AVmail: Sep.5, 2005
Reader mail this week about user fees, airport security, the D.C. ADIZ and much and more.
The Right to Flight
I heartily applaud your editorial, "The Right to Flight" (ATIS, Aug. 24). Under Bush, the administration has gone way too far. They are using 9/11 as an excuse to curtail (and possibly eliminate) the freedoms of the average American. Spreading out from the U.S., a sludge-like ripple effect of limitations to democratic freedoms can (and will) occur. If that happens, the United States will no longer be a democratic society, but a dictatorship, against which the United States and other countries successfully fought in World War II. You have taken the right course: You are trying to wake up your readers so they, too, will become as vigilant and as active as are you. On the success of your struggle depends the outcome of similar struggles outside your national borders.
General Aviation User Fees
It was unfortunate that AVweb's two reviews of the GAO's report on commercialized ATC providers both overlooked its clear findings that, overall, commercial user fees are less than those charged under the previous government-controlled tax regimes (NewsWire, Aug. 15). More disappointing, you failed to report the GAO's finding that in New Zealand, general aviation pilots are charged $68 for 50 landings, and that in Canada, private pilots pay a flat annual fee of $58, with neither commercial ATC provider charging additional fees for any other service.
In either case, such fees are hardly crippling blows to the general aviation community, and certainly insufficient to deter pilots from taking advantage of all the safety services offered. But if those charges are still too much to swallow, readers should check the Reason Foundation's very comprehensive May 2005 study (available as a 550 Kb Adobe PDF file) of Air Traffic Control in the United States. Reason's transportation expert Robert Poole advocates absolutely no general aviation user fees at all.
An understanding of New Zealand and Canadian practices, plus the recommendations of the Reason Study, would provide the general aviation community with valuable precedents when, as seems likely, user fees draw closer. But until then, crying wolf about the devastating impact of unknown user fees on U.S. general aviation seems premature, to say the least.
Although it's tempting to link user fees with privatization, that's not really the issue in the U.S. FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has repeatedly said that privatization is not on the table for the U.S.'s airspace system. That's not to say that parts of it might not be contracted out, similar to the flight service station transition that is under way, but the fundamental control over airspace management will, as far as we can tell, rest with the U.S. federal government for the foreseeable future.
That, however, doesn't mean there won't be user fees and there's the rub.
Congress and the administration are clearly fed up with the way the FAA does business and you can hardly blame them. There have been billions of dollars wasted. The FAA has been told to clean up its act and the best way to get any bureaucracy's attention is to limit, and scrutinize, funding.
What GA groups are afraid will happen is that the FAA will take the easy way out and simply create new fees to overcome its huge funding difficulties.
The fees charged in Canada and New Zealand are token and likely don't even cover the administrative costs.
However, if the FAA decides that GA pilots have to pay their own way in a system that costs $13 billion annually, the effect could very well be devastating to GA.
You are correct that there seems to be an inevitable slide toward user fees in the U.S. and there are strong lobbies among airlines and commercial operators to have GA pay what they perceive to be it's fair share.
If every licensed pilot in the U.S. was levied the same as Canadian pilots ($58), that would amount to less than $40 million, likely less than the FAA spends on building maintenance.
The FAA's funding challenges are massive and if it expects GA to bail it out, then the doomsday scenario you dispute is not really that far-fetched.
Flying Is A Dangerous Profession?
This story, "Flying Ranks As Most Dangerous Profession," doesn't ring true (NewsWire, Aug. 29). Conventional wisdom would place piloting as being a much safer occupation than logging (or some of the others on the list). Perhaps the BLS statistics need some looking into to see just how they were derived.
GA Used For Terrorist Attacks
Regarding the latest of "The Sky Is Falling" (NewsWire, Aug. 29) ... in 1944 a B-25 medium bomber crashed into the Empire State Building at about the 84th floor. Damage was extensive, but the building is still there and in use. I believe the difference is jet fuel vs. 130 octane, and gross weight. Today's GA is too small to duplicate the World Trade Center attack.
Actually, it was in July of 1945, not 1944. The reason the Empire State Building didn't collapse and the World Trade Center towers did has more to do with building construction and the amount of fuel involved than the type of fuel. The Empire State is a traditional, riveted-steel beam structure with loads carried throughout the structure. In the WTC towers, loads were carried by the exterior walls but depended on lighter truss beams connecting the walls to hold them rigidly vertical. Although some dispute the theory, it's believed that the initial impact knocked the fire cladding from these trusses, which then succumbed to the fire and failed, causing the collapse. The B-25 carried several hundred gallons of gasoline; the 767s were estimated to be carrying 10,000 gallons of Jet A. There's an excellent book on the Empire State crash, now out of print, called The Sky is Falling by Arthur Weingarten.
Seems as though the light plane industry has been strangely silent about possible easy fixes for light plane security. There are numerous devices available for all aircraft that can put a near-total stop to unauthorized movement of small aircraft anywhere they may be found.
All the talk of locked gates, electric fencing, security guards etc., ad inf., looks only at the most expensive and ineffective security methodology. Any plane owner who may wish to see his aircraft in the same place he last left it yesterday can purchase cheap insurance for both the Nation's security and his own peace of mind from any purveyor of aviation gadgets. To name a few, throttle locks, control locks, prop chains, less simple and more sophisticated door locks, exterior engine killing switches and devices, chain/lock tie down devices. A whole new industry out there, making profits, paying taxes, protecting the public from terrorists' attacks via light planes, medium planes, maybe even the big boys. Further maybe even reducing our thefts and our insurance costs.
Solutions to many of our security problems do not always have to cost a bazillion bucks and require hours, months and years of our expensive politicians lives writing new laws that for the most part are unenforceable.
We agree there are cheaper ways to implement aircraft security. Unfortunately, the ways you suggest require every aircraft owner to buy, install, and always use the security measures.
I was interested in your article on the troubles that banner-tow operations are having (NewsWire, Aug. 29). As a 1000-hour pilot and a lover of airplanes large and small, I get annoyed at the noise intrusion these planes make while I am at the beach. Their buzzing is obnoxious as well as the alcohol messages they usually carry. I am never one to ask for more legislation, but their intrusion on "quiet enjoyment" will eventually bring a group of people together to demand their banishment from areas of natural beauty.
If they were smart, they would enforce noise pollution on themselves before someone else does.
Computers At Higher Altitude
In last week's letters section, Mr. Wennerstrom gives some misleading information regarding computers and display devices at altitude (AVmail, Aug. 29). First, I should state that my opinions are based on years of experience as a display designer and manufacturing engineer. I am presently the Chief Technology Officer for Clairvoyante, a firm that develops technology for LCDs. I've worked with almost every display technology today and a few that are now obsolete.
First, regarding relative pricing between Plasma and LCD panels. Plasma is indeed less expense than LCD, but only at very large sizes, were the cost of the unit is dominated by the cost of the panel itself. At the sizes of portable electronics, such as an electronic flight bag, tablet or laptop computer, the price is dominated by the driver electronics. That is to say, that the high voltage drivers required for plasma displays is simply too expensive compared to the much lower voltage drivers required for the Liquid Crystal Display. I haven't seen a plasma display in a commercial product of this size in many years, and never a color plasma display.
Second, as had been suggested by an earlier correspondent, the hard disk drive is the most likely suspect in high altitude inoperability. The disk is has a movable read/write head that floats just microns above the surface of the disk on a cushion of air. If that air becomes rarified, as at altitude, then the head is may come too close, flutter uncontrollably, or even touch the disk. The drive may become inoperative under these conditions.
Candice H. Brown Elliott
Air Traffic Job Fair
It's unbelievable that the FAA complains of a shortage of Air Traffic Controllers and advertises a job fair to recruit applicants (On The Fly, Aug. 29), while at the same time, firing over 2,000 Flight Service Controllers who have extensive experience and knowledge of the ATC system. They would rather bring inexperienced people on board instead of retaining us for the simple fact that the new hires will be making a lot less than existing controllers. The new motto for the FAA is, "Safety Is For Sale and We're Buying It Cheap!" Remember, only one month to go and Flight Service will be given to Lockheed-Martin and you will no longer have a say in how it's being run. In seven months, stations will start to close, and almost 2/3 of the controllers will be fired by Lockheed-Martin. Where do you think LM's profit will come from? They have to cut payroll; then if they can't make enough profit to satisfy their stockholders, they'll either cut some more or charge user fees. Welcome to the brave, new world of "Outsourcing" (a.k.a., "private monopoly of former Gov't services").
Aviation Laboratories, a leading provider of laboratory services, has been forced to temporarily close their New Orleans (Kenner) facility due to Hurricane Katrina. Although the laboratory suffered only minimal damage from the hurricane (at 5' elevation it is a high point in Kenner and will not flood), there are no water or power services to the area and laboratory personnel are under mandatory evacuation orders, so the laboratory has been temporarily closed. Aviation Laboratories customers who sent samples to the Kenner facility last week should contact Aviation Laboratories so they can track the shipment. Aviation Laboratories customers who are sending samples, please send them to the Houston laboratory:
5401 Mitchelldale Street, Suite B6
Houston, TX 77092
If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Aviation Laboratories at 800-256-6876 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know of anyone who may not have received this message but uses Aviation Laboratories for their laboratory services, please pass this message along to them.
You missed the most important issues related to the proposed regulations for the DC ADIZ (Question of the Week, Aug. 25).
It is not making the ADIZ permanent that is of great concern. It is the manner in which violations are enforced, and the additional provisions that allow criminal charges to be brought, together with civil fines, and a certificate action that should be of concern.
FAA Enforcement attorneys have stated they have no discretion to consider an ADIZ violation as an administrative proceeding, and indicated that they have been told not to accept an emergency as an excuse for entering the ADIZ.
These later points are what make the DC ADIZ proposal unique, and why it should be opposed.
Ford C. Ladd
"Pictures of the Week" Broken
I always enjoy the pictures of the week. This week, the enlargement commands did not work. There was some disappointment the quality of the photos was every bit as good as usual, I just couldn't see the details that are visible in the enlargements.
Sorry about that. That was our fault, as we were trying out a new script to drive the pop-ups, and it didn't work as well as we'd hoped. (Ah, the laboratory of real-world experience!)
We've tidied up our code, and you should now be able to access the full images by going to the POTW page now.
(Be sure to check out the full-size image of the bear and the Cessnas. That's been my desktop wallpaper for a couple of days now!)