Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Florida: TSA officers charged with trashing South Beach hotel room, shooting gun

Nicholas Anthony Puccio 
Courtesy of the Miami-Dade Corrections

 Jeffrey Picolella 
Courtesy of Miami-Dade Corrections

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 Miami Beach police say two Transportation Security Administration officers partied a little too hard Tuesday night, trashed their South Beach hotel room and then picked up a semi-automatic handgun and shot six rounds out the window.

One bullet pierced a $1,500 hurricane impact resistant window at a nearby Barneys New York, penetrated a wall and tore into some jeans in the closed store’s stockroom, according to store manager Adelchi Mancusi.
No one was injured. 

Jeffrey Piccolella, 27, and Nicholas Anthony Puccio, 25, were arrested just before midnight. The Palm Beach County men have been charged with criminal mischief and use of a firearm while under the influence.

In a city known for wild, late-night behavior, merely tossing speakers, lamps, a phone, ice chest and vase out a second floor room at the Hotel Shelley, 844 Collins. Ave., might not have drawn much attention.

But according to an incident report, a front desk clerk and security guard called police about 11:18 p.m. after they heard one gun shot, followed by three to five more after a few seconds. When the clerk went back inside the hotel, a guest told him someone was throwing furniture and bric-a-brac out the window of room 217, where Piccolella and Puccio were staying the night.

Detective Vivian Hernandez, a police spokeswoman, said officers arrived and, after a shell casing was found on the ground amid broken room furnishings, the SWAT team was called out.

Investigators went to the mens’ room and then took them to police headquarters.

In a recorded interview, Piccolella told a detective he and Puccio were drinking before returning to their hotel room, according to the incident report. He allegedly said they opened a window, tossed several objects out and then Piccolella grabbed a .380-calliber pistol from his luggage and they took turns shooting out the window.
Puccio said the story was untrue, according to the report.

Police impounded the gun.

Hotel management said $400 in furniture was destroyed.

The two men were booked at the Pre-Trial Detention Center on $5,500 bond each.

TSA spokesman Jon Allen wrote in an email that Piccolella and Puccio are part-time officers who have worked one and two years, respectively, for the agency. They were not in Miami Beach on TSA business, according to Allen.

“TSA holds its employees to the highest professional and ethical standards,” Allen wrote. “We will review the facts and take appropriate action as necessary.”

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Dogfight breaks out over landing fees

 A dogfight has broken out between airports and airlines over landing fees, with accusations continuing to fly between affected parties. 

This week, it was revealed Dunedin International Airport had raised airline-user charges by 78%, prompting a scathing attack from Air New Zealand Australasia operations general manager Glen Sowry. 

Asked to respond to Mr Sowry's allegations that the increase was excessive and would lead to fewer people flying to and from Dunedin, airport chief executive John McCall referred comment to the New Zealand Airports Association. 

Association chief executive Kevin Ward said even if the $3-$4 increase per passenger from Air New Zealand on all Dunedin flights was all because of airport charges, it was a "very small proportion of the airfare".
"The increase is less than 1%, and the landing-fee component of airline total costs is small." 

Air New Zealand had been paying the increased landing fees into Dunedin since December 1, and only raised the issue as part of a price-control campaign aimed at the country's airports. 

"Price control is attractive for the dominant airline, but very bad for New Zealand overall," he said.

Price controls had been rejected by the Government, and a disclosure system was put in place for the three major airports: Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. 

That system would be reviewed by the Commerce Commission during the next few years, he said.

"The real issue for New Zealand air travellers is the cost of flights to centres like Dunedin, Napier, Nelson, New Plymouth, and so on, where there is no choice for passengers. People understand, through their ticket prices, where the monopoly profits are being made," Mr Ward said. 

However, the Board of Airline Representatives NZ Inc executive director John Beckett said the Dunedin decision was a "spread of bad monopoly practices from the international airports to the other secondary airports". 

"It seems [Dunedin airport] has pushed it very hard ... it is a bad situation ... Christchurch and Dunedin both need good air services and Dunedin is not going to help itself by overpricing." 

While the country's three largest airports were subject to information-disclosure regulations, secondary airports, such as Dunedin and Queenstown, were "an area of neglect, a wild west". 

The airlines' lobby group did not want airports, as monopolies, to "price as they see fit", and was calling for price-control measures on the three largest airports, which "would have a salutary effect on other airports".
"New Zealand does have control on the prices of gas pipelines, electricity lines, and on Transpower, and the monopoly missing out on price controls is airports." 

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister John Key said the Government was aware of the situation and awaited with interest a report from the Commerce Commission on airports' information disclosures. 

Queenstown Airport chief executive Scott Paterson confirmed it was in the middle of negotiations with airlines over landing fees. 

Landing fees were last increased in 2004 and new fees were expected to come into force on July 1, he said.
From tomorrow, Air New Zealand fares to and from Dunedin will rise by up to $4. 

Mr Sowry said the increase made Dunedin the second-most expensive airport to land an Air New Zealand plane in the country, after Wellington.

F-16's Overhead in Washington Metro Area Tonight. If you hear booms in the night, NORAD exercise

In case you hear booms in the night, NORAD has issued this notice: The North American Aerospace Defense Command and its geographical component, the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), will conduct exercise Falcon Virgo 12-06 beginning Wednesday night, March 28, at midnight into early Thursday morning, March 29, in the National Capital Region (NCR), Washington, D.C.

The exercise is comprised of a series of training flights held in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Capital Region Coordination Center, the Joint Air Defense Operations Center, Civil Air Patrol, U.S. Coast Guard and CONR’s Western Air Defense Sector.

Exercise Falcon Virgo is designed to hone NORAD’s intercept and identification operations as well as operationally test the NCR Visual Warning System. Civil Air Patrol aircraft, Air Force F-16s and a U.S. Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter will participate in the exercise.

These exercises are carefully planned and closely controlled to ensure CONR’s rapid response capability. NORAD has conducted exercise flights of this nature throughout the U.S. and Canada since the start of Operation Noble Eagle, the command’s response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the event of inclement weather, the exercise will take place the following evening. If bad weather continues, officials will then make a decision to postpone or cancel the exercise.

As the Continental United States geographical component of the bi-national command NORAD, CONR provides airspace surveillance and control, and directs air sovereignty activities for the CONUS region. CONR and its assigned Air Force and Army assets throughout the country ensure air safety and security against potential air threats.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, CONR fighters have responded to more than 3,400 possible air threats in the United States and have flown more than 59,000 sorties with the support of Airborne Warning and Control System and air-to-air-refueling aircraft.

Wings of Freedom tour

Take a ride on a B17 and check out other World War II vintage aircraft during the Wings of Freedom tour's 2009 East Texas stop. 

WestJet Vacations - The O.C.

39 Boeing Employees Get Pink Slips - Most of the 39 affected workers are in the Boeing Defense Unit located in south Puget Sound.

The Washington State Employment Security Department announced Wednesday that The Boeing Co. has issued 39 layoff notices.

Boeing spokesman Stephen Davis confirmed that the company sent out the 60-day advance notices Friday following the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) act, which requires companies with 100 or more employees to notify affected workers two months prior to layoffs.

Most of the 39 affected workers are in the Boeing Defense Unit located in the South Puget Sound region, he said.

But with the layoffs come new jobs.

“We have a level head count projection this year,” he said.

Davis said Boeing expects some hiring to continue, especially in the commercial airplanes group, and hiring for “critical skills” workers such as engineers and production workers.

The company will also continue to fill positions lost through attrition of retirees and workers who leave for personal reasons.

Report says flight paths crossed

Flight paths of the aircraft over Queenstown in June 2010.

A Qantas aircraft was forced to climb at maximum speed to maintain separation from a Pacific Blue aircraft over Queenstown when their flight paths crossed. 

The "loss of separation'' incident sparked a Transport Accident Investigation Commission inquiry almost two years ago. 

The commission report, published today, says a Pacific Blue Boeing 737 was en route from Auckland to Queenstown on June 20, 2010. 

It was flown using instruments but pilots must be able to see the runway until landing. If they lose sight of the runway they must abort the landing and execute a figure eight "missed approach procedure.'' 

Pilots must circle while descending over Queenstown because terrain is mountainous, which means radar cannot be used. 

The Pacific Blue flight, with 82 passengers, arrived at the descent altitude, and while pilots spotted cloud the runway was clear. 

However, cloud patches were likely to obstruct a final approach so the pilots reported a landing on an alternative runway. 

Meanwhile, an air traffic controller cleared a Qantas aircraft en route from Sydney with 156 passengers to start an approach behind the Pacific Blue aircraft. 

A controller cleared Qantas for the approach based on an expectation that Pacific Blue, having started circling, would land or execute a figure eight. 

However, the Pacific Blue flight stopped circling and climbed to intercept the required heading for a missed approach. 

"They had not planned to enter or remain in the visual circuit as the controller had expected and, because of their position when they started the climb, probably could not have done so because of their proximity to terrain,'' the report says. 

A controller then told the Qantas pilot to conduct a missed approach procedure at a maximum rate of climb to maintain separation from Pacific Blue flight. 

Investigators did not establish whether the required 1000 feet vertical separation was breached because it was clear the potential for a breach was high and safety was an issue. 

The report found the weather was unsuitable for Pacific Blue to descend below a minimum descent altitude; a controller failed to ensure separation was maintained; Pacific Blue and air traffic control had different understandings of missed approach procedures; and inconsistent manuals for air traffic control and pilots were "a hazard.'' 

Investigators said a review of air traffic management systems at Queenstown was prudent and recommended to the director of civil aviation that he ensure a plan for Queenstown aerodrome addressed safety issues, clarified manuals and installed a system to give real-time weather observations behind Deer Park Hill.

Pilot breakdown draws attention to mental health standards

(CNN) -- The midflight breakdown of a JetBlue pilot has sparked concerns about psychological screening for flight crews.

Capt. Clayton Osbon's erratic behavior prompted Flight 191 from New York to Las Vegas to make an unscheduled landing in Amarillo, Texas, on Tuesday after crew and passengers intervened and subdued the 49-year-old pilot.

Osbon "yelled jumbled comments about Jesus, September 11th, Iraq, Iran,and terrorists," according to a federal criminal complaint filed against Osbon. One passenger quoted Osbon as saying, "Pray f------ now for Jesus Christ," the complaint said.

"It just seemed like something triggered him to go off the wall. He would be calm one minute and then just all of sudden turn," said passenger Jason Levin.

JetBlue has not elaborated on the pilot's condition, but CEO Dave Barger referred to the incident as a "medical situation."

The pilot's behavior points to possible psychological distress, doctors say.

The episode could be the result of bipolar disorder or a recent start on antidepressant medication, said Dr. Charles Raison, an Emory University psychiatrist and CNN consultant who has not treated Osbon. Medical illnesses such as brain tumors, subtle seizures or hormonal imbalances could also have caused Osbon's behavior, Raison said.

All airline pilots are required by the Federal Aviation Administration to have a first-class medical certificate that must be renewed annually for pilots younger than 40 and every six months for pilots 40 and older. JetBlue follows all FAA pilot requirements, the airline said.

Pilots must be examined by an aviation medical examiner as part of that process, and a candidate's psychological condition is assessed.

The exam does not include a formal psychiatric evaluation, although the examiner should "form a general impression of the emotional stability and mental state of the applicant," according to FAA's Guide for Aviation Medical Examiners. Bipolar disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders that involve "acting out" and substance dependence generally are disqualifying conditions, according to the guide. In these cases, the examiner would either deny issuing the certificate or defer it and report evidence of significant problems to the FAA, the guide says.

"If the person is exhibiting any signs of psychosis, thinks he's on the moon, is disoriented in time and place, if he's taking any medicines -- and the FAA is very strict -- the computer won't even let me give an exam if medicines are not approved. It's very strict under those circumstances," said Dr. Gabriel Guardarramas, an FAA-approved New York family doctor who performs about 40 pilot exams a year.

Guardarramas said one pilot grieving the death of his father raised a red flag for him and he deferred certification to the FAA.

"Pilots as a rule are extremely stable people," said retired airline Capt. Steve Luckey, a 33-year veteran. "By the time a person becomes a commercial pilot, they've gone through so many filters."

However, the agency's strict criteria prompt some to hide their conditions, according to two pilots who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity out of concern for their own careers.

One veteran with three decades of experience said he's known just a single fellow pilot who sought treatment for depression. The treatment lasted eight or nine months, and he never told his employer, the pilot said.

"A guy has worked his whole career toward what he's gotten, and he's dealing with issues, what does he do? If he says, 'Hey, I'm depressed,' then the FAA pulls his medical certificates and then there goes his career."
Another veteran pilot echoed that sentiment: "Yes, pilots are flying around depressed because if they do (admit depression), they'll be grounded."

"Pilots are generally well psychologically screened for all the right reasons. Some people snap. If this pilot did indeed snap, it doesn't surprise me. There's tremendous pressure out there in the pilot group, and that's something the public should care about," the pilot said.

Osbon's breakdown comes just weeks after an American Airlines flight attendant's behavior alarmed passengers and prompted flight crew members to restrain her while the plane was taxiing. One passenger said the flight attendant described herself as bipolar and said she had not taken her medication. Other accounts referred to her talking on the intercom about the plane crashing.

American Airlines has not identified her, and no charges have been filed. She remains employed by the company, the airline said Wednesday. American said the airline follows all FAA rules.

Unlike pilots, flight attendants are not required to pass medical examinations before they fly, according to the Association of Flight Attendants, a union that does not represent American Airlines workers.

"However, flight attendants do have to go through recurrent training each year to refresh their emergency situation skills," said AFA spokeswoman Corey Caldwell. They are also required to receive proficiency certification from the FAA.

She added that "in most cases," flight attendants could be treated for various conditions and still perform "as first responders efficiently," noting that red flags would probably come up during the initial six- to eight-week training period or during a probationary period of up to a year.

In addition to the pressure of performing the duties of flying itself, airline employees face the added stress of trying to survive in an industry fraught with restructuring, bankruptcies and other uncertainties.

"This industry is very turbulent," Caldwell said. "And after 9/11, these workers really went through a very difficult time personally and professionally."

LIAT will not increase airfare in face of RedJet suspension- Official

The recent suspension of flights by REDjet has raised concerns in some sectors that this could lead to an escalation in air fares for regional travel Antigua-based regional airline LIAT warns.

LIAT in a statement on Wednesday said that, it has no intention of seeking to take advantage of the suspension of services by REDjet to alter its fares in a manner that would result in any unnecessary increase in ticket prices.
Corporate Communications Manager Desmond Brown pointed out that since the suspension of flights by REDjet, there has been no increase in the fares offered by LIAT. 

“In fact, to the contrary, LIAT has intensified its campaign to provide discounted seats for regional travel beginning with a series of special fares offered to distressed REDjet passengers,” Brown said.

“This was expanded to include special fares for the on-going international cricket series, as well as other promotional fares to the travelling public. These are in addition to LIAT’s regular offering of special ‘Just Go’ fares available on our web site” ” Brown said.

He noted that LIAT is very conscious of its central role in air transportation in the region and continues to do all possible within its constraints to provide the public with affordable fares. 

Brown further pointed out, that as is the case with other airlines LIAT’s tickets are sold in several fare classes from the lowest to the highest class. 

“On each flight tickets are sold in several fare classes. Each seat is allocated and sold in a particular fare class on each flight. LIAT has not reallocated the number of seats available in its various fare classes for any flight since 16th March 2012 at 8:00pm,” Mr. Brown said.

REDjet woes continue

(Trinidad Guardian) A Barbados-based Trinidadian was unable to secure REDjet’s rebated fare from regional carrier LIAT last week Tuesday. The low-cost carrier-REDjet that ceased operations two weeks ago entered into an arrangement with LIAT to accommodate its distressed passengers. On March 16, in a statement, REDjet said that it had no alternative but to suspend flights from 23.59 pm on March 16 until further notice.

It said that all passengers booked on any REDjet flight from that date should contact the call centre 24 hours before scheduled departure time for an update on their flight status. Affected passengers were to be offered refunds, which could take up to three weeks or the option to travel with REDjet upon commencement of services.
Following this, REDjet issued another statement on March 19 informing passengers that REDjet had made arrangements with fellow regional carrier, Liat, for the provision of discounted fares for affected passengers. It said: “Persons wishing to do so may contact the Liat call centre to make bookings by quoting their REDjet booking reference/confirmation number in order to be entitled to purchase a new ticket at a special fare

On March 17, in a similar release LIAT stated that it had made specific arrangements to assist all affected REDjet’s passengers. LIAT said it was committed to carrying all persons including REDjet’s affected passengers to Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, St Lucia and T&T. However, Guardian on Monday asked officials of REDjet to outline its specific arrangements with Liat, in light of the passenger’s difficulty to access the rebated fare.

But the official of REDjet said they were not ready to comment. The same question was posed to LIAT’s corporate communications manger Desmond Browne, who said the response would be available yesterday, as he was still gathering the requisite information and waiting for approval to release the information.

Peter pays double

Meanwhile,the passenger had to pay twice the amount on Caribbean Airlines (CAL), than the initial REDjet return fare to Barbados. He explained that he paid $360 including other charges like luggage and taxes for a return fare from Barbados to Trinidad. Unfortunately for Peters, while he was in Trinidad, REDjet’s operations were suspended.

Peters then contacted LIAT last week Tuesday to reserve his flight back to Barbados on Sunday, but to his surprise, he was unable to secure REDjet’s special arrangement with LIAT. Peter said the reservation agent told him that the rebated fare was not valid for advance bookings. But Peters did not want to risk having all the flights booked up, if he waited last minute to reserve his one-way fare back to Barbados.

A disappointed Peters resorted to CAL, where he paid $650 one-way fare to Barbados. Peters, who is an energy consultant and travels about twice a month to T&T, said REDjet is the best carrier for regional travel. “Its service is far superior than CAL and the planes are also better. REDjet departs and arrives on time. My flight with REDjet left Barbados at 530pm and I was home in Arima, Trinidad at 7p.”

Meanwhile REDjet stated that while its flight operations have been suspended, its staff continues to work around the clock to maintain the integrity of its business and to ensure a smooth and efficient transition when services resume. REDjet confirmed that there continue to be discussions designed to resolve the current temporary suspension of flights, which it said is in no way related to aircraft, employees and/or its business model
It said REDjet will honour its commitment to keep its passengers abreast of the status of their flights and encourage persons to call our Call Centre and/or visit our Web site for information.