Monday, June 02, 2014

Diamond Aircraft, London, Ontario, Canada: The deal follows one to make drones

The ink fresh on a deal to manufacture drones for the American military, Diamond Aircraft in London is still selling aircraft, scoring a $7.8-million deal to sell training aircraft to a flight school.

CTI Professional Flight Training in Florida has ordered 22 of the two-seater DA-20.

“It is important. It helps fill the order book,” said Diamond chief executive Peter Maurer. “It is always an affirmation of our aircraft when a school chooses it.”

The DA-20 has proven popular among flight schools, he added.

In a news release, CTI chief executive Alan Mullen said “Diamond’s safety record, low operating costs, modern design, training effectiveness and excellent customer service and warranty support left no rational alternative.

Diamond announced last week a partnership with Northrop Grumman, the American defense giant, to start making surveillance aircraft here by year end, beginning with manned models and evolving to unmanned, known as drones.

“We’re diversifying. When the industry collapsed in 2008 our markets were in private aviation and flight training and we retained that,” Maurer said.

The latest developments are evidence of a turnaround for Diamond, which about a year ago laid off more than 200, cutting staff to about 40.

It now employs about 130 and diversified into manufacturing and selling parts.

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Federal Aviation Administration changes hiring practices for air traffic controllers ignoring qualified students and vets

By John Ferrugia, Catherine Shelley 

4:41 PM, June 2, 2014 

DENVER - Thousands of potential FAA air traffic control trainees, with College Initiative Training (CTI) degrees or previous military experience, have been told by the federal agency they are no longer eligible for job interviews. Instead, the FAA has decided to accept less qualified applicants, apparently to satisfy concerns that the agency needs a more diverse workforce.

More than 25 members of Congress have expressed concern with the new hiring process for air traffic controllers rolled out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year. In a letter to the head of the FAA, members of Congress stated "it is apparent to us there is a lack of transparency in the FAA's interim revised hiring process."

"We were told through the FAA, if you want to be a controller you need to go through one of our CTI-approved programs," said CTI graduate Ryan Meryhew.

Thirty-six schools nationwide carry the distinction of having an FAA-approved program for air traffic controllers by offering a CTI degree. Aims Community College and Metropolitan State University are two Colorado schools that prepare students for careers in aviation and air traffic control through their CTI degree programs.

These are multi-year programs with top-notch simulators and air traffic control programs designed to train students to take the initial air traffic control test called the AT-SAT, which is required by the FAA to begin advanced training at the FAA academy.

"In school I did very well. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. I passed the AT-SAT exam with a 99.5 percent, a near perfect score on the test that the FAA said you've got to pass," said Meryhew.  "I knew I had a passion for the position. It's something that I wanted to do. I dedicated and put everything I had into the program."

In the past, Ryan Meryhew would have been considered "highly qualified" for the FAA's air traffic control program, and like veterans who had military traffic control experience, he would have been given preference in the hiring process.

But suddenly, earlier this year, thousands of students like Ryan were told they were no longer eligible to proceed with the application process. In February, the FAA ignored the pool of applicants waiting to be interviewed for air traffic control positions who had already graduated from school and passed the AT-SAT exam.

Priority for veterans and CTI graduates was no longer given. Instead, anyone interested in becoming an air traffic controller would be part of the same pool of applicants-- a combination of "off the street hires" and those with specialized education or prior experience.

The initial hurdle for all applicants was based solely on a new, online biographical questionnaire that gave test takers instant results.

"It didn't ask me anything about my college experience, my grades, my scores, (and) my ability for the actual job. It asked me what sports I played in high school. What was my least favorite subject in high school. Nothing related to aviation," remembered Meryhew.

"I get a big red 'X' when I applied saying I'm not qualified, but no reason why," explained Annie Keinholz. "Biographically ineligible."

Annie Keinholz, a pilot, finished near the top of her class at Aims Community College and scored a 93 percent on the AT-SAT before the FAA made changes to the hiring process. Now, Keinholz is considered biographically ineligible, and unable to re-take the AT-SAT exam that she previously passed.

She told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia she does not know what biographically ineligible means. She contacted the FAA for information on what caused her to fail the questionnaire, but has yet to receive an answer.

"Right now I still feel angry…I feel like I wasted three years of my life. I followed the rules, and my faith in the government has just gone downhill," said Keinholz.

Professor Kevin Kuhlmann, a retired military pilot who teaches in the CTI program at Metro State said, "Done deal. There's nothing you can do about it."

Changes to the air traffic controller hiring process were abrupt. Schools with CTI programs were not consulted about the upcoming changes and were only  informed after the FAA made their decision to change the hiring process.

After the announcement, the FAA held a teleconference with CTI schools, but Kuhlmann explained that has been the extent of the FAA's communication.

"FAA's telling us nothing," said Kuhlmann. "They say that they treasure the relationship that they've built with us, but what they're saying and what their actions are don't jive together."

Kuhlmann argues, as does the Association of CTI schools, that the FAA is taking less qualified applicants that have no clear aptitude for the job. In the end, they say, the policy will will cost taxpayers millions.

Kuhlmann reasoned that because students have already paid for their own initial training by attending schools like Metro State, they will have "less time at the facility, less per diem. They're not on the payroll for those six weeks. They're not put up in a hotel for those six weeks."

In contrast to Professor Kuhlmann's prediction that the new hiring changes will cost taxpayers millions, the FAA claims the new system will save money but provided CALL7 Investigators no data to back up the claim.

Kuhlmann pointed to a 2012 study conducted by the FAA showing that when veterans, CTI students, and hires off the street are compared by the amount of time it takes to become a "Certified Professional Controller," or CPC, those hired off the street take longer and therefore cost more.

"It means they're going to be there longer. They're going to have to do the basic course, and it's going to cost more money," said Kuhlmann.

In the same report, it showed in the final survey year that hires off the street and veterans when compared to CTI graduates had a higher wash-out rate. In addition, CTI graduates and veterans each had a higher rate of success in becoming Certified Professional Controllers than off the street hires.

A June 2013 FAA study stated, “Simply based on training performance, a preference for CTI graduates over GP (general population) applicants at both en route and terminal facilities seems warranted.”

No one that the CALL7 Investigators spoke with about the hiring changes knew why the FAA set aside those who were proven to be successful in favor of taking a chance on hires off the street.

"I believe that the FAA's motivation is to gain more diversity in the hiring pool," said Kuhlmann. "But they won't say it in that way. They will not say it. Even on the teleconference. They'll just say, 'We've engineered the biographical questionnaire in a way that we think will promote diversity.'"

However, if that is the case, a 2013 FAA report contradicts that position by stating, "It is clear that the 36 academic institutions helped introduce the air traffic control profession to minorities who may have not been familiar with jobs and opportunities that the field of aviation represents."

The FAA declined to be interviewed. Instead, FAA management crafted a general statement that clearly avoided answering any of Ferrugia’s questions.

"The biographical assessment measures ATCS job applicant characteristics that have been shown empirically to predict success as an air traffic controller in the FAA," the statement claimed.

However, the FAA provided no proof, only that it "was independently validated by outside experts."

"We have hundreds of people sitting around waiting, ready, willing to go take a job, and be qualified and keep our skies safe," said Keinholz. "And the government thinks its ok to do an about face, to take up anybody."

"It's complete injustice for the FAA to say, 'if you want to come work for us you need to do this.' Then to go and do and meet those requirements, only at the end for them to say 'ah we're going to change the rules.'"

    -- FAA Statement --

    "In 2013, the FAA reviewed the end-to-end process of hiring and assigning air traffic control specialists. As a result, in order to recruit a better qualified candidate and reduce costs associated with testing and training, the FAA chose to make several improvements to the way it selects, trains, and assigns air traffic controllers.  Improvements were made to enhance decision making and increase objectivity in the assessment of candidates. The selection process for new air traffic controllers was very competitive.  In the course of two weeks, we received over 28,000 applications for 1,700 positions. We expect to hire additional controllers next year and have encouraged those not selected to reapply then". On background, we provided the following information: Completing coursework at a CTI school does not guarantee employment with the FAA. However, the agency considers education and aviation related experience in the hiring process. The biographical assessment measures air traffic control specialist job applicant characteristics that have been shown empirically to predict success as an air traffic controller in the FAA. These characteristics include factors such as prior general and air traffic control-specific work experience, education and training, work habits, academic and other achievements, and life experiences among other factors. The biographical assessment was independently validated by outside experts. The AT-SAT is an aptitude test of cognitive abilities and skills. The biographical assessment serves as an initial qualifier in this process before applicants take the AT-SAT test. Finally we explained all new air traffic control specialists undergo rigorous training and must demonstrate proficiency before they are able to work traffic by themselves. The training includes classroom work and on-the-job training with a certified controller. Additionally, all radar controllers and many tower controllers undergo simulator training as part of the training process."

    **Note: Neither John Ferrugia nor 7NEWS ever agreed to FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer's unilateral assertion that this information was provided "on background." Background is a journalistic term that traditionally means both journalist and source have agreed in advance to share information but not use quotes or attribution to the source.

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SkyWest Airlines cites new regulations for ending service from Modesto City-County Airport (KMOD), Modesto, California

A regional airline is ending service at Modesto City-County Airport, blaming new pilot rest rules for increasing the cost of operating from the largest city in Stanislaus County.

SkyWest Airlines said it will stop serving Modesto on Wednesday, leaving the airport without regular airline service for the first time in decades.

Among other reasons cited by the airline for pulling out is a new federal regulation that requires airlines to give pilots more rest time between shifts. The regulations took effect in January.

The federal requirement increased the cost of serving the regional airport, and the demand for air service from Modesto does not justify the extra cost, SkyWest spokesman Wes Horrocks said.

"This was a difficult decision to make and we will continue to evaluate opportunities to return to Modesto in the future," the airline said in a statement.

The airline industry had several years to prepare for the new regulations, which entitle pilots to at least 10 hours of rest between shifts, up from eight hours under the old rules.

The sweeping changes came partly in response to the February 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407. The plane stalled and crashed over western New York, killing 50 people. Pilot error was determined to be the cause of the crash but investigators also cited pilot fatigue as contributing to the accident.

When the federal rule was under consideration, airlines said they would be forced to hire more pilots to meet the continuing demand for air travel and to comply with the latest regulations.

5th Annual National Biplane Fly In is This Weekend at Freeman Field Airport (3JC), Junction City, Kansas

Junction City residents will begin seeing more biplanes in the skies starting Thursday.

Biplanes will begin flying into Freeman Field in Junction City for the 5th Annual National Biplane Fly In Thursday.

The event will kick off for the public Saturday at Freeman Airfield according to Connie Hall, Geary County CVB Director.

“Start the day off at 7 a.m. with a pancake feed, and then the airplanes are going to be on the field, there’s other things, there’s a hamburger picnic going on and all types of stuff,” Hall said.

A total of 12 awards will also be presented to the biplanes and pilots. Award categories include antique open cockpit, antique cabin, classic open cockpit, and iron butt, the pilot that flies the furthest to the event.


Park Ridge Airport Commission asked to craft O’Hare ballot question

Four years after the city of Park Ridge asked voters to weigh in on O’Hare Airport, interest in a ballot question has resurfaced.

A referendum slated to appear on Chicago ballots this November has prompted Park Ridge’s O’Hare Airport Commission to consider an advisory question unique to Park Ridge’s interests. On May 27, the Park Ridge City Council asked the commission to develop a favored referendum question and present it during a June 23 Committee of the Whole meeting for consideration.

Aldermen did not reach a consensus on what, exactly, the referendum should ask, but suggestions shared by OAC Chairman Jim Argionis involved the establishment of an “oversight board” or “neighborhood-based plan” to “reduce and mitigate O’Hare noise and pollution.”

Two of the suggested questions ask if Congress should pass a law “to bring the FAA, the city of Chicago and community and suburban leaders to the table” to form such a board or neighborhood plan.

Chicago voters this Nov. 4 will see a referendum question that reads, “Should Congress a pass a law that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to revisit the criteria it uses to create the ‘noise contours’ that determine which residences near airports across the country are eligible for noise mitigation?”

Such noise mitigation involves residential soundproofing. Argionis suggested Park Ridge’s question should focus more on how noise and pollution are addressed by the FAA and airport.

“[Soundproofing] doesn’t really give any relief when you’re out in your backyard or you have your windows open,” Argionis told the City Council. “I think a lot of us see that as an imperfect solution, if it’s a solution at all. That’s why we crafted some questions that go beyond that and seek something along the lines of getting input from the affected community as to what goes on at O’Hare in terms of how the noise and or pollution is dealt with.”

Seventh Ward Ald. Marty Maloney and Mayor David Schmidt expressed reservations about the creation of an advisory board that would be involved in mitigation matters.

“My concern, as I read those questions, is should that referendum pass, Chicago, the FAA or whoever is it that responds is going to say, ‘We have a group like that. It’s the ONCC [O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission] and Park Ridge has representation,” Maloney said.

Argionis responded that the ONCC “doesn’t go far enough” and the O’Hare Airport Commission wants Park Ridge to have a say on how traffic patterns and noise are distributed around the airport.

Park Ridge is one of 36 communities and school districts that make up the ONCC’s membership. Mayor Schmidt has asked the group to back Park Ridge’s efforts to have environmental impacts from O’Hare expansion reexamined, but this has not occurred.

Fifth Ward Ald. Dan Knight suggested Park Ridge and other suburbs impacted by O’Hare coordinate to put a question on an election ballot that is the same for all communities. Schmidt said he would like the city’s question directed at asking Congress to “pass laws which are directed toward the goals we are looking for,” such as reducing nighttime flights over Park Ridge.

If the Park Ridge City Council wants an airport-related referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot, approval would be required by Aug. 18.

In November 2010, the City Council placed a referendum asking if the city should fund up to $500,000 for noise abatement. The referendum was rejected by 57 percent of voters. At the time, members of the O’Hare Airport Commission expressed displeasure that the city had developed the referendum question without their input.

Park Ridge voters also answered advisory referendums related to O’Hare noise and traffic twice in 1996 — where they rejected O’Hare expansion — and once in 2001, where they asked the Illinois General Assembly to force Chicago and the major airlines to pay for sound insulation for all homes affected by noise.

All three questions, which were supported by the now defunct Suburban O’Hare Commission, also went before voters in several other suburbs as well.