AVmail: June 14, 2004

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Reader mail this week about shooting down drug smugglers, scrambling fighters for a governor, fire-fighting tankers, a pilot's dog and much more.

Drug Smugglers

Larry Hawes seems to have forgotten the April 2001 downing by the Peruvian Air Force of a plane carrying American missionaries (AVmail, Jun. 7). The Peruvian Air Force was running a drug interdiction/interception program, and believed that the aircraft was running drugs. A mother and her infant daughter, both U.S. citizens, were killed.

Advocates of shoot-'em-down programs here and abroad are entitled to their views, but would do well to remember that mistakes do get made and the more aggressive a shoot-down policy becomes, the more likely it is that a mistake will be fatal for someone who is not a drug smuggler.

Karin Cozzolino

CEO's Priorities Are Correct

Kevin Garrison:

I loved your story about Rhett (CEO of the Cockpit, Jun. 6). Anyone with a soul must understand why taking care of him when he was dying was more important than showing up for your flight. I have long maintained than not only do dogs go to heaven, but also the only way a human can get in is with the recommendation of at least two dogs.

I'm sure you've seen this, but in case you haven't, the Rainbow Bridge story helped my keep my perspective when my last beloved dog died a few years ago. I'm a fairly tough surgeon, and I've seen a lot of death, but losing that dog was as hard as it gets.

I salute your priorities! Fly safe.

Steve Leonard

Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When our beloved pets die, they journey to this idyllic spot. There are meadows and hills enough for all to frolic freely, and plenty of food, water and sunshine. Each and every animal is warm and comfortable. Those pets who have been ill or aged are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong. Each is just as we remember in our dreams of days and times gone by. Our pets are happy and content at Rainbow Bridge, except for one small thing. Every creature misses someone special, whom he has left behind.

The animals all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; an eager body begins to quiver. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, legs going faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and you and your special friend come together in joyous reunion. Happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head; and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life, but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross the bridge together.

Author Unknown

AVweb Replies

Thank you for the nice letter and the "Rainbow Bridge" thoughts. I have always thought whenever I go back to that "Big Flight School in the Sky" that I'd find Rhett sitting between the coffee machine and the heater (where he always used to sit) with a look on his face that says, "Well, where the Hell have you been?"

Kevin Garrison
CEO of the Cockpit

Fighters Scramble for Governor

While the story about the needless scramble when Gov. Fletcher's story was interesting (NewsWire, Jun. 10), it brought up an interesting question:

If the Governor's plane wasn't military or airline service, it was general aviation. I thought general aviation was forbidden from landing at DCA. What's the story here?

Jack Burton

In your recent news posting regarding the King Air 200's encroachment toward the Reagan funeral, you made the statement:

Before the all-clear was given, several Supreme Court justices had been escorted away and a motorcade had whisked off with the second in line for the presidency (a.k.a., House Speaker Dennis Hastert).

The Speaker of the House is third in line for the presidency. Vice President Cheney is second in line.

Dave Rumney

AVweb Replies

I think it's just a question of semantics. The V.P. is first in line for "succession," but I guess you could say he is second in line for "the presidency" ... the first in line being the president.

Kevin Lane-Cummings
Features and AVmail Editor

Delta Pilots Pay Cut

Let me assure you that a Delta Airlines first-year pilot making $56/hour is most certainly not living off of "Kraft Dinners and cheap shoes," (NewsWire, Jun. 10) The $56/hour at Delta equates to over $43,680 ($56 x 65 hour guarantee = $43,680) their first year -- and this does not include per diem, holiday pay or overtime. Even the lowly Northwest Airlines first-year F/O who makes $40/Hour is making $31,200 (using a 65 guarantee), again not including per diem, holiday pay or overtime.

Now, I can assure you that I -- as a first year regional airline pilot who makes $21/Hour or $18,900/year (again ignorning the extras) -- most certainly do not eat Kraft Diners, nor do I have a cheap pair of shoes. I am really at a loss as to what exactly this article is trying to allude to.

I also see that your math skills are somewhat lacking: "7,200 pilots to cough up $800 million a year in concessions (an average pay cut of about $11,000 each)." The average pay cut is actually $111,111.11 ($800,000,000 / 7200 = 111,111.11), a difference of over $100,000. That is a big mistake on your part.

Perhaps you should write an article about the upper management who have been increasing in number over that last several years, who are paid very high salaries, and who still continue to receive extremely high bonuses despite their airline hemorrhaging money since 9/11. Perhaps the article should include ways the airlines could save money through cutting back upper management and high bonuses. It should also include ways to save money through innovative thinking -- it does not take a genius to save money by cutting wages. Perhaps the major airlines could save money by not using ACARS for weight and balance, ATIS, clearance, etc. I wonder how much money the airlines could save by cutting back on services that make it nice for the pilots but not a necessity for safe operation of the flights. There are other ways to save money, not just cutting pilots pay, and for a pilots' online magazine to write such an article is pretty silly. Who are you writing for?

Andy Bowland
EMB145 First Officer

AVweb Replies

We dropped a zero in calculating the pay concessions negotiated by both Delta and Air Canada but we also find it hard to believe that the "average" loss will be more than $100,000 each. Even at the top end of the scale that would be a big chunk out of a paycheck. Thanks for writing and for using AVweb.

Russ Niles

Fire-Fighting Tankers

I appreciate the attention that you continue to give to the controversy initiated by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of Interior last month when the decision was made by bureaucrats -- acting on "concerns" raised in an NTSB report on air tanker safety and the advice of their risk management folk -- to cancel the contracts for 33 "heavy air tankers" at the start of the fire season. It's a serious issue -- concern about air tanker airworthiness versus air tanker availability, ability to respond and potential threats to life and property from uncontrolled wildfires. Your coverage has been timely but it's important to stick to the facts so that you don't unintentionally contribute to the confusion.

Point in fact. In your June 7 issue (NewsWire, Jun. 7), under the heading, "As FAA Offers Guidelines for Getting Air Tankers Back in The Air ..." you've cited some facts that just are incorrect or based on questionable research. First one is minor, but let's be accurate. In 2002, the heavy aircraft lost while working fires were a C-130A and a PB4Y-2 not "two military-surplus C-130 air tankers." Second one defies explanation. You make the statement, "Since 1958, more than 130 large air tanker crew members have died in accidents." Where did this come from? I've researched several databases, including the U.S. memorial site maintained by the Associated Airtanker Pilots listing tanker pilots who have died since 1958, the NTSB Aviation Accident Database and my own records. I come up with 83 pilots and crew -- not "more than 130" -- who have lost their lives over the past 46 years while flying in aircraft with two or more engines (i.e., heavy tankers). The 83 fatalities include at least 13 aircrew who were on board aircraft that were on positioning flights from one base to another during fire season or returning to base after the fire season. Seventy deaths are significant, and are an indication that fire fighting from the air -- whether in a heavy, a single-engine air tanker or helicopter -- is risky and dangerous business. But let's not fan the flames by throwing out figures that have no basis in fact.

Switching gears, I'd be interested if the fire bosses at air tanker bases throughout the western United States, and firefighters on the ground, are as confident at USFS Chief Dale Bosworth who claims (NewsWire, Jun. 7) that 46 single engine tankers, 26 heavy helicopters, 45 medium helicopters, 2 CL-215 water bombers and 8 MAFFS-equipped C-130 transports "will enable fire managers to fully maintain their ability to stop nearly 99 percent of all fires on initial attack." I guess he doesn't think the 33 heavy air tankers, which can put a much greater initial load on a fire and fly further and faster than anything but the CL-215 and C-130, will be missed. I wonder what his fire managers really think? Or the firefighters on the ground, especially those who have been saved in recent years because a heavy put several thousand gallons of retardant with pinpoint accuracy between their "body bag shelters" and an approaching wall of flame. Or the homeowners in the L.A. Basin and San Diego foothills who were thankful that heavies created effective firebreaks around their properties with 2,000 or 3,000 gallon loads; firebreaks that a couple hundred gallons of water or retardant dropped by helicopters and single-engine air tankers can't match. Chief Bosworth also conveniently ignores the fact that most of the helicopters and the MAFFS-equipped Herks were already being counted on as part of the air attack "tool box" prior to the grounding of the 33 heavies. Is he saying that 46 crop dusters can replace them? Interesting ...

I guess I'm showing my regard and bias for heavy air tankers, but I want to be clear that I understand there is a critical role for helicopters, the AFRES and ANG MAFFS tankers, and even single-engine air tankers. But it shouldn't be "heavies versus them." It should be "we need 'em all."

Hopefully, the USFS and Interior Department decision-makers will expedite the airworthiness and certification process for the heavies, now that the FAA has issued guidelines. Anything less is irresponsible, but bureaucracies are slow to respond by nature -- even more so when the risk management wonks are involved -- so Congress, the public and firefighters need to keep the heat on.

Steven P. Nation

AVweb Replies

The statement, "Since 1958, more than 130 large air tanker crew members have died in accidents," is from the testimony of Mark Rey, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the Senate hearing cited in the story. Rey cited a December 2002 report as the source of his figures.

As for Chief Bosworth's remarks, we think the story makes it abundantly clear that plenty of people have raised questions about the wisdom of grounding the tankers.

As for the type of crashed aircraft being incorrect, we stand corrected.

Mary Grady
Senior News Editor

Howard Hughes Biography

AVweb wrote (NewsWire, Jun. 7):

The trailer for "The Aviator," Hollywood's "true story" about Howard Hughes and his aircraft, is now online. The movie, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes, is scheduled for release in December ...

Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes? I guess we may assume that all who can sue have died ...

Brian Knowles

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