Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Cape Air starts flights between San Juan and Virgin Gorda

Airlines face an unenviable dilemma when it comes to the Virgin Gorda airport. While passengers want access to the island’s many villas and resorts, the facility’s 3,100-foot runway is too short for many aircrafts.

The Massachusetts-based airline Cape Air found one solution: buying new planes.

The company recently purchased three nine-passenger Britten Norman-Islanders, which allowed it to begin offering service between VG and San Juan, Puerto Rico on Dec. 17. The service, which offers three roundtrip flights per day, was officially inaugurated on Feb. 26 with a ceremony at the VG airport attended by government officials and Cape Air executives.

“Virgin Gorda is now on the national and international route maps, thanks the connection with Cape Air,” Andrew Bonney, the airline’s vice-president of planning, told the crowd, referring to the airline’s agreements with major United States carriers and travel websites. “That is something to cheer about.”

Russell Harrigan, the chairman of the BVI Tourist Board and the majority owner of this newspaper, said the airline’s new service will help meet tourists’ demand for direct access to the island.

See the March 6, 2014 edition for full coverage.

Tax breaks at Colorado Springs Airport to be considered by City Council

City Council President Keith King says an aviation company with 40 "high paying" jobs is waiting in the wings, ready to move to Colorado Springs.

The holdup? Unlike most other U.S. airports, Colorado Springs does not have a special zone that would give companies like Rampart Aviation a break on sales and use taxes.

King plans to offer a remedy Monday when he presents an ordinance to council members to create a Commercial Aeronautical Zone around the airport. Businesses that lease, sell, repair or maintain aircraft would be exempt from most city sales and use taxes if they set up shop in the zone.

The ordinance would not eliminate the business tax on property such as Xerox machines and computers, however, nor would it affect taxes levied by El Paso County.

But it's a necessary business move, backers say. In an announcement about the proposed ordinance, King said the creation of the zone is expected to entice North Carolina-based Rampart Aviation "to move their company and 40 high paying jobs to Colorado Springs."

"But they want to make sure the legislation gets passed first," he said.

Dan Gallagher, interim director of Colorado Springs Airport, said eliminating the taxes would create a level playing field with the nation's other airports. He said the Springs airport is the only airport on the Front Range, and one of the few small-to-medium hub airports in the country, that still charges sales and use tax on aviation equipment and supplies.

Gallagher said that around 2007, the city started charging aircraft owners a 2.5 percent sales tax on the value of their airplanes, helicopters and other aircraft based at the airport. The tax prompted more than 20 percent of the aircraft owners to flee the area that year, reducing airport revenues from avionic and fuel sales, aircraft maintenance and repairs and state grants in the following years, Gallagher said.

Gallagher believes the creation of the Commercial Aeronautical Zone will persuade several aviation companies to come to Colorado Springs. He said as many as three West Coast firms are awaiting the outcome of the proposed legislation. Two of those companies could operate as many as 10 additional aircraft at the local airport, including "multiple 727s and twin engine planes," he said.

He did not know how many total jobs those companies might bring to the area but said it could be as many as 100 jobs combined.

"If you look at our high concentration of retired military and the trained workforce and the cost of living, we are in a sweet spot," he said. "And if you layer in economic incentives with that, it puts us on par with other airports."

Existing airport businesses that fall within the Commercial Aeronautical Zone, such as Sky West, also would benefit.

The council won't immediately vote on the ordinance. King expects it will come up for a vote in April. Councilman Merv Bennett said Monday that he'd likely support the ordinance, depending on the final draft. "We are the only airport with general aviation in the state that has these taxes, and it is not conducive to business," he said.

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Mitchell International Airport (KMKE), Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Airliner makes emergency landing at Mitchell International Airport

An AirTran Boeing 717 airliner en route to Milwaukee from Washington, D.C., made an emergency landing Wednesday at Mitchell International Airport after a potential generator problem was detected, an airline official said.

A cockpit indicator light alerted the aircraft's captain of the issue shortly before 4:30 p.m., according to Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines, the parent company of AirTran.

According to Landson, the captain declared an emergency to receive priority status from the airport's traffic control tower. The plane landed without incident shortly after 4:30 p.m.

There were 61 passengers and five crew members on the aircraft, which was taken out of service for inspection, Landson said.

Arrangements were being made to take passengers from the flight to other destinations, he said.


Air-Traffic Modernization Program Faces Budget Cut: Proposed Spending Would Be 7% Lower Than Current Year

The Obama Administration has proposed unexpected spending cuts to an air-traffic-control modernization program, adding to industry frustrations over the slow pace of progress.

The Federal Aviation Administration's $15.4 billion core budget request for the next fiscal year calls for reducing spending to $836 million from the current level of $901 million for a sweeping, satellite-based revamp of nationwide air-traffic control operations, dubbed NextGen.

The proposed 7% rollback—which is bound to increase industry skepticism about the effort—would hit everything from basic engineering to limited in-flight testing to widespread deployment of new technology.

The White House request for NextGen in 2013 was $883 million. The new technologies are intended to help airliners fly more direct routes, reduce delays by allowing them to fly closer to each other in all types of weather and enhance safety by providing more accurate positioning data.

The pace of NextGen development has long been a sore point between the FAA and major industry groups, which have generally been uncertain of the agency's commitment and expertise to successfully carry out a long-term project carrying a total price tag well over $30 billion. U.S. airlines typically have been unwilling to make major financial commitments of their own before seeing more progress on the federal side and realizing clear-cut time and fuel savings from interim improvements.

The overall FAA core request is $350 million less than estimated current outlays.

The latest proposal does ramp up spending to transition to a new family of computer terminals to replace radar scopes and 40-year-old software used by controllers at 20 centers that have responsibility for high altitude routes across the country. The FAA also seeks to beef up a project intended to begin the switch to digital data messaging from voice communication for certain functions historically handled by radio transmissions between pilots and controllers. And the agency is asking Congress to authorize substantial new funding largely aimed at maintaining and refurbishing today's array of aging air-traffic control systems.

However, the FAA spending blueprint calls for a nearly 13% reduction in funds for implementing of one of the basic navigation technologies intended to help pilots keep track not only where their aircraft and nearby aircraft are flying, but where those aircraft are heading. The budget documents also include a roughly 25% cut in another central account: money for environmental research and development of metrics to demonstrate the benefits of NextGen applications.

The specific cuts in NextGen funding pose "new obstacles to meeting program milestones in the next several years," according to a release from the Aerospace Industries Association, a broad-based trade group representing plane and aviation-equipment manufacturers. AIA said the White House's NextGen wish list two years ago was 20% above its current basic proposal.

Even with today's "austere budget environment," the association said, "the economic benefits of the NextGen program far outweigh the nominal budget gains" if the cuts end up accepted by lawmakers. Those gains are "at risk if the program continues to be funded at shrinking levels," said the AIA, which is based in Arlington, Va.

The administration's spending plan states that funding for facilities and equipment meets the challenge of "maintaining the capacity and safety" of the nation's airways "while keeping a comprehensive modernization and transformation effort on track."

If Congress agrees to a government-wide, $56 billion supplement to spur jobs, education and economic growth, NextGen accounts would be boosted to nearly $1 billion. But that remains an uphill battle for the White House.

The FAA budget request is expected to generate controversy for again proposing user fees for general aviation and business aircraft, an idea that hasn't gained much traction on Capitol Hill. In addition, the White House wants to sharply reduce or eliminate federal construction grants to larger airports, while nearly doubling current airline passenger facility charges. Both proposals are bound to face severe turbulence from lawmakers.


Aeroflot sacks drunk pilot, who steals 10 hours from 180 passengers

Aeroflot has fired the pilot, who was not allow to work on the flight from Blagoveshchensk to Moscow due to alcoholic intoxication, an official spokesman for the airline said.

The company also sued the pilot for damages. The amount of the lawsuit has not been specified.

The incident occurred on March 4. During preflight inspection, doctors noticed "improper" behavior of the pilot of the passenger aircraft. The pilot was sent to a drug abuse clinic, where medics found 0.85 ppm of alcohol in his blood.

Because of the drunk pilot, the flight, for which 180 passengers had been registered, was detained for ten hours. As a result, the flight was conducted by another pilot, who arrived from Moscow.


Danbury Municipal Airport (KDXR), Connecticut

Wooster School lockdown for the birds

DANBURY -- Wooster School was put on lockdown Wednesday after a teacher reported she heard gunshots, but authorities quickly determined there was no danger at the school.

Instead, the gunshot sounds apparently originated at Danbury Municipal Airport, where pyrotechnic shells were fired to scare geese away.

"They've been used for 20 years now; it's like shooting off a cap gun," said Mike Safranek, assistant airport manager. "It makes a loud noise and that's what scares the birds away."

The airport is less than a mile from the school.

Danbury Police Lt. Christian Carroccio, the department's spokesman, said the school's headmaster put the school in lockdown and contacted police after a teacher in the school's arts center called to report hearing shots shortly after 1 p.m.

Five police cruisers responded with lights and sirens, Carroccio said, but soon learned there was no problem in the school.

At first, Carroccio said the teacher had heard what were likely echoes of gunshots coming from the wooded area around the school, which may have originated with hunters or from a nearby gun club.

Upon further investigation authorities realized the sound was likely from the airport.

The shells are fired when birds are gathering in an area that's dangerous to air traffic, Safranek said. It's a nonlethal way to scatter the birds. The firing of pyrotechnic shells is approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Headmaster Matthew Byrnes said the teacher reported hearing gunshots, and that's why he put the school in lockdown.

The teacher did the right thing based on what was known at that time, he said, and the school took appropriate measures. Late yesterday afternoon, he said everyone was relieved to learn that no one had been in danger.


Maryland: State Medevac Choppers Flew 136 Promotion Missions in 2013 costing over $220K

Maryland State Police have disclosed they flew 136 community outreach missions in 2013 amid mounting costs for maintaining dual medevac fleets during a troubled transition to new AW-139 helicopters.

The added fuel costs and maintenance of operating two fleets, along with the outreach missions, pushed the aviation command into a deeper deficit than originally estimated.

The numbers were disclosed in a response to a letter from Senator John Astle seeking details about the troubled transition to new AW-139s. The new choppers were purchased in 2010 for roughly $130 million to replace a fleet of aging Dauphin helicopters.

State Police said the missions were in response to requests from community groups to display helicopters at their events.

According to police there were 80 missions conducted in a Dauphin for a total of 56.8 hours of flight time. Direct cost per hour was $2,974, for a total of $168,923. There were 35 missions in an AW-139 with a total of 19.4 flight hours. Direct cost per hour was $3,042, for a total of $59,015. Fourteen of the promotional appearances were static and did not involve flight time.

"Community outreach missions most often involve fire departments, ambulance services or other first providers and are conducted as part of a comprehensive safety plan to ensure our partners in Maryland's EMS system remain safe during actual law enforcement and medevac missions," a state police spokesperson told FOX45. "These outreach missions are a universal practice across the industry and are necessary to ensure safety to our flight crews, ground providers, patients and bystanders alike. One mishap as a result of inadequate preparation would eclipse the costs of this necessary outreach training."

The revelation comes amid disclosures that the aviation command ran-up a $3.4 million deficit for the past fiscal year due to increased maintenance and fuel costs. The amount exceeds recent estimates by state budget analysts who reported the helicopter unit exceeded its previous budget by $2.7 million. State police blamed the deficit on analysts who anticipated a faster roll-out of the new choppers than actually occurred.

"During the preparation of the 2014 budget, the Department of Budget Management's forecast assumed that all AW-139s would be delivered, operational and under warranty in 2014, and reduced maintenance costs and fuels fund accordingly," the letter to Senator Astle stated.

The state took delivery of the new choppers in March of 2013. But plans to fly the AW-139s with only one pilot were scrapped when the FAA required the state to have two. Since then the state has budgeted for an additional 10 pilots with another planned to be hired in 2015. Police also revealed only three of the new helicopters are actually flying medevac missions.The remaining AW-139s are being used for training and support.

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