AVwebBiz - Volume 5, Number 9

March 14, 2007

By The AVweb Editorial Staff
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User-Fee Battle: Deja Vu All Over Again?

To many, this year's battle in Congress over the FAA's pending reauthorization legislation -- which pitches the agency and airlines against general aviation pilots/operators and airframe manufacturers -- is eerily reminiscent of a similar fight waged in the early 1980s. At the time, the playing field was a bit different, with the August 1981 firing of PATCO controllers supposedly driving then-Administrator J. Lynn Helms' vision of a modernized, automated FAA air traffic control system requiring fewer controllers to handle the onslaught of airline deregulation and, of course, all those pesky business jets. But much of the same rhetoric and rationale was being deployed. For example, the FAA had a plan -- the National Airspace System Plan, or NASP -- emphasizing a new "host" computer system for the en route environment, using increased automation throughout the ATC system as a way to minimize the need for human controllers (and their labor issues), plus enhanced communications to ATC and with other airborne aircraft through Mode S transponders and the Traffic Alert Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).

Another new technology promising greater efficiency was the Microwave Landing System, although the FAA was opposing the then-partially deployed Global Positioning System (GPS) since it lacked sufficient accuracy for instrument approaches, according to a report issued by the Office of Technology Assessment. But then, as now, the major battle was over how the new system would be funded, who would pay more and who would pay less. Other differences between the 1982 situation and today's: For example, no taxes or user fees were being levied on airspace users; the 1970 legislation imposing them had expired in 1980 and had not been renewed. But the some of the same buzzword issues -- cost allocation and cost recovery, for instance -- were being bandied about.

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What's At Stake: Lessons Learned From Past User-Fee Fights

During congressional consideration of the 1982 FAA authorization bill, the user-fee issue got the lion's share of attention, with some proposals even calling for a tax on the new avionics general aviation aircraft would be required to carry for access to the nation's most-congested airspace. A complicated user-fee system was envisioned, with conventional and Mode S transponders used to identify aircraft and their system impact, followed by direct billing -- similar to a telephone bill -- a month later. Another "idea" was an annual tax on aircraft by weight, number of engines or installed avionics equipment. Eventually, the 1982 debate resulted in Congress passing legislation designed to modernize the ATC system and, employing the basic activity-based excise tax system in place today, cover its costs. All of which worked quite well according to most observers. Until the fall of 1984, that is, when federal-budget politics overshadowed the FAA's commitment to users and funding for the NASP and airports was drastically reduced. Of course, with one or two exceptions, primarily resulting from congressional inaction, the taxes/fees levied on aviation system users were not reduced. Most years since then, there's been an annual battle between general aviation, airlines and their passengers -- one fought in the halls of the FAA and Congress -- to fully fund the system improvements already authorized. Rarely has Congress approved full funding; even rarer has been an FAA budget proposing to spend at the levels previously agreed.

The FAA often was its own worst enemy, however, falling far behind on the research and procurement schedules it originally said it could meet, with the Microwave Landing System serving as industry's poster-child evidence. Even so, Congress was definitely in charge and, eventually, hammered out compromises ensuring equal access to all airspace and at least adequate funding. And, according to many observers on the general aviation side of the house, that's where this year's user-fee battle takes on such importance, irrespective of the much higher costs involved or the airlines' bid to place themselves in charge of running the ATC system. Instead, observers say it's the proposal's almost-below-the-radar removal of Congress from the annual -- some say day-to-day -- oversight of the agency and the ATC system that poses the greatest opportunity for mischief. There's no question the FAA and the airlines are seeking greater autonomy and dedicated funding; they've been at this for more than 25 years. The real question confronting industry this year is the extent to which Congress should give up its oversight and turn over to a board of directors composed largely of airline representatives responsibility for long-term management of the ATC system. Based on the ways in which the agency has lived up to its commitments since the early 1980s, the answer should be "not so much." That's what's at stake for general and business aviation in 2007.

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It's Official: 2006 Safer Than 2005, But GA Hours Continue Downward Trend

Civil aviation safety continued to improve in 2006, according to NTSB numbers released yesterday. According to those statistics, the number of accidents throughout all segments of civil aviation in 2006 was less than in 2005, with general aviation recording the lowest number of accidents and fatal accidents in the 40 years of NTSB record keeping. To no one's surprise, major air carriers continued to rack up the lowest accident rates in civil aviation, while 2006 accidents among on-demand Part 135 operations -- including air taxi, air tour and air medical operations -- were down almost 20 percent from 2005. "This is very good news," said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker, "but it is no reason to let down our guard. We need to build on this improving record with a continued emphasis on safety in all phases of aviation."

Major air carriers in 2006 carried 750 million passengers more than 8 billion miles while logging more than 19 million flight hours. At the same time, these carriers had 31 accidents, down more than 20 percent from 2005. Only two of the 31 accidents were fatal, resulting in 50 fatalities. In 2006, on-demand part 135 operators had 54 accidents, down almost 20 percent from 2005, with 10 of those accidents resulting in 16 fatalities. The decline in general aviation accidents continues an ongoing trend, according to the NTSB. General aviation accounted for the greatest number of total and fatal accidents last year -- 1,515 accidents, 303 of them fatal, resulting in 698 fatalities. Part of the decline in GA accidents is due to a steady decrease in the industry's flight activity, said the NTSB. Since 1990, GA hours flown has declined 20 percent and, as a consequence, the accident rate has remained relatively stable, averaging approximately 7.5 accidents per 100,000 flight hours.

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Cessna To Increase Citation X Production, Help Retrofit Winglets

Despite the NTSB's data showing that GA hours are down since 1990, activity levels in certain segments of civilian non-scheduled aviation are up. Perhaps chief among them is the business aviation segment, as evidence by last year's record-setting sales numbers. With that in mind, and perhaps recognizing there's never too much of a good thing, Cessna Aircraft Company last week announced it was increasing production of its Citation X business jet over the next five years. Additionally, the company this week said it had entered into an agreement with Winglet Technology, LLC, to collaborate on the latter’s patented "Elliptical Winglet" design for retrofit on Citation X jets already in the fleet. More than 260 Citation Xs already have been delivered to customers around the world and the backlog for the aircraft extends well into 2008. The fleet has amassed almost 1 million flight hours over its 10-year history, the company said. With a top speed of .92 Mach, the Citation X is not only the world's fastest business jet but it's also the fastest civilian aircraft flying.

“Orders for the Citation X have been increasing and, as a result, we will be increasing production more than 65 percent from 2006 to 2010 to meet the growing demand for this popular aircraft,” said Roger Whyte, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Cessna. Meanwhile, Winglet Technology's elliptical winglets, which are designed to increase range and increase payload on high/hot departures, will be installed and flown on a Cessna Citation X test bed this summer. Cessna and Winglet Technology plan to announce details on the expected performance benefits and planned availability later this year. “We are looking forward to working with Cessna on what we believe will be a significant performance enhancement for the Citation X,” noted Bob Kiser, president of Winglet Technology.

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Departing LAS? Listen Up

If you crew a turbojet airplane and regularly depart the McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nev., your regular departure procedure may change. According to Keith S. Gordon, business aviation representative for Las Vegas Airspace Users, RNAV-capable turbojets departing LAS to the north and northeast over initial fixes such as MLF, BCE, DVC or ILC will no longer be issued the TRALR departure when Runways 25L and 25R are in operation. Instead, crews should expect a revised STAAV3 RNAV departure for all aircraft filed over MLF, BCE, DVC, ILC, etc. Additionally: The STAAV3 is only for Runway 25L/R departures, a minimum climb gradient is required to meet the procedure's first crossing restrictions, and the TRALR departure will not be available for aircraft departing Runways 19 or 25. Importantly, this procedural change will not be implemented this Thursday, the beginning of the regular 28-day charting and procedure cycle. Instead, it will occur beginning Tuesday March 20, at 06:00 local time.

According to Gordon, crews departing via the STAAV2 and depending on an out-of-date database might think they're on the STAAV3 but will wander off into Nellis AFB's airspace before either facility can see the track error. That's why the new change is being implemented on the 20th, instead of the 15th. Gordon tells AVweb benefits from using the new procedure include "an unrestricted climb to FL190, a reduction of 38 en route miles compared to the TRALR departure and enhanced capacity for LAS." He added, "In a collaborative effort, Las Vegas TRACON and Nellis worked out a 'shelf' of airspace for LAS departures. The STAAV3 incorporates waypoints that have been shifted to work within this airspace reconfiguration. Now, northbound flights can turn directly towards their northerly departure fixes instead of making the counterclockwise loop around the Las Vegas Valley."

Columbia Introduces 2007 Models
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Global Buys Part Of Another Global

Global Aircraft Solutions Inc. (GACF) yesterday announced it has acquired a 20% interest in and entered into an exclusive service agreement with Global Aircraft Leasing Partners (GALP). GACF is an integrated aviation company engaged in aircraft trading and aircraft parts sales plus maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for commercial airlines, charter airlines and aviation leasing companies; GALP is a start-up aircraft-leasing venture formed to acquire aircraft and lease them to operators throughout the world. In exchange for 20% interest in GALP, GACF will obtain infrastructure, industry expertise and management assistance. Global Aircraft (GACF) and GALP also agreed that GACF will have first right of refusal for all aircraft maintenance, aircraft parts and technical consulting requirements GALP may have.

In other developments, Ian Herman will continue his duties as chairman of GACF while John Sawyer, president, will assume the title of CEO. Herman commented, "I am very proud of the progress that Global Aircraft Solutions has made since I became the founding Chairman and CEO of the Company at its formation early in 2002. I will be stepping down from my role as CEO at Global Aircraft in order to operate this new start-up opportunity at GALP. I am particularly pleased that the new business venture I am pursuing, if successful, will also contribute substantially to the future growth and success of Global Aircraft Solutions." Among GACF's customers are Avolar Airlines, BCI Aircraft Leasing, Jetran International, Goodrich Corporation, AAR, the Mexican Presidential Fleet, Pegasus Aviation, Shaheen Airlines, Iraqi Airways and Royal Khmer Airlines.

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PrestoSIM Earns FAA's Nod For Cessna Citation Ultra and Encore Courses

Grapevine, Texas,-based PrestoSIM, one of four U.S. companies authorized to provide FAA Part 142 simulator-based training in Cessna Citation aircraft, last week said it has won FAA approval to provide training on the Cessna Citation Ultra and Encore aircraft featuring the Primus 1000 avionics suite. Established in 2004, PrestoSIM operates a 30,000-square-foot facility in Grapevine, Texas, and specializes in owner pilot and small to midsize corporate flight departments. When combined with the company’s earlier FAA approval of its Citation Bravo courses last week's approval gives PrestoSIM authority to train pilots on some of the most popular models in the Cessna Citation line.

PrestoSIM offers FAA-approved CE-500 initial ATP/type ratings and recurrent pilot training as well as Bravo, Ultra and Encore differences training. Also, it is one of only three companies authorized to confer single-pilot exemption authority in these aircraft under the Cessna factory program. The company received its Part 142 certification from the FAA in February.

Evidence Of Spring Is Just Around The Corner

If, like many others, you're ready for North America's winter to be over, you just may get your wish. Evidence that spring is about to arrive came this week in the form of an announcement by Tradewind Aviation, a Teterboro, N.J. (TEB)-based charter operator, that it's gearing up for what it calls daily first-class "Premium Scheduled Service" from TEB to Martha's Vineyard. With operators already advertising easy getaways to nearby beaches, what more evidence of spring's arrival do you need?

Tradewind will use executive-configured Cessna Grand Caravans to provide the service, an addition to its Vineyard Shuttle, which it said "allows visitors and commuters to effectively share executive aircraft." "We are excited to be expanding our service to Martha's Vineyard," says Eric Zipkin, president of Tradewind Aviation. "Visitors no longer have to settle for the hassles of traditional airline travel or pay for an entire plane when they only need a seat or two." Tradewind Aviation operates a fleet of four jets and nine turboprop aircraft, including two Citation CJ3s, two Citation Bravos, five Cessna Grand Caravans, three Pilatus PC-12s and a Socata TBM 700.

The Show Down Under: Australian International Airshow Opens Next Week

We won't make it, but any readers living down under may want to check out the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition, which will be held at Avalon Airport, Victoria, beginning March 20 and running through March 25, 2007. Attendance Tuesday through 2:00 p.m. Friday the 23rd is for "industry professionals" only; gates open to the public next Friday afternoon and through the weekend to the show's closing on Sunday. A mix of military, civilian and warbird aircraft will be on display and performing. Among the special events planned is commemoration of the sound barrier's breaking 60 years ago, an aviation careers expo and a nighttime air show, sponsored by Boeing.

It's nearing summer's end in Australia -- here in the U.S., our air show season is just starting -- so it's likely this event will be a "last gasp" for aviation aficionados. In 2005, the German-English Web site CheckSix.com named the event the "world’s best air show" -- we suspect they've never been to EAA AirVenture -- for the second time. The Australian International Airshow is an every-other-year event.

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Gulfstream Completes WECO Aerospace Systems Acquisition

Gulfstream Aerospace said last week it had completed the previously announced acquisition of WECO Aerospace Systems Inc., a privately held aviation-component overhaul company. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed. The company, which specializes in electrical, electronic accessories and flight instrument services, will retain the WECO Aerospace Systems name as part of Gulfstream’s Product Support business operations “This acquisition furthers our commitment to providing outstanding product support for our fleet operators. Gulfstream has been one of WECO’s biggest customers,” said Bryan Moss, president, Gulfstream, when the acquisition was first announced in January.

Jet Advisors Taps Former Raytheon Sales Exec

Jet Advisors, the Broomfield, Colo., bizjet acquisition and management firm, said last week it is adding former Raytheon sales and marketing vice president Karl R. Childs to its staff. In his new position, Childs will help the company focus on private jet sales and acquisitions, an area Jet Advisors said will be one of its priorities for the coming year. Childs' new role will be a familiar one: He will support his new employer's sales and marketing efforts, as he has for Raytheon, Sabreliner and Cessna. In addition to his nine years of service at Raytheon, overseeing all private jet sales and marketing activity worldwide, Childs worked as the vice president of sales and marketing at Sabreliner Corporation. He held a similar position at Cessna Aircraft Company, where he worked for a total of 19 years. Jet Advisors said it would continue offering its private jet and fractional jet ownership consulting, plus negotiating charter card agreements and providing invoice-auditing services.

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