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image: CBS News

The NTSB this week released a preliminary report on the fatal Learjet crash in Teterboro two weeks ago, in which two pilots were killed. While approaching the airport, the crew started to turn toward the assigned runway later than usual, the safety board said. The airplane didn’t start to turn until it was less than 1 NM from the approach end of Runway 6, but aircraft typically start the turn at the final approach fix, which is about 3.8 NM from the runway. An air traffic controller who was working in the Teterboro tower told the board that he saw the airplane bank hard to the right, and he could see the belly of the airplane with the wings almost perpendicular to the ground. The airplane then appeared to level out for just a second or two before the left wing dropped, showing the entire top of the airplane.

Witnesses on the ground also reported they saw the airplane in a right turn with the wings in a high angle of bank, the board said in the report. Some witnesses described seeing the airplane's wings "wobbling" before the left wing dropped and the airplane descended to the ground. Security video cameras installed at numerous commercial buildings also captured the last moments of the flight, showing the airplane at high angles of bank. One security camera showed the airplane in a steep right-wing low, nose-down attitude at impact. Both pilots died and the jet was consumed by fire. ATIS weather at the time reported the current weather at the airport as: "wind 350 degrees at 18 knots gusting to 29 knots; visibility 10; light rain, 5,500 ft scattered; temperature 18 degrees C; dew point 6 degrees C; altimeter 29.74 inches of mercury. ILS Runway 6 circle approach in use … Low-level wind-shear advisory in effect.”

The NTSB investigation is continuing. A final report will be released when the investigation is complete.

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Lockheed Martin’s LM-100J civil freighter has completed its first flight, the company has announced. The airplane, part of the Super Hercules cargo line, will perform in a variety of roles, such as firefighting, medevac and VIP transport. It also can deliver bulk and oversize goods to hard-to-reach locations. The first flight went “flawlessly,” said Wayne Roberts, chief test pilot for the program. The LM-100J is an updated version of the L-100 cargo aircraft. Lockheed Martin sold about 100 of the L-100 airplanes from 1964-92.

The LM-100J can operate from short, unprepared airfields without ground support equipment, the company says. It’s driven by four Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 4,591-PSHP turbine engines that turn Dowty R391 six-blade all-composite props. It requires minimal equipment to handle heavy loads, with rapid on-load and offload at truck-bed height. It can fly nonstop up to 2,450 NM at speeds up to 355 knots. The company has said it has about 25 orders for the airplane.

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Hangar One / NASA archive

A high-tech airship is under construction in a Silicon Valley hangar, according to a recent report in the Guardian, and it will likely be more than 650 feet from nose to tail. “It’s going to be massive on a grand scale,” one source told the paper, though that would still be smaller than classic airships of the early 1900s. The Hindenburg, for example, stretched more than 800 feet long. The new project, reportedly financed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, is being worked on in a former airship hangar at Moffett Field, which has been leased by Planetary Ventures, a Google-controlled company, since 2014. Brin has not released nor confirmed any information about the project.

Brin is reportedly interested in developing the airship both to deliver aid relief to remote areas and to provide a luxury mode of travel, according to the Guardian. A Bloomberg Technology story reported in April that construction was already underway at Moffett, with a metal skeleton for the airship filling much of the hangar space. The ship will be designed to control its buoyancy by taking in or releasing air, to avoid the need for ballast, according to the Guardian report.

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A sequel to Top Gun, the popular movie about pilots in the U.S. Navy flight school, will begin shooting sometime in the next year, actor Tom Cruise told reporters last week. Asked about the rumors during the Australian morning show “Sunrise,” Cruise said, “It is definitely happening.” No other details were released by Cruise or the producers. The movie was first in theaters in May 1986. “Some critics have called its scenes of Grumman F-14 Tomcats and Northrop F-5's (which, painted black with a red star, masquerade as MIG's) the most dramatic ever filmed of jet fighters in action,” The New York Times wrote at the time.

“In close-ups and from afar, the roaring jets are seen diving, twisting and soaring in dazzling acrobatics that often give the illusion that moviegoers are traveling with the Navy pilots at supersonic speeds,” the Times wrote. The realism derived mainly from two factors, the Times said — The Navy gave the film crew virtually unlimited access to its flight operations; and, for some scenes, the work of a small team of special-effects experts created the illusion of reality. Hollywood stunt pilot Art Scholl was killed during the filming, when the biplane he was flying for a film sequence crashed off the Pacific coast. Earlier plans to start work on a sequel stalled after Tony Scott, director of the first film, died in 2012. A 3-D version was released in Imax theaters in 2013.

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US Navy file photo

A member of the U.S. Navy’s skydiving team, the Leap Frogs, died on Sunday afternoon after his parachute malfunctioned during a Fleet Week airshow in Jersey City, N.J., the Navy has confirmed. The skydiver, whose name has not been released, landed in the Hudson River and was immediately retrieved by U.S. Coast Guard members who were standing by in vessels in support of the event. He was taken to a hospital and declared dead. His main parachute, which had become separated from the jumper during his descent, was found in a nearby parking lot. The rest of the team landed safely in Liberty State Park.

One spectator told The New York Times that few spectators were aware of any problem with the team, because buildings blocked the view of the water. The last fatal accident for the team was in 2015, according to The New York Times, when Master Sgt. Corey Hood, of the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team, was killed during a joint demonstration with the Leap Frogs in Chicago. The team has been performing since 1964. Officials from the Navy are investigating the accident.

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Heard at JFK one summer day after a very long ground roll and subsequent lift off by a British Airways 747.

Tower: “Speedbird XXX noise violation.” 

Speedbird XXX:"Send it to the ()(*&^% Queen.” 

Real story.


Dan Jenkins

 

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As sure as winter turns to spring, the ATC privatization idea has resurfaced and just as surely as summer is coming, so too are the alphabets protesting it. We’ve already hashed out ad nauseam why turning over air traffic to a private entity is a bad idea, but this season’s regurgitation has a new twist: privatizing airports.

In a draft legislation summary released by the Trump administration, the concept of “asset recycling” is being suggested. According to a report in the Washington Post, Trump aide Gary Cohn described it this way: "Instead of people in cities and states and municipalities coming to us and saying, ‘Please give us money to build a project,’ and not knowing if it will get maintained, and not knowing if it will get built, we say, ‘Hey, take a project you have right now, sell it off, privatize it, we know it will get maintained, and we’ll reward you for privatizing it. The bigger the thing you privatize, the more money we’ll give you."

The plan is light on details and lighter yet on budget analysis, but it springs from the ever hopeful conviction that the private sector is simply more efficient at running things like terminals, airports, transportation facilities, air traffic systems and so on than the government ever could be. While this sounds intoxicatingly attractive, the reality has been harsher, especially with regard to airports.

Some 20 years ago, in 1997, the FAA introduced the Airport Privatization Pilot Program, which was specifically intended to grease the regulatory and financial skids for companies interested in buying and running airports for profit. And we’re talking about commercial airports with airline service or maybe some busy munis. There are already lots of privately owned small airports in the U.S., some doing very well I’m sure.

The APPP was supposed to remove barriers to purchasing airports by eliminating restrictions on using AIP funds, allowing businesses to charge passenger facility fees and to raise capital through bond sales. It did not, however, promise buyers direct funding input, as the administration proposal seems to be doing. A 2014 GAO report on APPP concluded that the program found few takers. Ten airports applied, but only one, Marin International Airport in Puerto Rico, appears to have been a real success story. A second is the Branson, Missouri airport, but it was built originally as a private airport, not converted from public ownership.

One of the original arguments for airport privatization was that private entities would be more willing to make necessary capital investments than would cities and states. In at least one case, this proved not to be true. New York’s Stewart Airport was privatized under APPP in 2000, but the company that assumed the lease tried to unload it and, finding no buyers, it ran the airport for short-term profit, but made no investments in it. It reverted back to public ownership in 2007.

One big failure like that doesn’t necessarily tank the idea, but I think the Trump proposal is DOA for two reasons. One, the money to subsidize these purchases will have to come from somewhere and good luck getting it out of the current Congress. Second, investors can find more profitable places to put their money than airports. After all, they aren’t exactly money machines. The GAO report pointed out that privatization is already extensive at many airports, where vendors operate airport concessions and all kinds of services up to and including maintenance and construction. Perhaps the best model for this sort of thing is Fort Worth’s Alliance, an industrial airport built specifically for the purpose that’s owned by the city but operated privately.

There are plenty of small airports in the U.S. that are privately owned. Some are residential airparks, some just little country airports. While those models seem to work, my guess is they don’t throw off pots of cash. In the case of city- or county-owned munis, profit for a private owner may be found in higher occupancy density and greater traffic, if the owning entities can set fees where they like.

But if they can do that, they can also charge $75 ramp fees and $1200 t-hangar rent. Want to find out what the market will bear in an already anemic aviation economy? That’s one way to do it. Leases can be written to give the public sector oversight in setting fees and limits on activity but, ooops, there goes the private business impetus.

While private business is vaunted for its efficiency, that works best when it has competition. But privatized ATC and airports are unlikely to have that, so in a world of diminished activity, they’re likely to generate profitable revenue by charging the survivors to the point of extinction.

In the right markets, I could see a privately owned airport doing more aggressive promotion and sales than a public airport might, but the venues where that would work seem limited to me. That privatization continues to be a hot topic strikes me as just a perennial Reason Foundation whipping boy more than it does sound public policy. I just don’t see the problem that privatization is supposed to solve, other than allowing politicians to continue ducking the responsibility of raising infrastructure capital with bonds and/or taxes.

Speaking of which, the cratered muni bond market came back to life this week as investors seemed less convinced a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan is likely. Said the Financial Times, “Investors are less optimistic that the administration will implement its pro-growth agenda that includes hefty spending on infrastructure at the state and local level and tax reform.” That could flip come fall, if the administration and Congress reach a deal on spending and taxes, but investors may not be willing to wait.

If GA continues its downward spiral, it may reach the point where privately owned airports are the only choice. But we’re not there yet and, in my estimation, privatizing airports and public infrastructure sounds like a sure way to hasten the demise of what’s left.

As drones get ever more capable, a company called ARA has married them to a system of ground sensors that can automatically dispatch a drone to monitor suspicious foot traffic. That means border protection and military perimeter monitoring.

Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

A hot jet landing on a hot day makes a nice shot to show the utility of business aviation in a fast-paced business. Thomas Backus caught Arizona Cardinals' President Michael Bidwell's Citation X landing at Scottsdale Airport. Nice shot Thomas.

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