AVwebBiz - Volume 9, Number 2

January 12, 2011

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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AVflash! Fighting User Fees on the Hill back to top 

In Congress, A Move Against User Fees

U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wis., senior members of the House Transportation Committee, are circulating a letter among fellow lawmakers asking them to join their effort to persuade President Barack Obama to avoid general aviation user fees in the next federal budget. Costello said he favors maintaining the current mechanism of using fuel taxes to support the Aviation Trust Fund. "We want to reiterate that a user-fee proposal would be a step backward," said Costello. "This is an issue that we have had bipartisan agreement on in recent years and there is no reason to reconsider it. I will not support a budget or an FAA Reauthorization bill that includes user fees."

A similar campaign in 2009 received strong bipartisan backing, according to AOPA, with 118 House members signing on to that letter against user fees. "Once again, Congressmen Petri and Costello have taken the lead against imposing user fees on general aviation," said Lorraine Howerton, AOPA's vice president of legislative affairs. "The last bipartisan letter spoke volumes and we applaud the congressmen for circulating a letter in the new Congress, and we will urge other members to sign the letter to the president opposing user fees." NBAA President Ed Bolen also applauded the effort: "Representative Costello has always been an effective champion for general aviation, and we thank him for taking this action early in the year to send a clear and strong message of opposition to user fees for the industry," he said in a news release. He added that user fees would require a large bureaucracy to manage, and would impose a burden on the many small and mid-size businesses that rely on an airplane to succeed.

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First Flight for China's J-20 back to top 

China's Stealth Fighter Flies

China's stealth fighter, the J-20, has flown for the first time, Chinese officials said on Tuesday. The 15-minute flight took place Tuesday morning from the Chengdu airfield where it was seen last week. Chinese President Hu Jintao confirmed that the first flight had taken place when asked by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is in China this week. Hu said it was coincidental that it occurred during Gates' visit. The J-20 appears to be a stealth fighter, but defense experts have said the aircraft appears to be less advanced than U.S. fighters. China's own defense minister, Gen. Liang Guanglie, said this week that China is not an "advanced" military force. "The gap between us and that of advanced countries is at least two to three decades," he said, according to The Guardian.

Other industry analysts weighed in on the aircraft's apparent capabilities. "The J-20 appears to be either a demonstrator or a prototype of a combat aircraft with low observable characteristics, particularly in the front quadrant," Douglas Barrie, an aviation analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said this week. "The design, particularly the rear section and in plan-form is reminiscent of MiG's 1.42 fighter project, the program for which was cancelled in the latter half of the 1990s," Barrie told Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency. The J-20 seems to be designed to compete against the F-22, according to Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based defense analyst. "This is an earthquake which has especially shaken Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries," Chang told The Wall Street Journal. "I'm sure Japan and others will push the U.S. to restart the F-22 production line." Officially, the U.S. says the new aircraft is not a threat. "It's not of concern," Pentagon spokesman Marine Co. Dave Lapan told the New York Daily News.

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Maine Use Tax Loses Its Luster back to top 

Maine Eyes Repealing Plane Tax

While it may have seemed like a good time when it was introduced, Maine legislators on both sides of the house now seem unified in getting rid of a controversial "use tax" on private aircraft. The difference between then and now is that Maine is trying to build an aerospace industry and the tax will almost certainly get in the way of that. "Maine's got a big black star over it, because we're the only state in New England that still charges this tax," Sen. Stan Gerzofsky told the Times Record. Under the law, anyone who's purchased an airplane in the previous year in a state that doesn't charge sales tax on airplanes and has it Maine for more than 20 days will be sent a bill for 5 percent of the value of the aircraft by the state. "I've seen some pretty tall sales tax bills go out to people who didn't know the law and brought their planes here to get service or to go on vacation," Gerzofsky said. But what may have brought the issue more into focus for Maine's lawmakers is the chilling effect it is having on the fledgling aerospace industry.

Earlier this year, the sprawling Brunswick Naval Air Station was closed and it's in the process of being handed over to the state, which is promoting it as an aviation business park. It's already landed Kestrel Aircraft but the tax is causing some inconvenience for the new enterprise. "The owners of Kestrel have to land their plane in Portsmouth (New Hampshire) and drive up." Portsmouth is about 80 miles from the new plant. The stirrings in the Maine legislature have the endorsement of aviation groups and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which is trying to attract new business to the old Navy base. "There is no question that the repeal of this use tax would provide a real economic boost to Brunswick and communities all across the state by leveling the playing field in attracting new aviation businesses -- and by welcoming visiting aircraft back into Maine," Mark Kimberling, AOPA's director for state government affairs, said.

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Safety Recommendations back to top 

Mandate Shoulder Harnesses: NTSB

The NTSB is recommending the FAA require retrofitting shoulder harnesses in all general aviation aircraft that don't have them as the "cheapest and simplest" way of improving crash survivability. In a study that was mainly focused on the potential safety benefits of airbags in GA aircraft, the board determined that while airbags will probably help, installation of shoulder harnesses in lap-belt-equipped planes would make the biggest difference. "Based on an analysis of over 37,000 GA accidents, the Board concluded that the risk of fatal or serious injury was 50 percent higher when an occupant was only restrained by a lap belt as compared to the combination lap belt and shoulder harness," the board said in a statement. The NTSB could only find 10 survivable accidents with which to assess the value of airbags and found that of the 12 occupants of aircraft involved in those accidents, at least two of them avoided more serious injury or death because of the airbags. The board stops short of recommending that airbags be made mandatory and actually makes some safety recommendations about the design and installation of the bags, which deploy from the shoulder harness of specially equipped seatbelts.

The board found that the bag-equipped belts might not work as well on overweight people as on those with a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25 and recommends more work be done in that area. It also wants tighter rules to prevent both intentional and unintentional misuse of bag-equipped belts. For instance, in some aircraft, it's possible to reverse the belts, meaning the wrong airbag will deploy in a crash. The study did find the airbags deployed when needed and didn't go off by mistake. It gave kudos to the airbag manufacturers and aircraft builders for designing and installing the systems even though they aren't required by the FAA. "Although airbags have been mandated in automobiles for over a decade, the aviation industry has no such requirement for small aircraft," said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. "The good news is that over 30 manufacturers have stepped up to the plate and offer airbags as standard or optional equipment." There are about 7,000 airbag-equipped aircraft on the U.S. registry, out of about 224,000 GA aircraft.

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The Bottom Line on the Recession back to top 

Bizjets And Houses: There Are Just Too Many

Although there isn't usually a strong link between them, the business jet and housing markets appear to be on parallel courses to a long and slow recovery, according to a Wall Street analyst. David Strauss, of UBS, told The Wall Street Journal that the divergent industries suffer from the same boom-induced malady: too much inventory. The rush of construction and manufacturing in 2007 and 2008 has left a glut of high-quality, almost-new homes and airplanes that compete directly with new homes and airplanes. What's worse is that used prices are continuing to soften, meaning even tougher competition for new aircraft. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is no longer a train, however.

New aircraft sales are strongly linked to the stock market index and predictions call for the healthy increases on the Street to continue. In 2010, the S&P index jumped 33 percent and Strauss says the corresponding increase in bizjet sales is historically about 58 percent, following a one-year lag period. Wild cards in all this include emerging markets like Brazil, China, Asia and Russia and the political considerations of boards who may still be reluctant to approve jet purchases for fear of backlash from shareholders or consumers. For what it's worth, Strauss told the Journal that he's detecting a diminishing amount of that kind of concern.

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Who's Where back to top 

Clemmons Promoted at ACI-NA

Deirdre Clemmons

Airports Council International-North America has announced the promotion of Deirdre Clemmons to vice president of meetings convention and education. Clemmons has been with ACI-NA since 2008.

Who's Where? You Tell Us

Get a promotion or a new job? Your colleagues want to know about it, and AVwebBiz can get the word out. Drop us a line about the staff appointment, with a nice recent photo, and we'll do our best to include it in our new section, "Who's Where." The items will be permanently archived on AVweb for future reference, too.

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AVweb Media: Look, Listen, Laugh and Learn back to top 

Video: First Flight of Chinese J-20 'Stealth Fighter'

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

A collection of video clips from Chinese media outlets including: the J-20 fifth-generation "stealth" fighter jet's first flight, taxi and flight control tests, a size and planform comparison with other contemporary aircraft (F-22 and T-50), and brief images that may suggest the aircraft's avionics package.

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Video: Canopy Covers Reviewed by 'Aviation Consumer'

Original, Exclusive Videos from AVweb | Reader-Submitted & Viral Videos

If you park your aircraft outside, you need a cover. Jeff Van West shows the pros and cons of Aviation Consumer's top picks.

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The Top Reporter on Our Crack Staff ... Is You! back to top 

AVweb's Newstips Address ...

Our best stories start with you. If you've heard something 200,000 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.

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Names Behind the News back to top 

Meet the AVwebBiz Team

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

The AVwebBiz team is:

Timothy Cole

Editorial Director, Aviation Publications
Paul Bertorelli

Russ Niles

Contributing Editors
Mary Grady
Glenn Pew

Features Editor
Kevin Lane-Cummings

Scott Simmons

Jeff van West

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