AVmail: January 26, 2004

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Reader mail this week about FSS privatization, the state of GA, some potential problems with Sport Pilot and more.

FSS Privatization

After reading several articles on the subject of ATC privatization, I read AVweb's coverage of the government plan to privatize FSS (NewsWire, Jan. 22). This has the appearance of a back-door entry to ATC privatization. The move to turn ATC over to private entities has met some pretty stiff resistance from the aviation alphabet groups in the press and on Capitol Hill. Targeting FSS (a component of the ATC service) just seems like an attempt to gain a political foothold in the ATC battle.

How did privatization of government services become the Holy Grail of Federal agency reform? While contractors have long been proven the best means for our government to build equipment and infrastructure, the role of administering public resources and vital services belongs exclusively to the agencies of our government that were formed for that purpose. The main advantage of privatization appears to be the elimination of salaries and benefits for the workers who provide the services.

Instead of throwing up their hands, declaring that FAA employees can't do the job efficiently, and replacing them with non-career workers, why not empower the current managers to do the job of changing their organizations to meet the changing times? By itself, new equipment and technology cannot replace trained and experienced personnel dedicated to a professional career.

As a charter pilot, I plan and file flight plans, retrieve weather and NOTAM data from a number of sources including DUATS. While these online resources are a tremendous asset, I still find it necessary or prudent to speak with a FSS briefer quite often. I place a high value on the services they provide in quickly filing flight plans and interpreting weather and often complex NOTAM data. While in flight, the FSS provides the sole source of updated data for those of us without text-data uplink capability. Automation is a valuable tool in the hands of a competent operator; however, the human ability to apply judgment is critical and so far has not been codified. I hope that the decision makers will recognize the contribution the trained and experienced specialist makes in the pilot's aeronautical decision-making process.

Some program management services are appropriately delegated to the private sector while others are not. Clearly, national security, law enforcement and armed forces are entities that require loyalty to their organizations in order to achieve their objectives. These agencies use private companies to perform non-mission-critical functions while critical functions must be performed by people in the chain of command. Certainly, exceptions can be found but this is the general idea. This is why I think ATC specialists (including briefers) are mission critical and should be kept in the chain of command. There are other important missions in government that do not require this standard to be applied but I think that where the safety of flight is concerned, the flying public deserves the government's best effort. The private sector operates the planes and the FAA supports that activity by servicing and overseeing it. Sure, there are problems but just hiring a contractor will not solve them. Where do you think the savings will come from, huh?

Julien Roark

GB R2 article

Your article on Delmar Benjamin's GB R2 replica reported that the original airplane won the 1932 Bendix race with Jimmy Doolittle as pilot (NewsWire, Jan. 22). It did not win the Bendix that year and Jimmy Doolittle did not fly it. Lee Gelbach did and he had oil problems. Jimmy Doolittle flew the R2's sister ship, the GB R1 (NR2101, #7) to win the Thompson Trophy Race of that year.

Daryl Burns

General Aviation

Reading over a few of today’s articles brings to mind some recent experiences and thoughts (NewsWire, Jan. 22):

1) Regarding the London-U.S. flights: Has anyone seriously addressed the cramped "cattle pens" in the economy class section for overseas long haul flights?

2) I was recently in Ireland, and was looking at the GA (or lack of) in Europe. Do we really want what Europe has? A Cessna 172 for 175.00 Euro, plus fees for IFR handling. If we keep going down the road we are now, that could easily happen.

3) I recently rented a 1975 C172 for $75/hour. (The C172-SPs are pushing $100) At the destination airport I rented a 2003 Buick LeSabre for $37/day. It's a $25,000 car. What is wrong with this picture?!

4) A friend has a 172 he's had for rent. If you add $7000 a year for insurance, $900 property taxes, and all of the other "needs," it becomes a "nonprofit" endeavor. Any folks wonder why GA is not healthy?

Robert Haley

Sport Pilot

Here's my prediction: If the sport pilot rules go into effect, casualties will increase. GA marketers and the press will resurrect the nonsense that, "If you can drive a car, you can learn to fly." You can kill yourself and others just as thoroughly in a lighter, slower plane as in a heavier, faster one. It may be "easier" to fly, but the laws of aerodynamics will not be fooled, and poorly trained and inexperienced pilots will stall and spin and mid-air and violate airspace and get into weather and add to congestion.

With sport planes at luxury car prices, for many people it will be easier to purchase the airplane than to spend the time and effort to learn to fly it effectively and safely. One only has to look at the idiotic behavior of drivers to shudder at the thought of being in the pattern with some of these people.

I think the proposals are good for the economics of GA, and they are good for qualified pilots who will be better able to afford less expensive aircraft. I just hope the training regimen is not reduced to the point that people get hurt.

Jerry Grubbs

Maintenance: Don't Get Mad, Get Educated?

Isn't there enough animosity between the pilot group and the maintanence group? I thought the "mechanic-as-God-syndrome" statement was a bad choice of words (NewsWire, Jan. 22). I can fully understand the pilot/owner desire to save money. I think it would be more productive to work with your local A&P. If they aren't willing to be co-operative (to reasonable degree; i.e., "No you can't do the annual yourself and I'll sign it out for you,") then you may need to look for another mechanic. Please remember, safety is (or at least it should be) the driving force behind the required maintanence of your aircraft.

Kent Chaput

No Rating, Dead Passenger, Acquitted Pilot

This has to be one of the weirdest accidents ever (NewsWire, Jan. 19). I was there when it happened. I had just landed in a Stinson 108-3 (down from EAA at Oshkosh for an overnight visit) at dusk and was waiting in the terminal for family to pick me up. I watched everyone board the twin and had my portable radio still tuned to the tower. A few minutes later I was horrified to hear the tower call for equipment due to the plane in the water after a tail strike on the pile of rocks at the end of the runway. This was just a moment before the tower closed for the night.

Soon my family arrived -- followed by EMTs in fire trucks. The EMTs couldn't get into the airport since it was closed and no one had thought to leave the gates open. So the firemen wound up wrenching one of the one-way parking lot gates off its mount and driving onto the field that way. My wife is an MD and asked if she could help. They whisked her away to the (south) end of the runway but her services weren't needed. Gads. And did I mention my family is squeemish about "small airplanes"?

The next day when I departed the 340 was up on the field behind the Stinson ... a sobering sight. Thanks for the update, I've been wondering how this would turn out in the courts. I'm still confused though -- wouldn't it be Illinois, not Michigan, that decided not to prosecute? And what exactly does it mean to say, "Kentucky authorities laid the endangerment charges for the Louisville-to-Chicago portion of the flight that preceded the accident..."? Laid the charges on whom?

Bruce Boyes

AVweb Replies

Yes, of course we should have said that it was Illinois officials whom had not proceeded with charges (must have had Lake Michigan on the brain). As for the charges that were laid, Kentucky authorities laid charges against the pilot for allegedly flying the airplane without the proper rating on the flight that preceded the crash. That flight originated in Louisville, so was within Kentucky jurisdiction.

Russ Niles
AVweb Writer/Editor

Danbury Tree Removal

Does it strike anyone else that $4.5 million is an incredible sum for tree removal (NewsWire, Jan. 12?

I've done a fair bit of it with a tractor, an axe and a chainsaw. My father did a lot more of it in his spare time in the winters. My grandfather, over the course of several years, cleared the better part of a square mile of bush with an axe, a swede saw and a team of horses.

It seems to me that two men with a flatdeck truck and a chainsaw could have removed these trees for thousands of dollars while the bureauocrats moaned about millions of dollars.

Got a bigger tree removal problem? Rent a skidder for a few days. Rent a caterpillar with a brushcutter and a breaking plow. That kind of hardware with one or two operators can knock down and remove acres of trees in a week or two, and for thousands of dollars, not millions.

$4.5 million?! Who do I see to get the tree removal contract in Danbury, Conn.?

John Wetzel