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Volume 25, Number 9a
February 26, 2018
 
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Trump Pushing Personal Pilot To Head FAA?
 
Russ Niles
 
 

News site Axios is reporting that President Donald Trump is promoting his longtime personal pilot as the next administrator of the FAA. Quoting unnamed administration sources, Axios, a relatively new news service made up mainly of ex-newspaper staff, said John Dunkin, who flew Trump’s personal Boeing 757 during the 21-month campaign, has been interviewed and impressed those doing the selection. He’s said to be up against GA caucus chairman Rep. Sam Graves, R-Missouri, and current Acting Administrator Dan Elwell. Trump has referenced Dunkin’s opinions on aviation matters in the campaign and after the election, particularly in regard to the function of the National Airspace System. He’s also being promoted by administration officials who cite his management experience.

Among the issues the next administrator will likely tackle is the possibility of turning over the air traffic control system to a not-for-profit corporation run by a board of directors appointed from various sectors of the industry. Trump is a proponent of the idea so it follows that his appointee for the FAA job would share that view. Trump has quoted his pilot as being dissatisfied with the current system. Graves, the chairman of the House General Aviation Caucus, outraged many GA groups last year when he threw his support behind a bill that would hive off ATC to a private entity. Some critics speculated at the time that Graves was then being considered as the next chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Elwell is a former employee of Airlines 4 America, which represents airline interests in Washington and is a driving force behind the ATC initiative.

Video: SamsonSky Switchblade
 
Russ Niles
 
 

For eight years, SamsonSky has been at the major shows, promising a high-performance flying car that is practical in both environments. It intends to fly the prototype this year.

FBO Price Gouging: Should The FAA Get Involved?
 
Larry Anglisano
 
 

Call them ramp fees, facility charges or handling fees. When you pull up to manyFBOs there’s a good chance you’ll be billed a flat-rate charge just for taking spaceon the ramp. In general, the larger the aircraft, the more you’ll pay. Most facilitiesthat collect facility fees will waive them if you oblige by buying a specific amountof fuel, which of course always works out to be more than the fee. But what if you only want to park the airplane without any help from line services, and simply walk to the other side of the airport fence? Should you still have to pay for taking space on the ramp?

No matter what, my mentality is that I never expect anything for free and that’s especially true when aviating. If I’m using the FBO’s Wi-Fi, drinking its coffee, swigging its mouthwash and using its line staff to reposition the airplane so I can get good photos and video, I have no problem paying a reasonable charge. I've worked the line and understand the real costs of FBO overhead. Like at hotels, I’ve been both gouged and treated fairly by the best and worst. Some FBOs just get it and they’re worth mentioning.

When we flew the Cirrus Vision Jet last fall, we set up shop for a couple ofhours on the ramp at Pentastar Aviation in Pontiac, Michigan (PTK), for somefilming. Wandering inside to find a snack machine, I was thrilled to find noshortage of quality munchie food on the counters for the taking. There was alot of it—like stuff your cargos with as much as you can fit. Even better, therestrooms were clean and overly lux. Noticing my cookie-eating grin, my colleaguePaul Bertorelli had to remind me that we were on the better side of thetracks, where fresh lemonade, pastries and granite urinals come at a price.

Pentastar says for it to “provide maximum value” (which means stocking itscounters for guys like me who mooch its food), it charges a $30 handling feefor single-engine airplanes, which is waived if you buy 25 gallons of $4.95 pergallon full-service 100LL. Light jets are billed $150 unless they take on 100gallons of Jet-A. Given the above-average level of service and quality of its facility,plus fuel prices that fall well within the average for the region, it’s toughto complain about Pentastar’s handling fees, which would be bolder yet whenyou climb out of a $1.5 million ride. But there’s a larger issue brewing and it's all about price gouging, made worse when you pull up to an FBO ramp on a federally funded airport not needing any services. You know, bring your own ropes and come back in a few hours.I think there need to be better options and I’m not alone.

According to both AOPA and the FAA, they’ve heard from an increasingnumber of pilots who are being charged for FBO services they don’t ask for orreceive. There have also been complaints of price gouging at certain airportswith no competing FBOs, which has prompted AOPA’s initiative attempting toensure reasonable and transparent pricing at FBOs on public airports. Even theFAA has stepped in, publishing its own Q&A guidance for pilots, FBOs andairport sponsors that addresses how federally funded airports should facilitatecompetition and transparency, while promoting reasonable pricing and access.The link to the December 2017 six-page document is found here. Like most FAA guidance, be prepared to read through it a few times.

Some FBO managers I talked with are losing their minds over the mere existenceof an FAA document on the matter that, according to the agency, “is not anattempt to impose new regulations or policies on airports.” But in the document,the FAA essentially says it can review FBO/airport sponsor (that’s the tenant/landlord) leases and follow up on complaints of price gouging, while reinforcingthat it has a statutory mandate to ensure that airport sponsors comply withfederal obligations. To me, that’s a setup for more FAA intervention. Stay tuned.

To get a sense of how widespread the problem of FBO price gouging is, we’llbe launching an FBO satisfaction survey and reporting on it in a future issue of sister publication AviationConsumer magazine.

Electronics International 'Aviation Alert! Short video on how EI saved this pilot's life
EASA Rule Would Marginalize Homebuilts, Classics
 
Russ Niles
 
 

European homebuilders and classic aircraft groups are mounting opposition to a rule proposed by the European Aviation Safety Agency that would invalidate flying hours on so-called Annex II aircraft from counting toward EASA ratings and even renewal of existing licenses. The proposed rule would affect thousands of pilots in Europe, according to Pilot Magazine. In France and the U.K. alone, almost 6,000 Annex II aircraft are flying and 2,500 more are under construction. Hundreds are used by flying clubs for basic and advanced training and most countries allow even advanced ratings to be obtained on classics and homebuilts.

James Tannock, of the European Federation of Light, Experimental and Vintage Aircraft, said the EASA initiative is driven by its legal department. “The basis of this move is apparently a legal opinion that Annex II aircraft are not suitable because they are not regulated by EASA,” Tannock said in a statement quoted by Pilot. “EFLEVA’s view is that this move would be seriously damaging to European GA, with no benefits apart from the satisfaction of a few lawyers.” Civil aviation regulators in the U.K., France and Scandinavia are reportedly preparing formal opposition to the proposed rule and if three countries oppose an initiative, EASA has to reconsider the idea.

Air Force One Deal Near
 
Russ Niles
 
 

President Donald Trump has again intervened in the negotiations with Boeing to modify two new 747-8i airliners to serve as the primary Air Force One aircraft and backup but it remains to be seen if the president’s promise of $1 billion in savings will be realized. Defense One reported Trump met with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg at the White House last Tuesday to try to break an impasse between the Air Force, which normally buys its own airplanes, and Boeing. The Air Force wants a fixed-price deal, meaning Boeing would eat any overruns, but Boeing is less keen on the idea. The Air Force already has the aircraft. It bought two 747-8is that were supposed to go to a Russian airline that went bankrupt, so the negotiations are about the many modifications required.

Defense One’s sources said the logjam was broken in the White House meeting and details are expected in the next few weeks. Shortly after his election, Trump tweeted that the agreed-to $4 billion deal for the new jets should be canceled because of the cost. Trump later said he’d managed to shave $1 billion off the cost. One of the casualties of the cost-cutting was reported to be air-to-air refueling capability. The rationale for the move was that new 747s can reach just about anywhere on the planet from Washington without a fill-up but refueling is also considered a strategic necessity in case the aircraft needs to stay airborne in a prolonged crisis. It seems like that need is still a factor since the Air Force recently spent $24 million to replace the refrigerators on the current aircraft so they can store the 3,000 meals that are normally loaded to sustain occupants for a long flight.

Lycoming 'When can an engine give you 200 extra flying hours?'
Martin-Baker Fined For Ejection Seat Failure
 
Russ Niles
 
 

U.K.-based ejection seat manufacturer Martin-Baker has been fined $1.4 million by a British court after admitting its role in the death of a Royal Air Force Red Arrow Demonstration Team member who accidentally ejected from a team aircraft on the ground. Flight Lieutenant Sean Cunningham died in a local hospital near RAF Scampton, Lincolnshire, on Nov. 8, 2011, when the parachute on his Model 10b seat failed to deploy after he was shot 200 feet in the air from the stationary aircraft. The chute was mis-rigged and the company admitted it failed to warn the Air Force of the possible failure. "This tragic accident was the result of an inadvertent ejection and main parachute deployment failure due to the over-tightening of the drogue shackle bolt,” the company said in a statement last November. It conceded it “failed to provide a written warning to the RAF not to over-tighten the drogue shackle bolt.” It was charged under the U.K.’s health and safety laws.

Cunningham was doing preflight checks when the ejection seat was inadvertentlytriggered. The accidental ejection was not the fault of the seat. The seats are designed to work from the ground but the overtightened shackle prevented the parachute deployment. It was apparently an issue with that seat in other aircraft. "A significant number of pilots, and also potential passengers, were exposed to the risk of harm over a lengthy period,” Mrs. Justice Carr said in her judgment. "This was, in the words of his father, an entirely preventable tragedy.” Martin-Baker also agreed to pay court costs of about $700,000. "The company accepts its responsibility for the significant contribution it has made in the death of LieutenantCunningham,” company lawyer Richard Matthews said. Martin-Baker tracks ejections in its seats and counts a total of 7,560 lives saved, including 1,050 in the RAF.

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Indian Homebuilder Hopes To Launch Industry
 
Russ Niles
 
 

An Indian airline captain and self-taughtaircraft designer who built an aircraft on the roof of a commercial building has reportedly parlayed the project into an industry. The Indian state of Maharashtra has reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding with 41-year-old Jet Airways Capt. Amol Yadav to turn his rooftop homebuilt into a 1,300-aircraft megaproject. Yadav, who has no engineering or manufacturing background, has been handed about $6 million to build two prototypes of a 19-seat commuter aircraft as the first step in the grandiose scheme. The wooden frame of the prototype is taking shape on the roof of his house. His first creation, a six-place single powered by an automotive V-8, has yet to fly.

Yadav, a self-described hobbyist, told BloombergQuint his lack of practical experience in the aerospace industry is no hindrance. “I wouldn’t say an official engineering background is required for this,” he said as workers assembled the wood structure of the commuter aircraft on the roof. “What you need is willpower.” Money helps too and the deal involves building two prototypes to launch Thrust Aircraft Company. The goal is to eventually hire 10,000 people to build 1,300 aircraft at a factory on 157 acres in Palghar, about 90 miles north of Mumbai. Meanwhile, Indian civil aviation officials have demanded modifications to his homebuilt before they’ll give it a flight permit. “We have imported the material required,” Yadav said. “Hopefully, by the end of this month or next month, it will be ready to fly.”

Picture of the Week
 
 
It kind of looks like a ghost from another era so Gary L. Watson hits top spot for this moody shot of an L-2M. Nice picture, Gary.

See all submissions

Brainteasers Quiz #240: Make Informed Go/No-Go Calls
 

If you cancel a flight because weather is forecast to deteriorate, it will improve. But if you ignore warnings and go, weather will turn stinko. In either case, your best call is to ace this quiz.

Click here to take the quiz.

Short Final
 

ATC: Cessna XXXX, traffic is going to be an HH-60 departing to the North at 1,700.

Me: Roger, we are looking for the traffic now.

Pause:

Me: Tower, we have the traffic in sight and we are turning to avoid.

ATC: If I were in charge, I would paint all aircraft blaze orange.

My instructor: Sounds good to me!!


Jarrett Moss

ATC Privatization: The Airlines Provide A Preview
 
Rick Durden
 
 

For more than 20 years, administrations on both sides of the aisle have proposed some form of ATC privatization for reasons ranging from ideological purity to hoped-for cost savings and increased efficiency. There was never hard evidence to support the savings and efficiency argument, despite the FAA’s historic snail-like speed in accomplishing major revisions to the ATC system. The Obama Administration made a half-hearted attempt for privatization early on, but the vehemence of the opposition caused it to back down and we who make regular use of what is the best air traffic control system in the world—and fly in the ones in other countries that are not nearly as good—thought the privatization snake was finally dead. We sure hoped it was because our ATC system has been doing well—in 2016 the GAO rated it as “the busiest, most complex and safest ATC system in the world.” No other system comes even close to handling the volume of traffic as is managed by the FAA every day.

With the new administration, the push for privatization has come roaring back in a form that is designed to turn some of the biggest companies in the country into direct beneficiaries so that their clout can be relied on to shove the legislation through a Congress that has demonstrated repeatedly that it puts “where’s mine?” well ahead of the national interest. The idea is simple and follows distressingly close to the techniques used by one Vladimir Putin in consolidating his power in Russia: give away major national assets to your friends under the guise of encouraging capitalism while making sure that there is minimal government oversight of the new bosses because they’re businessmen. Businessmen can’t possibly be crooks; they’re sure to run things in a fair and even-handed fashion.

Freedom?

The argument for ATC privatization is that it would free ATC from the bureaucracy and petty budgetary pressures of the FAA (just like big companies such as GM, Ford, Google, et. al.; everyone knows that they are free from bureaucracy and petty budgetary pressures). It would also result in a more rapid modernization of the air traffic control system.

Let’s think about that one a bit. The first question is for whom? The proposed privatization would set up an entity run by—drumroll—the airlines. A board would run the private entity and other than a token general aviation representative or two, it would be controlled by the airlines.

Yet, for all the problems with weather and traffic delays, ATC isn't the culprit—it's being blamed for a systemic problem it doesn't cause. The big problem is the sheer lack of runways. Railroads run trains on a few tracks between destinations at which there are numerous tracks that can hold virtually all of the trains on the route for as long as needed to load and unload. ATC is stuck with a system that brings airplanes over a myriad number of routes and then has to funnel them into one or two runways. Privatizing ATC isn’t going to solve that problem—you can’t fix an infrastructure problem by some magic juggling of arriving airplanes. What privatization can and is expected to do is give airlines absolute priority into the system—and if there’s a few seconds of free runway space, allow a general aviation airplane or two in.

Also, since flights between larger cities carry more people and are more profitable, the new system will give them priority, meaning smaller cities such as Wichita, Des Moines, Fresno and Grand Rapids will lose service … unless those passengers are willing to pay higher fees so that flight makes as much for the airline as one coming out of Chicago.

But—the airlines controlling ATC—what’s so wrong with that? They are in the system and want it to be successful, so they’ll certainly work to make it more efficient and run more smoothly.

If you’re one of those who claps for Tinkerbelle, you might believe the previous paragraph. The problem is that the airlines have an interesting history when it comes to aviation safety and customer service. And while past behavior is not a guarantee of the way the airlines will act in the future, we think that an examination of how they have acted with respect to safety, dealings with other airlines and their customers when given the freedom to do so is instructive. We think that the airlines have shown us enough over the last 60 years to know that they are telegraphing the punches they’ll throw right away if privatization comes into play.

Safety Improvements

Going back to the Curtiss Condor and Ford Trimotor days, a number of people looked at the aviation safety devices and practices that have been implemented and tried to find ones that were pioneered by the airlines. We couldn’t find any; although we looked hard and we may have missed one. From seatbelts through blinking navigation lights/rotating beacons, recurrent pilot training, transponders and instrument approaches, we could find none that were initiated by the airlines. In fact, the airlines fought most every single one—crew duty times, rotating beacons, you name it—tooth and nail on the basis of cost. It took pressure from the unions and the regulating agency (initially the Department of Commerce, then the CAA and now the FAA) before airlines would do anything related to safety. Cynically, most of the time they then took out advertisements to crow about how safe they were with the new device aboard.

Following deregulation in 1978 passengers hung on for a wild ride as ticket prices dropped and the airlines fought frantically to get the upper hand in the new economic world. As expected, the number of airlines dropped through bankruptcies and mergers following fare wars and some nasty infighting. The battle for survival between Dallas-based American and Braniff got particularly ugly. There were numerous, unconfirmed, reports of American personnel calling in and making reservations for all of the seats on Braniff planes flying the same routes as American. Back then, passengers didn’t have to pay for the reservation right away. Mysteriously, Braniff would have numerous flights with virtually no passengers—the reservations no-showed. The American flight on the route was full. As Braniff weaved toward bankruptcy the war worsened. Anecdotes were rife of American flights being followed down final by a Braniff flight somehow, and frequently, missing their taxiway turnoff, forcing the Braniff flight into a go-around. American has denied all such reports.

While it was the Part 135 charter world rather than 121 airline operations, I was flying freight at Willow Run Airport in the late 1970s when the FAA stopped enforcing the regulations. Willowtucky, as we called it, was one of the busiest auto freight-hauling airports in the country. Once the FAA looked away, it became pure capitalism in action on the airport. Operators cut prices, quit maintaining their airplanes, ignored crew duty time rules and fired pilots who canceled a trip for weather or wrote up a maintenance squawk. Go-fast switches were installed on Learjets—switches under the panel that disabled the overspeed warning and stick puller. More than one Lear broke up in flight while cruising above Mmo and getting into Mach tuck. Pilots crashed on instrument approaches because they fell asleep. When I got a job as a Learjet copilot I was never given any formal training at all, not to mention the FAA-mandated three takeoffs and landings. My captain was flying single-pilot on those first legs on which I sat in the right seat—I certainly didn’t know what I was doing.

When the FAA cleaned house and brought in inspectors who actually inspected, one operator had to junk six Learjets because the cost of the maintenance required to make them legal exceeded the value of the airplanes. Operators and pilots faced certificate actions and big fines. It was a time of human beings doing what they will do when they know that the police are looking the other way.

Regulations to be Repealed

In the last few months the airlines have, via filings with the Department of Transportation, given us strong hints about how they will run a privatized ATC system when they have no one looking over their shoulders: it will be by the airlines, of the airlines and for the airlines.

Last October, the Department of Transportation published a Regulatory Review in which it invited “the public to provide input on existing rules and other agency actions that are good candidates for repeal, replacement, suspension, or modification.”

The airlines jumped on the offer like a long, lean dog. Showing how they will be expected to treat their customers—the flying public—once they take over ATC, he’s a partial list of the regulations the airlines have petitioned to have eliminated and have arranged for their surrogates to write thousands of letters to the DOT in support:

Currently, if a customer makes an error when booking a ticket online, she or he has 24 hours to discover it and call the airline to correct the error at no cost (if the correct ticket had cost more, the customer will have to pay the difference—if the correct ticket had cost less, the difference is refunded to the customer). The airlines want there to be no grace period—no forgiveness. If the customer errs, the customer has to pay the change fee (currently about $250) to rectify it. (Remember, the airlines made billions in fees last year.)

When a customer makes a mistake, the airline thinks the customer should eat the cost. Currently, when an airline makes a mistake and advertises a fare at the wrong price (almost invariably too low), it has to sell tickets at that price. While airlines don’t feel its customers should be forgiven for making mistakes, the airlines feel that they should be.

Right now, if an airline strands passengers in an airliner sitting on the ramp or taxiway for more than a set period of time, the airline has to get the passengers off of the airplane or face a fine. The memories of the 10-hour delays in getting people off airplanes in a snowstorm in Detroit in the 1990s that brought on the Tarmac (sic) (Tarmac is a British slang term for asphalt—tarmacadam—airplanes park on a ramp or apron) rule are fading and the airlines want to end the rule completely. They apparently care so much about their customers that they want to be able to strand them on airliners without food and working toilets as long as they think is necessary.

After a long fight, the airlines were required to show the full cost of its tickets—including all airport fees and taxes—so that when a customer clicks “buy” that’s the price charged. The airlines have petitioned to drop the requirement so that all fees and taxes on top of the ticket price only show up after the customer clicks “buy.”

Now airline booking systems are required to disclose to customers if they either do not show competitors' flights or are biased in some fashion against them. The airlines want that requirement to disappear.

Airlines are presently required to show the frequency of delays and cancelations of given flights—they don’t want customers to know that any more.

When a flight is full, airlines can bump the passengers who paid the least for their tickets—they want more authority to do so, with less compensation for the bumped passenger.

While users of ATC services, pilots are also regular airline passengers. They’ve put up with decreasing levels of service, increasingly tight seat pitches and fees tacked on for everything from bringing any baggage to selecting a seat. They’ve seen and lived with the attitude of U.S. airlines toward their customers—and they can make a pretty good estimate as to how the airlines will treat the users of the ATC system once they take over: From years of experience, they have good reason to believe that it won’t be pretty, or efficient or cost-effective or willing to embrace advances in aviation safety.

Rick Durden is an aviation attorney who holds an ATP with Douglas DC-3 and Cessna Citation Type Ratings, is a CFII and is the author of The Thinking Pilot’s Flight Manual or, How to Survive Flying Little Airplanes and Have a Ball Doing It, Vols. 1 & 2.

Meet the AVweb Team
 

AVweb is the world's premier independent aviation news resource, online since 1995. Our reporting, features, and newsletters are brought to you by:

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Paul Berge
Larry Anglisano

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