March 16, 2004
By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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Yesterday's field hearing by the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Aviation may be the beginning of the end for the ongoing ban of non-scheduled operations from the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). The hearing, held in a hangar at the airport's mostly deserted Signature Flight Support facility, allowed the general and business aviation trade associations to once again tell Congress about the many problems arising from the federal government's dealings with the industry in the two-and-one-half years since Sept. 11, 2001. It was also an opportunity for David M. Stone, the TSA's acting administrator, to tell Congress that his agency "is devising a security plan that will allow general aviation and charter operations to resume at DCA." Stone told the panel that his agency planned to present such a plan to an interagency working group as early as within two weeks.
Uniformly, the industry witnesses appearing -- who included James K. Coyne, president, National Air Transportation Association (NATA); Phil Boyer, president, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA); Shelley A. Longmuir, president and chief executive officer, National Business Aviation Association (NBAA); Beth Haskins, president and chief executive officer, Signature Flight Support; and Edward M. Bolen, president and chief executive officer, General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) -- decried the economic impact ongoing restrictions are having. For example, AOPA's Boyer cited numerous examples of inactivity throughout the Washington, D.C., area while NATA's Coyne stressed industry's willingness to comply with reasonable security procedures in exchange for access to DCA if only someone in government would approve them. As GAMA's Bolen summed it up, "[T]he fact is that our nations security organizations have not failed to find a workable solution that will bring general aviation back to [DCA] -- it is that they have failed to even try."
With the economic damage to the industry firmly in mind, the associations appearing at the hearing all expressed their support for reopening the airport to non-scheduled operations. No surprise there. Nor were there any surprises in how they proposed it be accomplished. For example, NATA reminded Congress of its DCA Protocol (DCAP) proposal, which would require all aircraft accessing DCA to be U.S.-registered, have two-pilot crews, and use crews who successfully pass a fingerprint-based criminal history record check (CHRC), among other things. NATA's four-phased DCAP would gradually ramp up non-scheduled access by first allowing charter operators already complying with TSA security rules to use the facility. The NBAA also brought a proposal, dubbed "Secure Access," to the witness table. Under the NBAA's Secure Access initiative, another eight requirements would be appended to the association's TSA Access Certificate (TSAAC) program currently in effect in the New York City area. Among the eight additional requirements were concepts such as sharing real-time classified threat information with the aircraft operator; developing and maintaining a ground security program; a CHRC for the entire flight department, not just the flight crew; and checking all passengers against a watch list used by other elements of the aviation community.
Regardless of how or whether DCA is ever reopened to non-scheduled operations -- Part 135 charters, high-end bizjets or FLIBs meeting airline passengers -- the hearing served as a reminder to Congress that general and business aviation operators have borne the brunt of government-imposed security restrictions since Sept. 11, 2001. Temporary flight restrictions (TFRs), the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), the prohibition of transient aircraft operations at the so-called "DC-3" airports and, of course, the closing of DCA to anything other than scheduled air carriers -- but a few of the examples raised in the hearing -- provide overwhelming evidence of the federal government's continuing unwillingness to be the least bit supportive of GA.
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One of the more interesting reminders to come from the testimony presented at yesterday's field hearing on non-scheduled access to DCA involved three provisions in the FAA's reauthorization bill, which was enacted on Dec. 12, 2003. Among other things, that bill authorized up to $100 million in federal funds to be used "to reimburse ... general aviation entities for the security costs incurred and revenue foregone" resulting from federally imposed security-based restrictions. Two other things the bill did were to mandate that the Secretary of Homeland Security "develop and implement a security plan to permit general aviation aircraft to land and take off at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport" and to require the FAA to submit, within 30 days after the bill was enacted, "a report containing an explanation of the need for" the Washington ADIZ. Based on TSA Acting Administrator David M. Stone's statement that a plan was in the works, that action could come sooner, rather than later.
The reimbursement provision sought to provide some measure of relief to GA-related businesses, such as the Signature Flight Support FBO based at DCA, the DC-3 airports and other operators throughout the country who were restricted or forced to close their doors in the face of the TFRs, Enhanced Class B airspace or outright groundings. Of course, $100 million is chump change compared to the billions Uncle Sugar shoveled out to the scheduled airlines in late 2001. So far, however, Congress has put no money in the pipeline to fund this reimbursement program and it's not likely that any will be "found" in the next few months.
Similar inaction on the FAA's part has resulted in the agency's completely ignoring the requirement for it to report to Congress on the need for the Washington ADIZ. (Memo To FAA: On the off chance no one there has a calendar, AVweb is happy to help -- just add 30 days to Dec. 12, 2003, and you get Jan. 12, 2004. That was roughly two months ago.) Although the directive that the Secretary of Homeland Security develop a GA security plan for DCA did not include a deadline, neither did TSA Acting Administrator David M. Stone announce a firm ETA in his testimony yesterday.
Instead, he outlined this process:"TSA is working on devising a security plan, consistent with Section 823, which will then be coordinated within DHS and other federal agencies that are charged with responsibility for securing the National Capital Region. Other components within DHS that will consider the issue include the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Secret Service. Outside of DHS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Aviation Administration will also be involved. In working toward a solution, the issue has been and will continue to be discussed at length within the Airspace Protection Workgroup, which was chartered by the Homeland Security Council to discuss various aviation issues involving the National Capital Region. We will also consult with interested Committees in Congress as our work progresses. When the specific details of the proposed security measures are fully developed and coordinated within the Executive Branch, the plan will be finalized and its non-security sensitive elements will be published in the Federal Register."Meanwhile, business aircraft operators should not forget to install an emergency locator transmitter (the FAA's deadline for carrying them aboard small jets was Jan. 1, 2004), conduct their annual inspections, or install reduced vertical separation minimums (RVSM) compliant equipment by January 2005. Gotta meet those deadlines, folks.
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Got an older Sabreliner, JetStar, Learjet, Citation or GI you're still flying? How about an MU-2, Metro II or early Hawker? If so, then the ongoing drama among owners of 400-series Cessnas, the FAA and Cessna itself bears watching closely, especially if your type is no longer in production. As AVweb has reported, the FAA on May 15, 2003, proposed a complicated, costly Airworthiness Directive (AD) targeting the heavier twin Cessnas (not the 300-series airplanes, yet) for wing spar strap modifications on about 700 relatively high-time Cessna 401, 402, 411 and 414 aircraft. Earlier this month, the FAA held an unprecedented two-day public meeting, bringing together various interested parties to discuss the proposed AD. If adopted, the AD could force operators to incur compliance costs estimated as high as $70,000 per airplane, an amount approaching what an individual airplane may be worth. Aside from the expense associated with the proposed AD, the FAA's actions in this saga thus far suggest there may be dark days ahead for anyone with an "older" aircraft on which someone, somewhere has identified a potentially unsafe condition.
Two factors present in the history surrounding the proposed AD should be of concern to operators of older aircraft. First, there has never been a single accident or incident related to fatigue failure of the models' wing spar, the prevention of which is the AD's objective. Even the accident to which the FAA points as precipitating the proposed AD -- the April 27, 1999, fatal crash of a high-time Cessna 402C -- involved a 20,400-hour wing spar that had a manufacturing defect and had suffered a questionable maintenance history. Despite the fact of the accident, the fix proposed by the AD is not designed to address any other manufacturing defects or improper repairs.
A second factor present in the growing controversy surrounding the proposed twin-Cessna spar AD has to do with the manner in which the fatigue-analysis data was assembled and with its availability to operators. Back in 1995, the FAA signed a contract with Cessna calling for the agency to fund a study of the wings' fatigue characteristics but which also considered the data generated to be proprietary and, therefore, not for release to the public. Cessna completed the analysis and presented its proprietary data to the FAA in early 1999, shortly before the above-cited crash of a 402C. While the study's final report is available, the underlying data are not. In essence, the FAA paid a bunch of money to Cessna to develop data the company could use to request an AD and/or mandate expensive repairs to in-service aircraft but did so in a manner that prevents the public in general or affected operators from reviewing it. The problem with this is that, by law, information a federal agency uses to develop new regulations -- and an AD is a regulation -- is supposed to be available to the public for review and comment. That's not likely to happen in this case, unless Cessna relents and makes available to the public the information developed under its contract with the FAA.
Whether or not you operate a 400-series Cessna as part of your business, you should be concerned about the history and development of this proposed AD. If this process continues along the course set by the FAA, almost any manufacturer can go to the agency, say, "There's a problem, but we can't let you tell the public what it is," and request an AD. Such an AD could require major, expensive inspections and repairs, ground a fleet of aircraft, or both.
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Like a traveling salesman punch-drunk on racking up enough frequent-flyer miles to receive first-class upgrades for life, Gulfstream keeps setting distance records with its G550 uber-bizjet. And, in the bargain, it also won an award. The most recent distance records were established on March 8, when a G550 took off from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and landed 7 hours and 24 minutes later at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany. Three days later, the G550 took off again, this time from Rotterdam Airport in the Netherlands, and landed 7 hours and 27 minutes later at Dulles. Gulfstream is awaiting official recognition by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) for the resulting speed records. "The G550 continues to perform flawlessly, said Bryan Moss, president, Gulfstream. With each new record-setting flight, the G550 further establishes itself as the clear and credible leader in the ultra-long-range business jet category.
Meanwhile, the NAA awarded its 2003 Collier Trophy to the Gulfstream 550 team for "developing an ultra-long-range business jet that includes various technological and safety advances." According to Gulfstream, the most significant of those advances is Gulfstreams Enhanced Vision System, which allows pilots to see the runway and the surrounding area in conditions of limited visibility, such as at night or in fog. The Collier Trophy will be presented to Gulfstream on May 19 at a formal dinner in Arlington, Va.
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Eclipse Aviation Corp.'s push to certificate its Eclipse 500 light-light bizjet is scheduled to take a giant leap forward this week when the company intends to open its new Friction Stir Weld Center. The 97,000-square-foot facility will eventually house 70 employees and will be used to assemble the Eclipse 500's aluminum fuselage using the friction stir welding process. Eclipse plans to begin building seven pre-production models of its twin-engine, six-seat business jet. Three of the seven aircraft will be used for FAA certification tests, two will be used as beta testers -- logging flight time to uncover post-production issues before they make it into the delivered fleet -- and the remaining pair will be used for static testing. The Eclipse 500, to be priced at $1 million, "will be one of the most highly tested general aviation airplanes in history," according to company spokesperson Andrew Broom.
Meanwhile, Eclipse Aviation's president and CEO Vern Raburn this week pledged a new commitment to deliver on his company's promises concerning the Eclipse 500 by establishing a Web page dedicated to tracking its progress. Dubbed "Track Our Progress," the company's new Web page is up and running and notes how well the company does meeting its milestones and targets. The company has posted more than 200 tasks and milestones leading up to FAA certification of the Eclipse 500 in early 2006 and JAA Certification at the end of 2006. Each of these milestones has a due date and as the Eclipse 500 program progresses, the actual date each goal is achieved will be noted and the majority of completed milestones will be illustrated with photos and details.
"The new Track Our Progress feature of our Web site reflects our commitment to be thoughtful about what we promise, to back up every one of our claims and to put the interests of our customers first -- without exception," said Raburn. "We welcome our competitors to provide the same level of information about their development programs and look forward to having our performance judged both on its own merits, and in comparison to others in the field." Indeed, an Eclipse e-mail newsletter sent yesterday went to some lengths to both criticize and challenge competitors Adam Aircraft, Safire Aircraft and -- blasphemously -- Cessna Aircraft "to provide the same level of detailed information about their development programs."
Needless to say, Eclipse feels it is on track to deliver certificated aircraft to customers in 2006. For example, the company expects delivery of engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada by the end of 2004, and its first test flight with those engines in December. "2005 will be the flight test year," Eclipse vice president of marketing Dottie Hall said. Originally, the Eclipse was to be fitted with two smaller jet engines from Williams International. Eclipse dropped Williams as a supplier in late 2002 after discovering reliability and power problems with the engine during test flights of its first pre-production plane in August of that year. Pratt & Whitney was named as a replacement supplier last year. Eclipse president Vern Raburn says some of the company's biggest hurdles are behind it. "It's fun again," he exuded. "There was a time when that wasn't how you could describe existence here."
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What a difference 20 years makes. It was late 1983, at that year's NBAA annual meeting, that Beech brought down the house with a flyover of a scaled version of its proposed all-composite turbopusher, the Starship 2000. Last year, Beech's new owner Raytheon announced it would scrap the 40-odd airframes it was leasing and developed a buy-back program for the 10 or so copies in private hands. Still, the one-of-a-kind airplanes remain popular -- with museums. Several aviation museums have requested and/or have received a donated Starship. Now, the McMinnville, Ore.,-based Evergreen Aviation Museum has received one, which will be added to its collection, including the worlds most famous flying boat (Howard Hughes' "Spruce Goose") and the worlds fastest aircraft (Lockheed's SR-71 Blackbird).
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With this installment of our twice-monthly special coverage devoted to business aviation, AVweb inaugurates a new feature, "TSA Watch." This feature, which will appear as the last news item in each BizAVflash and Business Aviation NewsWire published by AVweb, is designed to highlight the latest observed action -- or inaction -- by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) involving general and business aviation. Don't worry about our having enough material: Kind of like watching the TCAS display on a Friday-evening approach into TEB, it's a target-rich environment.
This issue's inauguration of "TSA Watch" directs your attention to the TSA's Web site, where the home page's section "Spotlight" includes the link "General Aviation and TSA." Clicking on that link eventually takes one to the TSA's "General Aviation Homepage," which includes a brief description of the industry and a collection of references to existing security rules, recommendations and the ongoing GA security hotline, 866-GA-SECURE (1-866-427-3287). While somewhat short and sweet in its discussion of GA and even more limited in its description of and links to material describing the security-related steps imposed on and voluntarily taken by the industry since 2001, the simple fact that the agency took the time and effort to develop the pages is a good thing.
... the next issue of AVweb's BizAVflash will be e-mailed to you on March 31.
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