Is Trump ‘Reloading the Swamp’?

It is good to see Administrator Huerta move along, though it would have been much nicer to see the President fire him a year ago.

Now, as to who will be heading FAA(?)… …well, it looks like the AvGov Complex powers-that-be are not trying to change the current game plan. Here is a clip from a recent article, with a short bio of acting Administrator Dan Elwell:

“Elwell was FAA assistant administrator for policy, planning and environment from 2006 to 2008. He was Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) VP-civil aviation from 2008 to 2013 and Airlines for America (A4A) SVP-safety, security and operations from 2013 to 2015.”

For airlines and lobbyists, Elwell has all the right plumage; his record suggests he is a revolving door swamp monster, and an industry loyalist. Not likely to be focused on making FAA accountable to the thousands whose homes and health are being destroyed by NextGen.

Click here to view source article at ATWonline.com, or here to view an archived copy, with some analysis footnoted by aiREFORM.


See also:
  • 5/15/2014 – (the Federal Register revision to ATSAP that stops citizens from using FOIA to learn about aviation safety failures … signed by Mr. Huerta.)
  • 8/19/2013 – (detailed letter opposing FAA’s proposal to hide ATSAP data from the General Public (7-pages plus a 4-page attachment)
  • 4/3/2008 – (full-day congressional hearing about FAA whistleblowers, and FAA management that not only works to stop safety actions, but also works to punish the whistleblowers.)
  • 2/15/2015 – (‘What’s all the Noise about Airport Noise?’, a 7-page slideshow presentation by Mr. Burleson)
  • 1/11/2018 – (FAA’s online bio, Dan Elwell)
  • 1/11/2018 – (FAA’s online bio, Carl Burleson)

What Is FAA Hiding from the Public? And Why??

FAA, like many federal agencies, has a nasty habit of expending lots of time and money working to keep the people in the dark. They are supposed to comply with FOIA laws, but instead they redact the hell out of what should be disclosed. Making matters worse, in recent decades it seems as though most in Congress are ‘too busy’ and/or ‘too inert’ to force FAA to follow the FOIA laws.

Every once in a while, we get a great chance to look past these barriers. Sometimes, FAA’s redactions become unmasked. When that happens, it is like sitting down with the devil, and sharing tea and a candid conversation. So much can be learned….

In this Post, a 27-page FAA memo is offered in two forms, redacted and unredacted. This memo documents how a safety investigation produced copious details and a strong recommendation for corrective action … which was then nixed by a higher FAA official. The heavily redacted copy was provided to an investigative report team. Seeing that so much data was hidden, they filed an appeal. An appeal response letter was eventually sent, rejecting the appeal, but somehow a copy of the unredacted 27-page was included in the appeal response letter.

Here are the two versions, presented as scrollable/downloadable/searchable PDFs. View them side-by-side. See for yourself what FAA chose to redact, when a reporter team tried to help the public understand how FAA was handling a dangerous safety failure involving commercial aircraft maintenance.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the heavily unredacted version, as initially sent by FAA (and after extensive review by numerous FAA managers). Click here to download the PDF file.

Click on the image below for a scrollable view. This is the full, unredacted version. Click here to download the PDF file.

The Background:

A few days ago, an aiREFORM Post encouraged readers to read the excellent investigative series done by the Tampa Bay Times. In the third article of the series, Nathaniel Lash showed how higher level FAA managers were over-riding the conclusions and recommendations of their field inspectors. The inspectors were investigating how a nut had detached causing an elevator jam, forcing an Allegiant MD80 to do a high-speed aborted takeoff at Las Vegas. This was an extremely serious situation that would have assuredly killed everyone on board, if the nut had failed while actually airborne. A similar failure caused the 1/31/2000 crash of Alaska 261, an MD83 that lost flight control near Santa Barbara and plunged into the Pacific, killing all 88 on board.

The similarities are in two troubling areas:

  1. the casual failure by maintenance crews to properly execute their tasks and to follow needed steps that would identify and fix failures (so as to ensure nuts do not fall off leading to catastrophic crashes); and,
  2. FAA’s gross failure at safety oversight, where key FAA officials knowingly allow maintenance crews to sidestep required procedures.

The latest Times article showed that FAA was found to be covering up dangerous maintenance failures performed by AAR on the Allegiant passenger jet. Note that AAR is a Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operation; over the past decade, airlines have been reducing labor costs related to employing their own mechanics by increasingly outsourcing aircraft maintenance to MRO contractors. Costs may go down, but so do safety margins.

An Outstanding Investigative Series on Allegiant Failures and FAA Hiding Those Safety Issues From the Public

If you are increasingly concerned that FAA appears to be just a hack, a faux-regulator that does not really serve the people but instead enables the industry … you need to read these articles.

If you have felt yourself doubting the veracity of an FAA high official, as they spew glowing pro-NextGen claims while dodging the enormous failures and impacts (like David Suomi, at the Port of Seattle on 4/25/2016; to see the video, click here, then select the April ‘video’ tab, and ‘Item 3c – Briefing’ under the 4/25 meeting) … well, you need to take a look at these articles.

This is where agency corruption goes beyond being an annoyance, to become downright dangerous.

When the Nut is Not Secured…

This photo was shot during an investigation after an Allegiant MD80 was forced to do a high speed aborted takeoff. The castellated nut at the center of the photo has a twisted safety wire, to prevent the nut from detaching. The near-accident was caused by failure to secure the nut, creating a jammed elevator.

Despite FAA and industry efforts to confuse us all, this is not rocket science.

Given the speed and power in aviation, it is absolutely critical that parts not ‘come apart’ while operating.

So, what happens when aircraft mechanics fail to include a cotter pin or safety wire, as in the photo at right? Well, in this example, a hundred or so aircraft occupants are damned lucky they did not end up dead in a post-impact fire in Las Vegas. What exactly happened? While accelerating for takeoff, the nose lifted up on its own and the crew suddenly discovered they had zero elevator control. They cut the power to bring the nose back down and, luckily, had enough runway remaining to come to a safe stop and taxi back to the gate.

…Safety Eventually Breaks Down

This particular incident has far bigger repercussions. It was one of many incidents that caught the attention of Nathaniel Lash and other reporters, who did an outstanding investigative series, published by the Tampa Bay Times. Here are links to archived PDF copies of the three articles:

The third piece just came out, and it includes an interesting twist. It appears that FOIA was used, and that FAA heavily redacted their response documents. A formal appeal was filed and, eventually, an appeal response letter was sent back by FAA, denying the request to reveal the redactions. BUT… a fully unredacted copy was enclosed with the appeal response! So, now we can see what FAA chose to initially redact (which itself can be extremely revealing).

Was the fully unredacted report enclosed by accident? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it was enclosed by someone who had seen too much. FAA employees are real people, often feeling trapped in a corrupt and soulless bureaucracy, and silenced by the fear of losing their paycheck. Sometimes real people become sick and tired of all the lying and propaganda, and feel it is their duty to bypass the corrupt intentions of higher FAA officials; sometimes they make little ‘mistakes’ with big consequences. Lucky for all of us, not all FAA employees are afraid of the agency’s ‘culture of fear’. Some really do blow the whistle, and sometimes they do this in very subtle ways.

Also, for those who really want to dive deep, check out the 27-page unredacted report.

NTSB’s Preliminary Report on the Monck’s Corner Midair Fails to Present Critical Airspeed Data

It took NTSB ten days to release a report on a midair collision that killed two men, when their Cessna was broadsided by a USAF F16 ‘training flight’ north of Charleston, SC [KCHS]. A PDF copy of the report text has been created, and includes footnotes pointing at areas needing further detail and investigation.

As noted earlier on this website, both FAA and NTSB need to become more immediately transparent on serious incidents, especially low-altitude fatal midair collisions. At a minimum, we should be able to see radar presentations (showing positions at key times, as well as datablocks that reveal altitudes and groundspeeds at those times), just as we should be able to listen to a copy of the audio between the F16 pilot and the KCHS approach controller.

What new information was produced? Here are a few key points:

  1. Very significantly, the impact occurred at just 1,500 feet altitude, an incredibly low altitude for an F16 to be passing at high speed near a small general aviation airport (Berkeley County, SW of Moncks Corner, [KMKS]).

    20150720scp.. VFRmap re Moncks Corner midair (showing Shaw AFB E to KMYR S to KCHS)

    VFR sectional showing: F16 departure from KSSC (orange triangle), F16 practice approaches at KMYR (orange square), final destination for F16 at KCHS (orange circle), and approx. route of Cessna from KMKS toward KCRE (red line).

  2. The report notes a 10:20 departure by the F16, a flight to KMYR to conduct two instrument approaches, then a flight to KCHS for another practice approach. Thus, it took just 40-minutes for this F16 to fly 79 direct nautical miles to KMKS, fly two approaches, then fly 63 direct nautical miles to the collision near KMKS. The time used up to fly two practice approaches at KMYR is substantial, thus suggests: this F16 was likely screaming through the sky, and at only 1,500 feet altitude (though interestingly, at the initial press conference on July 7th, the USAF commander said they believe the collision was at 2,500 to 3,000 feet altitude).
  3. Although NTSB provided many valuable details, they made absolutely no mention of a hugely important factor: the F16’s airspeed leading up to the collision. Historically (and this goes WAY back to the almost weekly fatal midairs that happened in the 1960’s, when jets were first introduced commercially), airspeed differentials are a major contributing factor to midair collisions. Certainly a Cessna at just 1,500 feet altitude would have very little opportunity to avoid a fast-moving jet pointed straight at the Cessna. This pattern, with NTSB failing to mention a very pertinent detail in their Preliminary Report, is a repeat of what happened a year ago when a student from Germany was killed in a crash near St. Cloud, MN, for which there was strong evidence an arriving Allegiant flight was too low and too close, creating a wake turbulence upset.
  4. The controller’s handling suggests a systemic ATC aversion against ‘controlling’ military training flights. ATC should never have allowed the F16 pilot to scream along at just 1,500-feet, particularly since the collision was at roughly 18-miles northeast of the runway in Charleston. Typically, a normal stabilized approach descends roughly 300-feet per mile, so a ‘controlled’ civilian flight would expect to be descending through 5,000+ at 18-miles out. Had the F16 flight been properly controlled, ATC would have held the flight higher, to at least 3,000 or 4,000 feet, and with a moderate (even minimal?) airspeed consistent with safe operation of the F16 while mixing safely with low-altitude civilian flights. In the image below, note the TACAN approach is normally flown via a 24-mile arc (much further out) and has a crossing at LADRE at or above 3,000 feet. It appears ATC dove the F16 early to enable the pilot to get under the scattered layer, to conduct a quicker ‘visual approach’ to land KCHS Runway 15.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

    Red circle marks the approximate midair location.

  5. The simple fact is, if this controller had asserted earlier and aggressive control of the F16 flight, or if the controller had NOT told the F16 pilot to turn south (which turn was delayed by the F16 pilot), there would have been no midair collision. I.e., timing and timidity conspired to translate ATC instructions into two fatalities and two destroyed aircraft.

As a former air traffic controller (forced into early retirement due to whistleblowing), I find this incident and the post-incident handling very troubling. Two men lost their lives unnecessarily, but the F16 pilot and the FAA controller were also victim. They have to live with what they saw unfold, and they will forever wonder, what could they have done differently to have prevented this accident?

An FAA that routinely looks the other way while F16 pilots scream at low altitudes is only enabling risky flying that will eventually produce tragic consequences. Frankly, it would not be at all surprising to see this controller retire on a stress-related disability, primarily because FAA is so eager to accommodate aviators, they too often fail to assert real and needed safety controls.


UPDATED 7/20/2015

2015-01-25.. Near Collision, JetBlue Arrival to White Plains, NY

An Airbus A320, flown as JetBlue Flight 94 from Orlando, FL [KMCO] to White Plains, NY [KHPN], reportedly took evasive actions during the arrival, to avoid a collision with a small plane. The news story was widely reported four days later.

(click on image to view source/original article at cnbc.com)

(click on image to view source/original article at cnbc.com)

Below is arrival portion of the route of flight, from FlightAware. Note the flight-planned crossing of the midsection of Long Island and the box-shaped route over the Sound, apparently to transition through the flows in/out of KLGA and/or KJFK.
20150125scp.. JBU94 Arrival to KHPN, FlightAware route plotIf reports are accurate and the JetBlue crew did in fact take last-second evasive actions, this was most likely a controller error. And this does happen; controllers get bored or distracted. Or, they may be coming to work with deprived sleep, due to bad workshift planning, with compressed work schedules (though, many controllers ‘benefit’ from this type of schedule, by having what feels like a 3-day weekend every week).

In any event, if there is any possible ATC involvement, NATCA and FAA will both encourage the controller to file an ATSAP report. Doing so grants that controller immunity for his/her error, meaning less re-training  and less discipline. More importantly (to FAA and NATCA), filing the ATSAP report means the Public will likely learn nothing more about what happened here.

Why not? Because in May 2014, FAA Administrator Huerta signed off on a new administrative rule that declared all ATSAP report data ‘fully exempt’ from release under FOIA laws. Now, not even the courts will compel release of ATSAP data. This change makes ATSAP effectively a ‘black hole’ for U.S. aviation safety data. Thus, no matter how diligently the media investigates this incident, FAA will refuse to release the real details, as reported by the controller.

If it helps to sweeten your bitter, just give it a fuzzy new name and catch-phrase:

ATSAP – FAA’s new ‘Flying Blind’ program

‘We keep you safely in the dark!’

ANALYSIS: Controller Error & NMAC at Houston [KIAH], on 5/8/2014

A small error by an FAA controller at Houston Intercontinental Airport caused two United departures to converge in low clouds, producing a near-midair collision. The USAtoday news video below gives a good overview, with some audio.

…for the ATC analysis, please see page two of this aiR Post…

ANALYSIS: Controller Error & NMAC at Newark, on 4/24/2014

20140424.. KEWR VFR sectionalThe departure was ASQ4100 (ExpressJet, callsign ‘Acey’); arrival was UAL1243 (callsign ‘United’). NTSB’s preliminary report, released on 5/15/2014, says the two flights passed at approximately 160 feet lateral and 400 feet vertical separation.

Here’s the scenario: with strong northwest winds and one of the parallel runways closed at Newark, FAA’s tower set up departures northbound off Runway 4R and arrivals westbound onto Runway 29. TRACON was using the Bridge Visual Approach to sequence arrivals inbound from southeast of the airport. That routing has the flights crossing the Bayonne Bridge at a fix named LAWNE, and the chart instructs all flights to proceed “…to the west end of the Bayonne Golf Course (then) turn left and proceed to cross CHUMR (the NJ Turnpike Bridge) at 500 feet.”

KEWR.. portion of Bridge Visual RY29 after Bayonne BridgeAt the time, winds were exceptionally strong, at 20-25 knots. This tends to mess up timing for the controller trying to launch Runway 4R departures through holes in the Runway 29 arrival sequence. On top of that, arriving pilots tend to bend the rules on the Bridge Visual Approach; they turn left early and thus compress onto the previous arrival. With enough arrival compression, the hole is no longer wide enough to time a departure … but the tower controller may not accurately judge this problem, especially in strong wind conditions.

20140424.. UAL1243 KEWR.apdgAnd so, the near midair happened when ATC launched a departure (green arrow) in front of an arrival (red arrow). ATC audio recordings indicate the conflict was identified at the last second, causing the departure to tip the nose down and stay under the arrival, which was proceeding to abort their cleared landing. Thanks to online aviation websites, the details of this near midair collision are accessible to passengers and the general public.

Fundamentally, the problem that leads to near-collisions like this is the over-scheduling at super-Hub airports like KEWR. FAA proves yet again they lack the will to apply their supreme authority to run a safe system. They let airlines like UAL-COA schedule way beyond the practical safe limits, then just shove it upon the controllers to deal with it and keep it flowing, when runway projects force a normal parallel runway operation to become a dicey crossing-runway operation. All it takes is for the controller to fail to see one arrival while timing the departure, as happened here. This is a systemic problem within an agency that horribly misapplies its abundant resources. FAA places too much effort into shutting down low altitude UAV’s, beating up its few remaining Whistleblowers, PR’ing the facts to hide their many failures and coddling congressional animals (to enable their perpetual reelections). More often than not, FAA’s efforts toward safety are just for show.

For further data and analysis, see page two of this Post…

ANALYSIS: Controller Error & NMAC, east of Kona, on 4/25/2014

UPDATED, 5/19/2014…
When this article was originally Posted by aiREFORM, on 5/17 (22-days after the near-collision), FAA was still not sharing information. New information has since been released anonymously. It identifies the conflicting flight as USAir Flight #432, westbound at 33,000 feet. Details are updated below.

On Friday April 25, at approximately 4:16PM Pacific time, the pilot of an eastbound United B757 abruptly descended to avoid a westbound USAirways B757, northeast of Kona, Hawaii. The United flight (UAL1205) was heading from Kona to LAX; it had leveled at 33,000 feet and was established on the oceanic route R578, roughly 200 miles northeast of Kona. Two U.S. Airways flights were enroute westbound, thus nose-to-nose with the United flight. One was USAir663, from Phoenix to Kona, at 34,000 feet; the other was USAir432, from Phoenix to Maui, at 33,000 feet. All flights were tracking along the same oceanic route R578.

An account of this incident was posted online by Kevin Townsend. He notes that some passengers screamed when they experienced the sudden maneuver, and a flight attendant soon came over the intercom with, “the pilot took evasive action to avoid an aircraft in our flight path.” Then, to settle rattled nerves (and distract the passengers), she announced a few minutes later: “Aloha! United Airlines will be offering today’s DirecTV entertainment free of charge. Anyone who has already purchased in-flight entertainment will receive a reimbursement on their credit card.”

It turns out Mr. Townsend is a writer, based in San Francisco, who happened to be returning that Friday from a Hawaiian vacation. He is also a bit persistent and adept at online research and contacting FAA and airline officials, and from this he wrote an article. His article is an interesting read, but also a bit disturbing because he documents that, when he contacted FAA officials, they generally blew him off. It was weeks later before FAA initiated an investigation — and that delay may have allowed ATC audio tapes and other hard evidence to be destroyed. So much for accountability.

<< <> <<>> <> >>

For an analysis of this incident, including flight data and aviation charts,
please see page two of this aiREFORM Post.

A Closer Look at the Wrong-Airport Landing at Jabara

Last November, one of the largest cargo aircraft in the world impacted the ground on the flat plains of Kansas. ATC had cleared the flight to land at the McConnell Air Force Base, roughly eight miles further south from where it landed. Thankfully, the impact was somewhat controlled and happened onto a different runway at a different airport. Nobody got hurt.

A copy of the ATC recording (with a transcript) has been posted on YouTube. It is 8-minutes long. It appears to be time-compressed (i.e., long stretches of time between transmissions are removed).

This flight was a Dreamlifter, flying as Giant 4241, which had departed Kennedy Airport on an FAA IFR flight plan. According to a news article, the weather was fine during the 9:40pm landing. The last FAA controllers to work the flight were the radar controllers at the Wichita Approach Control. They pointed the flight toward McConnell Air Force Base, descended it, set it up for a GPS Runway 19L Approach, then issued the charted approach to the pilots. After the FAA controllers ensured that the military tower was accepting the approach, they radioed to the pilots and told them to contact the control tower. The flight crew made the radio call and, interestingly, the speaking pilot started to mis-state that they were on a Visual Approach. As it turned out, they evidently were on a Visual Approach, and were NOT flying the cleared GPS Runway 19L Approach. The evidence suggests that they were landing by simply reading the terrain so easily seen in the generally good flight conditions, but they nonetheless told ATC what ATC wanted to hear. It was minutes later that they realized  they had a problem … they had made their undeclared Visual Approach to the WRONG AIRPORT!

It is interesting to listen to the four people involved in this eight-minute recording — the two pilots, as well as the tower controller and his supervisor. It really sounds like they were all hoping the pilots could just quickly turn around, take off, and land at McConnell AFB, maybe even before anyone noticed what had happened. You can feel their suspending reason for a few minutes … ignoring the fact that this is an enormous aircraft, and it is lunacy to try to consider just flying it out. The Upton Sinclair quote comes to mind. Their ‘dreams’ were quickly dashed at 5:48 on the YouTube video, when the danger of their situation was brought home: a twin engine turboprop suddenly overflew the behemoth. It was sure a good thing that this huge aircraft was hard to miss, parked at the south end of Jabara’s Runway 18.

ATC’s Involvement in this Dangerous Error

So, just to be clear, pilots do not make up approaches and tell ATC any old thing. In this case, the Dreamlifter pilot quickly corrected himself when he first talked to the tower controller, because that tower controller had been notified by the FAA Approach controller that the flight was inbound on a GPS Runway 19L Approach. FAA’s Approach Controllers issued a GPS Runway 19L Approach to this flight.

The red mark shows the approximate position of Jabara Airport, north of the Final Approach Fix (FAF) ‘WARUN’. The underlined ‘3000’ at ‘WARUN’ notes the flight must cross ‘WARUN’ at or above 3000 feet MSL (roughly 1,600 feet above the ground).

When they issued that approach, the FAA controllers took on the responsibility to monitor the flight and ensure the approach was executed. The approach controller had to go through years of training and had to show his trainers that he memorized the critical details, including knowing the safe and legal altitudes for each of the available approaches. That rigorous ATC training conditioned the Approach controller to be extremely vigilant about minimum safe altitudes for flight. Somehow, that vigilance disappeared. In this case,  the flight was supposed to be established on the route segment between the Initial Fix ‘WITBA’ and the Final Approach Fix ‘WARUN’, tracking a magnetic course of 186° and maintaining an altitude at or above 3,000 feet MSL (see the as yellow markings on the AGPS RY 19L Approach details above). Note the carat symbol just equipment at the west of ‘WARUN’ on the approach map view; this is a radio antenna and the VFR Sectional chart shows it to be 421′ above the ground level, just northwest of the controlled airport marked ‘BEECH’.

The pilots missed their runway by roughly eight miles. They put the Dreamlifter down onto the ground miles BEFORE a charted antenna obstruction. So, how can it be that the FAA Approach Control, where the approach clearance was issued, produced no alarms when the 3,000 foot floor was busted (by 1,600 feet!) and when the flight’s projected profile would show a likely collision with the charted antenna? Did the radar automation not create an alarm? Did the controller see it but assume (improperly) that the tower ‘had it under control’? Did the military tower have any equipment or procedures that would have (and should have) detected a busted altitude on such a huge aircraft?

More likely than not, there are many other ATC communications NOT included within this YouTube video. The first reaction of the military controller at McConnell Tower should have been to punch a button and talk to his Approach Controller: “Approach, McConnell Tower, be advised that GTI4241 appears to have landed at a different airport.” Or, “Hey, Approach! Did you clear Giant to land here at McConnell, and did you monitor his descent??” Or, even earlier (to proactively prevent the incident): “Hey, Approach! I am looking out my tower window for that huge Dreamliner and not seeing him. What is his location, and is he still setting up for my airport?”

No calls were made in advance of the incident, perhaps because nobody was looking. So, when the post-incident calls were made, the first reaction of the Wichita Approach controller would have been to file an ATSAP report. He or she would make sure they did so, being careful to present the events to conceal any failures, so that they can receive the full ATSAP immunity, and not be held accountable for their negligence. That excessive immunity is the carrot FAA used to bring NATCA on board, to support ATSAP … which FAA wanted as a way to hide safety reports from citizen FOIA review.

What will FAA do? Will NTSB conduct a thorough investigation, or are they being tamped down these days, told to stay out of FAA’s business? Can we expect the ATC aspect of this dangerous error to be covered up, or will the facts be fully presented for Public review? Will FAA share de-identified ATSAP reports so the Public can understand how this incident happened?

The aiREPORT: [2013Q3, week-10]

aiREPORT is a weekly collection of notes and links to news items relevant to aviation impacts and FAA reform. It is provided as a research tool…

Third Quarter, Week #10: September 1 — September 7, 2013

summary:

Top AvNews story: A Judge has rejected airline arguments that the testimony of FAA Whistleblower Christopher Monteleon and the Report compiled by consultant (and former FAA official) Nick Sabatini are irrelevant in trials related to the Colgan 3407 crash in Buffalo. Attorneys representing families of the deceased will have access to these resources. … Also, many more news releases appeared, with elected officials grandstanding about the FAA/AIP money coming home for their constituents. And, lots of what appears to be early maneuvering, to get Congress to exempt FAA from a repeat of last Spring’s sequester debacle…

QUICKlooks:

  • 9/3/13: Helicopter Association International president Matt Zuccaro said HAI is evaluating its legal and political options in the wake of a federal court decision upholding the authority of the FAA to mandate the “North Shore Route” for helicopters transiting New York’s Long Island. [link]
  • 9/4/13: FAA has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make it legal for some pilots to fly down to 100′ above the touchdown zone elevation without seeing the airport, before they must execute a missed approach. The current is 200′ (generally). The new standard would apply to crews using enhanced forward vision systems (EFVS) using a real-time image of the flight environment while flying on straight-in precision approaches. [link]

Airports in the News:

  • Cedar Rapids, IA (The Eastern Iowa Airport [KCID]): FAA has announced a $5.2M AIP award for construction of a new taxiway. The new ‘Taxiway Echo’ will parallel the north end of crosswind Runway 13/31, along the east side, and will replace a portion of current Taxiway Delta. The airport averages 153 operations/day (four takeoffs per hour of ATC service), with roughly 30 daily commercial passenger departures. Airport operations have declined 33% since the peak in 1999. News articles from earlier this year expressed concern the project would be delayed by the FAA budget sequester.
  • Telluride, CO (Telluride Regional Airport [KTEX]): A new ATC aircraft tracking system has been activated, which will allow controllers at the center in Longmont to ‘see’ flights below 12,000′, all the way to the ground. The system uses ground-based and satellite-based technologies, and should substantially reduce delays during heavy traffic periods in the ski seasons ahead. [link]
  • Butler, PA (Butler County Airport, Scholter Field [KBTP]): $1M in FAA and state funds will be used to acquire 4 acres and widen the taxiway. This airport is home for roughly 100 GA aircraft, has no control tower, and averages 200 operations per day. Nearby airports include Pittsburgh (KPIT), Alleghany (KAGC), Beaver (KBVI) and Zelienople (KPJC), and are all substantially underutilized. [link]
  • Louisville, MS (Louisville Winston County Airport [KLMS]): FAA will pay 90% of the $734K needed for construction of a new terminal building. This airport has twelve based aircraft and averages 21 operations per day. It is midway between Tupelo and Meridian, both of which have control towers at very slow airports (averaging 150 ops/day). [link]
  • Fort Meyers, FL (Southwest Florida International Airport [KRSW]): A coooerative effort aimed at reducing residential noise impacts began on 8/1/13. The preferred runway for the hours of 10PM to 6AM changed from Runway 6 to Runway 24. The tower closes at 10PM. [link]

Links to Articles:

9-6-2013FAA Cuts the Red Tape to Let UAS Work Yosemite Wildfire
An FAA News Release putting a positive spin on their working with the Department of Defense and the California National Guard to quickly approve use of a drone to aid in monitoring the fires at Yosemite National Park.
9-4-2013It’s a bird; it’s a plane; no, it’s another annoying helicopter
Some good background information on the long history of helicopter noise impact (and safety concerns) related to helicopters in the Hudson River area. Discusses an 8/27/13 symposium held at Teterboro Airport, attended by Senator Menendez, Congressman Sires, and many other local officials. Some say it the problem is beyond tourist helicopters, which supposedly cease at 7PM. The problem is said to be later traffic using the Paulus Hook Heliport and the repair facility at Kearny. A quote: “The quality of life of our residents has suffered due to the constant noise being generated by these aircraft, and we are all concerned about the frequency and dangerously low altitudes at which these helicopters are flying over our neighborhoods.”
9-3-2013Judge grants access to internal review, FAA inspector in advance of trial in 2009 plane crash
Fifty people died when Colgan Flight 3407 (flying as Continental Connection) crashed into a house in Buffalo in 2009. The accident investigation unveiled very troubling details about pilot pay, pilot fatigue, FAA blocking of Whistleblower concerns, etc. The airlines used a bankruptcy to delay the release of critical records. OF 40 filed lawsuits, all but eight have been settled through mediation. A trial is set to start on 3/4/14. Shortly after the crash, Colgan hired Nick Sabatini (FAA’s Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, who had just retired on 1/3/09) to look at their operations and draft a confidential report. The airlines did not want to share the report, and claimed the report was irrelevant because the work culture at Colgan had changed. U.S. District Judge William Skretny disagreed;  he said the report was potentially relevant because it was unlikely that the culture at Colgan had significantly changed in the weeks after the crash. Additionally, the Judge approved testimony by FAA inspector Christopher Monteleon, a Whistleblower who had warned of Colgan problems prior to the crash. Judge Skretny agreed with attorneys for the passengers’ families, who said Monteleon may have information that is either new or fills gaps in other witnesses’ testimony.
9-2-2013Alabama and Tennessee team for effort to land 1 of 6 FAA drone test sites
FAA holds the authority to decide which six locations will be designated for drone development, research. (Perhaps this authority should be reassigned, for drone activities below a low altitude such as 1,000′ and at least five miles from airports, so that FAA is no longer in the loop?)
9-2-2013FAA deferring ERAM functionality as money runs out
The program, En Route Automation Modernization, replaces the 4 decades old high altitude radar tracking system known as Host; currently, ERAM is operational either full- or part-time at 16 of 20 air route traffic control centers. FAA officials told  auditors that sequestration will significantly impact ERAM implementation, although the report doesn’t say if they anticipate missing the 2014 deadline.
9-1-2013AIN Blog: Torqued: What If Aviation CEOs Were Held Accountable for Employee Safety Violations?
John Goglia (former NTSB member) with yet another interesting blog. This time, he discusses a recent court action that held former New Jersey Governor and Senator Jon Corzine accountable for the malfeasances of a subordinate employee that resulted in massive financial losses for investors. Goglia then suggests: why not extend accountability for aviation blunders up to the levels of management, especially when management creates the culture and pressure that often precipitates errors, accidents, and other system failures?
9-1-2013FAA’s 2014 Budget Remains Unresolved
An AIN article by Paul Lowe, noting that Congress went on their summer break with no evident progress toward resolving the sequester threat. Looks like another round of primetime sequester reactions coming soon…
9-1-2013Industry Lobby Groups Prepared To Take On FAA
A review of the growing distrust of FAA officials, as expressed a month ago at Oshkosh. The opening paragraph: “The alphabets are angry. Reflecting the growing frustration of their members, presidents of the trade associations tasked with representing general aviation interests showed up at this year’s EAA AirVenture with both barrels loaded full of criticism for the FAA and for the congressional oversight of the agency. The rhetoric was a marked shift from the traditional message of cooperation with the FAA. Other than controllers and their supervisors, top FAAofficials, including agency Administrator Michael Huerta, were conspicuously absent from this year’s AirVenture, allegedly because of federal budget sequestration. It was the first time an FAA Administrator has skipped the event in many years.”

The aiReport …a link to the full report…