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United Airlines has reached a settlement with Dr. David Dao, the bumped passenger who was dragged off a Republic Airlines regional flight (operating as United) after having his nose broken and losing two teeth in the process. The cellphone video of the incident and subsequent backlash has focused discussion on how everyone behaves in the aluminum tubes and likely made the doctor from Louisville, who was trying to get home from Chicago on April 9, a wealthy man. Of course the first term of the settlement is nondisclosure but Dao’s lawyer Thomas Demetrio said he’s hopeful it will result in more than a pot of cash for his client. “Dr. Dao has become the unintended champion for the adopting of changes which will certainly help improve the lives of literally millions of travelers,” said Demetrio, one of Dao’s two lawyers. “I sincerely hope that all other airlines make similar changes and follow United’s lead in helping to improve the passenger flying experience with an emphasis on empathy, patience, respect and dignity.”

For its part United seemed to agree with that general theme and announced policy changes resulting from the event in which it cited the limited power of its employees to resolve involuntary bumping situations on that day and that rules had become more important than its customers. “This is a turning point for all of us at United and it signals a culture shift toward becoming a better, more customer-focused airline,” chief executive Oscar Munoz said in a statement. United and other airlines have now increased the maximum cash compensation for bumping to $10,000 (Dao was offered $800 and a fellow passenger who offered to take his place for $1,000 was turned down). 

Whether United’s hugely expensive mea culpa will be enough to quell concerns in Congress is another matter, however. A bill introduced in the Senate on Wednesday would require an examination into overbooking and perhaps set limits on the number of seats an airline can sell on each flight. Other airlines, who briefly took advantage of United’s very public plight, have since announced changes to their own procedures to prevent such things from happening to them and likely to try to prevent lawmakers from getting involved.

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Uber drew lots of attention this week with their three-day Elevate conference about how to create an urban network of flying taxis by 2020, but as ambitious as their goals are, John Langford, the CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, says they are “doable.” The vision won’t come to pass, though, he told AVweb in an interview from the conference, unless there’s a deadline. “It’s a little bit like going to Mars — it’s certainly possible, but it’s always 20 years away,” he said. By setting a near-term challenge and helping to spur investment, Langford said the 2020 milestone can help to get a demo system up and running, and once people see how it works, they will want to travel that way.

Aurora unveiled its own electric VTOL aircraft at the show, with video of a quarter-scale vehicle that flew for the first time last week. Aurora’s concept is derived from its XV-24A X-plane program currently underway for the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as other autonomous aircraft the company has developed over the years. It takes off vertically, powered by a series of rotors, then transitions to horizontal flight, driven by a tail-mounted propeller. Langford said the full-scale vehicle will be fully autonomous, but for initial operations it will be controlled by an onboard pilot operating a keyboard or touchscreen — there won’t be any control stick or rudder pedals, he said.

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A federal judge in Los Angeles accepted the plea bargain of Arnold (“Arnie”) Gerald Leto III on Monday, sentencing him to 10 months in jail for flying paying passengers without a pilot’s certificate—at least one flight in a Dassault Falcon 10 and at least one flight in a Cessna Citation II. Leto lost his certificate in early 2016 for flying paying passengers in the Cessna Citation II without possessing the required type rating and without a second pilot—as is required by that aircraft’s type certificate. The Cessna Citation II can be operated single-pilot with an exemption from the FAA, but Leto did not have one. The FAA determined the flight was also subject to Part 135, and Leto’s company, Aviation Financial Services, did not possess a valid air carrier or commercial operator certificate. In their enforcement letter to Mr. Leto, the FAA wrote, “Based on the foregoing circumstances, the Administrator is of the opinion that an emergency requiring immediate action exists with respect to safety in air commerce, and he has determined that safety in air commerce and the public interest require the immediate revocation of your [ATP and CFI certificates], and all other airman pilot or flight instructor certificates you may hold, on an emergency basis.”

The sentencing memorandum written by the U.S. Attorney notes that this may be the first case ever of someone being sent to jail for flying in air transportation without a license. Mr. Leto may even have avoided jail time in this case, but for his other criminal activity before and after the illicit flying: “With respect to defendant’s history and characteristics, the government notes that defendant has two prior misdemeanor convictions, one of which was for acting as an accessory in a robbery with a threat of death or great bodily injury. More troubling is the fact that defendant was arrested on August 19, 2016 for transportation of approximately 500 pounds of marijuana, and that this arrest occurred while defendant has been on pre-trial release.”

The FAA’s enforcement letter and the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo are available below for interested readers.

Vivek Saxena has stepped down as CEO of Mooney International Corporation after less than a year in the top job, according to AOPA, citing an email to employees, and confirmed by AVweb. Saxena joined Mooney in August of 2016, replacing Jerry Chen, who had been appointed as interim CEO by Soaring America Corporation, the Chinese-backed investment group that recapitalized Mooney to restart production of the M20. Albert Li, Mooney’s CFO, will reportedly serve as executive director until a new CEO can be appointed.

The turmoil comes at an awkward moment for Mooney, which just last month announced FAA certification of the M20U Ovation Ultra and its turbocharged sibling, the M20V Acclaim Ultra. Mooney’s production had all but stopped in the run-up to certification. They produced just seven aircraft in 2016, according to General Aviation Manufacturers Association data, though that was down only slightly from 11 in 2015. Saxena told AVweb last month at Sun 'n Fun that he hoped Mooney M20 production would rise to about 80 aircraft per year.

At Sun 'n Fun, Mooney had reported that the M10 project, originally envisioned as a next-generation trainer and two-seat personal aircraft, was going to be substantially reworked. Mooney representatives speaking with AVweb acknowledged that the trainer sales were not the most robust part of the GA market and that the technology developed in the M10 might be put to better use competing for the portion of the market now dominated by the Cirrus SR22. In a statement to AOPA regarding Saxena’s departure, Mooney’s marketing director Lance Phillips said, “We as a company are proceeding full speed on production of M20s and development of the M10.” It’s unclear whether this means the M10 as originally envisioned is back on the product roadmap or, more likely according to one Mooney dealer to whom AVweb spoke, Phillips means that the technology development originally related to the M10 project is continuing but slated for use in a larger airplane. Mooney representatives were not immediately available for comment.

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The group of airport tenants who had filed an injunction to stop the Planes of Fame Chino Air Show from taking place in 2017 have withdrawn their request, according to Yanks Air Museum, one of the plaintiffs. The director of Yanks Air Museum, Christen Wright, in a press release said, “We do not want others to be harmed, as we have been every year, by the unfair actions of Planes of Fame. We decided to drop the preliminary injunction for the sake of attendees and vendors.” Steve Hinton, well-known air racer and Planes of Fame president, had promised prospective attendees their money would be refunded if an injunction shut down the event.

Last week, Judge Michael Sacks, who had been assigned to the case, removed himself from the matter at the request of the plaintiffs after disclosing to the parties that he had worked on airport matters in his prior job as assistant county counsel. Judge Sacks' recusal resulted in the hearing date being pushed out to April 28, which left little time for a positive resolution before the May 6-7 airshow. Michael Thayer, president of Flying Tigers Aviation, one of the plaintiffs seeking the injunction, said, “We were getting too close to the airshow. We tried to start conversations with Planes of Fame immediately after the 2016 airshow but they were unwilling to sit down and create a binding agreement. We were tired of having meetings where they would agree to a plan and then not keep their word. Even after filing suit, they made no effort to resolve this out of court.”

The airport tenants suing to stop the show, Yanks Air Museum, Flying Tigers Aviation, Socal MRO, Zangeneh Aeronautics and AFT Center, say Planes of Fame intentionally blocked and obstructed their businesses during the week of the event in prior years. They have committed to seeking “a speedy court date” for their continued efforts to gain some degree of oversight for future shows. 

Photo: Greg Goebel, Licensed under Creative Commons

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Four members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have introduced a bill to prevent foreign air carriers who are operating under a flag of convenience from receiving a Foreign Carrier Permit to operate in the United States. The bill has strong backing from the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA): “We look forward to competing in the international marketplace but will not stand by and watch foreign competitors decimate our industry through flags of convenience schemes or unfair government subsidies.” Representatives Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Rick Larsen, D-Wash., and Drew Ferguson, R-Ga., are the bill’s initial sponsors.

Flags of convenience are a legal technique that relies on registration of a business or asset in a country with a more favorable tax or regulatory climate than some other more “true” home country of the business. Flags of convenience have become a major issue for U.S. airlines and their pilots’ unions since Norwegian Air International (NAI) established a subsidiary in Ireland to take advantage of that country’s tax and labor laws while flying trans-Atlantic routes to the United States. NAI has received much support from airport authorities and local governments who hope to benefit from increased travel to their airports and communities. Under current law, the Department of Transportation found they had no authority to deny NAI’s request for a Foreign Carrier Permit. The Department of Transportation in its final ruling on NAI’s application said, “Regardless of our appreciation of the public policy arguments raised by opponents, we have been advised that the law and our bilateral obligations leave us no avenue to reject this application.” SWAPA hopes this bill will change that.

Photo: Creative Commons Attribution, Steve Bates

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About 25 years ago I was hauling cargo in a beat-up C210 at dusk near PFN, FL, and overheard the following:

ATC:  "Comair 1234, Nat'l Wx Service just advised us they have recently released a balloon in your area and they say "it should be approx your altitude, and it's pretty large."

Pause of a few seconds...

Comair:  "How large?!"

Pause of several more seconds....

ATC:  "He says about the size of a house."

Pause of a few seconds:

Comair:  "Would that be my house or your house?"


 

Cap'n Dave 

 

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I like the Black Knight scene in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  The Black Knight is getting beat in a sword fight by King Arthur and losing one limb after the other.   He won’t admit he might be in over his head, instead he tells King Arthur, “Tis but a flesh wound.”  When he has nothing left but a body, he claims, “All right, we’ll call it a draw.”  Pretty funny in a movie scene, but that stubborn independent mentality isn’t as funny in a cockpit—and when you lose in flight, it clearly isn’t a draw.

Like the Black Knight, there is a hesitancy among aviators to declare an emergency.  It is something you occasionally see in aviation magazines where the author describes how he or she pulled off some miraculous feat without any help and, of course, without declaring an emergency.  It is part of our aviation culture that declaring an emergency is something to be avoided at all costs. 

Revealing Our Weaknesses

Maybe it is believed to be a sign of inferior piloting skills, or the fear of retribution from the FAA, or just not wanting anyone to question our decision making ability. Whatever the case, it seems we would rather lose all our limbs than admit we need some help.  Instead of a weakness, knowing when to bring others to assist, is a sign of a mature pilot.  No one would argue that the best pilots have the judgment to know when and how to bring resources to bear at a critical time of flight.

During check rides, I occasionally bring pilots to a point where the situation may extend beyond their abilities or knowledge.  Many are hesitant, no matter how dire the situation, to declare it.  It is always a point of discussion at the end of the flight, either to be reinforced or emphasized as an error.  Just like anything else, it has to be trained until it is second nature.

Why do I find it so important?  Declaring an emergency is like having another pilot in the cockpit; it lessens the workload.  Why waste brain cells and time on making the unnecessary radio calls, checking pubs, or flying protracted procedures.  When you declare an emergency, you get the priority handling needed to cope with that situation.  The controller will clear the airspace around you, and give you as much assistance as possible to get the aircraft down safe.

Practice What You Preach

Now for full disclosure—even though I have lectured on the importance of declaring an emergency for years, I can’t say I always practiced what I preached.  During one flight, I found myself in un-forecast icing conditions.  The ice was slowly accumulating, but I didn’t declare an emergency.  In my coolest, calmest pilot voice, I told the controller I would like a lower altitude when he got a chance because I was starting to pick up ice. 

Fortunately, the controller knew the situation could turn bad real quick.  He told me to descend immediately to an altitude 2000 feet lower and advise status of icing.  I look back and know I was guilty of what I often chastised others for.  I should have declared an emergency.  If the controller hadn’t given me priority handling, the situation could have gotten worse, maybe even unrecoverable.

One of the roadblocks to declaring an emergency may be confusion as to what constitutes one.  The Pilot/Controller Glossary is vague.  The bottom line is that anytime a pilot seriously doubts his position or ability to safely fly the aircraft as planned, an emergency should be declared.  To me, this means if the weather is beyond what was forecast or your equipment’s ability—or isn’t functioning as advertised—let the controllers know. 

Don’t let the situation get to the point where you are working at your limits or the aircraft’s capabilities.  Unless you are in a training environment with controlled conditions, every flight should be well within your skills, and uneventful.

The ATC Perspective

If you talk with air traffic controllers, they would rather you declare an emergency before the situation becomes unmanageable and harder for them to work to a successful conclusion.  In certain instances, controllers may declare an emergency on their own initiative.  Witness stories when the author describes how the controller abbreviates a procedure or talks them into position.  Even if the pilot doesn’t declare an emergency, or thinks they are handling it on their own, they may be receiving the priority handling they need.

It is important to remember that most controllers are not pilots and their knowledge of your operating environment, and certainly your ability, is largely an unknown.

The Air Traffic Controllers Handbook advises the controllers to treat any situation that they think is an emergency, or has the potential to be, as an emergency.  It is the controllers’ option to declare an event an emergency.

In these cases the pilot may have to provide written explanation to the FAA.  This shouldn’t be feared.  First, it isn’t that often that a written report is requested, and second, when it is they will not face a violation if their actions are in the interest of safety (FAR Section 91.3(c)).  If I worked for the FAA, and a pilot didn’t declare an emergency in an emergency situation, my first question would be why not.  Talk about poor judgment.

As pilots, we like to be in total control of the aircraft and the situation.  That is not a bad trait—it is what often makes a great pilot.  Declaring an emergency isn’t losing that control, it is being decisive and staying ahead of the aircraft and the situation.  Arguably, some of the accidents discussed in this magazine may have changed if pilots were willing to admit when circumstances were escalating beyond their control.

Jason Smith is a military instructor pilot and flight examiner. He also holds ATP and CFII ratings and is a FAASTeam member.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of IFR Refresher magazine.

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You’ve probably heard the term “silo’d” as management consultant-speak for an organization that operates with multiple independent entities that don’t talk to each other. At AVweb, we don’t quite fit that definition but we have a certain intentional insularity. Thus, over the weekend, when I saw early Saturday morning the story of yet another airline cabin dustup—this time American Airlines, complete with video—I thought, hmm, what’s Russ gonna do with this? There was second incident in a terminal involving a commuting pilot.

I got my answer in an email two hours later: “Despite the high profile of these I’m going to skip them. Nothing to do with flying, really. Let me know if you disagree and I’ll follow up in the morning.” To me, that was the right news judgment and I’d have made the same decision. So why did we run the United story, but not the American story? It’s one of the ineffables in the news business that’s hard to explain. But one reason was that the United story was completely over–the-top abusive treatment of a passenger on a scheduled airline. It may have been a first. We cover the airlines, so it made sense to cover the story. And it had video. So did the American incident, but in the end, it was just a spat of the sort that happens frequently, I’m guessing. It just happened to be caught on video, but it was nothing but a version of road rage that, at least, happily ended in first-class seats for two passengers. American learned the lesson from United and got right ahead of the PR loop. Kudos.

But there is a point to be made here and I’m taking the time and pixels to make it. You can see the video here. In my view, it doesn’t matter who was right or wrong, how the incident started or that it’s a federal rap to threaten a uniformed crew member. It’s far more elemental than that. It has to do with how we, as members of a civilized society, should treat each other in public settings, or anywhere. If the two guys involved in this incident can view that video without being properly appalled, they both ought to stay off airplanes for a while, if not permanently. Maybe both were having a bad day, but given contemporary security considerations when flying and the overarching stress of the process itself, you can be forgiven for being impatient but you surely better be able to summon some impulse control.

Some years ago, when I was doing business reporting, someone explained the process of negotiating not as a zero-sum game, but as a question: What do you want to happen and how do you get there? This applies directly to a cabin confrontation. Clearly, no one wants a physical beat down nor a loud verbal altercation. With that in mind, threatening to flatten a flight attendant or a return provocation to “bring it on” is not helpful. It’s just two guys preening their testosterone. The better option is to skip right past the threat and find the conciliatory gesture or words that immediately defuse the situation. That’s a lesson we should all take from that video.

But there’s another point to make. I had actually written a blog about this a month ago, but never published it. I fly enough to have gained some sense of what flight attendants have to put up with. I think the job is harder and more stressful than ever and that airlines expect more for less from these trained professionals. Remember, they aren’t there to serve drinks, but to maximize cabin safety and, if necessary, drag passengers out of a wrecked airplane.

On a Southwest flight home, I saw two things that just astonished me. Southwest is famous for its quick turns and that depends on passengers getting to their seats efficiently. In the midst of boarding—early in boarding—an aisle passenger three rows ahead of me got up, grabbed his bag from the overhead and placed it across the seat armrest while he rooted around for something, clogging up the aisle for what was more than 30 seconds but maybe less than three minutes. I could see the flight attendant biting her lip and not saying anything. Well, next time, I will. “Excuse me sir, a suggestion…”

An hour later, after drinks had been served, an aisle passenger in the row ahead of me decided he needed more room for his magazine on the tray table, so he placed his half-filled drink on the floor under his seat where it took, oh, about 10 seconds for the passenger behind him to kick it over. Well, guess who has to clean that up? That will explain, perhaps, why flight attendants can get testy. And why I might get a little testy myself, since I have to occupy the same cabin that guys like this mess for lack of common sense and courtesy. So next time, I’ll have a polite suggestion for that situation, too.

I’m usually more succinct than this, but that’s 841 words to say: Don’t be a butthole. I’ll try to do the same.

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The French Air Force's newest tactical transport aircraft, the A400M, has been touring the U.S. in support of the Patrouille de France's 2017 tour. AVweb spoke with aircraft commander Lt. Col. Benoit Paillard about the aircraft and its capabilities.

John Langford, CEO of Aurora Flight Sciences, attended Uber's Elevate Summit in Dallas, and offers his take on what it will take to make urban electric VTOL transport a reality.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Last year's fire season in the West was among the worst on record and was a tragedy on many levels but it painted the sky in spectacular shades. It was a poignant background for a beautiful aircraft at Redmond Airport in Oregon.

When your imagination grasps the challenges of flight, the sky becomes a 3-D canvas across which dreams come true. OK, that cheesy metaphor is a bit too Disneyesque, but it should inspire you to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

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