AVmail: Feb 28, 2005

Reader mail this week about armed pilots, the Lycoming lawsuit, understaffing at N.Y. TRACON and much more.


Lycoming Lawsuit

I agree with Anson Jones’ post about Lycoming and Continental (AVmail, Feb. 21). It’s about time for some new competition in the engine market. Let the likes of Honda and Toyota show these two GA giants how to make long-lasting, efficient engines at a price bearable to pilots. Who wants to spend $30K or more on an engine? Those little sport planes are looking more and more attractive as prices continue to skyrocket due to monopolies of the market. Will there ever be change? Let’s hope so!Joel Boucree

Anson Jones writes that Lycoming and others have strong government ties that keeps the prices of aircraft engines high and innovation to a minimum.The real reason is more simple: volume. For example: Continental sold about 25,000 O-200 engines to Cessna for the model 150 between 1959 and 1977.However, if General Motors sells 25,000 of a single model in one year, they consider that a low production run and consider canceling the model.When development costs (both technical and government) are divided over tens of millions of engines instead of mere thousands, companies have more latitude for improvement and advancement.Car companies face the same federal scrutiny as aircraft manufacturers (witness the recent Firestone Tire recall). They simply sell far more cars to pay for it.Kirk Wennerstrom

Armed Airline Pilots

So Jack Milavic believes that “… the quest by pilots to carry guns … that their ulterior motive was to be compensated …” (AVmail, Feb. 21). As a 41-year veteran of law enforcement plus a pilot, this is news to me. I always believed, and still do, that the motive of being armed, on or off of planes, is for self and public protection. Until the 1970s, when the anti-gun crowd banned guns on planes, many of us were armed on every flight. Remember that there was a state trooper (and his wife) on board Flight 93 on 9/11 who would have been armed had not the laws prohibited him from carrying his gun on their vacation trip on the plane. Had that trooper been armed on the plane, as he would otherwise have been, do we think that plane would have crashed in Pennsylvania?Will Yocom

The push until now has been for cockpit crews to carry guns for protection against hijacking. Fair enough. What about giving them a few green laser pointers as well? They should be allowed to defend themselves if they get lased on final approach, right? Dave Hirsh

Air Force One Flew Into Retirement

In your article titled, “Retired Air Force One Gets $31 Million Hangar,” someone made an error (NewsWire, Feb. 21). Not serious, but factually incorrect. The article states the aircraft “… was dismantled in 2003 and shipped to California.” The former Air Force One (side number 27000) was flown from Andrews AFB, Md., to March AFB, Calif., on Saturday, September 8, 2001. There were a number of AF personnel who had worked on the jet during the Nixon and Reagan years on board as well as several dignitaries including the Secretary of the Air Force. The wings were removed at March and the whole thing was trucked to the Reagan Presidential Library, where it was reassembled and prepared for display. At least three of the television “morning shows” covered this flight on their Monday, September 10, 2001, shows.You are probably asking yourself how I happen to know this … and you are right to do so. Our son-in-law who is a navigator in the Air Force was on the crew for this flight, and even called us from the aircraft during the trip. When he reported back to work at the Pentagon on Monday, September 10, his boss told him he was giving him a day off for having to work over the weekend. Our son-in-law said, “Tomorrow would be good,” and thus watched the terrible events of September 11 from the safety of his home in Fredericksburg, Va.Mike Thompson

Challenger Frost Check

With regard as to whether gloves should be worn when checking for ice contamination on Challengers (NewsWire, Feb. 21): In this neck of the woods [Ontario, Canada] if you don’t wear gloves, the surface contamination will be your skin sticking to the wing!R.G. (Lary) Loretto

Perhaps AVweb would be a good forum to remind everyone about the hazards of flying in winter conditions.The AD on using tactile feel to verify there is no ice or frost on the wing before takeoff is a great idea, it’s just too bad it has to be an AD, and someone else had to crash first.Freezing drizzle on the ground can develop large chunks of ice on the fan blades of a turbine engine. If the anti-ice is not working, or while waiting for clearance with a low power setting, ice will also form on the stators, the first stage of the core of the engine. The ice cannot be detected until the flight is aborted and engines shut down.Ron Morris

A Higher Standard for Everyone

In regards to the article about A Higher Standard For Pilots (NewsWire, Feb. 21):We should demand that doctors also be held to similar higher standard. After all, 50% of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class. Thinking further, maybe all FAA personnel should be held to some kind of intelligence standard.Steve McDonald

Error Reports at NY TRACON

I would like to correct an inaccuracy in your article concerning the alarming situation at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control facility (NewsWire, Feb. 21).There is a difference between the number of New York TRACON errors reported via the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s anonymous tip line and the number of errors confirmed by FAA managers at the facility.According to The New York Times story you cited, “According to the controllers and FAA officials, there have been 19 confirmed errors since Jan. 1; in 2004 there were 24 for the whole year.” In addition, there were only three errors in the first six weeks of 2004. This year’s rise represents a six-fold increase compared to the same period a year ago. If the IG’s investigation of the reports to the tip line reveal that more errors indeed occurred, they would be added to the 19 already confirmed by the FAA.The bottom line of this story is safety. The FAA has failed to adequately staff the New York TRACON to handle the traffic demands. Traffic is up more than five percent. But staffing is down. The facility is short nearly 50 controllers from the number the FAA agrees is the level it should be at. As we’ve seen in many areas the country, when staffing goes down and traffic either remains the same or increases, errors go up.In the FAA’s Dec. 21 controller staffing report to Congress, entitled “Controller Workforce Plan,” the agency says:

“If the FAA is not able to adequately staff its air traffic control facilities, the system response will be observed in the area of system capacity not system safety. Managers and supervisors are responsible for maintaining safety first and system efficiency second. Therefore, inadequate staffing levels will result in air traffic control system delays.”

What that means is that when they don’t have enough controllers, the FAA will flow the traffic to what it can safely handle. But while that may look good on paper that’s not what the agency is doing at the New York TRACON. They are running the shifts short, and errors are on the rise.Doug Church
Spokesman, National Air Traffic Controllers Association

Question of the Week — UFOs

The three choices of answers don’t begin to cover the scope of this topic (QOTW, Feb. 24). I have witnessed an unexplainable event in the daytime sky. I am sure there are things out there. What the actual origin of them is I don’t have a clue. Green men? Cute, but not a very good choice.Johnny Miller

I’ve been watching & hoping to see a UFO since before I started in aviation in 1956. No luck so far, although I have been looking at radar screens, out control tower windows, night skies in the western USA’s remotest deserts, and from airplane cockpits at low & high altitude. Everything I’ve seen has been ultimately identified.Mac Hayes

Are Youth Really Dangerous?

As a 27-year-old commercial pilot who earned my private pilot certificate on my 17th birthday, I read with interest your story, “Youth Can Be Dangerous” (NewsWire, Feb. 24). I’d be interested in a follow-up story on whether there is any statistically significant difference between the per-hour accident rate for similarly experienced (total time) pilots under age 25 and for those over age 25.While the total accident rate per hour for young pilots may be higher than for older pilots (just a guess), the comparison should be between pilots of similar experience. That is, are 75 or 150-hour pilots under age 25 significantly more likely to have an accident than 75 or 150-hour pilots over age 25? It would be interesting to see whether the supposed cautiousness/wisdom of age wins out over the coordination/alertness of youth.Lastly, it’s interesting to note that as I grew older, my auto insurance rates fell dramatically, while my aircraft insurance rates fell with total time and ratings, not age.Thanks, and keep up the good work,Jeremiah Weeks

AVweb Replies:

We reported on a study last year that found a pattern of higher accident rates for younger pilots, with accidents declining with age to a relatively stable rate in the middle years, followed by an increase for older pilots over age 60. I’m not sure if that study was adjusted to account for differences in total time. It was limited to professional pilots.

I think you’re right that age is only one factor among many, and could be easily skewed by experience, not to mention aptitude and overall health and a dozen other factors. The trouble with a lot of the aviation safety statistics is that the pool of data is too small to extract a lot of meaningful generalizations. Auto insurers have a much bigger database to draw from.

Mary Grady
NewsWriter, Editor

Cessna Twin Wing Spar Life

I have been reading with some interest the Cessna wing spar (almost) failure (NewsWire, Feb. 24). It should be noted that the Australian aviation authority mandated via an AD the replacement of wing spars in Cessna twins a long time ago.Ray Ellis

The word overkill comes to mind when I read the emergency AD that was issued recently against the 402C/414 series of aircraft. I have maintained these exact aircraft for years, and the current AD in its current configuration is more than ample. If you refer to Cessna MEB 99-3, it addresses the areas that are now required by the new AD to inspect. I would suspect that the aircraft in question had a crack in that area for some time, and lax maintenance either didn’t see the crack, or even worse, knew about it and did nothing. It is also stated the pilot noticed that he was increasingly having to use more and more roll trim to correct an unintentional roll. Was this reported to the maintenance staff? If so, was it even investigated?Something is very fishy about all this, and operators of these aircraft are going to be paying a high price to continue flying an aircraft that they have invested a great deal of money in, many whom have done their inspections correctly and complied with the MEB. This is, in my opinion, a thinly veiled attempt by Cessna in conjunction with the FAA to regulate these aircraft into non-existence. Lycoming bought back their defective engines — I think that if Cessna wants to dodge the great “liability” that these aircraft pose, they should buy back every single twin they ever produced, or at the very least install these spar strap kits at a greatly reduced cost.David Fuller

Read AVmail from other weeks here, and submit your own Letter to the Editor with this form.