The General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) is among those with "big concerns" about user fees, and the aviation group was quick to react to Peters' remarks from Tuesday's Aero Club meeting in Washington, D.C. "We could not disagree more with the link that Secretary Peters attempts to make between the [Bush] Administration's desire for user fees and the ability to modernize the National Airspace System," GAMA said in a news release on Tuesday. GAMA said that even before funding issues are addressed, the administration needs to present a "coherent modernization plan" that will spell out how it intends to improve capacity and control costs. The current Trust Fund mechanism, GAMA adds, is currently bringing in record revenues.
The FAA needs to build a modern airspace infrastructure, and 2007 will be a critical year in building a new financing system to support it, Mary Peters, the new Department of Transportation Secretary, told the Aero Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. "I know that user fees and who pays are big concerns for many of you," she said, "but we must not lose sight of the broader issues at stake … We are talking about a fundamental redesign of the entire air transportation system." To finance that effort, the FAA needs a new funding mechanism, she said, and there must be incentives in place to make the system "more efficient as well as more responsive to user needs." Peters said she expects to release a detailed funding proposal soon.
The Tiger Aircraft bankruptcy filing shows that 70 percent of Tiger is owned by three Taiwanese investors. However, the lone American investor, Teleflex Inc. of Limerick, Pa., also shows up as the company's biggest creditor. According to the filing, Tiger owes Teleflex, which makes parts for the aerospace, marine and automotive industries, $356,000. Other major creditors include former CEO Gene Criss, who's owed about $150,000 in back wages and benefits, and there's a tax bill of about $115,000.
Tiger Aircraft LLC ended a long and tortured journey to bankruptcy on Tuesday with a formal filing in West Virginia court. And, based on the company's filing, almost everything (including a valid type certificate) needed to build a sporty airplane based on a proven design could be obtained for what amounts to chump change in most aerospace endeavors. Tiger's filing says it owes its various creditors about $930,000 while its assets, including parts and tooling, total more than $3.26 million.
Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) President Ron Taylor says the controversy over staffing levels at FAA towers is overshadowing an even bigger problem at the 233 contract towers the agency oversees. Taylor has asked Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Fla., to call for a congressional investigation of what he says is chronic understaffing at the contract towers, which typically serve small-to-medium non-hub airports. "In many cases, and at different times, these towers are staffed by only one controller, with no back up within the facility for any type of emergency, Taylor claimed in a letter to Mahoney. "Staffing at these contract towers needs to be increased to ensure that the margin of safety is not compromised.
On Thursday, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said statistics published in the FAA's Administrators Fact Book shows that ATC staffing levels have dropped "to a new low" after a third straight year of decline. This year's decline is defined by the loss of 21 people and represents a slight negative shift in staffing levels, or a change from 14,227 controllers in 2005 to 14,206 in 2006. That said, in 2003 (the high water mark for staffing) the controller population reached 15,386 -- a full 7.7% more controllers than we have today. [more] Last year, 734 controllers retired, eclipsing the FAAs projection to Congress by 57 percent, according to NATCA. Rather than staffing to traffic as the FAA states publicly is its new mission, the agency appears to be following a new policy: staffing to budget, NATCA president Patrick Forrey stated.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the FAA is not staffing air traffic control facilities in the state adequately. In Albany, for example, there should be 30 full-time controllers, but there are only 26, Schumer told The Associated Press. "It started as a labor dispute, but now it's become a safety issue. The FAA cuts are absurd," he said. FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown told the AP the union's numbers don't reflect actual staffing needs. "We have a staffing plan to put the right number of controllers in the right place at the right time," Brown said. "There may be a few facilities here and there where we have a couple fewer controllers than what we want." On Wednesday, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) said staffing issues in Tulsa, Okla., threaten air safety.
The Comair crash in Lexington, Ky., raised questions about the FAA's dissemination of airport information and its staffing of air traffic control towers. The tower at Blue Grass Airport had only one controller, instead of the required two, on duty that morning. Construction work at the field had changed the regular taxiway and runway layout, but the crew's information was outdated. The FAA last week issued an advisory to airport operators, asking them to disseminate better information about closures and construction. "Air crews may have a hard time keeping up with these changes as they occur," the FAA said. "In many cases, the NOTAM system may be inadequate."
On Wednesday, the NTSB released transcripts and tapes from its investigation of the Aug. 27 Comair CRJ-100 crash in Lexington, Ky., which killed 49 of the 50 on board. Safety board investigators determined that the regional jet took off from the airport's shorter, 3,500-foot Runway 8/26 instead of the intended 7,000-foot Runway 4/22. Transcripts from Flight 5191s cockpit voice recorder showed that the copilot -- the lone survivor, James Polehinke -- noted that the runway lights were off as the jet sped down the wrong runway. "That is weird with no lights," he said, at 6:06:16 a.m., and Capt. Jeffrey Clay responded, "Yeah." Seconds later, Clay said, "Whoa," then the sound of impact is heard.