Saturday, August 31, 2013

Flight instructor: Panic to blame in most crashes

While air travel is a routine part of their personal or professional life for many, the recent plane crash that killed a local business owner — and nine other incidents involving aircraft over Amarillo in the last five years — bring attention to what factors contribute to their safety in the skies.

Shortly after takeoff on July 25, Ben Harned IV, 53, experienced trouble with one of the engines in his Piper PA-30, and attempted to return to Tradewind Airport.

“The pilot radioed that he was having problems with the airplane’s left engine and that he was going to return to the airport,” the report said. “The controller asked if he wanted to declare an emergency, and the pilot responded that he had the airport in sight and the left engine stopped. The controller followed the airplane on radar until it disappeared from the radar screen.”

Five minutes after take-off, the plane crashed nose-first in the 2100 block of South Mirror Street, clipping a mobile home on the way down and killing Harned, who owned Performance Motors of Amarillo, but lived in Tyler.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, three of the 10 incidents, including Harned’s crash, were fatal, while the remaining seven reports were a result of hard or forced landings or small mechanical problems.

Josh Collier, a flight instructor and owner of Coyote Flight Centers in Amarillo, said fatalities can be avoided in most cases “if a pilot just remembers to fly the plane.”

“If you look in the NTSB database, you will see that with the majority of accidents, the reports show that the pilot lost control of the airplane, Collier said.

“That simply means that the pilot allowed the situation and circumstances to dictate the outcome instead of controlling their actions and guiding the situation.”

Collier said he and his instructors stress safety to their students above anything else. Along with in-flight training, they offer courses in aeronautical decision making, airports and operational and flight safety.

“We teach our students at Coyote to pay attention. We want them to think ahead and in doing so, they never create situations they can’t get out of,” he said. “We drill certain ideas into their heads, like ‘just fly the airplane,’ because if you remember to do that, you have a three out of four chance of surviving a plane crash.”

But safety doesn’t end and begin with the pilot. Airports are essential in aiding pilots with air traffic, weather conditions and landing safety.

“There are standards that pilots are aware of when coming into our airport,” Tradewind Airport Manager Tom Spanel said. “Although pilots aren’t required to talk to our airport when landing, we are there to help in any way when an emergency arises. Once a pilot lets us know they need our help, we can clear air traffic and help guide them into a landing.”

In May, the Federal Aviation Administration published research findings from a study conducted on reducing general aviation accidents. The leading cause for fatal plane crashes was loss of control inflight.

“However, the general aviation fatal accident rate appears to have remained relatively static based on the FAA’s flight-hours estimates,” the report said.

The NTSB reported a total of 494 fatal aviation accidents in 2011 compared to 32,367 motor accidents in the same year. Statistically speaking, flying is safer then ground transportation.

Hayden Hutchens, a commercial pilot who received his license from Coyote, agreed. “I feel the aviation community is completely safe. You only hear about the big crashes, because they are so rare. I feel much more safe flying than I do driving, because of all the safety measures put into place.”

Journey to pilot's license lengthy: Coyote Flight Centers at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (KAMA), Amarillo, Texas

When obtaining a pilot’s license, learning to fly the plane might be the easiest part.

Federal training requirements include learning to fly the aircraft, maintenance upkeep and multiple hours of on-ground safety preparation, said Josh Collier, a flight instructor and owner of Coyote Flight Centers in Amarillo.

The journey starts with the procurement of a private pilot’s license. From there, students can gain instrument ratings, a commercial license or become an instructor. The cost of obtaining all these certifications can soar to an estimated $40,000.

A private license requires 40 hours of training within an aircraft, 20 with an instructor and 10 in solo flight.

Armed with this license, a pilot is permitted to fly anywhere in the United States and may carry passengers and cargo, but cannot fly for compensation or hire or fly in or near clouds.

An instrument-rated pilot has the same limitations, but is allowed to fly in the clouds.

Fifty hours of cross-country flying must be logged, along with 40 hours of simulated or actual instrument training and 15 hours of
instructor-supervised learning.

Only a commercial license allows a pilot to carry passengers for compensation. That license requires an additional written test and more than 300 hours more than initial training standards.

Coyote Flight Centers offers private and instrumental training. Collier said the firm hopes to acquire a complex aircraft for commercial and instructor ratings.

Original article:

Riverside, California: Air museum seeks volunteer docents

Joe Onesty flew 27 missions during World War II.

Seven decades later, the 88-year-old needs reinforcements.

Onesty is in charge of finding volunteer docents at the P-38 Museum next to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside. The museum houses the history of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a classic World War II military aircraft.

“The mission is needed badly,” Onesty said in an interview at the museum.

The Seal Beach resident has about a dozen docents he calls on for help.

But he said it’s hard getting volunteers to show up on a regular basis.

Onesty had two World War II vets who were docents. One is in his 90s. The other lives in Oceanside and doesn’t come anymore, Onesty said.

“I’m usually the only one here,” he said.

He said anyone can be a docent.

“They don’t need a military background. They can just like airplanes,” he said.

Onesty said it’s helpful if they have an interest in and knowledge of the P-38. But it’s not required.

He needs docents 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, when the museum is open.

Onesty said he’ll teach docents whatever they need to know.

“We want to educate the younger generation about the plane,” he said.

The museum has displays containing photos, antiques and memorabilia related to the P-38 and World War II. A full-sized P-38 replica greets visitors entering the hangar just south of the March Field Air Museum.

Onesty served in the 48th Fighter Squadron. He pointed to a helmet he contributed to the collection. It’s housed in a glass case along with a map of Italy he used in 1945.

He moved on to a display about fighter pilot Dick Bong, the “Ace of Aces,” who shot down a record 40 Japanese aircraft during World War II.

Ron Smith joined Onesty to talk about the P-38 National Association. The nonprofit is dedicated to preserving the memory of the P-38. Smith, past president of the association, said there are about 900 members nationwide.

“It’s amazing how many people come in and say, ‘This has been my favorite plane since I was a kid,’” said Smith, a 75-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident.

Jeremy Suh took a detour to visit the museum on the way from Barstow to his home in the San Fernando Valley.

“It’s well worth it,” said Suh, 42. “It’s educational. There’s a lot of history here as well.”

Information about becoming a docent at the P-38 Museum is available by calling Joe Onesty at 562-431-2901.

Story and Photos:

Will Sólyom Hungarian Airways become the new Malév or not?

The first two aircraft of Sólyom Hungarian Airways will return to Hungary by the end of this week, but the new carrier’s destinations remain confidential. CEO József Vágó has only revealed in an interview with local news portal on Friday that the routes of the country’s collapsed national airline Malév were found largely acceptable and that they were thinking destinations in the Balkans too. He also said the identity of the mysterious Middle Eastern investor behind Sólyom (Falcon) could be revealed already next month. What seems certain at this juncture, Vágó said, is that the airline could keep going on "laughing" for one or two years even with losses.

Where will the falcon fly?

The first leased aircraft of Sólyom Hungarian Airways - a Boeing B 737-500 type aircraft with code HA-SHA - arrived to Budapest on 18 August. A few hours later, though, it left again for Bournemouth (UK) for parts. The carrier leased six (23-year-old) aircraft of the above type from the Bournemouth-based European Aviation so far and plans to operate a fleet of 12 birds by the end of this year, Boeing and Airbus types too. Initially the planes will have 110 seats, but talks are in progress with Airbus on 180-seat aircaft too.

Although Vágó would not reveal their business plan, he did divulge that they have found the now defunct Malév’s routes and schedules largely appropriate for Sólyom too therefore their destinations and transit offers would be similar. Sólyom will fly to destinations that were not available before, which means Balkan States could be added to the offered routes again. Long-haul flights will be key in the business plan. Management expect 40% of the passengers to be generated by transit traffic which number could go up to70% by 2017 when long-haul flights kick in.
Let’s assume that these flights could be operated profitably. When Malév collapsed all the airlines - including low-cost/low-fare airlines - present in Budapest capitalized on the carrier’s demise and grabbed whatever routes they could. Hence the question: how come that those who have keeping a very close eye on the markets and are flexible enough to take up destinations just for the sake of trying whether it works or not had chosen to stay away from some of Malév’s former destinations. Also, in order to reach economies of scale at long-haul flights a carrier needs a large fleet, many routes and lots of passengers. It was exactly the lack of these that killed every effort by Malév to profit from long-haul flights.

This is how Sólyom could become profitable...

Vágó said Malév had been operating fundamentally well and its collapse had been brought about by financial reasons; more precisely by its massive debts and the huge interest burden on these loans, whereas operations and sales were profitable.
This is an interesting remark considering that Malév has not been profitable at an operating level for a long long time.

Vágó promises Sólyom’s cost level to be 64% below Malév’s bills, while giving higher salary to pilots than the former national carrier. The airline plans to achieve that goal by insourcing everything it possibly can, using book keeping and payroll services, for instance, as holding services which may be deducted from the tax and savings are also to be achieved on a minimal office staff.
Staff-related expenditures tend to have a small weight in the cost structure of airlines. Take a look at the rivals, Lufthansa for instance, whose staff-related costs were only 14% of total costs last year. So if this is the big plan to achieve lower costs than Malév, Sólyom’s management would need to think again and come up with a little more effective method. Material costs (which include fuel and the lease of aircraft) had a two-thirds weight at the German carrier in 2012. This is an area where Sólyom could aim to save bigger bucks. Vágó says it is possible despite the mixed fleet, citing the following factors.

The smaller aircraft help achieve better cost efficiency by having smaller regulatory fees and duties on them and a 110-seat plane could be operated profitably even at an 80-90% load factor. Vágó added that although the aircraft are indeed old but they have been refurbished and they are in a better shape than those flying out of Hungary currently. Not to mention that courtesy of the highly favourable lease deals they may be replaced.
An 80-90% load factor is definitely a good one and only the most successful discount airlines can show for such numbers. Malév had load factors of around 70% even in its best years. If the charter flights, however, are filled up by Sólyom’s partner travel agencies the situation could be different than at the carriers flying on scheduled routes.

Who is behind Sólyom?

Vágó noted about the mysterius Middle Eastern investor of Sólyom that one of them is a well-known bank in the United Arab Emirates and the other is a strategic investor based in Oman. Both will reveal their identity, he added. The financial background for a 50-strong fleet is already ensured and even if the airline has no revenues whatsoever for three months, keeping up operations for one or two years will still be a breeze, the CEO said.

Sólyom is receiving no subsidy from the state whatsoever, Vágó stressed, adding that the state is currently in a wait-and-see mode, as after Malév’s collapse it has no intention to get behind an airline that has any chance of going down. Vágó believes, however, that the level of confidence will slowly reach a point where Sólyom must be considered a priority national economy investment since it will create a HUF 20 billion annual market for local suppliers.
Last time we checked direct state subsidy was illegal in the European Union, so Vágó should not be expecting to receive state capital any time soon. That was exactly what closed the door on Malév last year when the European Commission ruled that the airline received unlawful state aid and there was no way the state could give the ailing carrier another capital injection. So some caution with regard to allowances and aid is warranted without a doubt.

Original Article:

Struggling People Express Airlines lays off Newport News employees

NEWPORT NEWS — People Express Airlines Inc. laid off six nonessential employees on Wednesday as the startup airline awaits funding, company leaders confirmed to the Daily Press on Friday.

“Making decisions that impact people’s lives is always difficult for senior leadership.  As much as I personally regret having to take this step, it is in our best interest as a company and will enable us to focus on the final stages of funding and developing our long-term objectives,” President Michael Morisi said in an emailed statement. “We expect it to be a very short-term matter.”

People Express, which has committed to flying out of Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, talked with employees about the layoffs in a group meeting where their questions could be answered in addition to handing them letters, Morisi said. A copy of a letter sent to the Daily Press indicated the company has been struggling to obtain funding and could not pay its employees. Five vice presidents also received the letter they couldn’t be paid, but plan to continue working toward the launch, Morisi added.

Denver-based investment bank Headwaters MB is expected to come through with the necessary funding for the airline’s launch within the coming weeks, Morisi said. In June, People Express acquired Idaho-based Xtra Airways, which is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct operations with Boeing 737 passenger jets. Morisi said he needed to make a difficult decision to be financially responsible and also maintain operations at Xtra Airways. People Express invested more than $1.5 million in Xtra while pumping a “couple million” into its Newport News launch, he said.

He said he expects to bring employees back when People Express closes on “significant funding.” The company furloughed employees last year in August and was able to bring back all staff who wished to come back when a new round of funding came in, Morisi said. Laid-off employee Bob Brown, director of security, has been with the company for two years and plans to come back for a second time, he said in a company email.

Morisi added that startups typically face difficulties, and that the move to furlough employees isn’t unlike actions taken by other businesses and the federal government.

The firm has indeed been struggling. People Express failed to pay $137,208 in federal taxes for two tax periods ending last year, according to notice of a lien filed in March by the Internal Revenue Service in Newport News Circuit Court. The Virginia Employment Commission also filed notice of a lien in February for $1,307 in taxes owed from last year. Additionally, American Express Travel Related Services Co. Inc. filed a lawsuit in Newport News Circuit Court seeking $50,546 the company owes on two corporate credit cards. Morisi explained that problems arose when funding slowed but the company has worked out payment schedules for its debts.

The firm continues to seek individual investors while the investment bank plans to target institutional investment, Morisi said.

The company first announced plans to relaunch a 1980s-era discount carrier in February 2012. A regional airport committee in January this year gave People Express a $500,000 short-term refundable loan, which was paid back in March. It hasn’t used any other public money, Morisi said.

People Express plans to announce better news soon, including a “strategic partnership with a major airline” and opening of reservations, Morisi said. The company has identified 10 aircraft for its first year of operation and obtained landing slots to operate at Newark International Airport. The company also identified operations space at Pittsburgh International Airport, he said.

Lisa Schlichtman: Steamboat Springs Airport's Ted is one cool cat

Steamboat Springs — Ted's a cool cat. He's not a jazz musician or a rock star but a cat, who has become a bit of a legend, especially among pilots and guests who frequent Steamboat Springs Airport.

My husband, Mike, who is a private pilot, introduced me to Ted on one of his first flights into Steamboat with a simple text message: "You've got to meet Ted." The gray and white tabby, distinctively marked with a light brown goatee, is a mellow fellow but definitely an important part of the airport management team. His official role, and the way he earns his keep, is mouser, and he is very good at his job even after more than a decade of service.

Ted also is the official airport greeter. If Ted is outside, he will walk over to any plane that lands. He’s also been known to jump into those planes. Throughout the years, Ted has become famous for stowing away on airplanes. Unsuspecting pilots usually don’t discover Ted until after takeoff, and there are stories of pilots who have had to change their flight plans to include a return trip to Steamboat to drop Ted back home after he’s enjoyed an impromptu joyride.

Gerry Denofsky, a local pilot and airport regular, said Ted arrived at the airport in 2003 after being rescued from the Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter. According to Denofsky, the young cat was given to Jim Szabo, the aircraft mechanic for Mountain Aircraft Maintenance. Szabo named the cat Ted in honor of a discount airline operation that United Airlines had launched at the time.

Legend has it that Ted had been shot in the Oak Creek area, patched up by the vet and then brought to the shelter in Steamboat before he went to live at the airport. Ted replaced two black cats — One-four and Three-two were named after Steamboat Springs’ runway identification numbers — who died of old age. When Szabo moved from the area, Ted found his permanent home at the airport.

“Ted’s been here longer than I’ve been here,” airport Manager Mel Baker said.

When Ted is not trying to jump into airplanes, he loves to ride around on the hoods or pickup beds of airport vehicles.

“He’s like Snoopy,” fixed-base operator Manager Don Heineman said. “He needs a leather helmet, goggles and a scarf.”

Ted has become such an airport icon that frequent fliers into Steamboat, especially children, usually begin their visit to town with the inquiry, “Where’s Ted?”

“Ted knows this airport, and people know Ted,” Baker said. “It’s been his life.”

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting Ted, Sunday provides the perfect opportunity. It’s Day Two of the Wild West Air Fest at the Steamboat Springs Airport. Members of the public are invited to spend a portion of their Labor Day weekend enjoying a number of activities at the local airport between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. There are vintage aircraft displays, radio-controlled airplane shows, airplane rides and, of course, the chance to meet the legendary Ted.

Story and Photo of
Ted, the Steamboat Springs Airport cat: