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The Blackout And GA

Ingenuity, Perseverance And Patience…

What do you do when the power goes out at one of the country’s busiest GA airports? You make a paper fan, grab a flashlight and keep on landing, servicing and taking off airplanes. At least that was the story at Teterboro (TEB), near New York City, on Thursday. While Gotham (and its three major area airports) was paralyzed, TEB’s generators kept air traffic controllers on the job and everyone else made do. “We stayed open, which was incredible when you consider all the major airports had to close,” an FBO employee, who asked not to be identified, told AVweb. “They had no air conditioning and they worked with flashlights. They weren’t happy, but they were working.” Not all GA airports were able to keep functioning but pilots seemed to be able to find those that were. Mark Russette, an operations worker at Dutchess County Airport just south of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said a generator kept the runway lights on at his field for part of the night, providing a welcome sight for the occupants of a light twin. “We had one come in from Danbury (Conn.) because they couldn’t land there,” said Russette. He said the power came back on between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. AVweb is unaware of any GA emergencies resulting from the blackout and, although it’s bound to have disrupted some flights, it appears the effect was minimal compared to the chaos it caused the airlines.

…Airlines Hit Hard, Tuesday, Thursday … Yesterday

Of course, the blackout virtually stopped airline traffic, and not just in the areas without electricity. Aircraft (and pax) that were supposed to head to the Northeast from all over the country were stuck at their departure airports. FAA officials told The New York Times that more than 700 flights were cancelled across the U.S. Air Canada’s whole fleet was virtually paralyzed because its central command center near Toronto was shut down. Foreign carriers, too, turned back flights already over the Atlantic, inbound to the U.S. By Saturday, however, it appeared that most airlines and airports were getting back to normal. Right up until a 30-45 second power outage Sunday at a radar control facility on Long Island translated into a 30 minute ground-stop at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK. Radio contact was not lost, but according to local news, radar contact was. The ground stop led to the rerouting of inbound traffic and the cessation of departures for the full 30 minutes, which then cascaded into delays of at least 3 hours for many flights. All this was (electrically) unrelated to the blackout of Thursday and Friday. Last week’s power outage actually created a brief increase of air traffic over New York and Washington as the Pentagon launched two F-16s and put other aircraft on alert, unsure of what had caused the cascading blackout. Even though terrorism was quickly ruled out as the cause, The Washington Post reported that air defenses were bolstered during the blackout as a precaution. And for airport workers and passengers in Charlotte, N.C., the blackout was like dj vu. Charlotte/Douglas International was partly evacuated Tuesday night because of an unrelated power failure. Generators kept parts of the airport lit and functioning until that outage, most likely caused by a lightning strike, was over.

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FAA Looks Ahead

Draft Strategic Plan Released…

The FAA has taken on the daunting tasks of “reinvigorating global air travel and reigniting the power and the potential of aviation for the 21st Century.” And it’s giving itself five years to lay the groundwork. The agency recently released its draft strategic plan (PDF file) for the years 2004 to 2008, which it coyly calls its Flight Plan. It frankly admits that the status quo just won’t do anymore. “Today, the challenges facing aviation demand nothing less than a transformation of the system itself,” the plan’s introduction says. “This will require a willingness to embrace change on both the part of the industry and the FAA.” The plan outlines four major goals including increased safety, greater capacity, international leadership and organizational excellence. As FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told AVweb in an interview two weeks ago, the agency will continue to work on airline safety but there will be a greater emphasis on GA safety in coming years. New technologies, training and aircraft must be accommodated and their potential for safety improvements exploited. The test bed for some of these initiatives will be Alaska, which has, by far, the worst aviation safety record of all states. The plan calls on the agency to continue testing safety-related technology through programs like Capstone and then apply the knowledge gained to flight ops in the rest of the country.

…Safety, Capacity, Standards Stressed…

Seemingly at odds with increased safety is the FAA’s determination (and the industry’s need) to put more airplanes in the same airspace. Again, technological development gets the nod to decrease separation and streamline the system not only for passenger convenience but to ensure airlines are squeezing the most value possible out of each mile they fly. But the FAA doesn’t want to pursue these initiatives in isolation and is hoping the rest of the world will come along for the ride. The plan calls for the FAA to work with agencies and organizations all over the world to come up with standardized safety standards, air traffic procedures and technologies. The European Union is already working to standardize regs and procedures in dozens of countries and the FAA wants to help. The agency also wants to ensure the gains it makes in safety can be shared with the rest of the world.

…Some Navel Gazing, Too…

Perhaps the FAA’s biggest challenge through the life of the plan, however, is reinventing itself enough to achieve the lofty goals. Based on the amount of ink the plan devotes to the FAA’s own internal challenges, this might be where the rubber hits the road. The agency wants to control costs (many project costs have spiraled out of control in recent years) while at the same time giving employees “the appropriate tools and resources in order to accomplish our mission.” The answer, according to the plan, is an agency-wide cost-control program that will ideally find and eliminate wasteful and redundant programs and redirect their funding to those that work. And there’s a not-so-subtle hint to the FAA workforce (and unions) that times are changing. “In turn, employee compensation and salary increases should be performance-based, allowing the agency to control costs and reward success.” Of course, there are a host of ways any of these strategies can go sideways; many of them are beyond the FAA’s control, and the plan specifically mentions a few. If Congress doesn’t come up with the cash for the hardware to implement the plans, they’re just words on paper. So, the plan stresses performance and accountability perhaps to help convince legislators to open the purse strings. National security concerns could also hijack the plan and a difficult economy means less money from the aviation trust fund, which is raised from taxes on airline tickets. State and local officials can also get in the way of, among other things, airport expansion projects.

…AOPA Has Its Say; You Can, Too

The FAA is still accepting comments from the public for the Web version of the draft plan (the published form has already been printed) and the agency promises that input will be considered. AOPA is among the groups that has gone over the draft and discovered at least one glaring omission. “… The FAA’s draft plan does not deal with the effects of aviation security requirements on GA traffic …” thundered President Phil Boyer in news release. Boyer said a strategy to soften the impact of security-related restrictions on GA is needed. AOPA is also worried that a new training program called the FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS) program (PDF file) might become a financial drain on pilots and a cash cow for manufacturers and insurance companies. FITS is supposed to be an optional training program in which pilots of new, more technologically advanced aircraft effectively take type training on the plane they want to buy. Boyer said AOPA is worried that the manufacturers and insurers may make the FITS training mandatory for those interested in buying a new aircraft even though the FAA considers it optional. Boyer also says he’s all for international cooperation but not if it means regulations in the U.S. that hamstring GA or are not in “America’s best interest.”

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Contract Controllers “Safe”

Private-sector air traffic controllers are as highly trained as their federal counterparts, have a better safety record, and many are more experienced, says the president of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization. In a letter sent to AVweb, Ron Taylor dismisses the “doomsday” predictions of those opposing the expansion of the Federal Contract Tower (FCT) program — a program initiated at smaller airports in 1982. Under the current version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill that will go to Congress in September, the FAA has the ability to expand the FCT program to 69 more towers currently under FAA control. Taylor claims safety concerns raised by some are a red herring in the debate. “The qualifications to be an air traffic controller at the control towers of ‘small town’ USA are equal to those [who] wear a federal badge,” said Taylor. “I will not debate the issue of privatization but I will defend the professional controllers who have manned those facilities over the past 22 years and their excellent safety record, which is better than that of the federal sector.” Meanwhile, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association continues its campaign to reverse the contracting-out clause. “… We firmly believe that no city should be relegated to second-class treatment when it comes to air safety and funding,” the association said in a statement.

Lear 45s Grounded By Tail Problems

“During our investigation of the problem, we determined that the configuration and quality controls over the production of these parts were so deficient that we do not have confidence that the airplane can be operated safely for any period of time,” a new Airworthiness Directive states. The FAA, last week, grounded 222 Learjet Model 45 business jets until their horizontal stabilizer actuator assemblies are replaced. The new AD issued last Wednesday supercedes an earlier one that called for inspection of the assembly. At the heart of the problem is a screw and nut assembly that can get brittle and fail. New parts are expected to be available soon. The original AD was issued after a report of a severe vibration, followed by a rapid nose-down pitch change, by the pilot of one of the eight-seat bizjets. While the tail problems are being tended to, Lear 45 owners might want to take care of another AD concerning the landing gear. New shear pins must be installed in the trunnion assemblies of the main landing gear to prevent a possible gear failure. The AD is effective August 27.

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Cessna Suffers While Others Prosper

While Cirrus is reporting record sales, Diamond fills flight schools and Lancair Certified ramps up production to clear a backlog of orders, the world’s biggest GA company is still writing pink slips. Another 300 Cessna employees were let go last Tuesday as the company finished its review of workforce requirements. The layoffs are included in a total of 1,200 originally announced last March and the first 900 workers were let go in May. As late as three weeks ago, Cessna was saying it might be able to keep the remaining 300 on staff. “It’s taken awhile to review everything we need to know to make the right adjustment,” Cessna spokeswoman Jessica Myers told The Wichita Eagle. The latest layoffs take effect at the end of October but some workers will be gone before then, with full pay and benefits during the mandatory 60-day notice period. Cessna tried to put a positive spin on the gloomy situation. “We are confident that Cessnans will continue to show their outstanding dedication, support and teamwork through these challenging times,” the company said in a statement. The Machinists Union wasn’t impressed. “We are tired of seeing these layoffs,” local president Steve Rooney told the Eagle.

A380 “Too Big” Say Two Airline Execs

It’s too big for some runways and terminals but is Airbus’s A380 also too big for some airlines? According to the CEOs of two major U.S. airlines, the 550-seat behemoth will be shunned in the U.S. as too costly and too crowded. “I don’t think the A380 is going to sell other than to cargo carriers in the U.S.,” Northwest Airlines CEO Richard Anderson told Bloomberg News. Northwest operates about a dozen B747 models to haul cargo. Continental CEO Gordon Bethune said he doesn’t think passengers will want to be lost in the A380 crowd. “What’s in it for me to sit on an airplane with 500 other people, wait for my bags with 500 other people, check in with 500 other people,” he wondered. He did fail to mention the A380 has room for such amenities as full-service restaurants and lounges. Continental operates an all-Boeing fleet. The A380 is Airbus’s weapon in a high-stakes battle that will likely determine whether it will continue its newly won dominance over Boeing in the commercial jet market. For the first time this year, Airbus will make more airliners than Boeing. Boeing is answering the challenge with the 7E7 Dreamliner, less than half the size of the A380 but with similar range, something Bethune is cheering. “Nonstop is the real answer, not bigger.”

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Airline Recovery Begins (Blackout Notwithstanding)

As in just about everything else, timing is everything in financial forecasting. Just two days before a blackout paralyzed a good part of the North American airline industry, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was giving a rosy outlook for the coming two years. It’s too early to tell what effect the millions in losses from Thursday’s blackout will have on the incipient recovery but if ICAO is right it might be just a minor blip in an otherwise upward trend, worldwide. The Montreal-based group says passenger traffic will rebound by 4.4 percent in 2004 and a healthy 6.3 percent the following year. That will more than wipe out the net 2.5 percent overall reduction in traffic since 9/11. North American carriers will be the slowest to recover, however. They won’t hit 2000 passenger figures until 2004. Asian markets, hardest hit by the SARS outbreak, will also take time to recover but by 2005 growth should be about 6.9 percent. Long-term forecasts suggest the growth rate will stabilize at about 4 percent, slightly less than was predicted before 9/11.

On The Fly…

Southwest Airlines carried more passengers than any other U.S. airline in May. That’s the first time a low-fare carrier has knocked one of the major carriers from the top spot…

Diamond Aircraft is helping more pilots get into their aircraft by donating $20,000 to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s scholarship fund. The university flies 10 DA40 Diamond Stars at its Daytona Beach Campus and 35 DA20-CIs at the primary flight school it runs for the Air Force in Colorado Springs…

One of the flashiest personal jets will also have one of the most modern avionics suites. The Aviation Technology Group (ATG) has announced it will use the Avidyne Entegra Integrated Flight Deck and Flight Control System in its two-place, fighter-like Javelin. The PFDs and MFDs are available now. First Javelin deliveries are slated for 2007…

British flying fans are getting vertical thanks to the Helicopter Museum. The facility has expanded its Helicopter Experience Flights to Wednesday evenings during the summer and dozens of people have gone along for the ride. The museum is in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

SINGER RAY CHARLES & THE BEACH BOYS TO APPEAR AT CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION This six-day Celebration, December 12-17, at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, is designed to commemorate the last century of flight; celebrate the achievements of aviators throughout history; and inspire the next generation of aviators. Secure VIP events seating, purchase commemorative collectibles and apparel, and enter to win the Getaway of the Century sweepstakes at

Short Final…

As I was heading across the Desert a few monthes back, at the height of the Iraqi war, and wanting to cut through R2515 around Edwards Air Force Base, I had the following exchange with Joshua Approach…

Joshua Approach, Musketeer 123 requesting transition through R2515.
Joshua: Restricted area currently off limits, but let me talk to them at Edwards.
(About 20 seconds of dead air and then Joshua came back to me.)
Joshua: Musketeer 123, Proceed through the restricted area as requested, they need some practice on slow targets.

Reader feedback on AVweb’s news coverage and feature articles:

Reader mail this week about commercialism at Oshkosh, spins and stalls, boycotting Chicago and more.

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VANTAGE AND SPIRIT AIRCRAFT PROPERTIES BEING SOLD The trademarks, drawings, flight test and performance data, marketing and customer contact list, and tooling and molds from more than 12 years of research and development will be sold for both aircraft. The Vantage, is a six-seat, single engine, business class jet, and the Spirit, is an experimental two-seat aircraft. The sale will be by sealed bid, according to bidding procedures approved by the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri (Case No. 02-47804-293). Deadline for submitting a bid is September 18, 2003 at 01:00 p.m. (US Central Daylight Time). To receive a copy of the bidding procedures as well as information on how to obtain a bid package contact: Howard S. Smotkin, email: [email protected] or Janice R. Valdez, email: [email protected], phone 314 721-7011; or Michael Yeager, email: [email protected], phone 314 447-3200.

New Articles and Features on AVweb

Use Your Head
We study the rules, we memorize procedures, and we execute standardized practices in the hope of making our flights as safe as possible. Yet sometimes following checklists and procedures blindly to the letter can hinder that achievement, and a good pilot’s job is to sort out the difference.

Pelican’s Perch #72: The Legendary Zero (Part 2)
In this continuation of his checkout in a Japanese Zero, John Deakin does his preflight in the cockpit, fires it up and takes to the air in one of the very few flying examples of this famous WWII fighter.

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Let’s all be careful out there, okay?

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