AVmail: February 6, 2012

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Each week, we run a sampling of the letters received to our editorial inbox here in AVmail. One letter that's particularly relevant, informative, or otherwise compelling will headline this section as our "Letter of the Week," and we'll send the author an official AVweb baseball cap as a "thank you" for interacting with us (and the rest of our readership). Send us your comments and questions using this form. Please include your mailing address in your e-mail (just in case your letter is our "Letter of the Week"); by the same token, please let us know if your message is not intended for publication.

Letter of the Week: In Defense of the FAA

It is in the nature of pilots to complain about the FAA and the news about the temporary grounding of Operation Migration's aircraft, and its migrating whooping cranes in December sparked some strident criticism of the agency from pilots. As a member of the board of directors of Operation Migration (OM), an EAA member, and a private pilot, I'd like to set the record straight.

FAA officials were not the bad guys in this affair far from it. They have long recognized the value and the uniqueness of what OM is doing for an endangered species and the high standards of safety that we have maintained in our flight operations.

When the Light Sport Aircraft rule went into effect in 2008, Operation Migration registered and N-numbered their aircraft. From the beginning, we maintained that our staff was paid for a long list of non-flying duties that kept them busy seven days a week and that for the very small portion of their time that they spent flying, they were volunteers. From 2008 to 2011, we believed that OM's pilots and flight operations were in compliance with the LSA Rules.

That belief was reinforced by the FAA in 2010. When someone outside of OM claimed that our pilots were flying LSAs for compensation, in violation of the FARs, a local FSDO inspector spoke with our attorney and accepted our explanation. The inspector declared the matter closed, telling us that no further action would be taken.

In 2011, the same individual filed a formal complaint, and the agency was legally obligated to investigate. The FAA inspected our aircraft in August 2011, and the trikes passed with flying colors. In November, the agency sent letters of investigation to OM and to each of our pilots. Up to that point, the pilots believed they were in compliance with the FARs. But after a discussion with the FAA in December, they voluntarily stopped flying so they would not knowingly fly in violation of the rules. Because of that response, the FAA stated they would take no action against the pilots for prior violations. We voluntarily grounded our planes on 21 December 2011, and no other enforcement action was taken against OM or its pilots.

At that time, agency officials made it clear that they would work with us toward a solution, possibly through a permanent exemption from the "flying for hire" prohibition. A permanent exemption must be published in the Federal Register a slow process. So, in early January, the agency granted us a temporary waiver from the rule that gives us an adequate window to complete this year's migration from Wisconsin to Florida, while the wheels grind toward a permanent resolution.

Our CEO/Lead Pilot Joe Duff spoke with the director of the Milwaukee FSDO on January 20. The FSDO director assured him that the agency would work with us to find a long-term solution, and we are confident that will be in place before the next migration cycle begins this spring. We are preparing a case based on the uniqueness of our project so that a permanent FAA exemption will not set a precedent for the commercial use of Light Sport Aircraft.

The officers and staff of Operation Migration are sincerely grateful to the FAA for its efforts on our behalf and its ongoing support of whooping crane recovery.

You can learn more about Operation Migration, read our daily field journals, and watch the birds on our real-time "Crane-Cam" at OperationMigration.org.

For the birds,
David Sakrison

AVweb Replies:

We asked Operation Migration for the name of the person who complained because we'd like to hear his or her rationale, but the FAA doesn't release the names of complainants. We're inviting the complainant to contact us at editor@avweb.com to get his or her concerns on the record.

Russ Niles

Death of a Pilot and CEO

Editor's Note:

Micron Systems CEO Steve Appleton died in the crash of his Lancair IVP in Boise, ID last week. Frequent AVweb contributor Dr. Brent Blue knew him well.

Russ Niles

Steve Appleton was a friend and a pilot. At 51 years old, we lost him way too young.

Steve was a stellar member of the aviation community low-key, energetic, and excited with every flight. On the level playing field of aviation, there was no way anyone would know he was CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation. It was actually a shock to visit him at the Micron campus and see him in a suit and tie, but his warm and unpretentious style made you forget the adornments of the executive office. During a campus tour, he greeted every employee he passed and proudly showed off the employee medical and exercise facilities right next to the production facilities. He looked at Micron as a family. He agonized over layoffs that he delayed until forced to by the market in order to save the company. He did not take a salary for several years to demonstrate his compassion for his employees. Steve was truly a special person.

Steve was not a "daredevil" or "stunt" pilot as the lay press has reported. He did perform aerobatics in an Extra and his Viper jet, and he was good at it. Adventuresome yes, he was. Taking unnecessary risk no, he did not. These are qualities that propelled him to the top of his corporation from the factory floor.

Steve made the decision to buy a small, "go fast" airplane. Why he bought a homebuilt Lancair turboprop over a TBM or another production aircraft was typical of Steve's imagination and drive. Maybe a production aircraft was too "standard."

Steve was performing a test flight on the Lancair when something went terribly wrong. To some extent, we all perform a test flight after every annual our aircraft undergoes. We try to minimize risk and then take to the air. We do not know what went wrong with Steve's aircraft in its less-than-one-minute flight. We do know that he was a skilled pilot, and if there were a way to survive the problem, he would have.

Many have stated that CEOs of major corporations should not undertake "risk-taking" behavior. They probably do not know about the recent study that showed an out-of-proportion high number of corporate leaders are pilots, possibly reflecting the same qualities being required for both [roles]. Steve's qualities certainly fit.

We talked about death last July during dinner the night before AirVenture. We were having dinner when Steve got the call that his good friend, aerobatic pilot Greg Poe, died unexpectedly from medical causes. The news spurred a conversation about risk, reward, and death. We all understood the value of life and living it to the fullest.

The stunning airbrushed tiger paint job Steve commissioned for his Kodiak Amphibian that he brought to Oshkosh last summer was representative of his style. When asked whether it was worth the exorbitant cost, he would respond, "I've got more money than time." How prophetic and sad for all of us who knew him. At least we know he lived his life to the fullest.

Dr. Brent Blue

FAA Funding

I just wanted to write a quick note regarding Reid Sayre's letter on his thought of charging a user fee per passenger.

While I understand his desire to find an equitable way to pay for ATC, I must disagree with the method he proposes.

Let's take Sayre's proposal and literally move it to our highway system. The driver hauling freight on an 18-wheeler would pay less than a family of four in a minivan, even though the truck is going to have a bigger impact on highway wear and tear. The tollway system bases charges on vehicle weight/vehicle classification, because the heavier the vehicle, the more wear is placed on the pavement. That's also how airport landing fee structures are based, on aircraft weight.

With airspace, weight isn't the controlling issue; it's the airspace that is taken to protect each aircraft. Airspace is finite, and our air traffic rules give aircraft separation standards. The more aircraft [are] in the system, the more valuable the airspace is, just like in real estate. Airspace is a premium. Additionally, if memory serves me right, certain aircraft require additional separation due to their aerodynamic qualities during approaches.

A UPS 757 would pay less than someone operating a Cessna Citation full of people, in Sayre's proposal. How could this be a fair proposition? We need to keep all operators in mind as we find a solution.

There needs to be a more effective way to collect the money needed to pay for our ATC system. The 23 temporary FAA funding measures over the course of nearly four years should be proof enough of that. Congress should get their hands out of the ATC modernization cookie jar. Labor issues not at all affiliated with FAA funding should not impact our modernization efforts.

We as individuals typically don't trust Congress with much of anything. Why do our advocacy groups trust them with ATC modernization funding?

Ponder that one.

Al Dewey

Good Riddance, Columbus

Regarding Cessna's decision to not proceed with the Columbus: When introduced at NBAA a few years back, the aircraft looked like many other "me-too" mid-size/super-mid-size airplanes. It didn't offer anything significantly better (speed, range, size) than a lot of other offerings from other OEMs. Plus, it compromised its own Citation X leader-of-the-pack status, which would have been a marketing disaster, especially the top-speed bullet. Luckily for Cessna, it died as a cabin mock-up.

Jamie McIntyre

UASs Need Rules

With regard to unmanned drones, such as large R/C helicopters, I am glad that the FAA is ready to issue guidelines or restrictions. In all fairness to the companies that would like to operate them, I hope that the agency will proceed as quickly as possible, so that they will know where they stand.

I do feel that it was pretty arrogant of these operators to fly them around neighborhoods and events with no authorization. These are, after all, unlicensed, uncertified vehicles. Besides the need for clear allowable airspace definition, a process will have to be put in place to certify the pilots and the machines, in order to protect the public both groundbound and flying.

I remember when ultralights started to become popular. The FAA seemed to be reluctant to get involved, so before the industry matured enough to self-regulate, there was some chaos. I remember very well almost colliding with a formation of three of them at around 400 feet on short final to Ocean City, New Jersey. They just blindly overflew the airport and landed! We can't allow this kind of ignorance all over again!

Steve Tobias

I am puzzled about the LAX airspace and the UAV ban that you have reported on. Looking at a TAC for the area, the class B airspace in Los Angeles has a floor of 5,000 feet starting northwest of LAX. Also, there is the magenta tint in that area, indicating that controlled airspace begins at 700 AGL. From the information you have, how does the FAA get to legislate what flies in uncontrolled airspace? I'm just curious about the basis of this recent ban.

Ken Spencer

Pilots as Criminals

Regarding the "Question of the Week": Pilots who willfully make choices to violate the rules and safe operation practices should face consequences. If I kill someone with my car because I was careless or negligent, how is that different from killing someone with an airplane?

Dick Lathrop

Aviation in the U.S. is based on "assumption of the risk." As a lawyer, I applaud this concept; an individual should be allowed to try anything which will not adversely affect another. That has formed the basis of the EAA: Design it, build it, and try it, under controlled conditions that minimize risk to others.

However, the New Hampshire pilot was clearly unqualified. As a CFI and examiner, I believe that pilots operating outside the FAA's parameters for qualification and currency should be held criminally liable should they risk the safety of another. This should be limited to intentional and grossly negligent acts, not just mistakes, since it is seldom that any pilot has a flawless flight. We just usually catch our mistakes before they result in harm.

David Dodson

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