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Missile Watch

Public Enlisted To Spot Potential Terror Attacks...

Last Wednesday, The Washington Post reported the existence of a task force created to assess the ground-based threat to air travel and try to prevent the use of shoulder-launched ground-to-air missiles that could theoretically be launched against airliners from beyond the airport security perimeter. While military technology might provide some of the answers, the task force appears focused on enlisting the help of ordinary citizens to prevent such attacks. "There's a wide-ranging, active discussion about this issue," said Transportation Department spokesman Chet Lunner. According to the Post, the committee was working on the threat even before last November's unsuccessful portable missile attack on an Israeli airliner in Kenya.

...Neighborhood Watch-Type Program...

Among the ideas under consideration is a Neighborhood Watch-type of program that would train local police and residents near an airport to identify missile parts. As small as they are, shoulder-launched missiles can't be hidden under a terrorist's coat and the FBI hopes that if people know what to look for, they can call authorities before one can be assembled and launched. "Someone is not going to be able to just whip one of these things out of a briefcase," said FBI spokesman John Iannarelli. Officials are already studying the area around all major airports looking for places that might make particularly attractive launch sites. In Houston, local officials aren't waiting for the seminars and workshops; discussions have begun about closing a little-used portion of road near the main runways of George Bush Intercontinental Airport that might otherwise be a convenient launch site. In December, like many airports all over the country, Bush closed a public observation area in the wake of the Kenya attack.

...Pilots Get Hijack Panic Button

Just in case terrorists manage to get aboard an airliner, new equipment will ensure that the crew can hit a button to at least let ground controllers know about it. None of the pilots aboard the four aircraft hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, squawked the 7500 transponder code to announce the hijacking. On three of the jets, the transponders were shut off. The FAA is now requiring that hijack alert buttons, which can be instantly activated and, once switched on, can't easily be switched off, be installed on airliners. The projected fleet-wide cost ranges toward $80 million. The panic buttons will be mandatory on all passenger and cargo planes with 10 seats or more. And, of course, there's the wrangle about who will pay to outfit the domestic fleet of 7,000 affected aircraft. The FAA says the cost of another terrorist attack "cannot be reasonably measured in dollars" but then, of course, nobody at the FAA will likely be personally out of pocket for the expense ... unless through another security surcharge when purchasing an airline ticket.

Reservations, Please

British Columbia Restricts Floatplanes...

They say parks are for people, but private floatplane pilots may need a reservation to visit some of British Columbia's most spectacular places. Provincial parks officials in northwestern B.C. are proposing that non-commercial floatplane operators be required to give six months' notice of the lakes they intend to visit and the days they intend to visit them in the more than 5 million acres within the park boundaries. Commercial operators can land anywhere with the purchase of a yearly permit. Naturally, the BCFA and the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) are opposing the plan, not just because they say it discriminates against floatplane pilots, but because it's impractical. "How can you plan that far in advance?" said Brenda Matas, a floatplane operator from Vancouver Island. "A lot of people visiting those parks are Americans. How are they supposed to do that?" And, although the parks are in untracked wilderness that is home to bears, cougars and other wildlife, pilots won't be able to carry firearms with them.

NOTE: The full text of the park plan is more than 200 pages and the aviation section starts on page 76.

...Environmental Issues Challenged...

Matas said the draft plan by B.C. Parks Stikine Region suggests floatplanes are an environmental hazard, but she said that view doesn't hold water. She said floatplanes are the only means of transportation that leave no permanent marks on the land. Trucks, all-terrain vehicles and even hikers need trails to get to the lakes. Aircraft make some noise on departure but it only lasts a minute or so, she said. Besides, if noise is the issue, she wonders why commercial floatplanes, snowmobiling and the use of motorboats are allowed on many park lakes. "Certainly, we don't want to be banned from areas where people are allowed to take a motorboat." The BCFA and COPA will be meeting with B.C. Parks Minister Joyce Murray this week to discuss the issue.

...Banff, Jasper Strips Threatened

Meanwhile, any pilot that has ever sought refuge, because of weather or other problems, and landed at the airstrips in Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta is asked to drop COPA a line. Parks Canada has been trying to close the strips for years but COPA managed to get a court ruling requiring a comprehensive environmental study on the strips. The consultant doing the study wants more information on the safety impact of the proposed closure. COPA wants anyone who has headed for Banff or Jasper in an emergency or just because they didn't like the look of the weather ahead to write the experience down and send it to Banff and Jasper are at the entrance to two of the most popular mountain passes used by VFR flights to cross the Rockies. And don't worry if the experience was embarrassing or a little outside the regulations. COPA will make sure your identity can't be traced. COPA has gathered accident and weather data on both areas to prepare for the safety study.


Another Stab At Driver's License Medicals

Medical problems account for less than half a percent of aircraft accidents, according to both AOPA and EAA -- and if they won't do it in the face of that statistic, AOPA is hoping the FAA will reduce pilot medical requirements in the name of research. AOPA has offered to run a study on the impact of allowing student and recreational pilots use of their driver's licenses instead of an FAA medical certificate. For almost 20 years, the FAA has refused to budge on the issue of flight medicals for recreational pilots, despite repeated attempts to change their minds. Previously, AOPA appealed for a straight rule change. In this case it's looking for a two-year exemption for student and recreational pilots, during which they'd be required to submit reports to AOPA on their flight activities. AOPA plans to sort through all that data to prove that FAA medicals don't improve safety at that level. "AOPA is absolutely convinced that a driver's license can safely be used to set a minimum medical safety standard for student and recreational pilots," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "This study would prove it, once and for all." EAA tried a similar tack with the FAA last September, but we haven't heard anything since. EAA wanted a five-year medical exemption for recreational pilots only and also offered to collect and process data on the flight safety impact.

Raytheon Investigated By SEC

The point at which the sale of an aircraft becomes complete appears to be the source of a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Raytheon Aircraft's accounting practices. Raytheon itself announced the investigation, figuring, in the post-Enron era, that it "would be the best practice," company spokesman James Fetig told The Wichita Eagle. Prior to December of 1999, Raytheon reported the revenue from a sale on the date the deal was made. The SEC wanted the revenue reported on delivery, which Raytheon did; it was forced to reduce its reported earnings for the fourth quarter of 1999 by $57 million, or 11 cents per share. The investigation will look at whether Raytheon went back far enough in its revenue adjustments and restated them correctly. Aerospace industry expert Cai von Rumohr told the Eagle the SEC investigation is a minor issue compared to the company's other current troubles. One of its Beech 1900D commuter aircraft crashed two weeks ago in Charlotte, N.C., and Raytheon had to accept shares in lieu of cash with an airline and a fractional ownership company that couldn't meet their obligations.

"Free Flight" Hardware On UPS Planes

What may be a major step toward the vaunted "free flight" system of air navigation may first help ensure you actually get your overnight package overnight. United Parcel Service has become the first carrier to get FAA certification for Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast systems to be installed on all 107 of its Boeing 757s and 767s. Using GPS, a computer and a radio transceiver, the system shows the pilot the exact whereabouts of other aircraft ... provided they also have ADS-B. The system allows the pilots of equipped aircraft to maintain from each other the minimum required separation even in bad weather, thus reducing flight delays. Typically, when the weather closes in, ground controllers increase separation from the mandatory three miles and 1,000 feet to provide an extra safety cushion. That leads to tie-ups in the sky and reduces the efficiency of freight-sorting facilities. UPS is projecting a 20-percent increase in efficiency in three years -- when you're processing more than 300,000 parcels per hour, that figure gains some perspective. ADS-B also caught the eye of the FAA officials trying to unclog the increasingly crowded skies. "ADS-B technology in itself crosses a lot of boundaries for us," FAA spokesman Charles Keegan said. "It could have a potentially huge impact on capacity." UPS's Aviation Technologies arm developed the system.

Future Aerobatic Stars Show Their Stuff

It's aviation's version of American Idol and aerobatic fans at Oshkosh AirVenture 2003 will be the winners. Aerobatic greats Sean D. Tucker and Mike Goulian have chosen six of the top up-and-coming air show performers to take part in the new Stars of Tomorrow showcase at Oshkosh. The young pilots range in age from just 20 to 30 years old but they share a couple of things in common, said Tucker. "Mike and I chose these six pilots ... not only for their exceptional flying skills but also for their passion for this art form and their humanity," said Tucker. And while performing at Oshkosh might be the pinnacle of their short careers so far, it's what will happen before AirVenture that may be more valuable. The six will spend a week of intensive training with Tucker and Goulian before doing a warm-up performance at the Selfridge Air National Guard Base air show near Detroit July 25-26. "Professional coaching and mentorship is key to their safety," said Goulian. Three of the young pilots will perform each day at Oshkosh on a rotating basis.

Drugs Could Be Deadly In Peru

A senator wants changes to a U.S./Peru anti-drug campaign that allows the Peruvian military to shoot down civilian aircraft suspected of running drugs. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Friday urged the Bush administration to reconsider the policy because, he said, there is no guarantee that identification safeguards will prevent the deaths of innocent people. Leahy cited the death of a mother and infant daughter in the mistaken downing of a missionary aircraft in April of 2001 in Peru. Leahy said he's all for trying to stop the flow of drugs using aerial surveillance. "I am concerned that the foreign pilots are performing the role of prosecutor, jury and executioner, even when there may be no cause for self-defense and no proof that the operators of the targeted aircraft have broken any law," Leahy told the Senate. AOPA and the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilots Associations applauded Leahy's sentiments.

Take It Off After Takeoff

A charter flight headed to the Caribbean in May gives whole new meaning to stripped-down service. Shortly after takeoff from Miami, passengers will be invited to take it all off for the duration of the flight to a nudist resort in Cancun. There could be 172 high-flying free spirits aboard the Boeing 727, which has been chartered by Castaways Travel, of Spring, Texas. The crew will remain dressed. "People are looking for stress relief," Castaways owner Jim Bailey told the Associated Press. "In a nudist environment, everyone is the same." There will be precautions to take away some potential stress producers. The heat will be turned up and there will be no hot food or drinks served. Those traveling a la buff will also be asked to sit on a towel. No word on the in-flight movie ...

On The Fly...

A Cirrus SR-22, registered to Cirrus Design Corp., crashed Saturday in north-central Minnesota, according to the Aitkin County Sheriff's Department. The aircraft came down in a densely wooded area before 7:00 a.m., scattering debris over several hundred yards...

Banner towers and all other general aviation is banned from a seven-nautical-mile radius of the Super Bowl, up to 18,000 feet, in San Diego Jan. 26 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The TFR will also close nearby Montgomery Field. As bad as that sounds, security officials were pitching a 45-nm radius for the TFR. The banner ban is expected to cost operators millions in lost revenue...

Organizers of the world's biggest military air show have been told to straighten up and fly right. Cotswold District Council in England says it's tired of footing the bill for the problems created by the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford. Extra enforcement and inspections cost about $10,000 U.S. last year. Extra enforcement and inspections cost about $10,000 US last year. Wonder if Cotswold merchants are tired of the money 200,000 Tatoo patrons spread around...

One of Massachusetts's most influential aviation figures is retiring next month. Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission Chairman "Whip" Saltmarsh will preside over his last meeting Feb. 12. Saltmarsh, a non-pilot, has won several national awards for his work on the commission...

If you're in aviation in Australia, this is a meeting you should try to make. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority will hold a meeting March 3-5 in Sydney to go over proposed new rules governing flight crew licensing, operations and training. CASA says input from the conference will be taken into consideration in making the final rules.

Short Final...

More from our "Flying IS fun" file...

I took my cousin for a plane ride a few years ago. After an hour, we headed back to DuPage airport. The last 10 minutes of the flight was quiet, with almost no conversation. About 6 miles out, I keyed the mic and opened my mouth to contact the tower, when all of a sudden my cousin shouts loudly, "HEY, LOOK, THERE'S A NAKED LADY DOWN THERE BY THE SWIMMING POOL!" My mouth was still open and the mic button was still pushed.

Contributions to Short Final are welcomed at