Thursday, January 12, 2012

That's a flipping good trick! Photographer captures the moment biker and pilot join forces to pull off amazing over-and-under stunt

THIS is the moment that a daredevil duo pulled off a flipping awesome show.

The death-defying stunt saw Petr Pilat, an aerobatic motorbike rider, backflip over a low-flying plane.

Petr, 20, from the Czech Republic, teamed up with Kirby Chambliss, a Red Bull champion pilot from Texas, US, to create the incredible double act.

Timing their approach to the split second, Chambliss flew his Zivko Edge 540 aircraft perilously low between two jump ramps — while Pilat hurled his motocross bike over the top.

Mexico City photographer Mauricio Ramos, 42, was there to capture the show.

He said: "Petr Pilat is a new talented rider and Kirby Chamliss is one of the best aerobatic pilots in the world.

"Together they make this incredibly dangerous stunt look like Sunday practice at the park.

"Petr had to get his timing right and focus on the backflip - Kirby took care of the rest.

"If the airplane flew any higher and been at the same level as the motorcycle the stunt would have been fatal to both.

"This kind of stunt doesn't happen every day and the action was amazing to photograph."

The action unfolded in November in Mexico, and Petr documented the dizzying display in a video.

Petr — who was the youngest person ever to do a backflip on a motorbike aged just 14 — said after the stunt: "I'm so happy I'm still alive.

"It was really awesome and I'm so happy that we did it."

Article, photos and video:

AIRPORT: Audit says contracts not executed, vendors overpaid

Several companies hired by the public agencies redeveloping Norton Air Force Base were either overpaid or didn’t actually have a contract, according to an annual financial audit for the year ending June 30, 2011.

In one case, the airport paid the city of San Bernardino’s fire department a total of $724,117 but didn’t execute a contract for the agency to be on hand while Boeing tested its massive 747-8 freighters and other aircraft at the airport.

In another, the contract for former executive director of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and Inland Valley Development Agency – Don Rogers – was never renewed. It was an oversight, according to the agencies. Rogers was paid $87,738.75 to oversee the airport authority and was overpaid $373 on a $60,000 contract to lead the IVDA, according to the auditor’s report.

“I was appalled when I saw this,” said Highland councilman and airport authority board member Sam Racadio at the agency’s Wednesday afternoon meeting. The agencies are also overseen by elected officials from the city and county of San Bernardino, Colton and Loma Linda to direct the use of property tax revenue and government grants for developing the former base.

A.J. Wilson, the interim executive director of both public agencies since Rogers resigned in late September, said that the chief financial officer is now “directly in the stream” of communication within the agency, among other changes to prevent the same thing from happening again.

It was the first time the San Bernardino-based CPA firm Rogers Anderson Malody & Scott had reported such an error since conducting the annual audits for the agencies since the early 1990s. Kirk Franks, a partner with the firm, said Wilson had asked auditors to match every single payment with a contract. For the first time, the firm also pointed out that the agencies were using antiquated accounting software from 1995 that wasn’t designed for more complex government use.

A San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury report released last year was critical of the agencies’ oversight, including the diminished role of the agencies chief financial officer. The grand jury report also criticized the longtime employment of Rogers Anderson Malody & Scott as the agencies’ auditor.

Rogers, a former partner in the CPA firm who was receiving retirement payments through at least 2007 and rented an office inside the firm’s former headquarters, had led both the authority and IVDA since at least 2002.

“They won’t be the auditor anymore,” Wilson said during a recent interview in his office, describing the appearance of a conflict of interest as “obvious.”

“They understand full well that they shouldn’t be engaged here,” he said.

The firm had conducted the agencies annual audits since both public agencies were started in the early 1990s.

Rogers officially “disassociated” from the CPA firm on Jan. 1, 1997, but continued to receive retirement payments from the firm through at least 2007 worth between $10,000 and $100,000 annually based on a financial disclosure form provided to the state.

He rented office space inside RAMS’ headquarters at 290 North D St. in suite 300 in San Bernardino in Vanir Tower.

In October 2005, Rogers was among a group that proposed developing areas around the Salton Sea with funding from Citigroup. In the proposal submitted to the Salton Sea Authority, the CPA firm’s name was underneath Rogers’ name on a page listing the members of the New River Development Company LLC and listed his 33 years of experience with the firm under his qualifications.

Even if there hadn’t been the perception of a conflict of interest, Wilson said it would behoove the agency to rotate auditors anyway, a recommendation the grand jury suggested.

“It would be irresponsible to not get a fresh set of eyes,” he said.

Researching Lofton: Who is Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation’s Brad Lofton?

By Paul Gable

In the wake of county council’s reconsideration of incentives and reduced rent to AvCraft at Tuesday night’s regular meeting of council, Brad Lofton, chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corporation, told the Myrtle Beach Sun News other companies would be watching the treatment of AvCraft.

According to the Sun News story, Lofton said businesses that consider setting up shop in Horry County will undoubtedly research the area and see how it treats existing industry. In addition, Lofton said other prospects that MBREDC is talking to are monitoring the AvCraft situation and awaiting the outcome.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it seemed appropriate to research Lofton’s past in other locations to determine how he performed.

In October 2004, just after being hired as President and CEO of the Effingham (GA) County Chamber of Commerce and Development Authority, Lofton was listed as one of the best and brightest young Georgians by Business Trend Magazine.

By June 13, 2006, Lofton was gone from the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority. Lofton told the Savannah Morning News that authority lawyer Mickey Kicklighter came to Lofton’s office and told him to resign immediately or be fired.

Lofton also said he had never talked to the board about this move. Kicklighter waited for Lofton to remove his personal items and escorted him off the property.

According to the Morning News article, Lofton’s firing ended a tumultuous year during which the development authority threatened eminent domain before purchasing 2,700 acres of land from International Paper for $40 million of public money; took part in a controversial rezoning in southwest Effingham and went to court to determine whether it could be exempted from county building regulations.

Two weeks after his firing, board members of the IDA took out an ad in the newspaper in which they alleged Lofton promised more than $5.5 million in “gifts” to potential development prospects without board approval.

Lofton responded that he took no action without approval of the board and the gifts referred to an offer of land to a prospect.

According to a 2010 article, the land was still undeveloped and the taxpayers were paying off the $40 million public money secured debt.

Lofton moved to Valdosta Lowndes County Industrial Authority as the agency’s director in August 2006. During his tenure at VLCIA, Lofton got the city and county to add 1 mill of tax dedicated for funding the authority. The county bonded $15 million of that dedicated funding to purchase 577 acres of land that Lofton attempted to use to lure a biomass incinerator plant to Valdosta.

The biomass project encountered serious local opposition, including a charge of economic discrimination since the incinerator would have been located in the immediate vicinity of a black neighborhood. The biomass project failed to come to fruition and according to local residents, the land sits empty while the bonds are being paid off with public tax dollars.

When Lofton was vetted by a local selection committee, nothing came up to Lofton’s detriment, according to one local leader who spoke on conditions of anonymity. The official said they couldn’t recall any mention of the $5.5 million in gifts or the public advertisement placed by the Effingham IDA board.

MBREDC board chairman Doug Wendel was reported to have told selection committee members that the biomass project had also had the support of many environmental groups and Lofton had handled the situation well.

However, Leigh Touchton, four term president of the Valdosta NAACP branch, said Lofton claimed that environmental groups endorsed the biomass plant, but that those groups had written letters to the investment authority board “disabusing Brad’s statements.”

“Brad Lofton only listens to the opinions of industry,” said Touchton. “He does not do due diligence on projects. He is one of the least professional industrial development executives in the business.”

Touchton said the local community is also currently gearing up to fight the construction of a privately funded and operated prison. The prison project was initiated by Lofton, according to Touchton.

“The prison may become Brad Lofton’s legacy to Valdosta,” said Touchton.

Lofton had success in bringing some jobs to both Effingham and Valdosta, but his failures appear to have caused considerable public turmoil and public debt.

When Lofton was introduced to county council, chairman Tom Rice gave glowing reports of Lofton’s past accomplishments. However, council members say no mention of the Effingham firing was made and only passing mention of some opposition to the Valdosta biomass project.

Horry County Council has already dedicated 1 mill of property tax to funding MBREDC. Fortunately to date, no purchases of land have been funded with bonds.

The AvCraft project did not meet the county’s defined minimum standards to qualify for incentive funding. The next planned project announcement, currently identified as AF-2, also does not meet minimum standards and will require council approval.

The first two projects from the “new” EDC are local employers promising to expand if significant financial incentives of one sort or another are provided. That’s probably better than a prison, environmentally damaging biomass plant or $40 million land purchase with nothing to show for it.

Regardless of how the AvCraft decision is finalized, it would be a good idea for county council to pay close attention to the details of proposed economic development projects and to remain the final arbiter on their approval. This is especially true of projects where public funds are used as incentives.


Sikorsky to cut more jobs. Up to 125 layoffs planned as military aircraft orders decline

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Big Flats is laying off between 100 and 125 workers, as the company continues to experience a lull in orders for its military helicopters.

The job cuts involve union and non-union workers at the facility, said United Auto Workers Local 1752 President William Barrett. The UAW represents the manufacturer's hourly workers. Barrett said an official announcement for workers was scheduled for Thursday afternoon at the Big Flats location.

"Our contract requires five days' notice, so the union members affected will be out the door by the end of next week," Barrett said. "Business is a little off at this point and hopefully, in the future, the company will get more work."

The latest round of layoffs are part of a restructuring plan announced late last year when Sikorsky said it was reducing its corporate-wide work force by 3 percent, Sikorsky's Communications Director Paul Jackson said in an e-mail to this newspaper.

The latest job cuts follow the loss in June of about 386 hourly and salaried positions at the Black Hawk helicopter-finishing facility on Kahler Road. At the time, almost 1,200 people worked there, but that number is now closer to 700, Barrett said

"In September and November 2011, Sikorsky announced intentions to reduce its cost structure to remain competitive and continue its vision for growth amid the tightening global business environment and reduced government defense spending," Jackson wrote in the e-mail.

"The reductions announced to employees at the Sikorsky Military Completions Center are part of that previously reported restructuring. The (facility) remains an important part of Sikorsky's military helicopter operations, and the company continues to invest in making it a world-class facility."

While Sikorsky trims its work force, the company's plans for converting the former Wings of Eagles museum building into administrative and engineering offices continue to move ahead. Many of the functions that took place at the former Schweizer Aircraft facility have been shifted to the newly renovated warplane museum, said George Miner, president of Southern Tier Economic Growth.

The cost of the renovation project totals about $12.5 million, which includes work done on the display hangar adjacent to the museum building off Sing Sing Road. Miner also sits on the county's industrial development agency, which has assisted Sikorsky in financing the expansion.

The company's troubles with its helicopter business are all part of a lingering worldwide manufacturing slump, he said.

"We've been fortunate in avoiding the bankruptcies and mortgage issues, but manufacturing is down everywhere and that's what we're seeing here," Miner said. "We'd be in worse shape if it wasn't for the natural gas industry. We have about 1,000 residents who are working in the areas where the drilling is going on."

Clark airport agrees to $600,000 settlement in land case

About three weeks after losing a condemnation case on land taken for a runway expansion, Clark County Regional Airport officials have settled a second, disputed condemnation for more than $600,000.

The settlement with developer Jesse Ballew will require the airport to pay $338,885, including land costs and legal and appraisal fees, in addition to the $239,300 it already has paid Ballew for 18.8 acres near Bean Road, north of the airport.

Ballew also will be able to get tax benefits for contributing an additional $191,339 in the value of the land to the airport.

The agreement “will be better for the community” than going through a protracted lawsuit, Ballew said. He added that he thinks the runway expansion will help the community by making the airport usable by larger airplanes.

Jack Vissing, the airport’s lawyer, said the agreed judgment was filed in Clark Circuit Court on Jan. 6.

The deal resolved a dispute between the airport and Ballew on the value of the land, which is near the developer’s Sellersburg Industrial Park. The airport has taken the property and other land nearby so it can move Bean Road, allowing room for a 1,500-foot extension of the 5,500 foot main runway.

Appraisers initially valued the land at $236,000, the agreed judgment says, and then Ballew hired two appraisers who valued the property at $797,679 at its highest and best use — for industrial development.

The airport lost a similar condemnation case on Dec. 14, when the Indiana Court of Appeal upheld a Clark Circuit Court verdict valuing about 73 acres owned by Margaret Dreyer near Bean Road at $865,000 instead of the $200,000 the airport paid.

“The case with Dreyer’s land is a train wreck,” Vissing said, referring to the court of appeals decision.

Vissing said he and airport officials decided it would be better to settle with Ballew rather than risk another trial.

Melodee McNames, the airport’s manager said, the airport also was able to discuss the Ballew case with the Federal Aviation Administration, which agreed a settlement would make sense and that it may be able to help with the additional payment to Ballew.

Airport consultants are gathering information now to amend the federal grant used to pay for Ballew’s property, McNames said.

But to request more funding to help with the Dreyer payment, the airport will have to file a new grant, and it could take a couple of years to receive the funding unless some other airport is unable to use a grant it has won, McNames said.

Tony Molinaro, an FAA spokesman in Chicago, said the agency can sometimes provide additional funding for land acquisitions when local airports need more financial help than they requested initially. Such cases, he said, are decided “on a case by case basis,” so its impossible to predict what will happen in the Clark County cases.

Alan Conner, a member of the board that oversees the airport, said the agency has no money to pay Dreyer or Ballew, since its annual budget of about $225,000 is barely enough to meet operating expenses. Because the airport is a department of county government, the county will be responsible for the payments if they can’t be obtained quickly from the FAA, Conner said.

“When you are underfunded and understaffed, you can expect mistakes,” Conner said.

The airport, which has only one full-time employee, has been seeking more support from county government or approval to operate as an independent authority, which could raise more money for investment and to hire an executive director.

John Mead, Dreyer’s lawyer, said he plans to file a motion in Clark Circuit Court on Friday asking that county government be declared responsible for paying the judgment. That would require the county to find the money in its accounts or impose a special property tax for one year to raise the money, Mead said.

Tampa International Airport Director Joe Lopano gets a 20 percent raise of $50,000

Tampa, Florida -- How would do you feel about a 20 percent raise? While you might like getting it, your attitude might change if you found out it went to someone else with public money.

That's what is happening with Tampa Airport Director Joe Lopano, who is receiving a $50,000 raise.

On Thursday the Hillsborough Aviation Authority tore up Lopano's contract and increased his pay from $250,000 a year to $300,000. With benefits, Lopano's package comes to around $350,000.

We asked Lopano what he says to the guy at home that is struggling or doesn't have a job, and Lopano said, "The support of my board has been quite remarkable."

About the only comment Lopano had about the $50,000 raise was about the board. When we was asked about the fact he had a deal to run the airport for $250,000 and no one put a gun to his head to accept that, once again Lopano said, "I appreciate my board."

We reminded Lopano that he turned down the raise just three months ago because of the bad economic conditions, and asked what changed since then. That was when his six figure communication director ended the interview.

To put the $50,000 raise in perspective, keep in mind it is more than the median household income in Tampa Bay. The raise means Lopano's salary is also twice the governor's salary, although current millionaire Governor Rick Scott is just accepting a $1 a year.

Lopano now makes twice as much as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, more than St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, more than Administrator Mike Merrill receives to run Hillsborough County, and more than Bob Lasala is paid to run Pinellas.

However, Aviation Board Chair Steve Burton says, "He should be paid more based on the marketplace."

The board voted 3-2 on the raise. The two elected officials -- Buckhorn and Hillsborough Commissioner Victor Crist -- voted no, but the fiscally conservative gubernatorial Republican appointees on the board apparently don't feel Lopano's salary is the place to be conservative with public dollars and voted yes.

The board also extended Lopano's contract by one year. Because it is a new contract, it will have to comply with a recently passed state law that limits severance pay to 20 weeks instead of a maximum of 18 months that was in Lopano's old contract.


6-foot-7 flyer refuses to give up fight with airlines.

Tall passenger - who wants extra space at no cost - looks into possible appeal of suit

When Malcolm Johnson squeezes into an economy airplane seat, his head brushes the overhead bin and his kneecaps press into the seat ahead of him.

The Edmonton architect is more than six feet, seven inches tall, and he wants Air Canada to stop charging tall people the extra fees for seats with more leg room.

"In order to sit comfortably and not inconvenience those around me, I have to take one of those seats, as do other tall people," Johnson said in an interview Wednesday. "Those airlines that fly internationally on long hauls should, I think, treat passengers who have special needs in a special way, without charging them."

Johnson took his fight to the Canadian Transportation Agency about a year ago. However, the agency dismissed his application in a written decision last week because Johnson didn't prove his height is a disability. Johnson is now looking at whether he can appeal the decision.

A note from Johnson's physician explained Johnson could be at increased risk of deep venous thrombosis in an economy airplane seat because it is too cramped and he can't move around. "However, a risk of developing a medical condition does not equate with having a condition," the decision said.

Johnson has sent documents and a letter to Air Canada asking the airline to change its policy and exempt tall people from having to pay the extra charge.

"I think it would be quite simple for an airline to say that they are going to reserve seats for people who really need extra space. Just have people bring a medical certificate or a doctor's certificate, something that says they are of a certain height and they take up so much room, and let's stick them in these seats and not charge them," Johnson said. "But they don't seem to change their policies until there's a court case."

A Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2008 forced Air Canada and WestJet to provide an extra seat, free of charge, to obese people who provide a doctor's certificate confirming their disability.

On most commercial flights in Canada, seats are 81 centimetres apart, measuring from the back of one seat to the back of the next seat. The legroom varies depending on how much space the seat and its cushioning take up.

That doesn't leave much room for Johnson's legs, which measure 70 centimetres from his back to his knee. The more expensive "preferred seating" in the exit rows or bulkhead seating provide a lot more legroom, Johnson said.

Fees for preferred seating vary. However, Johnson said it adds up to an extra $200 when he travels from Edmonton to Paris, a trip he makes about twice a year. The price doubles if his wife buys a seat beside him.

"If you want the seats, you've got to pay the fee, so I pay the extra."

Air Canada would not comment on the recent Canadian Transportation Agency decision, spokeswoman Angela Mah said in an email Wednesday.

"Like many worldwide airlines, Air Canada offers all customers the opportunity to reserve and purchase seats with additional leg room (Preferred Seat option) in the economy cabin on all Air Canada flights," she wrote.

"Preferred seat prices start as low as $16 per one-way trip and are based on length of flight, fare purchased and Top Tier/Aeroplan level status of the customer."

Air Canada has no plans to change the preferred-seat options, Mah wrote.

Alberta legislator Doug Elniski, who once described himself as being the tallest candidate in the last provincial election, said he does not enjoy air travel and tries to drive all the time, avoiding flying at all costs. At six feet 10 inches, leg room is always an issue for Elniski, who always has to book his flights far in advance to get an exit row seat, or he pays double to sit in business class.

He does not agree with Air Canada charging $200 to someone who physically cannot sit in a regular economy seat.

"I make travel decisions based upon what the airline is going to do for me as the passenger," Elniski said.

"If they are going to charge me extra to have a little leg room, I'm just not going to fly on that airline."

WestJet has been accommodating, he said. When airline staff see him at the gate, they instantly try to find him a seat with leg room, he said. But flying with Air Canada is another story, he said. Elniski said most of the time he will not fly Air Canada because he does not want to go through the hassle of getting a decent seat.

He said he never thought being too tall would ever become such an issue and that he thinks Johnson's position is justified.

"Perhaps us tall guys should all stand and be counted."

Malaysia Airlines pilot charged in Australia over drugs

Thiagu Supramaniam, 30, of Malaysia, has been charged with two counts of importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, with one charge reportedly stemming from a previous drug deal, according to The Daily Telegraph.

A Malaysian pilot has faced a Sydney court accused of importing 1.4kg of heroin and 5kg of methamphetamine into Australia.

Thagu Supramaniam, 30, who could face life imprisonment if convicted, did not apply for bail when he appeared at Sydney Central Court on Thursday.

Bail was formally refused.

He was charged after Australian Customs and Border Protection officers examined his suitcase at Sydney International Airport on Tuesday.

During the search, officers allegedly found a white crystal substance hidden inside the suitcase in six packages.

Tests allegedly revealed the presence of methamphetamine with an estimated weight of 5kg, Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on Thursday.

Police said Supramaniam, who had flown from Malaysia, was a commercial airline pilot and was working when his suitcase was searched.

They also allege he imported 1.4kg of heroin into Sydney from Malaysia in August last year and then delivered it to a 38-year-old man at a Sydney hotel.

He has been charged with one count of importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine, and one count of importing a marketable quantity of heroin.

The maximum penalty is life imprisonment and/or an $825,000 fine for the first charge and 25 years' imprisonment and/or a $550,000 fine for the second.

Supramaniam is due to appear again before Sydney Central Local Court on January 18.

Clark Gable grandson gets jail for pointing laser

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The grandson of Hollywood icon Clark Gable was sentenced on Thursday to 10 days in jail for pointing a laser beam at an LAPD helicopter.

Clark Gable III, 22, had pleaded guilty to shining a laser light at the aircraft that was flying above Hollywood Boulevard on July 28.

Gable was very apologetic in court, telling Judge David Horwitz he was sorry and learned a good lesson.

Officials said the green laser obstructed the vision of the two officers in the chopper. LAPD officers Glen Plahy and Mike Rodriguez, who were flying the helicopter, appeared in court to state that pointing a laser beam at an aircraft is very dangerous and a serious thing.

"It's very honorable for Mr. Gable to take, to admit responsibility for this situation," Rodriguez said.

After the sentencing hearing, Gable said he wasn't really thinking when he pointed the laser at the helicopter.

"My friend had just bought a new car, and we were driving around. I wasn't really thinking when I pointed the laser beam at the helicopter," he said.

Gable will begin his sentence at the Glendale Jail on Jan. 27. He has paid $570 in restitution and will have to complete 200 hours of Caltrans. He was placed on a formal probation for three years.


Pilot trainees up in air after liquidation. (New Zealand)

Owner Steve Rowe placed Bay Flight into voluntary liquidation on December 22, 2011 citing trading difficulties resulting from lack of flying because of the weather conditions.

A liquidator is negotiating the potential sale of Tauranga's only flight school after it suddenly closed just before Christmas.

About 20 staff at Bay Flight Aviation and nearly 60 pilot students, a third from overseas, are in limbo awaiting the outcome of the negotiations.

The students would have to complete their courses at other training centres in the country if the sale of the Bay's biggest flight school isn't concluded.

Owner Steve Rowe, who lives in Palmerston North, placed Bay Flight into voluntary liquidation on December 22, 2011 citing trading difficulties resulting from lack of flying because of the weather conditions.

"The weather over the past six months has been shocking and we got behind hundreds of hours on flying [contracts]," Mr Rowe said. "For instance, in October we got through 300 hours flying and we should have done 1000 hours.

"Some of the students from the Middle East were on time lines for employment back home and we couldn't honour the [training] commitment. They only got halfway through their instrument ratings," he said.

"Even on days when they got up in the air, clouds were hemmed in around the Kaimais and they couldn't get away on the cross-country flights. That didn't help us."

Mr Rowe said it was such a shame to close the operation.

"We had students lined up ready to come from the Middle East and India. All the right signs were there, but for various reasons I decided to put it into liquidation."

The shareholders, Mr Rowe and his wife, Sandra, declined to put in any more capital, and running it remotely from Palmerston North didn't help.

"But that wasn't the main reason. There was something in behind the scenes that I don't want to talk about. I was personally gutted, and when things outside your control occur you have to move on," Mr Rowe said.

The liquidator from RHB Chartered Accountants has met Bay Flight staff (there are 16 instructors) and students in the past week, telling them a sale process was under way. The new owner needs to be NZQA accredited and registered.

RHB director Tom Rodewald said he hoped to have a conditional contract in the next day or so and settlement next week.

"The students prefer to stay in Tauranga and, fingers crossed, we can have a good resolution," he said.

The visiting students pay about $70,000 for the 15-month flying course and spend another $20,000 on accommodation, food and hospitality, adding more than $3million to the Tauranga economy.

Mr Rowe, who bought the business at Tauranga Airport 18 months ago, invested up to $1.5million. He doubled the number of students, expanded into an adjacent hangar, built two new classrooms and added a $140,000 United States-made Redbird flight simulator. Mr Rowe bought a $700,000 four-seater, twin-engine Tecnam from Italy, complete with a glass cockpit and the latest digital instrumentation - the only one of its type in the country.

He also upgraded his 11-strong fleet by buying new engines from the US.

Bay Flight, which was established by Phil Hooker in 1996, became the only training centre in Tauranga after Euro Flight International closed and Air Discovery retrenched back to Auckland early last year.

Tauranga’s biggest flight school, Bay Flight Aviation Limited, is in liquidation. Phil Hooker started the training institution in Tauranga in 1996, owning it for 14 years before selling the business to Palmerston North resident Steve Rowe 18 months ago.

The curtains are pulled and doors closed at Bay Flight Aviation Ltd.

Steve was unavailable for comment when contacted by SunLive.

Tauranga based RHB Chartered Accountants was appointed the liquidator on December 22 and its director, Tom Rodewald, says negotiations are underway with prospective buyers.

“We are hoping to have a deal finalised in the next couple of days to recommence flying next week.”

He says the value of the business cannot be released as they are in confidential negotiations.

The business employs about 20 staff, and has 11 planes in its fleet, including two Cessna aircraft, a Piper Cherokee, Piper Seneca and Tecnam P2006T.

Tom says it is up to the new owner as to whether the staff will continue to be employed.

“I would be hopeful the new owner will take over the staff.”

In the first liquidators report released on January 6, it says the reason for business closure is “due to poor weather conditions, resulting in a lack of flying conditions and trading difficulties, together resulting in the decision to liquidate the company”.

In February last year, Bay Flight Aviation was the first New Zealand based flight training organisation to purchase a new $700,000 Tecnam P2006T plane, an Italian twin engine aircraft.

Then in May 2011 Bay Flight took possession of a new $140,000 Red Bird Flight Simulator expecting to attract more international students to the organisation, who pay up to $90,000 to study at the organisation.

Airport ramps up manager search

(Jan. 12, 2012) The search for Nantucket’s next airport manager is gearing up with the town seeking the assistance of a consulting firm, but there has already been a flood of applicants responding to advertisements for the position, including several island-based candidates.

Airport Commission chairman Dan Drake said there have been roughly 20 applicants for the job that opened following the firing of former manager Al Peterson late last year. Meanwhile, the town has issued a request for proposals, or RFP, for qualified consultants to design and conduct a so-called “assessment center” to evaluate the candidates. The airport has set aside $35,000 in this year’s budget to hire the firm selected through the RFP process.

“We’ve gotten about 20 applicants without a search firm,” Drake said. “I haven’t looked at them all in detail, but I suspect most of them aren’t qualified. I don’t think they have the backgrounds we really want. At this point, we want someone who has actually managed an airport or who has been the assistant manager of an airport.”

To read the full story, check out the print edition of The Inquirer and Mirror, or register for the I&M's online edition by clicking here.

Aviation Museum Awarded State of New Jersey Travel and Tourism Grant. Cape May County Airport (KWWD), Wildwood, New Jersey.

Photo Credit:  Kathryn

Press Release

CAPE MAY - Cape May Airport, Lower Township, NJ-Naval Air Station (NAS) Wildwood Aviation Museum will receive funding in 2012 through a grant from the New Jersey Department of State, Division of Travel & Tourism. The Aviation Museum was awarded $20,000 and will provide a 25% match for the grant with its own funds. NAS Wildwood Aviation Museum’s 2012 marketing plan will work in union with the New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism’s goal of fostering economic growth by increasing tourism expenditures, encouraging long-term stays and promoting New Jersey’s arts, cultural, recreational and leisure opportunities.

The marketing plan will uniquely blend the museum’s general marketing strategies targeting Mid-Atlantic visitors with “Bienvenue Aux Québécois!” or “Welcome Quebecers!” The museum will utilize several partnerships, including working with the Cape May County Department of Tourism to target visitors from out of state and Canada. Museum staff performed extensive research on international tourism trends before proposing the 2012 advertising campaign. Major factors considered included the Canadian exchange rate to the U.S. dollar, the trend toward the use of new technology and e-communications. Today, the internet plays a role in 90% of vacation planning activities.

Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum is located in Historic Hangar #1 at the Cape May Airport, New Jersey. Cape May Airport was formerly Naval Air Station Wildwood, which served as a World War II dive-bomber training center. The museum is dedicated to the 42 airmen who perished while training at Naval Air Station Wildwood between 1943 and 1945.

For more information, contact Bruce Fournier at (609) 886-8787 by email at or visit the Hangar’s website


Pocono Mountains Flying Club awards 'Private Pilot' certificate. Pocono Mountains Municipal Airport (KMPO), Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania.

Bill Fithian earns private pilot certificate with Pocono Mountains Flying Club. Pictured from left are: 'Sparky', the club's training airplane, Mark George, the FAA flight examiner and Bill Fithian, the club's first certificated private pilot. Photo taken at the Pocono Mountains Airport, home of the Pocono Mountains Flying Club.
(Contributed photo)

January 10, 2012

Bill Fithian was the first student to earn the "Private Pilot Certificate" on Thanksgiving day, at the Pocono Mountains Flying Club. He is now licensed to carry passengers.

Fithian's first flight carrying a passenger was just two days later where he took his son flying over their home. The club located on the field at Pocono Mountains Municipal Airport has 17 members, most of whom are on the route to the Private Pilot Certificate. 

Anyone interested in details about the club can contact Paul Houle at 570-350-0799 or


REDjet defends flight cancellations

Barbados (CMC)- Low-fares airline REDjet will introduce three new routes this year, while cancelling more than 50 – a move Chief Executive Ian Burns said is not due to financial troubles.

Flights to Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados are among the 54 that would be affected when the changes are introduced from March 1.

Burns said the airline is on budget and the adjustments would merely facilitate improved flight times.

“Flights are being cancelled but most are being put to a new flight time. Our market research shows that it was inconvenient for people to make it to the airport during high traffic times, especially in Trinidad and Jamaica,” Burns said.

Last November, the carrier’s largest Barbados investor, Ralph ‘Bizzy’ Williams, said excessive delays had sabotaged the airline’s progress, fuelling speculation that the low-fare model is unsustainable.

A leaked internal memo from the carrier’s customer service department stated that the flights would be cancelled for commercial reasons.

REDjet said in a statement that passengers can expect to benefit from new and more convenient flight times, and the launch of three new routes to two new destinations in time for Easter 2012.

The Barbados-based airline said it has added a third MD-80 aircraft to its fleet and hired additional pilots in preparation.

“These investments combined with the expansion of its call centre, maintenance department and operations team will enable the airline to comfortably deliver these new services and provide a safe and reliable operation for its passengers,” the airline stated.

“In addition, external factors such as traffic to and from the airport around flight times and capacity constraints at some airports around peak times of the day will be greatly improved,” it said further.

REDjet, which began serving the region in May last year, operates seven routes across the Caribbean and plans to launch up to eight new ones in 2012.


Sergeant's obsession is 'plane' fun

FAA examiner Arlin Miller, right, presents Staff Sgt. Justin Splain with his private pilot's license, fulfilling the sergeant's long-held dream.

Thursday, January 12, 2012
by Brian S. Orban

As a child, the idea of flying an aircraft fascinated Justin Splain. He spent countess hours watching military aviation movies with his father, an avid World War II history buff.

In time, Splain fueled that obsession through video games that allowed him to take the helm of various military jets or civilian airliners. It just never dawned on him that his love of flying would actually put him in the cockpit of an actual aircraft.

But after months of classroom and hands-on training, the staff sergeant at Mountain Home Air Force Base achieved what at one time seemed an unreachable goal. During an informal ceremony held recently at the Mountain Home Airport, the sergeant was presented his private pilot's license.

A munitions troops with the 366th Equipment Maintenance Squadron at the nearby Air Force base, Splain admits his desire to fly started as a spur-of-moment idea. During a break at work, he did some research on local aviation outlets. It led him to the flight school at the Mountain Home Airport.

The following day, he took a brief orientation flight in a Piper Cherokee aircraft -- a cramped, two-seat propeller-driven trainer. In addition to taxing the aircraft to the runway, his instructor allowed him to take the controls once they reached their cruising altitude.

Splain was immediately hooked.

"It was everything than I had ever expected and more," he said. "I didn't know that I would take to it as well as I did, and everything just clicked; it all made sense."

Two days later, the sergeant was back in the cockpit to start his formal training. Those that know him best were a bit skeptical regarding his ambitions.

"I told my best friend that I wanted to be a pilot," Splain said. "He kind of shrugged it off and laughed at me because I'm notorious for coming up with some off-the-wall ideas or getting into things half heartedly."

His wife, Lora, was equally dubious about his newest "hobby."

"My wife tends to tease me, saying that I always get hooked on something dangerous," he said. When he was younger, for example, he dabbled in skateboarding before he was lured into the motocross sport.

But unlike mainstream sports and hobbies, flight training requires plenty of self-discipline and commitment, the sergeant said. In addition to working from a standardized lesson plan, Splain spent hours of additional time studying at home. It required him to understand everything from aerodynamics and weather observing to aircraft controls and basic flight maneuvers.

However, his biggest challenge involved learning the multitude of federal flight rules and regulations. The book alone is several inches thick, Splain said, using his fingers to illustrate.

Learning to land an aircraft was the next biggest challenge, especially when the wind and weather conditions get a bit dicey, he added.

Unlike most hobbies, learning to fly can get a bit pricey, according to the sergeant. To compensate, he would schedule his training to remain proficient without breaking his wallet.

"As funds provided, I kept going," said Splain, who arrived at Mountain Home Air Force Base in March 2007 as an entry level airman at his first duty station.

To a point, Splain beat the odds in terms of earning his license. While many people start this type of training every year, very few actually go on to earn their private pilot's license.

When he started schooling here, there were at least 10 other students. In fact, it became quite a challenge to arrange flight time among the other students with the schedule filling up fast, he said.

But as time passed, Splain noticed that many of those students had dropped out of the school because they simply lost interest or ran out of money.

But Splain never lost his love to fly. One of his first solo flights to Jackpot, Nev., helped reinforce that desire.

"It was really cool," he said. "I was watching sun go down on my way back home, and it was pretty peaceful up there -- as long as I stayed away from the clouds."

Seven months after his introductory flight early last year, the sergeant had earned his private pilot's license. To date, he has 41 hours in single-engine aircraft, which he admits simply opened the door to bigger and better things.

"You're never done learning," Splain said. "When I finished my check ride, the guy that tested me said, 'Congratulations. You've just earned a license to continue learning.' "

The sergeant is already setting his sights on earning his instrument rating -- considered by some pilots as the hardest certification to earn.

However, that training will end up having to wait a couple of months. In April, Splain and his wife leave Mountain Home for their next duty station in Florida. But he's already selected a flight school near his new base and plans to use his military education benefits to help offset the additional costs.

"I'm all set up to get my instrument rating," he said. "I plan to go all the way to a commercial airline rating."

In addition to his flight schooling, the sergeant's academic plate remains pretty full. He's currently working on a bachelor's degree with plans on pursuing a commission in the Air Force where he can continue his love of flying.

For now he's taking things one step at a time "and we'll see where it goes from there," he said.

Original Source:

Massachusetts: Study says small airports are economic engines

Mansfield Municipal Airport

A hangar at Mansfield Municipal Airport in the 1950s. The airport now contributes $9.1 million to the area’s economy

General aviation airports in the region support 807 jobs and generate more than $117 million for the local economy, according to a recent government study.

The study, sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, looked at 39 airports across the state and examined how they contribute to the economy. It said all the state’s airports, including Boston Logan International Airport, support 124,000 jobs statewide and generate almost $11.9 billion in annual economic activity.

The ripple effect of a regional airport can be substantial. Airports are home to flight training schools, aircraft maintenance companies, and other aviation businesses. After landing at an airport, planes fuel up. Visitors often need to rent cars, book hotel rooms, and eat at local establishments. The study used FAA-approved methodology to measure the economic impact of each airport and calculate the number of area jobs that each supports.

There are five general aviation airports in the suburbs south of Boston, in Marshfield, Plymouth, Hanson, Mansfield, and Norwood. Of all the general aviation airports in Southeastern Massachusetts, Norwood Memorial Airport had the greatest economic impact ($51.4 million) and largest total employment (386 jobs). It was followed closely by Plymouth Municipal Airport, which supports 301 jobs and contributes $48.5 million to the region’s economy.

“We certainly play a part in the economy,’’ said Tom Maher, manager of Plymouth Municipal Airport, which is home to two flight schools, four aircraft maintenance companies, two charter flight businesses, several corporate flight operations, a commuter airline to Nantucket, and a cafe called Plane Jane’s. The Massachusetts State Police Air Wing flies out of Plymouth, as does Boston MedFlight.

Maher said that the Plymouth airport serves as a “gateway to the community,’’ and that its presence can be felt far beyond the town’s borders.

“There’s that old aviation saying,’’ said Maher, “Build a mile of roadway, and you can go a mile. Build a mile of runway, and you can go anywhere in the world.’’

Access to air transportation makes a region more attractive to employers, said Thomas J. O’Rourke, president and chief executive of the Neponset Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s a spillover effect, too, from all of the people coming in and out of the airport,’’ he said. “They’re staying in the area, and going to restaurants.’’

O’Rourke said an airport is not only an asset to the community, it can also be an attraction: He has brought his son to watch planes take off and land at the Norwood airport.

Norwood Memorial Airport is used by, among others, congressmen and New England Patriots players, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft, and former quarterback Doug Flutie. News helicopters for channels 5 and 25 also fly out of there. The airport has a rich military heritage: Originally built in 1942 to train pilots during World War II, it became a municipal airport in 1946, and the town later dedicated it to all Norwood veterans who served in combat.

Today the 700-acre airport has two runways and an air traffic control tower, and is home base for approximately 195 planes. There were 5,700 takeoffs and landings during December, and in a good month that figure can go as high as 8,000, according to airport manager Russ Maguire.

Farther south, Mansfield Municipal Airport contributed 59 jobs and $9.1 million to the economy. Located on land that was once a fruit grove - that’s why it’s called Fruit Street - and later a racetrack, it’s been a municipal airport since the 1950s, according to airport manager Bob Welch. Mansfield’s airport sees approximately 60,000 takeoffs and landings each year - an average of 5,000 per month, he said. It has two runways, a flight school, an aircraft maintenance shop, an avionics shop, and 116 planes based there.

“It’s a small airport nestled in a small community,’’ said Welch. “People come in to go to Patriots games and the Comcast Center.’’

The economic impact study found that Marshfield Airport-George D. Harlow Field supports 58 jobs and generates $8.1 million in the economy. Marshfield’s airport opened in the 1930s and is named after a longtime airport commissioner. It covers about 230 acres, and has 47 planes based there. It has one paved runway, and is home to Shoreline Aviation Inc., which offers flight lessons, charter flights, and aircraft maintenance services. Eighteen people work at the Marshfield airport, which serves a range of small-business owners, large corporations, and tourists.

“It’s a busy little airport in its own right,’’ said airport manager David Dinneen. “We have a lot of visitors, especially in the summer, who fly in and visit the beaches.’’ Marshfield’s airport also sees its share of famous faces: Gisele Bundchen took helicopter flying lessons there in 2009.

The study also found that Cranland Airport - a small privately owned airport in Hanson - contributed three jobs and $183,000 to the economy.

The airport economic impact study began in November 2010 and took 12 months to complete. The Patrick administration highlighted the contributions of general aviation airports in Southeastern Massachusetts late last month.

In a press release, Richard A. Davey, the secretary and chief executive of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said: “These South Shore airports are critical to the regional economy, creating jobs directly while making many more jobs possible in the private sector.’’

The last airport study of this kind was done in 1998-1999, according to Christopher J. Willenborg, Aeronautics Division administrator for the state Department of Transportation.

An executive summary of the study can be downloaded at

Original Source:

Seaplane an option for work and play

With the recent industrial boom and increase in real estate prices in the Gladstone region, a small group of aviation business operators are considering how a seaplane or helicopter service could operate from the Capricorn Coast and Gladstone Harbour.

There are a number of aircraft types suited for the Capricorn Coast region.

When not flying passengers to Gladstone for work, tourists can be transported to the Great Barrier Reef and nearby coastal islands for day trips.

Seaplanes operate in many areas of coastal Australia and overseas and provide an alternative means of transport.

The option of travelling in a seaplane such as a turbo prop Dehavilland Beaver, Twin Otter or Cessna Caravan opens up a new market for the region and offers a unique travel experience.

Passengers can commute from the Capricorn Coast and travel direct to their final destination in Gladstone Harbour in under an hour.

While the aircraft are not large, they can comfortably seat up to 10 passengers for a modest fare.

Many tourists do not have the time to join a charter boat cruise but would consider a day trip to the reef in a seaplane.

It is early days for the Capricorn Coast's seaplane venture, stakeholders need to negotiate and suitable landing and operating areas need to be considered.

An environmental and safety study would be needed to ensure there would be no negative impact.

Seaplanes have been operating in freshwater lakes in Canada and the US for many years and have been operating with no significant environmental or safety issues arising from their operations.

Planning and a bankable feasibility study need to take place before any aircraft are allowed to fly.

Original source:

What, me worry? Bobby Ongpin acquires another Cessna Grand Caravan. (Manila, Philippines)

He may be getting skewered in the Senate and the media, but Marcos-era finance minister Roberto Ongpin is not skipping a beat despite the televised inquisition in his push to build a P3-billion paradise in pristine Balesin island.

According to the grapevine, Ongpin has just acquired a second Cessna Grand Caravan (list price: $2 million) to double his fledgling fleet for the 25-minute ferry service from Manila to the 424-hectare island, nearly half the size of Boracay, off the coast of Real, Quezon.

His private construction army has already finished a 1.5-kilometer, all-weather runway for under P70 million - you read it right, under P70 million - an incredibly low amount that should make DPWH engineers either squirm in shame or green with envy.

Moreover, the runway has water collection channels on both sides that lead to an impounding and filtration dam, making the whole island not only self-sufficient in water and power but also a DENR conservation model.

Ongpin, who is 75 this year, was in his usual mercurial self Saturday as he subjected his key aides to a "maelstrom" (as Balesin project director Marco Diaz put it to Ongpin neighbor and prospective member Raffy Rufino) over construction delays.

Ongpin's listed company Alphaland is rushing 180 villas in six (Indonesian, Italian, Greek, French, Thai and Philippine-) themed villages in time for the 2013 opening of the Balesin Island Club. To achieve that, Alphaland not only distributed the work among three architects - Conrad Onglao, Jorge Yulo and Carmelo Casas - but also deployed three roll-on, roll-off ships and barges to haul cement and steel from Quezon.

Alphaland spokesman Michelle Ongpin said about 2,200 shares out of the 5,000 membership club have already been sold in Hong Kong, mainly to gweilos seeking the nearest tropical get-away from the Chinese colony.

Of the 5,000, only 400 are allotted to locals under a two-tiered share pricing: P3 million for foreigners, P2 million for locals. In any case, each member is entitled to 14 free nights stay a year in any of the villas; any extra night would cost $200, good for four occupants.

Association dues start in 2013 at P5,000 a month, P1,000 of which is consumable. Round-trip air fare, taking off from the club's private hangar beside the Manila Domestic Airport, costs P3,000 a member, P4,000 for every guest. A speedboat from the club's pier in Real is also available.

Ongpin, the spokesman and incidentally chairman's daughter, said the club is working on a tie-up with the Philippine Airlines for charter flights out of Hong Kong, with Balesin, already declared a free port, having its own customs and immigration personnel.

That putative alliance with PAL could turn out to be much stronger. If the grapevine is to be believed, the elder Ongpin and his Ashmore Group are the silent partners of San Miguel's Ramon Ang in the latter's plan to acquire the financially-handicapped airline from taipan Lucio Tan.

But that, as they say, is another story.

Original source:

Lofton: AvCraft situation could be road block for luring future companies to Horry County

Horry County’s chief executive for economic development said the situation involving AvCraft Technical Services being awarded a $100,000 incentives package by Horry County Council in December, only to have it taken off the table at Tuesday’s meeting, could impact negotiations with other prospective businesses down the road.

Brad Lofton -- chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp., which brought the AvCraft incentives package to the council -- said Wednesday businesses that consider setting up shop in Horry County will undoubtedly research the area and see how it treats existing industry.

If there are media reports that document some type of issue with an existing company -- as is the case with AvCraft -- it could be a road block to luring new jobs, Lofton said.

He added that other prospects the EDC is talking with are monitoring the AvCraft situation and awaiting the outcome.

For Lofton, it’s an outcome he feels will be positive.

“We’re trying to just stay out of politics, keep our heads down and just focus on job creation,” Lofton said. “We continue to stand proudly behind AvCraft.”

The AvCraft incentives will be discussed again at the Jan. 17 Committee of the Whole meeting.

Councilman Jody Prince brought forth the motion Tuesday night and said the COW meeting is a perfect forum for council members to see a presentation that lets everyone know the company’s plans.

Prince said his fear is that anyone who has followed media accounts over the past few weeks has gotten a history lesson on AvCraft that may be less than appealing.

“The last thing that I want is to jeopardize, in any manner, our investment,” Prince said.

Lofton said this is a unique case, and one in which there was some additional clarification needed for the County Council.

Most council members did not know until after the incentives were approved that AvCraft – an aircraft maintenance and repair business that has fallen short of employment goals in the past – was the recipient. Council members learned about that during a Dec. 13 meeting in Conway. The company plans is to expand its business at Myrtle Beach International Airport.

Councilmembers now know that AvCraft laid off about 20 employees over the last month, even while seeking financial incentives for a promised 150-job expansion over the next five years.

Like Lofton, AvCraft CEO Mike Hill is confident the ship will right itself after the Jan. 17 presentation at the COW meeting.

“Essentially, (I) understood what was going to occur last night. We certainly welcome the opportunity to meet with the COW and share what our business plans are,” Hill said. “I think everyone that has had the privilege to see what our business plans are ... has come away with confidence that we are a good fit and a good investment on Horry County’s part.”

Hill said the ordeal has been a learning experience for all those involved. He added that the biggest lesson is better communication going forward.

“We just need to make sure we communicate better with the county,” Lofton said.

Students take to the skies with University of Maine flying club

Jamison Cocklin
John White (left) and Rick Eason head toward the University Flying Club's Cessna 172 for White's first foray in a cockpit.

Written by Jamison Cocklin
Posted on January 12, 2012, at 1:00 a.m.

BANGOR — It’s a bitterly cold Sunday morning on the first weekend of winter break, a day when most University of Maine students have either headed home for the holidays or settled down for some much anticipated rest and relaxation.

One second-year student has arrived at the Bangor International Airport. But he’s not boarding a commercial flight to spend Christmas with the family.

Tucked into the corner of the airport’s winding runways, between an expansive hangar and fences separating tarmac from street, there awaits a glimmering Cessna 172, a small four-seat aircraft that will soon be piloted by John White, 19, a chemical engineering student at UMaine, at the cool, unassuming height of 3,600 feet.

White has never been in a Cessna 172, and he certainly has never flown a plane before. That’s not uncommon in the University Flying Club.

The club has been a fixture at the UMaine for more than 40 years. It offers students a shot at hands-on flight training and an opportunity to earn a pilot’s license.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been on a plane,” White said, bundled in a puffy parka jacket while waiting in the lobby of BIA’s General Aviation Terminal. “I’m nervous. Oh yeah, definitely.”

Before long, Rick Eason, an electrical and computer engineering professor at UMaine and the flight club’s faculty advisor, lumbered through the door with two mid-sized bags weighing him down.

Eason will be White’s instructor for the day, equipped with flight maps, manuals and other necessities required to provide White all he will need to know on his introductory flight.

A typical day with the flying club has begun.

Flying ‘ain’t cheap’

Eason has had his license for “around 30 years now” and is no stranger to the sky. He has recently undertaken an effort to increase the club’s profile and attract more members.

Not long ago, the club boasted around 45 members, according to Eason. But in recent years, the number has dwindled to 25, which Eason attributes to the recession, increased competition from other area flight clubs and even some former members who purchased their own aircrafts.

“We have two airplanes now,” Eason said. “We had only one for quite a while, but people were waiting on a list to get into the club. Our insurance only allows us up to 30 people on one plane. So we said, ‘Let’s get another plane.’

“The university doesn’t own [the plane], the club owns it,” he added. “We have to pay the costs – we have to cover the costs.

“Just the fuel itself, we get to burning around 35 or 40 bucks per hour in fuel,” Eason said. “Another big expense with airplanes is you put a new engine in them every once in a while. It’s extremely expensive to buy a new airplane, so people just keep the old airplanes in the sky.”

Eason estimated that overhauling an engine costs between $15,000 and $20,000. He also said there are routine maintenance and annual inspections that cost more than $1,000.

Currently, the club charges a $174 fee to join, which covers the first month’s dues, an owner’s manual, keys for the airplanes and other materials.

Additionally, members pay a $300 damage deposit, $25 in monthly dues and an hourly rate for every lesson, which varies depending on the aircraft a student flies.

“Again, it ain’t cheap,” Eason said.

In order to earn a pilot’s license through the flight club, the total cost is around $5,000, according to Eason. However, a student can take as long as he or she wants to obtain the license.

“It’s just like you own your own airplane. It’s not like a flight school. A flight club is managed a bit differently than a flight school,” Eason said. “Flight schools have a rigid curriculum. With a flight club, it’s up to the instructor to teach what needs to be taught. They can have their own curriculum and manage things how they want.”

This, according to Eason, affords a student a degree of flexibility in paying the necessary fees that lead to a pilot’s license. The club is also open to community members who do not attend UMaine.

Eason said all prospective students simply need to fill out an online application and then arrange to meet the club’s treasurer at the airport. After contacting an instructor, students receive their keys to plane and schedule a time slot online, then they’re ready to fly.

“In reality, you could be flying this afternoon, if the treasurer can meet you at the airport,” Eason said.

But before you take off, an hour-long ground school is mandatory.

Learning to fly

“Does the plane measure fuel in gallons or pounds?” White asked Eason in a makeshift classroom at BIA during his ground school. “How do you read the map with it stretched out in the cockpit while you’re trying to fly?”

“It can be tricky. You want to have everything in front of you and within reach,” Eason replied. “It’s gallons, they measure in gallons.”

Eason continued his tutorial by pulling a die-cast toy plane from his bags. He also used his hands to mimic the maneuvers White would be practicing on his first flight.

During the first day of ground school, a student gets an introduction to flight maps, cockpit controls and some of the trickier aspects of flying.

Eason explained the functions of an aircraft’s rudders, which help to keep the plane steady while other components work to steer: Ailerons are flaps on the wings that help the plane stay level and the yoke is used to steer.

After examining about six handouts, reading over portions of a textbook and a question and answer session, the duo made sure to hit the bathrooms and pack their belongings before heading to the aircraft for White’s first flight.

When they reached the plane, White and Eason circled the aircraft for a 15-minute pre-flight check.

“When you’re flying for the first time, you really want to double-check hinges, nuts and bolts — all those kinds of things,” Eason explained as he stood beneath the wing of the aircraft. “You should kinda know when things are wrong.”

White followed suit with a checklist in hand, playing the part of the enthralled student.

“Like look at this, it’s the baggage door,” Eason said. “Somebody didn’t lock it. Must have been the new guy.”

Finally, when the fuel truck pulled away after topping off the puddle jumper’s two gas tanks and after Eason discovered the plane needed two more quarts of oil, it was time to buckle up and strap on the headsets for a cold December flight.

The flight

The plane — 4261 Lima, as it is referred to by air traffic control — was ready for takeoff. Soon enough, White would have his chance to take the controls.

Once the engine was primed and White ensured the propeller was clear of any objects or people, Eason checked over the instrument panel. The propeller rumbled to a start, and the plane began moving.

White’s head was on a swivel, and the anticipation in the cockpit mounted. He was about to fly a plane for the first time.

The tower gave the go-ahead, and Eason taxied the plane to the end of the runway. Chatter overwhelmed their headsets.

Sun poured into the cockpit and the plane hurtled down the strip. Eason said he might let White take the controls during takeoff.

The plane reeled to get off the ground; the nose strained upward, and as Eason strained for more speed, the aircraft experienced a few jostling bumps.

Eason guided the plane to 3,600 feet – even Mount Katahdin, 75 miles away, stood clear on the horizon. Soon, instructor and student steered the plane toward the air space over Pushaw Lake, which serves as a practice area for pilots in training, free from the dangers of air traffic.

After Eason demonstrated a bank in flight, White took the controls and followed the instructor’s lead. Miraculously, the turn was a smooth one – and again and again White practiced climbing, descending, turning and banking.

All the while, White laughed and talked with Eason, their voices audible through the headsets.

“Have you done this before?” Eason asked White, jokingly. “I think he’s done this before.”

In all, the flight lasted about 25 minutes, and Eason and White worked together to land the aircraft.

“That was incredible,” White said once they returned to the ground.

“I think that was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had — definitely worth it,” he added. “I’ve wanted to do that for so long.”

“Tell your family it’s what you want for Christmas,” Eason said.

Original source: