Saturday, February 16, 2013

Pierce County, Wisconsin: Sheriff's Department responds to plane crash, no one injured

Pierce County (Press Release) - On February 15th 2013 at 9:39pm the Pierce County Sheriff's Department was notified of a plane crash at the Red Wing Region Airport. Upon arrival it was determined that a single engine plane was attempting to land when the landing gear had failed, causing the plane to skid down the runway coming to a stop in the middle of the runway. Both occupants of the plane were uninjured. The pilot was identified as Steven Hiltner age 30 of Rosemount Minnesota and the passenger was Corey Stever of St. Paul Minnesota. The Federal Aviation Administration was contacted and the plane was removed by Siewerts Towing of Red Wing to a secure location pending an investigation of the FAA.

Assisting at the scene was the Ellsworth Fire Department, Federal Aviation Administration, along with Red Wing Regional Airport Staff.

Crash remains under investigation by the
Federal Aviation Administration, and Pierce County Sheriff's Department. 

Competitor tries to block Google's plan to park jets at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (KSJC), San Jose, California

SAN JOSE -- Atlantic Aviation, the chief competitor to a proposed new $82 million facility at Mineta San Jose International Airport that will give Google's co-founders a place to park their growing fleet of aircraft next to other tech execs' jets, on Friday filed an appeal with the city, saying San Jose erred when it decided Atlantic's bid didn't fulfill requirements.

Atlantic also said its proposal could generate more revenue for San Jose than any other submitted, so the city must select Atlantic's proposal for recommendation to the City Council, according to the criteria established in the bid.

"Atlantic offered the airport up to $295 million over 25 years to ensure the airport's vacant land was put to its highest and best use," Atlantic CEO Louis T. Pepper said in an email."The city would have gained $10 million on the first day of a contract with us."

City Attorney Rick Doyle on Friday said Atlantic Aviation has the right to appeal and had met next Tuesday's deadline to do so. He would not comment further on the appeal.

San Jose Aviation Director Bill Sherry last week hailed what he and other city officials believe is the optimal proposal submitted from Signature Flight Support and Blue City Holdings -- the company representing the Google fleet -- that would result in a privately funded 29-acre facility on land that was formerly a parking lot on the west side of the airfield.

In addition to building five hangars for planes  owned by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Chairman Eric Schmidt, Signature officials said the company will build two other hangars to house private jets to be used by other members of Silicon Valley's corporate elite who are seeking private jet facilities but don't want to drive to San Francisco.

According to a detailed memo Sherry released last week, Signature's operation would generate at least $3 million annually in rent and other fees to the struggling city-owned airport that has been working to attract more commercial and private planes, increasing revenue to repay the costs of a recent $1.3 billion airport renovation.

But Pepper said Signature's vision, which includes a total of 270,000 square feet of building space, isn't the best outcome.

"Unfortunately, the airport has chosen more buildings over long-term financial strength," Pepper said. "It is particularly disappointing that having built excess, unwarranted capacity at the commercial terminal, the airport is seeking to do the same for general aviation on the west side."

Pepper said Atlantic is hopeful that the City Council "sees this as a missed opportunity" and will seek a broader array of proposals that will "provide the airport with sensible alternatives for development of its vacant land."

For years, debate has been swirling over how best to develop the 44 acres of land.

Last April, the City Council asked staff to proceed with a plan to develop the area, and a request for proposals was issued in August. Proposals from Atlantic Aviation, which has been at the airport since 2006, Ross Aviation and Signature Aviation, were received by the Dec. 4 deadline. But according to Sherry's memo, the proposals from Atlantic and Ross were deemed "nonresponsive."

The memo said the Atlantic Aviation proposal did not include several documents requested in the bid and omitted other information, and the Ross Aviation proposal did not meet the minimum requirements for aviation fuel storage.

All along, Atlantic has been opposed to another large fixed based operator locating at the site, saying there is already plenty of capacity to handle private aviation growth. A company spokesman said only 60 percent of its hangar space at San Jose's airport is being used.

Of the three major bidders, Atlantic also was particularly frustrated with last week's news because it had built a new $60 million terminal with hangar space at the airport in 2008. Its proposal sought to create an alternative plan to attract different types of uses for the land, including retail, office space and even solar farms.

But Sherry's memo said Signature's proposal scored 991 points out of a possible 1,000. The highest priority selection criteria, the memo said, "should be total revenue generated to the airport followed by revenues generated to the city's general fund."

However, in his company's appeal, Pepper said Atlantic could guarantee 23 percent more revenue than the city requested.

The City Council's Airport Competitiveness Committee is expected to take up the matter at its meeting next Friday, and Sherry said it could go to a full council vote as early as April.


Cape May County Airport (KWWD), Wildwood, New Jersey: Aviation Museum Partners with Detroit’s Yankee Air Museum

CAPE MAY AIRPORT — Like a champion prizefighter, Yankee Lady, the meticulously restored Boeing B-17, spends the offseason strengthening and conditioning. The B-17 will be visiting Naval Air Station (NAS) Wildwood Aviation Museum at the Cape May, NJ airport June 10, 11 and 12, 2013. She has been nestled in her hangar since late October receiving attention from her handlers under the watchful eyes of Yankee Air Museum B-17 Crew Chief Norm Ellickson and Chief Mechanic, Paul Hakala. Together with teams of volunteer craftsmen and master mechanics they spend countless hours through these winter months to keep this Flying Fortress in top-flight shape.

Virtually every inch of the World War II four-engine heavy bomber is inspected and touched in preparation for the flying season beginning in April. There is a specific schedule for routine maintenance and overhauls, but this ground crew pours over the finest details to keep Yankee Lady in the award winning condition her fans have come to expect.

“Since the Yankee Air Force completed the nine year restoration of this B-17 in 1995, we’ve clocked about 2500 hours of flight time at an average speed of 150 mph,” said Ellickson. “That’s about 375,000 miles, or nearly 15 times around the world, without any serious problems.”

Ellickson explained that every autumn, after completing an FAA certified inspection and comprehensive maintenance list of more than 500 items, Yankee Lady is typically stored for the winter. This year, for the first time ever, the Yankee Air Museum has a full time mechanic and the plane is in the heated Hangar 1 at Willow Run.

“This is huge,” exclaimed Ellickson. “A heated hangar and full-time mechanic means we can get at some projects we couldn’t ordinarily do in winter. For example, we’ve been able to repaint the vertical stabilizer and wing tips, we’re overhauling the main landing gear, replacing all brakes and much more.”

Ellickson was among the original group of aviation enthusiasts who raised the $250,000 to buy the aircraft in 1986. Originally built in 1945 by the Vega Division of Lockheed Aircraft (under license by Boeing), this “G” model B-17 was one of the last ever delivered to the United States Army Air Force. In fact, when the plane was delivered, World War II was drawing to a close so it was never flown overseas. The combat strength of a B-17 is legendary and Yankee Lady has always flown peacetime missions contributing to her pristine condition. 

“It’s interesting to work on this plane, said Paul Hakala. “I’m impressed with the technology of the late 1930s and how much thought went into this craft. It’s well built and should last many more years! One challenge I’ve found is finding replacements for damaged or worn parts. However, depending on the part, the museum’s skilled craftsmen are able to repair or fabricate new ones.” 

Hakala should know. His interest in aviation dates back to when he was a teenager and obtained his private pilot’s license. An Army Veteran, he spent 3 years working on a variety of helicopters. Upon leaving the service he returned to school and earned his FAA Airframe and Powerplant License. 

Hakala then went to work at Environmental Research Institute of Michigan. At ERIM, which was later acquired by General Dynamics, he maintained and flew as flight mechanic on a variety of aircraft used for research. His first was the De Havilland DHC-4A Caribou, now proudly displayed in the museum’s airpark. For more than 26 years he served as a mechanic, then Director of Maintenance and Chief Inspector. Still, he seems humbled by the B-17 and the volunteers working along side of him.

“Once the plane was parked for the season, we drained the engines of oil and began working the inspection items, doing pressure checks and the usual electrical tests,” said Hakala. “We found one engine cylinder to be a little under the specs in compression testing so it was overhauled and replaced.”

Hakala added that the Yankee Lady’s Ground Crew, comprised of stalwart Yankee Air Museum volunteers, work on some major projects as well. The entire 36,000-pound aircraft was recently put on jack stands so the wheels could be removed and brakes replaced. 

“We noticed the trunnion bushings were slightly worn so this is a good opportunity to replace them as well,” continued Hakala.

Hakala described the trunnion as a cylindrical shaft on which the landing gear shock strut assembly pivots when the landing gear is retracted after takeoff or extended for landing. A fully loaded, combat ready B-17 weighed about 65,500 pounds and the trunnion bears the weight. The bushings are the replaceable greased sleeves that provide the primary bearing surface at which the landing gear supports the aircraft.

“To me, the most significant accomplishment has been painting the tail and wing tips,” offered Hakala. “It’s the same as restoring an historic flag. We want people to see and respect the colors of the 381st Bombardment Group which this plane honors.”

Hakala explained that as a late G model B-17, the plane was originally delivered in natural metal finish. The aircraft has been painted in the markings of a typical B-17G assigned to the 8th Air Force, 381st Bomb Group as a memorial to the late Joseph Slavik who flew 35 missions as a pilot with the 381st. Mr. Slavik made a significant contribution to help purchase the plane. The “Yankee Lady” name and nose art do not replicate an actual combat veteran B-17 but are meant to be representative of the era. The wing tips, vertical and horizontal stabilizers have been repainted Spectramaster Red making the gleaming skin and lettering really pop.

“I’ve seen the other B-17s, seven were here at Thunder Over Michigan in 2010,” said Hakala, concluding “I can truthfully say, Yankee Lady is the best, most true B-17 still flying. We aim to keep her that way.”

Keeping the Yankee Lady in her award winning condition requires special talent and lots of financial resources. It also requires a network of friends who are engineers and artisans. Norm Ellickson, began his career as an aircraft mechanic when he was 19. He retired from Northwest Airlines as Regional Maintenance Manager at Detroit/Wayne County Metropolitan Airport. He was the leader of the Yankee Lady restoration effort. His warm and affable nature is as legendary as the aircraft on which the labors of love are focused.

“I’m a pretty lucky guy,” he says. “I get to work on history’s greatest airplane with the greatest people in the world. Whenever I need a rare part or advice, I can pick up the phone and help is there.”
Ellickson talks about his friends all across the country with whom he shares aircraft parts and expertise. Whether it is sewing new, authentic seats, to fabricating major assemblies from blueprints, Ellickson seems to have a contact for everything.

“There are only nine B-17s still flying and we stick together pretty well,” he continued. “It’s very costly though. We needed to overhaul the number four engine in July and that cost us about $35,000.”

Ellickson speculates that as more B-17s retire, the availability of parts will decrease and the costs will increase. Just a few years ago it cost $400.00 to recap a tire. Today, that cost has risen to $995.00. Ellickson just sent five tires out for recapping.

Ellickson said that every hour the Fortress flies costs about $3500.00 in fuel, supplies and maintenance but that sponsorships defray some of the cost. While on station or at an air show, the museum will also sell Flight Experience (FLEX) Rides, tours and items from the museum store to further raise funds.

“I don’t mind a high-cost, high-maintenance lady at all,” chuckled Ellickson.

“When we’re at an air show and we see a World War II B-17 Veteran reunite with this airplane, the point of our freedom is driven home and all this effort is worth it,” added Hakala. 

“We’ll keep her flying as long as humanly possible, our Veterans deserve nothing less,” concluded Ellickson. Please mark your calendar and be sure to visit the Yankee Lady at the Cape May airport this June.

NAS Wildwood Aviation Museum and Yankee Air Museum are both non-profit 501 (c) (3) organizations. For more information about visit or

Mineola, Nassau County, New York: Low-Flying Aircraft

Williston Park 

Police received a call of a low-flying aircraft on Wednesday, February 13 at 1:51 p.m.  A helicopter was sent to investigate.


University of Nevada, Las Vegas stadium planners say they can overcome Federal Aviation Administration’s height restrictions

The Federal Aviation Administration has raised concerns about the height of UNLV's proposed stadium.

Federal regulations require that developers looking to build a tall structure near an airport must first consult with the FAA. The agency analyzes blueprints and determines if the proposed building poses any hazards to air travel based on its height and proximity to the airport. The UNLV Now "mega-events center" would be less than two miles from McCarran International Airport.

The FAA doesn't have any authority over local planning and building permits, so these aeronautical studies are only a recommendation. However, Clark County requires FAA approval for all proposed buildings in the county’s jurisdiction, which includes UNLV’s Maryland Parkway campus.

Submitted plans for the UNLV Now call for a 205-feet-tall stadium.

In a letter to university officials, the FAA said the stadium was too tall, posing an "adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect" on flights coming in and out of McCarran. The FAA argued the stadium as presented could affect departure and landing routes, block radar and interfere with communication signals between planes and the air-control tower.

The FAA requested that UNLV Now officials decide between two options:

• Revise the proposal for a stadium no taller than 106 feet. (UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center was designed at a height of 104 feet.)

• Request another study for a stadium up to 168 feet, which is the FAA's "not-to-exceed height."

UNLV Now's project leader Don Snyder said the university was well aware of FAA's concerns but had submitted taller-than-expected plans to test the FAA's building parameters.

"That's a very normal part of a project like this," Snyder said. "We want maximum flexibility because we're in the preliminary design phase."

The actual plans for the UNLV stadium call for a turf-to-ceiling height of 195 feet, which is still beyond the FAA's maximum height limit.

However, UNLV and its developer partner, Majestic Realty, have always planned to sink the stadium about 30 feet into the ground to create a "bowl" effect, Snyder said. Such a stadium would fit within the FAA's parameters, he said.

"Just being close to the airport adds a few more hoops," Snyder said. "But I feel really confident we're on the right track."

This wouldn't be the first time the FAA had concerns about tall buildings in the Las Vegas Valley.

In 2007, developers behind the Crown Las Vegas resort concept had called for a 1,888-feet-tall observation tower on the southern end of the Strip, a few miles from McCarran. After the FAA study, developers scaled back its plans to a 1,064-feet tower. The $5 billion resort, which was scheduled to be completed in 2014, was scrapped in 2008.

In the mid-1990s, developers of the Stratosphere scaled back their tower proposal from 1,800 feet to its current 1,149-feet height. Developers also decided to build the observation tower within the boundaries of the city of Las Vegas instead of Clark County because Las Vegas has fewer regulations for FAA approval on buildings.

Similar concerns from the FAA during the early 2000s caused delays in building University of Phoenix Stadium, the Glendale, Ariz., complex that is home for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. In a more extreme case that happened a few years ago, the city of San Diego forced a developer to chop 20 feet off of a building that was built beyond FAA specifications.

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Maryland Bill Increases Penalties For Lasers Pointed At Aircrafts

A bill to increase the penalties for those convicted of flashing laser points at an aircraft in Maryland is headed to the state senate after passing the House of Delegates.

The bill calls for possible jail sentences of up to three years, plus fines of up to $2,500 for anyone convicted of flashing laser pointers at an aircraft. Montgomery Del. Sam Arora, the sponsor of the bill, says pilots can be blinded by those pointers.

"In Ocean City, they acted to ban the sale of these tiny pointers to people under the age of 18," he says. "But laws on the books right now... it's just a $500 fine if you blind someone with a laser pointer. And that's just not enough."

Arora says between 50 and 60 cases in Maryland are reported each year from pilots who say they've had their vision impaired while in the air from laser pointers being directed at their aircraft, though Arora believes there are many more cases that go unreported. The bill passed the House unanimously.

Terre Haute International (KHUF), Indiana: Louise’s Fine Dining leaving airport

The path shared by two local organizations has come to a fork, but spokesmen for each say both routes are aimed high.

A news release issued by Louise’s Italian Fine Dining this week announced tonight will be its last as a full-service restaurant at the Terre Haute International Airport. Its parent organization, which also operates The Copper Bar, Louise’s Pizzeria, and a catering division, will continue to service the facility for events.

Meanwhile, owner Rob Lundstrom, said he is moving the restaurant to a new, permanent location at some point this year.

“With our relocation, we will continue the type of service we’ve had at the airport,” he said of the upscale Italian cuisine associated with the name Louise’s since 1939.

Lundstrom declined to speculate on the timetable for opening the new restaurant, but confirmed it will be this year.

“We have multiple locations that are options for us,” he said, emphasizing his commitment to the “fine dining” model. “We’re going to be down on a transition period, but it’s leading to a bigger, better future.”

Founded in the early 1930s by Louise Ambrosini, the restaurant features recipes from her mother, a native of Italy. The Lundstrom family purchased the business in 2001, but has since moved and expanded it, most recently into the airport in 2008.

Bill McKown, executive director of the airport, said he wishes Lundstrom the best, and both men said the relationship will continue on through catering and support.

“It’s an exciting change for him,” McKown said, crediting Louise’s Italian Fine Dining with a number of loyal customers. “We definitely support him.”

Meanwhile, the facility has begun work toward finding a new restaurant for what McKown said is a facility ready to grow with demand.

“I think it’s very important to keep a food service,” he said, adding the board is expected to issue a request for proposals at its March meeting, and a number of prospects have already approached him.

What kind of restaurant, and what its hours will be, is still under discussion. McKown expressed his interest in securing a provider which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. In addition to work set to begin on new facilities for the Indiana Army National Guard, the airport has finalized agreements with the Indiana State University Flight Academy to return students to its runways. The university and airport had discontinued that relationship prior to McKown assuming the director position, and its return will bring a mass of people at various points throughout the day. Providing meal service at early hours through late evening, as well as lunch, are all priorities, he said. 

McKown said his organization will be announcing Lundstrom’s new location and opening date on its website once that’s been established.

Lundstrom emphasized that the move does not reflect poorly on either party, it’s just an opportunity to expand.

“We’ll continue to be a big supporter of the airport,” he said.


Pilot toils to restore rare antique airmail plane

HAMILTON, Texas (AP) — Harry Hansen was a Continental Airlines co-pilot in 1961 flying from Dallas to Abilene when his captain pointed down to a decrepit airplane parked next to a farmhouse near Lake Worth.

An aficionado of old aircraft, Hansen was intrigued. After the flight, he learned that the farmhouse was on Amon G. Carter Sr.’s Shady Oak Farm. Hansen knew Carter’s son, Amon Carter Jr., from a previous job flying for oilman W.A. Moncrief.

So Hansen called Carter Jr. and told him he was interested in the aging airplane. Carter Sr. had died in 1955.

“He asked me, ‘What do you want that old piece of junk for?’” said Hansen, now 79. “I said I wanted to restore it one of these days. And I was there the next morning to get it.”

The aircraft that Carter gave him was a Travel Air 5000, a rare and iconic plane that today is considered the oldest known piece of the Carter family’s aviation legacy in North Texas, according to the Veterans Memorial Air Park in Fort Worth. It was one of only 14 such planes built and was operated by National Air Transport when it first added passenger service to its Chicago-to-Fort Worth airmail route in 1927.

Now it is an aviation artifact that organizations supporting the air park hope to return to Fort Worth. They’re seeking financial pledges and a grant to raise the money to buy the airplane, which Hansen plans to auction later this year.

“This is the oldest piece of aviation history that we have,” said Jim Hodgson, executive director of the air park. “We really feel it belongs here.”

Hansen declined to say how much he hopes to sell the airplane for. But, if air park officials can raise enough money, he has agreed to sell it to them before the auction. The auction could occur in August or September, he said.

Air park officials say they hope to raise $200,000 to buy, transport and continue rehabilitation of the aircraft.

Hansen told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram ( said he has slowly restored the plane in his hangar in Hamilton during the past 10 to 15 years but didn’t have time to do it all. He had a friend rebuild the wooden wings out of spruce. He refurbished other parts like the rudder, elevator and aileron, he said.

Plenty of work remains. The plane, which has a 51-foot wingspan, needs “skin,” the cotton fabric covering the outside. The engine must be restored. Age and health will keep Hansen from finishing it.

“As you get older, you don’t get to do everything you want to do when you are younger,” Hansen said.

Bill Morris, who researches aviation history, documented the Travel Air 5000’s story for the air park.

The aircraft grew from a 1925 effort by a group of investors in Chicago, New York and Detroit looking to connect the cities with airmail service. They formed the airline National Air Transport, also known as NAT, which would become United Airlines in 1931.

Carter Sr. and other local Fort Worth business leaders began working to put Fort Worth on a NAT mail service route. In November 1925, the airline was awarded a contract by the U.S. Post Office to carry mail between Fort Worth and Chicago.

“By transferring its airmail operations to private companies, the government effectively created the commercial aviation industry in the United States,” Morris wrote.

Initially, NAT moved mail on 10 Curtiss “Carrier Pigeons,” open-cockpit biplanes designed for airmail delivery, according to the air park’s literature. But the airline soon wanted to add passenger service to the mail flights.

The Travel Air 5000s were developed by Wichita, Kan.-based Travel Air Manufacturing Co., which was founded in 1925 by three young aircraft designers — Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman. All three would go on to become giants in the aviation industry.

Only 14 Travel 5000s were built. One of the airplanes provided Fort Worth with its first scheduled interstate passenger airlines service at Meacham Field in 1927.

With their enclosed cabins, the planes could fit four passengers behind the pilot, Morris said. But they had to squeeze in with the bags of mail.

“If you had a big load of mail, you might only be able to put three passengers in there,” he said. “If it’s Christmas time and you have a bunch of packages, you definitely aren’t going to fit four. There was no center aisle and certainly no stewardess.”

The tight seating meant the Travel Air 5000’s time was limited. Looking to expand passenger service, NAT replaced the 5000s with 14-passenger Ford Trimotors by 1931. The Travel Air 5000 was gifted to Carter for his contributions to aviation during a presentation Feb. 1, 1931, in Fort Worth.

Hansen has an old washed-out photograph of the ceremony. In it, Carter and NAT President Paul Henderson stand in front of the airplane looking at a piece of paper. Carter’s friend, humorist Will Rogers, stands next to them, smiling at the camera.

Carter stored the airplane at Shady Oak as a souvenir until he gave it to Hansen. The retired pilot said he contacted United Airlines to see if it was interested in the aircraft, but the company was not.

Morris said that air park officials are pursuing a grant to help with the expense of buying the aircraft. In the meantime, they’re accepting financial pledges from the public on the air park’s website. Ideally, they would like to see the plane serve as the centerpiece for a museum. So far, the air park has raised more than $20,000, he said.

“We’re seeing some enthusiasm out there for this,” Hodgson said. “This is a unique piece of history, and we hope people will take an interest.”


Potsdam Municipal Airport (KPTD), New York: Village seeks funding for costly jet fuel pump

POTSDAM — The village is looking to secure grant funding to build a jet fuel pump at the Potsdam Municipal Airport after discovering that the project will cost about $25,000 more than initially anticipated.

The village began planning for a jet fuel pump in August in hopes of selling the fuel at a 15 percent markup to the Cape Air planes and LifeNet medical helicopters that operate at the airport.

Early estimates indicated the pump would cost about $60,000, but two contractors have bid to perform the installation and the lowest bid was $86,000.

“The cost is considerably higher than we hoped it would be,” Village Administrator David H. Fenton said.

The high price tag is hard to stomach, he said, especially since jet fuel sales would be only a modest moneymaker for Potsdam.

“It’s tough to justify spending that kind of money,” he said.

The village has started looking for outside funding to support some or all of the cost of the new equipment. Leaders hope to score a grant from the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency, which focuses on economic development and job creation in the region.

The Potsdam Municipal Airport already sells standard aviation fuel, but not the jet fuel used by LifeNet’s helicopters and other commercial aircraft.

Having jet fuel available may increase traffic at the airport and allow it to expand, Mr. Fenton said.

According to village Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis, both the airport and LifeNet helicopters provide a benefit to the entire region, not just the village, and should be eligible for funding from outside sources.

“I think that should it should be regionally funded,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

When the board initially began looking for contractors to install the pump last fall, nobody responded. This was because of a high demand for similar work in other communities, Mr. Fenton said.

The village has also commissioned an obstruction study for the airport, identifying tall trees that might prove hazardous to low-flying aircraft.

“If you’re going to have the airport, you’ve got to keep it where it’s safe,” Mr. Fenton said.


Airlines not holding regional affiliates to safety standards, US watchdog finds

WASHINGTON — Since a deadly airline crash near Buffalo in 2009, the government hasn’t kept its promise to ensure that major airlines are holding their smaller partners to the same safety standards, a federal watchdog says.

In a new report, the U.S. Transportation Department’s inspector general faults the Federal Aviation Administration for not taking steps to encourage the big airlines “to consistently share safety information and best practices” with regional airlines that operate flights under contract for them.

That business link is known as code-sharing, by which one airline sells tickets for seats on a flight operated by another airline — United and United Express, for example.

More than half of all airline flights in the U.S. are operated by regional airlines using names such as United Express, Delta Connection, American Connection and US Airways Express under code-sharing arrangements.

Three regional airlines — JetBlue Airways, Delta Connection and US Airways Express — fly out of Stewart International Airport in Orange County.

A flight operated by regional carrier Colgan Air for Continental Airlines under the name Continental Express crashed in February 2009 in Clarence, N.Y., near Buffalo, killing 50 people. After that crash, officials at the department and the FAA said they would begin reviewing code-share contracts to see if they impinged on safety.

Investigators cited pilot training lapses by Colgan as a factor. Colgan stopped flying in September 2012 as part of its parent company’s restructuring.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigation and congressional hearings after the Colgan crash pointed out the differences in safety cultures that sometimes occur between the two types of airlines.

For example, at that time, some regional carriers were hiring pilots with as few as 250 hours of flight experience, which FAA rules allow. Major airlines typically hired pilots with about 10 times that much experience.

After the crash near Buffalo, pilots’ unions and safety advocates said regional carriers were driven to cut corners on safety, including hiring inexperienced pilots at low wages, in part to meet performance goals required under the code-sharing contracts. Airlines that met their goals often earned more money under the agreements, while those that failed to meet such goals were sometimes penalized.

The FAA, despite earlier promises, isn’t reviewing any code-share contracts for their safety implications, and the Transportation Department reviews only a small share for their potential economic impact, not safety, the transportation inspector general’s report said.

“As a result, most domestic code-share agreements go into effect without being reviewed by any (federal) regulatory entity,” the report said.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report before its public release.

The FAA also doesn’t have procedures in place “to advance the agency’s commitment to ensure the same level of safety between mainline air carriers and their code-share partners,” the report said.

Responding to the report, Robert Rivkin, the Transportation Department’s general counsel, said the FAA “believes that all carriers ... meet an appropriate level of safety” regardless of whether they are in a code-share agreement.

After the Buffalo-area crash, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and then-FAA chief Randy Babbitt announced an industry-government “call to action” and held a well-publicized safety summit. An airline safety “action plan” released by FAA officials at the time promised the FAA and the Transportation Department would “develop the authority and processes to review agreements” between major carriers and their regional partners.

That plan said one of its short-term goals was that “major carriers should seek specific and concrete ways” to ensure that their smaller airline partner carriers adopt and implement the larger company’s most effective practices for safety. That was to include periodic meetings to review safety data gathering programs and “to constantly emphasize their shared safety philosophy.”

The transportation inspector general’s report said that although the FAA sponsors biannual information-sharing events for the airline industry, “it has not taken steps to encourage mainline carriers to consistently share safety information and best practices with their code-share partners.”

The FAA dropped its plans to review code-sharing agreements because agency officials felt the largest airlines had taken steps to increase their safety sharing with their regional partners, the report said.

But the inspector general found that while that was true of one large airline, it wasn’t the case for others. The report reviewed four major and eight regional carriers that participate in code-share agreements, but it did not identify the airlines.

Rivkin replied in a letter to the transportation inspector general that the FAA doesn’t make a distinction between “major” and “regional” carriers because “all of those carriers meet the same standards.”

Scott Maurer, whose 30-year-old daughter, Lorin, died in the crash near Buffalo, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the inspector general’s findings.

“These promises tend to end up becoming lip service,” he said. “It sounds good at the time, but there is no follow through.”

A year after the 2009  crash, then-Continental Airlines CEO Jeffrey Smisek angered victims’ families when he said it was the FAA’s responsibility to ensure Colgan’s pilots were properly trained, not Continental’s.

“We did not train those pilots. We did not maintain those aircraft. We did not operate the aircraft. But we expect them to be safe. We expect the Federal Aviation Administration to do its job,” Smisek told a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The father of a law student killed in the crash later cornered Smisek in the hallway outside the hearing room, complaining that his daughter bought her ticket from Continental, not Colgan.

Smisek now is the president and CEO of the holding company for United Airlines, which merged with Continental.

Theodore Francis Green State Airport (KPVD), Providence, Rhode Island: Cape Air flights to T.F. Green may not begin this year

Despite a $900,000 guarantee from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), an expected scheduled air service between Block Island and T.F. Green Airport in Providence is still in the planning process.

Last August, the DOT awarded a grant to the Rhode Island Airport Corporation, its partners Cape Air and the Puerto Rico tourism board. In part, this money will go to providing a Cape Air summer air service between Block Island and T.F. Green.

The Block Island service was planned for May to October. Flights were predicted to take about 28 minutes and cost $60 to $80 each way. There would be four daily round trips on average. In the winter season, scheduled flights will run between two islands in Puerto Rico.

But the service may not get off the ground this year.

“Our initial thought was to have the service starting in summer of 2013, but as you can imagine, we are approaching this process very diligently and deliberately,” Trish Lorino, Cape Air managing director of marketing and public relations, wrote in an email.

“Our service into Block Island is contingent upon securing a new (different) aircraft. That process is still ongoing. We will likely not be serving Block Island until next year,” Lorino wrote.

The bulk of Cape Air’s current fleet consists of Cessna 402Cs, which are too large to land on the short Block Island and Puerto Rican airstrips.

Cape Air is still looking at options, explained Lorino, and has approached several different manufacturers about an aircraft that would be suitable.

When the grant was awarded to RIAC, with Cape Air as the designated airline, Westerly-based New England Airlines filed a letter of opposition to it, particularly the process by which the grant was awarded.

New England Airlines runs a scheduled service year-round between Block Island and Westerly with its fleet of Britten-Norman Islanders.

Company owner Bill Bendokas told the Times last June that he had been alerted about the grant application in late May and was given only until June 7 to respond.

“New England Airlines would of course also be interested in establishing a Providence service,” Bendokas had said last June, “but it is past the point when we could participate on a level playing field.”

When contacted this week by the Times, Bendokas offered no comments on the possible service delay until 2014.

The grant money amounts to a two-year revenue guarantee, meaning that up to $900,000 would be tapped if the new service loses money. The money would return to the DOT if the service meets or exceeds revenue expectations.

Lorino said that the revenue guarantee wouldn’t go into effect until Cape Air begins service.

The DOT awarded 33 grants nationwide totaling more than $13.9 million through its Small Community Air Service Development Program.


Brookings Regional (KBKX), South Dakota: Airport Gets Lower Bid On Project

A lower-than-expected bid on the first phase of the Brookings Airport runway expansion and relocation is allowing the city to get a head start on additional airport work.

The bid for the first phase of the runway realignment came in at $4.7 million, some 32 percent below engineering estimates.

City Manager Jeff Weldon told councilors this week that Brookings received a grant from the federal government that anticipated the full $7 million amount.

He says the city can apply the excess funding, and it will soon bid a new, separate project under the phase.

Helms & Associates project manager Bob Babcock says as construction proceeds, it will mean some reduced airport use because of a shortened runway. But the airport will not shut down.

Denver International Airport (KDEN), Colorado: Parking Lots Consider Measures To Stop Bunnies From Attacking Cars

DENVER (CBS4)- It’s a problem that plagues passengers who park at Denver International Airport- bunnies are causing hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in damage to cars. 

The rabbits eat the wires under the hood.

The USDA Wildlife Service is removing at least 100 bunnies every month but the problem persists.

“I see at least dozens every morning. They go hide under the cars and the cars are warm,” said airport shuttle driver Michelle Anderson.

“They like to chew on the insulator portion of the ignition cables. That’s what we see,” said Arapahoe Autotek spokesman Wiley Faris.

Faris said rabbit damage is a common problem. The suspects are easily identified by the fur and pellets left behind.

“That wiring harness has all the wiring for the car so it can run from the hundreds into the thousands depending on where the harness is damaged,” said Faris.

USAirport Parking is taking action to keep the bunnies out of vehicles.

“It’s hard to get rid of the bunnies but we’re going to try as many natural things as possible,” said on USAirport Parking employee.

Crews will install new fencing to make it harder for the bunnies to burrow under.

“We’re also going to build raptor perches for the hawks and eagles,” said USAirport Parking.

Local mechanics are also giving drivers a secret weapon: coyote urine. They’re coating car wires with the substance.

“We have found a good deterrent is predator urine, you can pick up fox urine at any pro hunting shop,” said Faris.

DIA and City of Denver officials said parking permits clearly state they are not responsible for any damage which means repairs needed because of ravenous rabbits are the responsibility of the driver.

DIA said they have only received a handful of claims concerning rabbits damaging cars in recent years. Since 2009 there have been nine official claims from passengers reporting damage to their cars from rabbits.

DIA said more than 11,720 cars are parked on the property each day.

Most insurance companies won’t cover the costs of rabbit damage.

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Frontier Airlines to end all service out of Colorado Springs

Frontier Airlines will end all service to Colorado Springs in early April, reversing a decision a month ago to continue nonstop flights to Los Angeles and Phoenix while halting service to Denver, San Diego and Orlando, Fla.

The Denver-based carrier will end flights to Los Angeles on March 2 and to Phoenix on April 7, the only two cities Frontier said last month that it planned to continue serving after ending service to San Diego on Thursday, Orlando on Feb. 25 and Denver on March 2. Frontier’s exit ends nearly five years of operation in the Springs that peaked last year with nonstop flights to five cities that had vaulted Frontier to the second-largest carrier at the Colorado Springs Airport in five of the six months between June and November.

Kate O’Malley, a Frontier spokeswoman in Denver, said Friday that bookings to Los Angeles and Phoenix had deteriorated since the carrier announced the cutbacks to Denver, San Diego and Orlando, “and we were left with no responsible choice but to terminate the service.”

“We are clearly disappointed that Frontier was not able to sustain service in the Colorado Springs market. We had been advised by Frontier that the Phoenix service was strong and the Los Angeles service was strong enough to continue building, but the airline has other priorities where it wants to build service,” said Mark Earle, the city’s aviation director. “Our role is to find other carriers to fill the demand that we know exists in Colorado Springs, and the recently announced merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways is a great opportunity to do that.”

Earle said airport officials already are in contact with American to regain flights to Phoenix, a hub American will acquire when it completes a merger announced Thursday with U.S. Airways. U.S. Airways ended service in 2010 to Colorado Springs, where it had operated nonstop flights to Phoenix since 2005. American also operates a hub in Los Angeles and had service between there and the Springs between 1999 and 2003.

“With the merger of the two carriers, there will be more options to travel out of Phoenix than there is now with just U.S. Airways. We are hopeful that we will be able to regain service to Phoenix after the merger is completed and perhaps add service to Los Angeles as well,” Earle said.

Frontier carried 139,724 passengers leaving the Springs airport in the first 11 months of last year, or 19 percent of the airport’s passenger traffic for the period. The carrier had made Colorado Springs a “focus city” in May, expanding its schedule from daily flights to Denver by adding nonstop service to Los Angeles and Phoenix as year-around destinations and Portland and Seattle as summer destinations. Frontier replaced Portland with San Diego in September and Seattle with Orlando in November as winter destinations.

That ambitious expansion unraveled in the fall, when bookings started to decline and the carrier had to discount fares more than anticipated to fill the 138-seat aircraft it used for the Springs flights. Frontier, meanwhile, said it was halting flights between the Springs and Denver because it is phasing out the regional jets used on the route.

Frontier’s exit leaves the Springs with service from four airlines: Allegiant Air to Las Vegas, American to Dallas-Fort Worth, Delta Air Lines to Atlanta and Salt Lake City and United Airlines to Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

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Effects of American Airlines, US Airways merger unclear for Gainesville airport

On Thursday, US Airways and American Airlines announced plans to merge and in the process create the world’s largest airline.

The merger has an equity value of $11 billion, according to a press release. American Airlines is waiting on the United States Bankruptcy Court for confirmation and approval from US Airways shareholders to make the merger final.

Laura Aguiar, Gainesville Regional Airport spokeswoman, said there’s no way to tell how the merger will affect services at smaller airports like Gainesville’s airport, which has seen an increase in the number of travelers coming through the airport.

“We recently netted a fourth airline,” Aguiar said. “So our competitive pricing and our fares have actually gotten better. And we kind of bucked the trend just because we are a growing community, and that has really been good for us.”

A Gainesville travel agency said less competition might hurt travelers.

“Fares have gone up in the last year, flights are still running full and the demand is high. So, of course, as long as there’s a strong demand they’ll continue to increase the fares,” said Bob Todd, owner of World Class Travel.

Travelers on American and US Airways won’t notice immediate changes, until the merger is approved, according to the press release. The release said there are no changes to either airlines’ frequent flyer programs, and miles will continue to be honored, of either airline at the time.
Travelers will be notified on frequent flyer program updates as that information becomes available, American Airlines said in the release.

American Airlines’ bankruptcy case began in November of 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal. The journal said airline mergers happen in order to boost revenues and drive costs down.
“Together, we will be even better positioned to deliver for all of our stakeholders, including our customers, people, investors, partners and the many communities we serve,”  said Thomas Horton, CEO, president and chairman of American Airlines, in the press release.

Gainesville Regional Airport Celebrates Completion of Phase III Renovations and Plans for the Future

The Gainesville Alachua County Regional Airport Authority (GACRAA) will cut a ribbon to celebrate the completion of Phase III airport renovations. The ceremony will be at 3:30pm, Thursday, February 28th in front of the John R. Alison terminal. The public is welcome to attend.

Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) completed updates which are not only aesthetically pleasing, but the renovations result in easier accessibility for passengers as well as energy efficiency.
  • All non-insulated store front glass has been replaced with energy efficient glass.
  • The airport’s main entryways are now vestibules to reduce the loss of air conditioning or heating. The curbside drop off, sidewalks and crosswalks have been redone with a unique pattern of colored cement with curved lines.
  • Exterior, pillar lighting was replaced with new, energy efficient LED lighting for energy efficiency and the safety of late arriving travelers.
  • Fresh paint, new benches and new landscaping create the new welcome for both residents and visitors to the community.
  • The new irrigation system replaced the source from utility domestic water to well water.
  • Disabled parking areas and ramps to the sidewalk were repaved at the front of the short term lot.
Terminal Renovations Phase III began in June 2012 and final touches were completed in February 2013 with a construction cost of $1.3 million. Also at the ribbon cutting ceremony, initial concept drawings for future terminal expansion plans will be on display.

Ale named after 94-year-old pilot

A Second World War pilot raised a bottle of beer named after him to celebrate his 94th birthday.

Captain Eric Brown, known as Winkle, from Copthorne, has a distinguished aviation record having flown more aircraft models than any other pilot in history.

He is the Fleet Air Arm’s (a branch of the British Royal Navy responsible for the operation of naval aircraft) most decorated pilot. And he holds the world record for the most aircraft carrier landings - setting down planes safely 2,407 times.

Captain Brown has flown 487 different types of aircraft, and made the world’s first landing of jet aircraft, the Sea Vampire, on the deck of an aircraft carrier in 1945.

To recognize the pilot’s incredible career, Dunscar Bridge Brewery which is based in Bolton, was asked to produce a beer to celebrate his 94th birthday.

The label features Captain Brown in uniform with a de Havilland Hornet aircraft in the background.

Winkle Brown Premium Ale has a bold flavor which was created by blending English and American hops.

Dunscar Bridge Brewery managing director Pat Kitchen said it reflected Captain Brown’s strength of character and helped celebrate his service to British naval aviation. She said: “To be asked to produce a beer for such a distinguished pilot was an absolute honour. When we looked at his amazing war and post war flying record we were stunned to find out he holds all sort of aviation records and we didn’t know what to put on the label at first.

“But when we found that his favorite plane out of all the aircraft he had flown in a truly remarkable career, was the de Havilland Hornet, parts of which were manufactured locally (in Bolton), the decision was made for us.

“We are very pleased he liked the beer. We would love to create another one for him when he reaches his centenary.”

Captain Brown has written more than 30 books about his career and aviation. He still lectures on the subject. The beer was presented to Captain Brown at a party held at Boultbee Flight Academy in Goodwood. Paul Beaver, who runs Monty’s Messenger, an aviation firm which organized the event, asked the brewery to make the ale.

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Why do Indians hate their airlines?

The flight continues from carriers that long monopolized networks as passengers, weary of frequent letdowns, arrive at hard decisions, even taking legal recourse in some cases

 Dubai: When an Air India flight from Mangalore arrived in Dubai behind schedule on October 26, the delay was blamed on the bees. The hive they had built overnight was promptly dealt with and the incident went largely unnoticed. It paled compared to a shocking experience passengers aboard an Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight underwent the previous Friday.

The Air India Express flight IX 452, a Boeing 737, was flying from the UAE capital to Kochi in the Indian state of Kerala when it was diverted to Thiruvananthapuram due to bad weather. But when it landed, passengers, including pregnant women and children, were holed up in the aircraft for several hours without food, water and air-conditioning.

At their wits end, the passengers demanded to know when they would be flown back to Kochi. But they claim the crew kept them in the dark, dodging questions and throwing their hands up on the plea that their shift was ending. Enraged, some passengers then approached the cockpit and got into a heated argument with the crew. The pilot, Captain Rupali Waghmare alleged that they even assaulted and threatened them with dire consequences. She immediately pressed the hijack alarm, creating history not just in Air India but Indian aviation itself.

As six passengers, all from Abu Dhabi, face ‘hijack’ charges, the question that Indians in the UAE are asking is: what ails the Indian airlines? Claiming they have suffered for far too long in the hands of the national carrier Air India - and more recently Kingfisher Airlines - they are now saying “enough is enough”.

On October 26, Pravasi Action Council, a newly formed group of non-resident Indians in the UAE, met in Dubai to “share our concern and grievances regarding Air India’s attitude towards the Pravasis”.

Dr Puthur Rahman, Chairman of the Council, told XPRESS representatives of 43 Indian organizations in the UAE attended the meeting where they decided to move the Kerala High Court against Air India to demand compensation for passengers of the Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight. He said the council has also appointed a lawyer for the accused passengers.

One of the six accused, Thomson Jose Akkara, who works as a senior designer at a contracting firm in Abu Dhabi, told XPRESS: “We have not received any official communication about the charges as yet. We have given our statements to the offices of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the assistant police commissioner at Thiuruvanathapuram.”

Akkara said: “We did not enter the cockpit. There was no violence. If there had been such a commotion, how would the same crew fly us back to Kochi on the same flight? Only the main pilot changed.”

The Pravasi Action Council has also submitted a memorandum to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying: “Air India is treating the Pravasis like enemies.”

“We have nothing against Air India, it’s just their attitude. We depend on them heavily and they treat us so shabbily. How many more delays and cancellations should we suffer? Last year alone, there were 300 cancellations in various sectors of Air India, not to mention the innumerable delays and schedule cut-backs,” Dr Rahman said.

The horrific Mangalore air crash of 2010 and the 58-day pilots’ strike earlier this year have only added fuel to the fire. Farhan, a Dubai resident who frequently flies Air India Express to Lucknow, said: “They are perhaps one of the only airlines with no concept of customer service or customer loyalty programme. On Lucknow sector, the airline hasn’t changed its snack menu (soggy patties, dry sandwich and sugar-coated cupcake) in years.”

Complaints about pending refunds following last-minute cancellations also crop up with alarming regularity. Lawrence, whose ticket on a Dubai-Thiruvananthapuram flight was cancelled in September, said he was still running from pillar to post for a refund. “Poor communication and very poor service in Air India Express,” he said.

But Air India claims otherwise. Seema Srivastava, Regional Manager for the Gulf, told XPRESS: “As per our current statistics, Air India’s on-time performance out of UAE is more than 80 per cent.”

“If you compare the summer and winter schedules, Air India Express has definitely increased capacity out of all three stations (Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi,” she said, pointing out that the airlines operate 186 flights per week from the UAE in the current winter schedule as against 159 flights in the earlier summer schedule.

What gives the national carrier an edge over the others is its wide connectivity and network, besides attractive fares. As Srivastava said, Air India and Air India Express together carry more than 3,000 passengers from the Gulf every day. They fly to 16 destinations in India from the UAE, five of which are not connected by any other airlines. These destinations are Tiruchy, Amritsar, Mangalore, Pune and Vishakapatanam.

“Apart from this, Air India offers extremely attractive fares to all these destinations in India. It offers a host of add-on fares to various interior points in India for as less as Dh100 extra,” said Srivastava, adding that all flight departures from the UAE are at convenient times so that passengers can take their onward connections from India.

Even the most unhappy passengers agree that Air India’s connectivity and timings are unmatched. Santhosh Rai, a Dubai resident, said he continues to fly Air India Express despite losing his wife and two children to the Mangalore crash. “I wish I had a choice but I don’t. Air India Express is the only airline that takes me to my hometown Mangalore,” he said, still battling for the compensation due to the family.

But others like Anup, an Abu Dhabi resident who was on the Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight on October 19, vow they will never fly Air India again. “It was simply horrible, the way they denied us basic facilities like ventilation, food and water for so many hours,” he said.

“Instead of arranging transport to their original destination or some comfortable resting rooms for passengers, they were cloistered on the runway. When the tired and angry passengers protested and requested for transportation and water, the pilot panicked and informed the authorities that the plane was hijacked and registered a case against the already weary passengers,” said Dr Rahman.

Passengers traveling to Kerala have in fact long been demanding an alternative to Air India which enjoys a near-monopoly in the Gulf sector. So much so that the Kerala Government has stepped in with a proposal to set up an exclusive airline - Air Kerala - for their benefit. Subject to approvals, the airline plans to launch in April 2013, becoming India’s first airline promoted by an individual state.

While Keralites in the UAE are going all out to support the proposed carrier, the unflattering experience of Indian airlines like Kingfisher is not lost on others. The hugely indebted airline put thousands of passengers through recurrent ordeals of inordinate delays, abrupt cancellations and refund logjams before its license was finally suspended last month. With an average of 500 passengers from the UAE taking its three daily flights, affected residents here found themselves raising the same uncomfortable questions about the performance of Indian airlines.

The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation India in its October 2012 report has noted that the second quarter of 2012 saw “a return to significant losses across the board, with the Indian airlines combined losing $470-550 million. Of this, Air India’s estimated losses stood at $280-320 million, followed by Kingfisher at $110-130 million.

However, it notes that in the three months ended June 30, 2012, all private Indian carriers, with the exception of Kingfisher, were profitable. “On the one hand, improved matching of demand and supply (largely as a result of the contraction of capacity by Kingfisher), combined with greater pricing discipline resulted in a substantial increase in average yields which contributed significantly to the improved performance. But this was offset by a hostile cost environment primarily related to high fuel prices and a weak currency. The particularly strong performance by Air India, which achieved the highest average fare and reported a small operating profit on domestic operations, reflected the changing market dynamics.”

Binit Somaia, CAPA’s South Asia Director, told XPRESS: “Air India has faced some operational challenges due to its cash-flow issues. However, the airline is starting to see improvements.”

Srivastava also make it a point to say: “We are offering our latest product Dreamliner 787 on our Dubai/Delhi sector and it has become extremely popular with the traveling public … Air India would make all efforts and strive towards being the most trusted airline for our passengers in the Gulf.”

But clearly, few in the UAE seem convinced.

Sharmila Dhal is a Senior Reporter with XPress, a sister publication of Gulf News


Air India slammed for poor service by angry UAE Indian residents

Manama, Feb 16 (ANI): In a blow to India's national carrier Air India, angry non-resident Indians from the UAE have complained about the poor services of the carrier, including frequent cancellations, delays and schedule cut-backs.

This has come in light of a reported heated spat between the staff and the passengers, mostly NRIs, of an Air India flight from Abu Dhabi to Kochi months ago, which led to the pilot raising a hijack alarm, and the arrest of six passengers facing hijack charges, Gulf News reports.

Passengers of the flight, which included pregnant women and children, complained about facing several hours without food, water and air-conditioning as the flight was delayed because of bad weather, the report added.

This is one of the many complaints against Air India. According to a NRI Farhan, a frequent Air India flyer from Dubai, the carrier has no concept of customer service or customer loyalty program.

Complaints about pending refunds following last-minute cancellations also crop up with alarming regularity, the report added.

However, Air India's Regional Manager for the Gulf, Seema Srivastava said that according to their current figures, Air India has an excellent on-time performance out of UAE.

Srivastava further said that the national carrier has an edge over other airlines because of its wide connectivity and network, along with attractive fares. (ANI)

Air India to bring back overstaying people from Emirates

An official team from Andhra Pradesh has reached an understanding with the Air India management in the UAE for arranging a dedicated flight to bring people from the State overstaying in that country beyond the permitted Visa period.

The team, headed by N.V. Ramana Reddy, Special Secretary, NRI Affairs, and comprising K. Srikar Reddy, Regional Passport Officer, and two other officials, held discussions with UAE officials in Dubai on Friday to facilitate the early return of those given “amnesty” by the government of that country.

Following the meeting, which was also attended by embassy officials, an official said that “free air tickets” were issued to as many as 26 eligible persons who were granted amnesty, and out of them, 20 were being brought back to Hyderabad by Air-India flight on Saturday.

He said the dedicated flight meant exclusively for returnees would be operated on Sunday or Monday.

Nearly 250 eligible people have already arrived here at their own cost or following the offer of free tickets by donors. Over 18,000 people from the State are believed to be living in the UAE. The amnesty scheme may finally benefit over 1,000 people, the official said.

Loss of a corporate headquarters may cost Phoenix jobs, prestige

Dallas-Fort Worth stands to gain from the merger of US Airways and American Airlines, Phoenix may be feeling the pain.

The loss of a corporate headquarters leaves behind a host of questions about how that will affect the Phoenix area, ranging from arena naming rights to corporate giving to status as a hub city.

Officials have said they plan to keep a significant corporate presence in neighboring Tempe, though the company will be based in Fort Worth. Still, the loss of a headquarters could potentially cost the Phoenix area hundreds of quality jobs.

Economists and business leaders have said those job losses are just a blip in the overall economy. What really hurts, they said, is the loss of prestige, and of a prominent corporate partner with deep roots in the community and a history of charitable giving. Some have wondered if the move portends cuts in air service at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

“I see nothing positive coming out of it,” said John Graham, president and CEO of the development firm Sunbelt Holdings.“I think we get a little bit of another bad publicity story nationally, which is we have lost a corporate headquarters, and we don’t have many to start with.”

Others have expressed optimism that the combined airline will keep the hub and ultimately improve service, possibly adding international flights.

“All reports are that there are going to be more flights in the region,” said Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell.

Mitchell said he spoke with US Airways officials after the merger announcement and was told that they plan to maintain a corporate presence in downtown Tempe.

“We needed to keep our hub … and a corporate presence in Tempe, and he [US Airways CEO Doug Parker] came through,” Mitchell said.

Then there were five

US Airways leaves, five Fortune 500 companies will still have headquarters in Arizona: Avnet, an electronics components distributor; Freeport-McMoran Copper & Gold; Republic Services, which manages waste; PetSmart; and Insight Enterprises, which sells electronics components.

The merged airline also has the naming rights for US Airways Center, where the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury play basketball.

The US Airways name is likely to stay on the arena in the short term, but there is language in the contract to change it, said Jason Rowley, Phoenix Suns president. It’s unclear what the new name will be, as American Airlines already has naming rights for NBA arenas in Dallas and Miami.

“My guess is there is not an immediate name change,” Rowley said. “They are looking to join two multibillion-dollar companies. We are just one contract for one building for one town.”

US Airways employs 9,147 in the Phoenix metro area, including about 750 in its headquarters building. In her response to the merger, Gov. Jan Brewer focused on the roughly 9,000 jobs that will stay in Phoenix.

But John C. Lucking, an economist and president of Econ-Linc in Phoenix, said the front-office jobs that are lost carry inherent community value.

“Those are really high-paying jobs, and more importantly they are prestigious jobs for people to get involved,” he said. “Guys like Doug Parker get involved in the community.”

US Airways provides corporate philanthropy in all of its hub cities for causes including animal shelters, festivals, performing arts and school clubs, according to its website. A number of Arizona officials are banking on a continued corporate presence that is active in the community.

For example, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said Parker has “verbally committed” to continue local corporate giving.

US Airways has a history of supporting human services, education and arts and culture in the Phoenix area, said Jacky Alling, chief philanthropic services officer at the Arizona Community Foundation, which facilitates philanthropy to nonprofits.

She wasn’t sure how the loss of the headquarters would affect that giving, but Alling thought any change would be gradual.

Western hub?

One key question is whether the loss of the headquarters will cost Phoenix its status as a hub city — and there is no firm answer.

Barry Broome, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said he has been assured by Parker that Phoenix will be the merged airline’s western hub.

“And that’s a big deal for Phoenix to be their primary western hub over Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco,” he said.

That would ultimately strengthen air service at Sky Harbor and possibly lead to direct international flights, said Broome, who sees the potential for job growth at Sky Harbor.

Outside observers of the airline industry could see that scenario playing out but also said that, based on past mergers, Phoenix could lose its hub status.

But Robert Mittelstaedt, dean of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said he believes Phoenix’s status as a hub city is secure. He was skeptical that the merged airline would cede business to competitors like Southwest Airlines.

“I just can’t believe that a new American-US Air combination would walk away from all of those passengers,” he said.

Given the way the airline industry is consolidating, he said, a US Airways merger was inevitable eventually.

“We could lose a corporate headquarters, or down the road we could lose an entire company.”

Hang-gliding pilot who swallowed memory card now faces new charge 
William Jonathan Orders

The hang-gliding pilot who swallowed a memory card containing possible evidence of his tandem passenger’s death now faces a new charge of criminal negligence causing death.

William Jonathan Orders, 50, is already charged with obstruction of justice following the April 2012 accident that saw Lenami Godinez-Avila, 27, plummet to her death.

On Friday, new information admitted into court records show Orders is now also charged with criminal negligence causing death.

He will make his first appearance for that charge in Chilliwack court on Monday.

Godinez-Avila fell 300 meters to her death, shortly after launching from the top of Mt. Woodside near Aggasiz on April 28, 2012. It’s believed Godinez-Avila had not been strapped in properly during pre-trip preparations.

Her boyfriend David Barrie, who had purchased the hang-gliding flight as an anniversary gift, watched from the cliff as the tragic accident unfolded before him. He was set to make a tandem flight right after her with another hang-gliding pilot.

Godinez-Avila’s body was found obscured by logs, 50 metres from where one of Orders’ shoes had also landed.

According to court documents, Orders did “wilfully attempt to obstruct justice” by swallowing a memory card that was believed to have contained possible video or photo evidence from the fatal flight. Orders told police he was panicking when he made the move to swallow the memory card.

He was arrested two days after the incident and held in custody while police waited for the memory card to pass through his system.

Orders is a 16-year flying veteran and is the owner/operator of Vancouver Hang Gliding. He had been a certified tandem instructor since 2009, but has publicly announced he will not return to gliding.

His membership with the Hang gliding and Paragliding Association of Canada has also been suspended.

The Lenami Godinez-Avila Fund has also been established in her memory to help benefit international students at Simon Fraser University with a passion for sustainability.

Duxford war museum's Spitfire work 'preserving history'

It is just one of the many Spitfires that were flown to protect civilians during the Battle of Britain.

Curators at the Imperial War Museum in Duxford believe it was directly involved in destroying or damaging eight German aircraft during World War II combat.

However, the biggest threat now to one of the first Spitfires ever to be built is old age - posing one of the greatest challenges to Chris Knapp and his team, who must ensure it is preserved for a new generation.

Seen by millions hanging from the atrium of the famous Lambeth museum, which is undergoing a £35m refit, it was transferred in bits by lorry to Cambridgeshire in December.

Provisionally checked over and with its wings back on, it will soon be suspended again in its temporary home until the end of the summer.

But, as Mr Knapp has found, even the mightiest fighting machines can suffer some tedious problems.

Remarkable condition

"What we're trying to track down at the moment is an inner tube. We've got a flat tire," laughed conservation manager Mr Knapp, who has been conserving planes at Duxford for 23 years.

"Because it's an early mark Spitfire we just can't get that inner tube at the moment. The trials and tribulations of being a conservator."

But apart from the minor niggles, Mr Knapp said the Mark IA is in fantastic condition and is the best preserved early model of the fighter plane he has ever seen.

Built in Supermarine Aviation in Southampton in 1940, the Spitfire was used by No. 609 West Riding Squadron, stationed at Middle Wallop in Hampshire.

It was flown by 13 different pilots on 57 operations during the Battle of Britain and it successfully brought down a number of aircraft.

At least four of the German casualties came from pilot Noel Agazarian, who survived the Battle of Britain, but was shot down in his Hurricane in Libya in 1941.

After circulating around a number of RAF bases, it was eventually transferred to London's Imperial War Museum in 1946, where it has been suspended from the ceiling ever since.

Mr Knapp said its remarkable condition was not just down to pilot skill, but also a lot of luck.

Keeping stories alive

"In this state as far, as I'm aware, this is the best preserved Mark I there is. I believe there's one, possibly two restored Mark I's in airworthy condition," he said.

"It looks its age, but it is sound - we've got no major corrosion problems. One or two little bits of damage that were caused in the past from handling or whatever, but on a whole it is pretty good.

"The conservation work is really just inhibiting, there's nothing else we've got to do. It's just protecting the insides of the object with inhibiting oils to prevent any corrosion creeping in in the future.

"There will be a bit of touching up of paint that was damaged when it was suspended in the '80s, but it will look almost identical to what it did when it came out of the building in December."

Mr Knapp said conservation is about more than just preserving an old object - it is about keeping the stories about those objects alive, and he said he was thoroughly enjoying the "challenge" that had been put in front of him.

"Preserving our history is very important. You've got to bear in mind museums are about people, they're not really about objects.

"We use this Mark I Spitfire to tell the story of the young men who flew in them and fought in them and about the men and women that built them and maintained them.

"It is a very significant part of our history."

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Air India asset sale to be completed in three years

In an attempt to clear its debt early, Air India has decided to expedite the process of monetization of assets, which is expected to give Rs 5,000 crore to the company, and complete it by the end of 2016 fiscal.

"Monetization of assets is a part of the financial restructuring plan and was to be completed over a period of ten years at a rate of Rs 500 crore every year. The airline board has decided to complete the process in three years and also decided to use the money raised through asset sale only for clearing the debt," said a senior Air India official.

Air India chairman Rohit Nandan has entrusted joint managing director Nasir Ali to ensure that the asset sale is complete within a three year period.

To start off, the airline plans to raise Rs 1,200 crore in the 2013-14 fiscal. "Of the Rs 1,200 crore, Rs 800 crore will come from the sale of 4 acre land in New Delhi and the rest will come from sale of flats and land in Mumbai, Chennai and Coimbatore and sale of flats in Hong Kong and Nairobi," said the official.

According to the plan, the airline will raise Rs 2,000 crore through sale of assets in 2014-15 and the rest will be raised in 2015-16.

Air India has a debt of around Rs 30,000 crore and the financial restructuring plan of the airline aims to clear a large part of it over a period of nine years.

Of the total debt, around Rs 25,000 crore are long-term debt and the rest are short-term or working capital debt.

In an attempt to avoid any controversy around the auction of these assets, the Air India management has decided to form a three-member oversight committee to monitor the auction process.

The committee will have a former Supreme Court Judge DM Dharmadikari, former Comptroller and Auditor General VN Kaul and former Chief Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha as its members.

"We have also decided to carry out electronic auction for all the properties. Three member committee with representation from law, audit and vigilance field will ensure that the system should be flawless," said the official.

Movenpick Hotel Qassim signs deal with Qatar Airways

Movenpick Hotel Qassim has signed a preferred hotel agreement with Qatar Airways.

As a result of the agreement, the five-star hotel will benefit from inflight announcements on every Qatar Airways flight arriving at destinations within Saudi Arabia.

Additionally, the airline’s official website will list the 159-room Movenpick Hotel Qassim as a preferred hotel.

Movenpick Hotel Qassim is only 30 minutes’ drive from the regional Qassim Airport and is situated at the junction of King Fahad Road and King Khaled Road in Buraydah.

The Al-Qassim district is known as Saudi Arabia’s food provider due to the area’s heritage of agriculture and Movenpick Hotel Qassim is the only upscale hotel in the vicinity.

“We are delighted to enter into this agreement with Qatar Airways in a move which is extremely positive for awareness of the destination as well,” said Toufic Tamim, vice president sales and marketing for the Middle East.

“This is our second property in Saudi Arabia to partner with Qatar Airways, following an earlier agreement relating to Movenpick Hotel Alkhobar in the country’s Eastern Province,” he added.

The hotel features a contemporary art deco design and caters for business travelers and families.

A sky-blue glass dome that welcomes the desert sun and the early evening glow is another prominent characteristic of the hotel.

Most notably however, is Movenpick Hotel Qassim’s commitment to stand out as one of the most environmentally friendly hotels in the Kingdom.

The property maintains its efforts in this respect by adhering to a set of ‘green standards’ and responsible operating procedures.

Qatar Airways, one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, has seen rapid growth in just 15 years of operations.

The company’s Preferred Hotel Program is a prestigious platform that highlights hotels of exceptional quality.

Flying a model airplane on the lake in Jefferson, New Jersey

After last Friday's storm, that left eight to 12 inches of snow behind in Jefferson Township, the bright blue Sunday sky drew people out onto the ice of Lake Hopatcong.   Many were ice fishing and some skating, but this group took advantage of the wide open spaces of the frozen lake and its soft cushion of snow to fly their model airplane.

Meadows Field (KBFL), Bakersfield, California: Airport bouncing back from economic slump

Officials said more people have been flying in and out of Meadows Field over the last couple of years. So much so, they are considering adding more flights. 

In 2007, the airport took a hit, losing three airlines and thousands of passengers. But, in the last two years it's been looking up, and airport officials are thanking the oil industry.

"It's a small airport," said Leah Wheeler who was flying from Bakersfield to Houston Friday. "I wasn't expecting as many people this early."

That's how weekday mornings look at Meadows Field between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.

"This is a bit of a surprise this morning," said Scott Drake of Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Some waited in line to check in at least an hour because there are four flights Friday morning and most are totally booked.

"Always full last few years at least," said Gary Rogers who was flying home to Knoxville, Tennessee after the World Ag Expo in Tulare.

Jack Gotcher, Director of Airports for Kern County, said half of their flights are from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. He said the most popular flights are to Houston and Denver where most of the passengers are oil executives like Scott Drake.

Drake took a flight from Denver to Bakersfield this week that was full of passengers headed to the oil fields.

"It was really full on the plane," said Drake. "I think there were two seats left."

These packed flights are increasing the number of boardings and deboardings at Meadows Field.

"In the past year and a half, it's up 25 percent," said Gotcher.

Car rentals are up five percent, a big improvement from 2007 when the economy crashed and the airport lost three airlines.

"We went from 175,000 passengers to 106,000," said Gotcher.

Back then, they cut employees, now they're hiring back.

"We had dropped to about 13 people and now we're back up to about 20," said Gotcher.

They're even asking U.S. Airways to add flights to Denver and Houston.

"If we can convince them we are a good route and they have an airplane, then they will do it," said Gotcher.

This is an exciting prospect for passengers.

"Even though I don't come here that often, it would be a bit more convenient," said Rogers.

Gotcher said he has a conference in May where discussions of adding flights may ramp up.

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