Friday, May 02, 2014

Mississippi-built Fire Scout aircraft on Navy’s cutting block

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s proposed 2015 budget drops funding for purchases of the Navy’s unmanned, rotary-winged Fire Scout aircraft, which takes off and lands from ships and is being built in Moss Point, Miss., home state of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.

Even more ominous for the Fire Scout program, the Navy’s five-year plan zeroes out its funding after purchasing the first 40 of them, heightening prospects that it might be among defense systems most endangered in a wave of budget cuts.

However, the funding freeze wouldn’t affect deliveries of 17 aircraft of an upgraded model that’s still being tested with money committed previously. That version is larger, is equipped with radar to help identify surveillance targets, can carry weapons and can fly farther than the 110-mile range of the original MQ-8B Fire Scout.

It’s unclear whether the funding cutoff will mean near-term layoffs at the Moss Point plant operated by Northrop Grumman Corp. Warren Comer, a spokesman for the defense contractor, said the plant employed he about 70 workers, but he declined to say whether any of their jobs will be affected.

The company is “working closely with the Navy on the path forward for the Fire Scout program,” he said.

In a summary of cost changes in selected programs through Dec. 31, the Pentagon listed the Fire Scout last month among two systems that were in “critical breach” of the Nunn-McCurdy Amendment, a law aimed at reining in soaring defense costs.

But Navy officials pointed to the Fire Scout’s redesign, including a larger Bell helicopter airframe, as the main reason for a projected spike of more than $650 million from the program’s original cost of $2.79 billion.

Jamie Cosgrove, a spokeswoman for the Naval Air Systems Command, said the service still planned to proceed with the eventual purchase of 119 of the aircraft but that it had reduced the number it hoped to purchase from the original 168.

In a statement, Northrop Grumman said the Fire Scout “has proven to be highly successful” and that the company was working “to meet the urgent needs of naval and special operations forces commanders while incorporating improved capabilities into the Fire Scout system.”

There’s been no sign so far as the U.S. House of Representatives weighs defense spending bills that Congress will reinstate the 2015 funding, but the process is still under way.

“We’ve supported language that would continue and sustain the Navy’s Fire Scout program,” said Laura Chambers, a spokeswoman for Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, whose district includes the Moss Point plant. “We certainly don’t want to see it end.”

The MQ-8 Fire Scout was designed beginning in the early 2000s for use aboard the smaller and relatively inexpensive littoral combat ship, which was conceived to be specially outfitted for missions close to shorelines, including mine-clearing. However, the littoral program has been controversial because of cost surges, questions about the ships’ ability to withstand damages in battle and worries about their limited armaments, said a recent report by the Congressional Research Service.

In February, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel decided to cut purchases of the vessel from 52 to 32, and the Navy said it would now consider other designs for “a capable and lethal small surface combatant.”

Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scouts have mainly been used on guided missile frigates. Capt. Patrick Smith, who oversees the Fire Scout program, said the aircraft had completed more than 4,500 operational hours in support of U.S. activities in Africa.

In 2015 budget planning, he said, the Navy “made a decision to streamline the maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance portfolio” by combining the rapid deployment capabilities of the original MQ-8B Fire Scout model with the MQ-8C, which “will have greater range, endurance and payload capacity,” reducing the need for as many aircraft. While the littoral ship carries two of the original B models, only one C model is needed, Navy officials said.

Obama’s budget “deferred” acquisition of more Fire Scouts, Smith said, “to better align” with deliveries of the littoral ships and allow for continued testing of the new MQ-8C models.


Gov. McCrory to sell North Carolina's state helicopter on eBay

 To save money, Gov. Pat McCrory wants to sell the state’s helicopter.

The 1998 Sikorsky S-76 cost $265,000 to operate and maintain in 2013, even though it logged only 14.3 hours in flight. So the governor is putting it on eBay.

“This is one more example of how state government is operating more efficiently by taking a close look at resources and finding ways to cut costs,” McCrory said in a statement.

The 12-passenger helicopter could fetch $3 million at auction, based on prices of similar models listed for sale online. All proceeds from the sale would go to the state’s general fund, according to the governor’s office.

Read more here:

The N.C. Department of Transportation manages the helicopter, as well as two twin turbo-prop passenger planes and a Cessna Citation Bravo Jet. Past governors and state officials used the helicopter to survey disaster zones and assist in economic development projects.

The administration plans to negotiate a contract with a private helicopter provider to allow access when needed. No further details about the potential costs were available.

Compared to his predecessors, McCrory has used the Sikorsky the least. In his first year, the state escaped major hurricane damage along the coast. The hours logged in the Republican’s first year of office were half the lowest total in the past seven years, costing $74,360, according to state records.

The helicopter costs $5,200 an hour to operate. It requires two pilots.

Former Democratic Gov. Mike Easley’s administration put 112.6 hours on the helicopter in 2007 to the tune of $585,520, records show, and another nearly 78.7 hours in 2008 at $409,240.

Under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue the total reached about 63 hours, at $327,600 in both 2012 and 2011.

In 2010, Perdue’s administration put 56.1 hours at $291,720 and in 2009, 29.8 hours at $154,960.

Story, photo and comments/reaction:

To save money, Gov. Pat McCrory wants to sell the state’s helicopter. This 1998 Sikorsky S-76 cost $265,000 to operate and maintain in 2013, even though it logged only 14.3 hours in flight. The governor is putting it on eBay.

Do you know where these planes crashed? Divers are trying to locate US Air Force wreckage off of Bermuda

Divers searching for two US Air Force planes that collided in Bermuda 50 years ago have appealed to the public for help in finding the wrecks.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the air disaster that claimed the lives of 17 servicemen.

And later this summer, a group of relatives of those who died will travel to Bermuda to mark the memorial.

Local deep-sea diver Graham Maddocks is keen to help the group by placing a wreath where the planes came to rest under the waves during their visit to the island in June.

And he believes members of the public may hold vital information about the exact location of the crash.

Mr Maddocks, who runs Triangle Diving, told the Sun: “We know approximately where these planes went down from pictures that were in the papers at the time.

“But obviously in those days there was no GPS locations or anything like that.

“So the idea is to gather as much information as possible before we start to dive the area we believe the aircraft may be in.”

“From the pictures and stories around at the time, we believe that the planes went down somewhere between Tucker’s Town and Cooper’s Island, maybe a mile off the island.

“There is no certainty that we will be able to find these planes after all this time.

“But we want to give it a good go and give these guys who are coming over to mark the memorial something extra to remember the trip by.”

Mike Belter is organizing the memorial trip to Bermuda for the US relatives of those who died.

Mr Belter’s father, Lowell ‘Mick’ Belter, died in the collision on June 29, 1964.

He was living in Bermuda and just eight years old when his father, a radio operator, was killed on board one of the planes.


But the devastating events that took place in the air off Bermuda almost half a century ago had a profound and life-changing effect on the Belter family.

He told the Bermuda Sun: “At this point, we have 25 persons confirmed and a possibility of four others attending from the States.

“The confirmed come from three families of the 17 airmen killed in the crash in 1964, plus two airmen and their spouses who were assigned to Kindley or the Azores planes.”

Mr Belter added: “We know that large pieces of wreckage were found at around 190 feet deep, near the limits of what could be recovered in 1964, as major parts of the Azores plane were recovered, including the bodies of four of the seven crewmen in that plane.

“Much of the Kindley HC-97, my dad’s plane, was not recovered, and only one body, that of the pararescueman  who was likely in the door to jump at the time of the collision, was recovered, while nine were never recovered.

“We know that aluminum components of the aircraft are not likely to survive the ocean after fifty years, but there should be evidence of the crash still located on the ocean floor.

 “In providing permission and encouragement for Graham Maddocks and his friends to dive the crash site, we discovered that the actual location is not known.


“We do know that early reports had the crash about two miles off of St David’s Head, then subsequent reports put it two miles south of Castle Island or Tucker’s Town.

“In looking at the press reports at the time, while Kindley called upon American Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force personnel and assets to assist in rescue and recovery operations, we know that Bermudians also were involved in operating boats and other services in this effort.

“I know that Royden ‘Soap’ Fox was a marine pilot who was in the boats involved in the recovery of the mock Gemini spacecraft, so perhaps there is other information out there that would specify the location of the crash.

 “The families would appreciate this information, and this would assist Graham in finding the resting place of 12 of the 17 airmen killed.”

Story and photos:

Airshow returns to skies over Binghamton, New York

Town of Maine, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Military jets will be flying over Broome County once again this summer as Broome County Executive Debbie Preston announced the return of the Greater Binghamton Air Show.

The air show has been on a five year hiatus due to construction projects and lack of a premiere sponsor.

This year, Tioga Downs is helping to sponsor the event.

"This is important to the people of Broome County and we have been getting so many calls about this over the last couple of years," Preston said. "We're just grateful we've been able to find a way to put this on."

This year's airshow will feature the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute team, an 11 ship aerobatic team, and historic World War Two warbirds.

General Manager for Tioga Downs Thomas Osiecki said Tioga Downs owner Jeff Gural wanted to help revive the annual tradition.

"This is just a really big opportunity to come in and take premiere sponsorship of the biggest show in town," Osiecki said.

For the first time, the show will include a night performance where planes will launch fireworks in the air.

The airfield will open at 6 p.m. on Friday with opening ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m.

Saturday, the field will open at 10 a.m. with planes flying beginning around noon, and concluding at

Advance tickets will be $12 for adults, $7 for young adults, and children under 7 are free.

Tickets bought at the door will be $15 for adults and $10 for young adults.

Tickets will be good for both the evening and day shows on July 4 and 5.

Tickets will soon be available online at the Greater Binghamton airport website and also will be available to buy at certain locations in Broome County. 

Story and video:

♥♡Float Plane Obsessed♥♡ 'Let those pilots stare, I have an agenda; and it includes taking a zillion photos of them' -Jessica


 May 2, 2014 by Jessica

When we first pulled in to our little anchorage here in Bimini all the way at the end of the channel, there had been a small orange buoy floating near the edge that we could not for the life of us figure out what it was meant for.  At first we thought that maybe a dive boat tied up next to it, but believe me, there is nothing interesting in this spot to dive on.  Or maybe there is and we don’t know it?  The water’s been a little too murky in this area to actually see what’s on the bottom.

It didn’t take us long to solve the mystery though.  While I was in town checking us in on Monday Matt was greeted with a roaring plane engine while he relaxed below.  Maybe this is a designated anchorage, maybe it’s not, but we have found out that it’s where Resort World Bimini, which we’re right next to, uses as an airstrip for their float planes and uses the mooring to tie up to if the dock is full.  Every hour or so there’s one landing or taking off right next to us, and I’ve admittedly become obsessed with them, running into the cockpit each time I hear those propellers running.  I’m sure the pilots are so sick me of aiming my camera at them each time they land or take off, but ever since our friends on Laho have moved over to this anchorage as well, Kim’s been taking the occasional photos too, so I don’t feel so deserted in my obsession.  Let those pilots stare, I have an agenda.  And it includes taking a zillion photos of them.

Story and photo gallery:

Matt & Jessica's Sailing Page

Dumbrell aircraft crash report delayed: Rand Robinson KR-2, VH-CTE, accident occurred in Adelong, NSW - Australia

A draft  investigation report into the light aircraft crash that claimed the life of Ben Dumbrell last year has been delayed.  

Mr Dumbrell, a former Tumut deputy mayor and passionate aviator, was found dead inside the wreckage of his amateur-built Rand Robinson KR-2 plane near Adelong on October 7.

An update from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said completion of its draft report had been delayed.

It is expected to be released to directly involved parties for comment this month.

"Feedback from those parties on the factual accuracy of the draft report will be considered for inclusion in the final report," the ATSB investigation report said.

The final report is due to be made available to the public in July.

The 65-year-old's family had reported him missing after he hadn't been heard from since leaving home for a flight to Holbrook two days earlier.

The crashed plane was found about 400 metres from the private landing strip where it took off.

Story and photo:

Ben Dumbrell: his body was found in the wreckage of a Rand Robinson KR-2 plane.

Collision with terrain involving Rand Robinson KR-2, VH-CTE, near Tumut, NSW on 5 October 2013 

Investigation number: AO-2013-174
Investigation status: Active

Updated: 10 April 2014

Completion of the draft investigation report has been delayed and is now anticipated for release to directly involved parties for comment in May 2014. Feedback from those parties on the factual accuracy of the draft report will be considered for inclusion in the final report, which is anticipated to be released to the public in July 2014.

At about 0900 Eastern Standard Time on Saturday 5 October 2013, the pilot of an amateur-built Rand Robinson KR-2, two-seat aeroplane, registered VH-CTE and operated in the ‘Experimental’ category, took off from an airstrip on private property 14 km west of Tumut Airport, New South Wales (NSW). The pilot was reported to have intended to fly the 48 NM (89 km) to Holbrook, NSW, for the weekend.

On the evening of Sunday 6 October, when the pilot had not returned home, he was reported missing and a search commenced. Due to darkness, the search was suspended and recommenced the following morning. During the early morning of 7 October 2013 the aircraft wreckage was found about 400m north-east of the airstrip.

The pilot was fatally injured and the aircraft destroyed.

Long Island MacArthur Airport (KISP), New York

Letter: Airport's woes found in prices

Published: May 2, 2014 6:22 PM

I agree with the letter saying why Long Island MacArthur Airport's business is declining ["Free advice for MacArthur Airport," April 30].

I would like to add one more item to the writer's list: The prices are too high. I recently tried to book a round trip for my wife and me to Chicago on Southwest, the only major airline at MacArthur Airport. Instead, we will be flying out of LaGuardia Airport and will save more than $550. On top of that, they're non-stop flights both ways.

Wayne Mortak, West Babylon


Letter: Free advice for MacArthur Airport 

Islip town is spending $100,000 for consultants to evaluate the declining use of Long Island MacArthur Airport ["Consultants hired to aid struggling airport," News, April 24].

Let me do it for free:

1. No direct rail access.

2. Parking is too expensive.

3. Zero advertising to eastern Nassau County.

4. No direct flights other than to some Florida airports.

Offer cheap parking and subsidized limousine and taxi service, provide flights to almost all destinations east of Chicago non-stop, and let the public know about it.

Arthur Abrahamsen, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Article and comments/reaction:

Smith Reynolds Airport (KINT), Winston Salem, North Carolina

North State Aviation expands at Smith Reynolds Airport  

To provide room for growth, North State Aviation has expanded its lease at the Smith Reynolds Airport, giving the aircraft maintenance company control over the vast majority of the 310,000-square-foot building at 4001 N. Liberty St.

Mark Davidson, airport director, said the Airport Commission of Forsyth County recently agreed to amend North State's lease so that the company now leases 301,189 square feet of the building, which includes hangars and work shop space. Davidson said the airport commission occupies 4,271-square-feet for facility maintenance work shop space while the remaining 4,000 square feet is home to a cafeteria.

"NS Aviation is now essentially leasing all the space and now has security control over the building and plenty of space for office and storage," Davidson said.

Abner Wright and Brad Millsaps, brokers with Freeman Commercial Real Estate, represented the airport commission in the deal. Wright said NS Aviation previously occupied 205,000-square feet and added about 96,000 square feet.

He said he and Millsaps were showing the building to prospective tenants, but that North State decided it should go ahead and lease most of the building at a time of growth for the company.

NS Aviation could not be reached, but Davidson said the company is by far the largest tenant at Smith Reynolds Airport. As of late last year, North State was well on the way to its goal of employing more than 300 as part of an incentives agreement that it accepted in 2011 to go from a startup with about 30 employees to 308 employees by the end of March.

Story and photo:

Morris Municipal Airport (KMOX), Minnesota

Morris Municipal Airport adds new hangar 

MORRIS – There will soon be more room for planes at the Morris Municipal Airport, thanks to the construction of a new hangar at the facility.

The new hangar is located east of the two long, green hangars at the airport. The new building is 95’ by 110’ which will allow larger planes to be stored there. 

Keith Davison is the chair of the Airport Advisory Committee. He is excited to see the progress on the new hangar.

“I don’t think most people realize how busy our airport is,” Davison said. “There are at least eight businesses that regularly fly in and out of our airport, and we have a waiting list for hangar space.”

Davison said that the airport seems quiet during the day because most of the business flights have left by the time most of us are just getting ready for work. 

The airport is staffed five days a week, another thing Davison says most folks may not realize.  Dorothy Schneider has been the airport manager for 29 years. 

Construction of the new hangar is expected to be completed in June, weather permitting.  Schneider said the strong winds over the past week have prevented the crew from working on the facility. Additionally, they need to wait for the ground to thaw completely before completing the concrete and bituminous installation. But she says the pilots are anxious and frequently ask when they’ll be able to use the new hangar. 

TKDA Engineering of St. Paul has done the engineering for the design and construction of the new hangar. The estimated cost is $700,000, but Davison says that much of the funding will come from the federal government.

According to City Manager Blaine Hill, the federal government will provide $609,000 and $14,000 will come from the state. The city’s share is $77,000, which will be recouped through rental fees for the new facility.  

Davison says the day the hangar is ready to rent, it will be full.He is hopeful a second hangar can be constructed soon as there is enough interest to fill another facility.

However, there are some setback restrictions on the property that make placement of another hangar challenging. Additionally, Davison says they are continuing to discuss a longer runway for the airport, but funding for that project is the biggest obstacle.  

Story and photo:

The new hangar at Morris Municipal Airport will be full the day it is ready to rent said Keith Davison, chair of the Airport Advisory Committee. The new hangar is expected to be completed in June.

New York Drone Crash Prompts Second Federal Aviation Administration Fine for Reckless Flight

A man whose drone hit two buildings in New York before crashing into a sidewalk 20 feet from a pedestrian near Grand Central Terminal last year was fined $2,200 by the U.S. government.

The penalty is the second issued by the Federal Aviation Administration against a pilot of an unmanned aircraft as regulators struggle to police the burgeoning use of drones that anyone can purchase online or at hobby shops. The FAA doesn’t allow drone flights in the U.S. unless it has granted a special permit, which wasn’t done in this case.

The FAA said David Zablidowsky flew a small helicopter off a building on East 38th Street in Manhattan on Sept. 30, 2013, according to a letter proposing the fine. Zablidowsky didn’t obtain permission from FAA air-traffic controllers and his aircraft struck two buildings before crash landing, according to the letter.

The letter, dated March 20, was released by the agency today.

An administrative law judge on March 6 dismissed the FAA’s $10,000 fine against another drone operator after finding the agency didn’t have regulatory authority over his small plane. The agency has appealed that decision. 


Walton IM Quad City Challenger II, G-MYIX, Roland Sinclair-Brown: Accident occurred May 02, 2014 near Wragholme Road, Grainthorpe, Louth, Lincolnshire

During a check flight the pilot applied full power prior to conducting a timed climb. However, the engine rpm suddenly increased and it became apparent that the drive to the propeller had become disconnected. The aircraft was damaged in the subsequent forced landing, although the occupants were uninjured. It was found that the drive belt that connected the engine driveshaft to the propeller shaft, located immediately above the engine driveshaft, had migrated out of the groove in the lower pulley. This may have been the result of a degree of misalignment between the engine driveshaft and propeller shaft.

A pilot had to ditch his plane into a field after the engine suddenly "ran away" when out on a test flight.

The two-seater Quad City Challenger II light aircraft was flying from North Coates Airfield in May when it crash landed into a ditch in Grainthorpe.

As reported at the time, the two people on board walked away unhurt but there was damage to the aircraft which landed in farmland off Wragholme Road at around 3.30pm.

Firefighters from Louth and North Somercotes as well as paramedics rushed to the scene and police were also called.

A report into the accident from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) found that the drive belt that connected the engine to the propeller had moved, causing the incident.

The pilot, aged 69, had almost 300 hours of flying experience prior to the flight, the report said.

The plane was on a test run after it had been inspected for revalidation of its Permit to Fly just days before the crash.

During the flight the pilot applied full power prior to a timed climb but the engine rpm "suddenly increased" and "it became apparent that the drive to the propeller had become disconnected," the report said.

It was found that the drive belt that connected the engine driveshaft to the propeller shaft, above the engine driveshaft, had moved, according to the report.

The pilot had taken the aircraft to over 1,000 feet over an open area when he began the timed climb, but at around 1,200 feet the engine rpm suddenly "ran away".

He immediately throttled back and lowered the nose so that the aircraft settled into a glide at approximately 55 mph.

He checked with his passenger what he had heard and, as a check, opened the throttle again. The engine rpm increased rapidly, suggesting the drive to the propeller had been lost.

The report said the pilot chose an arable field for a landing, bisected by a drainage ditch which he intended to land 10 metres to the eastern side of.

It later became apparent that the ground on the far side of the ditch was a few metres higher than on the approach side.

The report said: "This prompted the pilot to pull back sharply on the stick, causing the aircraft to stall and land heavily on top of the embankment on the eastern side of the ditch.

"Neither of the occupants of the aircraft was injured, although considerable damage had occurred to the landing gear and fuselage underside."

An examination of the aircraft revealed that there was "excessive wear" on the internal surface of the pulley on the engine driveshaft, with a corresponding build-up of aluminium alloy material.

It was concluded that there had been a slip between the two components.

The pilot later commented that he had been aware of occasional "blips" in the engine rpm, but attributed these to carburetor icing.

He considered this may have been a symptom of the drive successively slipping and locking, the report found.

The Light Aircraft Association (LAA) noted that this type of propeller drive system has largely been replace by more modern and reliable gearboxes.

Fire crews from Louth and North Somercotes were called out this afternoon to a light aircraft which made an emergency landing in a field near Grainthorpe.

Lincolnshire Police were also present on scene at around 5.30pm on Friday (May 2), but no further action was required.

The nature of the emergency landing, at this stage is unknown.

Story and photo:

Cessna 172: Accident occurred May 02, 2014 at Kijipwa Airfield, Kilifi County - Kenya

A light aircraft has crashed in Kilifi killing the pilot who was the sole occupant. The Cessna 172 had left Kijipwa airfield and was only 10 minutes airborne before it crashed near Vipingo. Locals who witnessed the plane. 


A man was killed when the light aircraft he was testing crashed at Vipingo in Kilifi County on Friday afternoon.

Confirming the incident, Kilifi County Commissioner Erastus Ekidor said the man was the only occupant of the plane.

“We can only confirm that the deceased is of African origin but we cannot reveal his identity until the family is informed of his death,” said Mr Ekidor.

The commissioner who was accompanied to the scene by top county security officials including Kilifi OCPD Justine Nyaga and CID boss Ali Samata said that the accident happened after the deceased took the newly-assembled plane, identified as a Cessna 172, for a test flight from Kijipwa airstrip.

“The accident happened just ten minutes after the light aircraft took off. It seemed to have mechanical problems,” added Mr Ekidor. The police have launched investigation to establish exactly what happened.

“We are investigating what might have caused the accident. However, initially it appears that the plane might have developed mechanical problems,” said Mr Nyaga.

Story and photo:

Security personnel at the scene where a light aircraft crashed at Vipingo in Kilifi County on May 2, 2014. 

Beech V35B Bonanza, N702JS: Accident occurred May 02, 2014 in Middlesboro, Kentucky

NTSB Identification: ERA14LA218
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, May 02, 2014 in Middlesboro, KY
Probable Cause Approval Date: 12/15/2014
Aircraft: BEECH V35B, registration: N702JS
Injuries: 1 Serious.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The private pilot departed in the airplane, which he had purchased that morning, with his dog onboard. According to the airplane’s previous owner, who witnessed the accident, shortly after takeoff, the pilot announced over the common traffic advisory frequency that the “door popped open” and that he was returning to the airport. The witness further stated that, on final approach, about 30 feet above ground level, the airplane banked left, rolled wings level, flew perpendicular away from the runway, and impacted the ground in a flat attitude. The airplane subsequently became engulfed in flames.
Postaccident examination of the airframe and engine did not reveal any abnormalities that would have precluded normal operation. Thermal damage around the main cabin door precluded determination of the main cabin door locking mechanism’s position at the time of impact. It is likely that the pilot did not securely latch the main cabin door before takeoff and that the door partially opened in flight, which resulted in his decision to return to the departure airport. It is also likely that the pilot’s dog was not in an animal carrier, which further distracted the pilot. As the pilot slowed the airplane for landing, his attention was likely more focused on the partially opened door and the dog than the landing, which resulted in his failure to maintain airplane control during the landing approach.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The pilot's failure to maintain airplane control during the landing approach due to his diverted attention to the partially opened main cabin door and the unsecured dog. Contributing to the accident was the pilot's failure to securely latch the main cabin door before takeoff and to secure his dog.


On May 2, 2014, about 1340 eastern daylight time, a Beech V35B, N702JS, collided with terrain during a landing attempt at Middlesboro-Bell County Airport (1A6), Middlesboro, Kentucky. The certificated private pilot sustained serious injuries and a dog sustained minor injuries. The airplane sustained substantial impact and thermal damage to both wings and fuselage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the flight. The airplane was registered to a private individual and operated by another private individual under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight.

According to an eyewitness, who was also the registered owner of the airplane on file with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot purchased the airplane the morning of the accident and flew with another private pilot prior to the accident flight. Shortly after departure, on the accident flight, the pilot announced on the common traffic advisory frequency that a "door popped open" and that he was returning to land. The eyewitness further stated that on final approach, about 30 feet above ground level, the airplane banked to the left, rolled wings level, flew perpendicular away from the runway, and impacted the ground in a flat attitude. The airplane subsequently became engulfed in flames, and the pilot extricated himself from the airplane with thermal injuries.


The pilot, age 71, held a private pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land, issued September 30, 1995, and a third class medical certificate issued February 21, 2006. The pilot's logbook was not provided to the investigation team at the time of this writing. On the pilot's February 21, 2006, medical application, he reported approximately 2300 total flight hours.


The four-seat, low-wing airplane, serial number D-9603 was manufactured in 1974. It was powered by a Teledyne Continental Motors IO-550B. Review of the airplane maintenance logbook records showed and annual inspection was completed on May 1, 2014, at a recorded tachometer reading of 2250.5 hours, which correlated to an airframe total time of 5363.67 hours. The tachometer was observed at the accident site and indicated 2250.58 hours.

According to an FAA inspector on scene, an FAA Aircraft Registration Form, No. 2120-0042, was located within the wreckage. The form was dated May 2, 2014, and listed the accident pilot as the registered owner. A Bill of Sale was also provided from the previous registered owner dated May 2, 2014, and indicated that the accident pilot had purchased the airplane from the registered owners.


The 1335 recorded weather observation at 1A6, included wind from 270 degrees at 4 knots, 10 miles visibility, broken clouds at 5,500 feet above ground level, temperature 18 degrees C, dew point 4 degrees C; barometric altimeter 29.93 inches of mercury


The airport is a publically owned airport and at the time of the accident did not have an operating control tower. The airport was equipped with one runway designated as runway 10/28. The runway was 3,631-foot-long by 75-foot-wide runway and was listed as "in good condition." The airport was 1,154 feet above mean sea level.


On-site examination of the wreckage by an FAA inspector and a representative from the airplane manufacturer revealed that the airplane impacted the paved portion of the displaced threshold of the intended landing runway with the left wing fiberglass fuel tip tank. The debris path was about 250 feet in length, from the initial impact point to the main wreckage, began about 90 feet prior to the runway displaced threshold, and was on a course of about 071 degrees. Along the debris path, 5 distinct ground scars were located in the ground, similar in appearance as propeller blade marks. The ground scars varied in distance between each other and were progressively increasing in distance. The distances from the first ground scar to the last ground scar was approximately 48 inches. Further examination revealed flight control continuity to all flight control surfaces and the ruddervator trim actuator extension was measured and found to be about one-half inch, which correlated to approximately 20 degree nose up trim position. Both wing flap actuators were measured and the measurements correlated to about a 30 degree flap position. Both main fuel tanks contained approximately 40 gallons of blue fluid similar in color and smell as 100 LL aviation fuel and both fiberglass wingtip tanks were breeched. The fuel selector valve was found in the right wing main fuel tank detent. The fuel system was free of debris and no abnormalities with the system were noted. All three landing gear assemblies, including the actuators, were found in the extended position and the landing gear selector handle, located in the cockpit, was found in the "DOWN" position. The cockpit and forward portion of the cabin, including the main cabin door, exhibited thermal damage consistent with postimpact fire. The thermal damage precluded examination of the door lock mechanism.

No evidence existed in the wreckage that indicated there was any animal carrier to secure the dog. However, the investigation could not conclusively determine if the dog was in the front seat or some other location in the airplane at the time of the accident.


A postaccident examination of the engine, revealed thermal damage to the rear accessories as well as cables and hoses. The engine was mounted in an engine test cell, started on the first attempt, and operated at various power settings required of a newly manufactured engine. During the engine exam and test run, no anomalies were noted that would have precluded normal operation. For further information in regards to the engine examination please reference the "Engine Examination Report" located in the docket for this accident case.


The Pilot Operating Manual (POM) "BEFORE TAKE-OFF" checklist in Section II, "Normal Procedures" outlines the before takeoff procedures. The procedure states in part "….11. Doors and Windows – Secure…"

In addition Section III "Emergency Procedures" states in part "Unlatched Door in Flight – If the cabin door is not locked it may come unlatched in flight. This may occur during or just after take-off. The door will trail in a position approximately 3 inches open but the flight characteristics of the airplane will not be affected. Return to the field in a normal manner. If practicable, during the landing flare-out have a passenger hold the door to prevent it from swinging open."

According to the Hawker Beechcraft Corporation "Bonanza 35 Series Shop Manual" Section 7C, "Cabin and Baggage Compartment" states in part "…14 Windows and Doors -…Inspect doors for security of attachment. Check latching mechanism for proper engagement and ease of operation. Check that the rotation of the interior door handle without depressing the handle lock release button does not unlatch the door…"

NTSB Identification: ERA14LA218 
 14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, May 02, 2014 in Middlesboro, KY
Aircraft: BEECH V35B, registration: N702JS
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On May 2, 2014, about 1340 eastern daylight time, a Beech V35B, N702JS, collided with terrain during a landing attempt at Middlesboro-Bell County Airport (1A6), Middlesboro, Kentucky. The certificated private pilot sustained serious injuries and a dog sustained minor injuries. The airplane sustained substantial impact and thermal damage to both wings and fuselage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the flight. The airplane was registered to a private individual and operated by another private individual under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight.

According to an eyewitness, who was also the registered owner of the airplane on file with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot purchased the airplane the morning of the accident and flew with another private pilot prior to the accident flight. Shortly after departure, on the accident flight, the pilot announced on the common traffic advisory frequency that a "door popped open" and that he was returning to land. The eyewitness further stated that on final approach, about 30 feet above ground level, the airplane banked to the left, rolled wings level, flew perpendicular away from the runway, and impacted the ground in a flat attitude. The airplane subsequently became engulfed in flames, and the pilot extricated himself from the airplane with thermal injuries.

Examination of the airplane by an FAA inspector and a representative from the airplane manufacturer, revealed that the it impacted the paved portion of the displaced threshold of the intended runway with the left wing fiberglass fuel tip tank. The debris path was about 210 feet in length, from the initial impact point to the main wreckage, and was located to the left of the paved portion of the intended runway. Further examination revealed flight control continuity to all flight control surfaces and the ruddervator trim actuator extension was measured and found to be about one-half inch, which correlates to approximately 20 degree nose up trim position. Both wing flaps were measured and the measurement correlated to about a 30 degree flap position. Both main fuel tanks contained approximately 40 gallons of blue fluid similar in color and smell as 100 LL aviation fuel and both fiberglass wingtip tanks were breeched. The fuel selector valve was found in the right wing main fuel tank detent. The fuel system was free of debris and no abnormalities with the system were noted. All three landing gear assemblies, including the actuators, were found in the extended position and the landing gear selector handle, located in the cockpit, was found in the "DOWN" position.

The engine was retained for further examination.


 Update 5-6-14

In a preliminary report, FAA officials say an open door on the plane forced the pilot to return to the airport.

Police say when trying to land, the 71-year-old pilot from Texas lost control and a wing struck the runway, causing the plane to catch fire.

The pilot is in the Vanderbilt Burn Center.

Update 5-5-14

The Middlesboro Bell County Airport has re-opened following Friday's plane crash.

Middlesboro police say the FAA was there during the weekend investigating the crash.

Police say on Friday, a 71-year-old pilot from took off from the airport bound for Texas but had a problem develop and returned to land.

police say he lost control and a wing struck the runway, causing the plane veer off the runway and catch fire.

Police say the pilot is in the Vanderbilt Burn Center.

Update 7:30 p.m.

Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe said Saturday the Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the cause of the crash at the Middlesboro-Bell County Airport.

Sharpe said around 1 p.m. a Beech-Bonanza V-35B crashed and caught on fire.

Officers said the pilot received burn injuries, but was conscious and able to talk to first responders at the scene.

He was flown to the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Sharpe said the 71-year-old is being transferred to the Vanderbilt Burn Center.

Police are not releasing his name until the family is notified, but said he is from Texas.

Officials said preliminary investigation shows the plane took off from the airport bound to Texas. A problem then developed and the pilot turned around to land, but lost control upon approach. A wing struck the runway causing the plane to veer off the runway and catch fire.

The airport remains closed, and police said it will not re-open until the FAA approves doing so.

The Middlesboro-Bell County Airport is closed following a plane crash.

Police Chief Jeff Sharpe says one man was flown to the hospital when his plane crashed during landing around one this afternoon.

Police say the plane then caught fire.

The airport is closed for the time being. NTSB is on the way.

Pilot Pleads Guilty To Trying To Fly Plane While Drunk

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A former American Eagle pilot has pleaded guilty to trying to fly a plane from Minneapolis to New York City last year while he was twice over the legal alcohol limit for pilots.

Kolbjorn Jarle Kristiansen, 48, was arrested at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Jan. 4, 2013 after airport police and a Transportation Security Administration officer said they smelled alcohol as they walked past a group of four pilots.

Authorities said a preliminary test revealed Kristiansen’s blood-alcohol content was 0.107, and a subsequent blood test revealed Kristiansen’s blood-alcohol level was 0.09. Both readings are more than double the legal limit for pilots.

While federal law criminalizes the operation of an aircraft while under the influence of alcohol, state statutes make it a crime if a person also makes an “attempt” to operate an aircraft while under the influence.

On Friday, Kristiansen pleaded guilty in the incident. Kristiansen was charged with three gross misdemeanors, but other charges were dismissed.

He was sentenced to one year in prison with 305 of those days stayed. He must go through Alcoholics Anonymous and complete 240 hours of community service.

American Airlines, which uses American Eagle to operate shorter connecting flights, confirmed that Kristiansen is no longer employed with the company. 

Story and photo:

“This is a huge embarrassment to the Federal Aviation Administration" - Arthur Wolk, Aviation Attorney: US Congressman to probe FAA after PIX11 report on air traffic controllers

NEW YORK (PIX11) – How did the first sentence read in the FAA’s response to PIX11 News surrounding our investigative series of reports regarding air traffic controllers back in FAA towers or centers after contributing to deadly crashes?

“The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates the safest aviation system in the world.”

To which U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, out of the 18th District of New York, said in a call with PIX 11 News Wednesday afternoon, “I think it’s not good enough to say we run a safe system.”

This is all a result of a four-month long investigation by PIX11 that uncovered several air traffic controllers involved in a number of deadly crashes who are currently listed on the agency’s online employment directory, working out of FAA towers or control centers. In fact, according to Florida aviation attorney Barry Newman, some controllers were back on the job in a matter of “days.”

Arthur Wolk, an aviation attorney out of Philadelphia, summed up our investigation in eight words: “This is a huge embarrassment to the FAA.”

The office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida weighed in to PIX11 with the following reaction to our investigation through a spokesperson. “Air travelers should be assured that well-trained, professional air traffic controllers maintain the safest airspace in the world. The FAA must hold controllers accountable when mistakes are made on the job and make sure safety is always the number one priority.”

The FAA in its statement also stated that, “Non-punitive safety reporting systems also encourage controllers and other aviation professionals to report safety incidents so that the FAA can fully understand what happened and implement any necessary corrective actions.”

The agency is referring to the Air Traffic Safety Action Program created between the National Air Traffic Controllers Association and the FAA, where controllers cannot be de-certified nor can any credentialing action take place if they self-report a compromise in safety.

The Department of Transportation Inspector General, the federal monitor of the FAA, said in this July 2012 report that the collaboration lacks transparency and accountability as well as FAA oversight as a result of the involvement of the controllers union involvement

“The bad players, and they’re just a handful, but they have caused death, mayhem, and they’re still on the job. That’s not fair,” said Florida Representative John Mica in the midst of PIX11 News’ investigation.

The former Chairman of the House Transportation Committee, as well as the former Chairman of the House Aviation Sub-Committee feels that controllers are being shielded. “This pendulum has swung I think too far in the direction of protecting people who should be held accountable and should be dismissed.”

This said, to hold the FAA accountable takes action.

Representative Maloney said he is going to do just that. “Well I’m going take action on it. What we’re going to start with is getting the answers to the questions that you posed in your report Mario, and we’ll take it from there and we’ll let the chips fall where they may. This is a public safety issue and it’s too serious to let politics get in the way, so I’m writing to the FAA and I want answers to the questions you raised and we’ll share them with you.“

The FAA in its statement added that controllers are covered by the provisions of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association contract and while the FAA on it’s “Mission Page” clearly boasts that it is accountable not to a union, but to the American public, as Senator Charles Schumer said in our recent interview, that policy should be examined for one simple reason.

“This is a very important job, one of the most important jobs there is in America because you have people’s lives in your hands and there ought to be strict, strict standards.”

Story and video:

NORAD to conduct flight exercises over Carolinas

North American Aerospace Defense Command will conduct exercise flights today as they practice intercept and identification procedures. The exercise will occur over northeastern South Carolina and central North Carolina between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m.

The flights could be delayed or cancelled, however, because of weather concerns.

The flights are scheduled to take place in the regions encompassing Columbia, Myrtle Beach and Jacksonville, N.C., as well as between Franklin, N.C., and Fayetteville, N.C. People in this area might hear or see low-flying NORAD-controlled fighter jets in close proximity to a military or military contracted aircraft, which will be taking on the role of aircraft of interest.

NORAD continuously conducts exercises with a variety of scenarios, including airspace restriction violations, hijackings and responding to unknown aircraft as a means of testing responses, systems and equipment. All NORAD exercises are planned carefully and are controlled closely.

NORAD is the bi-national Canadian and American command that provides maritime warning, aerospace warning and aerospace control for Canada and the United States. The command has three subordinate regional headquarters: the Alaskan NORAD Region at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska; the Canadian NORAD Region at Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg, Manitoba; and the Continental NORAD Region at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.


Floyd Bennett Memorial Airport (KGFL), Glens Falls, New York

Schermerhorn plans new restaurant for Warren County airport 

QUEENSBURY u The local developer who serves as fixed base operator for Warren County airport is going ahead with plans to build a new restaurant.

Rich Schermerhorn, owner of Rich Air, plans to build the new eatery in a separate building that would be located to the southeast of the terminal.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors Facilities Committee has given conceptual approval for it, and Schermerhorn notified the committee this week that he planned to go ahead with the project in the coming months.

No timetable was released.

The cafe that is located in the terminal, known as Carol’s Airport Cafe, would be converted into office space.

The new building will result in a more modern, expanded restaurant, Schermerhorn said.

“There are more people who want to eat than we have seating for,” Schermerhorn said.

The restaurant would be about 2,500 square feet. Schermerhorn said it would cost about $325,000 to build.

Schermerhorn provided supervisors with a sketch Tuesday that showed the proposed building.

It would have 14 tables for diners and 12 large windows to allow them to look out over the airfield.

“I always try to make sure my properties shine and look good and this will be no different,” he said.

Carol Twiss, operator of Carol’s Airport Cafe, would be given right of first refusal to operate the restaurant. She said last year she planned to run it.

Schermerhorn recently completed two new hangars for planes at the airport, and he said 17 of the 19 spots are already spoken for.


Alabama firms selected for key role in Airbus project

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Hoar Program Management, the firm overseeing construction of the Airbus A320 family Final Assembly Line at Mobile Aeroplex, said today that it has awarded two Alabama-based firms the final general contractor packages on the project.

B.L. Harbert International and Rob’t J. Baggett Inc. join Birmingham-based Brasfield & Gorrie, which in February was awarded the first general contractor package on the Airbus project. At the time, HPM said Brasfield & Gorrie is responsible for outfitting and completing the Final Assembly Line Hangar, as well as constructing the Service Building and Logistics Center.

HPM said B.L. Harbert International will be responsible for the final phase/flight line hangar, the gauging canopy and all exteriors and infrastructure at the site, including taxiways. Rob’t J. Baggett Inc. will build the transshipment hangar and the main gate, while also renovating an existing Mobile Aeroplex building to become an Airbus Logistics Center.

In addition, HPM said that Thompson Engineering of Mobile has been selected for quality assurance material testing for these packages, meaning it will assure that the actual construction and materials utilized are in compliance with design documents for the contracts.

“Now that we’ve awarded these last contracts, we continue to be pleased and proud that all of the general contractors and the majority of their subcontractors are Alabama-based,” HPM President Mike Lanier said. “Out of the more than 75 contracts issued — valued in excess of $200 million — 54 have been granted to Alabama-based companies.”

Airbus is investing $600 million in the Alabama facility, which will produce the aviation giant’s single-aisle A320 aircraft beginning in 2015, with the first customer delivery set for the following year. Airbus will hire 1,000 workers for the Mobile Aeroplex plant, which is expected to attract supplier and service provider facilities to Alabama.

Executives at both B.L. Harbert and Rob’t J. Baggett said their companies are proud to work on a project that will have a massive economic impact on Alabama by making the state a center for passenger jet production.

“We are excited to be part of building the new Airbus facility with the many new jobs it will bring and the long-term economic impact it will have in the Mobile area and across our great state of Alabama,” said Gary W. Savage, president of B.L. Harbert’s US Group.

Beau Baggett, vice president of Rob’t J. Baggett, added, “As a local contractor, we are proud of the fact that we will play a role in this project that we feel will have a huge economic impact on our home — Mobile, the state of Alabama and the Gulf Coast Region.”

The Airbus construction project is gaining momentum. In February, HPM said the last support truss was placed atop the roof of the Final Assembly Line Hangar, the first structure to rise at the site. The important milestone was reached less than 10 months after Airbus held a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of its Alabama facility. In mid-March, HPM and its partners hosted a “topping out ceremony” at the building.

Brasfield & Gorrie Regional President Brian Barr has said his company is excited to work on the project.

“Brasfield & Gorrie enjoys a long tradition in Alabama, and we welcome the opportunity to assist Airbus with advancing this important program,” Barr said in February.  “It is our mission on this project to help make their investment in our state and our people successful.”

Story and photo:

Coming Soon — Hidden Warbirds II: more epic stories of finding, recovering, and rebuilding WWII’s lost aircraft

Nicholas Veronico, the author of Hidden Warbirds as well as Hidden Warbirds II, is easy going and brimming with knowledge — especially whenever relic warbird finding (wreckchasing) arises in the conversation. Hidden Warbirds was reviewed earlier, and what a great read it is with its variety of warbirds, places, people and stories. Happily, a sequel is slated for release this June and it is greatly promising indeed. Having three major parts — underwater recoveries, swamp and jungle recoveries, as well as lucky finds — the book covers Allied and Axis aircraft as well as relatively inexpensive recovery projects to eight figure projects. Many of these aircraft are rare, or nearly so making this book all the more exciting.

Read more here:


Flight simulator instructor fired after CNN gig sues employer


TORONTO – Mitchell Casado, better known as a the flight simulator guy used by CNN during the search for Flight MH370, rose quickly from obscurity to international celebrity.
But now he is unemployed and, he claims, unemployable.  He was fired abruptly by his employer and he told Global News exclusively that he is now filing a wrongful dismissal suit, claiming the manner of his dismissal has tarnished his name.

Casado’s brush with fame came during CNN’s endless coverage of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370.

For hours on end for close to a month Casado was doing live appearances with correspondent Martin Savidge from a flight simulator at uFly in Mississauga.

The all news channel discovered that the story produced a big bump in ratings and made a controversial choice to commit to wall-to-wall coverage, even when there was precious little news to report.

Casado helped fill that vacuum with running commentary on the mechanics of a Boeing 777, as displayed in the simulator.

Other firms that have simulators typically refuse all requests from media to speak about air disasters. But uFly jumped into the breach. First NBC came calling and then CNN booked uFly and milked it. He and Savidge logged hundreds of hours, at one point someone even created a joke twitter hashtag: #freemartinsavidge.

But then on April 16, Casado was abruptly fired by his employer.  uFly owner Claudio Teixeira told the Associated Press that Casado had been warned about being late for his regular shifts.  But what really hurt were the comments about his clothes.  There was much commentary about his jeans and checked shirts—and his boss took notice.

“Even though I let him be on TV,  he shamed us Canadians and shamed my company with the way he was dressing like he was 15 years old,” Teixeira said to AP.

Sitting in his lawyer’s office in downtown Toronto, Casado claimed that he had been blindsided by it all, that there had been no complaints about his performance, including any alleged tardiness.  He received two weeks pay and was shown the door—the day after he was required to train his replacement.  Since then, he says he has become the butt of ridicule on the internet and unable to find work.

“It gets me down to be quite honest with you,” he said.

“I haven’t able to sleep properly, haven’t been able to eat. It’s affected me in really an all encompassing way.”

He says the choice of clothes was not his.  CNN was concerned about his habit of wearing white shirts, which can be problematic on camera.

“The way I was dressed on CNN was because CNN wanted me to dress that way,” he said.  “They physically took me to the store, took out their AMEX and said you’re going to wear this, this and this.”

His lawyer, Muneeza Sheikh of Levitt & Grosman, told Global News that it is not a straightforward wrongful dismissal suit.

“The case actually relates to a violation of his human rights. There’s been defamatory and slanderous remarks made about him by his ex employer,” she said.

“So that has really widened the scope from what should have been a simple wrongful termination case.”

Sheikh and Casado were still working on the details but she said, given the circumstances, there would certainly be a call for punitive damages and a claim that would be in the millions of dollars.

“Really the sky is the limit at this point.”

Global News contacted uFly for comment and the firm responded in an email:  “We are not aware of any such lawsuit being contemplated and are not in a position to comment at this time.”

The court documents had not yet been filed.

Story, photo, video and comments/reaction:

Athens-Ben Epps Airport (KAHN), Athens, Georgia

Athens could lose scheduled airline service

A federal subsidy supporting passenger airline service at Athens-Ben Epps Airport could end this year, potentially leaving the airport without the regular daily service to Nashville provided by Oregon-based SeaPort Airlines since fall 2012.

Loss of the service won’t affect the airport’s status as a commercial airport, serving regular charter flights and general aviation operations, Airport Manager Tim Beggerly said.

The airport was recently notified by the U.S. Department of Transportation that the Essential Air Service program, which provides a $1.5 million annual subsidy to SeaPort Airlines’ operations in Athens, will be reduced or cut entirely as soon as this fall.

The EAS program is funded with fees paid by foreign air carriers for use of U.S. air traffic control services and a trust fund that captures tax revenue from airline ticket and jet fuel sales. The program was put in place following airline deregulation in 1978 to ensure that small communities served by air carriers could maintain a minimal level of service.

Beggerly said the elimination of the EAS subsidy at Athens-Ben Epps would be based on SeaPort’s inability to meet the 10 passenger per day requirement of the program.

According to information from the Athens-Clarke County government, DOT data show SeaPort’s average daily count at 5.9 passengers for the 2013 fiscal year.

In signing the EAS contract in 2012, SeaPort officials indicated that they would engage in a wide-ranging marketing effort to ensure the average daily passenger count would meet the subsidy’s requirement, but Beggerly said airport officials had seen little evidence of any aggressive marketing of the Athens-Ben Epps Airport service, and had addressed those concerns with the airline.

It is possible for the airport to seek a waiver of the planned termination of the EAS subsidy, but doing so will require airport officials to prove that the low passenger count is a temporary decline, Beggerly explained. The average passenger count at Athens-Ben Epps has not exceeded 10 passengers per day since 2009, under SeaPort and a previous carrier, according to information from the county government.

In a Wednesday interview, SeaPort Airlines Executive Vice President Tim Sieber admitted that the company’s Athens operation “cannot sustain itself without a subsidy,” but added that the airline has seen a slight increase in its passenger count since lowering fares in February and is now averaging seven passengers per day. SeaPort operates two flights out of Athens in nine-seat aircraft, Sieber said.

Sieber also suggested that the low passenger counts might be a result of the DOT choosing the two daily flights to Nashville as the option for awarding the EAS subsidy. In applying for the subsidy, the airline had proposed another option as well, offering two flights to Charlotte and one flight to Nashville, which could have provided local passengers with more options for connecting flights to destinations across the country.

Another issue with regard to the EAS contract is the DOT’s announcement that, beginning in the 2015 fiscal year, it will strictly enforce a $200 per seat limit on EAS subsidies. SeaPort has been exceeding that limit, according to Beggerly, and Sieber acknowledged Wednesday that SeaPort’s recent strategy of lowering fares is problematic in connection with the $200 EAS limit.

Sieber could not say Wednesday whether SeaPort officials had been in touch with Athens-Ben Epps Airport officials regarding any plans the airline might have to challenge the DOT move to cut the local EAS subsidy.

As far as the airport is concerned, a subcommittee of the Athens-Ben Epps Airport Authority formed as a result of the DOT announcement on the subsidy could try to attract an airline interested in providing non-subsidized passenger service from the airport, Beggerly said.

The DOT announcement on the subsidy likely will be a subject of an airport authority meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, Beggerly said.

Story, photo and comments/reaction:

Search for Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Faces Possible Delay of Up to Six Weeks: Negotiations With Civilian Contractors Could Lead to Pause in Hunt

The Wall Street Journal
By Daniel Stacey

Updated May 2, 2014 6:41 a.m. ET

SYDNEY—The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 might be delayed up to six weeks by negotiations with civilian contractors that have equipment that can scan deep trenches in the southern Indian Ocean, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Meanwhile, that leaves a lone U.S. Navy submersible to scour the seabed off Australia's west coast where investigators believe the Beijing-bound plane crashed after disappearing from radar on March 8.

The Bluefin-21 submersible drone has been operating at depths of about 4,950 meters-10% beyond its normal limit, according to Australia's defense minister. Its first undersea mission was aborted after just a few hours when it breached its normal depth limit of 4,500 meters, while other sorties have been affected by technical problems.

On Friday evening, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre said the 18th subsurface search mission had been completed, adding that the Australian navy vessel Ocean Shield is heading to Fleet Base West to replenish supplies and personnel. After its visit to port is complete, the vessel will return to its current search area and restart its search efforts with the Bluefin drone.

One person familiar with the search said agreeing on deals with outside contractors would take up to six weeks, after which they would have to transport any new equipment to the search zone. That time frame is likely to make an already-difficult search even tougher as search crews run up against onset of the southern hemisphere winter.

The person said it hadn't yet been decided whether a single company or a range of companies under a subcontractor, would be needed to search a 23,000-square-mile (60,000 square kilometer) area—about the size of the U.S. state of West Virginia. Officials on Friday predicted the search may take up to 12 months.

So far a number of contractors have been considered across the marine salvage, oil and gas, and nonprofit research sectors, said Australian Defense Minister David Johnston, whose country is leading the search operation.

They include two U.S. companies—Williamson & Associates Inc. and Oceaneering International Inc., the minister said. Williamson helped find an Australian warship, HMAS Sydney, in 2008--more than 60 years after it sank to the bottom of the Indian Ocean in World War II following a clash with a German raider.

Art Wright, an operations manager at Williamson in Seattle who was in charge of sonar in the search for the Australian warship, said the expanded search for Flight 370 would likely require switching to lower resolution scans using deep water towed sonar devices. These devices can survey the sea floor more quickly by firing out sonar across a 5,000 meter wide strip, while devices such as the Bluefin typically cover only 400 meter-to-800 meter widths. This would allow search crews to cover 150 square nautical miles a day with a single device, rather than the around 15 square nautical miles so far covered a day using the Bluefin, he said.

Oceaneering International couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Private contractors would likely want to reanalyze a series of acoustic signals—thought to have come from the jet's "black-box" flight recorders—detected by the vessel Ocean Shield in early April, Mr. Wright said. They might also look at recent acoustic test sheets for the two black-box locator beacons, to determine the frequency of pings at which the devices had most recently been operating.

Civilian experts would want to examine the survey work and mission paths taken by the Bluefin to assess whether it may have missed something in its current search area, he said. A search using a submersible sonar device towed behind a boat would likely cost between US$70,000-US$80,000 a day for each ship used, including crew, equipment, fuel and vessel charter fees, according to Mr. Wright.

Offshore survey experts from the oil-and-gas industry including Dutch company Fugro NV might also take part in the expanded search, the person familiar with the situation said. Mr. Wright said research institutes that might tender for the operation include the University of Southampton in the U.K, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California and the University of Hawaii.

Contractors would be asked to devise their own plans for how to carry out future searches based on the "leads and evidence" acquired by authorities to date, Australia's defense minister said. Payment of those contractors was still being worked out as part of a memorandum of understanding being negotiated between Malaysia and Australia, he added.