AVwebFlash - Volume 12, Number 47a

November 20, 2006

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
 
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DOT Inspector General On FAA Priorities back to top 
 
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FAA Faces "Formidable Challenge" On User Fees

The FAA has an uphill battle to convince its masters that a user-fee-based system is the best way to tackle the funding challenges of the next decade, according to a report from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). And even if the agency can make the case for user fees (which, because they aren’t taxes, don’t require Congressional oversight) the OIG says that shouldn’t mean unfettered access to that big pot of cash. “We believe that any proposal to give FAA more flexibility and additional funds needs to be accompanied by strong oversight mechanisms to ensure funds are spent efficiently,” says the report, which is entitled "DOT’s Top Management Challenges" (FAA reauthorization ranks second). Notwithstanding its cautious stance, however, the OIG seems to think that user fees offer the best hope of creating the sort of funding base that offers adequate investment for new technology while creating incentives for users to make more efficient use of the system. The report appears to agree with FAA Administrator Marion Blakey’s oft-repeated sentiment that the current system of excise taxes isn’t directly linked to the cost drivers within the agency. “User charges can provide incentives for users to be more efficient in their use of FAA services and for FAA to control costs,” the report says. “These incentives become stronger the closer the charges approximate cost-based fee-for-service charges and the degree to which there is appropriate user oversight of the charges and their expenditure.” However, given the rancorous debate over the user-fee issue and the FAA’s checkered past in financial management, the OIG suggests the agency has a fight on its hands to convince Congress to give it the enormous powers such a sea change would provide. “Should FAA determine that a user charge can be developed that promotes the efficient use of FAA services, it faces a formidable challenge in making the case for change and obtaining consensus on what that change should entail,” the report says. “To meet this challenge, FAA would need to demonstrate clearly and convincingly why the current excise tax financing mechanism is not adequate and how its proposed solution would fix this problem.”

FAA Staffing Issues A Concern

Although no one seems to dispute the FAA’s need to hire 11,000 new air traffic controllers over the next 10 years to cover the retirement bulge that has already begun, the OIG would like the FAA to figure out exactly where the new recruits should be deployed and just how much this hiring push is costing. The report notes that the original hiring plan, released in 2004, didn’t define those issues and, while the agency is working on a location-by-location assessment of staffing requirements, it’s still ignoring the cost issues. In fairness, the agency was missing some key financial information on the cost projections because, until earlier this year when it imposed a contract on air traffic controllers, it didn’t know what salary and benefit costs for new hires would be. Now that those costs have been established, the OIG wants to see real numbers. While much of the limelight has been on controller issues, the OIG is also reminding the FAA that a shortage of safety inspectors is looming. The report says that 1,008 of the agency’s 3,628 inspectors are eligible to retire now (that’s 28 percent) and by 2010 slightly more than half (1,820) can pull the pin. The agency has asked for money to hire 116 new inspectors in the 2007 budget. “Just as FAA has recognized the need to address an expected surge in controller attrition, it must also ensure it closely monitors retirements and takes steps to hire and train the next generation of safety inspectors,” the report says. “FAA will need to carefully evaluate its inspector staffing levels to ensure it can sustain sufficient oversight in light of the potential attrition within that workforce.”

DOT IG Wonders How The FAA Will Cope

Air travel is growing, more aircraft are projected to be flying to more places and the OIG wonders how the agency is going to cope with the surge in demand for its services. Making better use of its existing resources will help, but the report says major investments will be needed to accommodate the demand. For now, it says, nothing increases capacity like concrete and asphalt. There are about a dozen major runway projects underway at the moment and the report says the agency has to ensure they get done. Meanwhile, the search for technological answers to growing traffic continues and the OIG seems apprehensive about what it terms the “high risk” proposals currently being discussed for the Next Generation Air Traffic System (NGATS). The report says the FAA estimates it will need an extra $4.4 billion over the next six years to start implementing NGATS, but that estimate doesn’t say how or where the money will be spent. What’s perhaps more significant to the aviation industry and individual pilots is that new gear will be needed on airplanes to use the system. Industry has already asked for details on the type of equipment needed and the schedules for implementation and the OIG says the FAA must get that information together.

 
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Technical Issues Dog FAA back to top 
 

LAX Problems The Tip Of The Iceberg?

The FAA needs to spend up to $100 million, and fast, to make sure the lights, computers and consoles stay on at its most important air traffic control facilities, according to a report by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG was responding to a request from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to investigate a power failure at Los Angeles Center, as well as repeated failures of the ILS and the intentional disabling of the Airport Movement Area Safety System (AMASS) at LAX. In his letter to Boxer, DOT Inspector General Calvin L. Scovell III says the power problems at Los Angeles Center could be repeated at other major ATC facilities and the FAA needs to fix the problems sooner rather than later. Last July 18, a traffic accident knocked out power to the center and surrounding area. The center’s backup system activated and ran for about an hour before a component failed and the screens went blank. A technician tried to bring the system back online manually, but that caused another failure. More than 300 flights were affected. Scovell said in his letter the subsequent investigation revealed that similar weak points exist in the backup systems of other major ATC facilities and failures could occur at them as well. The OIG recommended the backup systems be redesigned to reduce the number of single-point failure sites and that staffing be reviewed to make sure technicians have the time and resources needed to do the work. “Our work shows that a national program is required to solve this problem and prevent its reoccurrence at other locations,” Scovell wrote. However, he also noted that there’s no money in the FAA budget for the project and the agency estimates the cost to be from $75 million to $100 million.

Construction Project Plays A Role In AMASS Outage

DOT Inspector General Scovell is also recommending that the potential impact of construction work on airport systems be considered when new projects are planned. At least part of the problem with LAX’s ILS and AMASS system was traced to the construction activity on one of the airport’s four runways. The ILS suffered five failures in July and August. It was apparently a run of bad luck, compounded by the age of some of the components and corrosion damage from LA’s salty (not to mention polluted) air. Even when the gear was working, however, interference by the construction equipment caused some approaching aircraft to lose the ILS signal. Meanwhile, sometime before July 26, the AMASS gear was shut off because of all the false alerts triggered by the construction machinery. On July 26, there was a near collision on a runway that the AMASS system should have detected had it been turned on. Scovell said AMASS doesn’t work that well, anyway, and will be replaced by a new ground movement monitoring system. He said the FAA doesn’t see any sort of common thread between the three issues, but Scovell said they must be individually monitored for safety’s sake. “Taken together, these incidents in Southern California underscore some important lessons,” he said. “Runway construction can have an unintended but significant impact on critical systems. Careful planning is needed to prevent negative effects of the construction. Aging equipment in harsh environments requires proactive monitoring and troubleshooting, especially after system failures, to eliminate subsequent outages.”

 
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News Briefs back to top 
 

Accident "Criminalization" Prompts Action

Some high-profile organizations have issued statements condemning the so-called “criminalization” of aircraft accidents and are calling on the world’s aviation authorities to pull the focus of accident investigations back to cause rather than blame. The protracted confinement and threat of criminal charges against two American pilots over the collision between their Legacy 600 business jet and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 (the 737 crashed, killing all 154 aboard) in Brazil has prompted the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations and a multinational group of aviation industry organizations from the U.S. and Europe to call on governments to leave criminal proceedings out of accident investigations unless there is evidence of “extremely egregious” behavior (like flying drunk or sabotage). They agree that the threat of prosecution stifles the free flow of information that not only helps establish cause, but also could help prevent future accidents. The international group, represented by the Flight Safety Foundation, British Royal Aeronautical Society, the French Acadamie Nationale de l’Air et de l’Espace and the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization (CANSO), which represents 40 aviation services providers including the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, listed nine cases where airline executives, pilots, mechanics and other workers involved in air crashes are facing hard time in prison if convicted of the charges against them. The group says “the paramount consideration in an accident investigation should be to determine the probable cause of and contributing factors in an accident.” The pilots’ group says Brazilian authorities should release all the information they have on the Legacy/Gol accident and, in the meantime, the Legacy pilots should be allowed to return to the U.S.

Lawyer Urges Release Of Pilots

The lawyer for American pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino says a preliminary report into the collision of their Embraer Legacy business jet and a GOL Boeing 737 fails to establish a cause for the accident and it could be 10 months or more before one is established. In news release, Robert Torricella also noted the report clearly shows the pilots held their assigned altitude and did not perform the “stunts” that some Brazilian officials alleged occurred before the collision, which caused the 737 to crash, killing all 154 on board. Torricella also notes that Brazilian Air Force Col. Rufino Antonio Da Silva Ferreira noted that flight plans are not necessarily the final word on determining an aircraft’s flight profile, but he stopped short of explaining that air traffic control guidance supersedes them. The Legacy was assigned 37,000 feet by ATC even though its northwesterly track should have put it at 36,000 feet, which was what the crew had flight planned. It’s still not clear why they were assigned the unusual altitude. Regardless of why all that happened, Torricella said keeping the pilots in a Rio de Janeiro hotel room for almost a year while the investigators sort those and other questions out is not fair. "Joe and Jan have done everything asked of them and each gave three lengthy statements within roughly the first 72 hours after the accident. They have since been held in Brazil for almost seven weeks without just cause. Enough is enough. It is time that they be permitted to return home to their families," Torricella said. The preliminary report also reveals that there were dozens of unanswered radio calls between controllers and the Legacy leading up to the accident but doesn’t offer any explanation for them. It also doesn’t answer why collision avoidance gear on both airplanes apparently failed to alert their respective crews of the pending collision, according to Reuters.

 
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News Briefs back to top 
 

AD Process Streamlined On Foreign Notifications

The FAA says it’s streamlining the process of turning around airworthiness directives from other countries on aircraft that are flying in the U.S. Last week, the agency issued two ADs on TBM 700 aircraft that relate to problems found in France one and two years ago, respectively. France issued an AD in 2005 regarding loose rivets in the tail assembly and, a year earlier, French authorities ordered inspections of a tail attachment fitting after corrosion was found on an aircraft in service. Chances are that the work on U.S.-registered aircraft has already been done because manufacturer EADS Socata issued mandatory service bulletins for both problems, but the catch-up AD from the FAA formalizes the actions prescribed by those MSBs. The ADs contain a preamble paragraph that says the FAA is implementing a system to streamline the processing of Mandatory Continuing Airworthiness Information (MCAI) received from other countries into rules that mean something in the U.S. “The streamlined process will allow us to adopt MCAI safety requirements in a more efficient manner and will reduce safety risks to the public,” the AD says.

New FBO For Tallahassee?

A Tallahassee firm hopes to become the city airport’s second FBO but, as there always seems to be, there are a few wrinkles to iron out. Eagle Aircraft Group has applied to open fueling and maintenance facilities to compete with Flightline Group, which has operated Tallahassee Regional Airport’s only FBO for decades. However, it appears that before Eagle Aircraft can open its doors, it will need concessions from the company it intends to compete with. Both companies have their eyes on an old FedEx hangar and it will be up to council to decide how the property is used. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, the city has already struck a deal with Flightline to demolish the FedEx hangar to make way for a hotel development. Eagle Aircraft wants the city to allow it to use the hangar as part of its FBO. Eagle spokesman Steven Leoni described Flightline as a "good operator," but he also said the community would benefit from having a second FBO at the airport. "That would be good for Tallahassee. Competition is always good,” he told the newspaper.

 
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News Briefs back to top 
 

FAA Chimes In On Ethanol In Fuel

The FAA has issued a special airworthiness information bulletin (SAIB) explaining the hazards posed to aircraft operation with automotive fuels that contain alcohol. EAA and other aviation groups have been warning about the increased use of ethanol in fuels. The alcohol is a substitute for chemical oxygenates MTBE and ETBE that have been linked to environmental concerns. But while ethanol may be safer for the environment, it’s toxic to airplane engines and the FAA says that if you can’t find alcohol-free mogas for your STC’d aircraft engine, you’ll have to switch back to 100LL. Alcohol increases the risk of vapor lock and can also introduce water into the fuel system as it cools at higher altitudes. It’s also corrosive to rubber seals used in aircraft fuel systems and reduces the amount of power available from the fuel. Although oil companies are required to prominently label their fuels that contain alcohol, if there’s any doubt about its presence, the SAIB includes a simple test that anyone can perform to determine if there is alcohol in fuel.

Cessna Offers Online Ice Training

Cessna Caravan operators and pilots who want to beat the rush can register now for an online training package that will likely be mandated by the FAA for those who operate in known icing. The curriculum was developed by Cessna with help from the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association in response to a series of Caravan accidents where icing may have been a factor. Hundreds of Caravans are in use by cargo companies and are exposed to icing conditions almost every day during the icing season. Cessna insists the aircraft is safe as long as it's operated according to the limits set in the POH and the training course reinforces the knowledge of those limits. The course is divided into five sections with a quiz at the end of each section. Students must pass the exam with 80 percent or better in all five sections to obtain a certificate of completion from Cessna. The training course takes two to three hours to complete. Although the course is aimed at Caravan operators, it offers general knowledge that can be applied to flying any kind of airplane in icing conditions. There's a $20 fee for the course.

 
Doc Blue's Emergency Medical Kit — Don't Leave Home Without It!
Do you carry a first-aid kit in your airplane or car? AVweb's Dr. Brent Blue says drugstore first-aid kits are packed with mostly useless stuff. Dr. Blue has assembled a traveling medical kit for dealing with all sorts of medical problems, based on his long experience as an emergency room doctor, frequent traveler, pilot, outdoorsman, and dad. It would cost more than $500 to duplicate this kit, but it's available on sale from Aeromedix for $333. Order by calling (888) 362-7123, or go online.
 
News In Brief back to top 
 

On The Fly

The U.S. government is expected to release a confiscated video on Dec. 21 that may contain images of the final moments of the crash of an airliner into the Pentagon on 9/11. The Web site Flight77.info claims its freedom of information request resulted in the decision to release the video…

Piper is providing financial incentives to those who’d like to fly a prop-driven Piper while waiting for a PiperJet to be built for them. Anyone who buys a Meridian before Dec. 31, 2006, gets a $100,000 credit toward a $2.2 million jet if they order the jet sometime in 2007. A $50,000 credit will be offered with sales of other Piper models…

WSI has released a new weather forecast tool it says will provide accurate, hour-by-hour forecasts of terminal weather conditions at thousands of airports worldwide. Hubcast was developed in conjunction with the FAA to help ATC, operators and ground services anticipate and prepare for weather events…

A United Boeing 737 and an Atlas Boeing 747 cargo plane came within 35 feet of each other during a runway incursion incident at O’Hare Airport in July. Earlier reports suggested the distance between them was 300 feet but the NTSB says the airliner crew rotated early on its takeoff run to barely miss the cargo plane, which had been cleared to land on an intersecting runway...

Video footage of Peter Besenyei's win in Perth and Kirby Chambliss's overall win of the Red Bull Air Race World Series is now available on the Web.

AVweb's Newstips Address...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something that 130,000 pilots might want to know about, tell us. Submit news tips via email to newstips@avweb.com. You're a part of our team ... often, the best part.

Find all of today's stories in AVweb's: NewsWire

 
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FBO Of The Week back to top 
 

FBO Of The Week: North Alabama Aviation

For local prices, enter your U.S. ZIP Code or Airport Identifier:

Fuel prices provided weekly by AirNav,
based on prices from the past 2 weeks.
Changes are relative to last week.

AVweb's "FBO of the Week" ribbon goes to North Alabama Aviation at KDCU in Decatur, Ala.

AVweb reader Stan Poelstra was literally floored by the FBO’s low fuel price and high level of service.

"We stopped here twice. The first time, on the way to Florida, the FBO owner lowered the price of fuel of the self serve while I was fueling to $3.25. He said he just got the new quote so he would give it to me. On the way back two weeks later, the price was the same but it was so windy one could hardly stand up, so my wife and I stayed over night. They gave us the use of the courtesy car that afternoon and overnight. No charge, just lots of smiles and thank you’s for stopping. Wow!”

Keep those nominations coming. For complete contest rules, click here.

AVweb is actively seeking out the best FBOs in the country and another one, submitted by you, will be spotlighted here next Monday!

 
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New On AVweb back to top 
 

New Articles and Features on AVweb

COLUMNS

CEO of the Cockpit #64: Proceedings of the 17th Yearly Meeting of the SOHOP
AVweb's CEO of the Cockpit has found still more ways to save the airlines money, save our military from getting involved in wars over oil, bring about world peace and ... no, it's really all about rockets.

AVweb's Business AVflash

HAVE YOU SIGNED UP yet for AVweb’s NO-COST twice monthly Business AVflash? Reporting on breaking news, Business AVflash also focuses on the companies, the products and the industry leaders that make headlines in the Business of Aviation. Business AVflash is a must read. Watch for a Business AVflash regular feature, TSA WATCH: GA IN THE "SPOTLIGHT". Sign up today at http://www.avweb.com/profile/.

 
Pilot Journey Isn't Just for Students & Instructors; There's Something for Everyone
You know Pilot Journey's Discovery Flight program converting leads to students. However, all pilots can find something at Pilot Journey: Pilot e-mail accounts, pilot eCards; a pilot cruise with seminars; AvCareers, where position wanted and positions available are listed; and much more. Pilot Journey is the pilot's choice online.
 
Audio News back to top 
 

AVweb Audio News

AVweb posts audio news on Mondays, plus a new in-depth interview each Friday. In Friday's podcast, you'll find an interview with Cirrus Design cofounder and CEO Alan Klapmeier, who addresses the rash of fatal accidents in October involving Cirrus pistons. And AVweb's podcast index includes interviews with Cessna chairman, president and CEO Jack Pelton, Spectrum Aeronautical chairman Linden Blue, Adam Aircraft chairman Rick Adam and New Piper CEO Jim Bass. In today's news summary, hear about how the DOT Inspector General supports aviation user fees, the looming air traffic controller shortage, a call condemning "criminalization" of aviation accidents, Eagle Aircraft bids to open a second FBO at Tallahassee Airport and more. Remember: In AVweb's podcasts, you'll hear things you won't find anywhere else.

 
If You Have a Calendar Event, AVweb Wants to Hear from You!
AVweb's no-cost Calendar of Events is available to everyone who has an event to post! Remember, over 160,000 subscribers turn to AVweb for their news. Make sure they know about your upcoming event: Post it online!
 
Video Of The Week back to top 
 

Video of the Week: CV-22 Osprey

Recommend a Video | VOTW Archive

AVweb's Russ Niles was on hand at Aviation Nation last week and brought back a terrific clip of the Osprey CV-22 making its public debut. We thought everyone would like to see it, so we're sharing it here as AVweb's "Video of the Week":


Don't see a video screen?
Try disabling ad blockers and refreshing this page.
If that doesn't work, click here to download the video directly.

Don't forget to send us links to any interesting videos you find out there. If you're impressed by it, there's a good chance other AVweb readers will be too. (Plus, we like watching videos.)

 
The Used Aircraft Guide Can Save You Thousands When Purchasing an Aircraft
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The Lighter Side Of Flight back to top 
 

Short Final

Returning to Princeton, N.J., in a Seminole, I was proudly clipping along at 140 knots and can only assume that my deep voice and professional-sounding tone led to us appearing to be more than we were:

Seminole: "New York approach, Seminole Two Two Eight, 5,000."

Approach: "Seminole Two Two Eight, Morristown altimeter 30.08. Proceed direct Solberg, maintain 5,000. Were you given any speed restrictions? If so, you can resume normal speed.

Seminole: "Direct Solberg, 5,000, Two Two Eight. And we're a Seminole. This is normal speed."

 

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Power Flow Is Now FAA-Approved for the Diamond DA40
The Power Flow Tuned Exhaust System is now standard equipment on all 2007 Diamond DA40 aircraft. Benefits include: Speed increases of up to 8 knots; 15% more climb; or, go the same speeds and save up to 1.2 gallons per hour. Starting in October, existing DA40 owners can retrofit their aircraft. For complete details, go online.

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Names Behind the News back to top 
 

AVwebFlash is a twice-weekly summary of the latest news, articles, products, features, and events featured on AVweb, the internet's aviation magazine and news service.

Today's issue was written by Contributing Editor Russ Niles (bio).

Click here to send a letter to the editor. (Please let us know if your letter is not intended for publication.)

Comments or questions about the news should be sent here.

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