AVmail: September 8, 2003

Reader mail this week about contract towers, a new airport in San Diego, FITS and more.


Contract Towers

I’m puzzled why you would make a statement or accusation (funny as you may have intended) suggesting that the “10 times the normal participation rate” to the privatization survey was either a “technical problem or union participation,” (Question of the Week: August 20).I have been a professional pilot for 24 years — and a reader of AVweb since it was “born” — and never participated in a survey until recently. In addition, I find it astounding — having read the Inspector General’s report on ATC Privatization and the Fed’s list of facilities it would like to privatize (some are the busiest towers in the country) — that you find this such a “hot” subject.This subjects makes my blood boil. If these facilities go by the wayside, we’re all going to suffer … and in measurable terms: midair’s, runway incursion’s, etc.I think you need to reevaluate your comments … and get writing more articles on this important aviation matterRick Longlott

I just read the current results of the contract tower survey. The results were appalling to say the least. It appears most of the responders don’t have a clue about the program. I’m a manager of a contract tower and I have more than 40 years ATC experience, most of it with the FAA. The existing contract towers have a far better safety and service record than most FAA towers. If the 80% that responded would make the effort to check, they would find that most pilots who fly in and out of contract towered facilities say its better than when it was an FAA tower. I’ll put my facilities safety and service record up against any of them.Darrel Pittman

AVweb Responds:

Okay, I’ll bite. On what basis do you think contract towers have a better safety record than federal towers? I’m not arguing that they do or they don’t. Just cite me a data source, if you don’t mind.

As for the service level on contract towers versus federal towers, well, it depends. From the user’s point of view, I’ve had good and bad experiences with both. But I can tell you this: In my experience, federal facilities in general have been more responsive to service lapse complaints than contract towers have. I recognize that other pilots may have just the opposite experience.

I have no problem with the contract tower idea. If it saves money and improves efficiency, I say do it. But if a contract tower is to accomplish those goals and impress users with courteous, friendly service, the right people have to be staffing the cab. Sometimes that’s the case and sometimes it isn’t.

Paul Bertorelli
Editorial Director

San Diego Airport

For those who don’t live here, it is important to know that the airport study idea (Newswire: September 1) is a self-help program for those with excess time, perceived personal significance and minimal occupation to occupy that time. We have one every few years: It requires months and thousands of dollars to educate the members about new topics — like mountains (“rising terrain”), weather, wind, population, etc., and they fade away until they are — like the undead — reborn. For the louder and more phsyically active, we have a parallel program that works on new stadiums for pro sports.C.F. Ward

The site of a new San Diego Airport has been studied to death for as long as I can remember. Study follows study. Most of the places that are suggested as replacement sites are unsuitable. The only viable place in San Diego County is the present Marine Corps Air Station at Miramar. The city should have used a little common sense when the Navy moved out and requested this site. The Marines apparently had suitable facilities at El Toro and Tustin before the move to the San Diego area. I believe that if there is ever a new airport for San Diego it will have to be at Miramar. There is just no other suitable site.Name Withheld By Request


That story about speedbrakes (Short Final: September 1) floated around the company for years. I don’t know if it’s true, or just a good story. And you can interpret it any way you please. I do know that a 3000 fpm descent rate is more unpleasant than a 2000 fpm rate for the folks in the back. The many ATC folks I gave cockpit rides to know that as well. Bottom line: Safety, then comfort, then on time.Jim Selander
Captain (retired), Continental Airlines

Presidential Protection

This is in response to Steve Morelands email (AVmail: September 1) about the military jets that flew in support of Presidential Protection. I understand that the low-flying aircraft must have been annoying and disturbing. I am a military fighter pilot and that would upset me as well. I do doubt, however, that the jets were at 200 ft AGL. In the Navy/Marine Corps, military jets are not allowed to fly below 500 ft AGL (except for approach and land) unless approved in advance on the flight schedule, thoroughly briefed and currency qualifications are met. Disregarding these rules could result in stiff punishment.Also, Mr. Moreland was surprised that no one was out at the airport to question the pilots. The task of the fighters was complete: Get unidentified aircraft that are flying a specific profile on a prescribed heading off that heading and make them land. Sounds like the task was accomplished.As for the waste of tax dollars, those pilots would have flown anyway. Of the total amount of flights I fly a month, 70% of them are “training” flights and the other 30% are “frags” or tasks for support from other units or agencies (like Presidential Support or Air Defense).As for the police state … that is for another message board.John M.

FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS)

The two days last week were my first as a participant in the FITS process. I wanted to listen a lot and say little. I’m glad I did, but in retrospect I believe that I need to give some perspective on my participation in the process and what Avemco wants to see accomplished through FITS.It was interesting to note the remarks made in the FITS Oversight Committee regarding insurance, which I believe revealed a significant lack of understanding of the way the insurance mechanism works. The were several references to “de facto” regulation of pilots by insurance companies with the clear implication that such “regulation” is a bad thing for general aviation. It is helpful to remember that the FARs are — by design — minimum requirements, leaving much discretion to the pilot, and that’s a good thing that provides us with much freedom of action. It is also significant to remember that while the FAA is tasked to protect public safety, it does not have a direct financial interest in the safety of GA operations.Aviation insurers live in a different world. Every time one of their customers operates an aircraft, the insurer is putting large sums of money on the line regarding the pilot’s behavior and performance. The insurer can rely to some extent upon the adequacy of the FARs, but it would be foolish to bet the farm on it. Thus the extra training requirements (and incentives) insurers place on their customers. Call it “de facto regulation” if you want, but any company that fails to exercise that discipline won’t be around long. Ask the many insurance companies that have failed or withdrawn from insuring general aviation.The remark was also made that “insurance companies are always five years behind.” That is actually in some ways an accurate statement because of the way insurance works. Insurance uses the past to predict the future and it often takes five years to develop credible data. Insurance companies that get too far ahead of that curve pay dearly for their impatience.Avemco is committed to helping general aviation survive and thrive. We understand, however, that a failure to address a real economic issue (insurability) threatens to destroy the very industry that we serve. Pretending those problems don’t exist will not solve them. What is needed is bold and honest action to deal with them.An aspect of that challenge is the revolutionary new technology that is coming at us. This technology is changing the way that general aviation aircraft are used, and from my perspective the current training environment is woefully inadequate to address the challenges that this technology presents. It is Avemco’s genuine hope that by working with FAA, the flight training industry, and the manufacturers, we can voluntarily come up with training methods and standards that will make the expensive new technology insurable.If we succeed in accomplishing that, there will no doubt be some “de facto” regulation by the aviation insurance industry as they write some of the FITS standards into their policies and underwriting requirements. The beauty of that approach — as opposed to mandatory regulation — is that the free market will automatically keep the “de facto” regulation in check. Believe me, competition will keep the industry honest.FITS will likely not be perfect. Not creating a voluntary joint effort to solve insurability issues, however, may be fatal to our industry. Avemco wants to be an active and helpful participant in creating a system that actually works to improve general aviation safety, and thus its economic viability.Jim Lauerman
Chief Underwriting Officer
Avemco Insurance Company