Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Pennsylvania wants air traffic control facility

WASHINGTON — Pennsylvania's congressional delegation is urging the Federal Aviation Administration to consider building an air traffic control facility in eastern Pennsylvania.

As of now, the FAA is looking only at sites within New York state to house a modernized system that would consolidate the air traffic controls at New York-area airports: Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport.

One of the FAA's main criteria for the project site is that it must be within 150 miles of New York City. With areas of Pennsylvania well within that — Allentown for instance is about 90 miles —Pennsylvania lawmakers asked: Why not us?

The project is part of a program called NextGen, a plan more than a decade in the making to upgrade U.S. air traffic controls to a satellite-based system that uses GPS technology. As part of that, the FAA is working on plans to consolidate its more than 500 air traffic control facilities.

The FAA is developing a plan to replace two aging Long Island-based air traffic control sites and build a facility to control air traffic in the country's busiest airspace.

On Dec. 20, the FAA said it was looking for property for a new Integrated Air Traffic Control Facility in New York. The agency said it wants to hear from owners of 34 to 49 acres within 150 miles of New York City, within the state of New York, who are willing to sell the property to the FAA.

The site must be suitable for construction of an operational air traffic control campus, the agency said, with approximately 250,000 square feet of buildings and parking for 800 employees.

The project is especially appealing because of the jobs. Political heavyweights like Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., have been pushing to have it built in New York.

But in a letter sent to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta late last week, Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania as well as Lehigh Valley Reps. Charlie Dent and Matt Cartwright, and others in the delegation, said Pennsylvania deserves equal consideration.

"There are numerous properties in eastern Pennsylvania that fit the criteria outlined by the FAA other than the arbitrary limitation based on state boundaries," they wrote. "[The properties] are located in areas with considerably lower costs of living and an existing security presence which may provide an opportunity for significant cost savings."

Two sites the Pennsylvania lawmakers are pushing are the Tobyhanna Army Depot in Monroe County and the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Horsham Township, Montgomery County.

Dent said the next step will be to call for meetings with officials at the FAA "to have them justify why they have shut down the parameters the way they did and have them explain to us why Pennsylvania would be excluded."

An FAA spokeswoman said the agency will follow up with the Pennsylvania delegation, but that the intention of having the new facility in New York is that it will be replacing the two aged air traffic control centers located in and serving New York.

Moreover, the D.C.-based National Air Traffic Controllers Association, a labor union, supports having the facility on Long Island, where the two major New York air traffic control radar facilities are located.

While getting the facility built in Pennsylvania may be a long shot, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski and Lehigh Valley International Airport Executive Director Charles Everett Jr. both said Monday they hope LVIA could be an option, citing its proximity to New York and available land as selling points.

If the FAA indicates it's willing to look outside of New York for the facility, Everett said he would start the process of trying to get LVIA considered.

Story and Reaction/Comments:   http://www.mcall.com

Charlotte/Douglas International (KCLT), North Carolina: Push for airport authority worries city

Charlotte officials are concerned about rumored proposals to turn Charlotte Douglas International Airport from a city department to an independent authority, similar to what happened last year at Asheville’s airport – against that city’s wishes.

Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy said a proposal to take the airport from city and county control and place it under an independent authority blindsided her when it appeared in the state legislature two years ago.

“They didn’t have to talk to the city,” she said. “Out of nowhere, we had a bill introduced.”

The former airport board and local state legislators supported the legislation. Bellamy and other local leaders opposed the proposal, but it passed last summer.

Now, Charlotte officials are worried about the same scenario playing out locally. Mayor Anthony Foxx said Monday he believes there is currently an effort “in the backrooms of Raleigh” to remove control of Charlotte Douglas from the city by creating a new aviation authority to run it.

One of Charlotte Douglas’ deputy aviation directors visited Asheville’s airport recently, and discussed the transition, Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority spokeswoman Tina Kinsey said. “A variety of topics were informally discussed, and (Asheville’s) transition to an independent airport authority was part of the conversation,” Kinsey said.

An independent aviation authority would join the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, independent boards that oversee the city’s tourism-oriented buildings and the Carolinas Medical Center system.

Foxx and other officials say chatter about a new aviation authority is increasing. It’s an idea that current aviation director Jerry Orr has said he supports.

Foxx said he included a reference to the airport authority in his “State of the City” speech Monday to “throw down a marker,” saying he objects to any movement to remove city control.

But the mayor and other council members say they aren’t certain who in Raleigh is pushing the idea. Foxx said he’s concerned that a new airport authority could be created “at the midnight hour,” without city input.

Hands-off Approach

Under the current system, Orr runs Charlotte Douglas, and reports to the Charlotte city manager and City Council. His most recent boss, former city manager Curt Walton, retired at the end of last year.

The city generally takes a hands off approach to the airport, giving Orr large leeway in making decisions. But there has been some tension recently, according to city officials familiar with the relationship between Orr and city staff. One of the biggest flashpoints was a city decision last year to transfer control of airport security from Orr to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police.

Under an authority, the aviation director would instead report to an independent board made up of a mix of local appointees. The board, not city council, would have the ultimate say over the airport’s actions.

Should that happen, the city’s finances would likely not be affected. The airport is operated as an enterprise, which means it is funded with fees from the airlines, concessions and parking, as well as federal grants. The airport doesn’t take local tax dollars, and the city isn’t allowed to use airport revenues to pay for services outside the airport.

Orr wasn’t available for an interview Tuesday. In a statement sent to the Observer, he said it was “ not my place to advocate for an Airport Authority.”

In previous interviews, Orr has said he supports the idea of making the airport an independent authority, but isn’t pushing for it himself. An independent authority would provide more effective oversight than the City Council, Orr said, because the council has other responsibilities.

“They have a lot of things on their plate. They simply can’t focus for any length of time on the airport, ” Orr said. “This is a business, and it needs to be governed like a business.”

US Airways, which accounts for 90 percent of the daily flights at Charlotte Douglas, said in a statement that it has “no position” on whether the city or an authority manages the airport. Bob Morgan, president of the Charlotte Chamber, said his organization hasn’t discussed an airport authority.

Interim City Manager Julie Burch is against an airport authority. “As I have shared with Jerry, I would not propose or support changing the Airport from a City department to an authority,” Burch said in a recent email to council members.

City approval not needed

The General Assembly could create an authority for Charlotte/Douglas without City Council approval.

State officials made a similar change at Asheville’s airport last year, passing a bill that transferred ownership and control of the airport from local city and county officials. Many in Asheville opposed the move, which they said would hurt local rule and not fairly compensate the city for investments in the airport.

The General Assembly in Raleigh would have to approve the creation of an airport authority, said Norma Houston of the UNC School of Government. The legislature would determine how the authority is funded, how the board members are appointed.

The local delegation would likely look to the city of Charlotte to see if it approves of the plan before introducing any legislation. But the City Council’s approval isn’t necessary, Houston said.

“Legally and constitutionally, local government input isn’t required,” Houston said.

One Mecklenburg legislator doesn’t support creating an authority.

“We don’t need to fix something that’s not broken,” said State Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat. “It’s an economic generator for the city and the region. It’s well managed. To toy around with it is crazy.”

Charlotte unique

Charlotte is somewhat unique among large cities in that its airport and transit system are both city departments – not authorities. Many other airports are run as authorities, including Raleigh-Durham, with a mix of public officials appointed by different boards.

In Asheville, the airport had previously been administered by a quasi-independent board appointed by the city and Buncombe County. The bill passed last year created a new, fully independent board with members appointed by the city, two counties, and the board, and mandated ownership of the airport be given to the authority.

“I think it’s wrong,” said Bellamy. “I just don’t think local governments should have to give up assets.”

Bellamy said she fears local governments will now receive less information about what’s going on at the airport, and won’t be able to plan as effectively. She said the relationship between the city and the new independent board is eroding.

But Kinsey said the authority model gives the airport more flexibility to buy land and develop facilities, and is “a natural next step in the life of a growing airport.”

In Charlotte, two government-created authorities have wide power. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority was created in 2004 to market the city and manage city owned buildings like the Charlotte Convention Center. The City Council and mayor appoint CRVA board members.

For most of the CRVA’s history, the city took a hands-off approach, allowing tourism officials to operate freely. But in 2011, Mayor Anthony Foxx and some council members withheld CRVA funding until the board demoted then chief executive Tim Newman.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospitals Authority is a public, tax-exempt agency created by state law in 1943. It oversees some 30 hospitals with $7 billion in revenue. The agency has faced criticism for a lack of transparency about its activities.

Story and Reaction/Comments:  http://www.charlotteobserver.com

Pueblo Airport wants to allow Ft. Carson training

You may soon hear the sound of more choppers swirling around Pueblo's skies. Pueblo City Council members are studying whether to allow Ft. Carson training from the city's airport. The airport's manager say it could bring a big boost in federal funding, but it's also raising concerns about noise pollution.

Ft. Carson wants to use the airport as a launch site for high-altitude training. "This flight training is really critical," said Pueblo's Airport Director Mark Lovin. "Aircraft do not perform the same at 10,000 ft. as they do as sea level," he added.

Lovin says the U.S. Army would use Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters. There would be an average of ten to twenty flights a day, to and from the airport.

Currently the airport handles Air Force training, private flights and one commercial airline. Lovin says this agreement with Ft. Carson could bring in thousands of dollars, in much needed federal funding. Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense reduced funding for the airport from $550,000 to $29,000 because of a decrease in military operations.

"I think the key for surviving for an airport like Pueblo is we're going to be involved in a number of lines of businesses," said Lovin.

However, Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace believes the process is moving too quickly. "Basically I want to know what's the hurry," said Pace.

Pace says Pueblo County has not been officially notified of this plan, even though the flight path could impact the Pueblo West community. He indicated there's a concern about the increase in noise pollution and hopes Ft. Carson will conduct public hearings before any decisions are approved.

"We support our troops, we support the military," said Pace. "But there's still a lot of unanswered questions," he added.

"We want to be good neighbors and the U.S. Army wants to be good neighbors," said Lovin. During the day the helicopters would likely fly above the Highway 50 corridor. However to reduce noise levels at night, the choppers would fly about five miles north of city limits, according to Lovin.

Pueblo City Council members discussed this proposal at their regular meeting Monday night, but have not made any decisions. We'll keep you posted.

Story and Reaction/Comments:   http://www.koaa.com

Nearby cities balk at adding Horizon, Allegiant flights at Everett airport

MUKILTEO - The staunchest opponent of commercial air service at Everett's Paine Field has followed through on a promise to fight the plan in court.

The cities of Mukilteo and Edmonds, along with an activist group and two individuals, have filed a notice with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that they intend to challenge a federal decision to allow flights at the airport.

The papers filed with the court carry no substance in terms of arguments but get the parties' collective foot in the door for legal action, Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine said.

A hearing could potentially be scheduled for April, said Barbara Lichman, an attorney based in Irvine, Calif., who filed the motion last week for the cities and other appellants.

She said the court usually holds its hearings in San Francisco, Seattle or Pasadena, Calif.

A Federal Aviation Administration environmental review determined in December that the 23 flights per day proposed by Allegiant Air and Horizon Air would not significantly increase noise, traffic or air pollution in neighborhoods near the airport.

It is unclear if those flights would decrease demand at Bellingham International Airport, which is also served by Horizon and Allegiant.

Mukilteo approached other south Snohomish County cities about joining the suit. Edmonds city officials have opposed commercial service for several years now.

Marine said other cities such as Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace, which also have opposed flights at Paine Field, weren't able to develop a response in time for the Feb. 2 deadline to appeal the FAA's decision.

Also listed on the lawsuit are Save Our Communities, a Mukilteo-based group that has been fighting commercial service; Michael Moore of Mukilteo, a member of the activist group; and Victor M. Coupez, also of Mukilteo.

Despite the names of the other parties on the suit, Mukilteo is going it alone financially, Marine said.

Allegiant has proposed to start running four flights per week from Paine Field and increase to 20 over five years. Horizon asked to run 140 commuter flights per week from the airport. The two proposals combined would bring an average of 23 flights per day.

Opponents of commercial service say opening Paine Field to commercial service could eventually damage nearby neighborhoods with noise and traffic. Supporters say flights could bring jobs to the county and save valuable time for travelers.

Meanwhile, Snohomish County, as the owner of the airport, still must conduct its own environmental study and design and build a terminal.

The mere filing of the legal action does not interfere with that work, said Peter Camp, an executive director for the county in charge of the airport, in a briefing to County Council members on Monday.

Still, that work will take close to a year, just to get to the point of getting a building permit for a terminal, Camp said.

At the same time, opponents hope to get a ruling that could potentially stop work on the project sooner rather than later, Lichman said.

"There's urgency, all right," she said.

While most county elected officials have said they oppose commercial flights at Paine Field, they're required to provide space to airlines if they want to continue receiving money from the federal government for airport maintenance and other projects.

Story:  http://www.thenewstribune.com

Temporary REACT helicopter returns to air after December crash

 Rockford Memorial Hospital's REACT helicopter program returned to the air this past weekend using a temporary aircraft after a fatal Dec. 10 helicopter crash.

Hospital officials said last month that they hoped to have the program back online soon. The helicopter program resumed full air and ground transport service on Sunday working with Air Methods, the hospital's aviation partner.

The first flight involved a patient flown from Freeport to Rockford Memorial Hospital. REACT, which stands for Regional Emergency Acute Care Transport, is using a temporary Eurocopter EC135 aircraft housed on the hospital's North Rockton Avenue campus.

The permanent replacement aircraft, which is also a Eurocopter EC135, is being painted and outfitted with new technology. Officials expect it to be ready within two months.

Hospital officials have been researching ways to bring the helicopter program back online after the December crash that killed pilot Andy Olesen and flight nurses Jim Dillow and Karen Hollis. Their helicopter crashed in rural Lee County during a flight to pick up a critically-ill patient in Mendota.

Source:  http://www.rrstar.com

Spitfire base home to 24 RAF squadrons during WWII goes on the market for £1.5million after phone magnate decides to sell up

One of the best preserved Second World War airfields in the country has been put up for sale.

Perranporth, home of 24 RAF squadrons between 1941 and 1944, has been put on the market by former mobile phone magnate John George, with an asking price of £1.5million.

The 330-acre site in West Cornwall still features an original control tower, underground bunker, fighter shelters, pill boxes and the armaments depot which Mr George converted into the HQ of Jag Communications - once Britain's third largest independent mobile phones retailer.

Formed in 1989 in Cornwall, JAG Communications encompassed over 160 outlets in Cornwall, the South of England and Wales. At its height, over 600 people were employed across the UK.

As a result of the credit crunch, Jag was taken over by Go Mobile and Mr George quit the phones business. He has since set up an air taxi service in the Channel Islands.

An experienced pilot, Mr George bought the airfield four years ago to ease the commute from Guernsey where he is a tax exile.

He said: 'I bought Perranporth airfield because it was convenient'.

'I could land my plane and walk 100 yards from the end of the runway to be at my desk.

Story, photos, reaction/comments: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

This Modified Transport Plane May Be The Deadliest Weapons Platform On The Planet

The AC-130 gunship is just a modified C-130 cargo plane, but there is no more devastating array of firepower supporting troops on the ground, anywhere in the world. 

 The 130 started as a spectacular success in 1967 over Vietnam destroying around 10,000 enemy ground vehicles and devastating enemy troops.

It's packed with punishing ordnance and renowned for its ability to fly in any conditions, at all times of day, for extended periods of time.

With all its weapons pointing out the left side of the aircraft, the AC-130 enters a counter-clockwise pivot turn before concentrating its weapons on a target.

That spiral may be the surest sign a battle is about to turn in the world, and it's accurate enough to happen within just a couple hundred yards of American troops.

Click Here To See What It Can Do >

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com

Clay Center Municipal (KCYW), Kansas: Airport plan proposes less runway proposed in night

The most controversial part of a proposed five-year master plan for the Clay Center Municipal Airport is to re-install lighting and remark the runway to make it 200 feet shorter in 2015 in order to meet FAA guidelines without having to purchase neighboring land.

Last week Clay Center’s Property and Rec. Committee reviewed the plan, and will present details and a recommendation at an upcoming council meeting.

Mayor Jimmy Thatcher emphasized that the city would not destroy part of what exists at the airport by shortening the runway, saying the city is just “remarking what’s there.”

The change is required to meet a new guideline requiring more area for displaced thresholds around entrances onto the runway. Unless the city shortens the runway or buys neighboring land, the city won’t have the ability to allow certain planes to land at night in inclement weather.

The reason purchasing nearby land is not desirable besides the expense is that those owning the land next to the airport don’t really want to sell, Thatcher said.

The FAA would pay for 90 percent of any such expenditures, including those proposed in the master plan.

As of now larger planes, including air ambulances, can’t land at night on instruments only during inclement weather, but the shortening in the proposed master plan will get that clearance back without having to buy land, Thatcher said.

Pam Spicer, of Spicer Aircraft, expressed concern that shortening the runway may mean some larger planes which occasionally use the airport would be unable to land under certain circumstances, either because of insurance or other industry standards. Pam and her husband Mike currently run the municipal airport.

The Spicers are particularly concerned that air ambulances would not be able to land during inclement weather.

Brad Waller of Benesch Engineering, who drafted changes to the airport master plan, said the shortened runway will still allow EagleMed aircraft (air ambulances) and most other planes to land at the airport “under most conditions.”

KDOT Aviation and EagleMed confirmed that a 4,000-foot runway that’s 60 feet wide “is accepted as the minimum length of runway to land the EagleMed aircraft, Waller said.

The existing runway is 4,200 feet long by 75 feet wide. 

“The potential shortening of the runway, as long as it leaves the runway a minimum of 4,000 feet, should have a negligible effect on the operations of air ambulance or business aircraft,” Waller said in an e-mail. “In our preliminary analysis, the displaced thresholds that will be required should not shorten the runway more than 200 feet.”

Waller said both KDOT Aviation and the FAA want rural communities to have access to air ambulance service.

“I can assure you that KDOT Aviation’s primary goal and one of FAA’s main goals is to ensure that every person in the state of Kansas is within a half hour of Air Ambulance service,” Waller said.  “That is a critical component to rural airports, and steps will be taken not to jeopardize that.”

On Tuesday the city council will hear a presentation on ACIP data sheets for submittal to FAA, a step required before updating the master plan.

“These are basically the planned projects the city would like to complete at the airport using FAA funding over the next several years,” Waller said. “The first one will be the Master Plan, and once that project begins there will be several opportunities for public input regarding the planning for the airport’s future.  We plan to have six public meetings total, three with the Property and Recreation Committee and three with the City Council, so that the process is transparent, and feedback can be given at several junctures in the process.”

On other parts of the plan:

-- In 2014 the city proposes to replace/resurface just the main part of the runway, not the taxi-way or apron, an estimated $58,000 expense.

-- Items proposed for either 2016 or 2017 include a wildlife hazardous assessment, and sweeper and snow plows for the airport runway.

-- In 2018, the city will again update the airport master plan.

Story:   http://www.ccenterdispatch.com

Sikorsky S-61N, N612AZ: Accident occurred August 05, 2008 in Weaverville, California

Two southern Oregon men face criminal charges for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Forest Service in 2008 as they provided helicopters to fight wildfires, including one that crashed in Northern California and killed nine people. 
A federal grand jury in Medford indicted Steven Metheny, the 42-year-old former vice president of West Coast operations for Carson Helicopters, then based in Grants Pass, and Levi Phillips, 45, his former maintenance director. The charge carries a potential 20-year prison term. 

The company suspended Phillips on Monday. 

The indictment, handed up Friday, accuses the two men of falsifying the weight and takeoff power of the helicopter that crashed and other helicopters that were part of a "call-when-needed" contract worth up to $20 million to Carson Helicopters. 

The 25-page charging document alleges that Metheny, aided by Phillips, submitted contract bids to the Forest Service knowing that they contained false helicopter weight and balance charts and falsely altered helicopter performance charts to be used in determining if the choppers met minimum contract specifications. 

Metheny additionally faces charges of mail and wire fraud, making false statements to the Forest Service, endangering the safety of aircraft in flight and theft from an interstate shipment. Some of those charges carry potential 20-year sentences. 

Metheny did not return a phone call left for a number associated with him. 

The falsified charts made their way into the hands of flight crews, and pilots used them on firefighting missions, the indictment alleges. 

Those operations included "calculating the helicopter's maximum payload capacity during firefighting operations thereby endangering the safety of the helicopters in flight," the indictment says. 

The 2008 crash killed seven firefighters from Oregon, the pilot, also from Oregon, and a Forest Service inspector pilot from California. Four other Oregonians were injured in one of the nation's worst firefighting air crashes. 

As the Sikorsky S-61N tried to take off at 7:41 p.m. on Aug. 5, 2008, it weighed 19,008 pounds -- 3,168 more than recommended for safe flight and 563 heavier than the maximum allowable weight, National Transportation Safety Board investigators said. It was also 1,647 pounds heavier than the pilot thought, which affected his decision to take off as well as how to fly, agency officials said. 

Instead of climbing up from its launch site near Weaverville, Calif., the helicopter went forward, clipped the tops of trees and crashed. Witnesses to the air disaster on the front lines of the 83,000-acre Iron 44 wildfire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest told investigators that the aircraft rose only 40 to 50 feet before going down. 

In March 2012, a Multnomah County jury awarded more than $70 million to a pilot who was injured and to the family of a pilot who was killed in the crash. 

The jury found that General Electric was liable, agreeing with the plaintiff's attorneys that a GE fuel control valve failed in the Sikorsky that was carrying the firefighters, shutting power to one of its two engines. 

GE attorney Kevin Smith had argued that the crash was caused because the helicopter was overweight at takeoff, and that the pilots were relying on inadequate weight data and inadequate power data of the helicopter's lift capacity provided to them by Carson. 

Carson closed its Grants Pass facility and has consolidated its business operations in Perkasie, Pa. In a statement Monday, the company said it has fully cooperated with the federal investigation. As a result of what they learned, Carson fired Metheny in 2009, said Terril  Carson, the company manager.
The NTSB's findings weren't allowed in court because federal law forbids the use of the board's findings in lawsuits. 

Story and Reaction/Comments:   http://www.oregonlive.com

NTSB Identification: LAX08PA259 
 14 CFR Public Use
Accident occurred Tuesday, August 05, 2008 in Weaverville, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/25/2011
Aircraft: SIKORSKY S-61N, registration: N612AZ
Injuries: 9 Fatal,4 Serious.

NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and obtained data from various sources to prepare this public aircraft accident report.

The Safety Board's full report is available at http://www.ntsb.gov/publictn/A_Acc1.htm. The Aircraft Accident Report number is NTSB/AAR-10-06.

On August 5, 2008, about 1941 Pacific daylight time, a Sikorsky S-61N helicopter, N612AZ, impacted trees and terrain during the initial climb after takeoff from Helispot 44 (H-44), located at an elevation of about 6,000 feet in mountainous terrain near Weaverville, California. The pilot-in-command, the safety crewmember, and seven firefighters were fatally injured; the copilot and three firefighters were seriously injured. Impact forces and a postcrash fire destroyed the helicopter, which was being operated by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) as a public flight to transport firefighters from H-44 to another helispot. The USFS had contracted with Carson Helicopters, Inc. (CHI) of Grants Pass, Oregon, for the services of the helicopter, which was registered to CHI and leased to Carson Helicopter Services, Inc. of Grants Pass. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident, and a company visual flight rules flight plan had been filed.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The following actions by Carson Helicopters: 1) the intentional understatement of the helicopter's empty weight, 2) the alteration of the power available chart to exaggerate the helicopter's lift capability, and 3) the practice of using unapproved above-minimum specification torque in performance calculations that, collectively, resulted in the pilots relying on performance calculations that significantly overestimated the helicopter's load-carrying capacity and did not provide an adequate performance margin for a successful takeoff; and insufficient oversight by the U.S. Forest Service and the Federal Aviation Administration.

Contributing to the accident was the failure of the flight crewmembers to address the fact that the helicopter had approached its maximum performance capability on their two prior departures from the accident site because they were accustomed to operating at the limit of the helicopter’s performance.

Contributing to the fatalities were the immediate, intense fire that resulted from the spillage of fuel upon impact from the fuel tanks that were not crash resistant, the separation from the floor of the cabin seats that were not crash resistant, and the use of an inappropriate release mechanism on the cabin seat restraints.

Scottsdale Airport becoming popular hub for the corporate jet-setters

By LAURIE MERRILL  The Arizona Republic 

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — Scottsdale's high season carries a surge of sky-high travelers as a rising number of visitors fly into Scottsdale Airport by private aircraft, officials say.

From January to April, Scottsdale Airport logs thousands more takeoffs and landings each month, as both private planes and corporate jets utilize one of the busiest single-runway airports in the country.

"It keeps getting busier," said Vesna Ajic, 51, a Scottsdale author who trains pilots and for 20 years has flown for both business and pleasure. "Lots of people are coming in. That's good for local businesses."

Beckoned as much by the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show and Cactus League baseball as by the weather, golf and conventions, tourists jet in from South America, Canada and Mexico as well as around the United States, said Sarah Ferrara, the airport's planning and outreach coordinator.

"We are a true destination community," Ferrara said.

The airport saw a surge in flights in 2008, when the Super Bowl was in Glendale. That year, more than 190,000 landings and takeoffs were tallied. In subsequent years, as the recession took hold, the numbers tailed off, with slightly more than 133,000 in 2010, but since then, the trend has again turned upward, with more than 146,000 last year.

Ferrara is one of 14 full-time employees at the airport, which opened in 1942 as a World WarII basic-training facility and was acquired by the city 24 years later from the Arizona Conference of Seventh Day Adventists.

"Our role is to ensure safety, security and manage the airport," Ferrara said. "We follow official guidelines and make sure we have an efficient operation here."

Scottsdale Airport is home base to more than 400 aircraft, ranging in size from single, fixed-wing planes to corporate jets weighing up to 100,000 pounds, she said.

The airport also has corporate aircraft hangars and tie downs, and leases space to two increasingly busy fixed-base operators, Landmark Aviation and Scottsdale Air Center, Ferrara said.

Vance Briese, 75, spent a 50-year career flying, working as a bush pilot in Alaska and running a fixed-base operations center in San Diego, he said.

"This terminal is not as crowded as it once was," he remarked, looking up from his laptop while sitting in the airport lobby. "Commercial centers (like Landmark and the Air Center), handle most of the traffic nowadays."

Pilots and travelers can fuel up and keep their planes at fixed-base operators, as well as arrange for a luxurious array of amenities.

"We are the gateway to Scottsdale," said Troy Padilla, general manager of the Scottsdale Air Center. "We are the first business they see when they arrive and the last thing they see before they leave."

Golf, corporate conventions and annual shareholder meetings are all part of what attract travelers from wintry states, especially in March, he said.

"They are ready for a change," Padilla said, "and they are ready to golf."

The Air Center offers a high-class concierge service. No request is too extravagant, Padilla said.

Enjoy fine dining? Reservations are made. Are you a sports fan? A seat will be purchased. Want your rented Cadillac pulled up to the tarmac? A kennel for your pet? An appointment at the spa? Done, done and done.

"Whatever their desires are, we will try to accommodate them," he said.

Even the lobby of the Scottsdale Air Center is unlike that of a typical public airport.

Free peanut M&Ms, ear plugs and eye-glasses wipes are available in glass bowls and jars while a stocked refrigerator offers free Skinny Cow ice-cream sandwiches and bottled water.

"I love it," said flight attendant Cathy Bolton, 40, from California, who was on a 24-hour stopover in Scottsdale before continuing on a six-week trip to New York, Switzerland, India and Hong Kong.

Looking at the Harley Davidson and yellow sports car available for rent, she said, "I wish the New York City fixed-base operator was like this."

John Jackson, 57, of Boise, Idaho, was also waiting for a flight at the Scottsdale Air Center. Jackson said he owns four planes and flies mainly for his business, Jackson Oil, based in Boise.

"This is a nicer airfield than normal," Jackson said.

Across the airpark, new airplane-owner Jim Van Horn of Scottsdalewas enjoying a meal at Zulu Caffe in the Scottsdale Airport terminal at 15000 N.Airport Drive.

A former Army helicopter pilot, Van Horn owns Van Horn Aviation, which manufactures helicopter rotors.

He said he will use his recently purchased turbo-charged Cirrus SR22T mostly for business.

Sitting nearby was Ajic, the Scottsdale book author, who flies for business and pleasure.

"When I use it for private, I use it to fly to Sedona for breakfast, or to Carlsbad to get out of the heat," she said.

Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

Source:   http://www.therepublic.com

Danbury, Connecticut, Wants More Money

The Danbury City Council will hear a proposal Tuesday night that asks Finance Director David St. Hilaire to figure out ways to raise more money.

Nobody wants higher real estate taxes, but the city needs more money, so perhaps the city can raise money through unusual means, Mayor Mark Boughton said Monday.

He will ask the City Council Tuesday night to give Finance Director David St. Hilarie the task of finding more money through unusual means.

"Are we really using all of the city's assets appropriately," Boughton asked.

He said one idea he heard was to create an economic opportunity zone around the Danbury Municipal Airport that would encourage development and eventually more taxes from that city land.

Other towns rent space for public events, and Danbury does that through its building use policies, Boughton said. New ideas are needed.

"I need them to look at the whole range of options," Boughton said. "This is not necessarily to raise fees or property taxes."

Boughton said he expects the Danbury Municipal Airport Task Force to make its recommendations in writing within two weeks. He said ideas might come out of that in addition to the enterprise zone mentioned above.

Boughton said this new revenue is needed because next year's budget is in trouble. He said one problem is the city's insurance carrier is talking about a 26 percent increase, which will cost the city almost $9 million extra next year.

"That's before oil costs and pensions are figured in," Boughton said. "It's going to be a rough year."

Danbury Municipal Airport:  http://www.danbury-ct.gov

Story and Reaction/Comments:   http://danbury.patch.com

Expensive improvements to land at Kirksville Regional Airport (KIRK), Missouri

KIRKSVILLE, MO. -- Decisions made by the Kirksville City Council Monday night cleared the way for improvements at Kirksville Regional Airport.

A total of four projects are planned for this year: two this spring; the other two in the fall.

The first two improvements will be additional lighting where the entrance road meets Highway 63 and also in the parking lots.

The second improvement will be a new asphalt overlay on the airport entrance road.

"The airport entrance road is in very bad shape right now. It has a lot of potholes in it, so people want a smoother ride coming into the airport,” said Ed Ieans, Kirksville city engineer. “Plus, now, we want to expand the parking lot because people are parking out in grass when we have a large amount of passengers on Cape Air."

The airport's 50 additional parking spots will be added this fall.

State funds will pay for 90 percent of the first two projects.

The total price tag for the new lighting and airport entrance road improvements is $296,312.

Of that, the City will have to furnish $29,632.

Federal funds will provide 95 percent of the funding for the two fall projects.

On Monday night, the Kirksville City Council also approved an ordinance authorizing the mayor and city manager to execute and agreement between the City and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission for transportation enhancement funds to renovate Franklin Street from Normal Avenue south to Patterson Street.

The City was recently notified it has been awarded a grant in the amount of $415,000 for the work on Franklin Street.

Source:  http://www.heartlandconnection.com

Taos town manager: 'We need cash' for airport, annexation necessary

Posted: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 12:00 am

Matthew van Buren and J.R. Logan

Taos Town Manager Oscar Rodríguez said the town’s effort to annex the regional airport could be completed as early as March, and the annexation is necessary for a major expansion at the airport to move forward.

The airport expansion, including a new crosswind runway, is expected to cost about $24 million. Most of the project would be federally funded, but the town must come up with a $1.2 million match.

Rodríguez said it would be “bad financial planning” to go into debt to complete the expansion without having a solid plan to recover revenues from it. “It would not be a responsible recommendation,” he said. “We need cash.”

As such, the town is eager to bring in the gross-receipts tax revenues that would be created by construction at the airport. Because the airport is now outside town limits, the town would see no revenue from the project unless the facility were annexed.

The proposed annexation would enlarge the town boundaries to include about six miles of highway right-of-way on US 64, extending from the existing northern town boundary to the Old Blinking Light intersection, then west to the airport. The result would be a narrow, dogleg town border running through El Prado and on to the mesa, connecting the airport as a distant appendage.

Rodríguez said the town stands to gain more tax revenue from the airport expansion than the county stands to lose.

Earlier this month, Rodríguez sent an email to Taos County Commission Chairman Dan Barrone explaining the fiscal impacts of the proposed annexation. Rodríguez wrote that the potential one-time loss to the county would be $225,000, while the town stands to gain $669,000.

“Why would we not want to do that on our own project?” Rodríguez said in an interview with The Taos News. “Right now, we’re getting nothing.”

The email also pointed out that the county’s current tax revenue from the area is minimal. “Generously assuming economic activity at the airport is as high as $500,000 among the seven businesses operating there today, annexation by the town will cost the county at very most $4,700 in gross receipts tax revenue,” Rodríguez wrote. “The loss the town sees every year the airport stays outside the town limits is $14,000.”

Barrone told The Taos News that, as an alternative to annexation, the county has proposed passing off the tax revenue generated by the airport expansion directly to the town. Barrone said such an offer is only part of ongoing negotiations and no final agreements have been made.

Deputy Taos County Manager Rick Bellis said the county is willing to collaborate with the town to find a solution that is in the best interest of the community as a whole. “I think we all realize that, with limited resources, we need to work together.”

Bellis said the county is waiting to see detailed financial projections analyzing the long-term benefits that the airport expansion is expected to have on the region. He also said the county would want to ensure services to residents and businesses in the area would not be adversely affected if the airport and highway right-of-way were annexed.

A report prepared by former town planning director William Morris found the only increased cost to the town would be $3,000 a year to pay for electricity to two traffic lights in the annexed zone. The report also said an additional town police presence along the annexed corridor may be needed as well.

Rodríguez said the town is still waiting for something in writing from the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) regarding the annexation. Email exchanges obtained through a public records request show town attorney Brian James has been asking NMDOT representatives to formalize an agreement under which the town would annex the right-of-way along Highway 64.

“I think it is fair to say that the town has no higher priority right now than to complete the steps toward annexation and getting the upgrades to the regional airport,” James wrote, later adding, “The town understands that there are likely to be expectations that the town would maintain the annexed (right of way) to NMDOT standards and is prepared to agree to such reasonable requirements as NMDOT may want to impose in that regard.”

In one email, James said an agreement with NMDOT would give the town leverage if the county were to oppose the annexation.

Email responses from a DOT employee suggest that the agency does not need to give any approval before the town moves to annex.

Talks between the town and the county are planned for the coming weeks, and discussions could touch on other issues, including how the airport and other facilities are managed.

Rodríguez said he would like to see the airport move toward more regional management, offering the regional landfill as an example. He said more cost- and risk-sharing among entities that benefit from the airport would make sense from the town’s perspective. The town currently operates the airport, including two employees, at an annual cost of about $142,000.

Rodríguez pointed to services the town provides to the wider community, including emergency dispatch, the recycling center, the library, fire protection and the Taos Youth and Family Center. He said a situation in which a town of 6,000 provides services to a population of 30,000 is “unsustainable.”

“The geometry is pretty upside-down here,” he said.

Rodríguez said the airport annexation may act as a “bellwether” for how the town and county can collaborate to address other issues.

In his Jan. 24 State of the Town address, Mayor Darren Córdova also spoke to the importance of regional collaboration. He said he hopes this year to bridge the gap between the town and county.

“It is long overdue,” he said. “I will do everything in my power to make it happen.”

Source:   http://www.taosnews.com

Port Authority hires consultant to study possible takeover of Atlantic City International Airport (KACY), New Jersey

NEW YORK – The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has hired a Florida consulting firm to study the possibility of the agency taking over Atlantic City International Airport. That facility is currently operated by the South Jersey Transportation Authority.

When the bi-state Port Authority granted permission to take over Stewart Airport at Newburgh some four years ago, it provided for New Jersey adding another airport at some future point.

Last September, the Port Authority Board allocated $3 million for a feasibility study into an Atlantic City Airport takeover and without any fanfare it recently hired QED Airport and Aviation Consultants of Amelia Island, Florida to conduct the study. Officials of that company did not return phones for comment and spokesmen for both the South Jersey Transportation Authority and the Port Authority would only confirm QED was hired, but would provide no details of what the study would entail.

When Stewart was acquired by the Port Authority, officials said it would be developed to serve the Hudson Valley and as a reliever facility to ease the airport congestion in the New York Metropolitan area.

Atlantic City Airport may be considered as a possible reliever for airport congestion at Philadelphia Airport.

Source:  http://www.midhudsonnews.com

Aspen schools aviation program launched with $100K flight simulator

A new aviation program that will be affiliated with the Aspen School District is moving forward after a $100,000 flight simulator was ordered Friday.

Greg Roark, a pilot and advanced ground-school instructor, has been fundraising for the program since October 2011 when he originally pitched his concept to Superintendent John Maloy. The idea is to house a flight simulator at the school campus and incorporate aviation into multiple fields of study, with faculty from the elementary school on up using it to teach concepts that students are studying.

“The ultimate goal is that we want to excite kids about engineering,” said Roark, a local resident who is married to assistant superintendent Julia Roark. “We need a new generation of kids that build stuff.”

The program, which is funded by private donors, is divided into three phases with escalating price points. The first phase costs about $25,000 and pays for ground-school instruction in Aspen classrooms. The second phase, costing $115,000, includes purchasing a $100,000 Redbird FMX flight simulator. The third phase would entail launching a flight academy, which would require the purchase of an aircraft and could run up to $350,000. Roark initially received some seed money toward the program in 2011 including a $50,000 donation from Lawrence Altman, a local commodities trader and high school football coach, and his wife, Joan.

As of last week, Roark’s nonprofit Aspen Aerospace Alliance and the Aspen Education Foundation (AEF) had raised enough money to fund the first two phases of the program. Roark declined go into detail on the donations and Melissa Long, executive director of AEF, did not return calls seeking comment.

The simulator was ordered Friday and Roark expects it to take a few weeks to arrive, he said. When it does, it will likely be held somewhere on campus temporarily until the basement of the Aspen Middle School is remodeled and it can be placed there. The remodel is expected to be completed sometime in the spring.

In a recent Aspen School District Board of Education meeting that was held before the simulator was ordered, board members questioned whether the district has space to house the simulator. In light of the growing enrollment numbers, classrooms are already in high demand, said board member Sheila Wills. The point of remodeling the basement is to accommodate more students and classrooms, she said. She questioned whether the basement remodel project was being driven by the flight simulator program altogether.

That’s not the case, Maloy said. The simulator will only take up a 96-square-foot space in a 2,550-square-foot room, which will leave plenty of space for other classes, he said. It makes sense to consider the simulator in the remodel discussions, because the program appears to be moving forward and the school is committed to working with Roark, Maloy said.

“I’m committed to it and we have been for a year and a half,” he said.

The board will discuss details of how the program will work at today’s meeting, which begins at 3:45 p.m. at the high school.

Meanwhile, Roark already has 18 people — half of whom are Aspen High School students, while the other half are teachers — signed up for the ground school that begins this spring; Roark could also launch a summer aviation program. He is working on securing the funds for the final phase of the program, which he says could go forward as early as next fall, he said.

Roark said that the program is moving forward thanks to the help of Maloy, the district’s school principals, AEF and donors.

“This is not a one-guy deal,” Roark said. “It takes a lot of people in the community to make this happen.”

Source:   http://www.aspendailynews.com

Letter: Safety concerns about Boeing 787 have huge ramifications

Posted February 5, 2013 at 4 a.m.

John Flynn, Hobe Sound

Letter: Safety concerns about Boeing 787 have huge ramifications


The situation surrounding fires on Boeing 787 commercial aircraft should be of vital concern to all Americans.

Once America dominated the world's commercial aircraft business, with Boeing being No. 1. It is now our only survivor, and now ranks No. 2 behind France's Airbus.

Commercial aircraft sales have been a vital positive element in our balance-of-trade figures. Loss of 787 sales would have a large negative impact in this area. Past experience on the Douglas DC-10 aircraft demonstrates that safety concerns can result in the loss of sales in a matter of days as airlines vie to get delivery positions with other manufacturers like Airbus.

This could result in layoffs at Boeing and its supplier chain and possibly cause Boeing to seek bankruptcy protection from all the damage litigation.

The corrective action and the analysis of how we got into this terrible mess will take time. 

The pressing question:  Can Boeing customers afford to wait? If they don't, this could be the most costly business loss in our nation's history.

Original Source and Reaction/Comments:   http://www.tcpalm.com

Unruly passengers can be sued for cost of a mid-flight diversion: Each incident varies but bill can reach $200,000, industry spokesman says

February 5, 2013 5:11 AM ET
By Jon Hembrey, CBC News

A Sunwing Airlines jet from Halifax to the Dominican Republic was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Bermuda after passengers were allegedly smoking mid-flight, a costly incident for any airline that can easily incur tens of thousands of dollars in expenses.

Daryl McWilliams, vice-president of media relations with Sunwing, told CBC News that the airline plans to sue the family of four that was involved in Friday's incident, and added that costs are approaching $50,000.

That bill includes having to put up the passengers and seven crew members in a hotel overnight, and paying a different crew to search the plane for extinguished cigarettes.

The airline also had to send a mechanic to inspect the plane because it had too much fuel onboard and landed overweight, triggering a requirement under Canadian transport regulations, McWilliams said.

The plane was scheduled to pick up passengers in the DR who also had to be put up in hotels overnight Friday.

A diverted flight can also generate plenty of headaches and costs for passengers who miss pre-booked events, business meetings or time with friends and family.

Australia's Qantas airline said it incurred $125,000 in expenses after a Sydney to Tokyo flight dumped nearly 60,000 litres of fuel before landing in northern Australia in December.

In that incident, a man allegedly lit a cigarette in the bathroom before punching and spitting at a crew member.

Perry Flint, from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said there is no average cost for diversions. However, he said they typically range between $10,000 and $200,000.

"This depends on the size of the aircraft and number of passengers on board, severity and operational consequences: delays, passengers' resulting misconnections, flight cancellation and the cost of hotels/meals for passengers and crew," Flint, head of IATA’s corporate communications for the Americas, said in an email to CBC News.

Not all unscheduled landings prompted by unruly passengers, however, end up being so costly, Sunwing's McWilliams said.

Sometimes a plane will land, unruly passengers are taken off by authorities and the flight takes off again for its original destination.

Nor are these incidents necessarily a result of too much drinking at cruising altitude.

"I can tell you the most common reason for an unscheduled landing, by far, is a medical emergency," McWilliams said, adding that in such situations the airline never attempts to recoup expenses.

Those incidents are also quick, he said, because medical staff are usually already at the airport waiting to receive the passenger.

Decision rests with captain

The final decision on whether a flight will be diverted ultimately rests with the captain, Kelly James, spokeswoman for Transport Canada, said in an email.

According to the Canadian Aviation Regulations, operators must have procedures to deal with a range of unruly passengers from the "unacceptable use of language" to lewd behaviour, the use of weapons and attempts to enter the flight deck.

Only the least severe — minor incidents involving language — do not need to be reported to Transport Canada.

According to Kelly, there were 103 incidents recorded in Transport Canada's civil aviation daily occurrence reporting system over the last 12 months.

The database contains the initial reports of incidents at Canadian airports, planes registered in Canada and those occurring Canadian sovereign airspace.

It also includes incidents in foreign airspace for which Canada takes responsibility. Some flights, for instance, between the U.S. and Europe are diverted to Gander, N.L.

The reports cover the gamut of unruly behaviour, from intoxicated passengers — some who bring their own alcohol onboard — to smoking or refusing to turn off a cellphone. Some involve alleged assaults against passengers and crew.

Steep fines, jail time for flight disruptions

There is no shortage of high-profile incidents that generate a tremendous amount of media attention.

Two former executives with technology giant Research in Motion pleaded guilty to mischief and paid $71,757 in restitution after an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Beijing was diverted to Vancouver in December 2011.

Court documents suggest the pair were inebriated, yelled at each other, and one of them warned he would "off people when they left the plane." They were subsequently let go from RIM, now known as BlackBerry, for unprofessional behavior.

The types of incidents can sometimes involve just crew members.

A JetBlue Airways flight from New York to Las Vegas was forced to make an emergency landing in Texas in March 2012 after its captain started running down the aisle and screaming incoherently about terrorists. He was charged with interference with a flight crew but was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

As far as penalties go, a person convicted of disruptive behaviour on an aircraft can be fined up to $100,000, sentenced up to five years in prison or both, Kelly said.

It is ultimately up to Crown prosecutors to determine whether charges are laid, she said.

Story:  http://www.cbc.ca

Boeing Dreamliner: Experts Still Stumped Over Burning Batteries.... Investigators Struggle to Discern Root Cause of Jet's Mishaps

Updated February 4, 2013, 10:22 p.m. ET

The Wall Street Journal

Despite talk of progress, investigators still don't know what caused the dangerous Dreamliner mishaps.

As the probe of burning batteries aboard Boeing Co.'s 787 jets stretches into its second month, an international team of air-accident sleuths remains stumped about the underlying cause, according to people familiar with the details. This has fueled pessimism about how quickly the planes can resume flying.

In a potentially significant twist indicating Boeing's desire to explore new avenues, on Monday U.S. aviation regulators appeared poised to approve some 787 flight tests, perhaps as quickly as the next few days.

Overall investigative activity remains intense, and a breakthrough could still come. But in the past few days, industry and government officials familiar with the probes on both sides of the Pacific have stressed the lack of progress. At a recent Department of Transportation briefing, according to one of these officials, government experts acknowledged "they may not be any closer to identifying root cause than they were" at the start of the National Transportation Safety Board's high-profile investigation.

After painstakingly dissecting a number of batteries, examining associated electronic parts, and analyzing information from flight-data recorders, NTSB experts and their Japanese counterparts haven't been able to pinpoint any specific component, automated subsystem or software application that appears to offer hope of finding answers.

With no apparent, clear-cut theory, investigators are now delving into additional parts of the plane's electrical grid. They also are seeking help from technical experts outside the aviation industry, including scientists and electronics engineers from the U.S. Navy and Department of Energy.

The anticipated flight tests follow a Boeing request indicating that there hasn't been a breakthrough from ground testing, according to people familiar with the details. Boeing said it "submitted an application to conduct test flights," and a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said it was being reviewed.

The airborne detective efforts are expected to be conducted by Boeing personnel, using one or two specially-equipped test aircraft under FAA experimental testing criteria. If early flights show progress in recreating battery-system malfunctions or helping explain how the plane's cutting-edge electrical network behaves under different environmental and operating conditions, eventually such tests could be used to help demonstrate potential fixes. But for now, according to industry and government officials, the primary focus remains on finding the cause of the malfunctions.

The initial probe began Jan. 7 after a lithium-ion battery aboard a Japan Airlines Co. 787 parked at Boston's Logan International Airport ruptured and burst into flames. Nine days later, a ruptured and overheating battery on an All Nippon Airways Co.  Dreamliner on a domestic flight led to an emergency landing and evacuation, prompting swift world-wide grounding of Boeing's flagship jets.

Initially, some involved with the investigation hoped finding a solution might take mere days. Now airlines and others are bracing for a delay that could stretch additional weeks, or even months. Barring a breakthrough, some pessimists predict that designing and installing a new battery system could take as long as a year. United Continental Holdings Inc. has slotted in other planes for its 787 routes through late February, and Japan Airlines has postponed the start—originally scheduled for the end of this month—of a new Tokyo-to-Helsinki route using the Dreamliner.

A spokeswoman for the NTSB on Friday said "our investigators are moving swiftly and we are making progress," but she declined to elaborate. The FAA's press office declined to comment on the status of the investigation.

The NTSB has said its experts found short circuits and evidence of uncontrolled overheating inside the fire-ravaged battery of the Japan Airlines 787. But what they still can't decipher is cause and effect.

"The short circuit, the fire, these are all symptoms that something is wrong," Deborah Hersman, the safety board's chairman, told reporters late last month. "These events should not happen as far as [the] design of the airplane."

Boeing has assigned hundreds of its own technical staff to work with the loosely coordinated U.S. and Japanese probes. The company's efforts using ground-based simulators to recreate battery-system malfunctions in the air haven't provided significant new leads, according to people close to the effort. Analysis of battery operating trends before the planes were grounded hasn't yielded major findings either, according to others closely tracking that data.

Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel says the company is "working around the clock with the sole focus of resolving the issue and returning the 787 fleet to flight status. Everyone is working to get to the answer as quickly as possible and good progress is being made."

Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney said last week that hundreds of experts are narrowing down possible explanations but haven't found a root cause. "When we know the answer," he said, "then we'll act on it."

Meanwhile, the Chicago plane maker is mulling potential contingency plans, according to people familiar with those options. One possible interim fix Boeing engineers have considered would place the 63-pound battery inside a containment box that would both protect nearby equipment and vent smoke overboard in the event of a failure, according to one person familiar with the proposal.

Boeing faces an uphill battle to get such a system approved, however, because federal investigators have sketched out a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to aircraft fires. So far, FAA officials have balked at engaging in any detailed discussions of potential interim fixes, according to people familiar with the matter, until experts succeed in recreating and explaining battery malfunctions.

If the probes linger and pressure builds to get the planes back in the air, regulatory precedent could work in Boeing's favor. FAA safety rules account for fan blades of a jet engine possibly failing under extremely rare circumstances, but the casing that surrounds the front of the engine must contain all internal parts that break off without damaging the rest of the aircraft.

The type of flight tests Boeing contemplates typically are used to troubleshoot aircraft systems or conduct research and development on new models. But they are considered unusual after a plane has received final FAA approval to carry passengers. The first Boeing 787 entered revenue service in late 2011.

Story:  http://online.wsj.com