AVmail: Sep. 17, 2007


Commercial Airlines

Recently my wife and I flew to Seattle from Connecticut. I fly enough to be aware of all the abuses reaped on the passengers by the airlines and the government. I flew in a regional jet from Bradley International in Connecticut to Chicago, where I was surprised to have side-by-side seating (no middle seat) and relatively good leg-room (I am 6′ – 2″). Unfortunately the seat was a leather-covered block.We changed planes in Chicago and it’s back to three-wide seating with poor leg room for the flight to Seattle-Tacoma Intl. Upon our arrival at Seattle, a friend of my wife picked us up in a two-door Nissan Sentra and I groaned while getting my tall frame into the back seat. To my pleasant surprise, that little back seat is far more comfortable than anything the airlines can come up with. Hint to the manufacturers of airliners: Sub the interior work to a car company. We will all thank you for it.Edward F. Covill

Steve Fossett Search

I find it bizarre that the family of a multi-billionaire has not publicized a reward for finding Steve Fossett (AVwebFlash, Sep. 13). With such an immense area to search, it seems to me intuitively obvious that a large incentive — a microscopic fraction of his net worth, say, $1 million — would motivate lots more people to conduct a search on foot, in the air, with Mechanical Turk, etc. Does the family want to find him or not?David Abrahamson

I’d love to help find Steve Fossett but I’m not willing to subscribe to something that gives Amazon the right to debit my bank account to do so.Forget it!Don Colbath

AVweb Replies:

The short answer is “No,” but it can seem that way because of what the Mechanical Turk project is usually used for. Its day-to-day operations usually involve the exchange of money — either paying Amazon.com to start up a project on the Turk and get volunteers to help you out or collecting money for contributing x number of hours working on a project. Both the charges and pay-outs are done through your regular Amazon account, so the disclaimer is in there to allow volunteers to get paid or project-openers to charge their Turk fees via their Amazon account.

The Fossett Search is a pure volunteer effort (on both sides) — and while that’s happened on the Turk before, it isn’t their usual operating procedure, so you’re just seeing the standard disclaimers. Some of us have volunteered on the Turk during the past few days, and there’s no cost involved.

Hope that helps — and thanks for logging on to look. We’ve been awfully surprised by the sheer number of people willing to click through and volunteer their downtime to flag satellite images. I can’t begin to tell you how rewarding this has been to the editorial team, who really feel like they’re marshalling the forces of our readership to do something good.

Scott Simmons

Very interesting setup you have for the online search for Steve Fossett. I have nothing but sympathy for him and his family. I also have a question for you: Just exactly how rich and famous does one have to be to become worthy of such a search effort? Can I tell my wife not to worry because AVweb (not to mention National Guard C-130s with infrared detection equipment) will be there for her should I go missing? I can understand the press having a feeding frenzy over a Fossett or a Kennedy, but frankly I’m amazed that you have joined in. Do it for all of us, or don’t do it for any of us.Dean DeRosia

I think the idea of having readers examine satellite photos for Steve Fossett is terrific. However, why isn’t this done anytime a plane goes down, not just one being flown by a wealthy famous person? Surely I can’t be the only one out here who feels there is a double standard.Nina Cooper

AVweb Replies:

You’re right, you’re not the only person who has questioned this. As an AVweb editor — and as an individual who has participated in the Mechanical Turk image search for Mr. Fossett — I’ve asked the question myself.

To answer it, I’ve looked at three things: the falling cost of technology, the increasing sophistication and speed of technology, and the increasing ease of disseminating information.

First, money. Someone has to pay for this. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk Web service is set up to let people submit tasks for humans to accomplish that computers are no good for — reviewing images, in our case. Usually, the entity setting up the task reimburses the people doing it, and Amazon takes 10% on top of whatever is paid out. And this is fair: Data is hosted on their servers, and servers and bandwidth aren’t free. But these costs are falling and will continue to fall. As they do so, Amazon and other providers may be able to donate this functionality more often.

Second, technological sophistication. Even in the case of someone like Steve Fossett, we waited five days to obtain a fresh satellite sweep of the area. Obviously those babies can’t turn on a dime. This too will improve.

Finally, information. It’s amazing to me that AVweb pointed some 35,000 people to the Fossett Mechanical Turk Web site in three days alone … and we continue to do so. Many others found the information from other sources. The barriers to entry for publishing and publicizing an event like this have fallen precipitously in recent years, the advent of blogs and wikis being only two examples.

All of this gives me hope that the convergence of cheaper and more sophisticated technology, the ease of disseminating information, and our enduring concern for our fellow humans will bring this kind of effort into the mainstream for other searches that could benefit from this type of distributed cooperation. A search for the white van carrying the kidnapped child comes to mind.

(Though I still hope we find Steve Fossett, too.)

Thanks for your comments, and for reading AVweb.

Jennifer D. Whitley
News Editor

I am a member of the Civil Air Patrol. I think the CAP does a very credible job in searches for downed pilots, as well as involvement in many other facets of aviation that are unknown by the general public.I am disappointed that so many respondents believe the search for Fossett is a waste of time and effort (Question of the Week, Sep. 12). While this has been a massive search effort on Steve’s behalf, other lost pilots have received similar, though smaller, coverage for equally long periods of time. Yes, there will be a time when the search will have to be scaled back or called off. I am confident that call will come in the near future, and the plane may be found by accident at some later time.For now, however, it is great solace to the friends and family of Steve Fossett that all is being done that can be done to find him. That he has been a pioneer is without dispute. That he has been a leader in aviation is also without dispute. Instead of faulting the searchers, many of whom are volunteers, I suggest a quiet and respectful manner be projected by those who one day may be in the same situation as Steve’s family. Ironically, the search for Amelia Earhart continues although decades have passed.William Due

Generally, I think you do an excellent job of providing popular answers for QOTW, and the one about the search for Fossett is no exception. However, there will always be nit-picky people like me who will sometimes feel the need to clarify a response.Mr. Fossett is unquestionably receiving much more attention than Private Joe. To the extent that public funds are being expended, it shouldn’t matter who is missing. If funds are not inexhaustible (and they are never inexhaustible, despite the way many politicians think), then the extent of the public-funded search should be limited to what is justified by the likelihood of a rescue versus a mere recovery.I am obviously not a really big fan of Mr. Fossett; however, I recognize his many achievements, he is a brother in the spirit of flight, and he is a fellow human being. So I have spent many hours volunteering in the Internet search. I also fully support private efforts, to whatever extent they are safely coordinated and efficiently directed. I have no technical issues with the search for Mr. Fossett.As my hope of rescuing Mr. Fossett fades, I hope one of his many contributions to aviation will be the foundation of an ongoing (private, non-profit, volunteer) effort to find any and all downed aviators. The feasibility of this has already been demonstrated, as I read that six other aircraft crash sites have been discovered in the search for Steve Fossett.Mr. Fossett has also unwittingly reminded the rest of us that skill and experience are no guarantee of a successful outcome, and having ELTs (VHF or UHF) provides no guarantee of being found, so let’s be careful up there!Bruce Liddel


This subject is current because we see Steve Fosset’s disappearance as a prime example. I started my flying career out of Dagget, Calif., (Mojave Valley) in 1954. We were taught to file a flight plan and stick to it. No one was going to come searching without a filed flight plan. No ELTs then! We did not have that available. Since then, I have heard ELTs come on while I was monitoring 121.5. It was the searcher aircraft looking for an existing ELT crash site.Be careful out there when on the search.Jerry Arthur

My take on the ELT problem is that it is an “activation problem” (both non-activation when it should be on and on when it shouldn’t be on) (AVwebFlash, Sep. 9).If we re-equip the fleet with all new ELTs (at great cost) using all new frequencies and overhead satellites, what possible effect can this have on non-activation when needed and activation when not needed?Seems to me that we need a better activation system (switch).Fred Wilson

Marion Blakey’s Final Address

I’m a little surprised that you neglected to mention the paragraph in Blakey’s speech that came right after the rebuke to the commercial carriers (AVwebFlash, Sep. 12). She says, “I also think that our business jet and GA partners need to take a step in the right direction — to be part of the solution. It’s time to face up to the fact that your practices need to change as well. Flying to and from wherever you want whenever you want is not a free utility. You need to expect to pay for it. The other users shouldn’t have to pay your freight and on your timetable”Once again, this sounds like a call for user fees.Dave Ryan

Marion Blakey claims that employees have “bought in” to her culture change at the FAA. On the 2007 Employee Attitude Survey, only 8 percent of Air Traffic Organization Employees stated that they believed FAA management to be honest and only 9.3 percent thought they could be trusted! Marion’s statement serves to illustrate how disassociated FAA management is from reality.Lockheed Martin and ITT, both recent recipients of multi-million-dollar FAA contracts, are both members of the AIA, now helmed by Marion Blakey. What a happy coincidence.Jennifer Carr

Civilian Airshow Performers

I have become aware of two instances of civilian/former military pilots marketing and flying airshow demonstrations in a T-33 painted in [USAF] Thunderbirds colors and an L-39 Painted in [Navy] Blue Angels colors to include unit crests. Is it appropriate for individuals to represent themselves in the colors and unit identification of the active duty military demonstration squadrons without the authority and endorsement of the government or team leadership?Bill Campbell

Border Security

Only a mind completely lost in the non-reality of bureaucracy could believe that the new requirement for pilots to submit a roster of all on board to Border Protection before crossing the border [would help] (AVwebFlash, Sep. 12). Do they expect Bin Laden to use his real name, dutifully wait the prescribed hour, then just snap his fingers and say, “Shucks!” when his C-172 pilot says he can’t fly him across the border? The only thing this does (like the rest of Homeland Security’s “Look, we are doing something to keep you safe!” measures) is ensnare the 99.9+ percent of us who are handicapped by being honest in another layer of bureaucratic nonsense. This measure will do absolutely zero for security because it operates on the assumption that those who wish us harm will be honest about their intents when simply asked to do so by email. What a waste of resources.Joe Tinoco

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