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The FAA announced in December that it had revamped its airworthiness standards for general aviation airplanes, and as of Aug. 30, those new rules are now officially in effect. The FAA says the new Part 23 will enable faster installation of innovative, safety-enhancing technologies into small airplanes, while reducing costs for the aviation industry. The change in thinking at the FAA already has enabled manufacturers to more quickly install new avionics and safety-enhancing devices. General aviation advocacy groups have been lobbying for the change for a decade, hoping that it will allow manufacturers to offer safer airplanes and bring them to market faster and more cheaply.

When the rule was published in December, GAMA President Pete Bunce said the rule is “nothing less than a total rethinking of how our industry can bring new models of pistons, diesels, turboprops, light jets, and new electric and hybrid propulsion airplanes to market, as well as facilitating safety-enhancing modifications and upgrades to the existing fleet.” The rule also adds new certification standards to address GA loss-of-control accidents and in-flight icing conditions. Also, the rule is designed to comply with similar new rules already in effect in Europe, which should make it easier for manufacturers to sell their airplanes across borders.

United Technologies (UTC) announced a deal to buy Rockwell-Collins over the weekend, growing United Technologies' already huge aerospace portfolio. UTC already owns, among others, Pratt & Whitney, the jet engine manufacturer. The $23 billion purchase price for Rockwell-Collins will be among the biggest aerospace acquisitions ever. Executives for the companies announced that they expect the merger will create hundreds of millions of dollars in cost savings, likely from headcount reductions and combining of facilities.

News of the acquisition was not met warmly. UTC’s stock was down 5% on Tuesday following the announcement. Boeing and Airbus, wary of a concentration of negotiating power among their suppliers, both released statements opposing the merger. Boeing said of the proposal, “Until we receive more details, we are skeptical that it would be in the best interest of—or add value to—our customers and industry. Should we determine that this deal is inconsistent with those interests, we would intend to exercise our contractual rights and pursue the appropriate regulatory options to protect our interests.”

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The innovation that took AirVenture 2008 by storm may be headed for oblivion as shares for the company that now controls the Martin Jetpack have been suspended from trading on the Australian Stock Exchange. The company couldn’t meet its statutory reporting requirements by the Aug. 31 deadline so the stock, which was trading at six cents AUS, was wiped off the board. The company has been through many iterations since entrepreneur Glenn Martin, a New Zealander, gave an awkward demonstration of the shrieking ducted fan backpack at the big show. Despite the IPO and some funding from its Chinese owners, it appears there are some significant technical challenges to creating a viable aircraft.

In an earnings report at the end of June, the company said the engines needed overhaul after 10 hours and they were working on that, possibly by “incorporating elements of turbine engine design,” according to stuff.co.nz. The news site reported the funding company, Kuang-Chi, is holding off on sinking more money into the project while it assesses the commercial viability. So far, the project has gone through almost $50 million and the engine revamp will need another three years of development work.  We, along with many others, were on hand for that AirVenture debut in 2008. See the video below.

The Virginia State Police helicopter that crashed on Aug. 12, killing both officers on board, was flying at 2,200 feet when it abruptly turned to the right and began to dive, says radar data acquired by the NTSB. The NTSB interviewed nearly 40 witnesses who generally confirmed that the helicopter “began a rolling oscillation, began to spin (rotate about the vertical axis), and then descended in a 45° nose down attitude, while continuing to spin until it was lost from sight below the tops of the surrounding trees.” Witness accounts were corroborated by security camera footage that captured the helicopter’s final seconds. The Bell 407 had been following the Virginia governor’s motorcade after observing the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the day of the crash.

“During the examinations, no evidence was observed to suggest that the accident was the result of a mid-air collision involving another aircraft, animal, or object,” said the board in the preliminary report. Despite significant damage to the aircraft in the post-impact fire, the NTSB was able to locate all the major components for inspection. The pilot had been commander of the Virginia State Police helicopter unit since 2012 and held an airline transport rating for helicopters, commercial single and multi-engine land airplane, instrument airplane, as well as flight instructor ratings for airplanes and helicopters. The state trooper serving as an observer held a private pilot’s certificate for single engine land airplanes. Preliminary reports do not include a probable cause determination, which is not likely to be issued for several months or more.

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Pilots complain—and have always complained—about ramp and parking fees, those annoying gotchas that so bespoil what would otherwise be a magic moment between man and machine. That’s at the core of the current misalignment between AOPA and NATA and the former’s general complaint against three Signature-owned FBOs.

But as far as pilots go, this is a complaint by degree. If you sit the complainant down and ask if he or she wants a well-equipped FBO, friendly line people, clean bathrooms, free coffee and a crew car, you find … acquiescence. That’s because pilots generally realize that running businesses entails costs and they can reasonably be expected to pay a fair share of those costs, plus a margin. Sounds like user fees, no? They are.

So it devolves to a discussion of what’s a fair fee, if one is charged at all. In my view, in the absolute, I’ll pay $20 to $25 for a single-engine airplane without blinking and maybe up to $40 for a twin. But my—and probably your—idea of what’s fair isn’t the same as what’s realistic unless we can see the FBO’s P&L. You have probably noticed that FBOs come and go like the weather. If they were reliably profitable entities, why would they change hands so often?

At big-city FBOs, overhead expenses paid to the airport owner may be higher and have to be recovered through fees and fuel sales margin if the FBO is to keep the lights on. Hence, higher fees and fuel prices. But maybe those big-city operations are actually making a killing because we only think they’re more expensive to operate. Show me the P&L and I could have a more informed opinion.

AOPA’s complaint is against three Signature operations at Key West, Florida; Asheville, North Carolina; and Waukegan, Illinois, where Signature is an effective monopoly on the field. Seven aircraft owners joined the complaint. The basis of the complaint is FAR 13, which allows aggrieved parties to complain to the FAA that high fees discriminate against some users at airports where federal AIP funds are spent for improvements.

Just for the record, at Key West, Signature charges $6.71 for 100LL, at Waukegan $6.60 ($5.90 self-serve) and at Asheville $6.97. According to airnav.com, the current national average for 100LL is $4.74.  Collateral fees seem to be all over the map. At Key West, according to the comment section on AirNav, sometimes the fee is waived with fuel purchase, sometimes not. Said one commenter: “Called two days ago to check fees, was told $20 facility fee and $20/night parking. Then I read the AirNav comments and thought can this be the same place? Called back yesterday to recheck and was told $140 facility fee and $140/ night parking. With a planned four-night stay, we obviously ended up landing KMTH instead. It's only an hour drive. This is the most outrageously expensive airport I've ever checked fees at. No reason to go here.” But that comment occurred before Signature took over last year.

I reviewed all the comments for Key West and found 28 favorable, 20 unfavorable, but sentiment was split evenly since Signature took over early last year. In any case, when I called to check fees on Sunday, Signature said the single-engine handling fee is $25, waived with a fuel purchase of 7 gallons. Overnight parking is $23.65, but seems to vary by model. These fees aren’t published, so you have to call to get them. Those fees are on the high side for me, but not outrageous and not, in my view, “egregious” as AOPA insists. Up the road in Marathon, fuel is $5.98, the $15 ramp fee is waived with fuel purchase and tiedown is $15 a night. It’s about an hour drive down to Key West from Marathon.

If you do even the minimal math and you bought 50 gallons of fuel, by flying into Marathon, you’d save $35 on gas and $8 a night on tiedown, so call it $60 for a three-day stay. Lunch for two on Duval Street. Throw in the rental car and you’re spending more than just landing in Key West in the first place. That’s the size of the difference we’re talking about here. If it’s the principle of the thing, I get it. Be my guest. Not sure I would bother, even as cheap as I am. I’m no fan of Signature either and routinely avoided this franchise because of high fees and fuel prices. But that’s not the same as wanting government intervention to lower them. I’m not going to plug all this into a spreadsheet, but I will stipulate the cost delta for a twin or a turbine might be more. Comments about Asheville or Waukegan were similarly negative and similarly mixed. AOPA says it has gotten many complaints about these airports.

But does this rise to the level of exclusionary pricing? Are pilots discriminated against to the extent they can’t come to Key West for lack of competitive pricing? Is a Part 13 complaint justified? I don’t see a convincing argument here. There are other exclusive places where it’s just more expensive to fly. Take Teterboro, for instance. (Yeah, take it.) Avgas is between $7.44 and $8.10 and at Meridian, the top-rated FBO, the ramp fee for a single is $55, waived with a fuel purchase. (They’ve got the cheapest gas, at $7.44) Yet … the AirNav comments are almost uniformly positive for two reasons: People probably expect to pay more because of the location and the service gets raves. Said one customer: “As per many previous reviews. I showed up in a ratty old C-172 and was treated as well as everyone else. They arranged a car service to make a lunch in Manhattan, had the best fuel prices, and were thoroughly professional.”

You could argue that competition on the field hones their performance, but I’d also argue that it’s more than that. Businesses with a customer-centric focus usually benefit from management that’s customer focused. And that gets me back to Signature and perhaps the real value of AOPA’s complaint. If I were a Signature manager and saw that many complaints against my business, I’d consider it a five-alarm fire and I’d figure out how to fix it. FBOs like Meridian clearly do it in a high-cost market and Signature ought to as well.

As for the FAA complaint, what’s the agency going to do, wade in and set fuel and ramp fee prices? Should the cities at these three airports do that? They do have a say. Clearly, the airport hosts are allowed and even required by the FAA to produce revenue through hangar rentals and other fees. At my home airport, the city was actually dinged for not charging enough for leased ground to private businesses. Can they similarly determine a business is charging too much? I suppose. I just don’t think Signature’s fees cross that threshold.

Perhaps what the FAA should do is determine that the fees are consistent. Judging from the AirNav comments, they are not. Some pilots were clearly charged more than others. Increasingly, airports are levying “security” and “infrastructure” fees that are tacked on to ramp and parking fees. Key West has one of these, at $5. Other airports not named in the complaint are also adding on these fees. Again, these are user fees or taxes by another name. Second, why can’t these public-access airports have a parking area for which there is no charge and no services? Walk yourself to the fence exit and carry your own bags. That would address the denial of access for pilots who just don’t want to pay the FBO’s bathroom cleaning bill. High fuel prices aren’t denial of access; you can get gas elsewhere.

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Composite props may be the latest shiny object to make airplanes go, but most of them have wood cores, and the basic wooden prop is enjoying somewhat of a resurgence.  AVweb's Paul Bertorelli took a tour of Sensenich's prop factory in Plant City, Florida to see how these products are made.

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Not a single sunset but there is a rainbow in this batch. The AVweb hat goes to Bob Shaw who caught this BAE 146 converted to an air tanker that we're sure the manufacturer never envisioned in this attitude and role when it designed the regional airliner. Nice shot, Bob.

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