Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Carlsbad flights may be on hold for some time: New Mexico Airlines is booking air travel for Thursday, will refund passengers if activities do not resume by then

CARLSBAD >> New Mexico Airlines is not booking any flights to or from the Cavern City Air Terminal through at least Wednesday.

The airline is currently scheduling flights starting Thursday, and a New Mexico Airlines booking agent said that if the planes are still not fixed by that point in time, the airline will cancel tickets and completely refund customers.

The airline, which flies to and from Albuquerque, Las Alamos and Carlsbad, grounded all flights Friday, citing the need to address mechanical issues with its planes at all airports and a separate safety hazard at the Carlsbad airport.

New Mexico Airlines is the only airline at Cavern City Air Terminal.

It is still unclear what the mechanical issues are that have grounded the planes. Federal Aviation Administration officials said they have not been told what the issues are.

When asked about the mechanical issues of the company's planes, CEO Greg Kahlstorf responded by saying: "The status of our fleet is irrelevant to undocumented, seemingly intentionally misrepresented midair collision hazards in the Carlsbad Airport traffic pattern. The safest fleet, piloted by the best-trained crews, has no business anywhere near airspace containing midair collision hazards above uncontrolled airports."

The safety hazard at Carlsbad, Kahlstorf said, is a helicopter operated by a fire station near the airport. The station is used for medical helicopter flight service.

Kahlstorf said the helicopter is a midair collision hazard because it is not identified on "any FAA-issued map or chart."

Federal Aviation Administration documents show that Bill Rook, the city fire marshal, applied for helipad approval in March 2014.

A Determination of Landing Area Proposal from September, which was reviewed by the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, approved the request, making the helipad valid through March 8, 2016, the documents said.

The proposal indicated that it is up to the company who owns the helipad to decide whether or not to have it shown on aeronautical charts, indicating that it is not required by the Federal Aviation Administration for the helipad to be shown on charts and maps.

The Landing Area Proposal said that use of the helipad should not affect the safety of airport operations as long as certain guidelines are met.

These guidelines included such things as limiting the use of the helipad to one aircraft, making sure the area is marked appropriately and only flying when weather is clear enough for the pilot to see well, the document said.

The proposal also said the Federal Aviation Administration considered the effects the helipad would have on the existing flights out of the Cavern City Air Terminal and the effects it would have on the safety of people and private property on the ground.

"The report determined there is no safety hazard," said Lynn Lunsford, public information officer for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Lunsford said that, had a safety issue been found, it would have been published in a Notice to Airmen, which he said is available to the entire aviation community, not just one individual or company.

"The area is zoned industrially. Helipads are legal in any industrial zone in the city," said Steve McCutcheon, city administrator.

Kahlstorf said that until the Federal Aviation Administration tells him exactly how pilots are supposed to safely navigate airspace shared with the helicopter, New Mexico Airlines will not resume flights to the Carlsbad airport.

"We are awaiting FAA guidance regarding safe navigation of these hazards, without charts, notices to airmen or navigational aids, in a manner which will minimize risk and liability for the airline and EAS program," Kahlstorf said. "We will have a better idea of what the timeline will be when FAA advises us on how we can safely navigate this airspace, given the critical safety threat contained in our whistle-blower disclosure."

Source:  http://www.currentargus.com

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