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A USA Today story titled "Unfit For Flight" on the safety record of general aviation aircraft has painted a picture of government and industry inaction and coverup on what its author Thomas Frank calls "a massive and growing death toll from small aircraft crashes." The extensive article, which appears in the June 18 paper and online, alleges that there are "hidden defects" in general aviation aircraft and that only 15 percent of small aircraft crashes are "investigated thoroughly." Frank writes that "Wide-ranging defects have persisted for years as manufacturers covered up problems, lied to federal regulators and failed to remedy known malfunctions." †The General Aviation Manufacturers' Association was the first to react (PDF) and it did so strongly.

In a news release, GAMA President Pete Bunce called the story "sensationalistic" and said it ignores the myriad advances in GA safety that have been implemented, the declining fatal accident rate and the exhaustive certification process for aircraft. Bunce also points to the Small Airplane Revitalization Act that will streamline the addition of modern equipment and features to legacy aircraft on the recommendations of the Part 23 Aviation Rulemaking Committee. More reaction and analysis will be coming as other aviation groups weigh in.

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The FAA's efforts in recent years to collect and share industry data has benefitted airline safety, the agency says, and on Tuesday, the European Aviation Safety Agency took steps to work with the FAA to expand those programs globally. At a joint safety conference held in Washington, D.C., EASA chief Patrick Ky said his agency already has asked the FAA to help in creating a database that would share information while protecting security and privacy. He plans to have a small, voluntary program up and running within two years, he told The Wall Street Journal. The FAA's efforts to analyze incident data such as voluntary pilot reports has helped to reduce U.S. commercial-aviation accident rates, according to the Journal. More than 50 U.S. airlines and industry groups share safety data with the FAA.

EASA still must find funding for the program, which is expected to cost about $200 million. The conference, which continues through Thursday, is focusing on how to share safety-related data within and across our governments, agencies and industry; identify and act on precursors to safety problems; use risk management to make safety decisions; harmonize new technologies; promote a systems safety approach; and minimize duplication among various aviation systems. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta is leading the conference as keynote speaker.

An incident last week in which a controller told a Delta pilot to abort a landing at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport and later said he was "kidding" was "completely inappropriate and unacceptable," NATCA spokesman Doug Church told AVweb on Monday. "This incident never should have happened," Church said. "NATCA takes very seriously its shared commitment with the FAA to maintain the U.S. National Airspace System status as the safest in the world. Our nation's air traffic control workforce is held to the highest standards of professionalism and this controller fell far short of that." Church said the controller has apologized to the airline and to his colleagues.

Flight 630, a Boeing 777 from Detroit, was on final last Wednesday when the controller told the crew to go around. The crew had already initiated the go-around when the controller cancelled the order and again cleared them to land. "I'm kidding, Delta 630," the controller was heard to say on tape. "After you land, I've got no one behind you. Expect to exit right." They went around anyway and landed safely on the second try.

Three Midwestern universities are asking pilots to help them solve the riddle of why VFR pilots press on in IMC conditions despite the wealth of weather tools available in the flight planning room and in the cockpit. As part of the Partnership to Enhance General Aviation Accessibility and Sustainability (PEGASAS) Center of Excellence for General Aviation established by the FAA, pilots are being asked to take part in a survey†to help researchers at Purdue, Western Michigan and Kent State Universities understand how VFR pilots gather weather information and how they apply that knowledge in flight.†

The survey looks at the types of meteorological information used, procedures and weather avoidance techniques, along with the types and recency of training in weather topics. "We are also very interested in learning about the weather technology capability you have in the airplane(s) you fly and how you utilize that equipment to make safe and timely weather avoidance decisions in flight," the survey's designers say in their pitch for participants. Participants must be 18 and active pilots and are assured of anonymity.

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Boeing's stretched version of the 787 Dreamliner is now certified by the FAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency, Boeing announced this week. The 787-9 adds an extra 20 feet to the fuselage length and has proved popular with customers, Boeing said. Twenty-six operators have ordered 413 of the airplanes, accounting for 40 percent of all 787 orders. The comprehensive type-certification test program required five airplanes and more than 1,500 hours of flight testing, plus ground and laboratory testing, Boeing said. The first copy of the new airplane will be delivered to Air New Zealand later this month.

The extra length enables the 787-9 to carry an additional 40 passengers and adds 300 nm to the range. Boeing has an even longer version, the 787-10, already in the planning stages. An FAA/Boeing team recently completed a design review of the 787, concluding that the aircraft was soundly designed and met its intended safety level. The review was prompted by a lithium battery fire on board a parked 787 in Boston in January 2013.

With plans for new products and entry into new markets, Continental Motors is expanding and needs skilled and professional employees from the shop floor to the executive suites. The company is holding a career fair at its Brookley Complex in Mobile, Ala., June 21 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. "This is a great opportunity for the company and the community to meet and get to know one another in an informal atmosphere and all interested applicants are encouraged to attend," said Susan Ames, Continental's VP of Human Resources.†

HR personnel and hiring managers will gather resumes and do on-site screening at the event, which be looking to fill vacancies in engineering, IT and manufacturing areas. Bishop State Community College will also be on hand to promote its machine tool program, looking for students to take courses that will lead to long-term employment at the engine plant. The list of jobs available is also online for those who can't make it to Mobile on the weekend.

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Lithium-ion batteries, which have three times the power of lead acid aircraft cells, are starting to find their way into new aircraft. †Mid-Continent Instruments and Avionics has formed a new division called True Blue Power to serve this market. †In this AVweb video, MCI's Todd Winter discusses the new battery products.

Cessna 172s may be not be fast or sexy, but there are plenty of them out there and prices reflect that supply. There are also lots of aftermarket mods for these airplanes. Larry Gettleman of Louisville, Ky., put that to work in his refurb of this monthís Refurbished Aircraft the Month.

ďI have owned this 1977 C172N Skyhawk since 1983 and refurbished it in 2012. New clear windows, headliner, new wingtips with strobes, complete strip and Imron repaint. I used the red and black design from an AOPA holiday card that I send out: ĎFinal Approach on Christmas Day,í by Nixon Galloway.

"Mechanical restoration was by Lance Bartels of Cherryhill Aviation in Seymour, Ind. Paint/detailing was by Hangar 6 in North Vernon, Ind., and decals by Higher Graphics of Tampa Fla. The airplane has 1700 hours TT and 1100 hours on the engine. Radios are 1983-vintage BendixKing.†

"I wish that I had more time to fly it.Ē

New airplanes sales may be a little soft, but we're seeing plenty of refurb work -- everything from new panels to fresh paint to full-up interiors. We would like to feature some of these airplanes in the pages of AVweb and spotlight the owners and shops doing the work. If you have photos of your restored aircraft -- single, twin or turbine -- send them to us at refurb-otm@avweb.com. If we select your airplane as refurb of the month, we'll contact you for more information.

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Pilots who live in Florida, and especially on the west coast of Florida, have this problem. Itís called the Gulf of Mexico. Nice beaches and all, and warm for nine months a year, but if youíre going anywhere west of about 85 degrees longitude, youíll have the argument with yourself about cutting the corner across the Gulf.

The armpit of Floridaóif I may call it that--is centered on the Cross City VORTAC and extends south down the west coast toward Tampa and west into the Florida panhandle. So the dilemma is always this: Do you chicken out and follow the coast all the way around or just go hell-for-leather across all that water, saving hundreds of miles? Well, first of all, it isnít hundreds of miles, itís closer to 70, depending where on the coast you depart from.

Iíd never put a sharp pencil on it until we flew a Cherokee up to Alabama for Continentalís Learn to Fly Day last month. If we did the Lindbergh thing from Venice, that flight is 350 miles, only about 15 miles of which is over land. Following the coast and weaving around the panhandle restricted areas, if necessary, comes to 414 miles or about 40 minutes and six or seven gallons additional in a slow airplane. Thatís not a trivial difference, but then again, whatís the risk?

It depends. Some people think nothing of flying the overwater segment with no more flotation aboard than a Styrofoam coffee cup. I consider these people to be idiots. The NTSB database is peppered with people swimming in the Gulf or other bodies of water desperately awaiting rescue. Most survive, some donít. Personally, unless I have some survival gear aboard, Iím not willing to get much beyond gliding distance of the beach, and maybe not even that.

But I dug out all my over water gear and we had a raftóa good one, a Winslow. The only thing I forgot was the waterproof pouch for my VHF handheld, which I had with me. The likelihood of it, or a cellphone, surviving a good dunking is about nil. But the pouches reverse that, making them a relatively cheap investment for the insurance value. I used to attach these right to the vest.

So what does this do to the risk equation? Again, it depends on how you view risk. Some years ago, I researched outcomes in ditching accidents and learned that the egress rate for airplanes that go into the water under control is above 90 percent. In other words, in 90 percent of ditchings, the occupants exit the airplanes successfully to face the next challenge: surviving to be rescued. At this point, the odds get murkier for the accident reports donít always say what survival gear and floatation the survivors had or used.

Overall, post-egress, survival rates are in the high 80th percentile. Even if you consider that 90 percent egress rate, thereís a one in 10 chance that someone wonít make it out of an airplane ditching. As risk goes, thatís not low by any means, although it may be acceptable. Well, it must be to me, because Iím willing to do it.

In the Gulf risk assessment, I guess you have to measure the gainó40 minutes and a few gallons of gasóagainst the worst-case risk, which is either screwing up a ditching and drowning or succeeding in ditching and drowning anyway. If itís not your day, itís not your day.

Although thereís no way to put a mathematical value on it that I can think of, Iím reluctant to dash out across the mid-Gulf, so I split the difference, following the coast and going feet wet north of Tampa. It makes for about 90 minutes over water, as opposed to more than three hours. That feels less risky to me, but itís probably one of those stupid self-delusions pilots tend to engage in. The time savings is about 20 minutes, depending on the wind.

Iíll do this in the day in warm weather, but not past about October, when the Gulf starts to get chilly. I wouldnít do it at night under any circumstances in a single, maybe not even in a twin. Iím not sure how good radar coverage at low altitude over the mid-Gulf is, although it used to be spotty. Communications coverage is good. Interestingly, that area--actually more to the west--is now densely covered by ADS-B, which is used widely by oil patch aircraft. That alone might be a good argument for buying ADS-B Out now for anyone who flies this route a lot.

Having the water survival equipment aboard emboldens the decision to fly over water legs, which is logical. On the other hand, having the gear in the airplane doesnít mean it will be available if you wind up in the water. You have to get it and you out of the airplane and both have to be in servicible condition. If you know anything about water landings, you know nothing is assured. They can be violent and unpredictable just as often as they are nothing but uneventful splashes. And hereís a good juncture to insert the sensible first rule of long overwater flights: if you have personal flotation devices, put them on, raft or no raft. As I mentioned in my flashlight blog, in a ditching gone wrong, you might get out of the airplane with only what youíre wearing and if thatís not a PFD, youíve got nothing.

I once interviewed a survivor of Cessna 172 ditching in the Bahamas. His flotation was on the seat next to him, but vanished after impact. He found it, but then had trouble donning it because he had cracked his head on the panel during touchdown, a fairly common occurrence. His entire survival turned on that PFD because itís all he had. I recall he was in the water for 12 hours and the Coasties found him by chance using night vision gear; they werenít running a grid. The ditching happened in late September and he was deep into hypothermia.

You canít count on being that lucky, which is why it makes sense to stay inshore unless youíre well and truly equipped to do otherwise. Sadly, many Florida pilots arenít.

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Jay Leno Installs an MVP-50 from Electronics International into His Eco Jet Car || Click to Watch

Chris Nesin knew he had to have the Piper Cub Special that the Buck brothers flew as Rinker Buck's inspiration for Flight of Passage. †AVweb's Russ Niles spoke with the new owner of the iconic aircraft about its next transcontinental trip.

David Clark DC PRO-X

At its Gunskirchen, Austria, factory, Rotax celebrated both 25 years of producing the 912 series engine and the 50,000th engine in the series. †AVweb was there and prepared this video report with the company's Francois Tremblay.

Learn more here.

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In Slovenia, Pipistrel is well into certification testing of its exotic Panthera four-place retractable aircraft. †AVweb recently visited the factory and prepared this test flight report on the new aircraft. †Although it hasn't hit its speed numbers yet, Pipistrel thinks further drag clean-up will take care of that.

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Piper is touring Europe with its new Archer DX diesel, and later this summer, the airplane will appear in the U.S. †While in Europe, AVweb took a flight demo in the airplane, and here are some impressions.

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Picture of the Week
Picture of the Week

Gil Alexander of Oro Valley, AZ treats us to one of nature's own flying less in this week's top photo. Click through for more reader-submitted images.