Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fighting fires with aging tankers from another era

Many of the tankers used by the Forest Service are retired military aircraft that are costly to maintain and dangerous to fly. Wings break off, engines catch fire and parts must be scrounged.

The blaze near Yosemite National Park had incinerated scores of acres and was spreading fast. It was time, federal officials decided, to attack it from the air with all the resources at their command.

As the nation's armada of air tankers began landing at a staging area near here, it was clear that this was a fleet from another era.

The planes showed their age. Propellers coughed to a stop and smoke spewed from their piston engines. Many of these restored tankers were built during the Eisenhower administration.

The Forest Service fleet, which drops retardant to give firefighters on the ground crucial time to put out raging wildfires, is too old, industry and government officials say. Because there are so few planes, critics contend, the fleet is no longer capable of doing all it should to contain fires. Over the last decade, the service reduced its fleet from 47 to just 12, all operated by businesses under federal contract.

Critics also say the planes are dangerous. Since 2001, tanker crashes have killed 22 aviators. Six died last year.

"It's pathetic," said Tony Kern, former Forest Service chief of aviation. "We have brave aviators using ancient technologies and as a result they're losing their lives. It's a horrifying fact that won't change unless government action is taken."

Demands that the Forest Service replace these planes have come from former pilots, government officials, firefighter advocacy groups and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Half-century-old aircraft are difficult to keep flight-ready, and these tankers take an extra beating from the turbulence, updrafts and hot ash they encounter on firefighting missions.

Wings break off. Engines catch fire. And, in those conditions, stressed pilots make mistakes.

A few of the tankers started out as airliners. Nearly all the rest are retired military aircraft that were refurbished after being culled from the Pentagon's boneyard of discarded planes in Arizona.

Maintenance is a challenge. Engine parts are scrounged from warehouses. In one instance, a propeller was pulled from storage at a museum. If parts can't be found, technicians machine their own from blueprints drawn up around 1950.

At the air attack base near Yosemite in August, the challenges the Forest Service faces were apparent. After one of the tankers rumbled in for a landing, mechanics scurried to replace a blown engine.

It happens so often that the crew hauls a trailer full of spare parts from fire to fire.

Nothing can match the speed and power of a large tanker, the Forest Service says.

An all-out air attack to slow a fire includes helicopters and smaller single-engine tankers. But their capacity to carry retardant is much less than the Forest Service's larger tankers, which can drop 2,000 to 10,000 gallons ahead of the fire.

"That's the best way to get a lot of retardant delivered," said Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, a fire commander who oversees planning for some of California's largest fires. "When you're trying to hold a ridge and you see it coming, it definitely settles your stomach a bit."

California, with 23 smaller air tankers, is one of four states that have their own fleets to supplement the Forest Service's armada.

These days, firefighters know they can't count on aerial support; there are too few planes. Half the times a Forest Service air tanker was requested last year, the answer was no: They were all fighting fires elsewhere.

Christian Holm, 55, is a former wildland firefighter who became a tanker pilot in 1998. At the time, he was stationed at an air attack base for four months a year and would swarm a fire with as many as 10 other planes. Now he works nearly year round.

"A lot of times, I'm the only guy out there," he said.

The Forest Service quickly suppresses more than 95% of wildfires. The ones that escape immediate containment, like the Rim fire in Yosemite, take longer to put out, and costs can skyrocket.

The agency has exceeded its $1-billion annual budget for fighting wildfires seven times since 2002. Aviation accounts for about a fourth of that budget. Most of the aviation expenditure goes for helicopters; about $50 million a year is spent on deploying the large tankers.

Nearly all of the nation's firefighting aircraft are owned and operated by private companies, and the bill starts mounting when an incident commander calls aircraft to a fire.

Aviation companies have to keep bids low to win government contracts, and old military aircraft come cheap. Neptune Aviation Services Inc. of Missoula, Mont., has a Forest Service contract to operate eight large air tankers, the most of any company. It flies Lockheed P-2Vs, an aircraft first built in 1946 to hunt for Soviet submarines.

Walking into the company's engine room is like walking into a World War II aircraft hangar. Mechanics sort through oil-smeared parts as they refurbish hulking piston-powered engines and hefty propellers.

"We have had Navy officials walk through here, and they're absolutely shocked that we keep these things flying," said Gavin Mouse, 43, overhaul specialist with Neptune.

The company is now modifying the BAe-146, a regional airliner produced in Britain in the 1980s. Neptune officials say it makes a great tanker, but it's more expensive to operate. The daily rate for keeping one of the military planes available is about $14,500, with an average flight rate of $8,000 per hour. The airliner runs about $25,000 daily, plus $10,000 an hour in flight.

"We're doing the best we can, realizing we can't do it on the cheap," said Tom Harbour, the Forest Service's director of fire and aviation management. "When you look forward, by golly, do we have a problem. We need more aircraft and much more capability."

There are few federal standards regulating the safety of these planes. The Federal Aviation Administration sets standards for aircraft airworthiness and flight crew competency. But once the aircraft begins to fight forest fires, the FAA does not have authority or responsibility to enforce its rules.

Contractors hire outside engineering firms to set safety guidelines for the planes.

"That's problematic," said Michael Barr, a former accident investigation officer who now teaches aviation safety at USC. "It's a little like shooting an arrow from a bow, then drawing the target around the arrow."

Eleven studies since 1995 have concluded that the Forest Service needs to replace its tankers.

In 2009, the service sought $2.5 billion to buy 18 to 28 aircraft. The funding was denied by its parent agency, the Department of Agriculture.

The department's inspector general acknowledged that the Forest Service needed new planes but said the proposal was poorly prepared and did not include enough data. The Government Accountability Office reached similar conclusions last month.

Walt Darran, chairman of the advocacy group Associated Aerial Firefighters and a former tanker pilot, said the problems stem from a lack of leadership.

"The Forest Service only changes the way it does business after a high-profile death," he said. "Any improvements that have been made in this industry have been bought with blood."

In 2002, a 46-year-old Lockheed C-130 tanker dropping retardant on a fire near Lake Tahoe broke apart when its wings folded up like a bird's. The crash killed the three crew members. A camera crew captured the accident and the footage was shown on the nightly news across the nation.

Another fire plane, this one 57 years old, broke apart during a Colorado fire one month later, and an investigative panel was convened to examine the industry.

The panel's 60-page report released in 2002 said that the Forest Service's safety standard was unacceptable and that its oversight was lacking. It recommended that the agency foster a closer relationship with the aviation industry to improve the safety of its fleet. By 2004, the Forest Service had removed 33 tankers from its fleet.

The Forest Service says it is trying to modernize. It issued contracts to seven companies this year; most of those planes are not yet ready to enter service. Although the contracts call them "next-generation" planes, they aren't so new.

One of them was pulled from an aviation museum in San Bernardino, where it had been on display for 10 years.

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Utah Valley University partners with SkyWest Airlines

Families, students and aviation enthusiasts gathered at UVU's hangar at the Provo airport Saturday morning for a special event celebrating the 25th anniversary of teaching aviation students, including an announcement from the Utah Valley University School of Aviation Sciences. UVU's aviation program announced a bridge program with SkyWest Airlines, which will give flight students a better outlook for career opportunities in the aviation industry.

Already an accomplished flight school that recently received a spot on the flight training honor roll by The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), the aviation program now has an opportunity to offer students direct mentorship by SkyWest pilots. And because SkyWest is a partner of the world's largest network carriers, the program offers a link to network carriers like American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

"Students don't attend college to simply go to school. They come looking for a career at the end of their studies. The bridge program with SkyWest provides a perfect stepping point to a career in aviation," said Ryan Tanner, director of Academic Student Support.

To qualify for the program, students must maintain a minimum grade point average, complete advanced jet training courses and attain the FAA ratings of a Commercial Pilot/Instrument and Multi-Engine and Certified Flight Instructor, according to a news release on UVU's website.

Tanner also mentioned the advantage UVU flight students would have over other aspirational pilots.

"Our students are guaranteed an interview with SkyWest, and they receive a SkyWest employee number once they enter the UVU program. If they are hired, they will receive a date-of-hire from when they entered our program. It gives them a little boost over other new employees."

The Saturday event featured vintage aircraft on display and the opportunity to sit inside one of the many planes available to the students to fly.

Gil Bertelson, a former SR-71 Blackbird pilot, spoke to the attendees about his experiences. Rod Machado, an aviation author, also spoke to attendees.

Tanner also acknowledged the projected pilot shortage and the reason SkyWest decided to partner with UVU.

"Flying, as a form of transportation, will never go away and is only to increase in demand," he added. "After Vietnam, a lot of carriers hired veterans of the war. Now, many of those pilots are reaching retirement age. As a result, there is a large need for new pilots that are trained as well as UVU pilots are trained."

Dianna Bunker, an academic advisor, was also helping out at the event. She mentioned the aviation school's relative anonymity.

"A lot of people don't really know about the aviation program. I remember when people didn't know we had an aviation school. Partnering with SkyWest will really help get the word out. It seems to be a pretty great secret that we aren't trying to keep."

Original article:

Longtime litigator Donald Chance Mark has an aviation specialty that soon will land him before the U.S. Supreme Court

The aviation pedigree of Eden Prairie attorney Donald Chance Mark Jr. is beyond reproach.

His dad was a pilot for Northwest Airlines for 33 years; his mom was a Northwest flight attendant back in the days when a nursing degree was part of the job description.

Mark represented TWA in a headline-grabbing case known as “the plane that fell from the sky.” He was in on the ground floor of the founding of a small leisure carrier in the early 1980s that called itself Sun Country Airlines. He successfully represented Northwest Airlines in a case in which the airline’s dress code for employee passengers and their relatives was upheld after a Muslim woman wearing traditional garb claimed it was discriminatory to be told by a customer service supervisor to dress as if she were going to “church.”

Mark’s most recent aviation client is Air Wisconsin Airlines, in a disputed case involving aviation security that has made its way to the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court and is set for oral arguments on Dec. 9.

With 40 years in the profession of law, Mark, 66, has handled a variety of high-profile cases, from utility failures to contract disputes involving sports figures.

But, he likes to say, “Aviation is a specialty.”

Supreme Court case

The Supreme Court case involves a defamation lawsuit brought against Air Wisconsin by a former pilot who claims he was wrongly singled out as a potential security risk to federal aviation officials after he failed a simulated flight test and had a heated exchange with the simulator instructors.

Concerned about the pilot’s state of mind — he also had a federal permit to carry a handgun aboard commercial aircraft — Air Wisconsin officials at the company’s headquarters in Appleton, Wis., called the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), whose agents escorted the pilot off a flight home to Denver from the simulator school in Virginia.

The pilot sued and won a $1 million-plus judgment in compensatory and punitive damages from a jury in Colorado on the grounds that he was defamed by Air Wisconsin’s actions.

Air Wisconsin appealed at the state trial court and the appeals court level and eventually lost in the Colorado Supreme Court and appealed again to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed in June to hear the case.

“This affects everybody in the flying public,” Mark said in an interview from his Eden Prairie office. “We need to have a comfort level that any suspicious activity will be reported and that the reporter will have immunity for doing so if it is without malicious intent.”

Indeed, the U.S. solicitor general and the Department of Homeland Security filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Air Wisconsin arguing that the Colorado rulings in the case “may chill other air carriers from timely providing the government with critical information about threats to aviation security.”

Attorneys for the dismissed pilot, however, contend that Air Wisconsin should not be granted immunity for making “material falsehoods” about the mental state of their client.

“Our position is they had no basis to make that statement,” said Scott McGath, attorney for ex-Air Wisconsin pilot William Hoeper. “They conveyed to the TSA that Mr. Hoeper was a threat when Air Wisconsin had no reason to believe he was a threat.”

Mark won’t actually argue the case in front of the Supreme Court justices — an appellate specialist he selected will do that — but he will be at the petitioner’s table in the courtroom.

It’s pretty heady stuff for a kid who went to Minnetonka High School, then worked as a lifeguard and for the Mound sewer department before going to law school.

Respected by his peers

A 1972 graduate of the Vanderbilt University School of Law, Mark, who is also a student pilot, spent the first 27 years of his legal career in the Minneapolis offices of the law firm Meagher & Geer doing insurance defense work including product liability cases and medical malpractice.

He gained the respect of his peers and even his opposing counsel for the quality of his legal work.

“It was hard to get mad at him, but he frustrated the hell out of me,” said Dick Hunegs, a plaintiff’s attorney in the Twin Cities for more than 60 years. “I’m old-fashioned. It was a much different environment, but you gained respect for one another.’’

During Mark’s early years he represented clients like NSP in the Commodore Hotel explosion in St. Paul and TWA in a case involving a Boeing 727 flight between New York and Minneapolis that suffered a severe mechanical malfunction and plummeted nearly 35,000 feet in 44 seconds before the flight crew could regain control of the jetliner.

“Boeing wanted to blame the crew, but these guys were able to defend themselves and never changed their story,” Mark said. “I believed in them.”

There were no fatalities in the near-disaster but a number of passengers suffered injuries, and a subsequent trial in Hennepin County District Court found that TWA was 70 percent liable for the crash while Boeing was 30 percent liable. Damage settlements to the passengers averaged about $30,000, with the highest at $250,000.

In 1982, Mark was summoned to a hangar at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport where he met with 13 ex-Braniff employees — 11 pilots and two flight attendants — who had leased a 727 aircraft and wanted to start an airline. Mark took the proposition to a colleague at Meagher & Geer, Robert Fafinski, who was better versed in business law. They completed the necessary legal work to put Sun Country Airlines in business. Today, Fafinski sits on the Sun Country board of directors.

In 1999, Mark, Fafinski and Kevin Johnson went out on their own. Today their firm has 27 attorneys and a staff of 21 employees. Its conference rooms at the Eden Prairie headquarters are named after such famous aviators as Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh.

But the clientele extends well beyond the wild blue ­yonder.

‘I can pick and choose’

In recent years, Mark has represented former Vikings place-kicker Gary Anderson in contract negotiations with other NFL teams.

In 2010, Mark won a $1 million settlement on behalf of Jimmy Williams, a would-be Minnesota Gophers assistant basketball coach whose hiring by head coach Tubby Smith was overturned by higher-ups in the university’s administration. (The award was overturned by the Minnesota Supreme Court last year.)

Mark also has a discrimination lawsuit pending on behalf of former University of Minnesota women’s golf coach Katie Brenny, who claims she lost her job because of her sexual orientation. That case is set for trial in November.

“I’m at a point where I don’t have to take every case. I can pick and choose what I want to take to trial,” Mark said. “I have the opportunity to try interesting cases and meet interesting people.”

His cluttered office reflects Mark’s take on his career. The walls are laden with photos of Mark with clients, plus framed magazine covers of athletes he’s represented and no shortage of model airplanes and metal debris that once were pieces of evidence in cases gone by.

“Don is a trial lawyer’s lawyer,” Fafinski says of Mark. “He’s a master strategist. If he can’t envision the final argument in a case, he won’t take it.”

Original article:

Airline faces runaway employee cost

KARACHI:  As part of the services industry, the employee cost in airlines has traditionally remained high. But cost composition changed drastically in the last couple of years with a sharp increase in oil prices. PIA hasn’t been an exception.

Being a pilot, air-hostess or aeronautical engineer is a matter of prestige. Compared to people with the same level of education and skills in other professions, a worker in an airline was always paid more – a pilot would earn more than a doctor.

But in the last decade as airlines booked losses and filed for bankruptcy, the model was changed. Emphasis on cutting cost increased and in most cases employees had to take the hit.

In 2003, PIA employees were eating up 19.3% of revenues while fuel accounted for 24.2%. In absolute terms, employees were paid Rs9.172 billion and Rs17.9 billion was spent on buying jet fuel.

After nine years, the employees and fuel consume 22% and 54.54% of revenues. But in absolute terms, the cost of employees has jumped to Rs27.5 billion.

“You are asking me to justify this? Why don’t you compare this increase in salaries with the rate of inflation over the past six years? This rise seems fair,” says Shaukat Jamshed, President of the Society of Aircraft Engineers.

Like other carriers, PIA suffers from the issue of staff promotions – employees gradually move up the ladder whether they are capable or not.

“This is a serious issue. It doesn’t matter if someone was hired to serve tea. After a time, he would become an officer and then we wouldn’t know what to do with him,” said Ahmad Saeed, former chairman of PIA.

PIA has 19,300 employees, with 8,000 workers falling in the lowest grade of 1 to 4. There are 550 pilots, 2,300 cabin crew and 700 aircraft engineers.

However, because of the grade system, the engineering department has around 5,000 employees in total.

The airline has around 80 aircraft engines, which need overhaul and repair every few months. Around 50 of them are flown abroad for that purpose.

“We don’t need such a big engineering setup, especially with all the losses from the main business of selling seats. It’s an extra cost we are incurring,” said a PIA official who until recently was heading a key department.

No concrete data is available on individual profit and loss analysis of the engineering, catering and flight services departments.

Salaries of pilots have been revised two times in the past five years. Pilots are paid a dozen allowances but the compensation is more or less in line with competitors.

“I don’t understand why the axe has to fall on employees when fuel makes up the major cost component,” said Captain Sohail Baloch, president of the powerful Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (Palpa).

“Even then we are ready to bend over backwards and discuss cuts but first the management should take real steps to reduce cost. Implement our proposals of better aircraft turnaround and weight reduction, show sincerity,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2013.

Caribbean Airlines manager suspended: Million-dollar fraud investigation continues

State carrier Caribbean Airlines has suspended one of its managers as an investigation continues into what has been described as a million-dollar fraud involving the use of bogus credit cards which has already cost CAL more than $12 million in losses.

Sources familiar with the airline’s operations say due to CAL not adequately addressing validation measures for local and European credit cards, scammers have managed to evade detection by CAL officials and have managed to get refunds from sales activities with the airline.

Sources say from January 2012 to June 2013, CAL has lost more than US$1,721,792 in charge-back claims.

Charge-backs are the return of funds to customers.

It is the reversal of a prior outbound transfer of funds.

Following a forensic investigation by CAL’s internal auditing department and Ernst and Young, a senior accounting manager at the airline was suspended last week for two weeks.

The suspension took effect from last Monday and the manager has been mandated to provide the interim CAL board led by chairman Phillip Marshall with a comprehensive report about the transactions which led to CAL’s losses.

Contacted for a comment, CAL head, corporate communications, Clint Williams confirmed last week that a member of the finance department “has been recently suspended”.

But he insisted that it was not in connection with the ongoing investigations into credit card irregularities.

Williams told Sunday Express that it would be highly improper to comment on the status of any specific employee.

Questioned as to how much CAL has lost prior to January 2012 to the present because of the credit card issues, Williams said the credit card irregularities referred to past abuses by external parties that were currently under audit and investigation.

“As such it would be improper to comment further while the investigation is ongoing,” Williams said.

He added that following detection of the illegal acts, CAL “has since introduced fraud prevention tools that have already significantly reduced the incidence of such activities”.

The airline is also working alongside several agencies in a bid to suffocate the scammers.

The fraudulent activities sources say involve European, Jamaican and Nigerian nationals.

Sources say the scam involved the booking of airline tickets via credit card.

“Calls to (CAL call) centers come in after 6 p.m., when banks are closed and there is no way of verifying the information on the cards,” the source said.

Adding that the fraudsters normally booked business class tickets to the United States, England and several Caribbean countries, the source said, after the booking is made, the transaction is cancelled, following which the fraudsters call back the centers saying they wish to cancel the transactions and get a refund.

Contacted for a comment senior reservations and commercial sales manager Valerie Murphy-Rahman, who was on vacation last week, said  she was not responsible for overseeing the finance department.

She said she was not aware of the investigation related to the credit card irregularities. 

Original article:

Will the Directorate General of Civil Aviation be able to save its face on October 23?

Huge embarrassment for the DGCA as the Bombay High Court has put the Indian Aviation regulator on notice. The matter pertains to the Writ petition that was filed by the All India Cabin Crew Association maintaining that the regulator itself flouts the rules and norms set up for the Indian skies thereby putting in danger the lives of the passengers and crew alike. On October 23 the court will hear the case. Such is the discontent that the petitioners even pleaded that interim relief be provided so that further violations can be stopped. Headlines Today is in the exclusive possession of the copy of violations and the letter written by the AICCA to DGCA after the court order. The letter states that the AICCA is ready to face the regulator on October 23.

The violations detailed along with the Writ petition alleges hundreds of violation committed over the years by Air India which were ignored by the regulator inspite of the repeated pleading by the employees. Speaking to Headlines Today the AICCA maintained that there have been so many violations over the years that they were left with no choice but to approach the court. AICCA has submitted a long list of the violations. For instance on  March 31, 2011 - AI 127 DEL - ORD FLIGHT...B 777 300 ER was carrying only 12 crew on board wherein the count should have been 16.

April 1, 2011 - AI 188 YYZ TO DELHI...B 777 300 ER again managed with 12 crew whereas the requirement was of 16 crew.

The crew was given rest of only 3 hours short by 2 hours. The AICCA alleges that between March 31, 2011 TO June 14, 2011 more than 450 purposeful violations were committed and the DGCA did nothing on it.

DGCAs letter dated 26/02/2008 clearly states that all the doors of the long haul flights have to be manned..

B 777 200 LR has 8 doors

B 777 300 ER has 10 doors

B 747 400 has 12 doors

But in case of crew shortage these doors remain unmanned. A clear violation of the rules. 

Additionally it adds to the task of the cabin crew and in case of a emergency the crew would be in no position to handle the situation.

What should ideally happen as per the rules:

1. Conducive rest area for crew

2. Bunker beds

3. 5 hours rest on board

4. No back to back scheduling

5. On return to base crew there has to be 72 hours rest

6. All doors need to be manned

Of late the DGCA has had to face the wrath of the US regulator the Federal Aviation Administration who has put the Indian regulator on a notice period. The AI employees have already threatened to approach the F
ederal Aviation Administration as well. And now the court notice would be nothing less than a shocker for the DGCA. There are reasons to believe that even the functioning of the Air India management will be questioned.

When contacted Air India maintained that it was an internal matter and would be amicably resolved. DGCA was not available for comments.

Original article:

Cambridge Municipal Airport (KCDI) to receive new jet refueler truck in early 2014

Coming in early 2014 to the Cambridge Municipal Airport: A new jet aircraft refueler truck.

The Cambridge Regional Airport Authority received a single bid for the 3,000 gallon truck from Kansas City, Kansas- based SkyMark Refueler LLC. Total cost is $167,685. A 20 percent down payment of $33,537 is required.

"The Guernsey County Commissioners committed to funding $160,000," said Airport Manager Terry Losego. "The airport would be responsible for the additional $7,000. However, in discussions with the Guernsey County commissioners and airport manager, if the airport is unable to support the additional funding the commissioners would consider the additional costs. The board authorized President Ron Guthrie to enter into a sales agreement to purchase the truck. The new truck's deliver date is approximately 165 days from date of order."

The 2013 Ford F-750 chassis will be equipped with a Cummins 6.7 liter diesel engine.

In other action, the airport's underground storage tanks passed recent inspection.

"On July 30, under the Steel Tank Institute Watchdog Program, our underground tanks were tested by Veri-Tank Inc.," Losego reported. "The report shows the tank to soil potential measurement present confirms that our tanks are protected from corrosion.

The 6,000 and 4,000 tanks both passed inspection, tested per Federal Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. The airport purchased a 30-year guarantee when the tanks were installed with the understanding the tanks would be tested every third year.

On a related note, Losego reported Epic Aviation Fuel Farm Inspection suggested a filter system for both aviation gasoline dispensers. He received a quote from Mascott Equipment in the amount of $341.60, not including installation costs.

"This summer the Guernsey Youth Program has assisted in the maintenance here at the airport," Losego said. "The completed projects include painting of the segmented circle, wind sock, and wind tee. The pavilion has been repainted along with the table and benches. The localizer building has been cleaned and they are in the process of cleaning the mold off the T-hangar. This is all at no charge to the airport."

The Ohio Department of Transportation Office of Aviation inspected the airport, the data collected to be used for updating the Airport's/Heliport's Master Record and determining compliance with Federal Aviation Administration and ODOT standards.

Non-compliances detected includes:

• Runway 04 approach slope is insufficient to the primary surface and the displaced threshold

• Runway 22 approach slope is insufficient to the primary surface

• Both runways have obstructions within the primary surface

• Various lighting system mounting bases are more than three inches above grade; resolved by back filling to grade.

Facilities and equipment failing to meet current ODOT commercial operating standards will receive a conditional commercial operating certificate stipulating areas of non-compliance.

AVC Technologies installed a new computer in the airport office. The previous computer will be used for the Pilotbrief Optima Weather Station.

Airport Secretary Brenda Dolweck presented the board with several Internet technology packages from AVC Technical Services. The "Essential Package" would cover three desktop computers, provide verified cloud data backup up to 500 gigabytes and manage anti-virus, anti malware and firewall for all three computers. Cost is $60 per month. The Authority agreed to purchase this package.

Fuel sales through July 31, with sales through the same point last year in parenthesis, are as follows:

• Aviation gasoline -- 6,533.3 gallons (7,492.2 gallons)

• Jet fuel -- 11,803.4 gallons (15,395.1 gallons).

Operation (takeoffs and landings) through July 31 with operations through the same point last year in parenthesis, are as follows:

• General aviation -- 590 (1,083)

• Business -- 448 (562).

Losego attended the Shirley Mixer Knight Laboratory Dedication July 31 at the Zane State College Cambridge campus.

More at

This laboratory was made possible through the generosity of John W. Knight and Family. A second laboratory was gifted by Basic Systems, Inc.

Foundations have been set for the walkway spanning Brick Church Road. Completion of the building is slated for the end of November.

Due to the vacancy in the airport hangars, the Authority has advertised available hangar rental space. The Authority also mailed letters to oil and gas customers stating land is available for leasing to build corporate hangars.

The airport's visual approach slope indicator lights on Runway 22 have been restored. Meighen Electric used parts from the VASI lights on Runway 4 to complete repairs. This will insure safety standards for the pilots to fly the approach until the new precision approach path indicator lights are installed.

Beginning Aug. 24, the FAA and ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) implemented a new notam format language. Notams are methods to describe various safety issues to pilots such as runway closures and inoperable runway lights. This will require retraining of airport attendants as they are required to issue notams should the need arise.

Steve Potoczak of Delta Airport Consultants reported The fiscal year 2013 grant application was been submitted to the FAA for approval. The application includes the construction of PAPI for Runway 4 and 22 and the construction of REIL's for Runway 4. This also includes the FAA flight check reimbursement agreement and administration costs.

The total cost for this project is $297,257.95. Federal dollars are $267,532. The local match is $29,725.95.

Steve Potoczak reported the obstruction light project has been postponed until the fiscal year 2014 grant application year.

Potoczak also reported the fiscal year 2012 grant (Cord Paving crack repair and obstruction light survey and design) final closeout was submitted to the FAA for approval.

The Cambridge Regional Airport Authority is scheduled to next meet at 7:30 a.m. Sept. 18 at the airport.

Original article:

Sheboygan County officials eye severing ties to languishing Morgan Aircraft: May sue once-ballyhooed firm to recover $160,000 in airport upgrades

Troubled startup manufacturer Morgan Aircraft is nearly a year behind on its lease payments at Sheboygan County Memorial Airport, and county officials now appear likely to cut ties with the once-promising firm.

The Oostburg-based company has until Oct. 1 to pay $29,947 in past-due rent before the county can cancel its lease and take legal action to recover both the rent money and the nearly $160,000 that the county spent in making airport improvements for the company.

The looming deadline comes four years after Morgan Aircraft announced plans to build a 600,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and offices at the airport, where it hoped to one day build a line of airplane-helicopter hybrid aircraft capable of vertical takeoffs and landings.

The project attracted considerable attention at the time as it was announced at the height of the recession and came with the possibility of creating thousands of jobs. However, it appears to have been undone by the company’s struggles to secure investors in what remains a tough economic climate.

“Though they’ve made good progress on the design of their airplane and continued to take steps forward to achieve their vision, ultimately they struggled to garner the investment revenue or funding they needed to continue the development of their airplane,” County Administrator Adam Payne said.

Company co-founder Brian Morgan declined to comment on the firm’s status, only to say that they’re currently restructuring.

The company may also be on the hook for an up-to-$1 million forgivable state loan it received in 2011 to construct its headquarters. For the state loan to be forgiven, Morgain Aircraft has until 2015 to invest $105 million in the project and until 2017 to create 340 new full-time jobs. If neither occurs, the company is obligated to repay the loan at 2 percent interest.

Dane Checolinski, director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation, said the company hadn’t yet borrowed the full $1 million, while other state incentives it was offered were never awarded as they’ve yet to begin production.

“It probably boils down to a myriad of factors,” Checolinski said, referring to the company’s troubles. “Like any field out there, it’s extremely competitive and there are so many investment dollars to go around.”

The company is now four years into its 50-year airport lease, which carries an option to use an additional 50 acres. Company officials had previously said they hoped to be producing aircraft there by 2016 that could be used as air ambulances, search and rescue aircraft, corporate jets and as unmanned military drones.

The county eventually spent $157,816 to improve Morgan’s building site, including building a road and adding electricity, said Airport Superintendent Tom Boyer. However, the company never broke ground and had continued to operate out of a rented office in the Oostburg Business Park.

The county had committed an additional $2 million or so to make further site improvements but instead ended up spending the money on highway infrastructure when it became clear that things were not progressing.

More red flags came this spring when the county agreed to defer Morgan Aircraft’s rent payments until fall and temporarily suspend a construction timeline included in the lease, which the company has not met.

Boyer said that the company has made one monthly lease payment since September 2012.

Payne said he feels that until now, county leaders have “erred on the side of optimism” given the project’s job-growth potential, despite skepticism from the outset by some that the company’s vision would never pan out.

If Morgan Aircraft’s lease is voided, the county would likely seek out other entrepreneurs to take over Morgan’s space at the airport, and officials say all is not lost given that they have an improved site that another firm could take over.

The infrastructure that’s now in place has already helped attract interest from firms looking to begin operations, expand or relocate, Payne said, though none are on the scale of what Morgan had been intending.

The county’s decision on whether or not to sever its relationship with Morgan Aircraft will likely go before the county’s Transportation Committee in the coming weeks. Any action would also require approval by the County Board.

“Unfortunately, it may be coming to an end,” Payne said.

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GulfCoast Supply coming to Sebring Regional Airport (KSEF)

SEBRING -- Mike Willingham, executive director of Sebring Airport Authority, announced the lease of Building 50 to GulfCoast Supply, the premier metal roofing manufacturer and supplier in the state of Florida.

GulfCoast Supply is a company built around the forgotten values of genuine customer service and accountability. The facility will be used for manufacturing and distribution of the company's products.

Jonathan Sherrill, executive vice president, said he enjoyed the professionalism in working with the Sebring Airport Authority and the local Economic Development Commission in finalizing the lease and feels the centralized location of Sebring Regional Airport will be beneficial both to GulfCoast Supply and Highlands County.

Over time, up to 49 full-time jobs will be created for the workforce of Highlands County.

Sebring Regional Airport is a 2,000-acre commerce park and airport. The airport is a designated Foreign Trade Zone offering many tax benefits and is home to Sebring International Raceway. Sebring has been named in the State Aviation System Plan as the growth airport for South Central Florida and celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2012.


Our View: Morgan Aircraft dream comes crashing down

The clock of economic reality is ticking for Morgan Aircraft.

The company has until Tuesday to come up with nearly $30,000 in past-due rent to Sheboygan County on its lease at Sheboygan County Memorial Airport. The county and the state may also seek repayment on loans and airport improvements after Morgan signed a 50-year lease four years ago.

We wish the fanfare of four years ago had not come to this. Morgan Aircraft, based in Oostburg, announced plans to build a 600,000-square-foot manufacturing plant and offices at the airport. It hoped to one day build a line of airplane-helicopter hybrids capable of vertical takeoffs and landings.

The company hoped to be producing aircraft by 2016 that could be used as air ambulances, search and rescue aircraft, corporate jets and as unmanned military drones. The county threw in nearly $160,000 for site improvements, including a road. The venture never got off the ground, however, and the Morgan Aircraft dream remains just that at this point.

Sheboygan County wisely took a cautious approach to additional investment in the project. The county was placed in a difficult position. Morgan Aircraft promised its project could create up to 2,000 needed jobs, which would leave any unit of government salivating.

However, it became plain that the company was having difficulty in securing private investors during a time of economic difficulty. Even though the recession was spelled with a small “r,” it clearly affected investment in a project that had some massive potential.

We do not rule out a last-minute deal to save this venture, but we wouldn’t bank on it, either. The parties will need to move on. That will obviously be much more difficult for Morgan Aircraft. It takes courage to fly into a venture of the magnitude of this one, and it will be a major disappointment if the venture ultimately fails.

This country was built on the type of entrepreneurial drive that Morgan Aircraft displayed in seeking to bring its novel concept to fruition. Company co-founder Brian Morgan said the firm is restructuring. We hope that allows the company to continue to innovate in a way that ultimately will be profitable.

If the lease is terminated, the county can seek out other entrepreneurs to take over Morgan’s space at the airport. County Administrator Adam Payne said the infrastructure already in place has helped attract interest from firms looking to begin operations, expand or relocate.

The best outcome would be for Morgan Aircraft to pay its bills and pursue its dream. Unfortunately, it appears that scenario will not fly.

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New buildings mean new activity at Bemidji Regional Airport (KBJI), Minnesota

BEMIDJI — Things are about to get a lot more exciting at Bemidji Regional Airport as passerby might soon see lifesaving medi-vac helicopter flights taking off and classic World War II-era turboprops roaring in for repairs.

Construction of a new hangar that will house Aircorps Aviation is currently under way, with plans for another hangar to house the Bemidji wing of Sanford AirMed to begin construction in the next several weeks.

Bemidji Airport Authority Chairman Marshall Froyd was confident the airport’s growth would add some zest to Bemidji’s economy.

"The airport right now is doing fantastic," he said. "If we continue to see general aviation growth…. I think the growth for Bemidji and the airport, which is a definite business provider for the town, will continue."

Erik Hokuf of Aircorps said their new hangar would help the vintage aircraft restoration company to expand in that classic planes from all over the county would be able to fly to Bemidji Regional for maintenance. Aircorps will hire two to three full-time mechanics for the hangar, Hokuf said.

"It’s going to bring our customers from all over the country who are owners of these World War II airplanes," he said. "It’s going to bring them into our community, so that’s a good thing."

Hokuf said the interest in having a repair hangar at Bemidji Regional is high among Aircorps clientele. "We’ve had customers waiting for us to get a hangar put up," he said.

Hokuf said there’s already a P-51 Mustang fighter plane scheduled to come in as soon as the hangar is built. Other types of classic planes that might use the new facility include the P-38 Lightening, another fighter aircraft, more P-51s and the AT-6 Texan, a trainer. At 72 feet-by-90 feet, the hangar, scheduled to be completed in early November, is big enough to house a B-25 twin-engine bomber, he said.

Enhanced emergency response

Mike Christianson, executive director of the Sanford AirMed program, said the Bemidji-area flight would move from its current temporary base in Nary to the new hangar at Bemidji Regional, closer to the hospital. There’s also advanced facilities in Bemidji that are compatible with "IFR," or instrument-based flights, which Christianson said will allow Sanford to stage more medi-vac runs in bad weather and generally give chopper pilots more flying options.

The helicopter is a twin-engine Eurocopter EC-145 with a cruise speed of about 145 miles per hour. Christianson praised the Eurocopter for its clamshell doors and large bubble design that makes it easier for air medics to load patients as well as work on the injured once they’re inside. He said Eurocopter also makes a military version of the EC-145 called the Lakota that helps the armed forces do their own EMS flights.

The new hangar where the Bemidji AirMed chopper will be based is also planned to feature crew space where the team can relax and take personal time in between runs during their shift.

When the crew gets an emergency call, the helicopter will be towed out of the hangar by a remote-controlled "Tiger Tug" that lifts the helicopter up by its skids and deposits it outside for takeoff.

"You steer it almost like a remote-controlled car," Christianson said. "You position it underneath the helicopter, and then with hydraulic power… you can lift up the helicopter."

The hangar is planned to be completed in January. Everstrong Construction will build the hangar and then lease it to Sanford.

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LOT Polish Airlines Boeing Dreamliner Jet Diverted after Technical Malfunction: WSJ

September 29, 2013, 8:12 a.m. ET

By Marcin Sobczyk

The Wall Street Journal

WARSAW--A Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner jet operated by LOT Polish Airlines on route from Toronto to Warsaw landed in Iceland Sunday after Norway refused entry into its airspace due to a malfunctioning of the onboard identification system, a LOT spokeswoman said.

LOT earlier this month detected missing fuel filters in two of its 787 jets, which prompted flight cancellations and delays. The airline said it would claim the costs from Boeing together with at least $30 million of costs it had incurred due to the global grounding of all 787 jets earlier this year.

Earlier this week, one of Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA's 787 jets was grounded in Bangkok due to technical problems, adding to a range of recent mishaps with the planes. Norwegian said the situation is unacceptable, while Boeing said it is " ensure we have the right support in place to help each airline through the entry-into-service process."

LOT, which has five 787s and expects to eventually operate eight, plans to repair its jet in Iceland, the spokeswoman said. The state-owned Polish airline sent two other planes to pick up passengers.


Schuylkill County's Joe Zerbey Airport (KZER) aims to enhance area

MOUNT PLEASANT - Schuylkill County's Joe Zerbey Airport is getting more than just elbow room with its new hangar.

"Not only are we going to get hangar rent, but a lot more fuel sales which can be more than the rent," Bill Willard, airport manager, said Friday.

The Schuylkill County Airport Authority recently started advertising for bids on the project. Bidding was delayed due to the state Department of Transportation's Bureau of Aviation requiring three separate contracts for the project.

The proposed hangar will be the largest one at the airport at 96 feet by 83 feet and 28 feet high, and will add some much needed space.

"We're out of room," Willard said, noting that all the hangars are currently full.

The new facility will also allow the airport to house corporate-sized planes, Willard said, adding that capacity to the airport will attract larger airplanes to use the facility and possibly convince the businesses to set up shop in Schuylkill County.

"This is a gateway for businesses and potential jobs," Willard said.

It also helps with another goal at the airport.

"You want to lure larger aircraft here for those reasons, and last but not least, to help get the grant for the runway extension," Willard said.

State grants to extend the 4,600-foot-long runway at the airport are predicated on a certain number of turbine-powered crafts 12,500 lbs. or more passing through the airport.

Separate, sealed bids for the contracts are due at the airport by 1 p.m. Oct. 10 and will be publicly opened and read at that time. A cashier's check or surety bond for 5 percent of the total maximum bid price is required with each proposal. Three different companies can end up working on the project.

The first contract is for general construction that includes the building, foundation, floor slab and site work. The second is for electrical construction that includes the installation of electrical service, main distribution panels, wiring, receptacles, boxes, switches and conduit and lighting fixtures. The third is for mechanical construction that includes installation of propane gas service, interior propane fired infrared heaters and controls and a carbon monoxide detector system.

The total cost of the hangar is estimated at $800,000. The airport received $400,000 in state grants over the past two years for the project. The remaining cost will come from the airport's match on the grants.

Gov. Tom Corbett awarded the first grant, $300,000, in February 2012. An additional grant, $100,000, was awarded this past February.

A pre-bid conference will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday to outline the engineering specifics for potential bidders.

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Manager: Portales Municipal Airport (KPRZ) sees uptick in fuel sales, traffic

Operations at the Portales Municipal Airport are looking up, according to operations manager Mike Parkey.

“We’ve seen one of our largest months ever as far as I can remember this past May,” said Parkey, referring to fuel sales.

Parkey said there has been a definite uptick in traffic as well.

“We average between eight to 10 operations per day. The past three years were terrible. Over that time period we averaged about six operations per day,” said Parkey.

One plane landing and departing equates to two operations according to Parkey. Parkey attributes increased traffic to more people coming into Portales for business.

“We have had dairy flights, construction workers flying in, quite a few lawyers flying in, even real estate has jumped a little,” said Parkey.

The airport’s sources of income come directly from fuel sales and hangar rent. On average, fuel sales generate $60,000-$80,000 in a year while hangar rent brings in about $35,000 a year, according to Parkey.

Fuel sales come from an array of sources, including agriculture planes, private planes, and even the Care Flight helicopter at Roosevelt General Hospital.

“Before they switched companies, the helicopter would only gas up here in case of emergencies. But this company fuels up locally, which really helps,” said Parkey.

Despite the rise in business, the Portales Municipal Airport still doesn’t break even financially.

“I’d say we draw on average about $10,000 from the general fund to make up from wages and everything. We aren’t at the break even point yet but we’re getting close,” said Parkey.

Parkey said he does not envision a situation where he could see the airport closing down.

“I don’t think so. It brings too much to the city. It would be a huge hit to the city if it were to ever happen,” said Parkey.

Low fuel prices and good service are what Parkey says keeps bringing in customers.

“When you have an airport this small, that’s what you have to do,” said Parkey.

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Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport mishap revives question of need for second runway

Does the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport need a second runway?

That question has been asked since before the airport’s opening in 2004, but it gained added relevance last week when a military transport plane became disabled on the facility’s only runway, resulting in the suspension of operations in and out of Killeen for 15 hours. Eighteen flights were affected.

The military aircraft, an Air Force C-5 Galaxy — the service’s largest plane — had a nose gear malfunction while practicing “touch-and-go” landings early Wednesday afternoon. Moving the aircraft to the military side for maintenance had been expected to take less than six hours, but because the plane is so large, special equipment had to be brought in from San Antonio. As a result, it was 3:45 a.m. Thursday before the airport resumed normal operations.

Last week’s runway-blocking mishap wasn’t the first such incident in the airport’s nine-year history. In 2005, an Air Force C-130 medical transport plane carrying injured soldiers from Iraq blew a tire on landing. No one was injured, but the incident forced the diversion of at least two inbound commercial flights to Killeen.

Obviously, a second runway would help avoid suspension of flight operations, but is there a genuine need for such a project?

That’s open to debate, but the project would come at a considerable price.

John Sutton, Killeen’s assistant city manager for external services, and the city’s former aviation director, said the cost for a second 10,000-foot runway would be about $200 million. That’s a sizable sum, considering the entire airport cost $83 million to build.

Based on air traffic alone, there doesn’t appear to be an immediate, urgent need for the runway construction. Sutton noted that even though the airport’s enplanements are up — almost 6½ percent, or nearly 7,000 passengers, for the first 8 months of the year over the same period in 2012 — commercial traffic would have to increase dramatically before the project would qualify for funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.

In addition, the Defense Department would require a military mission for the runway before committing to the project.

Engineering and environmental impact studies for the runway project have been completed funded by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce President John Crutchfield is hopeful that some collaborative funding between the civilian and military sides can make the project a reality at some point, but with defense cuts likely over the coming years, it’s difficult to say when that might be.

A second runway would offer several benefits, such as the ability of accommodate simultaneous take-offs and landings. It would also make it easier to perform major runway maintenance and resurfacing — a process currently done at night to minimize disruptions in air traffic.

On the military side, a second runway would allow greater flexibility in moving personnel and equipment in and out of the area, especially in a rapid-deployment scenario. In addition, another runway would accommodate a possible expansion of fixed-wing operations at Robert Gray Army Airfield.

Since the new airport opened its doors in August 2004, the sharing of the single 10,000-foot runway has worked well, with relatively few problems. If commercial air traffic increases significantly, or if military operations at the airfield expand, a second runway will become a necessity.

But for right now, it appears such a project is pretty far down the road.

In the meantime, the airport needs to make some adjustments, in response to last week’s mishap.

Sutton noted that the civilian side has the equipment to handle planes up to the size of a 757 jetliner. It’s apparent that the military needs to make a similar investment in equipment for large aircraft in order to avoid a replay of last week’s runway shutdown.

At the very least, our city’s commercial airline passengers deserve that much.

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