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As he promised in February, Pennsylvania Rep. Bill Shuster appears intent on trying again to convince his fellow lawmakers to privatize air traffic control in the U.S. With just six weeks left in the short-term FAA funding authorization that was approved March 15, Shuster is reportedly gathering support, Washington style, for the privatization plan, which proved wildly unpopular when he introduced it in February. “[Shuster] claims that he is getting votes every day,” Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., the ranking member of the committee, told Morning Consult last week. “He’s been going around offering people all sorts of things if they’ll vote for his privatization.” 

The privatization plan was soundly rejected by most members on both sides of the House and by the Senate when the House Transportation Committee, which is headed by Shuster, passed it earlier this year. The committee proposal also drew a groundswell of opposition from most aviation groups, even though it also contains measures like a liberal take on third class medical reform and simplified aircraft certification that are supported by those groups. The bill was endorsed by airlines and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Shuster finally relented and the bill was shelved in late February in favor of the short-term authorization.

At the time, Shuster gave notice that he would keep trying to pass the privatization measure. “This is an ongoing process, and we will continue working to educate members and address questions they have about the bill," he said in the statement. House speaker Paul Ryan has cleared the way for a second attempt by nominating Shuster to lead the effort to pass a long-term reauthorization bill. “The last thing I want to do as speaker is undercut our committee chairs having been a committee chair,” Ryan told the Morning Consult. “So I believe this deadline will be met and we want to give [Shuster] what he needs to do what he thinks is right.” What Shuster thinks is right is definitely not what the Senate thinks is right. 

The upper chamber passed its own version of the reauthorization bill without the privatization provisions (and with a more restricted version of medical reform) shortly after the short-term authorization was passed and now Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., and other Senate leaders are calling on Shuster to simply take up that bill or something like it. “We believe it provides a bipartisan blueprint that could garner similar support in the House of Representatives,” the Senate leaders said in a letter to Shuster and DeFazio. “With only six weeks remaining on the legislative calendar before funding for the FAA is set to expire, we urge you to move this bill or a similar companion measure forward in the House of Representatives as quickly as possible.”

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The president of the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association says the escalating pilot shortage could soon be hitting mainstream America where it hurts most. “Millions of Americans are not going to get their online purchases delivered to their front door if the situation does not improve,”  RACCA President Stan Bernstein told Global Trade magazine. “Everyone is talking about pilot shortages at the passenger airlines and all the communities that are losing service but they are going to be surprised when what they ordered online isn’t delivered in a timely manner.” Bernstein said small package carriers are expecting to lose a staggering two-thirds of their pilots to attrition in the next year, resulting in route abandonment and downstream layoffs of support employees. The unhappy irony is that the shortage is crippling an industry that is seeing burgeoning demand from the online shopping industry.

“We have talked to a lot of companies and there is one overriding comment,” RACCA Board Chair Tim Komberec told Global Trader. “They have a lot of opportunities for growth but can’t find the pilots to accommodate that growth. The good news is demand is out there.”  RACCA blames the 1,500-hour rule for the shortage but it also cited an AOPA study that suggests only about 29 percent of student pilots want a career in aviation.

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A 56-year-old Florida man been identified as the pilot who died when the P-47 Thunderbolt he was flying went into the Hudson River off Manhattan late Friday. William Gordon was flying the aircraft on a photo flight with two other aircraft promoting the American Airpower Museum’s celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Thunderbolt, which was used extensively by the U.S. Army Air Force in the Second World War. The museum, located at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, is hosting a major airshow marking the Memorial Day weekend and there was nothing on the organization’s website suggesting any interruption of those plans.

Witnesses reported seeing smoke coming from the aircraft and hearing “sputtering” before the aircraft hit the water and immediately sank. Video shows a varying plume of spray moving laterally across the surface of the river. The pilot’s body was recovered by divers three hours after the crash and the aircraft was pulled to the surface Saturday afternoon.

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A Korean Air jet aborted takeoff after its left engine caught fire at Tokyo’s main airport around midday on Friday. The Boeing 777, bound for Seoul, was carrying 319 passengers and crew members, according to a Reuters report. A grainy video shown on RT, likely from a bystander, shows the jet rolling for takeoff at Haneda Airport, then flames bursting out of the left engine as the aircraft comes to a stop. News outlets also showed footage of passengers sliding down the emergency chutes and firefighters dousing the engine. No injuries were reported but about 30 passengers said they felt ill, Reuters reported.

The fire forced a temporary shutdown at the airport, diverting 57 flights to alternates while 297 flights got cancelled, the report said. The airline is investigating the cause of the fire and said a spark was detected in the left engine during the takeoff roll, according to a report in The Korea Times. Tokyo fire officials said the fire was reported at 12:44 p.m. and more than 100 fire and rescue workers responded, the report said.

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In their older years, my parents were cheapskates. When I visited them in their Southern Texas retirement community, they always were delighted to share their favorite places, those with senior discounts, dollar-breakfast specials and cheap all-you-can-eat buffets. The same proved true when buying unleaded: I thought it odd they would drive six miles round-trip to save $0.05 a gallon. After my father filled his tank, I asked how much he had put in. Twelve gallons, he answered; he just saved 60 cents. I pointed out it took us 15 minutes to save 60 cents, so he was paying himself about $2.40 an hour...just a little observation. His answer was: 1) he’s retired, so he likes saving money, 2) polite people keep their math to themselves, and, 3) nobody likes a smart ass.

Many of us abhor unnecessary spending, but pilots seem to elevate frugality to an art form, especially when it’s time to purchase fuel. The tendency is amplified because a crazy thing about avgas is its price variability: It isn’t a mere five cents cheaper; it can be a dollar or more. Also, we’re not talking about 12 gallons; many personal airplanes can carry 100 gallons or more. Within 100 nm of my home airport, I can find 100LL ranging from $5.33/gallon to $7.94/gallon. That’s a 40 percent price difference! I think I’d be crazy to top my tanks at $7.94, but how far am I willing to fly to save a buck or two? To address it another way, how many dollars per gallon is your safety worth?

Preventable Mistakes

When you read the volumes of accident reports citing fuel exhaustion as a probable cause, it’s easy to face-palm and conclude the PIC was an idiot. But if you read between the lines, often you can easily infer the unstated root-cause motivation was cheap gas. Here’s a great example, from NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS).

“Flew into this airport 4 days previously, noted that I had about 1 hour of fuel remaining, i.e., a quarter of a tank. On morning of incident, went to airport to fly 20 miles south for fuel. Due to fuel tank being ‘low’—no fuel will show up on inspection when less than a quarter. The tank gauges showed enough fuel, the previous trip should have allowed enough fuel. On takeoff, all was normal till 5 minutes after takeoff when engine quit. [I] switched to other tank, turned back to airport. Engine restarted and ran another 1 minute and quit. Attempted to return to the airport, but unable. Elected to land alongside highway.

“Not sure at this point why engine quit, but know I should have added enough gas to be sure there was no possibility. Not sure why my previous experience led me to believe there was enough gas, but hindsight tells me why I would have not been more sure when I took off. When a fuel tank shows no visible fuel, put fuel in regardless of what previous experience tells one how much should still be in the tank or what fuel gauge shows versus what is previously shown. No gas visible means no gas and not 4 gallons that I think is still there.”

In this explanation, the pilot discloses two telling facts: First, he or she departed with low tanks to fly 20 miles to get fuel and, second, he or she thought there was enough for the trip, but in hindsight realized that maybe some should have been added—even at the higher price—before launching for Cheap Gas Regional.

From the narrative, we know the pilot had the option to add fuel before takeoff, but instead chose to fly 20 miles to get it. I surmise, with my clever pilot’s intuition, that fuel at the field 20 miles away was substantially cheaper than at the departure airport. And sweetening the deal was the additional savings opportunity of filling nearly empty tanks.

A similar accident happened in the fall of 2013. Paraphrasing the NTSB report (with my not-so-subtle additions of current fuel prices at the respective airports identified in the report), gives us the following:

According to the pilot of the Beech C90 King Air, the airplane originated the day’s flight sequence at the home airport where Jet A is sold for $5.50/gallon. In the morning, the accident plane traveled 45 nm to pick up a passenger. Jet A is currently sold for $5.88/gallon at this first stop. The plane continued 165 nm to the destination airport at a larger city within Class C airspace, where the local jet center sells Jet A for $5.75/gallon. Later,  the King Air departed the airport with the second most expensive fuel of the day and flew 165 nm to return the first passenger. After dropping off the first passenger at the airport with the most expensive fuel of the three stops, the pilot chose to continue back to the home airport, where fuel was cheapest.

On final approach to the airport with the cheapest fuel, the pilot noticed a “master warning or caution” annunciator light illuminated. The pilot was “pretty sure” it was related to a fuel quantity/distribution issue. Shortly, both engines of the King Air simultaneously stopped running. The airplane impacted level terrain and an irrigation ditch about 1.2 miles short of the runway. The landing gear, one propeller, and one engine were separated from the airplane during impact, and the wings and fuselage sustained substantial damage. The accident resulted in two minor injuries and one serious. Only trace amounts of fuel were observed at the scene.

With respect to the above accident, it’s my supposition that the pilot was concerned about fuel prices. There could have been many factors playing into the decision—a matter of convenience, get-home-itis or simply poor fuel planning—but I can’t help wondering whether knowing the fuel at the home base was cheaper factored in, even if only in a subliminal way.

Whatever the reasoning, I can say for certain that price-driven scenarios leading to fuel exhaustion play out on a regular basis. It does not appear to be a motive that gets acknowledged in accident reports.

Flight Planning and Fuel

Have fuel prices really become a foundation of aeronautical decision-making? Most electronic flight bag apps have fuel-price features, and flight-planning Web sites like 100LL.com and AirNav.com allow pilots to check prices and optimize their cross-country routes to save money. The planners will help you “game out” the proposed flight and strike a balance between safety and cost. It seems like a reasonable choice to make. Why spend more than you have to? I try not compromise safety, but my longest cross-country routes have always been planned based on gas prices.

Take my trip from Idaho to Oshkosh, Wis., in 2010. I flew a Cessna 182 with 60-gallon tanks (55 usable). The four fuel stops I planned for the 1000-plus nm trip were based exclusively on gas prices. With 100 gallons burned to get there, that choice offered about $80 in savings each way.

What are the consequences of fuel-based routing? On that same Oshkosh trip when I got to my second fuel stop, I discovered the pump was locked, the phone number provided wasn’t answering, and the sun was getting low. Fortunately, I planned conservatively and had half a tank remaining, so the 55 nm diversion from Torrington, Wyo. (KTOR), to Pine Bluffs, Wyo. (82V), was in easy reach. I’d noted Pine Bluffs as an alternate fuel stop in my planning because it also had cheap gas.

A ridiculously frugal pilot would plan to arrive at the cheapest fuel stop with the least amount of fuel in the tanks, but with legal reserves. If the cheapest fuel stop is closed, out of gas or otherwise unavailable, the frugal pilot may not have many safe options left in the tanks without flying on reserve fuel. The most foolish cheapskate is someone who has rationalized that the definition of reserves is the amount of gas required to get to the next cheap-fuel stop on vapors...but let’s get back to the story.

The extra 55 nm to get cheap gas slowed our progress so it was late when we arrived at our next stop, Yankton, S.D. (KYKN). As we approached Yankton, we could see on XM radar something else headed for the airport—a slowly building line of thunderstorms. The squall line wasn’t moving as much as it was just sitting in place and expanding.

As we got closer to the airport, I remember intently watching the line of storms on radar. It wasn’t like we were playing chicken, but it was still a race to the aerodrome with us winging at 130 knots and the storm essentially stationary, but getting fatter and fatter from its base five-to-10 nm from the airport. As we got closer, my CFI-I and I were plotting whether we would be able to beat the system to our pit stop. Fifteen minutes from the airport, it was clear we would win the race—ahhh...more cheap gas. We were staying ahead of the game. The part we forgot was that we also would have to depart before the storm arrived.

As I added the cheap gas to the tanks, my double-I was on the horn with Flight Service, getting an IFR clearance to ensure we got out. They pointed out the red stuff on radar while he pointed out it was much bigger in real life, and could they please hurry up with the clearance.

We were still VFR, but we could see the cloud deck moving over the airport and the lightning was not as far away as I would like it. The best choice we had was to get out of its way as soon as the tanks were full. But again, why did we land so close to a storm in the first place? All together now: Cheap gas. As we pulled away from the pumps, the winds began to wail. We cleared the field and made our way to Sioux City, Iowa (KSUX), a safe port out of the storm’s path. In retrospect, had I not been fixated on cheap gas, I would have simply diverted to KSUX in the first place. The ForeFlight screen shot (right) tells part of the tale.

Dumb and Dumber

My final observation about the lure of inexpensive fuel at the expense of safety involved a Piper Twin Comanche. The plane had a leaking tank that was repaired just prior to the accident flight. Before the repair, the owner drained the fuel into metal Jerry cans. It was automobile gasoline.

After the tank repair, the pilot decanted the mogas back into the repaired aircraft tank and headed for the runway. Not only was autogas not approved, the Jerry cans likely introduced significant contamination: The fuel screens were found completely clogged. There were other significant contributing factors to the accident as well, including full flaps extended and automobile oil in the engine, but the desire to burn mogas in an engine neither certified nor approved for it, transferred in tanks poorly suited for it, proved fatally stingy.

Don’t be Fuelish

In some cases, the root cause of a fuel exhaustion accident is simply lack of knowledge about the aircraft system, either burning more gas than planned, not knowing the aircraft’s capacity or failing to understand the tank-switching systems. These human factors easily can be explained in accident reports—the pilot misread the fuel gauge, miscalculated the burn rate, failed to check fuel levels, or accidently turned off the fuel instead of switching tanks. All of these causes are overtly stated in accident reports.

What you don’t find as often, if ever, is the clear admission of an obvious truth: The pilot was cheap. It is rare indeed for the NTSB to simply say something like the following: “The pilot took off with near-empty tanks from an airport with expensive fuel, presuming he had enough aboard to make it to an airport with much cheaper gas. He was mistaken.”

Like I tried to tell my father, sometimes saving a few cents is not worth it. I don’t drive six miles out of my way to save five cents a gallon because my time is worth more than $2.40 an hour. Also, I have learned you don’t need to dance with an oncoming thunderstorm just to save a couple of bucks.

I flight plan for cheap gas, but I have learned to be very willing to add a few gallons or even top off with the high-priced stuff because full tanks give me more options. I decided my life is worth sometimes paying $2.40 a gallon more than I have to. I also prefer not to have too much air in my tanks; it leads to running out of gas, which leads to running out of options.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.

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Heard anything funny, unusual, or downright shocking on the radio lately? If you've been flying any length of time, you're sure to have eavesdropped on a few memorable exchanges. The ones that gave you a chuckle may do the same for your fellow AVweb readers. Share your radio funny with us, and, if we use it in a future "Short Final," we'll send you a sharp-looking AVweb hat to sport around your local airport. No joke.

Click here to submit your original, true, and previously unpublished story.

I was tuned to Indy Center yesterday and heard this exchange with a plane on flight following:

Indy Center:
"Cessna 12345, contact Indy Center on 124.62."

Cessna 12345:
"Can I have something that doesn't end in a '2' or a '7'?"

Indy Center:
"What was that request?"

Cessna 12345:
"Can I have a frequency doesn't end in a '2' or a '7'? My radio can only tune to frequencies that end in a '5' or a '0.'"

[After a pause.]

Indy Center:
"Cessna 12345, we've got nothing for you. Radar Services terminated. Squawk VFR. Frequency change approved."

Remember: You have to "pull" out the small knob on some older radios to tune in ".25" or ".75."


Evan Jones

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If there was any surprise in Wednesday’s announcement about production delays for the Icon A5, it’s that the company was so forthright in admitting what many have suspected for months. There’s a reason Icon isn’t delivering and for a company that has been obsessive about its image and marketing with a close-to-the-vest press policy, it was refreshing to hear some answers that made sense.

Basically, with about 1850 orders on the books, Icon finds itself laying off people while it has hundreds of airplanes to build. How bizarre is that? Not very, actually. Icon is in the good company of Boeing, Cirrus, Eclipse and even Cessna. Every one of these companies has, at times, struggled with the overwhelming challenge of organizing high-volume serial production. It’s difficult enough with toasters and tires, but evidently orders of magnitude worse with airplanes.

The reasons are myriad and not easily solvable, even when you can see them coming. Boeing, for instance, consumed the entire crosswind runway at Paine Field in Washington state with factory-fresh 787s. First it was structural and weight issues, then the battery fire problem and most recently vendor delays on seats. Meanwhile, vendors keep vending, piling up parts and assemblies while the factory starts and stops. Or just doesn’t start at all. Or can’t stop. Remember the 747s parked at Everett in 1970 with concrete blocks tied to the engine nacelles? Pratt & Whitney couldn’t deliver engines, or at least engines that worked.

Sometime around 2000, I think, I sat in a conference room talking to Alan Klapmeier about the fact that Cirrus was laying off workers as orders for the SR20 and the new SR22 flooded in. The production line hadn’t been organized enough to put the assemblers to work, so they were sent home. Vendor production schedules were uncertain, equipment wasn’t in place and a thousand little details were undone. Edge-of-technology electronic tracking is supposed to help such things, but sometimes all these systems do is time-stamp the chaos. 

With every new airplane project, we in the press sometimes give the impression, probably by omission, that we think this time it will be different. But it rarely is. And the more ambitious the program, the higher the likelihood that aspiration will be dope-slapped by reality.

And that’s where Icon is. It needs, as CEO Kirk Hawkins said, to slow down before it can go fast. It may take a while to figure that out and I won’t be surprised to see further stops and starts. Now, just as Cirrus did, and Eclipse did and even Boeing did, Icon enters the red risk zone. It’s burning money without bringing in substantial revenue. Cirrus survived this; the original Eclipse did not. Developments like these tend to spook investors, committed buyers and would-be buyers. The whiff of blood in the water sends some to the exits and the only realistic response for the company is to confront the reality honestly, explain it and illuminate the plan by releasing all but the most proprietary information. I give Icon credit for doing that this week. It was as voluble and least controlling as I’ve seen them be.  

Although it wasn’t a planned part of the press conference, Hawkins also released details of the revised buyer agreement. The original, you’ll recall, stirred a storm of negative reaction just ahead of Sun ‘n Fun, with a list of legal contract specifications many considered onerous and unnecessary.

Hawkins conceded the error. “It should not have gone out in the form it went out without an explanation. They had a right to be taken aback,” he said. The original intent, Hawkins explained, was to gain an acknowledgment from buyers that they understood the product liability risk Icon viewed itself as operating under.

To mitigate the damage, Icon dropped the more overbearing aspects of the agreement, including lifting the requirement for an audio/video recorder, yanking the “responsible flyer” clause, placing a $15,000 bounded price on the required airframe overhaul and removing the 30-year life limit.

However, the covenant not to sue Icon remains, as do requirements to use only Icon-approved (but not necessarily Icon-provided) training and maintenance. One sticky point Icon is retaining is insistence on involvement in the secondary sale to another owner. If the original owner sells to someone who hasn’t signed the buyer agreement with Icon, he’ll owe the company $5000. To incentivize that, Icon will offer the seller $5000 in options toward a new A5. Icon also dropped the right of first refusal to buy back the airplane that was found in the original contract.

The new agreement strikes me as far more reasonable and realistic. During April and early May, I conducted a series of interviews with industry executives and potential buyers. The full report appears in the June issue of Aviation Consumer. Not one person I spoke to thought the lawsuit covenant was a bad idea, nor do I. It’s a reasonable way to reduce liability exposure. I like the data recorder idea, too, and have no issue with the training and maintenance requirement, provided Icon takes steps to offer this themselves or trains and approves people who can. But the secondary sale restriction? I’m not sure all buyers will accept that. In my view, all it does is to sharply restrict the potential buyer universe for a primary buyer and potentially reduce the used value of the aircraft, thus placing an unreasonable burden on the original buyer. There’s no way in hell I’d have signed the original agreement. The revised version? Maybe, but the secondary sale restriction still gives me pause.

Icon pledges to release the detailed, much shortened version of the buyer agreement in a few days. You can read it and decide for yourself. As the company goes into a months-long period of retooling for efficient, rapid production, it will need all the loyal buyers and good press it can get. Hawkins admitted the delay will tarnish enthusiasm for the A5, but he at least took a step to minimize that this week. Furthermore, as the factory gears for building production airplanes, the company will use the airplanes it has available to begin training pilots and owners. The more of these flights that take place, the better. We’ll have a better chance of finding out if the A5 is as good as Icon says it is.  

In the next blog, I'll look at how Icon's plans might affect the GA market.

New DC One-X from David Clark || Advanced Comfort Technology and Superior Performance

As important as batteries are, the brushless DC motors that power electric airplanes are just as critical. In this brief AVweb video, Siemen's Frank Anton explains how they work.

What Everybody Ought to Know About the CGR-30P from Electronics International

 

The CAFE organization has been through big changes this year, and last week offered a whole new version of their 10-year-old annual Electric Aircraft Symposium, with a new venue and some new ideas about emphasis and priorities. 

 

 

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