AVwebFlash - Volume 20, Number 25a

December 22, 2013

Mozambique Airlines Crash 'Deliberate'

Mozambique authorities say the captain of a Mozambique Airlines Embraer E-190 deliberately crashed the plane in Namibia last month killing all 33 people on board. As we reported in November, the aircraft, the newest in the airline's fleet, went down in heavy rain on a flight to Angola. According to the BBC, Joao Abreu, head of the country's Civil Aviation Institute told a news conference that Capt. Hermino dos Santos Fernandes had a "clear intention" and made a "deliberate series of maneuvers" to crash the airplane. The motive remains unknown.

Abreu told reporters that cockpit voice recordings revealed that Dos Santos Fernandes locked himself in the cockpit while the flight data recorder showed him descending the aircraft from its cruise altitude of 38,000 feet to less than 600 feet. "During these actions you can hear low and high-intensity alarm signals and repeated beating against the door with demands to come into the cockpit," he was quoted as saying by state news agency AIM. For some reason, the captain reportedly let his FO back in the cockpit just before the aircraft hit the ground.

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BA 747 Slices Building

A British Airways Boeing 747 destroyed part of a building along with the travel plans of its 189 passengers on Sunday when the aircraft's right wing sliced the top off much of the brick structure next to a taxiway at Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The airline has confirmed the incident but is not shedding any light on how a significant section of the wing plowed through the structure just above the second-floor level. "A British Airways Boeing 747 was damaged while taxiing at Johannesburg airport," the airline said in a statement. "Customers disembarked safely and were looked after by our staff. We have launched a full investigation into the incident and are giving our assistance to the independent South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) with the matter."

There weren't any injuries on the aircraft but it appears from photos of the damage to the building that anyone occupying the second floor could have been in danger. There were, however, no reports of injuries. According to eTurboNews, at least one passenger wasn't happy about the evacuation plan for the aircraft. "Not impressed that first class passengers get off before premium economy during an emergency,” the site quoted Harriet Tolputt, the head of media for Oxfam, as tweeting. All the passengers eventually went to hotels to wait for another aircraft to pick them up.

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Police Helicopter Rescues Downed Pilot

The pilot of a Tampa Police helicopter and his partner say they were just doing their jobs when they landed beside the burning wreck of a Cessna 210 and pulled its pilot to safety on Thursday. Pilot Dave Dennison and partner Brian Burke were on routine patrol just before midnight when they heard the distress call from the pilot of the 210, which was carrying freight from Valdosta, Ga., to Tampa. "I've lost oil pressure," 58-year-old Mark Love reported to air traffic control. He didn't declare an emergency and told controllers he thought he'd make the field but the aircraft came down short of the runway in an open area and Gentry and Dennison tracked it with their onboard infrared camera. Dennison landed and Gentry ran to the aircraft, which had a small fire going in the engine compartment. He pulled Love clear and he was taken to the hospital, where he was first reported in critical condition.

Gentry told reporters that while the circumstances were different, their actions were basically the same as those carried out by other officers in the line of duty. "It's just part of the job. It's nothing that a thousand other officers every day for T.P.D. do for an automobile crash. We were just fortunate enough to have a video running and it was something as unique as an aircraft,” Gentry told WFLA television. The aircraft was registered to Flight Express Inc., a subsidiary of AirNet Cargo, of Columbus, Ohio. 


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Pilot Arrested After DHS Surveillance

A Utah pilot is facing numerous charges after apparently being caught by a federal program that aviation groups have suggested may violate pilots' rights. As in other cases publicized by the groups over the past year, 53-year-old Ken Barton Burrows was met by armed agents from the Department of Homeland Security and local police when he landed his Cessna single at New Castle Airport. At that point, all the federal agents may have known was that Burrows was flying low and refueling at small, out-of-the-way airports on his way from California. But according to the Ellwood City Ledger, the difference in his case is that authorities found 240 pounds of marijuana in the plane.  According to the criminal complaint filed against him, Burrows attracted attention on his two-day flight from northern California by trying to avoid it. He stayed at low altitude, flew a route that avoided urban areas, refueled at small airports and had darkly tinted the windows of the airplane.

Reports of detention and search of general aviation pilots and their airplanes over the last year spurred AOPA and Congress to pressure the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to justify its surveillance of domestic flights. According to AOPA, DHS has reported that it monitors general aviation operations using FAA and military radar, unspecified communications networks and unspecified databases. According to the Ledger, DHS began tracking Burrows’ flight at some point and eventually used a Blackhawk helicopter to follow him. After landing at New Castle, a police dog sniffed the pot and a warrant was obtained to search the plane. DHS agents determined Burrows was not a threat to national security and turned prosecution over to local law enforcement. Once the marijuana was removed, DHS seized the $165,000 aircraft and flew the airplane on to its destination in Rhode Island as part of an operation to capture the dealer who was purchasing the marijuana, who apparently took the bait.

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FAA Backs Off On Sleep Apnea

The FAA told aviation groups Thursday it will delay implementation of the new sleep apnea testing policy that was to begin in January 2014. The FAA said it will gather additional input from the aviation and medical communities.  Both groups are applauding the move, which caught them by surprise in November. "We are pleased to see that the FAA will organize a meeting mid- to late January, get all concerned together, and try to hash out a compromise that will address FAA's concerns about sleep apnea with all of our concerns about cost, intrusiveness, and adverse effect on the industry," said Sean Elliott, EAA's vice president of safety and advocacy in a statement. "EAA stands ready to assist and represent the aviation community in any way possible." AOPA President Mark Baker called the FAA decision "an important win for the aviation community" and also pledged to help. “We look forward to collaborating with the FAA to resolve their safety concerns in a way that makes sense.” NBAA President Ed Bolen called the announcement "an appropriate move."

Despite intense criticism from pilots, aviation organizations and members of Congress, the FAA was planning to implement a requirement for expensive testing (up to $5,000) for obstructive sleep apnea for all pilots seeking an FAA medical certificate who had a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater. The FAA had indicated that, over time, the threshold BMI for the testing would be decreasing. Those opposed to the requirement argue that such testing was of questionable medical benefit and there was no evidence of a history of pilot incapacitation in flight as a result of the effects of sleep apnea.

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Beechcraft Sold Again (?)

For the second time in two months, a publication is reporting that Beechcraft is about to be sold and Beechcraft is again refusing to confirm the report. As we reported in October, Bloomberg quoted unnamed sources saying negotiations were under way to sell the storied but frequently troubled aviation icon for about $1.5 billion to one of several suitors, most likely Cessna. On Friday, the Financial Times (registration required) narrowed it down to Textron, the increasingly independently aviation-oriented parent company of Cessna, for $1.4 billion. Although neither company will comment on reports like this, Textron's recent development of the Scorpion light tactical jet in cooperation with a somewhat mysterious company called Airland LLC may have something to do with it (or it might not).

Beechcraft, formerly known as Hawker Beechcraft, emerged from bankruptcy in February and shed the jet business (which included composite designs, and the Scorpion is largely composite), concentrating instead on the consistently popular King Air line and the Texan II trainer, and it also retained the Bonanza and Baron piston products. It has speculatively announced a turboprop single program (a gap in Cessna/Textron's product line). The Financial Times didn't offer a timeline for the potential sale and neither did Bloomberg's earlier scoop.

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Short Final

First night XC with instructor.

The route was going to take us over my home at 11:00pm, so I turned on my aviation scanner in my home for my wife so I could tell her goodnight. As we passed over my home at 6,500', I had failed to push the flip-flop to the air-to-air frequency and was still on approach.

"Goodnight, Susan. I hope you sleep well."

What I can only envision as a large, hairy-armed controller:
"The name is Bart, and they like it a lot better if we stay awake."

I apologized and changed to the air-to-air freq with my CFI laughing.

Ed Bandy
via e-mail

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What The People Want

It didn't get much attention, but it's possible that The Future started last week, when the German company building the Volocopter set a new crowdfunding record and raised about $1.6 million in three and a half days. The money will be enough to complete flight tests with the prototype, and the company says it's ready to quickly move onward to production from there. The final version will be stable, reliable, and easy to fly, the company says, and will be ready for deliveries by 2016.

The Volocopter may seem goofy to pilots who grew up with Cessnas and Cubs, but to a newer generation, it might be the perfect way to navigate the sky. "It makes the experience of flying safer, simpler, and more accessible, and therefore fun," said Satyendra Pakhalé, a designer who chose the Volocopter as his "favorite thing" this week for a Bloomberg holiday feature. Those qualities -- safe, simple, and fun -- are key to the aircraft's appeal.

GA advocates often compare airplanes to boats or motorcycles, as recreational vehicles that, as a bonus, provide transportation. The trouble is, you can play with your bike or your boat all summer long, store it for the winter, and next summer pick up where you left off. Airplanes are not so forgiving. Conscientious pilots always feel that nagging worry that their skills are degrading, those turns to final are not as crisp or sure as they used to be, the flight-planning sequence is not so intuitive as it once was. For some pilots, that constant challenge is part of the fun, and they embrace it. But for others, who are looking for safe and simple, once they slip behind the curve and sense the margin of safety eroding, it's not fun anymore, and they go boating instead.

The Volocopter may not be the GA aircraft of the future. But the enthusiastic response to funding its development might be a sign that people do still want to fly, and they may even want to buy an aircraft. They want that aircraft to be safe, simple, and fun to fly, and if it can also be quiet, maintenance-free, and cheap to operate, that's even better. Cessna pilots might laugh at such a list, but the pilots of the future -- who already are among us -- will expect nothing less.

Join the conversation.  Read others' comments and add your own.

Video: Pristine Airplanes Refurbishment

In an emerging aircraft refurbishment market, Smithville, Ohio-based Aircraft Sales Inc. stands out with a comprehensive and highly customized rebuild process.  In this AVweb video, Aviation Consumer's Larry Anglisano presents an inside look at the company's Pristine Airplane refurbishment process.


Video: Tempest Spark Plug Tester -- Resistance Isn't Futile

If you do your own airplane maintenance, that work will include checking spark plugs.  Tempest says checks should include resistance measurements and they've developed a little gadget to do that.