Friday, February 22, 2013

Gary/Chicago International KGYY), Gary, Indiana: Airport group hunting for manager, investment

A new committee wants to attain the old goal of getting Gary/Chicago International Airport recognized as Chicago's "third airport" by taking off in a new direction.

The joint city/airport public-private partnership committee that wants to find a private operator for the airport met for the first time Friday.

"We all know and recognize the Gary airport has been an underperforming asset for the region and we would like to change that," said committee chairman David Bochnowksi at the meeting at the airport administration building.

Bochnowski explained the committee has been charged with finding a way to land a private company to oversee the day-to-day operations of the airport and make the kind of investments the airport badly needs to build business.

"We are not engaged in the sale of the airport," Bochnowski said. "The airport will continue to be publicly held by the city."

The committee has been charged with reporting its recommendations to the city and airport within 60 days.

Airport consultant John Clark, of JClark Aviation, told the board of pressing needs at the airport beyond the current $166 million runway expansion project. Those include resurfacing its main runway, an update of its master plan and building out its cross-wind runway.

He pointed out the airport currently takes in about $300,000 less a year than it needs to sustain operations.

And Clark was not calculating the public subsidies currently needed to operate the airport.

The airport will levy $1.5 million in property taxes this year for its general fund and $1.4 million for its building fund. The Airport Development Zone also takes in more than $4 million per year from a tax increment financing district on the city's west side.

"One challenge quite frankly is without self-sufficiency it's hard to see how that funding will occur," Clark said.

The board also heard by speaker phone from David Narefsky, a partner at the Meyer Brown law firm in Chicago, who has advised municipalities nationwide on public-private partnerships.

Narefsky is currently advising the city of Chicago on a developing privatization deal for Midway International Airport. His firm was also involved in the long-term lease deals for the Chicago Skyway and Indiana Toll Road.

Narefsky will be providing the committee with examples of airport public-private partnerships that can lead to airport growth and economic development around it.

The committee on Friday also took care of basic housekeeping items such as a meeting schedule, resolving to meet every two weeks.

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William P Hobby (KHOU), Houston, Texas: Rapist wanted for attacks near airport

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Crime Stoppers and investigators with the Houston Police Department are searching for the suspect responsible for multiple sexual assaults in the vicinity of William P. Hobby Airport.

The first assault occurred on December 31, 2012 at approximately 8:30am. According to Crime Stoppers, a 22-year-old woman and a friend exited a METRO bus at a stop near the intersection of Glencrest and Airport Boulevard. As they were walking, a Hispanic male driving a green Ford Mustang approached the women and offered them a ride.

The victim's friend was driven to a business near the corner of Airport Boulevard and Monroe, and she got out of the car. The victim requested to be driven to a business near the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Hansen, however the suspect refused, and parked the car at an abandoned building on the 8900 block of the Gulf Freeway.

There, the suspect engaged the child safety locks to prevent the victim's escape. The suspect hit the woman in the face and proceeded to sexually assault the victim while choking her. After the assault, the suspect released the victim from the vehicle and fled.

In a second assault, on February 8, 2013, the same suspect approached a 28-year-old woman walking along the 8900 block of Airport Boulevard. The suspect asked the woman to accompany him to a nearby hotel, and the victim got in his car. Driving past the hotel, the suspect pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse adjacent to an operating Post Office. There, the suspect struck the victim several times, and choked her while engaging in a sexual assault. The victim fought back, and was able to escape the suspect's vehicle through the driver's side door. She fled the area partially clothed, and was rescued by a concerned citizen at a nearby convenience store.

The same suspect is believed to be responsible for both assaults. He is described as a Hispanic male between the ages of 36 and 42, 5'8"-5'9" tall and weighing between 170 and 180 pounds. At the time of the assaults, the suspect had medium length hair, a mustache and a dark brown complexion. Witnesses report that the suspect speaks with a Spanish accent.

On the date of the first assault the suspect wore a brown plaid shirt and blue jeans. During the second assault he wore a white t-shirt and light blue jeans. A composite sketch of the suspect is attached.

The suspect's vehicle is described as a green Ford Mustang bearing partial plates BL714--. The vehicle has damage on the right rear panel near the driver's side tail light.

Crime Stoppers will pay up to $5,000 for any information called in to the 713-222-TIPS (8477) or submitted online at that leads to the filing of felony charges or arrest of the suspect(s) in this case. Tips can also be sent by text message. Text TIP610 plus your tip to CRIMES (274637). All tipsters remain anonymous. 

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Chief of Embattled Boeing Steers Clear of the Spotlight

CHICAGO — The cutting-edge jetliners Boeing Co. had bet its future on sat grounded, unsettling images of passengers on escape chutes splashed across TV, when Chief Executive Jim McNerney sent handwritten apologies to the chairmen of the airlines whose 787 Dreamliner batteries went up in smoke.

Around the same time last month, he discreetly persuaded the CEOs of General Motors and General Electric to lend Boeing their best electrical experts, and quietly met with the head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

With his storied company facing the biggest crisis of his eight-year tenure, Mr. McNerney is wagering that it is better to disappear behind the scenes to try to fix the problem than to be out front reassuring the public.

"I'm the one who has to stand up with absolute confidence when Boeing proposes a solution to enable this technology for the world," he said during an exclusive interview in his Chicago office. "And the only way I know how is to dive in deeply with the people doing the scientific and technical work."

The company is expected to submit a proposal to the FAA on Friday seeking approval for fixes that Boeing hopes will return the planes to the skies, and plans to meet with Japanese air-safety authorities next week. The proposal sets an ambitious timetable calling for passenger flights to resume as early as mid-March.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

"This airplane is our near- and medium-term future, and ultimately speaks to our reputation and our brand," Mr. McNerney said during one of two interviews in which he detailed what he and his senior executives have been doing since the crisis erupted. His desk was covered with detailed drawings of Dreamliner systems, which he turned facedown.

Boeing continues to build five 787s per month, even though it can't deliver or get fully paid for any of the planes—which list for about $200 million—until the Dreamliner is recertified to fly. In a meeting Wednesday at the Everett, Wash., assembly plant, Mr. McNerney told his senior executives: "We'll have a lot of 787s stacking up around here if we don't get this done sooner rather than later."

At the same time, Boeing's airline customers, who have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights, are increasing the pressure on the chief executive to detail plans to bring their Dreamliners back into service.

The lithium-ion-battery meltdowns have been a public-relations debacle for the company. Two 787s started smoking, and passengers on one of them escaped on emergency slides after landing in Japan. Airline-safety officials in the U.S. and Japan displayed burned-up lithium-ion batteries and regulators world-wide grounded the entire fleet. It was the FAA's first jetliner grounding since 1979.

Mr. McNerney has taken some flak for not doing more to inform investors and the public what he has been doing to solve the problem. "He's not been front and center when there's a lot of fear that this battery problem could be more than a minor glitch," said aviation consultant Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Teal Group. "When you launch only one new jet a decade, you need someone in the public eye taking personal control, rather than raising more questions about how long until the 787 planes will fly."

Boeing's board has been supportive of its CEO's approach. "Jim is doing exactly what he should be doing," said lead director Kenneth Duberstein. "He is out front right now with the constituencies that matter—the customers, the regulators, the employees and the suppliers."

Mr. McNerney, who is 63 years old, came to Boeing in 2005 after running 3M Co. He was raised in a family of five children, and his father was CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Mr. McNerney had been a varsity pitcher at Yale University and fraternity brother of former President George W. Bush. After earning a Harvard M.B.A., he worked in marketing at Procter & Gamble and management consulting at McKinsey & Co., then moved up the ranks at General Electric, where he ran several divisions, including one that built airplane engines. After losing the horse race to succeed Jack Welch as GE's chief executive, he moved to 3M and became a Boeing director.

When Boeing brought him in as chief executive, it was reeling from corruption probes, the loss of defense contracts, weakness in its commercial-jet business and the resignation of two consecutive CEOs. The defense business represented half of Boeing's revenue. To build the airliner business, Mr. McNerney pushed the development of the 787 Dreamliner. It was designed to be a game-changing passenger jet—more fuel-efficient than competitors, with a lightweight frame made of composite materials and an electrical system using powerful lithium-ion batteries.

Orders poured in, and last year Boeing surpassed Europe's Airbus as the leading aircraft manufacturer in the world by number of planes ordered and delivered—the first time it held the top spot in a decade.

The Dreamliner was plagued with delays, which Boeing chalked up to design changes and production outsourcing. Nevertheless, Mr. McNerney presided over a DreamTour last spring, including a black-tie gala at Reagan National Airport in Washington. By early January, 50 planes had been delivered.

"I was beginning to feel better," Mr. McNerney recalled. "And then—bang."

On Jan. 7, Mr. McNerney was told to turn on the television in his office. He saw a Dreamliner owned by Japan Airlines at the gate at Boston's Logan Airport. Smoke was coming out of the cargo area and firefighters were rushing to the empty plane. He got on the phone with Ray Conner, his commercial-airplane head, and chief technology officer John Tracy. They suspected "foreign object debris" or the 787's electrical panels, which had experienced two in-flight incidents in December.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators. When Boeing's engineers were allowed aboard the next day, they saw firsthand that the fire was limited to the lithium-ion-battery unit.

Mr. McNerney said he was surprised: "We had tested the hell out of" the battery, he said.

Mr. McNerney spearheaded the company's probe, but other executives spoke publicly. The Dreamliner's chief engineer, Mike Sinnett, held conference calls with analysts, investors and the media. Mr. Conner attended a news conference with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA chief Michael Huerta announcing a joint review of the 787 systems by the agency and Boeing. Mr. McNerney issued a statement pledging company support and cooperation, adding that Boeing stands "100% behind the integrity of the 787."

Over the next week, Mr. McNerney and his team reviewed the prior battery testing. The batteries, each with eight cells, had shown no problems over 2.2 million cell-hours of operation, both on the ground and during 50,000 flight hours. The team devised a plan to assess the electrical system. Mr. McNerney set up a private meeting to brief the FAA chief. Separately, Mr. McNerney spoke to board members and customers.

On Jan. 15, Mr. McNerney got home at 6:30 p.m., set out some fish he planned to bake and changed into workout clothes. Suddenly, his cellphone started vibrating with a string of messages: "Another battery fire." "Smell in cockpit." "Smoke in electric bay." "Plane diverted in Japan."

He called Mr. Conner and told him: "The battery problem isn't a one-off anymore."

The fish stayed uncooked as he worked the phones and watched news reports of All Nippon Airways passengers descending slides after an emergency landing in western Japan.

The following day, Mr. McNerney slipped into Mr. Huerta's FAA office, unnoticed by journalists. The meeting swiftly turned grim as it became clear the FAA likely would halt all 787 flights.

In Chicago the next day, Mr. Tracy, the chief technology officer, told Mr. McNerney that "nothing that happened posed a risk to the plane or the passengers," according to both men.

Mr. McNerney banged his hands on his desk. "Do you understand the meaning of what we're dealing with here?" he recalled saying. The issue isn't just "electrochemistry in a battery…It's about the safety and confidence in our planes and our brand. And it can't happen again."

Mr. McNerney called his counterparts at GE, GM and other companies to ask for help from their top battery and electrical experts. "I wanted to make sure the world's technical experts were focused on this problem with us, because ultimately the credibility of our solution will depend not only on us," but would need their "imprimatur," he said recently.

He recalled telling one of his daughters he couldn't attend her horse show because "this is a tough problem for Dad right now." An avid ice-hockey player, he skipped his team's trip to Minneapolis for the annual pond-hockey national championship.

On Jan. 25, he traveled to Washington for the annual formal dinner of the Alfalfa Club, a group of political and business leaders. Mr. McNerney, head of the Business Roundtable, a group of top CEOs, told various attendees that Boeing was working hard to solve the problem.

He faced investors and analysts on a Jan. 30 conference call to discuss fourth-quarter financial results. He told them the operating performance was strong and that Boeing was moving to increase 787 production to 10 per month, from five, and to develop two more Dreamliner versions. He deflected questions about the potential fallout of the battery problems, saying: "I can't predict the outcome, and I'm not going to. We're in the middle of an investigation."

Some listeners weren't satisfied. "Investors weren't looking for him to reveal the details of investigation, but were certainly looking for a discussion of the what-if's," said Carter Leake, aerospace analyst for BB&T Capital Markets. "Investors were left twisting in the wind without any visibility to the timing or cost of the ultimate fix."

A Boeing spokesman said that its guidance assumed no impact from the 787 groundings and that it would update investors "as necessary." Boeing's share price has held fairly steady through the crisis, closing Thursday at $76.01 in New York Stock Exchange trading.

As the crisis dragged into its third week, Mr. McNerney flew to Seattle to check on progress at Boeing's commercial-aircraft unit. At his hotel suite on Feb. 4, he recalled, he grilled his team for three hours, pressing for "high analytical probabilities" on the likely cause and for "multiple layers of protection" for the plane.

The next morning, he visited the nearby Everett production facility, where two Dreamliner war rooms, called "Root Cause/Corrective Action" and "Return to Flight," had been set up. In one room there was a "fault tree" of possible triggers for the battery failures. Of the 88 initial branches, fewer than six branches were circled in red, orange or yellow as likely causes. He studied a graph showing temperature compared with voltage. "Why aren't you more focused here?" he asked.

The war rooms also focused on potential equipment modifications, such as on battery inputs and containers. Mr. McNerney asked about laboratory testing, then proceeded to the plant floor, where he squeezed his 6'2" frame into the small electric bay of one 787 to see how a redesigned battery unit would fit.

Before leaving the plant, he pulled aside Messrs. Conner and Tracy and said, "Good progress, but turn up your game. You understand that, right?"

Two weeks ago, Boeing began officially notifying customers about delays on Dreamliner deliveries.

This week, Mr. McNerney is facing the possibility that investigators may never find the root cause of the battery meltdowns. But he said the team has grown confident it has identified "all probable causes."

On Wednesday, Mr. McNerney reviewed the final details of the modified battery and new safeguards Boeing plans to propose to the FAA on Friday. It is seeking permission to conduct test flights to validate the changes, which could eventually lead to the resumption of regular flights.

Airlines forced to cancel flights and postpone the opening of new routes are growing impatient. The parent company of United Airlines, for example, said Thursday it is keeping its 787s from nearly all flight schedules through June 5, but remains hopeful it can start a new Denver-Tokyo service with the jet in May.

Mr. McNerney just approved plans to have Boeing repair crews ready to be dispatched around the world to install modified batteries and make other changes—as soon as the FAA gives the word.

Athens/Ben Epps (KAHN), Athens, Georgia: Closing of airport tower would raise safety, economic concerns

The air traffic control tower at Athens-Ben Epps Airport is on a list of control towers at smaller airports throughout the country that could close if federal budget cuts set to go into effect March 1 aren’t modified by Congress and the White House as the deadline looms.

If the Athens-Ben Epps tower is closed, airport operations, including the commercial passenger service provided by SeaPort Airlines to Nashville, Tenn., won’t be adversely affected, at least in a technical sense, according to Airport Director Tim Beggerly.

There would, however, be some safety concerns, Beggerly noted. Athens-Ben Epps Airport is at least somewhat unique among airports in terms of the traffic it handles, he said. At any given time, according to Beggerly, it’s possible that a chartered 100-passenger jet and a two-seat propeller-driven training aircraft will be taking off or landing, and air traffic controllers provide the needed expertise for ensuring adequate separation and other factors critical to the safety of both aircraft and their passengers.

There would also be some economic concerns if the tower is closed, Beggerly said, noting that the approximately half-dozen air-traffic controllers who work there, not to mention the people who maintain the tower’s equipment and even the people who clean the facility, would lose their jobs.

Currently, the Athens airport’s tower is staffed for just half the day, Beggerly said. From 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. daily, which includes times that SeaPort Airlines is operating flights into and out of the airport, the facility is “uncontrolled.”

During those hours, Beggerly explained, commercial and private pilots land and take off following a set of standard procedures, including communicating their intentions over a common radio frequency.

Should the tower close, Beggerly said he didn’t expect that circumstance to have an adverse effect on SeaPort Airlines’ presence in Athens. SeaPort provides air service to Nashville — a connecting point for larger airlines — under the terms of a federally subsidized Essential Air Service contract. Similar EAS contracts ensure commercial air service in a number of communities across the United States.

According to media reports, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Friday that the across-the-board budget cuts contemplated in the so-called federal “sequester” will mean trimming $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget this year. In anticipation of those cuts, the FAA has developed a list of 200 airport control towers from which the agency could choose as many as 100 for closure.

In addition to the Athens-Ben Epps tower, six other Georgia airport towers — in Albany, Columbus, Macon and at three small metropolitan Atlanta airports — are on the FAA list.

Athens-Ben Epps Airport is one of nine commercial airports in the state. Outside of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, Athens-Ben Epps Airport is the second busiest among the remaining seven commercial airports in the state, Beggerly said.

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Burnett County Airport (KRZN), Siren, Wisconsin: Aerobatics to be added to 2013 air show

SIREN—In an effort to double the size and scope of the annual air show event at the Burnett County Airport in July, organizers are adding an aerobatics routine to the mix.

"This facilty is an asset to the entire county — we need to get people out here to see what we have," Dave Basten told the county's infrastructure committee last week.

Basten is a charter member of Northwoods Flyers, the county's EAA chapter.

"We've always had a breakfast and airplanes in the past," he continued. "We are just trying to expand on that."

He said by expanding the show, it would be beneficial for the county.

For the July 27, 2013 event, Basten said a full slate of activities is being planned.

"We'll have the classic planes like we've always had but we trying to get a B25 and a P51, military planes, here," Basten explained. "We had them lined up for last year, but they couldn't make it."

He said the war planes are a big hit at other air shows.

"Just seeing that B25 land will draw people," he remarked.

In addition to classic and war planes, he hopes to have an air ambulance on hand as well a helicopter which will offer free rides plus remote-controlled aircraft.

"The guy who did the helicopter rides last year says this is the second-best place he goes," Basten exclaimed.

The air show is looking to attract non-airplane enthusiasts as well.

"The agriculture association does the breakfast — last year they fed 500," Basten said. "We are also going to have a 5K trail run which will end at the hangar where they serve breakfast."

In addition, organizers hope to display some classic cars.

"If they don't like planes, they can look at cars," he said of potentials show-goers.

The Northwoods Flyers sponsor the fly in and the breakfast.

"This year we will be paying for the performers (aerobatics)," he said.

Airport manager Jeremy Sickler said the airport will have to be closed for the duration of the aerobatic portion of the air show.

That wasn't an issue as much as the insurance.

"While the county's umbrella insurance policy would cover the fly in and the breakfast, we are going to need an insurance rider for the aerobatics," Basten explained. "The one quote we have received was for $1,500."

The committee later authorized $1,500 in leftover funds from the airport's 2012 budget to cover the rider.

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Chico Air Museum gets first airworthy aircraft

CHICO -- The newest plane at the Chico Air Museum is very different than the others.

This new plane makes museum members wildly excited because of its firsts. It is the first operational plane acquired by the museum, which had it flown from New Mexico to Chico.

Because it can fly, it will enable museum members to achieve another first — fly to and participate in other communities' air shows.

There's one more first, but it's an unknown at this point — the first time the public will see the plane.

The Swiss-made Pilatus P-3 is tucked into a private hangar at the Chico Municipal Airport. It has not made it among the other planes in the museum's outdoor yard.

"It's in such beautiful shape that we're going to protect it until the weather is a sure thing," according to museum president Norm Rosene.

How the plane came to Chico is one of Rosene's new favorite stories. He credits Chico aircraft broker Dan Jay, who heard its owner was trying to get rid of it, along with another plane.

Always quick on the uptake when it comes to possible acquisitions, Rosene followed up immediately.

Knowing a plane like this — airworthy and in great shape — would be a plum acquisition for any air museum, Rosene worked quickly to convince the owner that Chico would be a worthy destination.

The Pilatus was a training aircraft for the Swiss Air Force, crafted in the late 1950s. It was designed for night flying, aerobatics and instrument flying, according to the museum's fact sheet.

"This is one of 86, and only 18 are still flying," Rosene noted.

The donation was made, and a couple of weeks later, Rosene and a pilot were heading to New Mexico, where they checked out the plane with air and ground testing, and then headed west.

It hadn't been flown in 10 years, but it had received detailed attention. "Leads like this fizzle out. It never happens. But this time, everything fell into place. It unfolded incredibly quickly."

Rosene also wrote a personalized letter that talked about the role of Chico Air Museum and the dedication of members, to convince the owner.

"For a museum of our size, a mid-size one, we depend on short reaction time and enthusiasm about getting everything done to get the aircraft. To hear that we'd gotten it was unbelievable."

There's no air show penciled on the museum's calendar yet, but Rosene doesn't believe it'll be long.

While flying a beautiful plane is a perk, being part of an air show will help attract visitors to Chico, he said.

Other members of the air museum's membership will be trained to fly the Pilatus, and will be able to handle air show appearances as well, Rosene said.

"This is a way to promote the airport, the city and the museum. People look for places like this to go for a day or weekend."

What makes the acquisition even sweeter to the air museum folks is its lineage.

"This is the great-grandfather to the plane currently being used by the Air Force as a trainer," Rosene said.

The museum is looking for a permanent hangar for the aircraft.

To see the other 10 planes, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 170 Convair Ave. at the Chico Municipal Airport.

The other planes are: Lockheed P2V-7, Lockheed T-33, Antonov AN-2, Aero Vodochody L-29, Luscombe 8A, Vonhune HP 11A Glider, Taylor Titch air racer, Dragonfly experimental, Hummel Bird experimental, Pietenpol Air Camper, and McDonald Douglas F-15A.

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