Sunday, July 27, 2014

New Guard station lifts military's profile

Heretofore, only about 200 of nearly 11,000 South Carolina National Guardsmen have been based in Greenville County. 

Going forward, however, the state's most populous county will have many more of the men and women in uniform.

Earlier this month, Guard pilots began flying from a new helicopter station at the South Carolina Aviation and Technology Center in southern Greenville County.

The $27.5 million Army Aviation Support Facility is home base for 10 helicopters — six Chinooks and four Lakotas — and 75 full-time soldiers.

Another 200 part-time Guardsmen will work at the 110,000-square-foot facility, where helicopters will soon be lifting off 30 times a week from a giant concrete pad, according to Lt. Col. Charles Lewis, the commanding officer.

The helicopters were moved from McEntire Joint National Guard Base, which is in Eastover near Columbia and remains home for the Guard's Blackhawk and Apache helicopters and its F-16 fighter jets.

The new helicopter station is Greenville's first military presence of any size since Donaldson Air Force Base closed in the early 1960s, according to local historian Judy Bainbridge.

And more is coming.

In January, the Guard is scheduled to break ground on two other buildings next to the helicopter station, creating a military complex that will perform a variety of functions.

Up to 70 full-time Guardsmen will use one of the buildings to maintain and repair hundreds of military vehicles such as Humvees and trucks for carrying cargo or troops, officers said.

The other building will house an armory for soldiers working with the helicopters as well as a school for training aircraft maintenance mechanics.

The Guard will operate the school in conjunction with Greenville Tech, which will move its existing aircraft maintenance program into the new building.

Graduates will be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration for airframe and power plant work.

Guard units in South Carolina and other states need that kind of mechanic to work on Lakota helicopters, officers said.

Skills taught at the school are also sought by private-sector aviation companies such as Lockheed Martin Corp., which refurbishes military planes on a 282-acre campus within sight of the new helicopter base, and The Boeing Co., which builds its 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston.

Lewis said the helicopters were moved to Greenville because they'd outgrown their space at the McEntire base near Columbia.

In addition, he said, the Guard sees strategic benefit in spreading air assets around the state and an opportunity for recruiting in the Greenville market.

The Guard needs manpower with technical skills and has "kind of tapped out the Columbia market," Lewis said.

The helicopter crews will fly to landing zones in South Carolina's Sumter National Forest and North Carolina's DuPont State Recreational Forest as a way to practice low-level flying in both flat and mountainous terrain, according to an environmental analysis prepared by the Guard to satisfy federal requirements.

The pilots will also simulate carrying Humvees by lifting concrete blocks weighing up to 25,000 pounds and flying them to public airports in Anderson, Greenwood, Pickens or Oconee counties.

Lewis said the number of flights per week could rise to 40 during peak training cycles.

Greenville Tech's aircraft maintenance department is currently housed in an older building next to the new helicopter station.

The building doesn't have enough room for all of the nine airplanes and one helicopter that Tech uses for teaching, so some of the aircraft are kept outside and moved inside as needed, said Carl Washburn, head of the college's aircraft maintenance department.

In the new building, he said, Tech will be able to put all of its aircraft inside a hangar shared with the Guard.

"So rather than wasting the time moving airplanes around we're focused on teaching these technicians and making them better," he said.

Once the school moves into the new building, Washburn said, it will be in a position to ask the FAA for permission to expand enrollment from 120 students to 150 and possibly more over time.

He said Stevens Aviation, which refurbishes military and civilian aircraft in a hangar behind the new helicopter base, and a Honeywell plant in Greer that makes helicopter engines are two other local employers that hire the kind of mechanics produced by the school.

Washburn said he wouldn't be surprised if other aviation companies set up shop at SCTAC to be near the school.

Jacqui DiMaggio, Tech's vice president for finance, said the college will spend $6 million on the armory building to satisfy a federal requirement for a 20 percent local match.

About 80 soldiers who were stationed at an existing Guard armory at SCTAC were re-assigned to Spartanburg, said Lt. Col. Andrew Batten, the officer in charge of Guard construction in South Carolina.

National training center
The Guard could expand even more in Greenville if plans for a national training center are approved by the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia.

The proposed training center would teach military units and civilian first responders such as police and fire departments how best to work together in the event of a national emergency such as a hurricane, said Les Eisner, a recently retired major general who came up with the idea of developing the Greenville complex more than 15 years ago.

He said the center could use virtual reality technology as well as real-life exercises to simulate disaster scenarios.

Eisner, a two-star general when he retired from the state Guard in March, said he sees a need for military units and civilian first responders to train together.

"In a combat zone, the military's in charge. Domestically, we're not in charge. We're in a support role," he said. "So the people in charge have to understand our capabilities, our limitations, our strengths in order to better serve them."

Eisner said decision-makers in the National Guard Bureau have expressed support for the training center concept but it remains a "work in progress."

Noise concerns

The Guard says it will operate the helicopters as quietly as they can and stay out of designated "no fly" zones that are the most noise-sensitive areas.

But that hasn't stopped some residents near SCTAC from complaining already.

Ed Paxton, who lives about two miles from the helicopter station, scoffed at the Guard's conclusion in its environmental analysis that the training flights would have no significant adverse impact, given the mitigating measures.

"As far as I'm concerned, the only people there will be no significant impact to are those people who are deaf," Paxton said.

Carl Stoner, a retired IBM field engineer and former Cessna pilot, said he knew his house was in the path of SCTAC air traffic when he bought it in 1998.

Noise became a problem, he said, when huge transport planes changed their approaches to the Lockheed Martin campus. Now he's concerned about the addition of helicopter noise.

"If they go west of me I don't care," Stoner said. "If they go east, my way, I do care. I will be extremely ticked off."

Paxton and Stoner also said they think hauling huge concrete blocks suspended from helicopters by cable in a populated area raises safety concerns.

Greenville County Councilman Willis Meadows said he thinks the concerns are legitimate, and he will ask the Guard to conduct the training with concrete blocks somewhere besides SCTAC and stick to a set schedule.

"If you're going to lift 25,000 pounds, it's going to make a lot of noise when it lifts off," Meadows said, referring to the double-rotor Chinook helicopters.

County Councilman Butch Kirven, however, said the helicopter base shouldn't create much more aircraft noise than SCTAC has been producing for a long time.

The 2,600-acre industrial park with an 8,000-foot runway used to be Donaldson Air Force Base.

"I think the worries about the noise have been greatly overblown," said Kirven, a former brigadier general in the South Carolina National Guard.


Congress Ramps Up Scrutiny of Boeing Executives, Board: Survey at plane maker showed some workers felt undue pressure to approve systems

U.S. lawmakers probing the 737 MAX jet crisis are ratcheting up scrutiny of Boeing Co. leaders as new details point to management pressure on engineers and pilots in its commercial-aircraft unit.

Investigators for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee looking into the design and certification of the 737 MAX have received details of a three-year-old internal Boeing survey showing roughly one in three employees who responded felt “potential undue pressure” from managers regarding safety-related approvals by federal regulators across an array of commercial planes. Workload and schedule were cited as important causes.

Such conflicts could become problematic, the survey found, when it came to Boeing engineers who played dual roles designing certain systems on behalf of the plane maker and then certifying the same systems as safe on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, as part of a decades-old agency program that effectively outsources such regulatory work to company employees.

The summary of the survey as of November 2016 also indicated that 15% of those who responded encountered such situations “several times” or “frequently.” The survey results were provided to the committee by an individual, rather than as part of Boeing’s formal process of turning over documents, and were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The survey, which hasn’t been reported before, wasn’t specifically focused on the MAX but covered employees across a range of Boeing commercial airliner programs; it came near the end of the MAX’s multiyear federal approval process. Boeing declined to comment on the survey, but a board member has said an internal review found no signs that undue pressure had compromised safety.

Boeing was conducting the survey the same months a senior company pilot involved in the development of the 737 MAX messaged a colleague that Boeing’s test pilots were “so damn busy, and getting pressure” from the program officials overseeing the aircraft’s development that they lacked sufficient time to help sort out technical issues from the two aviators, according to a transcript of internal messages reviewed by the Journal and disclosed by Boeing to congressional investigators on Friday.

These glimpses into Boeing’s internal culture provided by survey results during development of the MAX highlight conflicts that can arise from a regulatory regime that enlists company employees to act on behalf of both their employer and the regulator that oversees its products. In some cases, Boeing engineers or managers may have decision-making power on behalf of the FAA pertaining to the very same systems and components they design or build for the company. Such issues are at the heart of the escalating congressional debate around the way the MAX was approved.

Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the Democratic chairman of the House committee, indicated that at the hearing later this month he plans to ask Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg about the company’s internal culture and what he sees as a lack of accountability for two MAX crashes that together claimed 346 lives.

Boeing’s directors, expected to meet on Sunday in San Antonio, recently stripped Mr. Muilenburg of his dual role as chairman. Board members intended the move to serve as a public signal that they were holding management to account as the MAX crisis drags on, people familiar with the matter said.

“That’s not exactly major accountability, and it probably goes deeper into the organization,” said Mr. DeFazio in an interview, adding that he was also dissatisfied with the board’s oversight, which he described as “pretty lame.”

“Even if you grant that the board thought that the original crash was pilot error and bad maintenance,” he added, “certainly they should have stepped it way up after the second crash, and I haven’t seen that.”

The company didn’t respond to a request for comment about Mr. DeFazio’s criticism.

The House hearing, and another one the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold, come weeks after a pair of official reports, from U.S. air-crash investigators and a group of international aviation regulators, faulting Boeing for how it designed, tested and certified a MAX flight-control system, called MCAS, that authorities have said led to the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

No employees at Boeing have been fired or removed from their positions because of their role in the MAX crisis, people familiar with the matter said. While Dave Calhoun, a top executive at the New York private-equity firm Blackstone Group Inc., took over the chairmanship from Mr. Muilenburg, Mr. Muilenburg retained his CEO position and is still a board director, and Mr. Calhoun has said the board has full confidence in him as CEO. Other senior executives at Boeing remain in place. Kevin McAllister is chief of the company’s airplane division, and Greg Hyslop remains chief engineer.

The Boeing board’s recent move to restructure how the company handles engineering, safety and certification matters, according to Mr. DeFazio, was a tacit acknowledgment that production pressures have threatened Boeing’s safety culture.

The reshuffling, which the board recommended after its own review, will centralize control of engineering and safety matters, giving more power to the company’s Chicago-based CEO and chief engineer. While the aim is to reduce the influence of business concerns such as costs and production schedules in engineering decisions, the review didn’t uncover signs that undue pressure or other lapses compromised safety of the MAX or other aircraft Boeing produces, according to Edmund Giambastiani Jr. , a retired U.S. Navy admiral who sits on the company’s board and oversaw the review. Adm. Giambastiani called it an “opportunity to improve the system.”

The 2016 survey nonetheless showed that 29% of the more than 500 employees who answered it by late November of that year were “concerned about consequences if I report potential undue pressure.”

The material laying out the survey results mentioned that “conflict can occur” when employees “are asked to develop and then approve” the same technical proposal.

The presentation of the results, which was apparently prepared for all project administrators and authorized FAA representatives across Boeing commercial-aircraft programs, also said that more than 80% of respondents to the survey expressed confidence that procedures were in place to address concerns about excessive pressure. The document also noted that the FAA separately had interviewed dozens of authorized representatives, and found that the “process for reporting undue pressure [was] well understood.”

Boeing declined to comment on whether Mr. Muilenburg and the board were considering  personnel changes.

“Boeing’s leadership team is committed to our enduring values of safety, quality and integrity as they implement the board’s recommendations and additional actions to strengthen and elevate safety,” a Boeing spokesman said, adding they are working to safely return the 737 MAX to service.

The House committee has been delving into documents it has collected from Boeing and the government and whether the plane maker had made misleading statements to the FAA before it approved the model for commercial service in March 2017, according to people familiar with the probe. The Boeing spokesman said the company is fully cooperating with all external inquiries and reviews.

Disclosures by Mr. DeFazio’s committee on Friday of Boeing’s internal messages between the senior Boeing pilot and his colleague have been ramping up criticism of Boeing on Capitol Hill.

The messages between Mark Forkner, then chief technical pilot for the MAX tasked with winning FAA approval for the jet’s manuals and training, and a colleague in November 2016, suggest that Mr. Forkner believed he unintentionally misled regulators about certain aspects of a flight-control system.

Apparently referring to how engineers had altered the system, later implicated in both MAX crashes, to work in more typical flight conditions than it was originally designed for, Mr. Forkner said: “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly).”

Months after sending that message, Mr. Forkner portrayed it differently. In a January 2017 email to an FAA official, he argued that the system known as MCAS should be taken out of manuals because it activates “way outside the normal operating envelope,” and therefore cockpit crews would practically never experience it. The email was later turned over to Mr. DeFazio’s committee and reviewed by the Journal.

Mr. Forkner’s attorney, David Gerger, didn’t respond to a request for comment over the weekend about the January 2017 email. On Friday, Mr. Gerger said the instant messages showed his client wasn’t lying but was instead referring to a malfunctioning simulator.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said he wanted to question Mr. Muilenburg and Boeing’s board members about Mr. Forkner’s exchange. “They need to be held accountable for this possible deception,” Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation mulling to introduce easier flying license rules for small operators

NEW DELHI: India's civil aviation regulator is likely to make it easier for companies to start flight operations, especially those seeking to use small planes. It's also recommended that small operators be allowed to run scheduled services to boost connectivity of destinations that aren't served by airlines.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is preparing a new set of civil aviation rules that would substantially ease the process of getting an air operator's permit or flying license for so-called non-scheduled operators (NSOPs), said a senior official at the regulator.

Such companies typically run corporate or chartered flight services. The proposed rules could result in the time an NSOP needs to get a flying license being slashed to six months from around a year now.

Currently, both scheduled and nonscheduled operators have to meet the same guidelines for a flying license.

"It has been found that the NSOPs do not need to meet a lot of conditions to get a license, which the scheduled operators have to, since they operate with much lesser complex aircraft and systems. The work is on for a less complex set of rules for them, making them simpler," said the DGCA official cited above.

The new rules are likely to categorize general aviation operators into two-companies that operate smaller and less complex aircraft and others that operate large aircraft as well.

The rules are likely to be simpler for the first type and more elaborate for the second. Operators welcomed the move.

"This was a long-pending demand from our side since we do no need to go through such a complex process for licenses like the scheduled operators. This is a step in the right direction," said RK Bali, secretary of the Business Aircraft Operators' Association.

There are about 130 NSOPs in the country that are registered with the DGCA.

Other proposals being considered include allowing NSOPs to engage in scheduled commuter or shuttle services to encourage air connectivity in and out of tier-II and tier-III cities.

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AirMed Service Comes to Dickinson, North Dakota

Last week we told you about Sanford AirMed moving in to the Dickinson area, and when you hear air-ambulance, you're probably thinking about a helicopter. But instead, Sanford will operate a King Air B-200 fixed wing aircraft that can carry a two patients and a highly trained team of flight paramedics, nurses, pilots and mechanics.
Paramedics say the beauty of the service is being able to give patients in rural areas easy access to medical care that's safe, reliable and most

"Planes can fly in weather that helicopters can't," says Lead Flight Paramedic, Adam Parker. "As well as transport patients a farther distance. Helicopters wouldn't transport a patient from Bismarck to Minneapolis, for example. That would be a fixed wing plane that could do that flight."

The King Air B-200 can fly at speeds of more than 300 miles per hour. And the service should be up and running in a few months.

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Millville Municipal Airport (KMIV) receives $2 million in federal funding

The Millville Municipal Airport is receiving $2 million in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding for runway rehabilitation, which will help improve the economic growth of South Jersey, according to officials.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) announced the funding for Millville on Friday, along with $1 million in FAA funding being given to the Cape May Airport.

"Investing in our nation's airport infrastructure creates jobs, grows our economy and allows for better access to South Jersey tourism attractions and destinations," said LoBiondo, who is also chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee. "This federal funding for both Cape May County and Millville is critical for the long-term economic growth of our region."

Millville's airport, which is operated by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, will use the $2,055,120 in FAA funding to rehabilitate runways, terminal aprons, taxiway extensions and additional apron construction.

The potential growth of the Millville Municipal Airport was previously shown to the community during an open house last December at the Lewis B. Finch Administration Building.

"The Delaware River and Bay Authority greatly appreciates the long-term relationship with Congressman LoBiondo and for his continued support of these airports," said James N. Hogan, commissioner and chairperson of the authority. 

The authority also operates the Cape May Airport.

"These grants will not only improve the safety and appearance of the airport but also their importance for the region's economic vitality," Hogan said.

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Airport set to take off: New runway first of $27 million in investments, improvements

The Morrisville-Stowe Airport is set to reopen Aug. 1 with a new $4.5 million runway, the first phase of $27 million in investments that the new operators expect will make the airport a major economic engine for the region.

The runway was completely rebuilt and shifted south for safety reasons. It includes new taxiways, parking aprons and the addition of state-of-the-art lighting and navigational aids. The work was funded entirely by the state and federal transportation agencies.

To obtain the government funding, the new airport operators, Stowe Aviation LLC, which took over management of the facility July 1, implemented a development plan that includes an aviation school, a charter air service, airplane storage, a modern maintenance-and-repair business and a restaurant.

It will all be housed in a new terminal, a U.S. Customs building and a new hangar, according to plans unveiled Wednesday.

“This has been an amazing collaboration between private enterprise and government,” said Tom Anderson, Stowe Aviation president and chief operating officer, at a meeting in Stowe Wednesday with state transportation officials. “The state and the federal government have handed us a state-of-the-art (runway) facility.”

The new runway expands the safe day and night use of the airport, which can now handle planes as large as small jets. The former crumbling runway and inadequate lighting and navigation made it impossible or unsafe for many aircraft and pilots.

The airport has been closed to air traffic since April 4 to make way for the new runway and related runway improvements — the first significant upgrades in 35 years.

The airport handles only private planes, including charter flights and flight lessons. No commercial airline flights currently use the airport. Small jets and turboprops scaled back their use of the airport as the runway degraded.

Stowe Aviation could not confirm current air traffic volumes but the recent improvements, and the investments in the years to come, will be a boon to the local economy, company officials said.

New York, Boston, Toronto and Montreal will be reached in a matter of an hour or two by regular charter or private flight, a compelling and convenient transportation option for business people, visitors and locals, said Russell Barr, a Stowe lawyer who is founder and CEO of Stowe Aviation.

Timing is everything. Jay Peak and Stowe Mountain Resort have spent hundreds of millions to expand and improve their facilities, Barr said, but the only way to get there is by driving the rural roads. Not anymore.

“There are approximately 72 million people living within a 90-minute flight of the Morrisville-Stowe State Airport,” Barr said. “Despite this fact and the billions of dollars spent on local tourism infrastructure over the years, our airport has been largely untouched.

“With the help of state, federal and local government, we are correcting that imbalance with a project that will bring increased business and leisure traffic to the region, as well as making it easier for locals to travel.”

The second phase of the airport’s development is being funded by about $20 million in private investment and should be completed within 18 months, Barr said. That includes:

• A new passenger terminal and fixed-base operation — the service for private planes. The goal is to cater to arriving and departing passengers and to their pilots, offering a concierge service.

• An air charter company that will dramatically improve direct access to and from the Stowe region to cities such as New York, Boston, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

• A planned Customs and Im-migration building to boost traffic from Montreal, Toronto and other Canadian points.

• A flight training academy featuring flight-motion simulators that will attract students and pilots from all over the world, and also be a valuable local resource.

• An advanced facility for aircraft maintenance, upgrades, retrofits and enhancements.

• A professional aircraft management company.

• A cafĂ© in the new terminal.

The airport will employ about 35 people — from food-service workers to airplane mechanics, pilots to terminal attendants — when it is fully up and running, Barr said. But the “indirect” employment from the new business, the people “and currency” it will bring to the area will add zeros to that number.

“This is going to open up markets for our area,” said Barr, who noted that the airport’s location north of Stowe, one step closer to the stunning Northeast Kingdom, will be a boost to that region.

The project at the Morrisville-Stowe Airport falls in line with the state’s aim to make every airport in Vermont economically self-sustaining, at the very least, Transportation Secretary Brian Searles said at the meeting. Last year, the state had to spend about $4.5 million to keep airports across the state running.

Morrisville-Stowe will soon become one airport that will not only uncouple from the state’s money faucet but will likely be an economic hub and tax revenue generator, he said.

Small airports across the nation have become economic engines for their communities and local hubs of activity, Barr and Searles noted.

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