37/GAL FOR 100LL AS THIS IS WRITTEN), BUT ITS COURTESY CREW CARS ARE NEW CADILLACS! AND UNLIKE MOST FBOS, COOK WILL LET YOU KEEP THE CAR OVERNIGHT WHEN YOU REST OVER NIGHT."
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Names Behind The News
With age comes wisdom...
Overheard while flying the Philly Class B:
PHL Tower: US Air 123 cleared to land Runway 27R.
US Air 123: Cleared to land runway 26R.
PHL Tower: I wish we had a 26R. But you are cleared to land runway 27R.
US Air 123: Apologies, sir. Realized the mistake as it left my mouth and wished I could have taken it back.
PHL Tower: Understood. Something like that ended my first marriage.
Unknown: ... All of our first marriages.
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