Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hawaii Gets $5 Million for Airport Repairs

The runway at the Kona International Airport at Keahole be rehabilitated under a $2.27 million federal grant. Improvements include the removal of debris and the strengthening of the pavement.

“The strength of Hawaii’s economy is directly linked to our visitor industry and we must do everything we can to ensure safe and expedient air travel for our residents and visitors from around the world,” said US Senator Inouye, who joined his colleagues, Sen. Daniel Akaka, Rep. Mazie Hirono, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in making the announcement today.

“I am very pleased that these funds will help improve our air travel infrastructure and it is my hope that the federal government continues to put people to work by supporting our visitor industry through similar investments,” said Sen. Inouye.

The funds are part of a larger $5.5 million appropriation from the Federal Aviation Administration for airports in Hawai’i.  The grants are being used to rehabilitate runway pavement, repair lighting and improve terminal buildings at the Honolulu International Airport, the Kona International Airport at Keahole, and the Lihue Airport on Kaua’i.  “These grants will not only provide long-term benefits by making our airports safer, but will also put members of our hard-hit construction industry back to work,” said Congresswoman Hirono, Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

While Kona received the largest single appropriation, Honolulu International Airport received funds for five projects totaling more than $3 million including:
  • $275,000 to repair the runway lighting system on runway 08L/26R and 04L/22R
  • $105,375 to acquire a friction measuring device required to measure and maintain the skid resistant pavement surfaces on the runways
  • $802,000 to rehabilitate runway 08R/26L
  • $821,025 to continue roof repair to the central concourse at the Honolulu International Airport.
  • $1,000,000 to repair runway 4R/22L at the Honolulu International Airport.
Lihue Airport received a total of $226,480 to remove a drainage swale from the runway and taxiway safety area to eliminate ponding on airfield surfaces.

Engine for Boeing's new 737 MAX 'too small'

September 7, 2011 - 10:51AM

Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney warned Boeing yesterday it may have to rethink its strategy for competing with Airbus in a $US2 trillion segment of the jet market because the engine it has chosen from rival GE is too small.

Matching plans by Airbus to upgrade its A320 with new engines, Boeing has come up with plans to revamp its best-selling 737 medium-haul jet with new engines from CFM, a joint venture between GE and France's Safran.

By doing so, it has put on the back burner alternative proposals to invest more time and money in an all-new plane.

Analysts say the decisions have defined until 2025 a portion of the market valued at $US2 trillion over 20 years. But Pratt & Whitney, a leader in combat engines and which once dominated civil markets, believes Boeing may not be able to wait that long.

"Time will tell. Boeing responded to pressure ... and if they feel they don't have a competitive airplane against the A320neo they may be forced to accelerate or look at their plans for a (new plane)," Pratt & Whitney Chief Executive David Hess said.

"I would be surprised if it is 15 years before (Boeing) launch a ... new narrowbody airplane," Hess told the annual Reuters Aerospace & Defense Summit.

Pratt & Whitney competes with CFM to supply engines for the revamped Airbus A320neo. CFM has an exclusive deal for the 737 and its upgraded successor 737 MAX.

United Technologies unit Pratt & Whitney has an interest in questioning the longevity of Boeing's latest project, since it can only enter the 737 market once Boeing switches to a radically new model due to an exclusivity agreement between Boeing and CFM for the existing model.

Hess's comments will expand an already fierce debate about whether it is better to stick with the proven concepts such as CFM engines or back new engine architecture offered by Pratt's latest generation of engines, known as Geared Turbofan.

Billions of dollars in engine sales and long-term repair contracts are at stake in the rival boasts of engineers.

MINE'S BIGGER THAN YOURS

A main reason for Hess's scepticism relates to engine size.

CFM engines on existing Boeings have a flat-bottomed casing to help them fit under the wing, which is lower to the ground than that of the A320. This gives the engines the distinctive squashed look visible to passengers, but limits the scope for souping up the engine without costly changes to the airframe.

Boeing and CFM plan to increase the fan size slightly to 66 or 68 inches (167cm or 172cm), yet the A320 engine's fan will be up to 81 inches (205cm). The size of the fan affects thrust and efficiency, but the bigger the fan the more weight the aircraft also has to carry, so engine-makers and plane-makers have to find the best compromise.

"Boeing has made it clear it is going to be a minimum-change airplane and I don't see them doing anything else for the airplane that is going to result in substantial fuel benefit, so it is going to have to come from the engine, and I will be happy to take the Geared Turbofan's chances against a 66- or 68-inch Leap-X any day," Hess said.

Boeing stood by its decision to re-engine the 737 and repeated it would be 7 percent more efficient than the A320neo.

"The 737 MAX delivers the big savings in fuel that airlines require for the future," said spokesman Marc Birtel.

"With regard to future product development, we don't see a new small airplane emerging until well into the next decade."

CFM says its 737 engine variant is optimized for that plane.

Boeing and Airbus are locked in a battle to sell their revamped models, triggering a secondary competition between CFM and Pratt & Whitney to win engine deals for the A320neo.

Hess gave figures indicating Pratt & Whitney had sold some 400 geared turbofan engines since the eve of the Paris Air Show in June, when it announced cumulative orders and options for 1200 engines for the A320neo and new market challengers.

The United Technologies unit has now sold 1600 of those engines including options, Hess said on Tuesday.

He expected Pratt & Whitney would grab a market share of more than 50 percent against CFM on the A320neo.

Of the 1300 twin-engined A320neo aircraft sold by Airbus, 500 had yet to see an engine selection, including 100 ordered by AMR unit American Airlines. "We are certainly going after the AMR order," Hess said.

Hess defended the Bombardier CSeries, a challenger to the 737 and A320 that also carries the latest Pratt engines but whose sales have fallen short of expectations.

Delta Air Lines looked at the CSeries before placing a recent order for 100 Boeing 737's, but has decided to defer further airplane orders for 2-3 years, he said.

Hess said aviation demand remained robust despite alarm bells in the rest of the manufacturing sector as the economic recovery falters. U.S. airlines are replacing old fleets to save fuel while emerging markets have produced a surge in new demand.

Hess predicted revenue growth for engine spares would dip in the second half of 2011 but reaffirmed a forecast for "low double-digit" growth in aftermarket revenues for the whole year.

Reuters

Three Plane Crashes Within Nearly One Week in Alaska's Skies. With a combination of crashes and mid-air collisions piling up, there has been some alarm over what's happening in Alaska’s skies.



Watch Video:

http://www.ktva.com

Story Created: Sep 5, 2011 AKDT
Story Updated: Sep 6, 2011 at 10:58 AM AKDT
By Corey Allen-Young

The list of small plane crashes in Alaska in the past month continues to grow.

Monday afternoon, a Cessna 170 crashed and flipped on its nose off a Lake Hood runway. The pilot, Joseph Gugel, walked away uninjured.

While National Transportation Safety Board officials are investigating the cause, they have their plates full with other investigations that are going on around the state.

With a combination of crashes and mid-air collisions piling up, there has been some alarm over what's happening in Alaska’s skies.

It’s concern that the NTSB says all depends on the situation.

“I had a chance to talk to the pilot. He was uninjured, but there was substantial damage to the airplane,” said Clint Johnson, an investigator with the NTSB who talked about Monday’s Lake Hood crash.

“On rollout indicated that he had a problem or a mechanical failure with the left brake—he was unable to maintain directional control.”

Crashes like the one near the village of Nightmute where two Cessnas, one piloted by Scott Veal and the other by Kirsten Sprague hit each other in the air.

“While they were maneuvering around each other, she lost site of the Cessna 208, the next thing she knew is the vertical stabilizer of the Cessna 208 struck her right wing,” said Johnson. “The Cessna 208 basically spun out of control and crashed pretty much right after the impact.”

Veal was killed; Sprague walked away.

“In the 14 years I have been here, this is probably my fourth or fifth midair, so no they are not common, but they are not uncommon either by any stretch of the imagination,” said Johnson.

“You have to understand that each one of these mid-airs are different situations. They have different circumstances.”

With crashes near Nightmute, McGrath, and in Lake Hood all in the past week, the investigations into the causes are still in the preliminary stages. 

Watch Video:
http://www.ktva.com

Pilot pay not based on fuel use, airline experts say. (China)

2011-09-07 08:14

LOCAL experts and airline officials yesterday refuted an accusation that many private carriers link fuel consumption to pilot pay, an allegation that came in the wake of a Juneyao Airlines pilot refusing to give way to a Qatar Airways plane running out of fuel last month.

The South Korean pilot refused to give way to the Qatari flight from Doha as both planes waited to land at Shanghai's Hongqiao Inter-national Airport on August 13.

China's civil aviation regulator revoked the license of the pilot.

"The Juneyao pilot had to hover over the airport and consume more fuel if agreed to give way, but the fuel consumption will influence the pilot's payment," Ke Yubao, deputy secretary general of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of China, told the China Economic Weekly yesterday.

The airlines also evaluate pilots by the on-schedule rate, which could also be a concern to the Juneyao pilot at that time, the weekly quoted an insider who declined to be named.

But local experts and officials said the speculations were "groundless."

"Pilots can decide neither the fuel consumption nor the on-schedule rate, because the flying route and time are precisely decided beforehand," Zhou Jisheng, a civil aviation researcher and former deputy designer of China's first domestically developed jet, the ARJ-21, told Shanghai Daily.

Even if the pilots had to wait before landing, the planes' hovering route and time were also decided by the air regulators, so it was impossible for airlines to link the fuel with pilots' salaries, Zhou said.

Apart from adequate fuel for the voyage, each aircraft must prepare additional fuel for at least 45 minutes as reserve, according to rules, but in most circumstances airliners prepare more, he said.

Zhang Wuan, spokesman of the Shanghai-based Spring Airlines, also said it was impossible for the pilot to refuse to give way only for saving fuel.

Juneyao Airlines apologized after the punishment from China's civil aviation regulator, but declined to comment on the accusation.

The lack of more than two airports in Shanghai could be blamed more for the incident, said Fu Shan, an aeronautics professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

The city has two major airports - the Pudong International Airport and the Hongqiao International Airport.

Source:Shanghai Daily

http://english.eastday.com

Central Illinois Regional Airport: Former Tailwind manager accused of stealing $10K

BLOOMINGTON -- The former manager of Tailwind Properties was jailed in lieu of posting $10,000 Tuesday on charges accusing him of stealing more than $10,000 from the restaurant.

Kevin Scott, 52, of Normal was arrested in Chesapeake, Va., and extradited back to McLean County on charges of theft over $10,000, theft over $500 and theft, a subsequent offense.

According to a prosecutor's statement, a large amount of cash was reported missing July 18 from the restaurant at the Central Illinois Regional Airport. Tailwind staff discovered that money missing from a cash drawer and a safe, said police reports.

An investigation by the McLean County Sheriff's Department turned up evidence that Scott was at Tailwind with a backpack and left the day money was missing, said First Assistant State's Attorney Jane Foster. Sheriff's investigators were told the suspect possessed a large amount of cash when he was arrested, said Foster.

NTSB: Pilot left line of view of other plane. Cessna 208B, N207DR. Nightmute, Alaska.


By RACHEL D'ORO - Associated Press
Published: 09/06/11

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 24-year-old pilot who died in a midair collision had pulled up alongside another plane piloted by his girlfriend, then flew over the small aircraft and disappeared from her line of view, a federal investigator said Tuesday.

Kristen Sprague radioed Scott Veal that she couldn't see him and he responded by saying something like, "Whatever you do, don't pitch up," said National Transportation Safety Board investigator Clint Johnson. Within moments, Veal's Cessna 208 Caravan struck the right wing of the Cessna 207 flown by Sprague.

The collision Friday severed the vertical stabilizer and rudder on the Caravan's tail, sending Veal's plane into a nose-dive into the tundra near a western Alaska village, Johnson said.

Veal died in the fiery wreckage nine miles north of Nightmute. Johnson said his remains have been recovered.

Sprague, 26, was not injured and landed her plane about a mile away despite its seriously damaged wing. No passengers were onboard either plane.

Johnson said it was too early to determine the probable cause of the collision, which occurred 800 feet from the ground. Weather was not a factor; visibility was about 1,500 feet at the time of the crash.

It was the veteran investigator's first case involving planes flying together in such close proximity. Johnson declined to "speculate about blame."

The crash is the state's third midair collision since July. The NTSB has said the two earlier crashes involved aircraft that were difficult to spot amid mountainous terrains.

In last week's collision, Sprague and Veal were traveling together to the regional hub town of Bethel and were communicating on a predetermined radio frequency.

Sprague, who is originally from Idaho, was flying from the Bering Sea village of Tununak for rural freight carrier Ryan Air. Veal, of Kenai, was flying from nearby Toksook Bay in a plane operated by Grant Aviation, an air taxi and cargo carrier. The collision occurred less than 10 minutes into the flights.

The other midair collisions occurred in July. Corey Carlson, his wife, Hetty, and their two young daughters, all from Anchorage, were killed when their single-engine Cessna 180 floatplane crashed and burned after hitting another floatplane north of that city. The other plane was able to return to Anchorage with its pilot uninjured.

On July 10, nine people aboard a Piper Navajo and four people in a Cessna 206 were uninjured when the planes collided as they flew directly toward each other in Lake Clark Pass - a narrow river valley that runs between Anchorage mountains. Both aircraft were able to land safely.

Those two crashes about 200 miles apart prompted plans to hold at least two safety meetings with pilots on ways to see and be seen by other aircraft, said NTSB investigator Larry Lewis. He said the meetings have not been scheduled.

One of the topics to be discussed the possibility of charting some of the state's busier mountain passes below uncontrolled airspace. The charts could include details such as altitudes, possible radio frequencies, directions of travel and landmarks to improve communications between pilots.

Despite the high-profile midair collisions, fatal crashes in the airplane-reliant state are no higher than normal, according to statistics provided to The Associated Press.

So far in the fiscal year that began last October, there have been eight fatal crashes in Alaska, compared with the FAA's five-year average of nearly 10 fatal crashes. There have been 18 fatalities, compared with a five-year average of almost 21.

RAW VIDEO: Fire-fighting aircraft getting water at Lake Travis for Texas fires

by irkas1000 on Sep 5, 2011
Planes getting water at Lake Travis for Bastrop fires.


Dash 8 new aircraft for Solomon Airlines put on hold

Posted at 23:26 on 06 September, 2011 UTC

The plans by Solomon Airlines to purchase a new Dash 8 aircraft has been put on hold with the Finance Minister not allowing the funds to be released.

Solomon Airlines had applied for a loan from the National Provident Fund which was given the green light by the Prime Minister in a formal letter.

However the Finance Minister has blocked the funds from being released to the airlines.

The Dash 8 would have seen Solomon Airlines operate its own aircraft without having to lease it.

http://www.rnzi.com

Ryanair flight hit by lightning

The Irish Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Ryanair flight was forced to return to Dublin airport shortly after take-off yesterday after the aircraft was struck by lightning.

Ryanair flight FR554 from Dublin to Manchester had just taken off shortly after 4pm when the crew contacted air traffic controllers to advise them the aircraft had been hit by lightning. The flight landed safely about 30 minutes after take-off and did not require any emergency services to be on standby.

Oneonta Municipal Airport to Receive $480,000 in DOT Funding for Runway Improvements

September 6, 2011 Updated Sep 6, 2011 at 7:01 PM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) New York Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced Tuesday that Oneonta Municipal Airport is set to receive $481,063 in U.S. Department of Transportation funds for airport facility upgrades.

Specifically, the grant will allow Oneonta Municipal Airport to enter its second phase of tree removal in the approach of Runway 24. The removal of these obstructions will enhance safety at the airport for passengers and pilots. Schumer and Gillibrand applaud DOT for their work to increase safety at all airports.

"This is great news for the passengers and pilots that fly in and out of Oneonta Municipal Airport every day,” said Schumer. “With this funding, this airport can make runway renovations that will ensure passenger safety and the smooth operation of the facility. I will continue to fight for funds like these that promote safety at all New York airports.”

“This is an important investment for Oneonta Municipal Airport,” Senator Gillibrand said. “These federal dollars will help upgrade the airport’s runway, and provide better, safer service for New Yorkers.”

The funding for Oneonta Municipal Airport is part of the Airport Improvement Program, administered by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration. The Airport Improvement Program provides grants to public agencies for the planning and development of public-use airports that are included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems.

http://www.wbng.com

Balloon mishap injures two tourists in Summit County, Utah


Updated: 4:29 pm | Published: 3:13 pm

PARK CITY, Utah (ABC 4 News) - A couple of tourists who were hurt in a hot air balloon accident were recovering from their injuries after an accident that happened Tuesday morning in Summit County just off of Highway 40 and Exit 4.

Summit County deputies say the balloon performed a controlled landing in an open gravel and dirt area around 9:00 a.m. Tuesday on the West side of the highway. As the pilot got out of the basket a gust of wind lifted the balloon and the basket with the tourists still inside.

The balloon belonged to Morninstar Balloons, a company that offers rides to paying customers.

An employee of Park City Balloon Adventures who was nearby the incident and offered assistance during the incident said that there may have been a language barrier between the pilot and the passengers, who are from Brazil.

He told ABC 4 News the tourists may not have understood the pilot's commands and instead they jumped out of the basket. One jumped at about five feet in the air, the other about ten feet above the ground.

Sgt. Ron Bridge with the Summit County Sheriffs Office says the Brazilian tourists landed in the worst possible spot - a pile of rocks and broken cement.

Meanwhile, Bridge said the balloon and basket kept on going east. It floated off on a low and short flight and came to rest on the other side of the highway about 250 yards away.

The names of the victims were not immediately released. Bridge says the man suffered a broken leg and the woman suffered a back injury, but added that the injuries were not life threatening.

Sgt. Bridge says the balloon company involved does not have a record of problems.

The FAA is was at the scene investigating the incident. While the investigator did not have a time frame, he did say it shouldn't take very long.

The owner of Morningstar Balloons told ABC 4 News that the tourists may have contributed to the crash by exiting the basket when they were told not to.

http://www.abc4.com

Airline Employee Claims He Was Fired for Complaining About Pilot Steering With Knees

By Kate Bradshaw Tue., Sep. 6 2011 at 2:55 PM

​In 2006, Captain Patrick Hart was deadheading (flying in uniform, but not at the helm) on a Gulfstream International Airlines flight from Orlando to Miami when things got a little bumpy.

He said from where he sat in the back of the 19-seater he could see the small plane's wingtips bouncing erratically against the horizon.

When he walked into the cockpit, he said, he saw the pilot had an unorthodox, possibly hazardous, way of manning the controls.

"He would tap the controls with his knee," he said, or the back of his hand - something you don't do if you're not on auto pilot.

Hart said other crew members knew about the pilot's habit, though many were too scared to say anything to management. He said smaller airlines employ aspiring pilots, who pay upwards of $40,000 to get 250 flight hours under their belt. He said inexperienced pilots are afraid of jeopardizing their careers by complaining."They won't do a damn thing to lose their $40,000 investment," he said.

Hart said when he complained to management, he lost his job. He filed suit in 2007 under Florida's Whistleblower Act.

"I step up to the plate and I get my head chopped off," he said as he and Captain Kenny Edwards, a plaintiff in another whistleblower suit against the company, waited for the jury to deliver a verdict Tuesday afternoon.

Gulfstream International Airlines did not return several calls requesting comment. The airline filed for bankruptcy in 2010. In May, Chicago-based asset management firm Victory Park Capital bought the Fort Lauderdale-based carrier. The airline flies to several Bahamas destinations and shuttles some state lawmakers to and from Tallahassee during session.

The jury was still in deliberations this afternoon. A verdict is expected Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com

Filton airfield plans condemned by Bristol City Council. (UK)

6 September 2011 Last updated at 17:01 ET

Plans to build 3,500 houses at the site of Bristol's Filton airfield have been condemned by the city council.

In April BAE Systems said it would close the site at the end of 2012 following a review of its commercial and economic viability.

South Gloucestershire Council has said the site is suitable for development as part of its long-term core strategy.

The leader of Bristol City Council, Barbara Janke, said she wanted to see "a proper strategic approach".

She has called on South Gloucestershire Council to work with the city council to create jobs rather than homes.

"We believe it should be about a proper strategic approach to this area of the city which has been so important to the city's history," she said.

Labour councillor Bill Bowrey of South Gloucestershire Council, said he wanted to keep the runway open.

"There's always a use for an operational airfield of that standard. I believe all the options have not been looked at yet," he said.

"This is the wrong decision both economically and environmentally."

The move has also been criticised by Sir George White, whose grandfather founded the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

"[BAE Systems] inherited it, they didn't buy it, they didn't earn it," he said.

"For them to sell it off now and risk future jobs seems to me to be incredibly undesirable.

"It seems to be the biggest asset strip that this district has seen in many, many years. It's an absolute tragedy for the future."

The plans were being discussed at a Bristol City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.

http://www.bbc.co.uk

Dazed, confused: hang-glider crashes into golf course. Victoria, Australia.

From: AAP
September 07, 2011 7:32AM

A HANG glider pilot who crash landed on a golf course in Victoria doesn't know how he ended up on a green.

The confused 50-year-old man was found wandering around the golf course at Mornington by the last group of the day yesterday.

Paramedic Jade Condie said when crews arrived around 5.30pm (AEST) the hang glider pilot was unable to remember details like his date of birth.

"The amnesia also meant that he was unable to tell us how fast he was going or how high he was off the ground when he got into trouble," she said.

The man sustained a head injury, a deep cut to his upper lip and a suspected broken right wrist.

His memory improved on the way to Melbourne's The Alfred hospital but the time and cause of the crash is still being investigated.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au

Cessna T210M Turbo Centurion, Ronney M. Bowker (rgd. owner), N761NZ: Accident occurred September 05, 2011 in Saratoga, Wyoming

http://registry.faa.gov/N761NZ

http://flightaware.com/live/flight/N761NZ

NTSB Identification: WPR11LA434
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, September 05, 2011 in Saratoga, WY
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/31/2013
Aircraft: CESSNA T210M, registration: N761NZ
Injuries: 4 Serious.


NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot reported that following an aborted approach and subsequent attempted go-around, the engine lost power as the airplane approached the departure end of the runway. The pilot initiated a forced landing to an open area, and during the landing roll, the airplane struck a fence and embankment. A postaccident examination of the airframe and fuel injected engine revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
A loss of engine power during an attempted go-around for reasons that could not be determined because postaccident examination did not reveal any anomalies that would have precluded normal operation.


On September 5, 2011, about 1420 mountain daylight time, a Cessna T210M, N761NZ, sustained substantial damage when it impacted terrain following a loss of engine power during an aborted landing at the Shively Field Airport (SAA), Saratoga, Wyoming. The airplane was registered to and operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The private pilot and his three passengers sustained serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the personal flight. The cross-country flight originated from Wichita, Kansas, approximately 1145 central daylight time, with an intended destination of SAA.

The pilot reported that as he approached runway 23, the wind began to blow the airplane left of the runway centerline. The pilot said that he decided to abort the landing and initiate a go-around due to the wind. As the airplane approached the departure end of the runway, the engine suffered a complete loss of power. The pilot initiated a forced landing straight ahead of his position to an open area on the airport property. During the landing roll, the airplane struck an airport parameter fence and impacted a road embankment. Subsequently, the airplane nosed over.

Examination of the airplane by local law enforcement revealed that the airplane came to rest inverted about 800 feet beyond runway 23. The left wing and fuselage exhibited structural damage. The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination. Recovery personnel reported that during recovery of the wreckage, in excess of 10 gallons of fuel was removed from each wing fuel tank.

TESTS AND RESEARCH

Examination of the recovered airframe revealed that the empennage and both wings were removed by the wreckage recovery personnel to facilitate transport and storage. Flight control cable continuity was established from the cockpit controls throughout to all primary flight control surfaces. All separations noted within the flight control cables were either cut or disconnected by wreckage recovery personnel. The flap actuator and flap position was found at a 30-degree flap setting, or fully extended. The flap handle and flap indicator were observed at the 10-degree position. The cockpit trim actuator was measured and found to be in a position consistent with the elevator trim in the tab up, 15 degree position. The elevator trim indicator was destroyed by impact damage.

The airframe fuel strainer was removed and found to be free of debris. A small amount of liquid, consistent with 100 low lead fuel was observed. The liquid was tested using water finding paste with negative results. Continuity was established throughout the airframe fuel system. Impact damage was noted to various portions of the fuel line between the fuel selector valve and gascolator. Both the left and right wing fuel vents were free of obstructions.

Examination of the recovered fuel injected engine, a Continental Motors TSIO-520-R, serial number 512558, revealed that it remained partially attached to the airframe via its mounts. The top spark plugs, fuel pump, and rocker box covers were removed. All cylinders were inspected using a lighted borescope. The internal combustion chambers, intake and exhaust valve faces, and piston heads were unremarkable.

The engine crankshaft was rotated by hand using the propeller. Rotational continuity was established throughout the engine and valve train. Thumb compression was obtained on six cylinders and both magnetos produced spark on all ignition leads.

No evidence of preimpact mechanical malfunction was noted during the examination of the recovered airframe and engine.



EUGENE, Ore. - Duck fans flying home from Dallas crash landed in Wyoming on Monday, seriously injuring all four people on board.

Pilot Ron Bowker of Eugene aborted one landing at Shively Field in Saratoga, Wyo., due to high winds, according to Carbon County Sheriff Jerry Colson.

When Bowker made a second attempt, his Cessna turboprop's engine quit. The plane went off the runway, crashed through a fence and across a road before overturning, the sheriff said.

Bowker's passengers were Laraine Bowker and Jerry and Mary Thenell. The quartet were on their way home from Dallas, where the Oregon Ducks played in the Cowboy Classic football game.

Sheriff Colson said all four people on board were injured and are now at Medical Center of the Rockies. He told KVAL News that two of the injured are in critical condition, but a Bowker family member said none of the injuries is life-threatening.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Avation Administration officials were at the crash site Tuesday to investigate the cause of the crash.
EUGENE, Ore. - A small plane registered to a Eugene man crashed Monday as it was coming in for a landing in Wyoming.

A preliminary FAA accident report indicates all four people on board were injured, but a family member of the pilot tells KVAL none of the injuries are life threatening.

An official at the airport told KVAL News some of the passengers had to be taken to the hospital after the plane crashed through a fence and overturned monday.
http://www.kval.com

Aviation Expert Believes Grooved Runways Would Help Reduce Skidding

Gord McDougall with Kristi Soble
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A civil aviation expert is backing up claims that the threat of planes skidding off the runway could be significantly reduced if airport runways were grooved.

Most runways in Canada are not grooved, including the runways at the Ottawa Airport.

Retired Captain Vince Charron says grooved runways are excellent because they provide precipitation runoff and, he says, it gives experienced pilots a feel for what the plane is actually doing.

Captain Charron also agrees with reports that the skid of this plane in question would have been easier to avoid if it had been equipped with thrust-reverse engines.

http://www.cfra.com

New Islamabad airport to be in operation by 2014

The New Islamabad International Airport, located in Fateh Jang Tehsil of Attock District some 30 km southwest of the Federal Capital, is expected to be completed and operational by 2014. a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said on Tuesday that a Chinese company and Frontier Works Organisation (WFO) were working round the clock to complete construction of passengers terminals buildings before the deadline.

Talking to APP, he said the new airport will replace the existing one, Benazir Bhutto International Airport located in Chaklala.

At present, the Benazir Bhutto International Airport is handling 18 airlines, adding, most of the international commercial flights are operated at morning time which cause rush and delays.

He, however, expressed confidence that the new airport spread over 3,600-acre would not only serve the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi but also the adjoining provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. With an estimated cost of about $400 million, the new airport facility, which is the first green-field airport in Pakistan, would comprise a contemporary state-of-the-art passenger terminal building, control tower, runway with a provision of a secondary runway, taxiways, apron, cargo complex, and hangar together with all the necessary infrastructure and ancillary facilities.

The new airport would cater to the requirements of latest generation of modern passenger aircraft.

He said the new airport will have a modular design to handle 6.5 million passengers per annum and 80,000 metric tonnes cargo per annum.

Being a new airport, a significant portion of the land has been earmarked for commercial purposes such as duty-free shops, hotel and convention centre, air malls, business centre, food courts, leisure and recreational facilities.

The new airport is envisaged to be a modern landmark structure symbolic to represent twenty-first century Pakistan, as it will be the diplomatic and business gateway to Pakistan through the Capital City of Islamabad.

Responding to a question regarding security mess at Benazir Bhutto

International Airport, he said, all the international passengers are required to report at the airport before four hours of their flights while the domestic passengers are advised to reach before two hours to avoid rush and delays.

He, however, pointed out that most of the passengers do not follow these guidelines and instruction issued by the airlines and come at the eleventh hours and as a result they are unable to clear the Anti Narcotics Forces, Customs, Immigration Departments checking.

The Spokesman said a lot of friends and relative accompany the passengers to see them off at the airport which also cause an unnecessary rush.

He said a tax of Rs.20 per person was imposed for the entry of friends and relatives of passengers to avoid disorder and mess within airport premises but this arrangement has not worked to completely resolve the issue.

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk

Why Buy a Jet When You Can Share It?

By Rick Aristotle Munarriz 
Posted 4:00PM 09/06/11

At least one iconic billionaire investor is on board with the sharing of big-ticket assets. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway owns NetJets. The pioneer in fractional jet ownership allows well-to-do travelers to buy time to use a private jet without breaking the bank by actually buying a Cessna or Gulfstream.

See full article from DailyFinance:  http://www.dailyfinance.com

Air India: Ailing ‘Maharaja’ needs credible turnaround plan.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011
By A K B Krishnan

Air India continues to survive on government handout. The ailing carrier is all set to receive an equity infusion of Rs66,000mn - a move that will wipe out its entire outstanding dues to vendors and oil companies. This would be in addition to Rs12,000mn promised by the government for the fiscal year 2011-12. It is part of a three-pronged approach the government is adopting to revive the airline that reports a daily revenue of Rs360mn as against an expenditure of Rs570mn and is groaning under a cumulative loss of Rs221,650mn and a total debt of Rs400,000mn.

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi had last month spoken of a revamp in Air India management to give the airline’s restructuring plan a push. A thorough revamp of its senior management is already on. The government has put Rohit Nandan, a joint secretary in the Civil Aviation Ministry, as the new chairman-cum-managing director (CMD) of the airline, replacing Arvind Jadhav, who has been facing criticism for his “autocratic” style of functioning.

Three new directors would be inducted into the Air India board soon for personnel, marketing and finance departments and all decisions concerning the ailing carrier will be implemented under strict supervision of many mid-to-senior ranking bureaucrats of the generalist IAS posted in the Civil Aviation Ministry.

The government move marks the airline’s return to the old system of complete government control and bureaucratisation. But can these cosmetic changes like replacing the chairman and yet another debt restructuring package help revive the ailing Maharaja? Several such bailouts and rescue attempts made in the past failed miserably, plunging the airline into a deeper financial mess. A bailout should be a one-time affair, but sinking in tax payers’ money every few months in an airline which shows no signs of a turnaround may not be fair to the taxpayers.

The national carrier has been very ill for a long time now. It has now reached a stage when it could pay neither its employees nor its fuel suppliers. Its problems are too deep-rooted.

The Indian air transport industry was nationalised in August 1953 to provide safe, regular and economic air travel to the people. As many as eight warring airlines, with different work culture, horrendous safety records, disastrous financial conditions and inefficient management were merged. Thus came into existence the Indian Airlines Corporation and Air India Limited to operate domestic and international long-haul services respectively.

The nationalisation was expected to stimulate industrial growth, promote economic activities, rush assistance in time of natural calamity, foster national integration and, above all, serve as second line of defence in the event of war with other countries.

The nationalised airlines fulfilled most of the expectations of the nation.
But over a decade ago, a group of politicians, bureaucrats and corporate houses joined hands to scrap the Air Corporation Act of 1953, allow the private airlines to come into being, favour them to grow, gifting them the profit-making routes at the cost of the national airline, passing on the highly profitable airports to private operators, thereby completing their mission of handing over the entire civil aviation industry to the chosen few private hands.

With the ‘Open Sky’ policy coming into operation, the private aviation sectors started setting their fare chart although the idea behind opening the aviation industry to the private sector was to bring in competition that would help reduce fares. With no infrastructure worth the name, they began charging even more than the fare of national airlines.

The smart ‘private birds’, including foreign airlines, soon began touching new heights at the cost of Indian Airlines and Air India, thanks to the development of a close-knit nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and private airlines owners. This nexus has now turned into a well-oiled aviation mafia.

The immediate cause of the trouble in the national airline can be traced to the senseless merger of Indian Airlines and Air India in a tearing hurry. The very purpose of that merger has been reportedly to create problem in the flagship carrier, disgrace it and project a negative image of the company.

The recent pilots’ strike was said to be part of that carefully orchestrated plan to make a mess in the airline and create the ground eventually for handing it over to the private sector on a platter. The mafia plan appears to be succeeding, if the persisting crisis in the national airline is any indication.

Successive governments have struggled to find ways to take Air India out of the red. But all efforts have been in vain. In 2001, the government had briefly even contemplated taking the radical step of selling the airline. Speculations about privatisation plans have been rife ever since.

But the present UPA government has ruled out the possibility and promised administrative and monetary steps to turn it around. No one wants to be the ruling dispensation under whose watch Air India gets privatised.

As the government resorts to the drearily familiar exercise, it should not fool itself that some tinkering will be enough to fix what it messed up. It will have to take much larger steps than it appears comfortable doing.

Air India’s sorry plight is a telling commentary on how a combination of political interference and mismanagement can run the best of public sector companies to ruin. It now presents a microcosm of poor governance that typifies the government-run service sector.

The airline needs considerable capitalisation and re-organisation, fresh talent and a highly motivated team along with a credible turnaround plan. More than that, the government needs to be prompt to the needs and requirements of the airline and to minimise interference if it is serious about restoring the airline to its earlier days of glory.

The dons of the aviation mafia may want the ‘Maharaja’ to die as early as possible. To make ‘him’ survive in the interest of public sector civil aviation industry, hard decisions will have to be taken. Demerging Air India and Indian Airlines and restoring their mandate to fly in their erstwhile well-defined air space can be one. Rationalisation of loss-making routes, rescheduling of aircraft purchases, return of leased aircraft that are underutilised, rationalisation of human resources at various levels, and a possible reduction in contractual employment are other possible steps.

This will naturally call for across-the-board consultation and consensus building. The realisation must dawn on all stake-holders that this looks very much like the last chance to keep the Maharaja in the skies.

Saudi Arabia's civil aviation authority blames airline for mistreatment of Egyptian pilgrims

Egyptian pilgrims last week complained of mistreatment at the Jedda airport, which Saudi Arabia’s aviation authority blamed on the pilgrims. After outraged protests, the authority changes it's tune

Ahram Online Zeinab El Gundy, Tuesday 6 Sep 2011

The General Authority of Civil Aviation in Saudi Arabia points the finger at Saudi Airlines for the negligence of Egyptian and Bengali pilgrims at the Jeddah airport.

In a statement published in the daily Saudi Al Riyadh newspaper, the Saudi General Authority blamed the Saudi airlines for the delays, which built-up the crowds at the Jeddah airport at the end of the Ramadan umrah (pilgrimage).

The General Authority's statement comes in direct contrast to an interview with Al Hayat TV last week, where they blamed the Egyptian pilgrims themselves, accusing them of creating the jam at the airport with heavy luggage and behaviour.

Last Sunday a group of Egyptians protested in Giza, Cairo in front of the Saudi embassy demanding an official apology as well as the release of Hamed Ali , the Egyptian engineer who was detained at the Jeddah airport and allegedly transferred to the Saudi ministry of interior. He has not returned and Saudi authorities have not released any further information or official statement on him.

The mistreatment of the umrah pilgrims sparked anger amongst Egyptians, where many political and society figures have demanded an official apology from the airlines and airport authorities.

http://english.ahram.org.eg

Tourism Union calls for boycott of Saudi Airlines following pilgrim crisis

The Egyptian Tourism Union called for boycotting Saudi Arabian Airlines until the latter issues an official apology for mistreating Egyptian Umra pilgrims at Jeddah International Airport.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian Chamber of Tourism is preparing its report of the incident after it denounced statements by a number of Saudi officials who held the Umra pilgrims responsible for the incident.

Tourism workers also launched a Facebook page calling for an official boycott of the airline until it officially apologized to each of the affected Egyptian pilgrims and legally compensated them.

They also called for an official complaint to be sent to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) against the airlines for its failure to provide the pilgrims with proper accommodation or compensation during the period of delay.

Tourism Chamber Head Basel al-Sisi warned that a similar crisis could occur during the Hajj season. Last year during the Hajj, Egyptian pilgrims were detained for six hours before they were allowed into Saudi Arabia. The Hajj is a ritual pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken by millions of Muslims each year.

Sisi said he rejected the idea of boycotts prior to negotiations. He explained that the pilgrims’ airline tickets were considered a written contract between the company and the passengers by which they are entitled to compensation.

Translated from the Arabic Edition

http://www.almasryalyoum.com

Eljet Aviation Services Offers Private Flights to Honolulu . What’s It Worth? $$$$ $85,000 round-trip.

By Shara Enay

There’s a way to avoid long airport lines and manhandling by TSA security agents, but it’ll cost you.

What: Charter a private jet to fly you and your friends from Honolulu to Los Angeles, and you won’t have to arrive at the airport two hours early. “The plane will not leave without you,” says Roberta Latham, sales manager for Los Angeles-based Eljet Aviation Services. The Gulfstream V heavy jet is among the most luxurious business jets and can comfortably seat up to 16 passengers, Latham says.

Perks: Travelers get their own flight attendant and two pilots, and can enjoy complimentary in-flight snacks and beverages. Meals can be arranged for an extra charge. “If a client wants, the flight attendant could actually go into the galley and cook their meal, that’s how equipped these jets are,” Latham says. Chartering a private jet won’t shave off flight time, she adds, “but it’s not about that, it’s about the experience.”

Who: ElJet’s most popular route is between L.A. and New York, but it gets one or two private charters a month from Honolulu to the Mainland. “Our customers are the very, very wealthy, celebrities, CEOs and business executives,” she says. “They’re people who want the best and can afford it.”

www.ellejet.com
888-355-3538

http://www.hawaiibusiness.com

Director General of Civil Aviation destroys safety records before 2010, raises eyebrows


MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the agency tasked with regulating air travel across the country, has destroyed most records relating to mishaps before 2010, raising fears that safety issues in the accident-prone sector are being taken lightly.

At least three senior officials of the DGCA told ET that accounts of what they call "minor incidents" such as recall of an aircraft in mid-flight, or the sudden opening of a door in mid-air, have been destroyed as the agency does not consider them important.

Incidents that happen on ground like wings of two aircraft brushing against each other are often ignored and no records are maintained, they added.

DGCA officials said this has been the policy since 2007 and only records of serious accidents are kept for three to four years.

Minor incidents, they insist, have no shelf life. But the disclosure, coming on the heels of a spate of alarming incidents over Indian skies in recent weeks, has shocked many safety and aviation experts who have slammed the DGCA for their casual approach.

"If they are destroying these records, it is a very serious. Safety records must be kept for any number of years as any incident is a source of learning. It is a poor decision and whoever has initiated such exercise must be held accountable and a lower-rung officer cannot decide on these matters," said Mohan Ranganathan, a well-known air safety and aviation expert in Chennai.

Across the world, aviation regulators tend to maintain records of all safety-related issues for a much longer period, say 10-15 years.

Such records could be important as they provide valuable data for future reference apart from revealing the inefficiencies and lapses of a system working under tremendous stress.

DG DENIES NEGATIVE APPROACH

For instance, in India in 2007, DGCA technicians observed that the A320 aircraft was malfunctioning repeatedly. A detailed analysis of a few incidents revealed a lacuna in the hydraulic system and Airbus fixed the problem after it was brought to its notice.

Experts say planning for safety cannot happen without access to past incidents, however minor they may have been. "There is no scope for dismissing any incident, however minor it is in aviation," said a former director general.

Bharat Bhushan, the director-general of civil aviation, denied any negative approach towards safety. "Nothing is being destroyed. We are moving towards automation and paperless office at the DGCA, under this a lot of initiatives are being taken," he told ET on Sunday over phone.

Bir Singh Rai, the deputy director-general, directorate of air safety, declined comment, saying the director, civil aviation, should respond to these issues. But in a damning incident a couple of months ago, Rai let the cat out of the bag when he told a journalist from the website of a Malaysian newspaper, The Star, that government safety records "prior to the year 2010 have been destroyed".

Rai was responding to an RTI request by Rick Westhead, the Star journalist, on the number of safety mishaps in the aviation sector. Westhead wrote in an article on the Star website that Rai had made the declaration in a letter to him.

Though Rai later clarified that only paper records had been destroyed and that electronic records were still being maintained, the damage had been done. Rai rubbished the report. "What the foreign journalist is saying is not correct, whatever he said and quoted me on is also not correct. It must be a misconception," he told ET.

Growth in India's aviation sector has surged in recent years, but safety measures have lagged behind. There have been two serious incidents in the past 15 days and seven emergency landings, of which six involved national carrier Air India.

There have been at least two instances of planes skidding off runways due to wet surfaces.Bhushan said he does not overlook the incidents, but these issues emerge when there is exponential growth. "That is no argument. Only people on the defensive would give that kind of an argument," he said.

Some experts point out that there could be other reasons for the destruction. The country's regulator had lobbied hard in 2009 to avoid a Federal Aviation Administration downgrade of India from a Category I to Category II nation (rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ghana and Afghanistan) as the sector was found wanting according to the safety guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

A detailed record of every mishap (at least 1,000 of them occur across the country every year, one official said) would show India in bad light and make a downgrade a distinct possibility. FAA is the US regulator and its downgrade would have hurt Air India and Jet Airways by making it difficult for them to operate and expand in that country.

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com

Solution sought to ‘German problem’ of EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space)

September 6, 2011 8:26 pm
By Gerrit Wiesmann in Berlin, Chris Bryant in Frankfurt and James Boxell in Paris
Financial TImes

The German government’s relationship with European aerospace group and Airbus parent EADS at times seems comically vexed. This spring it took delivery of a second-hand A340 as an official aircraft, only to have its proud ownership marred by a burst tire and other teething problems.

Such troubles pale beside the frustrations of Berlin’s so far fruitless hunt for a German investor willing to take over a 7.5 per cent stake in EADS from Daimler. The carmaker controls 22.5 per cent as the counterweight to a similarly sized stake held by the French government and media group Lagardère – a bulwark against French statism and a guarantee that jobs will not wander from Germany to France.

One way to preserve the prized “Franco-German balance” will be for Paris, which owns 15 per cent, or Lagardère, which owns 7.5 per cent, to match Daimler’s move. But German and EADS officials say neither want to sell now for fear of injuring national pride, or stirring unions – especially with a French presidential election next spring. “We have been told very clearly this is a German problem,” says a German government official.

But the political nature of EADS is discouraging German investors from stepping up. Another government official calls the trawl “hopeless” and adds that Berlin is preparing its “fall-back option” of state-owned bank KfW buying the stake. That would also put KfW first in line next year to buy another 7.5 per cent, owned by a group of banks, although voting rights are still with Daimler.

Part-nationalisation is viewed with distaste by Angela Merkel’s coalition of conservative Christian Democrats and free-market Free Democrats. But as Daimler can simply sell its stake to France instead, Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats see the “KfW-option” as the lesser of two evils.

While some Free Democrats concede that this is the most likely option, they insist that a search for a German private investor continues – for the company’s good as much as the party’s liberal mantra.

EADS officials have long said that state involvement in EADS has held back their efforts to make a big acquisition in the US.

Purported government influence was also a factor in the successful lobbying by US rival Boeing to win a recent multibillion-dollar contract to supply the US with tanker-aircraft.

As the German official says, direct Franco-German government stakes totalling 22.5 per cent – and possibly even 30 per cent before the end of 2012 – will “not make EADS’ marketing job any easier”.

Also, KfW can spend up to €2.5bn ($3.5bn) for 15 per cent of EADS only to be stuck with the stake. “If there are no German buyers now, why should there be any German buyers later?” the official asks.

In answer, Berlin is dusting off plans to create what it calls a “more sustainable” shareholder structure, which will allow Germany and France freely to sell stakes into the open market if they so wish.

Ms Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, four years ago looked at “golden shares” for both governments. All sides could have cut stakes while keeping a say over strategic assets. But the plan failed, so all involved claim, as the Netherlands, where EADS is incorporated, bans golden shares.

The call to turn EADS into a “normal company” has since been taken up by Louis Gallois, its chief executive. This summer he publicly said it was high time to reform EADS’ shareholder structure. The company needs “a solution that is sustainable in the long term”, possibly including a bigger free float.

Mr Gallois and his senior advisers are looking at ways of securing the interest of France, Germany and Spain, which owns 5.5 per cent of EADS, without recourse to golden shares. A company official says alternatives are being explored, though these are “thinkable but complex”.

But the German and EADS officials see no chance that the French government or Lagardère will commit to a scheme before the presidential election – “and beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess”, one says.

Mr Sarkozy backed the golden share initiative, but some German observers believe France’s inclination to retain a strong influence over industrial policy remains as firm as ever.

If a Socialist were to succeed the conservative Mr Sarkozy, the chance of Paris paring its stake would be slimmer still.

Lagardère, on the other hand, is long believed to want to sell its 7.5 per cent stake quite quickly after the election, a move that would allow Daimler to shed its remaining 7.5 per cent, too. But chairman Arnaud Lagardère recently told a French newspaper his company would keep its EADS stake until the success of the new A350 was “totally assured” – a certitude that could take until 2014 to appear.

Berlin’s vexations with EADS look set to last some years yet – even if its A340 is now getting fixed.

http://www.ft.com

Alaska Airlines officers receive awards

Alaska Airlines Capt. Steve Cleary of Federal Way, Wash., and First Officer Michael Hendrix of Seattle were honored with Superior Airmanship Award Aug. 18 by the Air Line Pilots Association International for their handling of a bird strike during takeoff at Sitka last year. 

Cleary and Hendrix were piloting Alaska Airlines Flight 68, a Boeing 737-400 service from Sitka to Seattle Aug. 8, 2010, with a full load of 134 passengers, five crewmembers, and a full cargo hold. As they accelerated down the runway at 100 knots, Cleary saw an eagle directly in the path ahead. Seconds later, at 130 knots (150 miles per hour) the eagle smashed into the left engine, which exploded and burst into flames. 

The aircraft lurched left and Cleary started emergency procedures to abort the takeoff and maintain control of the yawing 737-400. Cleary fought to stop the airplane and Hendrix kept him apprised of the aircraft’s speed and distance to the end of the runway. The heavy airliner stopped at the very end of the 6,500-foot runway.

http://www.alaskajournal.com

Mexican military flies over South Texas. Official says U.S. has cleared flights in war on drug trafficking

By DANE SCHILLER, HOUSTON CHRONICLE
Updated 12:02 a.m., Monday, September 5, 2011

With a Mexican navy helicopter whirring low over a rural community on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, an American military veteran armed with marksmanship skills and a hefty rifle hankered from the ground to shoot it down.

"Don't do it," Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr. recalled warning the man on that Sunday afternoon last year.

The flight is one of as many as 10 in the past 17 months in which South Texans - in broad daylight - have spotted Mexican helicopters hovering overhead. The aircraft was so close to the ground military personnel could be seen inside, Gonzalez said.

While an array of U.S. federal and state agencies declined to comment, a Mexican government official confirmed that Mexican military helicopters have permission to use Texas as a staging ground for missions into Mexico to fight drug traffickers.

"Yes, I can tell you they exist, they are going on," said the official, who has knowledge of the flights. "Certainly, for the last couple of years," he said, noting that the U.S. government also has permission to fly unmanned surveillance planes in Mexico.

Most sightings have been in the vicinity of Falcon Lake, a region where authorities in Mexico are fighting the Zetas cartel.

In some instances, American civilians snapped photos of the flights and shared them with police. In the most recent incident last month, a Mexican military helicopter landed at Laredo's airport.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection offered minimal details, saying the pilot was lost.

'Highly sensitive'

Although apparently rare, permission to allow Mexican government helicopters to fly out of the United States goes back at least until 1987, when Mexican federal police flew in from West Texas to attack the legendary drug boss, Pablo Acosta, a marijuana kingpin.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, who represents part of Harris County and is chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, declined to confirm details about the Mexican military's involvement with the United States.

"It is a highly sensitive, coordinated effort to take out the cartels that has been effective," he said. "Beyond that I don't want to compromise the operations or the safety of our agents."

Not the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration or the Border Patrol would comment when contacted by the Houston Chronicle.

Gonzalez, who testified before a congressional committee in May about border security, said he doesn't know what he can tell the citizens of Zapata County.

The massive Rio Grande reservoir is where an American jet skier was reportedly killed last year while fleeing Zetas cartel gunmen in boats. His body was never found.

"Given the corruption in Mexico, how do I know what these guys are doing, dropping something off, picking some thing up – kidnapping somebody and taking them back to Mexico?" the sheriff asked.

"Citizens have complained," he said. "What do we do, shoot them down? Can you imagine someone saying, 'This is my country, I'm protecting it.' "?

Robert Kline, a retiree who lives part of the year in Zapata, said that in March 2010, the thump of helicopter rotors moving over Falcon Lake from Mexico startled him.

"I am standing on the deck looking at it. 'Holy man, that's not one of ours,' " he recalled.

On the helicopter was Marina, the word the Mexico uses for navy.

Catherine Frazier, deputy press secretary for Gov. Rick Perry, said state law enforcement is not being told in advance of any operations in which Mexico's military has permission to fly over Texas.

"Failure to do so stirs up unnecessary concern among local people, and could result in situations of mistaken identity or friendly fire, putting our peace officers and citizens in harm's way," she said.

Incursion reports

Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy, declined comment.

"The Mexican government does not comment on operational characteristics of its efforts to confront transnational organized crime," he said.

In years past, the U.S. government has labeled some flights as "incursions," or unauthorized border crossings.

The conservative group, Judicial Watch, which specializes in obtaining government documents, has posted reports listing incursions by Mexican government employees, including at least eight helicopters in 2007, apparently the last year in-depth descriptions were available.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said he can't imagine the Mexican military being permitted to fly over U.S. soil.

"There are always excuses that can be made for flying helicopters around …but to have authorized activity of that nature would be explosive," he said, adding it would "make the Fast and Furious program seem like a tempest in a tea pot."

'Very disturbing'

Fast and Furious was an operation in which federal agents let guns slip into Mexico as part of a plan to track them to cartels. But the weapons were lost and some later turned up at the scene where a Border Patrol agent was killed.

U.S. Rep Ted Poe, whose district stretches from Spring to Beaumont, asked for an explanation for at least one flight which occurred over Starr County, not far from Falcon Lake.

"My office contacted Homeland Security and they confirmed that there was an unauthorized flight over Falcon Heights that day, but they said it was impossible to confirm whether or not it was actually a Mexican military helicopter or the drug cartels flying in a helicopter painted to look like a Mexican military helicopter," he said, "The Mexican military denies that they had any military helicopters flying the area that day."

Neither scenario is acceptable, he said.

"It is very disturbing that here are incursions into American air space by any aircraft originating from foreign countries and no one seems to be held accountable."

http://www.chron.com