Thursday, April 5, 2012

Plane lands safely after mechanical problem develops

Forty-eight passengers en route from Lansing, Mich., to Minneapolis made an unexpected stop Thursday afternoon at Eau Claire’s Chippewa Valley Regional Airport after their plane developed a mechanical problem. No one was hurt.

Initial reports indicated one of the reverse thrusters had locked up, meaning the plane could have had difficulties slowing after landing. Firefighters were called to the airport to prepare for the possibility of a crash.

The Pinnacle Airlines passenger jet made a smooth landing at the airport at about 3:30 p.m..

“The landing went very well,” airport manager Charity Speich said.

The passengers exited the jet but remained in the secure area of the airport for a couple of hours while mechanics worked on the plane. Most of the passengers seemed to be make the best of their confinement by working on laptop computers, talking on cellphones or reading. It was unclear at first whether the passengers would be bused to the Twin Cities or if the plane could be repaired, Speich said, but they were reboarding and preparing to leave at 4:50 p.m.

The aircraft is a Bombardier CRJ200 with a capacity of 50 passengers, the same model that flies out of the Chippewa Valley Airport. That meant mechanics at nearby Heartland Aviation were familiar with the plane, Speich said.

A plane preparing to depart the airport was delayed a few minutes because of the emergency landing, Speich said, but otherwise there were no effects on regular operations

Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines is a business partner of Delta Airlines.

According its website, Pinnacle Airlines Corp. on April 1 announced it had filed for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy involves reorganization, usually of a corporation or partnership, to keep the business alive and pay creditors over time.


Family talks about emergency landing: Cessna 414A, N53WT. Door County Cherry Land Airport (KSUE), Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

LISTEN:  Audio of the in-flight drama

STURGEON BAY - We've heard the amazing audio of an 80-year-old woman with little piloting experience landing a plane in Sturgeon Bay.

“I've got to land pretty quick. My gas gauge shows nothing,” said Helen Collins in a recording.

Now we're hearing what her son has to say about her experience.

“I'm extremely proud of my mother. What she accomplished that day was amazing considering her age,” said Richard Collins, son of John and Helen Collins.

Helen Collins is still in the hospital, recovering from the ordeal. It's a bittersweet situation for her family.

Helen Collins was reading in the back of the plane, when her husband John Collins asked her to come up to the cockpit.

“He said I think I'm having a heart attack, and I'm going to loosen up the seat belt so I can breathe,” said Richard Collins.

Collins says before his mother could take her seat, his dad was unconscious.

Richard says he saw the twin-engine Cessna fly right over the airport.

“I thought why don't they land? Why don't they land?” he said.

Richard says Helen had some flying experience, but that was 30 years ago. Pilot Robert Vuksanovic scrambled a second plane, owned by the Collins family.

“He says he's in the air, and I'm gonna fly off your wing. I'm gonna land you,” said Richard Collins.

The plane was low on fuel, but Vuksanovic provided a light moment before Helen was about to attempt to land.

“Ok Ken, go ahead and have them close the road,” said Vuksanovic on a recording.

“What do you mean?” said Helen Collins in response.

“I was talking to the people on the ground,” responded Vuksanovic.

“Don't you have faith in me?” said Helen Collins.

“I do, but I don't trust the drivers on the road,” said Vuksanovic.

“That's one thing about my mother. In the heat of the moment she can break away from what's going on, and keep an upbeat note. And that's what she did,” said Richard Collins.

After several passes, Helen pointed the nose of the plane at the end of the runway. She bounced the plane once, before coming to a stop.

“When it comes to the landing I know she was scared. She did a fantastic job. She's a hero,” said Richard Collins.

Her husband John was gone. Richard says his father loved to fly.

“He was always upbeat. Not only did he want to be their friend, but he wanted to get to know them,” he said.

Richard Collins says the damage to the plane will be temporary. The family says it will repair the Cessna as a tribute to their father.

“We know that's what he would do. We're trying to follow in his footsteps and do something nice for him that we know he would just love us to do,” he said.

Richard Collins says he hopes to bring his mother home from the hospital in a couple of days.

Man cut from cockpit of plane wreckage at Ann Arbor Municipal Airport (KARB), Michigan

PittsfieldTownship — A small, experimental aircraft crashed Thursday morning at the Ann Arbor Airport, leaving one person with non-life-threatening injuries.

Public safety responders were on the crash scene at the municipally owned airport as of 12:30 p.m. Thursday. Huron Valley Ambulance responded to the airport at 11:43 a.m. to assist following the crash, according to the ambulance company's spokeswoman Joyce Williams.

One male, the only person on the plane, was taken from the scene of the crash in serious condition to a University of Michigan hospital, Williams said. Their responders had left the scene by 1 p.m.

Fire Department officers had to cut the man from the cockpit of the two-seat, overhead wing airplane, said Matt Harshberger, Pittsfield Township Director of Public Safety.

The man was pinned because of damage to the front of the plane, and officers used hydraulic rescue tools and reciprocating saws to remove him. It took about 30 minutes to get the man out. He remained conscious and alert the entire time, according to a release from Harshberger's office.

The fire department arrived within minutes because a station is located next to the airport.

"He had just taken off and then he came back down," Harshberger said.

The plan landed in the northwest grassy area at the end of the runway and shut down the airport for several hours. As of 2 p.m., the airport remained closed as investigators including the Federal Aviation Administration review the crash scene.

Fluids from the airplane including gasoline leaked from the wreckage, but there was no fire, the release stated. The flammable vapors were controlled by the fire department hose line.

"It went according to our emergency plan," Harshberger said. "It was very efficient."

The man's name, age and hometown were not released as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

Terminal at Newark airport evacuated after man enters secure area through exit

NEWARK — Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport was partially evacuated for an hour today and hundreds of passengers had to be rescreened after a British man entered a secure area through an exit, walking past a "Do Not Enter" sign and a distracted TSA screener, authorities said.

The 64-year-old man, Charan Jit Singh, who was headed to meet a family member at an arrival gate, has been charged with trespassing. The female screener has been removed from duties pending an investigation by the Transportation Security Administration, authorities said.

"He went in the out door, in other words," said Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the Port Authority Police.

There was no indication Singh intended anything other than to meet a family member, Della Fave said

The gate area beyond Checkpoint 1, one of three secure areas inside Terminal B, was evacuated for about an hour while Port Authority police swept the area with bomb-sniffing dogs. Nothing was found.

The breach, which occurred at about 2:45 p.m., was reminiscent of similar incident in January 2010 when Terminal C was shut down for hours and air travel disrupted worldwide after a Rutgers University student entered an exit lane — walking past a vacated security post — to be with his departing girlfriend.

That incident and a string of other embarrassing breaches earlier last year resulted in the removal of Newark’s top TSA official, whose replacement is overseeing a crackdown that has led to dozens of screeners being retrained or disciplined.

In addition, a federal law signed in December included provisions inserted by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that stiffened penalties against people trying circumvent airport security and directed the TSA to study ways to improve security at exits to secure areas.

Today's incident, Lautenberg said in a statement last night, is "just another example of how exit lanes are an area of vulnerability at our airports."

Passengers said they were notified of today’s breach when an announcement over the public address system ordered them to leave the area. Minutes later, they said, heavily armed Port Authority police officers converged on the area.

"Obviously, I’m concerned about (the breach)," Scott Zepplin, 44, a software engineer from Jacksonville, Fla., said as he waited to be rescreened. "That’s their whole purpose, to keep it safe down there. That’s definitely a dereliction of duty."

The breach was discovered after Singh encountered a Delta Airlines gate agent who realized he should not have been in the area, Della Fave said. The gate agent called TSA officials who notified Port Authority police. Della Fave said police later viewed a videotape that showed Singh walking past the TSA screener, who failed to make eye contact with him.

"The TSA agent was clearly seen talking to another passenger, who was looking for the AirTrain," Della Fave said.

TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in a statement that the unidentified screener "was immediately removed from all screening duties, pending the outcome of an official review of the incident.

"The terminal was deemed safe and passengers were permitted back into the terminal at 3:55 p.m. Four flights were affected," Farbstein’s statement said.

Brian Caffrey’s flight from Florida was one of those affected.

Caffrey, a retired police officer from South Brunswick, said his plane had just landed when the evacuation was ordered.

"We got stuck out on the tarmac, waiting for whatever it was to be over," Caffrey said.

Eileen and Herb Frey, a retired couple from Las Vegas visiting their daughter in Freehold, said their connecting flight from Detroit was redirected to an international arrivals gate, where they were met by confusion and a hassle collecting their bags.

"They didn’t know what to do with us," Eileen Frey said. "We had to walk and walk and walk and walk."

"They wanted to put us through customs," added her husband, keeping his sense of humor despite the ordeal. "Detroit’s Hell, but it’s still the United States."

Phase out of American Eagle San Juan hub poses challenge for Dominica air access

San Juan, Puerto Rico (TDN) -- American Eagle plans to end a 41-year era with the phase-out of its hub in San Juan and the retiring of its entire aircraft fleet (ATR-72) as part of an overhaul in the Chapter 11 restructuring of its parent American Airlines.

In a recent communication to its employees in San Juan the carrier informed its employees of the phased close out indicating that it would be completed by end-March 2013. However, airline observers believe that the winding down of the San Juan operations started as early as 2008 when the carrier cut its daily departures by 43 per cent.

As part of its more recent phase-out, the carrier will retire its remaining 18 ATRs from an original fleet of 39. At the end of February 2012, the company had already retired 21 such aircraft.

A complete shut down of American Eagles’ operations will have a serious negative impact on travel to the smaller islands including Dominica, where on a weekly basis Eagle offers 896 seats.

The countries currently benefiting from the San Juan hub include Antigua, Beef Island (British Virgin Islands), Barbados, Martinique, Grenada, Guadalupe, Dominica, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Kitts, St. Lucia and La Romana, Punta Cana, Santiago and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 


Accident occurred near Woodstock Ace Aviation airstrip

WITNESSES who saw an ultralight aircraft plunge about 75m to the ground say the pilot ``should have died'' after a suspected engine failure minutes after take-off. 

The 58-year-old amateur pilot, identified by witnesses as Tony Guest, was believed to be taking his first flight in a new RANS craft when it lost power after leaving the Woodstock Ace Aviation airstrip on Saturday about 9.10am.

He suffered a broken leg and possible internal injuries when the aircraft  plummeted to the ground, clipping trees and snapping the aircraft's nose and wings.

Joshua Driver, of Kelso, ran about 400m to the crash site after watching the plane dive nose-first.

``It went down the runway fine and took off and got about 250 feet when the engine experienced a loss of power but it was still flying,'' he said.

``At that height there's little opportunity to direct where you crash so he picked the best place he could and came down through the trees,'' Mr Driver said.

The 20-year-old helicopter and aeroplane mechanic said he was shocked the pilot had survived after hitting the ground with such force.

``He tried to find a suitable spot to land but he was too low to the ground and when he turned there was nothing left,'' he said.

``As soon as the plane hit the trees I started running, my mate got there first, about 100m from the runway into scrub.

``It looked like he'd broken his leg, it was twisted and he was bleeding from the nose and mouth but he was conscious and talking.''

His friend, a Defence personnel member, who did not want to be named, began stabilising the man and checking him over for any other serious injuries.

``I called 000 and went to the aircraft and turned off the ignition, radio and fuel to avoid risk of catching fire,'' he said. ``He got me to call his wife and let her know what had happened and that he was OK.''

Mr Driver said the pilot was described as ``responsible and cautious.''.

``He came out of it amazingly well, he probably should be dead or severely incapacitated,'' he said.

``The plane's aluminium wings were detached, it was a sturdy, high quality aircraft made of chrome-moly steel.

``From what we could see it was a mechanical failure, the engine had lost power and it was nothing he had done.''

A Queensland Ambulance Service spokesperson said the man suffered a broken leg, lower back and pelvic injuries and possible internal injuries.

Emergency Management Queensland rescue helicopter flew him to Townsville Hospital for treatment.

He was in a stable condition late yesterday.

Cayman Airways grounded aircraft back in service

The Cayman Airways jet damaged in Jamaica last Friday is back in the air.

CAL spokeswoman, Olivia Scott Ramirez, says the plane was repaired and went back into service on Tuesday. The wing of the Boeing 737 jet hit an improperly positioned jet bridge at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.

The airline says, “It is important that it is made abundantly clear that this was a ground operations matter which had no bearing on Cayman Airways pilots who were simply following the guidance of the air marshaller on the ground, as required.”

Mrs. Scott Ramirez says, “Because this is the subject of an insurance claim, Cayman Airways is unable to comment on the cost at this time,” when asked how much the repairs cost.


Plane crash at Coleambally

AN 83-YEAR-OLD male pilot has been airlifted to Canberra Hospital after his ultralight plane crashed into a group of trees at the end of a private airstrip near Coleambally this morning.

Griffith Local Area Command Inspector Gordon Dunlop said police, paramedics and crews from the Volunteer Rescue Association and Rural Fire Service arrived at the scene just after 9.30am and worked quickly to free the pilot from the cabin.

The Coleambally man was said to have been conscious when paramedics arrived.

After being assessed he was taken to Griffith Hospital by ambulance with two broken legs – one compound fracture to his lower left leg and another fracture to his ankle.

The Snowy Hydro Southcare Helicopter arrived at Griffith about 11am to airlift the man to Canberra Hospital.

“While attempting to take off, for unknown reasons, he has collided with a group of trees at the end of the run way,” Inspector Dunlop said.

He said police had begun investigating the crash.

Witnesses from farms at Coleambally who heard the plane flying overhead before it crash landed say the plane “sounded pretty sick”.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will also be investigating the incident.


All-you-can-fly airline hopes to take off in California: For a monthly membership fee with Surf Air, travelers could have unlimited travel along the California coast.

Company is Reinventing Regional Business and Personal Travel with Planned Service to Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles

SANTA MONICA, Calif., April 5, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Surf Air, a new, all-you-can-fly membership-based air airline, launched today its main operations and announced planned service* to Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. The company launched from MuckerLab, a mentorship driven accelerator program based in Los Angeles.

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, out of 47 major industries, airlines rank dead last in customer satisfaction, and yet demand for air travel keeps growing. The FAA estimates that domestic U.S. demand will require the addition of a new airline the size of JetBlue every 10 months for the next 20 years. Surf Air is concentrating its efforts on frequent-flyers who represent 85 percent of the business travel industry. In 2011, flights between the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and San Francisco alone included more than 20 million frequent travelers. Surf Air is focusing on this market by utilizing a strategy of affordable pricing that does not compromise first-class service and comfort. It is also operating out of less congested regional airports using executive aircrafts to make flying accessible, easy, and more convenient. Surf Air's all-you-can-fly membership model will fundamentally change the way people travel and revolutionize the airline industry.

Surf Air is now accepting membership applications at and is signing on 500 Founding Members for its first launch market servicing Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. It is also taking wait list applications for its subsequent launch markets around the U.S. For as low as $790 a month, Surf Air members will enjoy unlimited flight benefits, on-site concierge service and first-class luxury on mid-sized executive aircraft. Surf Air eliminates the hassles, cost and wasted time of current travel options by offering its members 30-second booking and cancellations, travel to and from uncongested regional airports, and an easy arrive-and-fly process with no hassle, no lines and no extra fees. In addition to the standard membership benefits, Surf Air Founding Members will receive unlimited complimentary guest passes and have access to exclusive events and offers. Founding Membership is a three-month, early adopter membership that initiates when Surf Air launches service this summer.

Surf Air is founded by two brothers, Wade and David Eyerly. Wade Eyerly is a former intelligence officer and aide to Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney. A licensed commercial pilot, David Eyerly is a former manager of the Dallas Fort-Worth airport for Frontier Airlines.

"Surf Air will allow busy travelers to book a stress-free trip without price-comparison shopping--maybe even an hour before departure," said Wade Eyerly, CEO and Founder of Surf Air. "We are fulfilling a real need in the marketplace, a professional and affordable service between very popular regions. Our service can be substantially cheaper than first-class tickets, and we offer a better and less crowded experience. We foresee our members forming personal and business bonds on our flights as they experience the benefits of this exclusive travel club. With Surf Air, you can arrive at your aircraft minutes before your flight, receive a warm welcome from the captain and concierge, and then be quickly on your way to your destination in the company of your fellow Surf Air members."

For additional company and membership purchase information, please visit:

About MuckerLab

MuckerLab is a mentorship-driven startup accelerator focused on serving Internet software, services and media entrepreneurs in Los Angeles and broader Southern California. MuckerLab aims to accelerate the growth of the overall technology ecosystem in Los Angeles by filling a critical gap currently in the market for start-ups at the earliest stages--resources, infrastructure, capital and guidance. MuckerLab partners and mentors work side-by-side with the region's best entrepreneurs, enabling them to build, launch and raise financing for exceptional businesses. Portfolio companies go through a structured, 3-month-long program that provides them with funding, office space and access to a deep mentor network of top-tier investors and entrepreneurs. .

About Surf AirLaunching in the summer of 2012, Surf Air, formerly Red Plane, simplifies and enhances the flying experience through an exclusive all-you-can-fly monthly membership. Surf Air plans first-class service on executive aircraft to and from convenient local airports in Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles,* with extended service to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe to follow. Operating out of local mid-sized airports, the company offers an affordable and sophisticated travel experience for frequent regional travelers. For more information, visit .

*Service is subject to receipt of regulatory approvals.


New CA National Guard Helicopter Will Support Local Authorities: UH-72 Lakota helicopters could be useful in missing-persons searches like the recent one for Elk Grove teen Shabnam Ahmadyar

The California National Guard on Thursday showcased its new UH-72 Lakota helicopter at Mather Airfield, east of Rosemont. 
Credit Cody Kitaura

Credit Cody Kitaura

Credit Cody Kitaura

Credit Cody Kitaura

Authorities across the state have a new, $5.5 million tool at their disposal for search and rescue, anti-drug and other operations: the California National Guard's UH-72 Lakota helicopter, showcased Thursday at Mather Airfield.

"It's almost like going from the stone age to the space age," California National Guard pilot and Stockton Police officer Daniel Lowry said.

Steve Hill, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Coordinator, said the new helicopter could prove useful in operations like last weekend's hunt for a missing Elk Grove girl, a search that involved both the sheriff's department and California National Guard.

"We're going to be working with these boys, and I wanted to see what their new stuff was," Hill said.

The Guard's eight UH-72 helicopters, manufactured by Eurocopter, will be stationed in Stockton and available for operations around the state. They could be used for medical evacuation, search and rescue, looking for marijuana growers or other operations. Officials touted features like autopilot, infrared cameras that can stream video to a location 30 miles away, a powerful searchlight and other benefits.

"At 6,000 feet [above the ground] we can supposedly read a license plate," California National Guard Capt. John Allen said.

Members of the media, law enforcement officers and representatives from elected officials were taken on a short demonstration flight over Rosemont and the surrounding area.

Representatives from CalFire, the Yolo County Sheriff's Department and other agencies also attended the event. The presentation also featured the California National Guard's final flight of the OH-58 Kiowa, a Vietnam-era helicopter that will be replaced by the UH-72 Lakota. The OH-58 was piloted by Rick Lynn, the California National Guard's only pilot currently on active duty who flew in Vietnam.

Article, video and photos:

Westover concerns put proposed Chicopee sports complex on hold

CHICOPEE – A businessman who wants to build a private indoor and outdoor sports arena is hoping to overcome objections from the City Council and officials at Westover Air Reserve Base.

Donald Cameron III, of Amherst, is proposing turning the former Post Office warehouse at 123 First St. into a sports facility with seven indoor fields, a fitness center and a basketball court that would be available for rent. He wants to construct at least two more fields outside.

“All of the communities in Western Massachusetts do not have enough playing fields,” said Cameron, a painting contractor who has coached teams and whose father has a long history as a youth sports volunteer in Ludlow.

But officials at Westover Air Reserve base are objecting to the proposal, saying it is located in the Accident Potential Zone, which is in a runway flight path and has a statistically higher risk of accidents.

“We are very concerned that this proposed land use would be incompatible with aviation operations at Westover ... and that it would present an increased risk to public safety,” Col. Steven D. Vautrain, commander of Westover’s 439th Airlift Wing, said in a letter.

Some low-density uses are acceptable in the zone, but a sports arena has potential to draw large groups and would not be recommended, he said.

After a meeting that included testimony from Westover officials and Cameron, the City Council’s zoning committee voted 7-0 against granting Cameron the special permit he would need.

The full City Council has delayed voting on the permit.

“It is one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. I love soccer,” said City Councilor John L. Vieau, chairman of the zoning committee.

Vieau said that as a parent he understands fields are needed, but also realizes that Westover officials and area lawmakers are struggling to keep jobs at the base in light of proposed Pentagon cutbacks that could reduce the number of planes at Westover from 16 to eight in 2016.

Councilor Timothy S. McLellan said he liked the idea, but said it had to be balanced with the fact that Westover is the city’s largest employer, with 2,333 reservists and 838 civilian workers.

“Westover is our bread and butter,” he said.

Cameron said he wants to divide the about 50,000 square-foot building into six indoor areas that would include four small soccer fields to be used for younger children. The plan also calls for adding an inflatable building to hold three more fields.

With 40 acres surrounding the building, there is room for at least four fields, but he said he would start by making two with artificial turf.

The business would employee at least five people full time and as many as 30 part time. It would pay an estimated $100,000 in annual property taxes, Cameron said.

He recently hired Chicopee lawyer Thomas Murphy to assist him in winning the permits.

“I am looking into some fact-finding. I know Westover is at a delicate point in their negotiations,” Murphy said.

The zones allow recreational uses and have a formula of not allowing more than 25 people an acre. With the complex spread over 40 acres, that would allow 1,000 people at a time, more people than would use the facility, Murphy said.

“There won’t be anyone at night and no one there during school hours,” he said.

Murphy said he hopes to be able to discuss the issue more with Westover officials and the City Council and try to come up with an agreement that would allow the complex to be built safely.

“It would provide a good service and is on the edge of the (zone). There are a lot of reasons I think it is worthy to take another look,” he said.

Airport To Close For Runway Maintenance

Folks who have planned to come to or leave the Sioux Falls Regional Airport in the Fall might need to find some other friendly skies.

As part of a $7.7 million renovation project, the runway in Sioux Falls will be shut down for 16 days between August and September.

Nancy Brook, from Billings, MT, said although the closures are a little frightening, keeping up to date on maintenance is good.

"It's better to be safe then sorry when it comes to runways," said Brook.

Airport Director, Dan Letellier, said the runway work is necessary.

“We have two runways that intersect and the concrete on those runways is over 30 years old and it's time, we've done some patchwork over the years, but it's time to fully replace the concrete," said Letellier.

The Sioux Falls Regional Airport will be closed during the following dates:
August 17, 2012 (Friday 2pm CDST) Thru August 20 (Monday 8pm CDST)
August 24, 2012 (Friday 2pm CDST) Thru August 27 (Monday 8pm CDST)
September 7, 2012 (Friday 2pm CDST) Thru September 10 (Monday 8pm CDST)
September 14, 2012 (Friday 2pm CDST) Thru September 17 (Monday 8pm CDST)
The total project costs $7.7 million and is primarily funded by the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program.

Brook said the closures might affect her travel.

“As a business traveler, the concern is, if I have a meeting Monday morning, I would think how in the world am I going to get here," said Brook.

Letellier said he knows there will be inconveniences for some flyers during the closure dates, however, he said it will be less of an inconvenience then being closed for four to five weeks straight.

Airport officials said they have been working hard with the airlines to take all flights off the books during those closure dates.

For more information on these closures, visit

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Two lawsuits filed against DUI driver in air show accident

Eight-year-old Haylee Burks, above, was killed in a car accident Saturday afternoon while walking from the Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show. 
(Jemison Elementary School) 

Danny Ray Smith
 (Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office)

Two lawsuits have been filed against a Tuscaloosa man accused of driving drunk and hitting a family after last weekend's Regional Air Show. The lawsuits have been filed by the parents of Haley Burks, the 8-year-old girl who was killed in the accident.

Haley's father and mother, who have been divorced for several years, have each filed separate wrongful death lawsuits. It's unclear whether or not the lawsuits will eventually be combined into one case against Danny Ray Smith. Smith has been charged with vehicular homicide, assault and leaving the scene of an accident.

The lawyers for Tanya Burks, Haley's mother, said the victims of Saturday's accident face long-term pain and suffering. Tanya and her two daughters were walking next to 5th Street after the air show when a truck driven by Smith hit them, killing Haley. Court records show the accident left Tanya Burks with four broken vertebrae in her back and her three-year-old daughter suffered from head and neck injuries.

The lawsuit filed by Tanya Burks' lawyers does not ask for a specific amount of money, but her lawyers say it's not certain when Tanya could return to work as a hair dresser.

"In this case, she's got to look out for herself and her future as well as the future of her three-year-old child," Apsilah Owens Millsaps, one of Tanya's attorneys, said Thursday. 

"In addition, when you go through a loss like this, people just don't know quite what to do and that's the first logical step that people hit, trying to move forward how to make something happen to make sense of the tragedy," Millsaps said.

Tanya's attorneys say they'd prefer to settle this case out of court. It could be up to three years before that helps.

Calls to Danny Ray Smith's attorneys were not immediately returned.


Kerhonkson, Ulster County, New York: Plane crash reported

KERHONKSON — A small experimental single-engine plane crashed into a horse farm Thursday evening near Old Queens Highway in Kerhonkson.

State police in Ellenville said when they arrived on the scene of the crash they found the plane resting on it's nose and pilot Mark Thomas, 50, of New Paltz already outside the plane conscious and alert.

Police said an initial investigation showed that the plane had taken off from an airstrip in Plattekill and was flying over a field when it struck a tree for unknown reasons.

Thomas was taken from the scene by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie.

Ulster County 911 supervisor Andy Buboltz said the downed-plane, an experimental-class two-seat biplane, was reported by a passerby at 5:43 p.m. and emergency personnel arrived soon after.

State police, the lead agency at the scene, and Ulster County Sheriff's Office responded along with Kerhonkson Accord First Aid Squad, the Kerhonkson Fire Company and Mobil Life.

Wally Nichols, the owner of the 148-acre horse farm at 15 Old Queens Highway, said he was in Colorodo at the time of the crash but he received a call from emergency responders that the plane went into a small grove of trees near his home.

State police said the cause for the crash was unknown but an investigation by The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board is pending.

American Airlines, Eagle cancel 300 more flights

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — American Airlines and its American Eagle affiliate canceled more than 300 flights Thursday and more than 50 planes remained grounded because of hail damage.

American will cancel another 296 flights in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Friday, said spokeswoman Andrea Huguely.

The planes were caught in storms Tuesday that pounded DFW Airport and spawned about a dozen tornadoes in north Texas.

Since the storms hit, American and Eagle have canceled about 1,600 flights, but with fewer cancelations each day. Huguely said the airlines planned extra flights on some routes to handle passengers who were stranded earlier in the week.

By late Thursday afternoon American and Eagle had scrubbed 323 departing and arriving flights at DFW, American's biggest hub, and 55 planes were still out of service.

The airlines identified 108 planes for inspections shortly after the hailstorms but nearly half have gone back to flying.

American and Eagle are owned by Fort Worth-based AMR Corp.

Seawind 3000 (built by Larry E. Sapp), N514KT: Accident occurred April 02, 2012 in Deland, Florida

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA265  
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, April 02, 2012 in Deland, FL
Aircraft: SAPP LARRY E SEAWIND 3000, registration: N514KT
Injuries: 3 Serious,2 Minor.

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 April 2, 2012, about 1920 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built amphibious Seawind 3000, N514KT, owned and operated by a private individual, was substantially damaged when it impacted a building shortly after takeoff from the Deland Municipal Airport (DED), Deland, Florida. The private pilot owner and a commercial pilot passenger were seriously injured (The private pilot owner succumbed to his injuries on May 26, 2012). One person inside the building was seriously injured, and two other individuals inside the building sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight that was destined for the Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB), Daytona Beach, Florida. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to witnesses and information obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot/owner and pilot-rated passenger flew from the Aurora Municipal Airport (ARR), Aurora, Illinois, to DED on April 1, 2012, with a refueling stop in Tennessee, to begin training for a seaplane rating on the morning of the accident. The training was to be conducted on a lake in Altamonte Springs, Florida, utilizing a float equipped Maule M-7-235. The owner originally intended to land in Sanford, Florida; however, he elected to land at DED after the airplane's transponder malfunctioned while en route. The purpose of the accident flight was to fly to DAB to have the transponder replaced at a maintenance facility.

During a telephone conversation with an employee at the maintenance facility, the pilot/owner reported that he was new to the airplane, which he had purchased about 6 weeks earlier, after it had not been flown for about 3 years.

The airplane departed from runway 23, a 4,301-foot-long, asphalt runway.

The passenger reported that there were no problems with the airplane’s takeoff roll and initial climb. As the pilot turned crosswind, the engine suddenly quit. His next recollection was rolling on the floor of a supermarket. The passenger did not hear any engine sputtering or observe any other anomalies during the flight. He was also not able to recall the point at which the airplane lifted off the runway, the altitude the engine lost power, or any instrument indications.
A pilot at DED reported that he landed on runway 23, and while taxiing, observed the accident airplane depart. The airplane rotated about 500 feet prior to the end of the runway, and began a shallow climb, while mostly maintaining a high pitch angle. Shortly thereafter, he observed the airplane "stall" and enter a descending left spin, before it disappeared behind a tree line. He did not hear any communications from the accident airplane over the airport common traffic advisory frequency after the takeoff.

A witness, who was in a car that was parked outside the front entrance of the supermarket, reported that she heard one or two "sputtering" engine sounds. She then looked up and observed the airplane in a climb attitude, very low in the sky. The airplane turned left and immediately descended straight down, nose first into the roof of the supermarket.


The pilot/owner, age 60, held a private pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multiengine land and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on September 9, 2010. At that time, he reported a total flight experience of 450 hours. The pilot reported 495 hours of total flight experience, which included 15 hours during the previous 12 months, on an insurance application dated September 22, 2009.

The pilot/owner’s logbooks were not located and his total flight experience and his flight experience in make and model could not be determined. 

The passenger, age 52, held a commercial pilot certificate, with ratings for airplane single-engine land, airplane multiengine land and instrument airplane. He also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine, multiengine and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate, prior to the accident, was issued on January 3, 2012. At that time, he reported 4,000 hours of total flight experience.

The passenger had known the pilot since 1994. He was not aware of the pilot’s intention to purchase the accident airplane. He was aware that the pilot was previously interested in purchasing the certified version of the Seawind upon its release. The passenger had flown with the pilot in the accident airplane for about 1 hour, about 1 week prior to the accident. He believed the pilot had received some initial training in the airplane from the individual who brokered the sale; however, he was not able to estimate the pilot’s flight experience in make and model.


The amphibian, four-seat, high-wing, retractable-gear, composite airplane, serial number 60, was manufactured from a kit in 2002. It was powered by a tail-mounted Lycoming IO-540-K1G5D, serial number L-18822-48A, 300-horsepower engine, equipped with a three-bladed Hartzell HC-E3YR-1RF constant-speed propeller assembly.

According to records obtained from the FAA, the airplane was issued an experimental airworthiness certificate in July 2002, and was purchased by the private pilot on January 7, 2012.

The airframe and engine logbooks were not located.

According to Lycoming, the engine was manufactured in 1978 and subsequently shipped to Piper Aircraft Company.

A search of the NTSB accident database revealed that the same serial number engine that was installed on the accident airplane was previously installed on a Piper PA32RT-300, N2221G that was involved in a fatal accident on March 7, 1993, after it experienced a partial loss of engine power during takeoff, in Big Bear City, California (NTSB Accident Number - LAX93FA141). At that time, the engine had been operated for about 3,800 total hours and about 1,030 hours since it was overhauled during February 1985.

An engine repair invoice from a repair station in Zephyrhills, Florida, revealed that the engine was overhauled during October 2001.

The airplane listing information provided by the pilot’s representative indicated that the airplane had been operated for 400 hours, which included the engine being operated for 400 total hours since overhaul. The listing also noted that the airplane was equipped with long range fuel tanks (110 gallons), had undergone a condition inspection on May 3, 2011, and the sale price included 10 hours of dual instruction. The broker was fatally injured in a Seawind 3000 accident that occurred in Sarasota, Florida, on January 12, 2013 (NTSB Accident Number – ERA13FA109).

A third individual, who was a friend of the passenger, and was also attending the seaplane training reported that the pilot/owner told him the that the airplane performed well during the flight from Illinois to Florida, and cruised at 155 knots, with a fuel burn of 17 gallons per hour. The pilot/owner also mentioned to him that the airplane was purchased from an estate sale and had not been flown for a 3 year period.

According to fueling records obtained from a fixed-base operator at McMinn County Airport (MMI), Athens, Texas, the airplane was “topped-off” with 50.8 gallons of 100-low-lead aviation gasoline on April 1, 2012.


The reported weather at DED, elevation 80 feet, at 1935 was: wind 240 degrees at 7 knots, visibility 7 statute miles; sky clear; temperature 29 degrees Celsius (C); dew point 15 degrees C; altimeter 29.87 inches of mercury.


The airplane descended into the roof of a supermarket, located about 1 mile from the departure end of runway 23. The airplane penetrated the roof, and impacted shelving before coming to rest upright, on a heading of about 260 degrees.

The airplane was initially examined at the accident site and then recovered to a storage facility for additional examination.

A postcrash fire destroyed the cockpit and consumed the airframe, with the exception of the outboard 8 feet of the right wing and small composite fragments. The outboard 56 inches of the right aileron and outboard 11-inches of the right flap remained attached. Both right wing fuel tank caps remained installed. The right elevator tip was located on the roof top. All three landing gear were located in the debris, as was the top portion of the vertical fin.

All primary flight controls were connected at their respective control columns and pedals in the cockpit. Flight control continuity for the elevator was confirmed from the cockpit to the elevator bellcrank control tube. The right aileron control cable remained attached to the control surface. The left aileron cable was intact to a charred portion of the left aileron bellcrank. The rudder control cables were continuous from the cockpit, to about the mid-cabin area.

The propeller assembly remained attached to the crankshaft flange. One propeller blade was melted about 24 inches from the hub. A second blade was separated about 17 inches from the hub, with its outboard section located in the debris. A third blade was intact. Two of the propeller blades had curled tips and contained a series of small leading edge gouges. All of the propeller blades were relatively straight, with no twisting damage. The propeller pitch change mechanism remained intact; however, it did not display any witness marks associated with propeller blade angle position.

The engine, including all accessories sustained fire damage. A subsequent teardown of the engine at Lycoming Engines, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, did not reveal any preimpact malfunctions. The engine was rotated about 350 degrees, with corresponding valve continuity and piston movement, prior to coming to a hard stop. During disassembly, a piece of molten metal was located between a connecting rod and counterweight, which resulted in restricted movement. The spark plugs were removed and their electrodes were found intact. The fuel injector fuel inlet screen was found properly installed and absent of contamination. It was also noted that the engine crankcase numbers did not match. In addition, five of the six cylinders contained different part numbers. According to a Lycoming representative, two of the cylinders (Nos. 1 and 2) were not approved for installation on the IO-540K series engine.

The engine fuel flow transducer, fuel line and fitting, which were heavily fire damaged, were examined at the Safety Board’s Material’s Laboratory, Washington, DC., in an attempt to identify if debris found in those components may have been present prior to the accident. A black colored particulate was removed from the transducer and similar material was removed from the fuel line. Examination of the particles utilizing a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) micro-spectrometer with a germanium attenuated total reflectance (ATR) accessory revealed no significant spectral patterns, which was consistent with little or no organic material present. The samples were then analyzed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and quantitative standardless energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS), which revealed the presence of materials found within the engine and fuel system. Due to the extent of the fire damage to the transducer, fuel lines, and fitting it was not possible to determine if the debris was present prior to the fire.       

NTSB Identification: ERA12FA265 
 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, April 02, 2012 in Deland, FL
Aircraft: SAPP LARRY E SEAWIND 3000, registration: N514KT
Injuries: 3 Serious,2 Minor.

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 April 2, 2012, about 1920 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Seawind 3000, N514KT, owned and operated by a private individual, was substantially damaged when it impacted a building shortly after takeoff from the Deland Municipal Airport (DED), Deland, Florida. The certificated private pilot owner and a commercial pilot in the airplane were seriously injured. One person inside the building was seriously injured, and two other individuals inside the building sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight that was destined for the Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB), Daytona Beach, Florida. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to records obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the amphibious airplane was issued an experimental airworthiness certificate in July 2002, and was purchased by the private pilot during January 2012.

According to witnesses and information obtained from the FAA, the pilot/owner and pilot-rated passenger flew from Aurora, Illinois, to DED on April 1, 2012, with a refueling stop in Tennessee, to begin training for a seaplane rating in Altamonte Springs, Florida, on the morning of the accident. The owner originally intended to land in Sanford, Florida; however, he elected to land at DED after the airplane's transponder malfunctioned while en route. The purpose of the accident flight was to fly to DAB to have the transponder replaced at a maintenance facility.

During a telephone conversation with an employee at the maintenance facility, the pilot/owner reported that he was new to the airplane, which he had purchased about 6 weeks earlier, after it had not been flown for about 3 years.

The airplane departed from runway 23, a 4,301-foot-long, asphalt runway.

A pilot at DED reported that he landed on runway 23, and while taxiing, observed the accident airplane depart. The airplane rotated about 500 feet prior to the end of the runway, and began a shallow climb, while mostly maintaining a high pitch angle. Shortly thereafter, he observed the airplane "stall" and enter a descending left spin, before it disappeared behind a tree line. He did not hear any communications from the accident airplane over the airport common traffic advisory frequency after the takeoff.

A witness, who was in a car that was parked outside the front entrance of a supermarket, reported that she heard two "sputtering" engine sounds. She then looked up and observed the airplane in a climb attitude, very low in the sky. The airplane turned left and immediately descended straight down, nose first.

The airplane descended into the roof of a supermarket, located about 1 mile from the departure end of the runway. The airplane penetrated the roof, and impacted shelving before coming to rest upright, on a heading of about 260 degrees.

A postcrash fire destroyed the cockpit and consumed a majority of the airframe, which was constructed of composite materials. The airplane was equipped with a tail-mounted Lycoming IO-540 series, 300-horsepower engine, with a three-bladed Hartzell constant-speed propeller assembly. One propeller blade was melted about 24-inches from the hub. A second blade was fractured about 17-inches from the hub, with its outboard section located in the debris. A third blade was intact. Two of the propeller blades had curled tips; however, all of the propeller blades were relatively straight, with no twisting damage. The engine, including all accessories sustained fire damage. Initial external examination of the engine did not reveal any catastrophic failures; however, the engine was retained for further examination.


The engine in an experimental plane that crashed into a DeLand Publix supermarket last year, killing the pilot and injuring four others, was involved in a fatal crash nearly 20 years earlier, according to a federal report. 

The Seawind 3000 nose-dived into the roof of the Publix shortly after take-off from DeLand Municipal Airport on April 2, 2012, injuring three shoppers in the store. The pilot later died from burns while the passenger in the plane was seriously injured.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said the plane's 300-horsepower 1978 engine was involved in a fatal accident in Big Bear City, Calif., in 1993, in another aircraft. It experienced a “partial loss of engine power during takeoff,” leaving two dead, including the pilot, and four injured, the NTSB reported.

The report, issued Oct. 23, didn't pinpoint the cause of the crash into the Publix at 299 E. International Speedway Blvd. That will come in the next phase of the NTSB investigation.

“It's just a factual report. It's not a probable cause (report),” said Keith Holloway, a public affairs officer with the NTSB. “That information will be analyzed and a probable cause will be determined,” which usually takes at least six months.

After taking off under clear skies, the Seawind went into a downward left spin and crashed into the building, about a mile from the end the runway. One witness, parked in a car in front of Publix, reported hearing “sputtering” engine sounds before the crash, the report said.

Kim Presbrey, an Illinois attorney and private pilot, died nearly two months after the crash due to complications from third-degree burns. His friend and passenger, Thomas Rhoades of Illinois, a commercial pilot, was seriously injured.

Rhoades told investigators “there were no problems with the airplane's takeoff roll and initial climb. As the pilot turned crosswind, the engine suddenly quit. His next recollection was rolling on the floor of a supermarket,” according to the NTSB report.

Presbrey and Rhoades left Aurora, Ill., on April 1, heading to Altamonte Springs for seaplane training. They stopped to refuel in Tennessee and attempted to continue on to Orlando Sanford International Airport. When the plane's transponder — a device which reports a plane's location to air-traffic controllers — malfunctioned, they landed in DeLand.

The fatal crash occurred the next day, when the pair took off for Daytona Beach International Airport in order to have the transponder replaced at a maintenance facility.

During a conversation with an employee at the maintenance facility, Presbrey said he was “new to the airplane, which he had purchased about six weeks earlier, after it had not been flown for about three years,” the report states.

Presbrey had about 500 hours of total flying time and 20 hours flying the Seawind, the report say.

Rhoades told investigators he flew with Presbrey in the plane for about an hour, one week prior to the accident. He believed Presbrey got “some initial training” from the person who brokered the plane's sale.

That broker also was killed in a Seawind 3000 accident in Sarasota on Jan. 12, the report said.

After the crash, Publix was closed for several months for repairs and renovations. In July 2012, Publix sued Presbrey's estate, claiming the crash caused nearly $1 million in damage to the store. The suit, which is pending in circuit court, claims Presbrey was inadequately trained.

The crash sparked an inferno that destroyed the plane's cockpit and damaged the engine. Investigators sent the engine to its manufacturer, Lycoming Engines, for examination, which “did not reveal any preimpact malfunctions,” the report states. However, two of the six cylinders in the engine were not approved for installation on that model of engine by the manufacturer, the report notes.

Authorities on Thursday released new photos showingthe damage inside a DeLand Publix after a plane crashed through the roof of the supermarket, injuring five people.  The single-engine Seawind 3000 plane crashed into the store, located on East International Speedway Boulevard, Monday evening after taking off from DeLand Municipal Airport, about a quarter-mile away. 

The photos show the charred plane on the floor of the grocery store in between two shelves, with food scattered about. Other pictures show damage to the building. The National Transportation Safety Board removed most of the wreckage from the store.

 The parts have been taken to Groveland for further investigation. A NTSB spokesman said the cause of the crash has not been determined. Two people who were aboard the plane remain hospitalized. Three customers were also injured in the crash. 

  Regis#: UNK        Make/Model: EXP       Description: SEAWIND 3000
  Date: 04/03/2012     Time: 0000

  Event Type: Accident   Highest Injury: None     Mid Air: N    Missing: N
  Damage: Destroyed

  City: DELAND   State: FL   Country: US


INJURY DATA      Total Fatal:   0
                 # Crew:   2     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   2
                 # Pass:   0     Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:    
                 # Grnd:         Fat:   0     Ser:   0     Min:   0     Unk:   3

  Activity: Unknown      Phase: Unknown      Operation: OTHER

  FAA FSDO: ORLANDO, FL  (SO15)                   Entry date: 04/04/2012 

In Pictures: NASA Jets Buzz The Capitol

by Jason Major on April 5, 2012 

Earlier today, Thursday, April 5,  two NASA T-38 jets passed over the Washington, DC metropolitan area, during planned training and photographic flights. The photo here by Paul E. Alers shows the jets flying over the U.S. Capitol building.

See images from the flyby on NASA HQ Photo’s Flickr page here.

Made by Northrop and powered by two afterburning General Electric J85 engines, a T-38 can fly supersonic up to Mach 1.6 and soar above 40,000 feet, about 10,000 feet higher than airliners typically cruise. The plane can wrench its pilots through more than seven Gs, or seven times the force of gravity.

“The T-38 is a great aircraft for what we need at NASA because it’s fast, it’s high-performance and it’s very simple,”  says Terry Virts, who flew as the pilot of STS-130 aboard shuttle Endeavour. ”It’s safe and it’s known. So compared to other airplanes, it’s definitely one of the best.”

Today the  T-38 training jets flew approximately 1,500 feet above Washington between 9:30 and 11 a.m. EDT. The April 5 flights were intended to capture photographic imagery.

Check out a great article about NASA’s T-38s here.


Jason is a graphic designer living in Dallas, Texas. He writes about astronomy and space exploration on Universe Today and also on his blog Lights In The Dark, Discovery News and National Geographic News.

Caribbean Airlines names new chairman

Former Central Bank director Rabindra Moonan has been appointed chairman of the state-owned Caribbean Airlines (CAL), less than 24 hours after George Nicholas III tendered his resignation with immediate effective.

Nicholas had resigned after Transport Minister Devant Maharaj had been very critical of his performance on television.

Maharaj, speaking at the weekly post Cabinet news conference Thursday, acknowledged that Moonan, an economist, has no aviation experience “but he has a wealth of business acumen and I think at this point in time the aviation industry at this time needs a strong business person to lead us through the time that lay ahead”.

“We feel he has the inter personal skill to pull the whole board together,” he said, adding that the rest of the CAL board and management remain in place.

Nicholas tendered his resignation to Finance Minister Winston Dookeran, instead of Maharaj, his line minister.

In his letter, Nicholas made reference to Maharaj’s statement on television that the CAL chairman was among some state board chairmen whom he would give a five out of 10 for performance.

Maharaj said that Cabinet had taken note of Nicholas’ resignation and thanked him for his service to CAL.

Last August, Nicholas resigned after serving for only 10 months. Although he gave no reason then for his decision, there had been much speculation that it was due to a decision by Government to scrutinize every major purchase by the airline may have triggered his resignation.


Delta Weighs Refinery Bid to Cut Fuel Costs

The Wall Street Journal

Delta Air Lines Inc., DAL -1.05% burdened by the soaring cost of jet fuel, is considering entering the oil-refining business by buying an idled ConocoPhillips COP -1.08% refinery near Philadelphia, people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

The world's second-biggest airline by passenger traffic is in talks with Conoco to acquire its Trainer, Pa., facility at a cost of between $100 million and $150 million, one of those people said. Delta would hire an outside firm to run the refinery.

The move could help supply Delta's operations at New York's LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports, and save it most of the so-called "crack spread," or the difference charged by a refinery between the cost of a barrel of crude and a barrel of jet fuel.

In March, the spread between jet fuel and Brent crude, which is the benchmark that determines the price of most crudes delivered to the U.S. East Coast, was $12.85 a barrel, according to energy consultancy IHS Purvin & Gertz. The Trainer refinery, idled since October, has a processing capacity of 185,000 barrels per day, including 23,000 barrels per day of aviation fuel, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In addition to jet fuel, a refinery produces byproducts such as gasoline and diesel fuel. Atlanta-based Delta would swap those products with a partner or partners, who would sell them. In return, Delta would be able, through those same partners, to lock in lower jet fuel rates at other airports where its planes refuel.

Delta's unorthodox bid underscores how the airline business is scrambling for innovative ways to lessen the impact of skyrocketing crude prices. Delta spent $11.7 billion last year on fuel for itself and its regional carrier—about 36% of its operating cost, and $2.8 billion more than in 2010. The airline has been among critics of the role that speculators play in crude oil prices.

But refining is also a challenged business, as demonstrated by a wave of refinery closures and divestitures in the U.S. East Coast, which pay a premium for the crude they buy and face dropping demand for automotive fuel. Some analysts were queasy about Delta's potential involvement in what is seen as a capital-intensive and declining industry.

"We are a little uncomfortable about the company going outside its core expertise," said Hunter Keay, an analyst who covers Delta for Wolfe Trahan & Co. "I can't recall any other airline buying a refinery."

The talks have lasted for months, people familiar with the situation said. A deal could come together as soon as the end of April, a person said, but things are very fluid and the entire plan could fall apart as there are other bidders for the facility and there are numerous parties who would have to agree to work with the airline.

The person said that acquiring the refinery isn't critical for Delta's strategy, although it has been studying that possibility for about six months.

Houston-based Conoco declined to comment, but said that the company is "continuing our efforts to find a buyer for the Trainer Refinery." The company, which originally had intended to sell the refinery by the end of the first quarter, says it now hopes to conclude a sale by May.

NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park: Ousted South Jersey Economic Development District director Gordon Dahl alleges "conspiracy," "threats" preceded dismissal

Alleging defamation, conspiracy theories and threats by a federal official, former South Jersey Economic Development District Executive Director Gordon Dahl has threatened to sue the district, Atlantic County, and representatives of the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park.

A six-page letter detailing various demands was sent to representatives of SJEDD prior to the board’s unanimous vote of “no confidence” in Dahl’s abilities on Monday night. In the letter, Dahl’s Mount Laurel-based attorney Kevin Costello stated that Dahl would pursue litigation if the board voted against him.

The Press of Atlantic City received a copy of the letter Thursday.

The letter stated that Dahl believes Atlantic County, representatives of the park’s board and Ford-Scott & Associates auditors have participated in “a conspiracy of defamation and tortuous interference.” He believes the entities were attempting to make the NextGen park site appear less valuable to allow newly selected conditional developer New Vistas to make a significant profit on the property.

“The fact that my client has also been the recipient of threats, intimidation and coercion by a federal elected representative with apparent ties to one or more of the parties receiving this letter and/or one of the parties mentioned herein, only enhances the reasons why the matter ought to be resolved clearly and finally and early,” the letter reads.

The official is not named in the letter.

Dahl is also demanding more than $1 million in settlement costs, including his salary for the remainder of 2012, compensation for a pension hit and $750,000 in damages.


California: Flying in basin is lesson in air safety


There’s TV’s “Jackass” risk. And there’s the kind of risk where you know exactly what you’re doing – but still fly smack over one of the busiest airports in the world.

Commercial aerial photographer Fred Emmert and pilot Ron Smeets scan the skies as our single-engine Cessna nears Corona Municipal Airport.

Smeets, a laconic terrestrial who transforms into a computerized radar system when airborne, explains what it's like to fly in one of the world's most crowded airspaces.

With his voice crackling in my headset to blanket the drone of the Skylane's 230-horsepower engine, Smeets allows, "It's like playing three-dimensional chess."

A second later, the banter stops.

We're not playing anymore.
• • •
After flying out of John Wayne Airport for a series of photo shoots, Emmert and Smeets prepare to land in Corona to refuel.

Shooting photos from the air means banking this way and that, changing altitude and re-circling. It also means staying sharp while minds like mine turn fuzzy after riding an air-borne rollercoaster for two hours.

As we approach the airport, my headset crackles – something about a small plane in the area.

Emmert, an Air Force veteran and certified flight instructor, and Smeets scan vertically and horizontally. Emmert spots the craft and reports its position using the numbers on a clock for reference.

I look right, left, twist to peer out the rear window. But it's not until Emmert points out the plane that I finally see the craft as it passes below and to the right.

Trying to spot a plane looking down is far different from looking up at a plane's silhouette against sky; the light-colored craft is camouflaged among trees and buildings.

As we near the airport, Emmert casually mentions that Corona has no control tower.

He doesn't mention that four years ago two small planes collided here and five people died.

• • •
We near the single runway at Corona, broadcasting our landing on a special radio frequency. But as we get close – eyeball close – someone is squeezing in a take-off.

With cool composure, Emmert and Smeets work as a team. Emmert studies the sky. Smeets zeroes in on the runway.

As if he's offering a cup of coffee, Smeets asks the pilot on the ground, "How about you speed up and I slow down?"

While the other plane lifts off, our tires touch tarmac.

"That was ugly," Smeets states matter-of-factly. "The ugliest I've seen."

As I get out of the plane, I'm shaky with nausea. Perhaps Smeets mistakes my paleness for something else. As we refuel, he explains that our landing was more a matter of manners than a serious safety issue.
I wave away any concerns. With two certified flight instructors in the cockpit, I'm safer in the skies than driving the freeways.

We hop back in the Cessna and head for downtown Los Angeles – and LAX.
• • •
With the sun climbing toward high noon and the Los Angeles basin heating up, the air around the Hollywood sign is whiskey brown.

Still, the view is magnificent. The Santa Monica Mountains rise just ahead. The San Gabriel Mountains stretch behind, their snowy peaks glistening. I can pick out LAX and the sparkling Pacific.

Following freeways, I also can pick out Cerritos, just over the Orange County line.

In 1986, there was a midair collision 7,000 feet above a residential neighborhood. Eighty-two people died, including 15 on the ground.

Still, it's difficult to believe this is considered crowded airspace. I see nothing but empty air. But I don't have a trained eye – nor do I know about the invisible web of air lanes over Southern California.

As we fly level with the Hollywood sign, Emmert explains he's been flying this area for 40 years and can practically see the various air traffic corridors that separate commercial and general aviation planes.

Before I have a chance to ask about the Cerritos tragedy, Emmert brings it up. It's a lesson in how failing to manage risk can lead to a disaster – as well as what the Federal Aviation Administration and pilots have done to help prevent fatalities.

As Emmert talks, Smeets contacts the TCA, or Terminal Control Area for clearance to fly over LAX.
It may sound crazy, but flying over LAX is as safe as flying around the busy international airport – so long as pilots don't drift below or above sanctioned airspace.
 • • •

I was an editor at the Long Beach Press Telegram when the planes collided over Cerritos. Investigators ruled that the pilot of a Piper plane intruded into commercial airspace and struck an Aeromexico jet's vertical stabilizer.

That tragedy in Cerritos changed aviation not just in Southern California but nationwide. Pilots became more aware. For example, Emmert switched from flying and shooting photos solo back then to four eyes in the cockpit – a sensible decision as we fly over LAX, big jets landing and taking off thousands of feet below.

A second change involved combing two TCAs – one for commercial, one for general aviation – into a single TCA.

According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the third and perhaps most significant change was that the FAA ordered all airline carriers to carry traffic alert and collision avoidance systems.

Finally, and perhaps equally important, the FAA said light aircraft in or near dense flying areas must carry transponders that report three-dimensional positions.

The pilots association says such transponders enhance Air Traffic Controllers "ability to track intruders and enforce the entry requirements."

• • •

After we return to John Wayne, Smeets leaves for a flight lesson and Emmert and I grab some salad and cheese bread.

What was his closest call?

The pilot pauses, "It was 15 years ago. We were out of Corona over the Green River golf course at 1,700 feet.

"The (other) pilot had a red shirt and blue eyes."

Emmert tells the story so flatly, I can't tell if he's kidding about the blue eyes.

But I know he's not joking when I ask when he'll give up what he calls "not working."
"When I can't climb in an airplane, that's when I quit."

A life without managed risk, is a life without adventure.

PART ONE: Flying photographer doesn't 'work' for a living

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