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The newest version of Airbus’ A350 passenger jet completed a maiden flight Thursday during a well-attended event to see the long-haul market contender in action. The A350-1000, one of three test aircraft assembled at Airbus’ main facility in France, departed early Thursday before crowds of employees and potential customers, returning to Toulouse after a three-hour flight. The test models, the largest of the A350 series, will undergo about 1,600 hours of flight tests for certification, according to Reuters’ report on this week’s debut. The standard 1000 version will have 366 passenger seats, a beefier version of the A350-900 that’s now in service and making it a contender against Boeing’s 777 series. Airbus contends that the composite-built A350-1000 will cost 25 percent less to operate than the B777-ER, according to the Reuters report. The A350-1000 is slated to enter service in 2017.

Meanwhile, Airbus, which also is undergoing a consolidation of its Toulouse operations to cut costs, faces potential roadblocks in completing deliveries of its current aircraft. Delays from suppliers have left incomplete A350-900 jets parked in Toulouse waiting for their cabins to be finished. Meanwhile, some smaller A320 jets waiting to be delivered don’t have engines from Pratt & Whitney – all of which a Reuters report indicates is a sign of suppliers struggling to keep up with demand for new components. But officials said the A350-900 is still on schedule for 50 deliveries this year despite ongoing concerns over suppliers. “It has improved, but it is not where it should be and we are watching them very carefully,” an Airbus official told Reuters.

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The FedEx MD-10 that caught fire and spewed fuel and metal after a gear collapse on the runway last month didn’t appear to have any issues in the initial landing, the National Transportation Safety Board reported this week. The jet landed on Runway 10L at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport on Oct. 28 and rolled for about 12 seconds before the left main gear collapsed, according to information from the flight data recorder. This caused the left-side engine and wingtip to scrape the runway, “rupturing fuel lines and the left wing fuel tank,” the NTSB’s report said. The two pilots escaped unharmed via the cockpit window and the fire was quickly contained.

During the collapse, the aircraft continued its rollout as fuel from the left wing ignited and pieces of debris flew out, as seen in witness photos. Investigators are still examining the gear assembly and found that damage to the runway occurred about 3,750 feet from the threshold, while the jet stopped nearly 3,000 feet later. Both pilots reported there were no issues with the landing gear throughout the flight and touchdown.

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TransAsia Airways of Taiwan is suspending flights and closing down after struggling to rebound from two disastrous crashes in recent years. The airline also has been unable to stave off competition and has not been profitable, the company said this week. The announcement marks the shutdown of Taiwan’s third-largest airline in a fast-growing industry, according to a Reuters report, which noted that TransAsia has posted losses for the past year and a half. “This is a very painful choice for the company," Chief Executive Daniel Liu said at a news conference. With no way to raise money or sell the company, TransAsia is out of options, Liu said. "Our communications with investors have not been successful," he said in the Reuters report. The company also closed down its low-cost subsidiary airline, V Air, in October.

Two high-profile crashes of the airline’s ATR-72 turboprop aircraft have brought scrutiny to TransAsia by regulators. In July 2014, an ATR-72 crashed in Taiwan after a missed approach and go-around, striking buildings and killing 48 people. Stormy weather was reported in the area at the time. In February 2015, another turboprop hit a bridge after departing the Taipei airport and crashed into the river below, killing 43 of the 58 people on board. Investigators found that one of the engines failed just after takeoff and the captain failed to follow correct procedures and shut down the other engine.

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The Eagle Flying Museum, in Fort Worth, Texas, is holding a raffle with a refurbished Cessna 150J as the grand prize. The funds raised will be used to help local kids restore a classic Boeing Stearman, a project made possible by Build A Plane. “This is a remarkably innovative approach to funding the restoration of an aircraft,” Lyn Freeman, executive director of Build A Plane, told AVweb. “And what a cool airplane!” The raffle ends on Dec. 24, when the winner will be selected. No more than 3,500 tickets will be sold. The 150 has fresh paint, a new interior, an upgraded VFR panel with Garmin’s new G5 attitude indicator and a recently overhauled engine, according to the museum website. Second prize is a Lightspeed Zulu 2 ANR headset, and third prize is a test-prep course from King Schools.

Build A Plane has been in operation for 14 years, and will place its 300th airplane into a high school early next year, Freeman said. The nonprofit program brings students together with donated airplanes in need of restoration, to help young people learn about aviation while gaining useful skills and knowledge. The raffle tickets are $50 each, or three for $140, and can be purchased online. The Cessna 150 would be the “best Christmas present ever,” the website says, for someone who wants to learn to fly.

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AVweb’s search of aviation news worldwide found announcements from Honda Aircraft, Embraer, Aero Friedrichshafen and EAA. Honda Aircraft Company announced that it will showcase the HondaJet at the Middle East Business Aviation Association Conference Dec. 6-8 in Dubai, the region’s premier business aviation event. The appearance at the Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport will mark the first time a HondaJet will be on public display in the Middle East. Embraer has received the Provisional Type Certificate for the KC-390 Basic Vehicle, issued by the Instituto de Fomento e Coordenação Industrial – IFI, the Brazilian air force organization responsible for military certification, attesting that the KC-390 in this basic configuration complies with the certification basis requirements. The flight test campaign of the KC-390 is progressing extremely well. 

A meeting of experts including representatives from the Friedrichshafen Airport, Austro Control, Skyguide, AOPA, the leading industry publications in Germany and Messe Friedrichshafen was focused on common efforts to optimize landing procedures for Friedrichshafen Airport. As in the past, visitors to AERO (April 5 – 8, 2017) who wish to fly themselves to the show will use an online-supported slot allocation system for the Bodensee Airport Friedrichshafen. Ken McKenzie, a recreational aviation enthusiast and senior vice president for strategy and corporate development for Airbus Group Inc., has joined the EAA board of directors. McKenzie was invited to join the board during its fall meetings earlier this month at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. As a Class III director for EAA, he will serve a one-year renewable term on the EAA board.

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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.

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Good judgment and quick thinking are hallmarks of the aviation mentality. Both pilots and air traffic controllers are in the decision-making business. For controllers, every moment our headsets are plugged in, we’re making choices that affect the safety and flow of traffic in our airspace.

Some choices are easier than others, such as not clearing anyone for takeoff when I’ve got a Gulfstream IV on short final.

Others are more nuanced. That’s certainly true when we’re determining which aircraft gets to depart first. FAA Order 7110.65 2-1-4 directs controllers to, “Provide air traffic control service to aircraft on a ‘first come, first served’ basis as circumstances permit....” The demands of traffic flow sometimes dictate other than first come first served, hence the “circumstances permit” phrase.

On a recent sunny day, I was putting that phrase to work. An IFR Cessna 182 Skylane was just pulling up to the hold short line of Runway 27. Its pilot checked in, cheer in his voice. “Tower, run up complete. We’re all ready to go.”

I noted his enthusiasm, but unfortunately, he was just one of three aircraft I was eyeing. Rumbling up to the hold short line on the opposite side of the runway, I had an IFR Airbus A320 airliner, followed by an IFR Embraer Phenom 100 light corporate jet. Shortly after the Skylane called me, the Airbus and the Phenom each reported ready in sequence.

Decision time. Who goes first?

Immutable Facts

Controllers spend their time assessing different factors about the aircraft under their supervision, and then acting on that information. Naturally one of those bits of information is which aircraft was ready to depart first—in this case, the Skylane—but that’s only one of many variables in our calculations.

Perhaps you’ve been to a theme park, like Disney World or Universal Studios, and waited hours in long lines for a thrill ride. Once you arrived at the head of the line, the smiling attendant likely asked you how many people were in your party. If you replied, “Four,” and they only have three seats remaining, she’ll keep on going up the line until she finds a party of three. Disney’s not going to send the ride off with three empty seats, just because those folks happened to be after you. That’s inefficient, since those three people would then take up space on the next ride and bump somebody else back.

In a way, that’s how ATC operates, analyzing each specific aircraft’s requests, routes, and restrictions in order to improve order and efficiency for the system as a whole. To provide the best overall service, sometimes individual aircraft have to wait a little longer so another aircraft with different requirements can go.

For instance, do any of the aircraft in line have a call for release (CFR) time or an expect departure clearance time (EDCT)? Aircraft going to major airports like Atlanta Hartsfield or to the Washington D.C. or New York City areas are often saddled with hard departure windows that range anywhere from 2-10 minutes. These windows are assigned by a Traffic Management Unit (TMU) so that the departure fits in with the ongoing stream of traffic headed to those airports.

If a CFR or EDCT aircraft misses its window, it has to wait for the next one. I’ve seen aircraft get delayed 30 or 40 minutes because they were 60 seconds late taxiing to the runway. These windows are serious business. For an airliner with hundreds of passengers in the back, that’s a lot of potential missed connections—and angry passengers.

Tower controllers don’t have room to budge here. If we’re inside a CFR/EDCT aircraft’s window or the window is approaching quickly, that aircraft takes priority. The entire tower crew works to make sure we hit the mark. Ground controllers will sometimes need to hold other aircraft on the ramp to get the time-sensitive flight to the head of the line. If there is a steady stream of arrivals and only room for one departure, it’s going to be the CFR/EDCT flight if the tower controller has a choice.

The A320 opposite my Skylane has a three minute CFR window to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport, with only two minutes remaining. If I let the Skylane go first, he’ll take a minute and a half to get airborne and out of the way. That’s cutting it too close. I decide the A320 is number one and clear him for takeoff. The Cessna driver will need to wait a little longer.

Staying Ahead of the Traffic

As the A320 rolls, I’m examining the route for the Embraer Phenom 100 light jet that’s taken its place at the hold short line. Both the Phenom and the Skylane are headed in the same direction: northeast. That’s a potential conflict thanks to another—and far more common—immutable factor: basic aircraft performance.

The vast majority of controllers aren’t pilots. Many have never even taken a seat inside a cockpit. However, from the beginning of our training, we’re taught to identify aircraft and recognize how their individual performance affects our overall sequence.

We don’t need to know specifics. I’m a private pilot raised in an airline family. I’ve been around airplanes my entire life. Even with that background, I couldn’t tell you the V speeds for the Phenom 100 bizjet or the Cessna 182’s best climb speed. However, any controller knows with confidence that the Embraer jet is sure as heck going to out-climb and out-run the Skylane.

To contend with performance differences, tower controllers will typically assign different headings to aircraft on departure. These headings must differ by at least 15 degrees to create legal IFR separation. Off Runway 27, if the Phenom was southbound and the Skylane northbound, I could clear the prop for takeoff heading 290 and the jet heading 250. That gives me more than enough separation.

That’s not the case here, since they’re both routed northeast. Picture what would happen if I launched the Skylane first on a 290 heading. As the Cessna turns, I could immediately launch the Embraer on a heading 270, and I’ve got my initial departure separation. However, the radar controller then has to keep them separate in their climb. With the slowly ascending Skylane in the way, he can’t turn the Embraer right until the jet’s at least three miles past or a thousand feet above the Cessna, taking the fast mover well out of his way before he can turn on course.

I make the call and clear the Phenom for takeoff on a heading of 290, knowing that as soon as he’s airborne, I’ll be able to clear the Skylane on a heading of 270. They’ll never be a factor for each other, and they’ll be perfectly set up for their ascent: fast jet in front, slower prop in trail.

As the Embraer takes the runway, I advise the Skylane he’ll be next. “Alright. We’ll be here, tower,” the Skylane says. The enthusiasm in his voice is notably fading. I feel for the guy, but I stand confident that this is the best decision overall.

Crossing Out

The Phenom’s mains lift off the ground and I reach for my mic switch. Before I can clear the Skylane for takeoff, my ground controller cuts me off with a new flight progress strip. It’s for an IFR Beechcraft Bonanza, who’s requesting to depart our inactive Runway 36. That runway cuts right across the middle of 27. “Tower,” a new voice says on the radio, “Bonanza ready at three-six. I can take an immediate.” He’s hustling up to the 36 hold short line, obviously in a hurry. His route of flight? Northeast, just like our Cessna.

Graphics by the author.

Let’s examine the situation. I’ve already departed two jets ahead of the Skylane, who’s been ready to go the entire time. Each jet took about a minute and a half to depart, so the Cessna’s taken a three-minute hit for the benefit of the overall traffic flow. Not a huge delay, but he’s putting his valuable time and money on the Hobbs meter just like everyone else.

How long’s the Bonanza been waiting? All of two seconds. He’s also requesting something special—Runway 36, which isn’t currently in use—instead of fitting in with the standard flow of traffic.

The complication lies in the northeasterly routing of both aircraft. If I depart the Skylane first, radar’s going to hook the Cessna right across Runway 36’s departure path. The Bonanza will probably have to wait three to five minutes for the Skylane to be clear of his flight path, depending on how fast the Cessna turns and climbs.

On the flip side, if I make the Bonanza number one, the Skylane will have to wait until the Bonanza cuts across the Runway 27/36 intersection. That’ll be about another minute, added on to the three he’s already waited. I can then launch the Skylane. Both will depart on vastly different headings and will be well-spaced for their northeast climbs, the Bonanza in the lead, Skylane in trail.

At this point, you probably think I’m going to tell you my decision. Nope. You’ve got all the information about both aircraft in front of you. You’ve got their aircraft types, their direction of flight, their potential conflict point, how long each has been waiting, how long their estimated total delay time will be, and their runway request.

Now, you make the choice. Who’s number one?

What’s for lunch? A healthy salad or a half-pound burger? That’s just one of the life-and-death decisions Tarrance Kramer has to make as a tower controller in the southeastern U.S.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of IFR magazine.

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I hauled the Cub over to Sebring on Saturday—that takes most of the day, one way—and hung out at Tecnam’s big hangar there. I’d flown over to fly and shoot Tecnam’s latest light sport aircraft, the Astore. Nice airplane.

I first saw it at Aero in 2013 and didn’t spend enough time with it to get the gist of what Tecnam had in mind for it. It’s basically a high-end, high-performance cruising LSA and by high-end, I mean invoicing around $200,000, on a base price of about $170,000. Because of the high price—not despite it—it has become a bestseller for Tecnam. You read that right; the top-tier price is a plus because that’s what buyers of LSAs are buying. I’ve said this to the point of inducing nausea, but it continues to be true. And has been true almost from day one.

Now another trend has surfaced that I don’t think anyone expected. Many of the buyers, although not all, of these airplanes are not newcomers to aviation or older pilots who are stepping out of ancient Skyhawks or Cherokees as they transition into their aeronautical dotage. Increasingly, they are owners of new aircraft like the Cirrus SR series, twins like Barons or even cabin-class 340s or 421s. Tecnam’s Shannon Yeager told me these are not pilots who are aging out or worried about losing their medicals, or who can no longer afford those airplanes. They’re opting out on a value equation basis.

I can’t find any serious market research on this, but I’ve heard it from three manufacturers now—Tecnam, Legend and Flight Design—and it seems to be an accelerating trend. I don’t think it has to do with the inability to afford bigger, more capable airplanes. People who can afford to pay an unleveraged $600,000 for a new airplane aren’t likely to suddenly discover they can’t afford the maintenance or the fuel to fly it 100 hours a year. What Yeager finds is that such buyers get into an over-capacity situation. They don’t see the value of owning an asset that expensive and using it to bore holes in the sky at 18 gallons per hour. In other words, just because you can afford something, doesn’t mean you want to buy it or keep it if you already own it.

Another reason for this is that while we haven’t been looking that closely, top-tier LSAs have become impressively capable. The Astore, for instance, has a turbocharged Rotax 914 engine and a Garmin G3X Touch avionics suite complete with autopilot and envelope protection. It has plush seating and a generous baggage compartment. With the 914, it steams along at 120 knots and if U.S. rules allowed the constant speed prop that European rules do, it would do 130 knots. With fuel consumption under 5 GPH, that’s 29 NMPG. Not bad.

LSA manufacturers vary on this, but Tecnam’s limitations allow the airplane to be used under IFR, but not in IMC. That would make it a good IFR trainer and I wouldn’t get my law-and-order pants snagged on flying it through the odd cloud. Even limited to VFR, that’s a lot of capability for an owner who just doesn’t pound halfway across the continent frequently enough to justify a TTx.

When LSA was hatching, I don’t remember anyone ever suggesting the market would develop in this way. At the time, the airplanes were envisioned to be the modern equivalent of my Cub, suitable for training and recreational use, but hardly high-performance aviation. LSA actually predates the glass panel and I don’t think anyone saw the avionics driving sales and product development the way they have. And while light sport was supposed to stimulate new designs, I doubt if anyone foresaw quite the profusion of aircraft that would happen to also touch the high-performance end of the spectrum. In my various travels, I noticed there ain’t much religion about observing the 120-knot maximum speed restriction and many designs push the minimum useful load rule (430 pounds for a 100-HP airplane) to the breaking point.

These trends—especially the buyer profiles—continue to tell us that the real world has evolved beyond the noble initial intent of the light sport rule. Buyers are pushing back against its artificial constraints and I think they’ll continue to do so. Eventually, I suspect, we’ll see enough market pressure to raise the weight limit, remove the silly speed restriction and relax constraints against IFR usage. That still won’t stimulate a lot of volume, but it will bring in more buyers and they’ll be happier for it.

I think that will be the continuing fate of light sport. And although it might not be the fairy tale we all pined for, it’s not a bad story.

Masimo is marketing its new MightySat wireless pulse oximeter/personal health monitor to both pilots and endurance athletes. The device has a rich feature set that measures far more than blood oxygen saturation and has a $399 ($299 scaled back) retail price. Aviation Consumer editor Larry Anglisano has been using the device for flying and athletic endurance training. Here's a summary of its major functions.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Take a beautiful setting, a beautiful airplane and a little magic light and you get a Picture of the Week winner. Mel Malkoff, of Kingston, Washington took this stunning shot of Bruce Hind in his SeaBee as he took off from Long Lake, Washington on his way to AOPA's Bremerton Fly-In. Great shot, Mel.

The successful aviator needs more than the ability to look good behind overpriced sunglasses. Great pilots know the regulations and how to apply them in all weather, day or night, but especially while acing this quiz. (Includes results from last month's reader survey.)

Click here to take the quiz.

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