Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Day Late Letter Could Have Saved A Pilot's Life

DeFuniak Springs -- We now know what caused a deadly plane crash in DeFuniak Springs that killed a pilot. The National Transportation Safety Board released its final report on the 2012 crash that killed Pablino Gutierrez shortly after take-off. 

77-year old Pablino Gutierrez took off from the DeFuniak Springs airport around 11:00 a.m. on May 9, 2012. The plane crashed moments after takeoff. Now federal investigators say they know why.

Pablino Gutierrez was an experienced, having flown in the Air Force and as a commercial pilot after leaving the service. On the day of his death, he was flying a Hummel Bird, an experimental plane he built himself.

According to the accident report, Gutierrez took off from the DeFuniak Springs airport, and climbed to a height of 300 feet. The plane then plunged to the ground, killing Gutierrez.

Pilot/Witness Michael Murphy said, “Trying to make a decision to get some altitude to turn and land or possibly lost control all together. The plane went into a nose up attitude pitched hard to the left rolled and kind of in an adverted dive, just went into the ground.”

Investigators say the reason the plane crashed is because there was too much weight on board, as much as 58 lbs. more than the plane was capable of carrying.

In fact, Gutierrez had reported a recent weight gain, which he said made it difficult to control the small aircraft. His daughter calls the new information shocking.

"Knowing who he was or how he was, he would not have taken, he would not have taken a risk like that,” said Mary Gutierrez.

The irony is Federal Aviation Administration officials were a day late with an action that could have saved Gutierrez's life.

They decided to revoke his pilot's license because of medications he was taking for high blood pressure. The certified letter arrived at Gutierrez's home on May 10, 2012, the day after the crash.

His daughter says if Gutierrez had known about the letter, he would not have flown.

"My dad was very by-the-book, very meticulous and things of that nature. He was retired Air Force he's very structured,” she said.

The report says the doctor and some of Gutierrez's friends told him to get a larger plane that he could safely fly.

Investigators say they did not find any mechanical problems with the aircraft.

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NTSB Identification: ERA12FA326
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Wednesday, May 09, 2012 in DeFuniak Springs, FL
Aircraft: GUTIERREZ PABLINO HUMMEL BIRD, registration: N9001N
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.


On May 9, 2012, about 1110 central daylight time, an experimental, amateur-built, Gutierrez Hummel Bird airplane, N9001N, registered to, and operated by, the commercial pilot, impacted the ground in a nose-down attitude at the DeFuniak Springs Airport (54J), DeFuniak Springs, Florida. The pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed. The personal flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, and no flight plan was filed. The flight was originating at the time of the accident.

According to eyewitness reports, the pilot was observed performing maintenance to the airplane prior to the flight. One of the witnesses stated that he observed the pilot conduct a lengthy preflight before starting the engine by hand, followed by a ground engine run-up, and then taxi to runway 27. Witnesses observed the airplane accelerate, roll down the runway, rotate, and climb about 30 to 40 feet above the runway when the airplane started varying its altitude. They watched as the airplane porpoised a few times as it continued to climb. When it reached an estimated altitude of 300 feet above ground level (agl), it pitched nose high and rolled to the right. The airplane nosedived and collided with the ground in an approximate 80 degree nose-down attitude. The airplane came to rest on its main gear in the upright position facing 120-degrees from the departing runway.


The pilot, age 77, held a commercial pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine and multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. He held a flight instructor certificate for airplane single-engine land. He was issued a third-class medical certificate on April 10, 2012, with the limitation of a special time limited; however, in a letter mailed to the airman on May 5, 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) withdrew his medical certificate. A review of his pilot logbook revealed the most recent entry was dated March 15, 2012 and at that time he had 527.5 total hours of flight experience, of which 0.3 of those hours were in the accident airplane make and model. The most recent recorded flight review was dated August 22, 1997; however, in February and March of 2012, there were three entries with a flight instructor signature associated with them that listed a variety of training, including; "takeoff and landings, emergency procedures, failures" to list a few.

Pavco Flight Center celebrates more than 30 years as a family in flight

 Pavco Flight Center, located at the Tacoma Narrows Airport, is a family run business that folds customers into its family. The company has trained pilots and serviced planes in Gig Harbor since 1982.

Owner Mike Pickett is retired from the Air Force; his wife, Stephanie, runs the books; and his oldest son, Matt, is the head of maintenance.

Then there are the regulars. Those who come in to log flight time and to share stories.

“I like coming to work here,” Mike Pickett said. “All my customers have become friends.”

Pavco is a fixed-base operator. It provides space for jets and charters, rents airplanes, services and fuels planes and trains pilots.

Pilot training is a source of pride for Pickett. One pupil went on to NASA after they spent time at Pavco in high school. Several other students have gone on to fly for commercial airlines such as Horizon.

“We put out pretty good pilots,” Pickett said.

Pavco also has a flight simulator that saves expensive fuel and enables one-on-one time on the ground. If a mistake happens, the simulation can be paused in order to discuss the mistake, Pickett said.

Pickett said he’s blessed with the family aspect. He has three children and seven grandchildren. Photos of his family line the window in his office, and it looks out on an airplane hanger.

Through Pavco, he sees his family often, sometimes daily. His wife organizes student accounts, tracks parts and keeps the books.

“God bless her,” Pickett said of Stephanie. “I wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t doing this.”

Business declined with the economy, he said. On top of that, there’s a tangle of federal regulations that make things difficult. Some people who want to be trained can’t afford to rack up flight time.

In response, Pavco has dropped from 15 pilots on staff to three in the past five years.

Pickett said Pavco offers the freedom to fly. Have someone visiting from out of town? A plane can cover all parts of the state in hours. Doing business in eastern Washington? A flight can avoid bad roads and traffic.

On top of the ease of travel, it’s also a good time.

“We have a lot of fun out here,” Pickett said.

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Police conduct controlled detonation on airport property


San Francisco police conducted a controlled explosion at a Police Department firing range at San Francisco International Airport Tuesday afternoon, an SFO duty manager said.

Around 1:30 p.m., police detonated outdated ammunition that had been stored at the firing range, located in a remote part of the airport property off of Bayshore Boulevard, according to airport duty manager Shannon Wilson.


Diamond DA20-C1 Eclipse, C-FNZQ, Moncton Flight College: Accident occurred January 21, 2014 between Fredericton and Minto, New Brunswick

The student pilot of a small plane that crashed late Tuesday in the forest between Fredericton and Minto is expected to make a full recovery.

The plane, which went down at about 11 p.m. near Noonan, was destroyed, according to Fredericton fire officials.

The Diamond DA20 flew out of the Fredericton campus of the Moncton Flight College.

Company CEO Mike Tilley says there was a problem with the aircraft that the pilot could not resolve and that it was an emergency landing.

The 22-year-old pilot, who was the lone occupant, did "tremendously" well and played a big role in his rescue by remaining calm, radioing the tower before taking the plane down and calling 911, said Tilley.

"The student informed Fredericton tower that he would need to make an off-airport landing in a remote area," said Tilley in a statement. "Following the landing, the student exited the aircraft and made contact with the RCMP by cell phone and remained in constant contact until his rescue."

Tilley describes the injuries of the young pilot as "minor" and said he is "very" stable after being airlifted to a Fredericton hospital.

"We appreciate the outpouring of concern for the student pilot’s well-being," said Tilley. "He is expected to make a full recovery from minor injuries."

Tilley said initial findings indicate this was an isolated issue and the investigation is ongoing.

Transportation Safety Board officials say the engine lost power about 11 nautical miles before reaching the Fredericton International Airport.

Cellphone helped save life

Bob Dewitt, who lives near the crash site, says he knew right away something was wrong.

"The wife said, 'There goes a police car,' and I looked out the window and one went by, and the next one by, and then the next one went by. And then there was just a steady line of ambulances and firetrucks."

Fredericton Fire Department Platoon Capt. Steve Fraser says rescuers on snowmobiles and an Argo all-terrain vehicle reached the downed plane a couple of hours after it crashed.

It was located a couple of kilometres into the woods, so it took some time to find, said Assistant Deputy Fire Chief David McKinley.

The pilot's cellphone helped save his life, McKinley said.

"It was a huge difference having the GPS co-ordinates because … the plane was upside down, so the beacon on top was not visible from the air," McKinley said.

"And since we were able to get GPS co-ordinates, we used our hand-held GPS to actually punch in the co-ordinates that we received from dispatch and make our way straight to the scene."

Dramatic rescue

Still, they faced challenges, said Fraser.

"They went as far as they could with the Argo snowmobiles, then had to traverse through the trees to reach the plane site," he said. "It was very difficult terrain.

"It was frozen swamp. Firefighters were breaking through some ice there. It wasn't deep swamp, but it was very difficult terrain."

Firefighters arrived at the scene to find the injured pilot awaiting rescue. He was in a lot of pain, but alert.

"The pilot had crawled out through, I believe, the windshield," said Fraser. "He crawled into the snow and awaited rescue there.

"He had serious injuries and hypothermia as well. It was a cold night out there, minus 18."

High maintenance standards
Firefighters were busy clearing the dense brush in case the pilot could not be airlifted out. The backup plan was to take him out on a sled.

But the pilot was transported to hospital by a Cormorant helicopter that had been dispatched from the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax.

"The emergency response from the MFC staff, Fredericton International Airport, RCMP, and all Search and Rescue professionals was excellent and well-coordinated," said Tilley.

Transport Canada has very high maintenance standards for flight schools and the college is "very compliant," said Tilley.

Planes have different levels of maintenance depending on the number of hours of flight, he said.

The college has its own maintenance staff and engineers.

The tech logs will be reviewed today, said Tilley.

Transportation Safety Board officials are in contact with the company and gathering information, but are not deploying investigators to the site.

RCMP say no foul play is suspected at this time.

Federal Aviation Administration revokes Newport, Oregon, pilot’s license

NEWPORT — The Federal Aviation Administration last week issued an unusual “emergency order of revocation,” rescinding the flying credentials of a pilot they claim runs an unauthorized airline at the Newport Municipal Airport. 

Newport pilot Lester “Les” LaCasse is pictured with his 200 mph Cessna 310, which federal aviation regulators say he flew through Newport airspace with an intentionally disabled transponder that kept him off the radar screens of air traffic controllers. 

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration revoked LaCasse’s pilot’s certificate, claiming he ran an unauthorized airline and hauled passengers in an uninspected airplane. 

Pilgrim Aviation Flight School expansion

PLYMOUTH – Pilgrim Aviation Flight School, with an authorized Cessna Pilot Center headquartered at Plymouth Municipal Airport (PYM) and additional flight training operations at Nantucket Memorial Airport (ACK), has added a new base of operation at 2 Westcoat Drive at Taunton Municipal Airport (TAN). Pilgrim provides flight training, airplane rentals, scenic flights and FBO services. With its company-owned fleet of 11 aircraft, including a 2013 Cessna Skycatcher Light Sport airplane, a RedBird LD flight simulator and a Piper Cherokee equipped with hand controls for mobility impaired pilots, the flight school is equipped to meet the needs of a greater cross-section of the aviation community.

A free 15-week Private Pilot Ground School will be offered Thursday nights and an official grand opening event is being planned this spring at the airport in Taunton. Students who want to pursue a pilot’s license can enroll and start training immediately. Those who already have a license can also rent the school’s airplanes.

To learn more, call Joseph Ricci at Pilgrim Aviation, 246 South Meadow Road, Plymouth, 508-823-7776 or 508-747-7776, or email or visit


Flight Safety is flying high these days thanks to a student body from around the world

It’s no mystery why clusters of young Chinese men on bicycles are pedaling their way around Vero Beach these days. Whether buying groceries, visiting the mall or heading to the beach, these visitors are everywhere.

So are the Brazilians, Norwegians and Kenyans. Contingents from 25 different countries are here for one reason -- to become their countries’ future pilots.

Enrollment pilot training at Flight Safety Academy is its highest since 2001. While the numbers fluctuate a bit from month to month, they’re generally between 375 and 400.

Nancy Ritter, Flight Safety’s public relations director and a licensed pilot (class of 1966) says enrollment fluctuates because every individual learns at a different rate.

“Each student learns at his or her own speed based on ability,” says Ritter.

All instruction is done in English the international language for pilots. While it may take foreign students slightly longer than Americans to graduate, they’re key to the academy’s high enrollment rate.

“Well over 90 percent of our students are international,” says Ritter.

The most highly represented country right now is Germany. Students may enroll as a group and a single individual may also enroll. Only days ago, the Academy accepted its first Icelander.

“One-third of students are Asian and the greatest number of those is Chinese,” Ritter says. “There’s even a waiting list of several hundred international students.”

Such a discrepancy between American and international students wasn’t always the case.

“Since 2008, there’s no way for a U.S. student to get a commercial loan to fly,” says Ritter.

In other countries it’s a whole different game.

International airlines sponsor students to become licensed pilots paying tuition from enrollment through graduation and providing allowances for living expenses.

“Most students are here between 18 and 24 months,” says Ritter. “They spend a considerable amount of money locally.”

Whether in campus dorms or nearby apartments, students buy everything from groceries and cooking equipment to clothes, electronics, bicycles and even cars. They eat out, go to movies, attend ball games and enjoy life in Vero Beach.

While it would be ideal to speak with these students directly, that’s not possible.

They are under strict contracts with their sponsoring airlines prohibiting them from speaking with newspaper reporters or having their pictures taken.

“Asking them about their experiences here would put them in a difficult situation,” says Ritter.

Their presence benefits our local economy, but begs the question -- are we producing enough well-qualified pilots for this country?

Ritter says that’s a topic under congressional discussion.

“There’s definitely an ongoing concern we’re not creating the number of pilots we did in the past,” she says.

Both Ritter and Steve Phillips, Flight Safety’s marketing vice president at their New York headquarters, believe this topic will receive further attention.

“Clearly, there’s great concern we’ll experience a shortage of well-qualified pilots,” Ritter says.

Coinciding with the decline of American students is the tremendous growth in emerging markets Asia, Africa, and South America.

“The increase in Chinese students is unprecedented,” says Ritter.

Whether students are training to fly for commercial, military or U.S. government agencies, Florida’s great weather, location and number of airports makes it a perfect place to learn to fly.

Albert Ueltschi (former Vero Beach winter resident whose children attended St. Edward’s School) started the Flight Safety Academy in 1951 in Flushing, N.Y. after noticing corporate pilots didn’t receive the same rigorous training as commercial pilots.

Vero Beach, Ueltschi’s third Flight Safety academy in the nation, opened in 1966 and has just graduated its 20,000th student.

Today, there are Flight Safety academies throughout the U.S. and Canada as well as around the world.

The youngest of seven, Ueltschi was born in Kentucky in 1917. Inspired to learn to fly as a boy, he opened a burger stand called Kitty Hawk, when he was 16 and bought his first airplane, a Waco 10 from the profits.

After a brief stint at college, Ueltschi started barnstorming, eventually teaching student pilots in Cincinnati. He survived falling out of his plane, parachuting into a briar patch while his student safely landed.

Ueltschi began his career with Pan Am in 1941 as the airline’s founder Juan Trippe’s private pilot, retiring in 1968 at age 50.

The motto he started with in 1951 remains today, “The best safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained crew.”

Many of Flight Safety’s 170 employees (including 46 maintenance and approximately 90 instructors) have long careers there and are proud of the academy’s state of the art contribution to aviation.

The airport’s single greatest client, Flight Safety also buys 80 percent of its aircraft from Piper Aviation.

“We work with the Chamber for the economic development of the airport,” says Ritter.

Don Doohen, director of aircraft maintenance, has been a Flight Safety mechanic for 37 years.

“We enjoy working with the young students. They keep us going,” says Doohen.

Doohen and Ritter both wish that more locals would visit the campus.

“I’m always surprised at how many residents don’t know about us,” says Doohen.

“We invite the public to visit us as well as Piper,” says Ritter. “This is an exciting time for aviation and we are proud to be in Vero Beach.”

Flight Safety International Incorporated is located at 2805 Aviation Drive in Vero Beach. For more information visit or call 772-664-7600.

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Business-Jet Makers Predict Sales Rebound: NetJets U.S. Flying Rose 9% in 2013 Versus 2014

The Wall Street Journal

By  Doug Cameron

Jan. 22, 2014 5:38 p.m. ET

Two of the world's largest makers of business jets on Wednesday forecast that new models would help drive double-digit sales gains this year, though they don't expect an immediate recovery in a market that is halved from its peak in 2008.

Executives from General Dynamics Corp., owner of Gulfstream Inc., and Cessna parent Textron Inc.  on Wednesday stopped short of calling a bottom to the five-year slide in jet sales, though pointed to solid demand and a declining inventory of used aircraft.

Business-jet makers have been battling the twin challenges of tight corporate travel budgets over the past five years and the negative perception of private-plane ownership created by some U.S. lawmakers during the financial crisis.

"I see signs of a bottoming out," said Jordan Hansell, chief executive of Columbus, Oh.-based NetJets Inc., which sells fliers part ownership in a fleet of more than 700 planes. The unit of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. placed $17.6 billion in orders for new jets in anticipation of a recovery.

Mr. Hansell said its U.S. flying rose 9% to just shy of 335,000 hours last year, with gains in sales to individuals, small and medium-size businesses and large corporations.

Another sign of the recovery is traffic at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, one of the world's largest for corporate aviation, where business is on track to return to 2008 levels. Aircraft movements were up 5% through the end of November from a year earlier, having fallen in four of the six previous years.

Global corporate jet shipments peaked at 1,315 in 2008, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, a U.S.-based trade group. Deliveries had fallen to 672 by 2012, and were down 2.1% through the end of November last year, the latest data available.

Gulfstream—the world's largest business-jet manufacturer by sales—had its strongest quarterly performance in two years in the final three months of 2013, and forecasts revenue to rise 11% this year. The company, which specializes in large and midsize jets seating up to eight passengers and four crew that can fly from the U.S. to Asia, expects to deliver 158 jets this year compared with 139 in 2013.

"Gulfstream is the primary growth engine for both [company] earnings and revenue," said General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic on a post-earnings call Wednesday.

Textron, which is more focused on the "light" jet segment that has suffered the largest sales declines, expects its revenue to climb 19% this year as it rolls out more new models. The company received approval last month from regulators to start delivering its Citation M2 and Citation Sovereign+ jets, and is awaiting clearance for the Citation 10 aircraft.

Gulfstream, Bombardier Inc. and Embraer SA are also rolling out new aircraft, some of them kitted out with more advanced entertainment and communications systems than existing models, as well as cabins that are quieter and more humid.

"What we're seeing—in the U.S. and Europe—is an appetite for these newer planes," said Mr. Hansell.

Textron shares closed up 5.3% at $38 on what analysts viewed as a more bullish outlook for the Cessna business.

"The dynamic is [that] new products matter a lot," said Textron Chief Executive Scott Donnelly on a post-earnings call.


Boeing Adding Workers to Address Dreamliner Production Problems: WSJ

The Wall Street Journal 

By  Jon Ostrower

Updated Jan. 22, 2014 6:40 p.m. ET

Boeing Co. is adding hundreds of contract workers at its South Carolina plant to help deal with production problems as it builds its flagship 787 Dreamliner jets.

The aerospace giant is hiring more than 300 contract mechanics and inspectors immediately at the factory in North Charleston, S.C., and could increase that number to between 500 and 1,000, according to three people familiar with the hiring. Those workers would assist the more than 7,000 people Boeing employed in South Carolina as of the end of last year, a figure that includes existing contract workers but predominantly Boeing staff employees.

The move is a reversal by Boeing, which early last year let go of hundreds of contract workers in an effort to reduce costs at North Charleston. Contract workers are generally paid more than staff employees, not including benefits. It reflects the company's continued struggle to ramp up production of the advanced, widebody jetliner while also reducing costs.

The North Charleston plant does final assembly of some Dreamliners and produces mid and rear sections of the plane's carbon-fiber composite fuselage for all of the jets, including those made in Washington state. Last year North Charleston assembled 14 of the 65 total Dreamliners delivered. Boeing aims to increase that to a third of the 120 Dreamliners it plans to build and deliver in 2014.

Four people familiar with the situation said that, as North Charleston workers have doubled production over the past year, the mid-body sections of the jet—which are 84 to 104 feet long—are being shipped to final assembly lines with more final tasks that still need completion. One of those people, a production staffer in North Charleston, said that incomplete work on mid-body sections now exceeds the level in July 2011, when the plant suspended shipments for a month to catch up.

A Boeing spokesman confirmed a "surge" in hiring of contractors in North Charleston, but declined to share details. The spokesman said they are needed to "stabilize" its production of the Dreamliner mid-body sections while it introduces a new, longer version of the Dreamliner dubbed the 787-9, which seats more passengers.

Boeing said it has no plans to slow production or pause shipments from North Charleston to its final assembly lines, at a rate of ten a month. "While we have some challenges to address, we see no risk to the program's ability to meet its commitments," it said.

To enable high rates of production, Boeing designed the Dreamliner's supply chain to install parts like the passenger doors, hydraulics, electronics and plumbing earlier so that the final assembly process could be faster. That makes the production of the body sections like those made in North Charleston more complicated.

Boeing started production in 2011 at the nonunion North Charleston plant to supplement its unionized final assembly factories in Washington. The site's nonunion status permits the company to add contractors as needed "to address these work surge requirements as they arise," Boeing said. The company said it also is shifting some staff from its other sites elsewhere in the country to assist in North Charleston.

Boeing last February disclosed it was cutting hundreds of the more than 6,700 workers it then had at the North Charleston plant, with the cuts mostly among contract laborers, many of whom had been part of the operation there for years. Boeing has since added hundreds more staff employees there.

Many experienced workers have been diverted from the two smaller facilities on the North Charleston campus that produce the mid and aft-body of the Dreamliner to speed up deliveries of the assembled 787, said two of the people familiar with production. Many of the incomplete tasks on the mid-body of the Dreamliner are slowing final assembly and delivery of the jets there, they added.

The remaining staff working on the mid- and aft-body have been stretched thin with increased overtime and the increasing rate.

Boeing has struggled to quickly attract experienced contractors to assist, said a person familiar with the hiring. According to public job listings for contract positions, staffers are being offered an hourly rate of $23 for assembly mechanics and inspectors. That is higher than what staff employees typically make, but well below the $28 to $45 an hour offered for the same positions in 2009, said a former contractor at the site who was approached by a recruiter to reapply for his old job after his contract was canceled as part of last year's cuts.

Boeing has staked much of its commercial future on the 787 and Wall Street is closely watching the company's initiatives to both keep pace with demand for the jets and its cost-cutting plan to meet its profitability targets.

Boeing next week is expected to report record earnings for its commercial unit, in part based on its accounting for the 787, which allows it to spread its early high costs over 1,300 deliveries and book future profits today.


Congress throws Boeing a lifeline for Super Hornet

WASHINGTON • Congress has given Boeing's Super Hornet fighter jet a lifeline, at least for now.

The omnibus federal spending measure contains a down payment of $75 million for 22 of the fighters that the Navy didn't request.

The funding, signed into law on Jan. 17, will prod Navy officials to decide this year whether to spend as much as $2 billion for the unplanned planes as a hedge against delays of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

At stake is Boeing's staying power as a producer of fighter jets alongside Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp., which builds the F-35 for the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. Any additional orders from the Navy could serve as a buffer as Boeing works to attract new customers in Europe, the Middle East and Canada.

"With some of the bumps in the road with the Joint Strike Fighter this is a very important line to keep open," Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. and chairman of the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said in an interview.

The additional $75 million is "a great sign from Congress that they understand the importance of the line," Mike Gibbons, Boeing's vice president for the program, said in a telephone interview. He said the Super Hornet is "very important" for continued competition and industrial base expertise.

The money could give Chicago-based Boeing a fighting chance to keep its St. Louis, Mo.-based production line open beyond 2016. The plant is where the F-18 E/F Super Hornets and an electronics-jamming version of the aircraft called the E/A-18 Growler are built.

Missouri's senators, Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, make the case for the Super Hornet on lower cost, more options for the Navy's fleet of tactical aircraft and employment in their state.

"What's really important is, if you look at the squeezing of the budget, that we have a blend since it's half the price" of the F-35, McCaskill, a Democrat, said in an interview.

Blunt, a Republican, warned against fighter shortfalls on Navy carriers if the Pentagon doesn't order more planes.

He wrote in an Oct. 31, 2013 editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the shortfall would leave "many American aircraft carriers without combat aircraft - like a bow without arrows."

The Super Hornet program supports about 90,000 direct and indirect jobs and has 1,900 suppliers across the U.S., according to Boeing. The company estimates the program contributes about $6 billion to the U.S. economy. Suppliers include Northrop Grumman, which makes the aft and center fuselage; General Electric, which produces the engines; and Raytheon, which supplies the radar.

The Navy's decision to buy more Boeing aircraft depends on the wear and tear of its older fighter jets, and whether it projects an unmanageable shortfall of tactical aircraft on its aircraft carriers a decade from now. As a result of the Navy scaling back flight hours in 2012 and 2013, its most up-to-date analysis shows a shortfall of fewer than 30 aircraft.

Boeing builds two Super Hornet versions - the single-seat E model and the two-seat F model. F-18s have been in service with the Navy since November 1999. The Navy's first operational squadron of Super Hornets was formed in 2001.

The Navy plans to retire older versions of the F/A-18 and shift to a combination of Super Hornets and carrier-based F-35s. The Marines envision a strike-fighter fleet solely comprising its F-35 version — designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings — and carrier-based jets once it can no longer extend the life of its Hornets and Harrier aircraft.

Boeing plans to scale back production from four aircraft to three aircraft a month, which would take production through the end of 2016, Gibbons said. Under current plans, Boeing will have delivered 135 Growlers and 563 Super Hornets to the Navy by the end of 2016. Australia also plans to buy 12 Growlers. Boeing has delivered 24 Super Hornets to that country.

Keeping the production line open by trickling domestic orders may become even more important for Boeing after it lost a $4.5 billion Brazilian fighter jet competition to Sweden's Saab AB in December. Boeing now is looking at potential new fighter contracts in Denmark, Canada and Kuwait. Other countries also could buy Super Hornets as they plan to replace their Lockheed F-16 aircraft with newer jets, Gibbons said.

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