Sunday, February 12, 2012

2 dead in Argentine air crash

By Philstar
February 13, 2012 08:40 AM

BUENOS AIRES -- Two young Argentine men were found dead on Sunday after the small light plane they were traveling in crashed into a soy field in the eastern part of the country, local police officials said.

The two passengers were identified as Facundo Richard, 27, and Luciano de Dio, 20. They were traveling near the region La Isleta, which is known for its nature and wildlife. De Dio was the son of the owner of the airplane.

The plane crashed late Saturday evening when the two men were near the rural town of San Salvador located some 380 kilometers north of the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

Local police sources said the plane had been found completely destroyed and that authorities were investigating the cause of the accident.

PT. Garuda Indonesia Can’t Replace Aging Aircraft Quick Enough

By Neil Denslow and Femi Adi - Feb 12, 2012 8:18 PM ET

PT Garuda Indonesia (GIAA), the nation’s largest listed carrier, said it can’t get new Boeing Co. 777 planes quickly enough as it tries to boost yields on long-haul routes.

“We need 777s immediately, but they’re not available right now,” Chief Executive Officer Emirsyah Satar said today in an interview in Singapore, ahead of the city-state’s airshow. “Therefore, we cannot really renew our fleet quickly enough.”

The carrier is due to receive the first three of 10 on- order 777s next year, which it will use on routes to Europe and the Middle East. The planes will help Garuda raise fares and lower costs by replacing older 747-400s that are less fuel efficient and offer fewer features for passengers.

“Indonesians will pay more if they get more,” Satar said. With the 747s, “we really cannot get a good yield, as the aircraft are old aircraft.”

Garuda, based in Jakarta, will also this week sign an order for Bombardier Inc. (BB/D) regional jets to help bolster operations on smaller islands in Indonesia. The contract will comprise 18 firm orders and 18 options, Satar said. The airline intends to take 25 of the planes by 2015, he said.

The carrier raised 4.8 trillion rupiah ($530 million) in an initial public offering about a year ago to help pay for new planes. The stock closed at 620 rupiah in Jakarta trading on Feb. 10, compared with the 750 rupiah IPO price.

Garuda expects to boost sales 21 percent this year from an unaudited total of 27.1 trillion rupiah in 2011, as growth stokes travel. The nation’s economy grew 6.46 percent in 2011, the fastest pace since before the Asian financial crisis.

Low-Cost Competition

The airline is facing rising competition from low-cost carriers led by PT Lion Mentari Airlines, which expected to boost passenger numbers 30 percent last year to 27 million. The closely held airline has agreed to a provisional order for 230 Boeing Co. 737 planes worth $21.7 billion at list prices.

Tiger Airways Holdings Ltd., part-owned by Singapore Airlines Ltd., also last month completed the purchase of a 33 percent stake in PT Mandala Airlines to enter the Indonesian market. AirAsia Bhd. (AIRA), the region’s largest budget carrier, already has an affiliate in the country.

Garuda’s own budget arm, Citilink, expects to almost triple sales this year and to more than double passenger numbers to as many as 4 million. The unit is due to receive 11 new Airbus planes this year, roughly doubling its fleet, as it works to add about four new domestic cities to its network.


2011 was a safe year in the skies

By Ian MacLeod February 12, 2012 8:12 PM

OTTAWA - Commercial plane crashes reached an all-time worldwide low last year, according to a report released Friday by the Flight Safety Foundation.

The news, however, is tempered. The worst major commercial jet crash in the western world in 2011 was in Canada.

The Aug. 20 crash of a First Air Boeing 737 into a hillside outside Resolute Bay, Nunavut killed 12 of 15 people aboard and was North America’s only major fatal commercial jet disaster last year.

It was among 14 big airliner crashes worldwide that claimed 314 lives, down from 564 deaths in 2010. The deadliest single crash was that of an Iran Air 727 in Orumiyeh, Iran that killed 78 people.

Still, the accident rate for western-built commercial jets last year was 0.27 accidents per million departures, a dramatic drop from 0.54 in 2010 and the 0.57 average for the previous decade.

A Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigation into the First Air tragedy is nearing completion and preliminary evidence shows the flight crew initiated a “go-round”, or aborted landing, just before impact.

It is not known what prompted the pilots to abort, but “go-rounds” are not uncommon and usually uneventful.

Flight 6560s controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) is a common characteristic of many of the world’s worst crashes, along with failed approaches, landings and mid-air loss of control.

The majority of the major commercial jet crashes in 2011 were approach and landing accidents — eight in total — according to the foundation.

Four others were CFIT accidents and in two others, the planes barrelled off the end of runways.

Previous research by the foundation determined that “unstabilized” approaches compounded by a failure to go around when warranted are major risk factors, accounting for 83 per cent of approach and landing accidents.

Maintaining a stable speed, descent rate and vertical lateral flight path in landing configuration is commonly referred to as the stabilized approach concept.

Researchers say three to four per cent of all approaches are unstabilized, yet more than nine of every 10 such approaches continues to landing.

Meanwhile, 2011 saw 23 major accidents involving commercial turboprop aircraft with more than 14 seats, in line with the five-year average of 23.4.

The foundation report says the greatest turboprop danger continues to be CFIT, which accounted for 26 per cent — one out of every four — of 70 such crashes over the previous three years.

Two commercial turboprops crashed in Canada last year. On April 1, a twin-engined Casa 212 Aviocar belonging to an Ottawa geological surveying company crashed into a sound barrier along a busy street in Saskatoon, killing passenger Iaroslav Gorokhovski, 47, of Embrun. Two other men survived.

Again on Sept. 22, de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter for Arctic Sunwest Charters crashed onto a residential street in Yellowknife, killing the two pilots. Seven passengers survived.

Accident rates for Canada in 2011 have yet to be released. In 2010, 288 aviation accidents were reported to the TSB, putting the accident rate for Canadian-registered aircraft at 6.0 accidents per 100 000 flying hours down from to 6.2 in 2009.

The Flight Safety Foundation is an independent, non-profit U.S.-based organization with a worldwide membership that monitors global safety issues and lobbies for improvements.

Singapore Airshow 2012 Flight Display Rehearsal, Pre-Show Media Conference and Update on Singapore's Aerospace Industry

The Singapore Airshow 2012 takes place February 14-19, however today Mr Jimmy Lau, Managing Director of Experia Events - the organizers of the Singapore Airshow - held a pre-show press conference to tell media about the latest figures and what trade and visitors alike can expect from the show this year.

In the press conference you will learn all about the show's statistics, information about the air displays on both the trade days from 14-17 February and the two consumer days on 18 and 19 February, and what aircraft will be on display and when, as well as a lot more information on the show itself.

by Asia Travel Tips on Feb 12, 2012
Practice makes perfect, and at the Singapore Airshow - one of the largest Airshows in the world - perefection is what they are striving for. In this quick HD video, you get a little look at what awaits visitors (both trade and consumer) to the Singapore Airshow 2012. ASIA Travel has not featured all the displays that were rehearsing on 12 February 2012 and has left out a large amount of what you will see because we do not want to ruin it for you, but give you a little taste of just how exciting this year's displays will be.

See also:

1) Singapore Airshow 2012 - Global Aviation Trends and an Update on Singapore's Aerospace Industry (12 February 2012):

2) Singapore Airshow 2012 - Pre-Show Press Conference with Jimmy Lau, MD of Organiser - Experia Events (12 February 2012):

3) Singapore Airshow 2012 - Flight Display Rehearsal on 12 February 2012:

4) ) Singapore Airshow 2012 - Interior of Boeing 787 Dreamliner (12 February 2012):

And much, much more to come.

Mooney M20F Executive, David Edward Houghton (rgd. owner), N7759M: Accident occurred July 07, 2011 in Watsonville, California.

NTSB Identification: WPR11FA316 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, July 07, 2011 in Watsonville, CA
Aircraft: MOONEY M20F, registration: N7759M
Injuries: 4 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 7, 2011, about 1920 Pacific daylight time, a Mooney M20F, N7759M, was substantially damaged when it impacted a parking lot and a building shortly after takeoff from Watsonville Municipal Airport (WVI), Watsonville, California. The private pilot and the three passengers received fatal injuries. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight.

The airplane was co-owned by the pilot and one other individual. According to the co-owner, the airplane was based at WVI. Relatives reported that the pilot, his wife, and their two children planned to travel to Groveland, California, for the weekend. Lockheed Martin Flight Services (LMFS) information indicated that the pilot contacted LMFS by telephone on the day of the accident about 1023, and again about 1417, to obtain weather briefings. The pilot informed the LMFS representative that his intended destination was Pine Mountain Lake Airport (E45), Groveland.

According to information provided by several eyewitnesses, the airplane departed from WVI runway 20. Two witnesses, in separate locations, and one of whom was a pilot, reported that the climb angle after takeoff appeared "steep." Both observed the airplane commence a very rapid left roll when it was approximately 500 feet above the threshold of runway 2. The airplane appeared to roll until it was "nearly inverted," and the nose "dropped," so that it was pointing towards the ground. It descended rapidly, and completed about two "tight turns" or "spirals" before it appeared to begin to recover, and then disappeared behind trees. Both witnesses observed fire and smoke immediately thereafter. Ground scars indicated that the airplane first impacted a parking lot about 700 feet southeast of the threshold of runway 2, slid about 130 feet forward, and struck the building. Parallel slash marks in the pavement were consistent with propeller strikes from an engine that was developing power. The airplane structure was severely disrupted by the impact, and portions were consumed by fire.

According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) information, the airplane was manufactured in 1974, and was equipped with a Lycoming IO-360 series engine, and a 3-blade propeller. The pilot was issued his private pilot certificate on March 17, 2011. The airplane co-owner indicated that they purchased the airplane in late November 2010. The co-owner indicated that the pilot accrued about 140 total hours in the airplane, which included most of his flight training for his pilot certificate.

The WVI 1853 automated weather observation included winds from 190 degrees at 6 knots; visibility 10 miles; clear skies; temperature 16 degrees C; dew point 12 degrees C; and an altimeter setting of 29.91 inches of mercury. Multiple witnesses reported that the low layer of stratus clouds that was typical for the region at that time of year, was present just southwest of the airport. Some witnesses reported that the boundary of the stratus layer was coincident with Highway 1, which ran perpendicular to runway 2/20, and was situated about 1/4 mile from the threshold of runway 2.

Dan Chauvet is a retired corporate pilot and high-time flight instructor and Watsonville resident.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

-- Yogi Berra

Dan Chauvet

But Yogi, how does one make a critical decision?

In Watsonville Airport's 71-year history, never had an aircraft impacted a home or building. That changed on July 7, 2011. In an especially tragic fatal accident, a Mooney M20F, N7759M, struck the hospital annex. Aboard was the Houghton family. The NTSB has not issued its final report yet with specifics and probable cause.

In the NTSB's investigation they solicited observations; I responded regarding weather conditions. Immediately after the accident I received a phone call and then went to the site. The fog situation was typical, covering part of the airport, with the cloud bases lowering toward Highway 1, the freeway. A witness a pilot who observed the accident saw a too-slow steep turn and a stall-spin. He asked why the pilot had not used the east-west runway. Why pick the worse option?

Takeoffs can be made from four runways opposite ways on two different pavements. Runways are numbered by magnetic compass directions. Adding a zero 0 to the runway number is the approximate magnetic direction. The pilot of the Mooney elected to takeoff south on runway 20 about 200 degrees toward the fog. If he had taken off to the west on runway 26 about 260 degrees, he could have made a normal departure, a climbing turn to the right, away from the stratus. Or if he had departed to the east on runway 8 he could have made a normal climbing turn to the left and again been away from clouds. Or he could have taxied down to runway 2 and taken off straight-out, north 017 degrees and stayed low until out from under the fog layer.

Or he might have been able to lower the aircraft's nose to a normal climb and climbed straight out through the stratus. But he was not instrument rated, qualified to fly in the clouds. For a non-instrument rated pilot, it's a violation of the FAA regulations to fly in clouds and he risked experiencing spatial disorientation and loss of control.

Or, if something is not right with the aircraft, the pilot, or the weather conditions -- flight "canceled" the airlines do.

Since the inception of Watsonville Municipal Airport, flight instructors and pilots have flown a right-hand pattern using the east-west runway to avoid the fog. It demonstrates to student pilots how to operate safely; and it allows flights schools to continue business.

At Watsonville Airport there is a "preferred runway" designation, for noise abatement reasons. That might promote the tendency for some pilots to get in the habit of taxiing to runway 20 for takeoff south toward the freeway. A Watsonville city official proposed closing the east-west runway to allow houses to be built just west of the airport. That would have eliminated safe options. The east-west runways keep the airport usable when wind, birds, maintenance, and disabled aircraft make the other runways non-operational. Thinking-wise, the "preferred runway" must be the safe runway.

Every two years flight instructors are required to complete a Flight Instructor Revalidation Course FIRC. Decision-making has been added to the FIRC because poor decisions are involved in many accidents. The FIRC tries to show flight instructors how to develop a pilot's mental warning system, yellow and red lights of impending danger. These trigger safe decisions. Beyond the initial flight training, decision making is included in required recurrent training similar to a drivers test.

Flight instructors, fellow pilots, those putting on safety seminars -- and airport operators -- need to promote assessing options, and taking the safe one.

Dan Chauvet is a retired corporate pilot and high-time flight instructor and Watsonville resident.


Burial At Sea from Pumpkin Studios on Vimeo.

Life of Coliseum's Golson celebrated at service: More than 300 attend liturgy held at Christ Episcopal Church

Friends and family members make their way Saturday into Christ Episcopal Church in Macon for the services of Allen Golson. Golson, the CEO of Coliseum Health System, died Jan. 27 after the plane he was piloting to Florida crashed on a landing attempt near Ocala, Fla.


The life of Allen Golson was celebrated at a liturgy held Saturday at the Christ Episcopal Church in Macon.

Extra folding chairs had to be added to the aisles and at the back of the church to seat the more than 300 attending the service.

“It’s nice to see such a rich tapestry of ... all of us who are here because we knew Allen or because we support Carol (Allen’s wife),” said The Rev. David Probst.

Allen Golson, who had been chief executive officer for Coliseum Health System for seven years, was killed Jan. 27 when the twin-engine plan he was piloting crashed in central Florida.

Golson, 55, and his wife were flying from Macon to Ocala, Fla., when their Cessna 340 went down in a field south of the Ocala International Airport. Allen Golson died of burns and smoke inhalation, authorities said. Carol Golson, 52, was injured in the crash and treated at a nearby hospital. The couple had been married 30 years.

Earlier in January, Golson had announced he was moving to Ocala to be CEO of a hospital there. The couple was traveling to Florida to look for a house.

The church Saturday was filled with family, friends, neighbors co-workers or associates of Golson and his wife.

Rev. Probst reminded those gathered that everyone goes through a number of emotions while dealing with the death of a loved one. He mentioned that even Jacob “wrestled” with God.

“Sometimes we have to wrestle with God because we wonder -- particularly with someone Allen’s age -- why?” Probst said. “Why did this have to happen? Allen was in the prime of his life. He was beginning a new chapter in his life, and he was very excited about the opportunities.”

Probst said he didn’t have an answer.

“That’s a part of the wrestling that we have to do with God, as we deal with this,” he said. “We have to know that God did not cause this. We have to know that God did not take Allen home, ... but we can believe that Allen is at home with God.”

Probst drew chuckles from the crowd as he talked about what Allen may be doing.

“I imagined this morning that Allen, being an administrator, is probably helping St. Peter ... about how the various aspects of heaven should work,” he said. “It would be a shame to waste all that good administrative talent.”

Probst asked everyone to listen to the words of the songs and prayers during the service for the messages of hope and encouragement.

“It reminds us that at this moment, life is changing and not ending,” he said. “We shall carry on. We have to carry on.”

Snowmobilers rescue pilot after plane crash on Mount Baker glacier


BELLINGHAM - A 28-year-old Bellingham man was safe at home Sunday after crashing a private plane Saturday night on the south side of Mount Baker.

The pilot, who was not named, apparently was rescued by snowmobilers, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office. The plane was a described as a Piper, but its model was unavailable.

The state Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the incident. Officials from those agencies did not return phone calls Sunday afternoon.
Click here to find out more!

The incident began as an aircraft was reported missing Saturday night by family members who said the pilot had not returned from his trip to take photos of Mount Baker. About the same time, the Transportation Department's Aviation Division was alerted to an emergency beacon from a downed aircraft.

A crew from the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station was scrambled to search for the lost plane.

Meanwhile, law-enforcement officials in Whatcom County received reports about 7:20 p.m. Saturday of both a snowmobile accident and a plane crash or forced landing at Schreibers Meadow, a popular recreation area south of the 10,781-foot Mount Baker.

Although much of the land in the Mount Baker National Recreation Area is designated wilderness and off-limits to vehicles, there is a small portion that's open to snowmobilers. It's accessible only by unpaved roads from Whatcom County to the east and by Forest Service roads and hiking trails from Skagit County west of Baker Lake Road.

When search-and-rescue personnel arrived at Schreibers Meadow, they learned that injured snowmobilers had been taken off the mountain by friends. Information on the extent of their injuries was unknown.

Search and rescue personnel proceeded toward the signal from the plane's emergency beacon on the Deming Glacier at the 7,800-foot level.

When they reached the plane, it was empty. Officials learned later that snowmobilers had transported the pilot off the mountain.

It was unknown how the plane was to be removed from the glacier.

Kabila aide dies, minister hurt in Democratic Republic of Congo plane crash

KINSHASA (Reuters) - Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila's chief adviser was killed and his finance minister seriously injured in a plane crash near the eastern town of Bukavu on Sunday, a government spokesman said.

The accident, the latest in a string of crashes in a country with one of the world's worst air safety records, comes as Kabila goes about the task of forming a new government coalition after his disputed victory in November's chaotic election.

"Unfortunately I have to confirm the death of Katumba Mwanke and the pilot," spokesman Lambert Mende said by telephone.

"It's a very big loss, he was considered a pillar of the presidential majority." Mende said of Katumba Mwanke.

He added that Finance Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon and roving ambassador Antoine Ngonda were "heavily wounded" in the crash and Marcellin Cishambo Rohuya, governor of the local South Kivu province, was lightly injured.

There was no official death toll immediately available and details of the crash were patchy.

"I don't have the number (of passengers) but according to our people in South Kivu the pilot landed in the middle of the strip, and went over the end," said Alexandre Essome, spokesman for the UN mission in the eastern town of Goma, where the plane took off.

Pilot gets walking papers

LIAT pilot Keith Allen was deported from Barbados after he was fined over EC $330,000 for drug possession. 
(Photo courtesy the Nation newspaper)

By Observer News

St. John’s Antigua- Regional carrier LIAT clipped the wings of pilot Keith Richard Otway Allen, who was fined over EC $330,000 dollars for smuggling drugs into Barbados.

“The management wishes to confirm the termination of the company’s employment relationship with First Officer Allen with effect from December 2, 2011,” was LIAT’s only comment in a two-line news release.

December 2 was when Allen pleaded guilty to the trying to smuggle 65 pounds of cannabis in his suitcase through customs at Grantley Adams International Airport.

The greatest portion of the fine was $135,000 for trafficking. In all he faced four charges and by paying the fine, the national of St. Vincent and the Grenadines averted the four-year prison sentence which applied to each count.

The sentence,  handed down by Magistrate Laurie-Ann Smith-Bovell in the District “F” Magistrates’ Court, brought an end to a matter that featured two Methodist preachers appearing as character witnesses for the pilot, and several adjournments after Allen’s guilty plea.

Allen was released into the custody of Barbados immigration officials for deportation.


Swiss Air Force: Government ignored air force over jets

Feb 12, 2012 - 12:48

The Swiss air force recommended buying French or European fighter jets to replace its aging fleet – not the Swedish fighters later chosen by politicians.

A confidential report published in the Sunday newspapers says air force tests in 2008 showed that Rafale fighters, made by French company Dassault Aviation, or Eurofighters built by a European consortium, were the best overall performers.

The cabinet acknowledged cost was a factor in its decision, announced on November 30, to order 22 Gripen fighters from Saab to replace the air force’s Northrop F-5 Tigers.

There was no immediate government comment on Sunday.

According to the tests, the overall effectiveness of the Gripen MS21 “remains inadequate to achieve air supremacy in the face of future threats beyond 2015”.

The report also said the plane “never reaches the ‘Meet Minimum Expected Capabilities’ in all type of missions”.

In an interview published in the SonntagsZeitung and Le Matin Dimanche, Yvan Perrin from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and a member of the government security commission said Switzerland “could forget about” the Gripen.

“I knew the Gripen was worse than the two other planes, but I never thought it would be so bad,” he said.

Perrin said the worst thing was that the Gripen couldn’t even fulfil the demands of the air police.

“And so we lose our one and only argument for defending the plane in a national vote."

Opponents of any purchase of fighter jets want the decision to be put before Swiss voters. If necessary, the pacifist group Group for Switzerland without an Army (GSoA) and the Greens say they will launch an initiative calling for a moratorium on the purchase.

They had previously collected the requisite 100,000 signatures needed to call a vote on the issue, but had withdrawn it when the government announced that it would postpone buying the jets.

For his part, Maurer told a media conference on November 30 that the Gripen was by far the cheapest option of the three aircraft in contention. He put the total cost of the fleet of 22 aircraft at about SFr3.1 billion ($3.4 billion).

Since then Saab and Dassault have both mentioned lowering the price in order to get the contract.

The cabinet is set to rubber stamp the deal later this month. The dossier will then go to parliament, which will decided on the issue in either summer or the autumn.


Training for when a pilot's world turns upside down

Sunday, February 12, 2012
By C.J. Chivers, The New York Times

NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. -- The pilot sat strapped to a chair, held in place as if he were in the backseat of a helicopter. Beside him, on a mock wall, was a window. The window was closed.

The pilot wore opaque goggles. He could not see the window, or anything else. The chair was attached to a rotating stand in the chest-deep water of a swimming pool. A petty officer spun a large wheel, flipping the chair backward with a gentle whoosh. The pilot was now underwater, upside down.

Another exercise in the test had begun.

The pilot -- feet near the surface, head near the bottom, sightless -- was to disconnect himself from the buckled straps, wiggle free, open the window and pull himself through and out, a series of movements intended to simulate what he might need to do in an aircraft that had struck the sea at night.

Every four years, the Navy requires its pilots and those who fly with them to renew their skills in escaping from downed aircraft or surviving an ejection and parachute descent into water. The refresher class, depending on where each student is based, is held in one of several schools like this one, the Aviation Survival Training Center on this Navy base in coastal Washington state.

In the peculiar way that demanding and slightly frightening training is often viewed by those who undergo it, the course is simultaneously appreciated and loathed.

The pilot who was flipped upside down on this day, Lt. Cmdr. Kelsey N. Martin, struggled briefly with the buckle that held the straps across his torso. He soon broke free and swam through the window without the assistance of the rescue swimmer watching alongside.

Later, he offered the common sentiment.

"I was not looking forward to this," he said, before adding: "This training is actually very valuable. I say that because I know four guys who have ejected over water, and all of them lived."

The ordeal with the chair that flips upside down -- known as the Modular Shallow Water Egress Trainer -- was one exercise of several.

Lt. Cmdr. Martin and his classmates also had to pass a swim test wearing boots, flight suit and helmet, demonstrate that they could inflate a life preserver with a breathing tube while treading water, and complete several situational exercises, including escaping from a parachute harness that, via an electric pulley, dragged each man backward through the water as he tried to undo the harness's buckles.

This drill was meant to replicate the experience of being pulled across the ocean surface by a parachute driven by high winds, which could drown a pilot who had survived an otherwise successful ditching.

The final exercise, the so-called dunker, involved being seated wearing opaque goggles in a simulated helicopter as it was dropped into 12 feet of water and rotated upside down. Several pilots and crew members would have to escape at once, while safety divers watched, ready to rescue anyone who became stuck.

That exercise, like the overturned chair, taught crew members to choose an exit and then to rely on "reference points" to get there -- firm handholds inside the aircraft with which to pull themselves, handhold by handhold, toward an opening.

The course, which lasts two days, seeks to drill reactions into aircrews for surviving the most likely dangers they might face.

Lt. Cmdr. Martin is an E/A-18G pilot. Though jet pilots do not fly helicopters, they sometimes are carried as passengers within them, and are required to complete the helicopter training, too. Two journalists from The New York Times were also required to complete a recent course before receiving permission to fly inside carrier-based F/A-18s for coverage of the Afghan war.

Cmdr. Richard V. Folga, the school's director, said the reasoning behind the training is locked in aviation math. Every year, no matter how much attention aviation squadrons pay to maintenance and safety, naval aircraft experience catastrophic failures. Pilots and aircrews end up in the sea.

The Navy sometimes loses as many as eight or 10 jet aircraft a year, he said. And so, after one day in a classroom receiving instruction and doing practice drills, the crews head to the pool for a long session in the water, in case one day the math catches up to them.

Cmdr. Folga said he knows some officers attend with dread.

"If I could guarantee that you would never need this training, I would say, 'OK, sit in the back and use your iPhone and do whatever you want to do, while the rest of us work,'" he said. "But these exercises are all based on real incidents and sometimes on recurrent real incidents."

He added: "No one plans for this kind of mishap. People don't go to work one day expecting that they will have to eject. But it happens. And when it happens, they have to be ready."

That statement aligned with the experience of Lt. Jonathan D. Farley, an F/A-18 pilot who volunteered in late 2007 to serve as a downed pilot for a rescue-training exercise on the West Coast. Lt. Farley was picked up from the ground by an MH-60 helicopter crew.

As the helicopter returned to an aircraft carrier with him in a back seat, the exercise turned real.

"I wasn't paying attention; I was along for the ride," he said. Then he saw multiple warning lights flash at once in the cockpit's instrument panel. A crewman near him pointed toward the water, and then assumed a brace position.

The helicopter was going down.

Without time to prepare, Farley was trapped in a sequence straight from the dunk-tank course.

The pilot up front managed to maintain enough control over the crippled helicopter to put it onto the surface softly. But it immediately flipped over. Cold water rater rushed in and closed around the passengers and crew. They were sinking, upside down, just as Lt. Cmdr. Martin did at his recent course.

Lt. Farley followed the only instructions he knew. "I did exactly what the training had taught me," he said. "I grabbed a reference point, drew my breath right before the water went over my head and unbuckled."

As he slipped free from his seat, he could see nothing. He pulled himself toward where he thought he might escape, but lost his way. He does not remember finding the exit, but he must have. Just before his lungs gave out he was on the surface, the last man out.

Everyone survived: two pilots up front, three crew members and the two passengers. A second helicopter had been flying with the MH-60. Its crew plucked the survivors from the sea.

Lt. Farley, who said he is not a strong swimmer, spoke of the survival course in the same tone as many of those who know they will have to attend the class again. "I hate it with a passion," he said. "But if you are in a bad situation and have trained for it, then you revert to your training and what you know. It is why I am alive."

First published on February 12, 2012 at 12:00 am

Fifty years since dragonfly disappearance

Sun, 12 Feb 2012 6:16p.m.
By Jessica Rowe

Hundreds of aviation enthusiasts gathered in Christchurch today to mark 50 years since the disappearance of a dragonfly plane in the lower South Island.

The plane, with five people on board, disappeared on a scenic flight between Christchurch and Milford and though searchers never found the wreckage, they have not given up.

The aircraft is one of the most searched for aircraft in New Zealand’s aviation history.

“[It is] 50 years to the day since the Dragon Fly with five people took off, and vanished, so I just felt like we needed to do something. And I think today’s successful, gathering to remember, and maybe this is another part of the jigsaw that will solve the mystery – who knows?” says aviation historian Richard Waugh.

The aircraft went missing on February 12, 1962, with pilot Brian Chadwick, and four passengers, including a couple on their honeymoon.

Since that incident, five other aircraft have gone missing in what aviation historian Richard Waugh calls “New Zealand’s Bermuda triangle” – the rugged terrain between Milford Sound, Mt Aspiring and Haast.

Private searcher, Gavin Grimmer, has been searching for the dragonfly for the last five years.

“It’s about time it was found. There are people on board and lots of distressed families. I’d like to see closure for them,” says Mr Grimmer.

“It’s very important to mark the occasion but I also thought it was important to come over and support the groups who are still searching for the plane, to support nad encourage them,” say John and Pat Rowan, brothers of missing passenger Louis Brown.

Organisers of the day say around five hundred aviation enthusiasts turned out to show their support and admire the 25 aircraft on display.

They hope events like this will encourage further searches for the six missing aircraft in the years to come, and that the mystery of New Zealand’s Bermuda triangle will be solved at last.

AirAsia X pilots breached safety margins in trying to land - inquiry

By Andrew Heasley
Published February 13, 2012

AIRASIA X pilots flew so low into Gold Coast airport on two flights that the safety margin from ground and other aircraft could no longer be assured, air investigators have found.

The pilots disregarded safe minimum altitudes for no apparent reason, investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said.

The low flying meant the airliners strayed into non-controlled airspace used by other planes.

That the errors occurred on different flights with different air crew little more than three weeks apart highlighted systemic gaps in the airline's pilot training, the bureau found.

The incidents occurred in rain, cloud and low visibility and involved multiple attempts to land.

The bureau found the pilots were probably not adequately equipped to handle non-standard landing approaches ''other than [in] autopilot managed mode''.

In the first incident, on May 4, 2010, on approach to Gold Coast airport for their second attempt at landing, the pilots in an Airbus A330 with 258 passengers on board, sank below the safe level above the ground.

At 20 kilometres from the airport the plane was already at the minimum allowable level but 900 feet lower than recommended. At the lowest, the pilots flew 200 feet below the official minimum of 1500 feet - and were alerted by air traffic controllers to their low flying, but did not regain altitude - before ultimately abandoning the landing at 750 feet above the ground.

The pilots abandoned a third landing attempt and diverted to Brisbane.

Investigators said it was ''not clear'' why the pilots flew too low, but unfamiliarity may have been a factor, investigators said. On the second flight carrying 260 passengers, on May 29, the pilots, about 19 kilometres from the same airport, began to fly under the recommended altitudes.

The similar breaches on both flights ''indicated there may be systemic factor[s]'' in the airline's training.

In response, AirAsia X revisited its pilot and instructor training, putting all pilots through Gold Coast-specific simulator sessions.

Watchdog report: South Jersey Economic Development District can't pay NextGen contractors


The South Jersey Economic Development District owes about $495,000 to contractors that completed the infrastructure work at the site of the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park. The money is reimbursable to the district under a $2.5 million U.S. Economic Development Agency grant, but the district must first come up with the $495,000.

By JENNIFER BOGDAN, Press of Atlantic City
Posted: Sunday, February 12, 2012 12:05 am
Updated: 9:09 pm, Sat Feb 11, 2012.

The South Jersey Economic Development District, the agency that coordinated building the $7 million infrastructure at the planned NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township, is unable to pay an estimated $495,000 to contractors that did the work.

And SJEDD failed to complete timely audits - as required under U.S. Economic Development Administration guidelines - for two years in a row while undertaking its largest project ever. An audit covering March 2009 through March 2010 was finalized just last week.

As a result, Atlantic County withdrew from the district because the district was unable to provide accurate accounting of the project's debt.

Officials at SJEDD now say the the district may not survive if they are unable to recoup $858,000 spent on the NextGen park so far. Project debt totals more than $1.3 million.

SJEDD, the state's only economic development district, was founded in 1979 under the U.S. Economic Development Administration for the purpose of regional economic planning. The district includes Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties. Atlantic County withdrew last month after 32 years, citing various concerns about the district's operations, including the financial accounting. The SJEDD is funded by $12,000 membership fees paid by the counties, funding provided by the federal EDA, plus other grants and revenue received through administered projects.

Gordon Dahl, executive director of the SJEDD, said the district has been negotiating with the NextGen park's board, which wants SJEDD to turn over the project's land lease that it holds with the Federal Aviation Administration. Dahl and the district's board members say they have no intention of giving up the rights to the lease unless the district is paid the $858,000. The district's board passed a resolution last week agreeing not to accept anything less than that amount for turning over the lease.

"There was no question that the district would recover its money from the land leases so the money could go to the next project, and the next project. (The park's board) came in and said, ‘We're taking over the project. You won't have the land leases, and we're not paying you the capital costs you put into the project that you expected to get back,'" Dahl said.

However, current and former SJEDD board members who were asked about the sublease model, including board Chairman Leonard Desiderio, said they were unaware of that plan - pointing to some degree of miscommunication between them and Dahl. Board members also said that while they approved project expenditures, they were unaware, until recently, that the district was unable to pay it's contractors.

"I knew what was being spent in a general sense, but I was under the impression that the district had the money," said Cape May County Administrator Steve O'Connor, who was a board member until December 2011.

Control of the land

The NextGen park was first announced in October 2005 as a seven-building center that would bring 2,000 high-paying jobs to the area. Building construction, however, has yet to begin. Opportunities for financing the construction were missed under SJEDD's leadership as recently as December 2010, when the district lost a $15 million stimulus bond after it and the park's board failed to secure tenants for the first building.

Bids for construction of the first building have twice expired and were later extended as SJEDD and the park's board were unable to secure a developer needed to finance construction. In January, the low bidder, Hunter Roberts Construction Group, with offices in Philadelphia and Newark, agreed to extend its $9.5 million bid to June 30, 2012, and New Vistas Corp., a Northfield-based real estate and development firm, was announced as a "conditional designated developer" for the project.

However, the announcement is unusual as the park's board, which selected New Vistas, does not have control of the park's land. SJEDD retains the final say over the land through a lease agreement with the FAA. The district will default on the lease if it fails to begin construction of the first building by Dec. 21, 2014.

In January, Dahl and his attorney turned down an offer from the New Jersey Economic Development Administration for a $495,000 bridge loan to pay the contractors, one of whom has not been paid since March 2011.

The bridge loan also would have allowed the district to close out a $2.5 million federal EDA grant. As a condition of accepting the loan, SJEDD would have been required to transfer the lease to the park's board, according to an email written by Dave Nuse, managing director of real estate for the state EDA, that was obtained by The Press of Atlantic City.

"Giving us a $500,000 loan, which we have to pay back, doesn't help the district," Desiderio said. "In hindsight, if we had known what this (NextGen) project was going to be, I think you would have (had) three counties voting not to get involved with it. If we all knew the magnitude, we would have looked for someone else to carry the load. The district can't move forward without its $858,000."

Howard Kyle, chief of staff to Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, said the county has become very involved in attempts to transfer the NextGen lease to the park's board and that it has a vested interest in advancing the project. Kyle said the county believes the district incurred expenses at its own risk, according to a June 2010 memorandum of understanding between SJEDD and the park's board. Atlantic County has contributed $2.5 million taxpayer dollars to the park's $7 million infrastructure installation.

The agreement examined by The Press of Atlantic City states that the parties are responsible for funding their own activities and agree to assume their own risks and liabilities.

"SJEDD rejected the (loan offer from state EDA), insisting on an $858,000 bailout to cover what they called their out-of-pocket expenses. In other words, they were saying if they don't get a bailout, then nobody gets paid and they don't care if the project goes down with them," Kyle said.

"Atlantic County's position is that SJEDD's financial problems are largely the result of unilateral decisions made by the executive director without the full consent of its board. ... If audits were done as required, this would have shown up, and the board might have been able to address this early on."

In October 2011, the county examined SJEDD's finances on the NextGen project and found the $858,000 in unfunded liabilities, or costs incurred during the course of the project that are not subject to reimbursement under other financing agreements. The district had previously been unable to provide an accurate representation of its expenses, county and park officials said.

The $858,000 includes more than $107,000 of interest on a bank loan, nearly $550,000 for architectural firm Environetics Design Inc., and $82,000 for Joe Sheairs, who acted as an SJEDD consultant on the project prior to becoming the park's interim executive director in 2009.

In April 2011, SJEDD sought as much as $1.74 million to turn over control of the project. More than $1 million of the total was accounted for as fees for administering contracts, and obtaining and implementing grants. The district is now focused on the $858,000, Dahl said.

Atlantic County Freeholder Frank Formica was on SJEDD's board for about a year. He says he had serious concerns about the organization. He and Kyle spoke of a meeting that took place Oct. 18, 2010, in which Dahl stated he had the money to pay his contractors and would do so by Dec. 1. When that deadline was not met, Formica said Dahl later admitted at a Dec. 12 meeting that he did not have the money to do so.

Dahl disputes that interpretation, and says he never misrepresented the debts of the project or the district's financial position. Instead, he says, he's always provided the best numbers he's had available on a project with mounting expenses.

"Gordon has promised in front of his board members that he would pay his contractors, and no one has gotten paid. We cannot in good faith be part of an organization that has been less than responsible with the public trust and public funds," Formica said. "It's undeniable that there is no money to pay his encumbered expenses."

Unpaid contractors

According to the district's unaudited calculations, about $495,000 is needed to close out a $2.5 million U.S. Economic Development Agency grant. The district must first pay that sum to its contractors and will be reimbursed later by the EDA with the grant money.

SJEDD took out a $350,000 bank loan to help front some of its expenses, but that line of credit has been exhausted. As of October 2011 - in the most recent figures prepared by Atlantic County's auditor - $107,000 of interest had accumulated on that loan.

Atlantic County Improvement Authority Executive Director John Lamey confirmed that his authority, which acted as a project manager for the infrastructure installation, is owed $64,500. The authority has not received a payment from SJEDD since March 2011 for a bill issued in December 2010. On Feb. 2, the authority issued a letter of default to SJEDD demanding that the district identify the funding source dedicated to pay ACIA when the contract was executed. Payment must be made by Feb. 24 or ACIA will take legal action, the letter states.

ACIA's contract with SJEDD expired Aug. 31. Despite going five months without payment, the authority continued to complete work at the site through October and still makes occasional trips to the site, Lamey said. The agency has not billed for any work since August.

"We've maintained an as-needed presence and done so in recognition of the importance of the project to our region," Lamey said.

Birdsall Services Group, a Sea Girt, Monmouth County-based engineering firm, is owed nearly $140,000. Other contractors owed money reimbursable to the district under the EDA grant include Berlin, Camden County-based Mount Construction; Howell, Monmouth County-based Caruso Excavating, and Egg Harbor City-based Accent Fence. October calculations show the companies were owed $134,000, $56,000 and $85,000 respectively, according to the county's financial report on the project obtained by The Press.

Dahl told The Press that any unpaid invoices were due to insufficient work. In particular, he said, he was unhappy with uneven fencing installation, which caused him to withhold payment to the ACIA. The ACIA, however, said it has not heard any complaints about workmanship since the infrastructure installation was finished in the fall.

"I've spent most of the last year conducting my own inspections on that park because I needed to have the confidence things were getting done right," Dahl said. "That was on my time, not the district's time. I was out there on weekends."

SJEDD also entered into a $172,000 agreement with Atlantic County in December 2010 for road improvements at the intersection of Delilah Road and the NextGen park's access road. The district agreed to use the county's contractor for the improvements and to reimburse the county for its expense, according to the resolution authorizing the agreement and examined by The Press.

When a Sept. 12, 2011, $76,000 invoice was still unpaid by Jan. 3, the county issued a letter of default to the district, threatening to "proceed with all remedies and measures that may be available to secure funding and sanction the SJEDD for breach of contractual obligations."

Dahl issued payment to the district Jan. 18, citing concerns about the quality of the asphalt. County officials said those concerns had never before been addressed, but would be explored. The county has since issued another invoice to SJEDD, requesting a nearly $83,000 payment associated with the same agreement.

How the district works

When SJEDD was first formed in 1979, it was heralded as an ideal way to secure additional funding for the region: A regulation made development districts eligible for an added 10 percent of funding when they applied for federal EDA grants on behalf of member counties.

That regulation, however, was removed from legislation in 2004, according to the federal EDA. There are no other financial incentives to being part of a district. However, without being a member, a county or municipality cannot apply for federal EDA funding unless it has developed a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.

The federal EDA's Philadelphia Regional Office oversees SJEDD. The district is a nonprofit corporation but under its classification is not required to file Form 990s.

Its current development strategy is outlined in a nearly 90-page document available to the public on the district's website that includes employment statistics and development strategies in various sectors such as tourism, aviation, health care, and renewable energy.

SJEDD helped secure and administer a $1.5 million federal grant for the New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, a $2 million federal grant for the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, and a $1.2 million federal grant for Atlantic Cape Community College's Allied Health Technical Institute.

Dahl has been the district's executive director since 1987. He earns $120,000 annually. The district's staff is composed of Dahl, senior planning officer Diana Schiavo and administrative assistant Deborah Dalton. Their salaries are funded through the district's revenues, which come from membership fees paid by counties, federal EDA funding and grants.

Development districts are required to submit audits to the federal EDA only if specifically requested or if the district has spent at least $500,000 of federal funds within a given year. According to those federal guidelines, the district was required to submit an audit, also known as a Circular A-133 under federal regulations, for the past two years; SJEDD has not done so. SJEDD drew down more than $1 million of a federal grant for the park between December 2010 and August 2011.

The federal EDA, recently discovering the oversight, has requested the A-133, but is not penalizing the district.

"Not having an audit done in two years falls on the responsibility of the entire board. Quite honestly, I don't know how that wasn't caught, and it's not excusable," said Cape May County Administrator Steve O'Connor, who was a board member for eight years. O'Connor stepped down in December 2010.

Ocean City-based Ford-Scott and Associates auditor John Sabella said SJEDD did not present materials for the 2009-10 audit until February 2011, 11 months after the end of the district's fiscal year. At that point, Sabella suggested completing a two-year audit, which was later approved by board resolution.

"I would assume that everything would be running the way it ran every other year," Desiderio said when asked why the lapse was allowed to occur. "Being on this board is not a day-to-day, right-on-top-of-it micromanagement of this little district. Up until this NextGen project, everything was smooth, and there was never anything to question, or look at, or wonder, or think about."

Every three years, districts also undergo federal EDA performance evaluations. SJEDD's last occurred in 2010. At that time, no problems were found, according to the EDA.

Dahl has since promised that both years' audits would be complete by Jan. 31. However, that deadline was not met. A copy of the 2009-10 audit approved by SJEDD's board last week has not yet been made available to The Press. A draft of the 2010-11 audit has not yet been completed, and next month the 2011-12 audit should commence. The district's fiscal year ends in March.

Meanwhile, Ford-Scott and Associates found "significant deficiencies" in the district's accounting practices, even in its 2008-09 audit. In an April 30, 2010, letter to the district's management and board, it said certain preferable internal controls did not exist and may not be feasible due to the (small) size of the district's staff.

"This situation dictates that the Board of Directors remains involved in the financial affairs of the district to provide oversight and independent review functions," the letter read.

The audit also questioned why Dahl was using his SJEDD-issued vehicle to commute to and from work.

"Commuting from the director's home to the district office is not considered business use. The value of this business use should be included in the director's wages or be reimbursed to the district by the director," the letter read.

Concerns about Dahl's use of the company car had been brought to the board's attention previously. Former SJEDD attorney and project manager Judith Arnold, who left the district in November 2009, questioned Dahl's use of the company car among other practices involving Dahl's decision-making in a letter to the board.

In June 2009, SJEDD's board appointed Mount Laurel-based attorney Beth Lincow Cole to investigate the allegations. She returned a "confidential investigation summary report" to district leaders a month later finding that no wrongdoing took place, according to the report examined by The Press.

Five months later, Arnold wrote to the U.S. Attorney's Office and state attorney general questioning the same practices. In the letter obtained by The Press, she also questioned the district's accounting practices. Representatives for the U.S. Attorney's Office and the state attorney general said they could not confirm nor deny investigations.

Moving forward

Aside from the financing struggles, the SJEDD's board members question the strength of the district without Atlantic County.

"I question whether the district is sustainable without Atlantic County. If it can move on, its mission will be severely weakened. It really needs the partnership of all four counties to remain a strong, viable organization," O'Connor said.

Federal EDA officials said any projects presented to the EDA will still be evaluated on their own merit and the remaining counties will not necessarily be hurt, though population estimates for the district and per capita income will fluctuate.

Cumberland County Freeholder William Whelan, who has been a board member for about a year, said the remaining three counties are hoping the financial difficulties can be resolved so that Atlantic County can again become a part of the district.

Asked about the financial position of the district, Whelan said he couldn't speak to that until both of the past-due audits have been completed.

"I'd rather have an answer based in fact than in a gut feeling in my stomach. At this point, I need more information." Whelan said. "As a board member, you have an understanding to a certain extent. We're there to make policy decisions, not manage budgets. My gut tells me the district may have overstepped its means."


Friedman Memorial Airport (KSUN) Has Options, Consultants Say

By Karen Bossick For the Times-News
Posted: Sunday, February 12, 2012 1:15 am 

HAILEY • There are a number of things that can be done to reduce the number of flights that must be diverted to Twin Falls from Friedman Memorial Airport during winter storms, a consultant told Airport Board members Thursday night.

But SkyWest and Horizon Airlines — the two commercial airlines serving the airport — have different approaches concerning how they’d best be served, he added.

The Airport Authority was forced to examine how to improve the present airport’s reliability after the Federal Aviation Administration backed away from studies examining the feasibility of relocating the airport south of its present site. The FAA blamed the impact the favored site would have had on sage grouse and the difficulty of attaining funding.

Increasing reliability would improve the airport’s stock, prompting the FAA to be more willing to put funds into it. It could also help Sun Valley attract additional flights from places like Denver, acknowledged Authority Board Member Ron Fairfield.

Dave Mitchell of T-O Engineers, listed several changes that could reduce the number of weather-related diversions in a lengthy, highly technical presentation. Among them: changing the minimum ceiling and visibility requirements, improving ground-based navigational aids, installing dual-approach localizers, utilizing approaches from the north when warranted and having missed approaches turn east instead of west.

Extending the runway from 7,550 feet to the ideal 8,200 feet would also make it easier for airlines to depart without decreasing their load on hot summer days when the temperature exceeds 86 degrees and the air is thinner, he added.

“I’m more concerned about getting people in. I’m not as concerned about getting them out,” said Airport Authority Chairman Tom Bowman, tongue in cheek.

The board directed Airport Manager Rick Baird to present the findings to the FAA for guidance about which option or options would offer the best return on their investment.

“The information tonight shows, yes, we can improve the reliability. If we can do that, we not only have the potential of receiving FAA funding but we can improve our diversion rate and visitor experience,” said Blaine County Commissioner and airport authority board member Angenie McCleary. “Now it’s time to go back to the FAA and tell them about what we learned. I don’t feel we can make one decision over another tonight.”

Atlantic City International Airport (KACY): Casino Reinvestment Development Authority Tourism Barometer Shows Positive Signs For Atlantic City, New Jersey

Ryan Parmer,
2/11/12 09:58 pm

ATLANTIC CITY-- Despite disappointing casino revenue numbers being released yesterday, the CRDA says tourism held steady in January.

The CRDA's monthly tourism barometer report says that key business indicators point to a positive trend. The number of tourists stopping at visitor centers was up nearly 25% compared to January 2011. The number of people visiting Atlantic City's official tourism website was up 30% compared to last year.

The CRDA also says that increases in volume on the Atlantic City Expressway and at the Atlantic City International Airport are positive signs for tourism in Atlantic City.

The mild Winter weather and new master plan released by the CRDA are cited as potential reasons for the increase in tourism this January.

Buffalo Niagara International (KBUF): Airport plan aims for the sky.

By Robert J. McCarthy
Published: February 11, 2012, 10:31 PM
Updated: February 11, 2012, 11:48 PM

You wouldn't think a shrinking population and a stagnant economy would make a case for major investments at Buffalo Niagara International Airport any time soon.

But the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority -- which runs the airport -- is nevertheless finalizing a 20-year master plan to spend $406 million on major upgrades for the terminal, parking and airfield.

That's because just across the Niagara River, the population, the economy and the demand for air travel continue to grow. And as Buffalo Niagara's convenience and lower costs attract more travelers from the Toronto megalopolis, airport planners predict steady growth at the Cheektowaga facility.

The NFTA and its consultants now envision about 8 million travelers per year by 2030 -- a major spurt from 5.4 million in 2011. An overflow of Ontario license plates in the airport parking lots tells the story -- 8 percent were Canadian in 1997, compared with 40 percent today.

"That's our potential," said William R. Vanecek, the NFTA's director of aviation. "In Western New York, we anticipate the population will shrink. But we're positioning ourselves to serve not only Western New York, but Southern Ontario, too."

"It's that great big country to the north," he added. "They just keep coming down."

Major components of the airport's 20-year master plan include:
  • Parking capacity would grow from the current 6,800 vehicles to about 10,500 -- some of it to be completed next year.
  • A long-discussed overpass from the terminus of the Kensington Expressway, providing direct access to the airport.
  • New entryways to improve foot traffic inside the terminal from the current ticketing area to flight gates.
  • An expanded baggage-retrieval area with modern "slope plate" carousels, replacing the current flatbed system.
  • The addition of three new gates, with plans for more if needed.
  • New taxiways to reduce the need for small aircraft to cross runways, as well as relocated emergency and maintenance facilities and an upgraded runway approach near the Thruway.
  • Continued noise abatement efforts.
The price tag is enormous -- approaching the $585 million the NFTA spent on construction of Metro Rail almost three decades ago. But planners see the Federal Aviation Administration assuming about $184 million of the expansion costs, with the NFTA picking up about $138 million, New York State about $31 million and other sources about $53 million.

None of the money is guaranteed, Vanecek stressed. He said the authority will approach the FAA and the state Department of Transportation incrementally, as needs develop over the course of the 20-year master plan. And the authority must compete with applications from other airports for a limited pot of funds.
"All of these projects are a plan, but they are not guaranteed 100 percent," he said. "This would happen in a perfect world."

Still, the NFTA and the McFarland Johnson airport consulting firm believe their projections are on target, Vanecek said, and that the applications will receive serious consideration throughout the coming years.
'A binational airport'

Aside from required public hearings that drew few attendees, the first master plan update since 2002 has generated little public attention. Even Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, was unaware of such a major project in the community's future.

Still, Rudnick called the news exciting for a facility that already represents one of the area's major selling points. And he emphasized the plan is generated by the market, not "some artificial infusion of resources."
"When you think of this airport, it's not really a U.S. airport, but a binational airport," he said. "That binational marketplace is expanding, and the airport marketing plan is taking full advantage."

Sensible and cost-effective expansion results from the foresight of former NFTA Chairmen Robert D. Gioia and the late Luiz F. Kahl, Rudnick said. They oversaw the 1997 construction of a $56 million terminal designed for gradual increases, he said, as well as a marketing plan that attracted low-cost airlines and Canadian travelers.

Canadians are crossing the border in such numbers that the 5 million passenger mark, originally projected for 2015, was surpassed several years ago. It all hinges, travel experts said, on three factors: convenience, elimination of customs hassle and -- most importantly -- lower costs.

"It's cheaper," said Roland Reusch, president of Trade Winds Travel in Blasdell. "Several years ago, you were looking at around 60 cents [exchange] on a dollar; now it's even. And if you are looking at a Toronto to Florida flight," he said, "the air fare is taxed at 20 to 30 percent. Buffalo to Florida is about 10 percent."

Canadians also favor easy-to-use Buffalo Niagara, compared with the three-terminal behemoth of Pearson International in Toronto, Reusch said.

"I give kudos to Buffalo," he said. "They built it in a way so it could be enlarged with the least amount of inconvenience and time."

12,000 parking spaces

In addition, Canadians are lured to Cheektowaga by clearing customs once at the Peace Bridge, rather than enduring the entire baggage and customs process again while changing for some flights that originated in Canada, Reusch said.

Under the new plan, more parking solves some of the most pressing needs at Buffalo Niagara. Initial plans call for spending about $8 million for a 1,100 vehicle lot off Holtz Drive in the shadow of the airport control tower, to be completed in late 2013. It will help alleviate the spring break parking crunch travelers face each year.

The new master plan also calls for additional covered parking in front of the current garage for 2017, bringing the airport on par with other upstate facilities such as Albany, Rochester and Syracuse. Covered parking in the ultimate plan is forecast to grow from about 375 spots to 4,400.

The current garage, often criticized for blocking views of the terminal building, will not go higher, Vanecek said, though he said the top deck may be covered.

"When you live in a town like Buffalo, and you get a lot of snow, a lot of folks want covered parking," Vanecek said. "Rochester, Syracuse and Albany have much more than we do."

When off-site lots are factored in, planners see about 12,000 spaces available by 2030.

Parking expansion represents most of the NFTA's costs, and it will be financed by the authority's bonding ability.

Another major component of the plan will be an overpass ramp from the terminus of the Kensington Expressway to the airport -- which has been discussed by transportation planners for more than 25 years.

"Right now, out there at 5 p.m., it has really reached capacity," Vanecek said, adding the project will prove costly -- about $13.6 million, including a redesigned internal roadway system.

Passengers will also notice major changes inside the terminal, with expansion forecast on both sides of the main building. But instead of one central passageway leading to boarding areas, plans call for two passageways to relieve congestion, Vanecek said.

"Now, it's unusual for waiting time to be more than 20 minutes," Vanecek said of the security check-in process. "But we want to be ahead of the curve and plan."

Baggage will also be affected, with the eastward addition of one carousel and upgrading to the "slope plate" facilities now seen in large airports.

"We've gone from 3 million passengers to 5.5 million passengers, and at certain times of the week we have a huge amount of congestion down there," he said. "We have to find a way to expand."

Runway improvements

The process of planning, competing for funds and construction will prove fairly constant in the coming years, Vanecek said.

"The big nut is the terminal upgrade at about $17 million," he said, which will be funded mostly through federal entitlement money based on rising passenger levels.

The project also will include major operational improvements on the "air side" of the facility. A parallel taxiway on the east side of Runway 14-32 is planned, as is additional taxiway capacity to and from the cargo ramp.

"Right now, [aircraft] have to make three runway crossings," Vanecek said of plans for only one runway crossing for smaller planes. "It's not unsafe. But if you want to improve safety, the fewer runway crossings, the better."

Building up the runway approach near the Thruway will allow for an upgraded instrument landing system to reduce the possibility of diverted flights, because landing "ceilings" will be significantly improved, he said. The project involves a significant amount of earth moving, as crews expand the area near the Thruway to support new equipment.

Buildings at 251 Cayuga Road now used for maintenance, plows and lawn-mowing equipment will be demolished and the land opened for development, Vanecek said, with new maintenance and firefighting facilities to be constructed.

Obtaining federal and state money will continue to prove a challenge throughout the process, Vanecek said, but the passenger levels forecast justify the expenditures.

"Today, if we had the financial wherewithal and knew with 100 percent certainty the passenger levels will stay, we could start," he said. "But we could be underforecasting, and we could be overforecasting. So we have to go forward in a very prudent manner."

Another major component of the plan embraces the latest environmental practices, according to NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel. Buffalo Niagara has developed a "sustainable" master plan -- one of only a handful in the nation, she said.

Provisions are made for treating runoff from de-icing, using storm runoff for watering purposes, expanded use of solar energy and recycling.

"From start to finish, we're looking to see how we can reduce or eliminate our carbon footprint," Minkel said. "There are a lot things we can do that won't cost a lot but will have a tremendous impact."

NFTA planners think they're adopting the right approach. All trends point to increasing passenger totals  -- especially Canadian -- at Buffalo Niagara. While tightened border restrictions or a major economic upheaval could alter projections, Vanecek believes they will hold.

"It will be driven by [8 million passengers]," he said. "If the forecasts don't come to fruition, we don't do the projects."

The NFTA expects final word on FAA approval for the plan will arrive this spring.