UPDATE 2013Q1: Articles, Blogs, Notes, etc.

Link to past UPDATE pages: UPDATE 2012Q4

In-the-News…. …Today’s biggest FAA news item (by far) continues to be Harlem Shake … far more significant is a Reuters article assessing the regulatory capture of FAA in the area of aircraft certification procedures [link] … GAMA notes that new aircraft production in all three categories – jet, turboprop, and piston – continue to slump [link]

Friday, March 1:

In-the-News…. …Sequestration begins today …

…but the big FAA-related news story is ‘Harlem Shake’. Yup. A viral video from a 2/15/13 Frontier flight to San Diego, in which a college Ultimate Frisbee team (including a dancing banana) gets permission from the flight attendants to gyrate in front of a video camera. Thirty seconds proving yet again, there has got to be a better way to fly. [link]

When FOIA Withholding Deterrents fail… …we end up with a broken FOIA process, and no government transparency. MSPBWatch has posted a recent DoJ FOIA response, showing that DoJ (and OSC) have not been complying with a law amended in 2007. Essentially, they are NOT deterring federal officials from the excessive withholding of records responsive to FOIA requests. Of course, the whole point of FOIA (as first debated by Congress nearly fifty years ago!) is to ensure all citizens can have a clear understanding of how their government works. There can be no real transparency, though, when entrenched federal officials feel no consequences for the arbitrary and capricious withholding of public records and information. Shall we call this an ‘information sequester’? [link]

Sequester This: Is the Budget Battle Embroiling Business Aviation in a Bogus Brouhaha? Writing at Forbes.com, Charles Alcock has a good analysis of the spin and politics behind both the threat of tower closures and the questionable benefits of generous ‘bonus depreciation’ programs for buyers of new business jets. His article includes a link to an April 2011 article by Jeff Wieand, Bonus Depreciation Redux. [link to article about sequestration]*[link to article on Bonus Depreciation]

Thursday, February 28:

In-the-News…. …A4A CEO Calio is again clamoring for airline tax relief, saying “…commercial aviation, while supposedly deregulated, is now among the most highly regulated industries in America….” (Really??) Comments were more realistic [link] … Boeing plans to add more insulation and spacing around 787 battery cells; looking for testing soon, and trying to resume commercial flying in April or May. [link] … Craig Fuller, President and CEO at AOPA, makes a surprise announcement that he will step down; will remain to assist in finding his replacement. [link]

Cirrus Aircraft’s Vision: the next VLJ? 15Vision JetLike much of General Aviation, Cirrus went through fiscal hell during the economic downturn. They sold out to Chinese investors, but are now hoping to resume work on their VLJ (Very Light Jet) concept. The Vision is a single jet, will seat five adults and two children, and sell for roughly $1.9M. [link]

Wednesday, February 27:

In-the-News…. …and the flood of local news articles forecasting air travel doom-and-gloom continues; all of this apparently initiated by coordinated statements last week, by FAA and aviation officials … numerous papers report government statistics just out from BTS, showing airline employment levels dropping still further; American now at 1987 levels [link]

Tuesday, February 26:

In-the-News…. the sequestration is causing conflict and uncertainty in aviation. [link] …  a clear analysis of how tax rules are applied when buying a new corporate aircraft (savings from depreciation, etc.). [link] … a House subcommittee hearing with USAir officials (and others) assuring the current merger is GOOD for competition (?) …

Friday, February 22:

In-the-News…. the style of Jim McNerney, CEO at Boeing, who prefers to stay away from the cameras [link] … Boeing is giving FAA their sales pitch for an end to the 787 grounding (many articles today) … LaHood and Huerta sign a 2-page letter to A4A, AOPA, DoD and others, detailing threats of the sequestration [link]

Thursday, February 21:

In-the-News…. Capt. Sullenberger, Miracle On The Hudson Pilot, Criticizes FAA Over delays for rule changes after Buffalo’s Colgan 3407 disaster [link1]

Wednesday, February 20:

In-the-News…. Rep. Rick Larsen (democrat, WA) opines in a letter to the Arlington Times: the aviation industry supports the larger economy [link1]

A reality check on the future of 100LL. The author, Ben Visser, asserts that so long as there is a demand for tetraethyl lead (TEL) used in 100LL aviation fuel, there will be suppliers. The one producer in the world today, Innospec in Britain, could stop, but others would take up the slack and name a price so as to make a profit. Here is one of his insightful paragraphs: “It is one of those vicious circle things. The environmentalists petition the EPA, which make a ruling, then the FAA realizes there is not a drop-in replacement, so they look at the liability and problems that could happen, so it cancels the EPA regulation. This upsets the environmentalists, who manufacture more data and the wheel goes round and round and, while the consultants get richer, the whole thing goes nowhere.” [link to article]

Tuesday, February 19:

In-the-News…. Politico OpEd opposing GA user fees, by AOPA’s Craig Fuller [link1]*[link2]

Monday, February 18:

In-the-News…. FAA certifies cargo MD-80 Freighters; these older, noisier jets are now being converted to fly in U.S. [link1]

Lawmakers lobby FAA to consider PA for air traffic control site. FAA wants to build a replacement for the NY TRACON, currently on Long Island. They have declared it will remain within the state of New York, but neighboring states want the 800+ jobs and are clamoring for FAA to change their plans. In this case, some PA congressmen have sent a letter to FAA Administrator Huerta. Another PA congressman, Bud Shuster, heads the House Transportation Committee. [link to blog]

Sunday, February 17:

New report questions FAA’s airline safety promise. Associated Press obtained a copy of a new DoT-IG report, which will soon be released. The report suggests FAA is not following through on promises after the Colgan Buffalo crash. As stated by Scott Maurer, who lost his 30-year-old daughter, Lorin, in the crash, “These promises tend to end up becoming lip service. It sounds good at the time, but there is no follow through.” [link to AP article]

Friday, February 15:

Airbus drops Li-ion and goes back to NiCad batteries on A350
In view of the ongoing Boeing 787 grounding and unresolved cause of the battery fires, Airbus announced they are reverting to ‘Plan-B’. They hope to keep delivery of their new model A350 on schedule, by building it using the older NiCad battery technology. [link to Airbus Press Release]*[link to LeehamNet post]*[link to PlaneTalking]

Thursday, February 14:

Senators Boxer and Sanders Introduce Climate Legislation. Included is a progressive Carbon fee starting at $20/ton, regulations to protect communities from fracking, and investment in energy efficiency. With companion legislation, a large portion of revenues would go toward reducing the debt. [link to article]*[link to pdf of legislation]

FAA seeks proposals for 6 sites to test drones over US skies, outlines plan to protect privacy
FAA officials announced they are soliciting proposals to create six drone test sites around the country. They also announced plans to address drone privacy issues. [link to AP article by Joan Lowy]*[link to FAA letter to EPIC]

Thursday, February 7:

…today’s AvNewsBuzz…
… 11am EST NTSB briefing by Chair Hersman, updating on 787 grounding and battery fires.
… scores of news items announcing FAA has granted one crew-only 787 ferry flight from Ft. Worth to Everett.
… and, what appears to be the first FAA reactive fallout from Obama’s recent comments about sequestration; an article fearing furloughs of FAA employees at the FAA Tech Center in Atlantic City (which happens to be the congressional district of Aviation Subcommittee chair LoBiondo).
…big Senate hearing today, for confirmation of Brennan as CIA Director, focused heavily on use of drones. Protested by CODEPINK.
… and, at the end of the DC workday, both FAA and Boeing release press statements, announcing Boeing may fly the 787 for testing purposes. The statements appear well coordinated, with a tenor that suggests Boeing taking a fall to help FAA’s credibility problem.

Signs of Contraction at Southwest, FedEx Performance figures released for two commercial aviation leaders indicate contraction. FedEx reports that about 10 percent of its senior U.S. executives have accepted buyouts related to plans to make an additional $1.7 Billion in profits over three years all while scaling down. FedEx has deferred new aircraft deliveries while also retiring dozens of Boeing 727’s and other less-efficient aircraft. FedEx is seeing that a shift of some customers to less expensive ground, freight and even ocean shipping is not just a temporary change linked to a slowing economy. Meanwhile, Southwest reported that January traffic measured in revenue passenger miles or RPMs, dropped 1.7 percent from 2012 to 2013. At the same time, Southwest’s capacity, as measured in available seat miles, or ASMs, increased 0.5 percent. Both of these companies are aviation leaders. Their contractions are consistent with predictions by analyst Michael Boyd, in an article about slow activity at Pittsburgh. Mr. Boyd expects this year, we will see 200 fewer aircraft and a 2% decline in available seats.
[link to FedEx article]*[link to Southwest article]*[link to article quoting Boyd]

Tuesday, February 5:

FAA Approves Solar Project at IND A proposal by the Indianapolis Airport Authority to lease out approximately 75-acres of airport land has been approved by FAA. Construction of the $35-40 Million dollar project will start this spring, with the installation of more than 41,000 solar panels. The design is expected to produce more than 15 million kW-hours annually, enough to power more than 1,200 average American homes.

FAA has slowly acquired a controlling authority on most U.S. airports. Each year, FAA collects many billions of dollars in airline passengers taxes, then redistributes them as airport grants. Once an airport is a grant recipient, the sales or development of any airport lands become subject to approval by FAA. The result is a common problem of huge areas of unused airport land. Solar farms are a potentially valuable use of that land, so FAA has developed guidelines for seeking FAA approval.
[link to article]*[link to FAA solar guidelines]

Friday, February 1:

Sunset for Leaded Aviation Gasoline? A good article about the problem of lead in aviation appears in Environmental Health Perspectives. Here are links to the article on the WEB, or in PDF form. Also, see the aiR page for Hillsboro Airport (or see Oregon Aviation Watch) for an example of an airport where the airport authority needs to become mindful of the ‘costs’ associated with the ‘profits’ earned by one or two airport businesses.

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New Post: The Malek Manual … Readers curious about history around the Watergate era may want to look at the new Post about the Malek Manual. Another document, also from that era, is the 8/23/71 memo from future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, to the chairman of the Education Committee at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Powell memo is entitled: “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System‘. I found that both the Malek and Powell documents, as a pair, shed valuable insight into the fears and strategies that were evolving within the conservative end of the spectrum in the early 1970’s. This was something of a watershed period: development of nearly all environmental regulations, getting out of Vietnam, and especially the hardening of conservative vs. liberal polarized values. It seems as though political moderation all but died then; thus, these two documents help to explain the horrible problems of cronyism and political impasse we have seen in the most recent decade — from BOTH parties.
Here are the links: Malek Manual PostPowell Memo Post

Two Injured while Hunting Pigs from a Helicopter Near Gillett, TX on 2/1/13, a helicopter crashed while flying low-level to hunt wild pigs. In this case, it was a Robinson R22 helicopter. All helicopters have safety guidelines that prescribe combinations of speed and altitude, to ensure the pilot can reasonably autorotate to a safe landing. The practice of using a helicopter to hunt feral pigs (or to blow dry cherries for harvest, for that matter) is NOT within the envelope of safe flight. I.e., the altitude is high enough to be dangerous (a fatal fall), but not high enough to recover before impact. A quick online review shows there have been fatalities at similar accidents in Texas. [link]*[link]*[link]*[link]

NTSB Praises AOPA and ALEA for Prompt Response to Safety Recommendations When Senator Ted Stevens was among the casualties in an Alaska floatplane crash on August 9, 2010, NTSB issued a set of Safety Recommendations. In their response, AOPA produced a video to brief pilots on the importance of aircraft exit briefings to passengers in small planes. On top of that, AOPA promoted the video, and made it viewable online. Similarly, it took only six months for ALEA to implement all NTSB Safety Recommendations related to a June 9, 2009 New Mexico police helicopter crash. Said Hersman: “This is a perfect example of an organization embracing not only the letter, but the spirit of our recommendation … this will result in a higher level of safety for general aviation passengers, who often are friends and family.” In contrast, FAA (as well as other Federal agencies) has a horrific record of delay and dismissal, which causes safety improvements to bog down for decades. [link to NTSB Press Release]

Thursday, January 31:

“The Phone Book’s Here! The Phone Book’s Here!!”
Oh, wait, that’s the 485-page draft order to replace the old FAA Order for Airport Improvement Plan. The new version, FAA Order 5100.38D, incorporates changes legislated early last year, and may replace FAA Order 5100.38C (dated 6/28/05).
[link to Order draft]

Tuesday, January 29:

NTSB Again Recommends Maintenance Rest Time NTSB has concluded that helicopter air tour fatalities near Las Vegas in late 2011 involved actions by a mechanic and inspector,  both of whom had been called in, had started their day before 6AM, and worked more than twelve hours. The article discusses NTSB’s frustration with FAA’s ongoing failure to address fatigue issues. A quote by Mark Rosekind: “We knew this was an issue a decade ago and haven’t seen any action.” [link to AviationWeek article]

Ray LaHoodDoT Secretary Ray LaHood to Resign In an email sent to DoT employees, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he will not stay on for a second term in President Obama’s cabinet, thus will end his four-year career.
[link to article]
*[link to DoT Press Release]

Monday, January 28:

Aviation’s Iron Lady: NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman
Short look at the NTSB Chair, who has been in the news lately due to the 787 grounding. Her opening the NTSB labs to the press is considered exceptionally transparent. In fact, the author says: “Hersman’s no-nonsense statements and transparency have made the FAA, and its new chief Mike Huerta, appear to be behind the curve.” Her board has pushed FAA hard for new rules to reduce fatigue. The article says her sites are now aimed toward lowering the 400+ deaths/year in private pilot accidents. [link]

Sunday, January 27:

$8.99 Haircut Banner Leaves 2,000 Without Power Residents of the SOMA district in San Francisco, who probably already appreciated the noisy Stinson pulling a banner promoting $8.99 haircuts, appreciated it even less when the banner came loose and shorted powerlines. FAA assures they do regulate banner tows and have launched an investigation. [link to article]

Tuesday, January 22:

Ranking Dem Named for House Committee Rick Larsen has been appointed as the ranking member of the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee. Reelected to his seventh term last November, Rick represents the 2nd congressional district in WA. His district includes Paine Field in Everett, where Boeing produces B747s, B767s, B777s and B787s. [link to article]*[link to reelection statement]

Sunday, January 20:

More Questions about the grounded B787? A very solid set of links to articles, illustrations, commentary – everything a curious mind might want – is found at LeehamNet. Check it out. Increasingly, commentators are questioning what effective role the FAA plays in the design review and certification process. Some are mentioning the FAA debacle with the last grounded aircraft, the Eclipse 500 VLJ, which FAA had rushed to certification in 2006 (safety problems forced a June 2008 grounding, and the manufacturer went bankrupt, too). [link to post]*[link to WIKI on Eclipse 500]

Friday, January 18:

LSA Sales Continue to Struggle. The U.S. Sport Aviation Expo opened in Florida, and sales of recreational aircraft are reported far from robust. The Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association reported Thursday that 258 aircraft were registered worldwide in 2012, with only 100 of those going to the U.S. [link to article]

Chinese airpace opening up for General Aviation. The opening of Chinese airspace below 1,000 meters AGL appears to be accelerating, which may spur growth of GA, including helicopter purchases there. “…according to data from the nation’s Civil Aviation Administration, there are only about 1,200 registered general aviation vehicles in China, in a stark contrast to over 230,000 in the United States. Still, airports available to accommodate private flights in China number less than 300 at present, while the US has 19,700….”  [link to article]

Wednesday, January 16:

FAA Grounds Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Another battery fire forced an emergency landing in Japan, and prompted FAA to issue an ’emergency airworthiness directive’. Thus, all airlines must temporarily stop flying the plane. An FAA statement said the lithium-ion battery failures resulted in heat damage and smoke. And it said if those conditions are not corrected, they could result in the potential for fire in the plane’s electrical compartment.

Frank LoBiondo of NJ to Lead House Aviation Subcommittee. LoBiondo’s congressional district includes Atlantic City, home of the FAA Technical Center. He has been a subcommittee member since 1997, and was chosen by Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster of PA.

Tuesday, January 15:

Airline pilots may have to turn off laptops and other personal electronics while operating above 10,000′. Hard to believe, but the present ‘sterile cockpit’ rule does not apply above 10,000′ altitude during commercial flights. NTSB has been pressing FAA to change this for years. Early last year, Congress passed legislation that ordered FAA to act. Then, last June, NTSB effectively gave up on FAA when they stamped it ‘UNACCEPTABLE ACTION’ by FAA and ‘closed’ their concern. Today, FAA has finally posted a 19-page rule change proposal in the Federal Register. [USAToday article]*[Federal Register]*[NTSB safety recommendation history]

Monday, January 14:

FAA’s NextGen Program Reaches Critical Period. An update report on FAA’s latest and biggest push for more money. [article at AviationWeek.com]

Friday, January 11:

FAA to Review Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. A rash of incidents, including a fire on an electrical panel of a parked/empty aircraft in Boston, has prompted FAA to initiate a comprehensive review of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The review is to focus on electrical and other critical systems, and will include ‘design, manufacture, and assembly’ of the recently introduced aircraft. Both FAA and Boeing officials will participate. A paragraph in a Bloomberg article hints at the reason for the broad review: “The Dreamliner conserves fuel by using five times more electricity than other similar jets and by saving weight with a fuselage and wings made from composite materials, not aluminum. Some existing FAA regulations didn’t cover the new technologies, so the plane was certified with multiple ‘special conditions’.” [link to Bloomberg article]*[link to CBS-local post from Boston]*[link to Seattle Times article]

Tuesday, January 8:

Data confirms 2012 was a scorcher. The average U.S. temperature in 2012 was 55.3 degrees, a full degree higher than the previous record average. That, coupled with drought and wildfires and superstorms, suggests we may want to be more mindful about the carbon we are loading into our atmosphere and oceans. Just a thought… [link to NYTimes article]*[link to NCDC 2012 Report]

Slower airline traffic predicted for 2012. Boyd Group in Denver projects a decline of 1.5 to 2.0 percent for this year from last. They also note airlines are getting rid of the 50-seat regional jets and are again sizing up to larger commercial aircraft, as reflected in sales of the B737MAX, the A320NEO, and aircraft in the Bombardier C-series. Also, the days of aggressive price-attacks between airlines appear to be gone; many more alliances. [link to Denver Post article]

Progress, Technology and the Future of Aviation Good blog-post by Robert Goyer at Flying magazine, opining as to why optimism, even though it’s in short supply, remains a critical ingredient for aviation. [link]

Monday, January 7:

Seven die in Columbia Helicopter crash in Peru A Chinook BH34 helicopter crashed for unknown reasons, four miles after taking off from a controlled airport. All seven on-board were killed. The helicopter was also carrying a sling load. Columbia Helicopters, based in Aurora, OR, quickly grounded six other BH34’s in their fleet. The company has held contracts in Peru for more than twenty years, and has other contracts in New Guinea and Afghanistan. [link to OregonLive article]

FAA Rescinds Aviation Maintenance Duty Time Interpretation A post by Sean Roberts at Aviation Week includes a PDF of a letter from FAA to ARSA, announcing the abandonment of a proposed rule change. The rule-change relates to fatigue issues, which were widely exposed when the Colgan crash happened in Buffalo in February 2009. The rule change, proposed in May 2010, would have required that all aircraft mechanics get at least one full day off every week, instead of four full days off at one point in each month. ARSA and other aviation groups, challenged the NPRM, which was finally abandoned 31-months later. The existing rule has roots in the early 1940’s, when the U.S. had a pressing reason to NOT impede fatiguing work schedules. The 12/26/12 letter was from Rebecca McPherson, AGC-200 in FAA’s Chief Counsel, to Craig Fabian at trade-group Aeronautical Repair Station Association. It is not clear how well FAA’s ongoing rules ensure adequate rest and maintenance for commercial aviation. [link to AviationWeek article]

Friday, January 4:

Next time, ride a bull instead? Helicopters are a noisy annoyance to many on the ground, but they have great utility when responsibly and intelligently flown. And, for many pilots, the act of flying is a thrill that enriches lives. But, the dangers are great. The whirling blades are quickly fatal, as are sudden crashes from even the lowest altitudes. In this one-minute amateur video, someone has taped a pilot checkingout the helicopter he has newly purchased, ignoring the fact that he is not yet certified and does not know how to fly it. He lifts off, flies erratically and clearly without control, ascends to about 50′, then crumples in after a tail strike. The callsign appears to be N1012; no accident record was found in the extensive NTSB database.

Very lucky to be alive. A Brahma bull ridden bareback and naked would have been a cheaper and safer thrill. And equally stupid…  [link to a short video] * [link to comments at Flightaware]

Wednesday, January 2:Helicopter crash scene

Three Dead in Iowa EMS Helicopter Crash The pilot, nurse and paramedic were killed when the helicopter impacted terrain while on a flight from one hospital to another hospital to pick up a patient. The helicopter was fourteen miles from the point of departure. A TV meteorologist noted some very light freezing rain reports, but weather was generally normal. Also, one article noted the Med-Trans pilots work seven-day, 12-hour shifts, with seven days off. [link to local new article]

Tuesday, January 1:

FAA Orders inspections of Boeing 737’s. The order covers 109 aircraft and is estimated will cost approx. $5.2Million. The aircraft are -300, -400 and -500 series.

The Boeing 737 is one of the most successful aircraft used today in commercial aviation, but it has experienced repeated failures wherein fuselage cracks cause rapid cabin decompression. There is a lengthy series of Boeing Alert Service Bulletins, going back to 1996, focused on fatigue-cracking of fuselage skin panels. During the process of finishing these aircraft, and with the intention of reducing total aircraft weight (to make the aircraft more efficient), a chemical milling process was used and it is believed that too much metal was etched away. This problem has appeared in many highly publicized aviation incidents, such as the 7/13/09 decompression that forced Southwest Flight 2294 to divert to Charleston, WV, and the 4/1/11 incident that forced Southwest Flight 812 to make an emergency landing at Yuma, AZ.

FAA failed to enforce previous inspection orders for this SAME ISSUE. In fact, the 4-3-08 congressional testimonies of FAA Inspectors Boutris and Peters occurred after FAA management had impeded their effort to get Southwest compliant with the fuselage crack airworthiness directive. Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-IL) issued a press release, calling for a full accounting and charging FAA was ‘on autopilot’. [link to USAToday article]

Huerta confirmed as new FAA Administrator. Along with the last-minute vote to resolve the ‘fiscal cliff’ threat, Congress finally approved Michael Huerta as the new FAA Administrator. Huerta became Acting Administrator in late 2011, when Randy Babbitt was forced to resign. South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint had placed a hold on Huerta’s confirmation, hoping to delay long enough for Mitt Romney to be able to select the new administrator. Senator DeMint abandoned his hold late last year, when he retired to begin a new job at the Heritage Foundation. Huerta’s term, as defined by Congress, is to serve five years. [link to article]*[link added 1-13-13]

17-year-old crashes PA-30 in Alabama, three dead. Not yet a licensed pilot, he took two friends on a local flight, departing from a small airport northwest of Birmingham, under a low overcast. A night departure, around 10:30PM. ADDED 1-10-13: FAA records show the aircraft was purchased by HyPoint Aviation in May 2010, but never fully registered with FAA.[link]   [link to news article]