Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Federal Aviation Administration invites comment from residents under flight paths

A strong turnout from Portola Valley, Ladera and Woodside is expected at the workshop hosted by the Federal Aviation Administration in the San Mateo Public Library at 55 W. 3rd Ave. at 4 p.m. on Thursday, April 17.

At issue: the noise made by a gradually increasing number of commercial aircraft as they pass over Peninsula communities, some of higher altitude, as they approach the San Francisco International Airport.

At this workshop, one of five identical events to be held in the Bay Area from April 14 to 18, the FAA will have people on hand to explain a draft environmental assessment of an FAA plan to optimize the use of Northern California airspace.

The 953-page draft report, a year in the making, is the work of the FAA and Santa Clara-based ATAC Corp., whose specialties include airspace and environmental impact analysis.

"The materials will include large poster boards depicting some of the graphics and other information that's in the draft environmental assessment," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told the Almanac. "FAA reps will staff each board and be prepared to help people understand the material in the draft EA."

The report, published March 25, describes "new" routes into major Bay Area airports to save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The proposed routes are new only to the extent that they are intended to codify the actual routes now in use. The current routes are not precisely adhered to in practice. Two of the proposed routes appear to converge over Ladera.

The report assumes more use of GPS to more efficiently guide aircraft, and less use of vectoring -- an air-traffic-controller-directed method employing traditional stepped descents into airports, which generates noise as pilots adjust the aircraft's speed.

The FAA report concludes that the proposed routes "would not result in a significant noise impact" with respect to forecasts of air traffic in 2014 and 2019.

Jim Lyons of unincorporated Woodside and Dr. Tina Nguyen of Portola Valley disagree with that conclusion. They have written to the offices of congresswomen Anna Eshoo, D-Menlo Park, and Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, calling the report's noise data flawed because it is does not account for differences in computerized projections of noise compared with data from actual noise monitors on the ground.

The report also does not address higher-than-average ground levels in the Portola Valley area, nor does it discuss the continued use of vectoring, they say.

Local governments customarily address controversial issues in public hearings, with live testimony to officials before an interested community. Asked whether there would be public hearings, Mr. Gregor didn't respond to the question. He did say: "One of the purposes of the proposed project is to increase efficiency by reducing vectoring, speed changes, and altitude level-offs during climb-outs and descents. Controllers always have to have the option to vector, but (GPS) procedures reduce the need for it. The noise report has extremely detailed information on noise impacts at literally thousands of locations."

Visitors to the workshop, particularly residents of Portola Valley and Ladera, will have questions on these and other issues, but they must be submitted in writing, Mr. Gregor said. Comment cards will be available at the workshop, with options to write to the FAA via email or regular mail. The 30-day comment period on the draft ends April 24. The FAA will publish responses after the comment period ends, Mr. Gregor said.

A request for a 60-day extension to the comment period has been made from the offices of Ms. Eshoo and Ms. Speier, from the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, and from Peninsula governments, including the town councils of Woodside and Portola Valley.

Click here to comment and to access the entire FAA report. 


Sunnyside Municipal (1S5), Washington: Airport board continues to examine city ordinance draft

Not wanting to make the city ordinance too restrictive while protecting the city from potential liability, the Sunnyside Municipal Airport Advisory Board continued its examination of Title 14, a proposed city ordinance governing the airport management during its meeting held last night, Tuesday.

Reminding the board that the ordinance is the law and not policy, Sunnyside Mayor Jim Restucci sought additional input from the advisory board regarding the city municipal code draft.

He said once the ordinance is fully reviewed and agreed upon by the advisory board, it will be reviewed over by the city’s legal advisors. Then the process to create the day to day airport policies will begin. “We really are not in a hurry to get this done,” he said.

“We do want it to be as encompassing a document as is possible before we take it to council.”

One of the issues included in the draft is the determination of who will be the manager of the airport and who will be in charge of overseeing the management of the airport’s use. At this point, until an airport manager is named all questions will be channeled through the city manager’s office, said Restucci.

Currently, advisory committee member Ted Durfey receives all the calls regarding fuel sales, since he handles those sales at the airport.

But determining the person who issues notices when the airport is not available was the question posed by board member Gary Pira.

“The person who is the city manager’s designee will be that person,” said Restucci, adding it is the city’s desire to hire an airport manager to fill that role as the use of the airfield continues to grow.

Unauthorized persons making use of the airport for illegal purposes is also among the items covered in the draft ordinance.

Durfey questioned the safety issues regarding the use of the airport and the private property that is stored at the airport.

“We need to have some sort of wording regarding the use of the airport facilities by questionable individuals,” he said.

Restucci agreed to look into that safety issue.

“We want to make sure the definitions are as clear as possible and understandable,” Restucci added.

Advisory Board Chairman Larry Dolan said the board will continue its review of the draft ordinance at its May meeting.


Reviewing the proposed city code governing the Sunnyside Municipal Airport, advisory board member Gary Pira (L) and board Chairman Larry Dolan question some of the definitions set forth in the new code. The code, once adopted, will be the city’s first one to monitor airport use and management.

Air Method's Lead Pilot Kyle Arnett explains laser strike incident

EL PASO, Texas -    

An El Paso medical helicopter pilot says someone shined a laser on him while he was flying to pick up a patient Tuesday night. It's a serious problem and it brings serious punishment.

Anyone who shines a laser at an aircraft and gets caught, faces years in prison and hefty fines in the thousands of dollars.

Just last year, the Federal Aviation Administration reported nearly 4,000 laser incidents. On April 16, an air ambulance pilot shared what it was like to be blinded from the ground.

Air Method Corporation's Lead Pilot Kyle Arnett says his eyes are the most important thing while he's transporting patients in an air ambulance.

"I think a lot of people do it for fun. I don't think they realize the repercussions," Arnett said when asked why he believes people shine lasers at pilots.

Arnett was flying east towards Van Horn, Texas, Tuesday night to pick up a patient. He says it was the first time a laser strike has happened to him in the air. But, the FAA and FBI say incidents have increased by 1,100 percent since they started keeping record in 2005.

"It would certainly be appreciated by me and other pilots to just point out that it's not the proper thing to do and it's very dangerous," Arnett said.

The FAA's website says people may be fined up to $11,000 per laser strike violation. A central California man was recently sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for shining a laser at a Fresno police helicopter.

Last year, the El Paso Air Branch for U.S. Customs and Border Protection had two incidents involving lasers.

"The problem is not only the laser and what could happen to the aircrew but also, what's on the other end of it? Is it a high-powered rifle," Rodolfo Maldonado, Director of Air Operations at CBP Office of Air and Marine, asked.

A person can buy laser pointers nearly anywhere, and most of them are red in color, but the ones that are making pilots leary are green. Pilots, like Arnett, hope people realize laser strikes pose more hazards than just blindness.

"It could have cost my life, it could have cost the life of people on the ground," Arnett said.

In February, the FBI launched a reward program for deterring laser strikes. The department offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information, that led to an arrest of any individual who aimed a laser at an aircraft.


Air Method's Lead Pilot Kyle Arnett

Indonesia: Airport conducts urine test on employees

The management of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II, cooperating with the National Narcotics Agency (BNN), conducted a random urine test on 454 employees who work on the front line of the airport in Tangerang, Banten, on Wednesday.

Angkasa Pura II senior general manager Bram Bharoto Tjiptadi said the employees who underwent the test included security officers, workers stationed on Jl. Perimeter and emergency service officers.

“The test focused on employees who are responsible for the security of the airport, especially smuggling-prone areas,” he said.


Victim's son welcomes Fox Glacier crash review

A new review into the 2010 Fox Glacier plane crash will call on skills and expertise from outside the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

After examining the wreckage, independent experts Tom McCready and Andrew McGregor told TV3's 3rd Degree it was unlikely the small plane crashed as a result of overloading, instead saying mechanical failure was likely to blame.

The Fletcher FU24 crashed on September 4, 2010, killing all nine on board. The findings of the initial TAIC investigation – that the plane crashed due to a weight and balance issue – have been called into question following investigations by 3rd Degree.

Mr McCready and Mr McGregor will now take part in a review of that investigation, which has been labelled "abysmal" by Jake Miller, the son of crash victim and Skydive New Zealand co-owner Rod Miller.

"They realize they screwed up from the start," Jake Miller said on Firstline this morning.

"This is what we have been calling for all along – for them to review the wreckage and review the way they handled their investigation."

Mr Miller welcomes the appointment of Mr McCready and Mr McGregor.

"Having expert opinion from outside of the commission has been really important for us because obviously the first time they did it, they didn't seem able to do it properly."

While acknowledging the true cause of the crash may never be known, Mr Miller hopes the new investigation will prevent similar tragedies.

"For us, it's all about avoiding anything like this happening in the future. To be honest, the only way we can do that is finding out the true cause of the accident."

Failing that, Mr Miller says at the least TAIC should "front up" and apologize for getting it so wrong.

VIDEO: 3rd Degree's latest report on the crash

Story and video:

NZ Aerospace Fletcher FU24-954,   ZK-EUF,  Skydive New Zealand, Accident occurred September 04, 2010 at  Fox Glacier Airstrip, New Zealand
Report Details 

Investigation 10-009

Report 10-009: Walter Fletcher FU24, ZK-EUF, loss of control on take-off and impact with terrain, Fox Glacier aerodrome, South Westland, 4 September 2010

On 4 September 2010 the pilot of a Walter Fletcher aeroplane with 8 parachutists on board lost control during take-off from Fox Glacier aerodrome. The aeroplane crashed in a paddock adjacent to the runway, killing all 9 occupants.

The Walter Fletcher had been modified from an agricultural aeroplane into a parachute-drop aeroplane some 3 months before the accident. The modification to the aircraft had been poorly managed, and discrepancies in the aeroplane?s documentation had not been detected by the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which had approved the change in category.

The new owner and operator of the aeroplane had not completed any weight and balance calculations on the aeroplane before it entered service, nor at any time before the accident. As a result the aeroplane was being flown outside its loading limits every time it carried a full load of 8 parachutists. On the accident flight the centre of gravity of the aeroplane was well rear of its aft limit and it became airborne at too low a speed to be controllable. The pilot was unable to regain control and the aeroplane continued to pitch up, then rolled left before striking the ground nearly vertically.


The Commission made 6 recommendations to the Director of Civil Aviation. Three related to the operation of parachute-drop aircraft, 2 related to the process for converting aircraft for another purpose and one related to seat restraints. A recommendation was made to the Secretary for Transport regarding the need for a drug and alcohol detection and deterrence regime for the various transport modes.

Key lessons

The investigation findings and recommendations provided reminders of the following practices that contribute to aviation safety:

- no 2 aircraft of the same model are exactly the same, even if they look that way; therefore pilots must do weight and balance calculations for every individual aircraft
- modifying aircraft is a safety-critical process that must be done in strict accordance with rules and guidelines and with appropriate regulatory oversight
- good rules, regulations and recommended practices are key to ensuring safe commercial aviation operations
- operators need to ensure that aircraft are being operated in accordance with prescribed rules and guidelines, and flown within their operating limitations
- aircraft operations need to be accompanied by relevant and robust procedures
- maintaining flight safety requires active participation and a co-ordinated approach by all sectors of the industry.

Two more Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (KBHM) contractors dismissed from sign collapse lawsuit

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Two more defendants have been dismissed from a lawsuit against Birmingham airport contractors after plaintiff lawyers in the case agreed that they had nothing to do with a display board that collapsed last year and killed a child.

A.G. Gaston Construction Inc. had contracted with the Birmingham Airport Authority to act as the program manager on a major renovation and expansion at the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport. The second company, Saber Construction Inc., sub-contracted as a consultant to A.G. Gaston Construction and was later bought by the latter company.

Shortly after the first phase of that project was completed last year, a multi-user flight information display board (MUFID) collapsed and 10-year-old Luke Bresette, killing him and injuring three other members of his family.

A.G. Gaston Construction filed a motion for summary judgment on Monday.

On Tuesday, lawyers for the plaintiff filed a brief, arguing that neither of the companies had anything to do with display board that collapsed and agreeing that they should be dismissed from the lawsuit.

"[I]t is clear that Gaston was not involved with the design, manufacture, construction, inspection and/or installation of the flight information display unit and its actions did not contribute to cause the Bresette family tragedy," the plaintiffs wrote. "The Plaintiffs have stated to the Court, and have consistently held, they would not attempt to keep defendants in the case if they had no prior knowledge and had no part in causing or contributing to cause the catastrophic events in this case."

This is the third time that the plaintiffs have asked the court to dismiss defendants from the case. Khafra Engineering Consultants and Monumental Contracting were also dismissed.

With the dismissal of Monumental Contracting, the plaintiffs argued that contractor had tried to warn others that the display boards were unstable and had refused to install them.

The remaining defendants include Brasfield & Gorrie and Bloc Global Services Group, the joint-venture team managing construction; KPS Group, architectural firm; and Fish Construction, flight display fabricator.

In their brief this week, the plaintiffs explained that they included several parties because insufficient information was available for them to determine who was at fault.

"As a result of this exchange of information, important facts have come to light that were unknown to the Bresette family and their attorneys that were not available prior to the filing of this lawsuit," the plaintiffs said. "Certain parties were warned about the hazards involving the flight information display units, and chose to ignore warnings that serious personal injuries and death could result from failing to take steps to protect the public." 


Stewart International Airport (KSWF) evacuated after souvenir grenade discovered

State Police and federal Transportation Security Administration officials investigated an incident at Stewart International Airport in New Windsor that resulted in an evacuation of the terminal when a suspicious object was found in baggage.

A passenger had something in a bag that concerned officials. State police said it was a souvenir grenade.

A spokesman for the Port Authority said the passenger terminal was evacuated at 10:49 a.m. today. The airport was expected to re-open for passenger service at 12:15 p.m, troopers said.

State Police spokesman Trooper Steven Nevel said police received a report at 10:13 a.m. that an "inert" grenade in a passenger's luggage was found going through the conveyor belt. It appears to be a a souvenir-type grenade, Nevel said.

As a precaution, troopers brought in their bomb disposal unit to remove the device.

"Investigation revealed that this was not of malicious intent and no criminal charges will be filed," a statement from police said.

The TSA said an officer running the X-ray machine saw an image of a hand grenade on the monitor. The checkpoint was closed. State troopers based at the airport were called and they brought in the bomb squad.

"Out of an abundance of caution, the state police evacuated the airport to include passengers, airport employees and TSA personnel until the bomb squad could clear the item. Police left with the item in a special container for explosives. The airport reopened at 12:09 p.m.," said Lisa Farbstein, spokeswoman for the TSA.

The TSA is the agency that checks passengers and baggage that goes aboard airline flights. Stewart has service by four airlines.

The state police have a detachment based at Stewart to provide security.

Joe Pentangelo of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said the TSA notified them that they were OK with resuming the movement of passengers through their checkpoint.

"Grenades, even inert ones, are prohibited from being brought in carry-on or checked baggage because explosive materials and realistic replicas of explosives are not permitted," she said.

"Passengers are responsible for the contents of bags they bring to the security checkpoint, and TSA’s advice to passengers is to look through bags thoroughly before coming to the airport to make sure there are no illegal or prohibited items," she said.

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Ottawa-bound Jazz regional jet aborts landing when snowplow enters runway

OTTAWA — An airliner was forced to abort landing at the Ottawa airport this week when a snow removal vehicle mistakenly drove onto the runway.

The Jazz Bombardier CRJ900 regional jet en route from Halifax was 1.8 kilometres from runway 32 at 3:10 p.m. Tuesday when an airport vehicle with the call sign Snowpack wandered onto the landing strip’s threshold, according to a Transport Canada report.

“Snowpack had originally read back that they would hold short of runway 32 on taxiway Echo,” says the report.

But a tower controller spotted the vehicle entering the active runway at the threshold and instructed the plane’s pilots to overshoot the runway.

The jet, capable of carrying up to 95 passengers and crew, circled and landed without further incident at 3:24 p.m.

It was the third “runway incursion” at the airport this year, the second requiring an inbound plane to abort landing and the second involving an airport vehicle.

It follows a March 24 Transport Canada notice to airline operators that the rate of runway conflicts at Canadian airports remains what it characterizes as stubbornly high.

There are about 350 incursions a year in Canada during roughly six million takeoffs and landings. For every 100,000 aircraft movements, the incursion rate fell steadily to 4.25 in 2007 from 5.89 in 2003, according to Transport Canada. But it has been slowly rising since 2007.

The airline industry, Transport Canada and Nav Canada, the company that controls Canada’s civilian air space and commercial air navigation service, are collectively working on the issue.


Redlands City Council postpones decision on Airfest fee waiver, alcohol permit

REDLANDS>> The City Council has agreed to postpone their consideration of a fee waiver for Hangar 24 Charities to their meeting on May 6.

Mayor Pete Aguilar requested they postpone the decision to allow city staff and the non-profit, which was formed by Hangar 24 brewery to support agriculture, to discuss the possibility of sharing the $70,666.80 in fees. They also postponed their consideration of allowing alcohol sales during the 2014 Airfest on May 16 and 17.

“After some discussion with representatives from Hangar 24 Charities we would like to push this item to our next May meeting in the interest of having the discussion about the fee waiver amount and whether there is the possibility to have the charity participate in some way for the fee waiver cost,” Aguilar said.

The Airport Advisory Board on April 2 voted to recommend the approval of the Airfest to the council, with a condition that the showline be set at 200 feet by the Federal Aviation Administration, which is still in process.

Several airport tenants spoke in opposition of the event during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Hangar 24 Charities expects a crowd of 25,000 people and to raise $525,000 from the event, according to a city staff report.

The fees the council will consider waiving include the costs to the city to provide police and fire personnel, street sweeping, parking lot preparation, barricade rental and a show mobile rental deposit, according to the staff report.

Several meetings were held with the event organizers and the Airport Advisory Board, which was attended by tenants and business owners at the airport.

Several voiced their concerns about the potential impact the show could have on them.

Aguilar also suggested the council discuss their process of waiving fees, which is a discussion the council has had in the past, he said.

“We don’t want to pick on a charity but we do need to have some discussion on the size and the scope of the fee waiver before us and all fee waivers that come to us,” Aguilar said.

Councilman Bob Gardner agreed.

“As the council knows I’ve struggled with the whole fee waiver process since I’ve been on the council and I welcome serious discussion about how we might reform this process in favor of a more reasonable approach that benefits the taxpayer and the city interest,” Gardner said, adding that if the city was in a better financial condition then it wouldn’t be as difficult of a fee waiver to address.

“Ultimately the fee waiver, as I tried to state before, comes down to a trade off of funds the city has available for priority purposes,” he said. “When an amount gets larger that trade off becomes an even larger issue. If the city was in better financial status these would not be perhaps so difficult. We wouldn’t have as many difficult priorities going into the budget season for the next fiscal years. $70,000 is a large amount.”

Gardner also asked about the health of the Redlands Municipal Airport fund, which is in the black but owes $1 million to the solid waste fund, according to city staff.

“The airport while doing better, is not ultimately in the best financial shape as it could be,” he said.


Captain Doron: Kitfox test flight - powerplant upgrades

Riverton Economic and Community Development Association hears progress on reliable air service search

(Riverton, Wyo.) – The need for reliable air service at Riverton Regional Airport was the topic at the reconstituted Riverton Economic and Community Development Association (RECDA) meeting Wednesday morning. The promotional group had been inactive for the better part of the last year. “We have missed not having a community forum,” said RECDA’s Alan Moore. “We need a community forum.”

The Wednesday morning program featured a report from the chairman of the recently created Commercial Air Service Task Force, Missy White of Lander.

White told the 25 business and community leaders in attendance that people across Fremont County don’t realize the importance of the Riverton airport to the region’s economy. “This airport contributes $36 million dollars annually in the county, not just Riverton,” she said. “The problem we now are having is that businesses have left, businesses are closing to base outside of the county, businesses are not flying with Great Lakes, and we’re losing tens of thousands of dollars in mileage costs, hotels and lost wages.”

“We have a great facility, let’s get great air service to match it,” she said.

The group is trying to accomplish that goal through the Wyoming Aeronautics Department’s Enhanced Air Service Campaign, financed by the legislature, which has helped other Wyoming communities such as Laramie and Cody, White said.

Moore said Riverton’s airport used to be served with 737 jet service and the community recorded over 30,000 boardings in the early 1970′s. “We could get on a twin-engine jet and fly to Houston with another 100 people around you. That’s how much the market has deteriorated here,” he said. Riverton’s 2013 enplanements, or boardings, totaled 13,762 passengers. The city is now served with 30 passenger Brasilias or 19 passenger Beechcraft, both aging airframes.

“In our discussions with WYDOT Aeronautics, we’ve requested 80 seats to Denver, or 29,200 seats annually. We need to authorize Aeronautics to negotiate additional service for us,” White said, “Then they can go to other airlines and judge the interest and costs.

Lander City Councilor Cade Maestas, who attended the meeting along with White and Lander Community Development Director Gary Michaud, said many options are being considered. “We’re not shopping another airline, we’re seeking reliable air service here, from whomever that may be, and it could be Great Lakes.”

Riverton Councilor Richard Gard said he and Airport Manger Paul Griffin and a representative from the city’s airport engineering consultant had a two hour-long conversation with Wyoming Aeronautics on Tuesday. Of main concern is a major reconstruction of Riverton’s primary runway that will take place next year, limiting arriving aircraft to that portion of the runway not impacted by construction, or to the cross wind runway. “We can probably land Brasilias on the cross wind or on the short runway during construction, but we’ll need special permission to do that, and the aircraft will have weight restrictions,” he said.

Gard also reported that the project cannot be delayed, or it may not come up for funding again anywhere from six to 10 years down the road.

The Commercial Air Service Task Force will meet Thursday afternoon at Lander City Hall to continue to work on an application to Wyoming Aeronautics.


The chair of the Commercial Air Service Task Force for Riverton Regional Airport, Missy White, spoke at Wednesday morning's RECDA meeting. Looking on during the breakfast session is Lee Haines from Wyoming PBS Foundation and Lander City Councilor Cade Maestas.

Juneau International Airport (PAJN) explosion still under investigation: Wings employee who suffered minor injuries now back at work

Fire officials and Wings of Alaska are investigating the cause of a small explosion that took place at the Juneau International Airport Sunday that injured an airline employee.

The employee was re-filling a heated de-icing machine with ethylene glycol at about 6:05 a.m. Sunday when all of a sudden large flames shot out of the top of the machine, according to Capital City Fire and Rescue Captain Chad Cameron.

Wings of Alaska said the man’s beard was singed and he sustained “superficial sunburn” type burns but escaped serious injury. He was taken to the hospital as a precaution to ensure he didn’t inhale smoke and his eyes weren’t injured.

Wings of Alaska Regional Manager Scott Rinkenberger on Wednesday confirmed that the employee, whose name was not given, was released from the hospital shortly after the incident and was able to return to work the next day.

CCFR is still investigating the cause of the explosion. Cameron speculated that it may have been related to the vapors in the heated container. He said the “flash” of flames was instantaneous and self-extinguished by the time firefighters arrived on scene.

CCFR estimated that about two to three gallons of ethylene glycol exploded in the area. The spill was contained and cleaned up. The incident took place on the airport’s back ramp under the eaves of the building where equipment, such as towing vehicles and empty dog kennels, is kept for storage, according to Airport Manager Patricia deLaBruere.

deLaBruere said the machine that exploded is a mini-version of the bigger one used to de-ice aircraft on the tarmac. The bigger machine is towed around in the back of a truck, while the littler one is toted in a small cart, she said.

deLaBruere said she had never heard of a de-icing machine igniting before.

“There’s always a first time for everything,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday.

She equated the explosion in this case to a radiator cap shooting off when it is hot. The incident did not affect operations at the airport or cause any delays on Sunday, she said.

Similarly, Wings of Alaska said they are “at a loss” about why the explosion occurred. Rinkenberger said the de-icing agent is not flammable, except in specific conditions that did not exist in this case. He said the company’s safety personnel are investigating the matter alongside the fire department.

Rinkenberger said that Wings is readdressing their policy on how to refill the de-icing machine, in the meantime, to prevent such an explosion from happening again in the future. He said employees will now be required to de-energize the heating element of the de-icing cart and leave the cap open for a period of 10 minutes to allow for ventilation before it can be refilled.

Rinkenberger added that CCFR arrived on scene within minutes, but before they did, people already on scene rushed to help the man. Those who provided that initial assistance included Alaska Airlines ramp personnel and Alaska Seaplanes employees.


Session will talk about switch from turboprops to jets at Hays Regional Airport (KHYS)


The city of Hays announced an environmental assessment of imminent jet service in Hays will be presented from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at City Hall, 1507 Main.

The draft environmental assessment conducted by the Hays Regional Airport and Federal Aviation Administration will be the subject of the public hearing and information session.

SkyWest Airlines is scheduled to be the commercial carrier at the Hays airport on July 1. The previous carrier, Great Lakes, ended service early at the end of March after being passed over for a contract renewal. Currently, that leaves Hays without a commercial carrier.

SkyWest will transition the airport from the turboprops used by past carriers to turbojets. SkyWest is proposing two CRJ-200 flights to Denver International Airport daily, and this is the first time a commercial carrier has used turbojets at Hays Regional Airport.

The informational session and public hearing will explain the purpose of the EA and the potential effects of switching from scheduled turboprop to turbojet service, as well as provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the DEA.

Public Works Director I.D. Creech says this is a standard process when an airport switches from turboprop airplanes to jets:

Comment cards will be available for attendees to submit written comments on the DEA.

According to Creech, the switch to Skywest is “about halfway complete” and he” hopes to have the transition done by June 15.


Hate Crime at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport (KCLT) Intimidates Employee

Charlotte, NC - 

Local authorities are looking into a hate crime that occurred at Charlotte Douglas airport Monday.
A US Airways employee found a noose hanging from his work locker. The noose was made of plastic, and was either attached Monday morning or sometime last weekend.

The employee who found the noose on his locker has worked at the airport for more than 30 years. He is African American and Muslim.

A police report on the incident says "the item attached to his work locker... caused him to be intimidated."

Police are not sure who put the noose on the employee's locker.

US Airways released this statement: "American Airlines is aware of the incident and we are investigating. We take such matters very seriously and have a very strong and clear policy regarding employee conduct, as stated on"

The FBI would not confirm or deny to My FOX Carolinas that they are investigating.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Police are working with US Airways Corporate Security to investigate the incident.

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High jet fuel prices have protected existing airlines from startups, prevented fare wars

NEW YORK — Airline executives frequently complain about fuel costs. But the truth is higher prices actually have been good for business.

In the past six years, airlines have overhauled the way they operate to adjust to this new reality. They've shown more discipline by offering fewer seats, which ensures airfares are high enough to cover costs. Unprofitable routes have been eliminated. And every expense has been scrutinized.

These changes, along with high oil prices, have created an insurmountable roadblock to startup airlines that hope to undercut established carriers.

"Traditionally, it was too easy to start an airline and too difficult to kill one off," says Jamie Baker, an airline analyst with JPMorgan Chase.

No more.

A decade ago, airlines were paying just $1.42 a gallon for fuel, when adjusted for inflation. Last year, they paid an average of $3.03 a gallon, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Fuel now accounts for more than a third of airlines' expenses, overtaking salaries, wages and benefits as the single biggest line item. U.S. carriers burned through 16 billion gallons of jet fuel last year at cost of $48.4 billion. That's up nearly $23 billion from 10 years ago — when the airlines consumed 2 billion more gallons of fuel.

So why is this good?

High oil prices forced the major airlines to do business differently. They grounded older, gas-guzzling jets. Then they charged extra for checking baggage and raised other fees. More passengers were packed into planes and mergers helped push airfares higher. The average cost of a roundtrip domestic ticket — including baggage and reservation change fees — grew to $378.62 from $351.48 in the last five years, when adjusted for inflation.

All of that has them on pace for a fifth consecutive year of profits.

A big reason for the streak: The majors aren't facing the myriad of fly-by-night start-ups that disrupted their business in the past. Low-cost carriers like PeopleExpress and ValueJet used to be able to enter markets, charge a lot less to fly and push the established carriers out.

Now — since fuel is such a great expense — that doesn't happen anymore, said Scott Kirby, president of American Airlines, at a recent aviation symposium in Phoenix.

"It's an equalizer," Kirby said.

Skybus Airlines launched in May 2007 promising to sell at least 10 seats on each of its flights for $10. By the following April, a spike in fuel prices proved fatal and the airline shut down operations overnight.

Without that competition, legacy carriers have avoided fare wars and kept ticket prices high.

"This represents the longest post-deregulation stretch that nobody has started a new airline in the United States," Baker says.

Virgin America was the last major new U.S. carrier. But since it started flying in August 2007, the San Francisco-based airline has lost hundreds of millions of dollars. It didn't post its first annual profit until last year and that was only after it stopped its rapid expansion.

Jeff Knittel, president of transportation and international finance at CIT, which leases planes to airlines, says the high fuel costs has created a financial discipline among carriers that has made them look closely at every expense — in the air and on the ground.

As part of their quest to reduce fuel consumption, airlines have replaced drink carts with new, lighter ones. Planes now taxi with only one engine running. And wingtips have been redesigned to reduce drag.

"It has forced efficiency throughout the entire organization," Knittel says.

High oil prices have also caused lenders to take a closer look at business models. In the past, they just considered the collateral — the airplane — that they were lending against.

"It makes the merits of the airlines matter more than they have in the past," says Hunter Keay, an airline analyst with Wolfe Research.

Airlines are only expanding to cities where they know they can make money, limiting competition and keeping everybody's flights profitable. Instead of fighting to become the largest airline in a city, airlines are now making rational decisions based on profitability.

"The only universal disciplinarian across the entire global airline industry is high oil prices," Keay says. "It makes even the bad actors make hard choices."


Tacoma Narrows Airport (KTIW) administrator speaks about the future - master plan nearly complete

As the Tacoma Narrows Airport nears completion of its master plan, the county, like a pilot, must take a careful approach.

That was Deb Wallace’s view as she spoke to the public affairs forum at Cottesmore of Life Care on Thurday morning. Wallace is the airport and ferry administrator for Pierce County.

A central debate about the master plan update has been a runway extension. Wallace said no immediate plans exist to extend the runway. The plan is to protect the airspace from encroachments such as cellphone towers so that years from now, future fliers can extend the runway to accommodate a higher traffic volume.

“Our intention is to protect the airspace,” she said.

Other items in the master plan include renovating hangars and improving entrance signs.

The purpose of including protected space for a future extension of the runway and new hangar areas in the master plan is to ensure the areas are protected years from now.

“Keep in mind, the plan is a 20-year plan,” Wallace said. “It’s not that we’re going to redevelop hangars now.”

The immediate plan is to bring in business to the airport. It’s about making the area attractive to pilots and visitors. Wallace said the area in the South Sound is a huge asset. Now the word needs to get out.

“The county is not marketing a 5,000-foot runway,” she said. “What’s critical for us is marketing the area.”

One big marketing opportunity is the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay next summer. Wallace said the airport shouldn’t plan for the tournament — it should be planning for a long-term boom in business. The golf tournament will bring in lots of planes and private charters, Wallace said, and it’s a good time to show the aviation community what Pierce County has to offer.

“This is absolutely an opportunity to leverage resources,” she said.

Thanks to a gift from the Rotary, the airport is building an observation area. Wallace is careful not to call the area a park because that’s in opposition to FAA guidelines.

She said the observation area will expose children to the world of aviation. The field has many vocational opportunities, including pilots, air control and maintenance.

One last round of meetings on the airport master plan will be June 11. Times for the meetings have not been announced. Usually, a daytime meeting of the advisory committee is followed by an evening public comment meeting. 


Man Arrested After Allegedly Refusing To Lower Drone At Crash Scene

A man is facing charges after deputies say he was flying a video camera-equipped drone that hindered the landing of a medical helicopter at an accident scene. Kele Stanley, of Springfield, said he's been unfairly charged and would have landed it immediately if he knew the medical helicopter was en route.

"I'm not an idiot," he said.

The hobbyist was flying the $4,000 drone over a crash scene on Saturday morning to shoot photos and video.  Authorities said both fire officials and a Clark County sheriff's deputy told Stanley to stop flying his remote-controlled aircraft because the helicopter was preparing to land, and that he refused. The helicopter was able to land and depart safely from the scene.

Stanley is facing a felony charge of obstructing official business and misdemeanor charges of misconduct at an emergency and disorderly conduct. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Monday and said he's going to hire a lawyer to fight the charges.   Stanley, a 31-year-old copy-machine repairman and videographer, said he flew his remote-controlled "hexacopter" about 75 feet above where a pickup had hit a tree in Moorefield Township near Springfield. He said he was shooting the video as a hobby and would have turned it over to local television stations, as he has done before.

There currently are no regulations in Ohio governing private use of the unmanned aircraft, although law enforcement agencies must get special permits to use them. The Federal Aviation Administration bars the commercial use of drones.

 WCMH: News, Weather, and Sports for Columbus, Ohio

CLARK COUNTY, Ohio - A 31-year-old man was arrested after allegedly refusing to lower a camera drone to allow a medical helicopter to land at the scene of a crash in Clark County last weekend. 

According to the Clark County Sheriff's Office, law enforcement and emergency personnel were at the scene of a crash in the 2900 block of Mechanicsburg Road on April 12.

While EMS members were attempting to rescue the victim, the fire chief called for Careflight, and while waiting for it to arrive, noticed a man flying a helicopter-type object over the crash scene.

Officials said they repeatedly asked the man to bring the object to the ground to allow Careflight to land, and that the helicopter would not be able to land if the object was in the air.

The object was determined to be a camera drone.

The suspect allegedly told authorities repeatedly that he was not breaking any laws and did not have to lower it.

The suspect, later identified as Kele Stanley, 31, of Springfield, refused to cooperate and was placed into custody.

Stanley was arrested and booked into the Clark County Jail on a felony charge of obstructing official business, and one misdemeanor count each of misconduct at an emergency, and disorderly conduct.

Stanley told NBC4's David Mazza that he uses the same drone to capture video and images for weddings and events as a side business.

"The victim actually stated that he saw this flying apparatus flying around his head," said Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly.

Stanley told his side of the story in a long conversation with NBC4, saying he was shooting video of the crash, complied with officers, but was still arrested. He claims the video on his drone will tell his story.

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Drink craft beer, bring an aircraft to Huntsville, Alabama, during Rocket Center event at Straight to Ale

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama – Only in Huntsville would craft beer and a shuttle training aircraft used to train astronauts somehow fit together without raising a lot of eyebrows. 

Drink a Monkeynaut India Pale Ale or any brew from Straight to Ale on Thursday night and a portion of your purchase will help support the U.S. Space & Rocket Center's efforts to land the Gulfstream II (G-II) Shuttle Training Aircraft in Huntsville.

In early March, USSRC launched its first-ever 60-day crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise $70,000 to bring the aircraft to the space center's Shuttle Park. As of 9 this morning, $32,425 had been collected toward the cause.

Click here to check out the fundraising campaign.

"Right now we are in the education sub-category's top 10 most popular campaigns currently active on Indiegogo," said Trevor Daniels,  USSRC community and government relations manager. "If we hit our $70,000 goal, we will be the 7th most funded campaign of all time in the education category."
The fundraising event will take place from 6-10 p.m. Thursday at Straight to Ale on 3200 Leeman Ferry Road in Huntsville. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged through a QR code or off-line. Daniels said $1 of every pint sold will go toward the Land the STA campaign.

Live music from Microwave Dave and Alan Little will be available from 6:15-9:45 p.m., while Huntsville-area food trucks Crave Heat and Earth and Stone Wood-Fired Pizzas will provide dinner for guests. Bestselling "Rocket Boys" author Homer Hickam, a member of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center board, will sign books at the event.

Daniels said USSRC staff will be on hand to discuss the aircraft and its significance in astronaut training.

The G-II aircraft, a business jet converted by NASA as a shuttle astronaut training tool to land the Space Shuttle Orbiter, was acquired by the space center two years ago and is currently stationed at Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Meeting its crowdfunding goal will give USSRC enough funds for site preparation and structural supports to install the training aircraft at Shuttle Park, which is home to Pathfinder, the world's only full-stack shuttle display

"The exhibition of the STA in Shuttle Park with Pathfinder and the T-38 Talon will be an awesome addition to a collection of artifacts and hardware that inspire students, parents and teachers every day," Daniels said. "It will also be the only place in the world where you can see the full-stack Orbiter, T-38 and STA all in the same place."

A quick by-the-numbers look at the Land the STA campaign: 
$32,425: Amount raised toward the campaign as of this morning.

18: Number of days left in the Indiegogo campaign.

163: Number of contributors to the campaign.

24: Number of states that have donated money to land the aircraft.

Four:  Number of other countries (France, Australia, Canada and United Kingdom) that have donated.

$300: A new $300-level campaign donation perk that includes a poster signed by shuttle astronauts, including Jim Halsell.

$5,000: The amount of money an anonymous donor has pledged to the campaign if USSRC can find a match of $5,000 by April 25.

Five: Number of local businesses and organizations that have teamed up with USSRC as community partners on this project.

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Big Bear City Airport (L35) on the front line

After the 1992 Big Bear Earthquake the roads leading out of the Valley were impassable for a considerable length of time. It’s situations like this when the Big Bear City Airport becomes the Valley’s lifeline to the outside world.

“That would be our major service,” airport general manager Pete Gwaltney said. “Potentially this is the only way to serve the community with medical supplies and services. We would become a major source of supplies.”

Once staff reports after first checking on the safety of their families, the first steps are to inspect the terminal building, runway and taxiways, and to get the airport back in operation.

The terminal building could sustain damage, Gwaltney said. During the ’92 quake, the terminal building was red tagged and closed for nine months. “Our biggest concern is that would happen again,” Gwaltney said. “If the building was built to the standards of today, we’d feel more comfortable and not have one foot out the door.”

If the terminal building is not usable, staff could set up operations in a hangar or even on the tarmac. Ramps are equipped with electrical outlets. Data for the airport operations is stored off site as well as in the terminal for easy access.

If the runway is unusable then the helipads come into play. The helipads were upgraded in 2009 to meet the demands during a disaster. “We can accommodate heavy duty helicopters,” Gwaltney said.

The airport would become the hub for major medical evacuations as well as a staging area for wildfire fighting apparatus. “The Forest Service comes in and takes over the airport,” Gwaltney said. “And we become a huge heliport.”

During fire season, a Hot Shots crew is usually stationed at the airport. Ramps on the airport property have electrical capabilities. “We can run radios from our vans,” Gwaltney said.

During a blizzard, the airport is equipped with a large snow blower so the runway can be immediately cleared. Crews start clearing the runway and taxiways immediately and continue until the snow stops, Gwaltney said.

The airport has several backup generators, plenty of extra taxi and runway lights, as well as water. Gwaltney said the airport would rely on the Barnstorm Restaurant for food.

Gwaltney said the Airport District is a member of Mountain Mutual Aid and will dispatch a staff member to meetings if necessary. “We have a small staff so our first priority is to ensure the airport is open,” Gwaltney said.

The airport is also has a Point of Distribution trailer, or POD, utilized by the state Health Department in time of a health emergency. The Health Department would distribute medicine and vaccinations to the community during a disaster, Gwaltney said.

The Friends of the Disaster Center is located at the northeast corner of the airport to be used by Mountain Mutual Aid as a staging point.

To stay ready for an emergency, the airport staff conducts safety meetings on a quarterly basis. “Everybody is CPR qualified and certified on the defibrillator,” Gwaltney said.

The last inspection of the airport garnered a 100 percent rating. All taxiways, runways and lamps have been rehabbed in the last seven years. “We are well aware of our importance to the community,” Gwaltney said. “We make every effort to keep the airport open.”

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Helena Regional Airport (KHLN) budgeting for adding parking fee collection

The Helena Regional Airport Authority is budgeting to convert its “honor system” for parking payment to automated parking fee collection.

The airport’s budget, which would make the plan a reality, isn’t expected to be approved until the airport authority meets on May 27. The budget contains $250,000 for the conversion.

A slight increase in rates could result to help pay for the equipment. The increase could be in the range of 25 cents per day or perhaps a dollar a week, should additional revenue be needed to fund the conversion, said Ron Mercer, the airport’s director.

“If there is an adjustment, I would expect it to be very minor,” Mercer said, noting that a decision on rates wouldn’t be made until spring of 2016.

“This is not to increase the parking rates,” Mercer explained. “This is to maintain the parking rates.”

Long-term parking is $3 per day and a maximum of $15 per week.

Parking generates about $286,000 annually, Mercer said. Automated collection is projected to recover additional fees to pay for the conversion in three years, if not sooner.

“It should increase parking (fees collected) by about $100,000 a year,” he added.

Prior to the airport taking control of fee collection, a private company handled the task. The most the airport ever received, Mercer said, was $9,500 a year after the company deducted its costs although both the daily and weekly rates were slightly higher at that time than they are now.

The airport receives about $25,000 a month in fees, but in March — typically a slower month — received slightly more than $29,000, which leads Mercer to conclude, “The indications are we’re missing quite a bit of the revenues.”

Currently, airport staff place envelopes on the windshields of the vehicles in the long-term parking lot and record the license plate numbers. Most people pay, some quicker than others, and the money has to be accounted for. Those who don’t pay must be tracked down through the vehicle’s license plate number. The owner of the vehicle has to be identified and then sent a letter requesting payment. Those who refuse to pay can end up pleading their case before Helena’s city judge.

“It’s a huge accounting burden for us to operate that lot as we do right now,” Mercer said.

“We put in several hours per day into that system,” he noted.

The conversion, which would include fencing around the long-term parking area, would not take place until spring of 2015.

“You can drive out of this lot pretty easy,” he noted as the parking lot has no fencing.

An additional access into the lot as well as paving, curbing and guttering are also planned should the project go ahead.

The actual electronic equipment that would dispense the ticket to parking patrons and collect the money — cash as well as credit or debit cards — will be about $100,000 of the total cost, Mercer said.

Plans call for having a backup system should it be needed, he added.

Also included in the overall cost is about $50,000 to make improvements to better serve the vehicle rental businesses at the airport.

An area would be set aside somewhere near the terminal building for the rental companies to have vehicles that are ready for pickup by renters, Mercer said.

The airport is currently seeking bids to expand the free, short-term parking near the terminal and add about 70 spaces. None of these convenient spaces would be used for vehicle rentals.

The plan for automating the collection of long-term parking fees will come with an expansion of the long-term parking lot.

There are 715 parking spaces in the long-term lot and 150 parking spaces would be added, Mercer said.

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Family following investigation of B-24 crash site where Lakewood, Ohio, flier may lie

CLEVELAND, Ohio – On Feb. 28, 1945, an American B-24 Liberator bomber dropped out of formation after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing mission on a railroad bridge in northern Italy.

Other planes of the 449th Bomb Group, stationed in Italy during World War II, reported seeing the plane losing altitude with two of its four engines disabled. Its 11-man crew included Staff Sgt. Thomas McGraw, 27, a nose-gunner from Lakewood who was flying his last, fatal mission.

The bomber disappeared, flying into the skies of mystery. In the following months, four bodies identified as crewmen from the ill-fated B-24 either washed ashore or were netted by fishermen from the Adriatic Sea near Grado, Italy. The skeletal remains of a fifth crewman surfaced five years later.
McGraw was not among them.

Years passed and the bomber was eventually discovered where it had crashed about 10 miles from the Italian coast in the Adriatic Sea. The B-24 was lying 40 feet under water, broken apart and partially buried in sand. Divers soon stripped the wreckage of anything that might make a good souvenir or salvage profit.

The bomber’s grave became a popular spot for recreational diving – to the shock and horror of McGraw’s nephew, Jim Fox, formerly of Lakewood and now living in Georgia. After the aircraft was positively identified late last year, Fox learned the fate of his long-lost uncle and launched an online petition to have the U.S. government immediately recover McGraw’s remains and those of other missing crewmen that may still lie there and at another B-24 crash site nearby.

Citing widespread coverage of the plane’s discovery in the Italian media, Fox recently said, “It’s gotten to the point where this is not a burial site any more, it’s a circus. This site should be left alone.”

He described the underwater souvenir hunters as “grave robbers. It’d be like me digging in a graveyard just to see what I could find.”

Fox has been communicating with the Italian diving team that identified the wreckage and has been working with authorities in efforts to preserve and protect the site. During visits to the sunken bomber, divers brought up a skull fragment (now in custody of the Italian police) and also found bones that were carefully re-covered with sand to hide them.

Fox said the dive team was able to determine that when the B-24 crashed, it broke in two. The front of the plane dropped to the bottom, and the rear portion settled on top of it, burying the nose in the sand. The skull fragment was found in that area, according to Fox.

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Floyd Trogdon, president of the 449th Bomb Group Association, said the group has been working with federal MIA recovery officials regarding investigation of both the site where McGraw’s bomber crashed, and the wreckage of another B-24 that was shot down in 1944 and crashed on land, in the same general area.

Trogdon said the association was able to track down surviving family members of all 12 missing crewmen from both bombers so DNA samples could be obtained for possible identification of remains. He said it was the first time in its 31-year history that the 1,500-member group had taken on this task.

The former World War II aviator is concerned regarding possible looting at both sites.

Trogdon also wondered if the recently announced re-organization of the U.S. Joint MIA/POW Accounting Command (JPAC) and the Pentagon’s Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office will affect MIA search and recovery missions.

“We’re trying to keep the pressure on,” he said. “I don’t know what the re-organization will look like. It’s going to be taking their eyes off the ball. But JPAC has promised there will be no delay in getting to our sites.

"As long as they can stay on track, we're going to give them all the support we can," he added. 

Maj. Jamie Dobson, of JPAC, said a team will visit the site of McGraw’s B-24 in May to verify the plane’s identity and determine the requirements for a full recovery mission in fiscal year 2015.

Dobson noted that although the team does not plan to recover any remains during next month’s visit, that might happen if any remains “are thought to be in imminent danger of loss or disturbance.”

Freddy Furlan, an Italian diver and author who has researched and written about crashed World War II aircraft in Italy, said in an e-mail that authorities have prohibited any anchoring, fishing and diving within 150 meters of the wreck. But he noted the prohibition is temporary, and feared that if it is not extended, "in a few months the site will begin to be visited by hundreds of divers."

He is particularly concerned about divers pillaging the wreck for souvenirs, ruining any chances for recovering remains.
That's the blessing and the curse in discovery of the site, according to Fox. There’s a chance that remains of his uncle could be found and recovered. There’s also a chance that they won’t. 

 “If they crashed in deeper water, probably no one would be the wiser,” Fox said.

His uncle was the oldest of nine children including seven boys; six who served in the military during the war. In his youth, Fox tried to talk with his other uncles about their brother who didn’t come back from war, but “they were always hush-hush about it,” he recalled.

He said he later learned that McGraw’s mother took her son’s loss badly.

“I can understand that,” he added. “I’ve always taken a keen interest in my missing uncle. Every Memorial Day I put a sign in front of my house that says: Thomas M. McGraw, World War II MIA, LOST BUT NOT FORGOTTEN.”

The sign will be back up this year.

Fox’s sister, Cecilia Ann Backman, of Olmsted Falls, said the lost flier’s mother “used to always hope he was somewhere in Europe. She had a hard time dealing with his death.”

Backman has donated a sample of her DNA for possible use in identifying her uncle’s remains. “I’m hoping for my grandparents’ sake we can get him home and bury his remains on U.S. soil,” she said.

She said if McGraw’s remains are found and identified, they could be buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Cleveland, where his parents are buried, or at a military cemetery.

Maggie McGraw, of Bryan, Texas, the daughter of Joseph McGraw (Thomas’s brother) said she learned of the bomber’s identification on Veterans Day last year. Her father had just died a few months earlier, the last of the nine siblings to go, and she said, “I just couldn’t believe it. It was just so amazing. It’s a shame my grandmother and my dad and all his siblings are gone.”

She said her father told her about her missing uncle when she was very young, and she responded, “ ‘But Dad, wait, maybe he’s still alive.’ I had dreams that he was living in Italy, but then, that’s a child. So hopeful and everything.”

McGraw said she recently found some strands of her father’s hair that she plans to send to the 449th Bomb Group Association for possible use in DNA identification. She also plans to attend the association’s annual reunion in Dayton this summer.

“It’s a relief to know that his remains will be discovered and identified. I’m just overwhelmed,” she said. “If and when he comes home, we’ll be up in Lakewood to put him to rest.”

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott Says Best Flight 370 Search Leads Will Soon Be Exhausted: WSJ

The Wall Street Journal

By Daniel Stacey

Updated April 16, 2014 7:16 a.m. ET

SYDNEY—The best leads in an underwater search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will be exhausted in about a week, Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday, as searchers battled to overcome technical issues that have hampered early efforts to scan the Indian Ocean's seabed.

Mr. Abbott said authorities would need to rethink their approach if a remote-controlled vehicle fails to locate wreckage from Flight 370 in a narrow area of ocean where searchers earlier this month picked up the strongest electronic signal out of a series of pings consistent with aircraft black box flight recorders.

"We believe that search will be completed within a week or so," Mr. Abbott told The Wall Street Journal in an interview. "If we don't find wreckage, we stop, we regroup, we reconsider."

Australian authorities have repeatedly cautioned that the subsea search for plane wreckage will be long and difficult, with officials saying that a seabed search of the broader area where pings were detected could take weeks. Little is known about the seabed some 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) below the surface of the Indian Ocean. They expect to encounter thick silt that may hide debris, including the black boxes, on the ocean floor and potentially strong ocean currents that could slow the movements of the Bluefin-21 underwater vehicle.

On Wednesday, a second attempt to scan the seafloor was cut short. The Bluefin-21 was forced to resurface so searchers could rectify a technical glitch, just a day after an earlier mission was aborted after the vehicle breached its limit of operating in waters up to 4,500 meters deep. An analysis of sonar data compiled on each search failed to identify any new leads.

"My determination for Australia is that we will do whatever we reasonably can to resolve the mystery," Mr. Abbott said. "If the current search turns up nothing, we won't abandon it, we will simply move to a different phase."

He reiterated his confidence that searchers were looking in the right place for Flight 370, based on the electronic signals—the longest of which lasted more than two hours—detected by equipment towed by Australian naval vessel ADV Ocean Shield on April 5 and April 8, around the time that the black boxes' 30-day battery life was due to expire.

Flight 370 was carrying 239 passengers, including 153 people from China, when it disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8. The search shifted to the southern Indian Ocean nine days later, soon after investigators realized the Boeing 777-200 was airborne for several hours after losing civilian radar contact over the Gulf of Thailand.

A near-monthlong search of the sea surface led by Australia, which has involved aircraft and ships from countries such as China and the U.S., has turned up only garbage. The operation has also pursued several other false leads, including satellite images purporting to show possible plane debris and underwater signals that were unrelated to Flight 370's black boxes.

That air and sea search for floating debris is nearing its end, Australia's Defense Minister David Johnston said in an interview, and any final decision will be made on advice from senior military and search officials. A total of 14 aircraft and 11 ships scanned the ocean surface Wednesday.

"It is obviously becoming less and less optimistic," Mr. Johnston said of the aerial search. Any potential debris field is likely to have "dissipated to the four winds," or sunk, he said.

A decision to call off the aerial search would allow nations to count the cost of their involvement up to now. Officials have declined to put a total amount on what it has cost each country to deploy ships, aircraft and military crews to Australia to assist in the search effort. Australian Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is leading the search operation, said Monday: "All of the countries that are contributing to this are running up big costs."

Authorities have several options available if the current underwater search by Bluefin-21 turns up nothing. They could order a second sweep of the seabed in a tight area where the first signals believed to have come from Flight 370's black boxes were detected. The search could also be expanded to a wider area around a series of transmissions heard on four occasions covering 500 square miles. U.S. Navy commanders have said a search on that scale could take six to eight weeks to complete.

Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said a later phase could involve a search along a wide arc of sea extrapolated from a partial digital "handshake" between Flight 370 and an Inmarsat   PLC satellite. That strip of sea is more than 370 miles long and 30 miles wide, according to search maps.

Authorities are increasingly relying on private contractors as the focus of the search for Flight 370 shifts underwater. Phoenix International Holdings Inc., a U.S.-based technology company, already has a contract with the U.S. Navy to provide underwater detection equipment, including the black box locator and Bluefin-21.

With authorities uncertain about the depths of the ocean, other organizations are ready to provide submersibles that can go deeper than Bluefin-21. According to David G. Gallo, director of special projects at the U.S.-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, two Remus 6000 underwater vehicles together costing US$20,000 a day to operate could be flown to Perth if required. Those submersibles were used in 2011 to locate the black boxes of Air France 447, which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean two years earlier.

Mr. Dolan, Australia's top air-accident investigator, said a prolonged undersea search and salvage mission using privately owned equipment could cost up to 250 million Australian dollars (US$234 million). Mr. Johnston also said the underwater search may ultimately end up being run mainly by private companies, although he declined to estimate what that could cost.

"Ultimately it may well be that there is a civilian contractor to come and pick up the pieces if we have no success," said Mr. Johnston.

Payment of search and salvage contractors would likely need to be negotiated between Malaysia, who operated the aircraft, the U.S., where the plane was built, and China, where the majority of passengers came from, Mr. Johnston said.

—Lucy Craymer in Perth contributed to this article.


Celebrating Mooney

Mooney Aircraft Pilots from across the country flew in last weekend to attend the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association event geared toward celebrating a new owner for the company and that the local plant will once again be producing planes. Above, John Peck, of Port Orange, Fla., sits on the wing of his own Mooney and visits with fellow pilots as they pass by. 
Photo Courtesy/Credit:  Tammy Prout