Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ryanair's €17bn bid to rule the skies

Ryanair's bumper order for 200 new aircraft puts it on track to double passenger numbers to 150 million within a decade. 

With rival EasyJet snapping at its heels, can it earn a decent return on this huge investment?

Ryanair's huge new aircraft order will allow it to almost double passenger numbers to 150 million by 2024. This will make the Irishairline as big as the next two largest European airlines, Air France and Lufthansa, combined. But will the new, kinder, gentler Ryanair be able to put bums on all of those extra seats and generate a decent return on the huge amount of capital that will be tied up in these new planes?

On Monday, Ryanair announced that it had placed an order for up to 200 new Boeing 737 Max 200 aircraft with a total list price of $22bn (€17bn) with the US manufacturer. This comes on top of the order for 180 Boeing 737-800s with a list price of $16bn (€12.4bn) which Ryanair placed in June 2013. These orders commit Ryanair to taking delivery of up to 380 new aircraft with a total cost of up to $38bn (€29.4bn) over the next decade.

Even for a company of Ryanair's size, with annual pre-tax profits of €591m, that seems like quite a mouthful. Have chief executive Michael O'Leary's eyes grown bigger than his belly?

Well, first things first. Monday's order consists of firm orders for "only" 100 aircraft with options over a further 100. In other words, Ryanair is committed to taking delivery of "only" 100 of the aircraft ordered on Monday. If things don't go according to plan, the options over the 100 aircraft are just that, options, from which Ryanair can walk away at no cost.

Secondly, although Ryanair never discloses the actual price it pays Boeing, it negotiates huge discounts on the manufacturer's list price. This means that Ryanair is probably committed to spending somewhere in the region of $20bn (€15.5bn) if it doesn't exercise its options and about $23bn (€17.8bn) if it does over the next decade.

Finally, Ryanair, which had a fleet of 297 aircraft at the end of March, will be offloading many of its existing planes to make way for the new arrivals. Even if all of the options are taken up, its fleet will rise to 520 by 2024. This implies that at least 160 aircraft, over half of its existing fleet, will be sold off.

Aviation is an extremely capital-intensive business. The aircraft which Ryanair ordered last week, the Boeing 737 Max 200, has a list price of $110m (€85m). Even with the sort of discounts that Ryanair typically negotiates, that's a heck of a lot of capital. The new aircraft will swell the size of Ryanair's enormous balance sheet - it had gross assets of €8.8bn at the end of March - even further.

This means that the key to long-term success in the aviation industry is achieving a higher return on capital than the cost of that capital. This is something most airlines have consistently failed to do.

A 2013 report compiled by management consultants McKinsey for IATA estimated that the world's airlines achieved a combined annual return on invested capital of just 4.1pc between 2004 and 2011. While this was up marginally on the 3.8pc annual return achieved between 1996 and 2003, it still falls well short of the sort of returns required to justify the $4trillion-$5trillion (€3.1trillion-€3.9bn) that the global aviation industry needs to invest in new aircraft over the next 20 years.

When judging an airline's underlying performance, most analysts look at two yardsticks: its operating margins and its return on capital.

Operating margins are an airline's profits as a percentage of its sales. Using this measurement, Ryanair performs quite well. It had total sales of €5.03bn in the year to March 2014, on which it earned operating (pre-interest) profits of €658m, giving Ryanair an operating margin of 13pc.

Add back Ryanair's depreciation charge of €351m and Ryanair's EBIDTA (earnings before interest, depreciation, taxation and amortisation - the measurement now favoured by most analysts) of €1.01bn was the equivalent of 20pc of sales.

These margins were well ahead of those of EasyJet, its main rival in the low-cost airline space. EasyJet's operating margin was 11.7pc in the year ended September 2013, while its EBIDTA margin was 16.7pc of total sales.

On the face of it, Ryanair is comfortably outperforming its main competitor.

Look again. While Ryanair's operating margins are comfortably ahead of EasyJet's, it's a different story when one looks at the two airlines' returns on capital employed.

A word of warning: calculating any company's return on capital is fraught with difficulty, with what constitutes capital being a source of endless disagreement in financial circles. In order to keep things simple and consistent, I have defined capital employed as a company's current assets plus its non-current assets and averaged the year-end and beginning of the year totals.

Apply this test to Ryanair and EasyJet and things start to get interesting. Ryanair's 2014 operating profit of €658m translates into a 7.4pc return on capital employed. Add back the depreciation charge and it rises to 11.4pc.

EasyJet's return on capital is significantly higher. Its 2013 operating profit translated into an 11.4pc return on capital, a figure which rises 14pc when depreciation is added back. EasyJet also had leasing charges (which are analogous to interest payments) of £102m in 2013. When these are thrown back into the mix, EasyJet's return on capital climbs to 16.3pc.

What is clear is that, no matter how one slices and dices the numbers, EasyJet is now achieving significantly higher returns on capital than Ryanair. In a capital-intensive industry such as aviation that matters. In fact, it matters a lot.

As Michael O'Leary wheels out his new kinder, gentler Ryanair, the Irish airline has been taking a number of leaves out of the EasyJet book. It has introduced a business class, it is flying to more leading airports and it has relaxed its previously ridiculously strict carry-on luggage policy.

So, with lower returns on capital than its main rival, can the huge investment Ryanair is making in new aircraft over the next decade ever possibly be justified?

"We need the new aircraft. We are number one in Europe but still have only 13pc-14pc of the market. Southwest [the American low-cost carrier on which Ryanair was originally modelled] has 25pc of the US market. The headroom exists for us to grow. The key is having the aircraft", says Ryanair chief marketing officer Kenny Jacobs.

Ryanair carried 81.7 million passengers in its last financial year. This makes it the largest airline in Europe in terms of passengers flown, ahead of Air France with 77.3 million passengers, Lufthansa with 76 million and IAG (the merged BA and Iberia) with 67.2 million. However, it is the fifth-largest airline - competing budget carrier Easyjet - that clearly has Ryanair rattled.

EasyJet flew 60.7 million passengers in the year to September 2013. This had risen by a further 6.4pc to 64.3 million in the 12 months to the end of August 2014. By comparison, Ryanair's passenger numbers grew by only 4pc to 83.4 million over the same period. When Carolyn McCall was appointed chief executive of EasyJet back in March 2010, the airline carried 71pc as many passengers as Ryanair. It now carries 77pc as many.

To grow from the 81.7 million passengers it carried in the year to March 2014 to 150 million passengers by the year to the end of March 2024, Ryanair will need to push up passenger numbers by 6pc a year for the next decade. How realistic is this? It grew passenger numbers by just 3pc in its last financial year.

As it grows passenger numbers, Ryanair has also been expanding geographically. It has submitted a non-binding bid for Cypriot flag carrier Cyprus Airways while Ryanair has also been exploring the possibility of operating routes to Moscow at St Petersburg. If either of these comes to pass, then Ryanair will find itself doing business in the Russian and Middle Eastern markets, both of which are considerably more volatile and less transparent, as well as riskier, than the Western and Central European markets in which it currently operates.

Mr Jacobs stresses that the projected growth in Ryanair passenger numbers is not dependent on either Cyprus or Russia."The modelling we have done on passenger numbers does not include either Cyprus or Russia", he says.

In practice, Ryanair is likely to concentrate most of its efforts on growing passenger numbers in Germany - Europe's biggest aviation market, where Ryanair's share is just 4pc, Scandinavia and Italy. With IATA predicting overall annual passenger growth of just 3pc in the European market, this will only be achieved if it can grow market share.

What we are likely to see over the next decade is the European aviation market following the American model with 80pc-90pc of all traffic being flown by four or five carriers, most likely Ryanair, Air France, Lufthansa, IAG and EasyJet, with legacy flag carriers such as Aer Lingus being squeezed.

"Ryanair's cost base is half of everyone else's. Why shouldn't they gain market share? The whole model is based on gaining market share", says Davy aviation analyst Stephen Furlong.

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The case of the luckless pilot

By Jack Strauss / What’s the Law

Jack Strauss
Harold would have been better off if he had gotten his wings from God instead of the Civil Air Patrol.

During a routine flight with two other CAP planes, his aircraft engine began to sputter, and he had no choice but to make a forced landing over water. And while he made a perfect three-point landing, he would have been better off with water wings instead of a pilot’s wings.

After treading water for three hours, he finally succumbed to Poseidon, god of the sea, and drowned.

Tearfully, Harold’s wife applied to collect the benefits provided by her late husband’s insurance policy. It covered him for accidental death except while participating in aviation, other than as a paying passenger.

“We’re sorry,” responded the insurance carrier, “since your late husband’s death was due to participating in aviation other than as a paying passenger, his death isn’t covered by his policy.”

“That’s nonsense,” Harold’s widow protested in court. “My husband wasn’t participating in aviation when he died. The evidence is that he had been battling sea currents and not air currents for three hours before he finally drowned.”

IF YOU WERE THE JUDGE, would you permit Harold’s widow to collect under her late husband’s policy?

This is how the judge ruled: YES!

The judge held that the direct cause of Harold’s death was drowning, not aeronautics. The most that could be said for the insurance company’s position, concluded the judge, was that Harold’s plane took him to the place where he eventually drowned.

(Based on a 1946 federal district court decision.)

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‘Indian air safety ranking will return to Category I soon’

The Ministry of Civil Aviation expects Indian international air safety ranking to return to Category I in a couple of months, Minister of State for Civil Aviation G.M. Siddeshwar said here on Saturday.

The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation has addressed the deficiencies related to the safety ranking. “In a month or two, we should move back from Category II to Category I,” he announced at a seminar here.

In January this year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which is considered the global standard, downgraded the national civil aviation regulator on the grounds that its safety performance did not match best international standards. Technically, a downgrade affects route expansion plans of Indian airlines that fly to the U.S. and will delay airport clearances for their flights there.

ATF tax

Mr. Siddeshwar said the Center had urged the State governments to rationalise their respective sales tax levies on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) to a uniform level; their responses were awaited.

States currently levy ATF taxes ranging from 4 percent to 33 percent, with Karnataka among the highest and Andhra Pradesh at 1 per cent. Airlines spend almost half of their revenues on jet fuel. “The Center is working with the States and talking to Chief Ministers to lower the tax structure and support the aviation industry,” Mr. Siddeshwar said.

He was addressing a seminar organized by the Society of Indian Aerospace Technologies and Industries.

Earlier, Chairman of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. R.K. Tyagi urged the Minister to look into the tax structure related to the aerospace MRO (maintenance, repair overhaul) sector. 

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Van's RV-6, VH-TXF: Fatal accident occurred September 13, 2014 at Mudgee Airport, New South Wales

Pakenham couple Bev and Terry Fisher in a photo posted by their daughter-in-law on Facebook. 

A Victorian couple involved in a light-plane crash in mid-west NSW died "doing what they loved best".

Bev and Terry Fisher, both in their 60s and from Pakenham, were heading north to Mudgee on Sunday when their two-seater plane crashed metres from the runway.

Their daughter-in-law Tracy Fisher posted a tribute to the couple on Facebook last night.

"Devastated and heartbroken for my husband today as his parents died in a plane crash," she wrote.

And in a second post, with a picture of the couple standing in front of a light plane: "Bev and Terry doing what they loved best. Just can't believe it!!".

Mr Fisher had 40 years' flying experience.

Witnesses told the Seven Network the plane's single engine was spluttering as it approached the runway.

"It just dropped, just like a rock, straight down," witness Grant Willetts said.

The pilots of another three planes traveling with the couple landed safely.

"This is tragic. Not only are the people they were traveling with ... devastated but it impacts on a lot of, lot of people," Detective Inspector Cameron Whiteside said.

The couple died at the scene.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has joined an investigation by police and specialist forensic officers.

A crime scene has been established.


Terry Fisher, in a photo posted on Facebook in January.

Police are urging anyone with information about this incident to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or use the Crime Stoppers online reporting page:  

A Victorian couple died when a light plane crashed short of the Mudgee Airport runway near Henry Lawson Drive.

Around 10.55am on Sunday, emergency services were called to Mudgee Airport after reports that a plane had crashed into a paddock while approaching to land.

Police arrived to find a man, believed to be aged in his 60s, dead inside the single-engine, two-seater plane.

NSW Ambulance Paramedics attempted to revive a woman who was a passenger in the plane.

The woman, also aged in her 60s, died at the scene.

A Henry Lawson Drive resident said he heard the plane splutter and lose power as it passed overhead.

From his house close to the crash site, he saw the plane bank sharply over Henry Lawson Drive and veer into the paddock on the eastern side of the road.

He ran to the crash site, about 500 metres from airport runway, where a passing driver who had pulled up called 000.

Leaconfield Drive resident Grant Willetts also heard the plane pass overhead and saw it bank sharply and fall to the ground on its side.

“It hit with a thud but no explosion, smoke or fire,” Mr Willetts said.

Mr Willetts also contacted 000 while his wife ran to direct emergency services to the site.

Detective Inspector Cameron Whiteside from Mudgee Police said the plane was one of four which had flown together to Mudgee from Dubbo.

“This is a tragedy not only for those they were travelling with, but also due to its impact on a lot of people,” he said.

Fire and Rescue NSW also attended the crash scene and VRA members diverted traffic and sightseers away from the site.

A crime scene was established and will be examined by specialist forensic officers with police assisting investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB). A report will also be prepared for the information of the Coroner.

Henry Lawson Drive remained closed until late yesterday afternoon.

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12:50pm:  - A  Henry Lawson Drive resident said he heard the plane splutter and lose power.

- He said the plane banked sharply over Henry Lawson Driver and veered into the paddock.

- He ran to the crash site where a passing driver pulled up and called 000.

12:20pm: Local man Grant Willets who witnessed the crash has written about what he saw.

Around 11am I heard a plane over head - maybe 50m high. I am in Leconfield Drive.

The plane turned/ banked sharply, stalled and fell to the ground on its side left wing down. It hit with a thud but no explosion, smoke or fire. Within 15 seconds I was already talking to 000 reporting and giving directions to the crash.

My wife also witnessed the crash. She jumped the fence and ran through the neighbors to be one of the first on the scene directing the emergency services through the gate near Fairview.
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The plane just passed the dam by about 3m and was balancing on the dam wall.

12:00pm: Witnesses have said the light plane crashed on landing just short of runway four.


An investigation is underway following a fatal plane crash at Mudgee in the state’s mid-west today.

About 10:55am (Sunday 14 September 2014), emergency services were called to Mudgee Airport following reports a light-plane had crashed into a paddock near Henry Lawson Drive while on approach for landing.

Officers from Mudgee Local Area Command attended the scene where they located a man, believed to be aged in his 60s, deceased inside the single-engine two-seater plane.

NSW Ambulance Paramedics attempted to revive a woman, also aged in her 60s, who was a passenger in the plane, however she died at the scene.

A crime scene has been established at the airport and will be examined by specialist forensic officers with police assisting investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

A report will also be prepared for the information of the Coroner.

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 Two people have died after a plane crashed at Mudgee in the NSW's central west today.

 The single-engine, two-seater plane crashed in a paddock while coming in to land at Mudgee Airport about 11am.

Police said a man, aged in his 60s, died inside the aircraft.

Paramedics attempted to revive a female passenger, also aged in her 60s, but she died at the scene.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has joined an investigation by police and specialist forensic officers.

A pilot and his passenger have been killed in a plane crash at Mudgee Airport, in the New South Wales central west.

Witnesses have told the ABC the light plane crashed on landing just short of runway four about 11:00am (AEST).

Police say the pilot was aged in his 60s.

Paramedics tried to revive the female passenger, also aged in her 60s, but she died at the scene.

Police have cordoned off the area.

More to come.

 An investigation is underway following a fatal plane crash at Mudgee in the state’s mid-west today.

About 10:55am (Sunday 14 September 2014), emergency services were called to Mudgee Airport following reports a light-plane had crashed into a paddock near Henry Lawson Drive while on approach for landing.

Officers from Mudgee Local Area Command attended the scene where they located a man, believed to be aged in his 60s, deceased inside the single-engine two-seater plane.

NSW Ambulance Paramedics attempted to revive a woman, also aged in her 60s, who was a passenger in the plane, however she died at the scene.

A crime scene has been established at the airport and will be examined by specialist forensic officers with police assisting investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).

A report will also be prepared for the information of the Coroner.

Destin Airport (KDTS) Creates Aircraft Noise Complaint Management Program

OKALOOSA COUNTY-- The Destin Airport has a new system to enhance its Aircraft Noise Complaint Management Program.

People in surrounding neighborhoods often complain about noise coming from the airport.

And the new Plane Noise System will provide the Destin Airport management team with data to address noise impact in the community.

Destin Airport officials have signed a two-year agreement with the web-based company.

Airport officials paid a nominal fee to set up the program, and will continue to pay a maintenance fee while the program is in place.

They hope residents in the area who are affected by the noise at the airport will participate.

"What we get is daily emails that tell us if a complaint has been filed, as well as a map that shows us precisely the location where the complaint was filed, plus the aircraft type," Destin Airport Deputy Director Mike Stenson said.

To file a complaint, visit the website at, and click the "Noise Management" tab.

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Water landings make special event on Long Lake

SOUTH KITSAP — Janie Hinds' seaplane was built the same month and year she was born.

But having been completely overhauled — with every single rivet replaced — her 67-year-old Republic Seabee appears as though it just came off the assembly line.

"Looks a lot better than me," she said with a laugh.

Hinds was one of the 30 or so seaplane enthusiasts who gathered at Long Lake on Saturday for the Washington Seaplane Pilots Association's annual fly-in barbecue.

Some 20 seaplanes were expected, with arrivals sliding into the lake from Bellingham, Tacoma, Auburn, Renton, and as far as Oregon and as close as Port Orchard.

"This is kind of our last fling," said Greg Corrado, explaining that most seaplane owners stow their planes away around this time of year, bringing them back out in late spring.

The fly-in is usually held at Mason Lake, but Corrado, the association's vice president, decided to host at his lakefront home this year. Seaplane parking was tight along his dock so he roped in 13 of his neighbors for overflow space.

The association has about 100 dues-paying members and 400 newsletter subscribers.

Many members, Corrado said, use their seaplanes to reach prime fishing and camping grounds in hard-to-reach places dotting the San Juan Islands and coastal British Columbia and Alaska.

When the wind's on his side, he can go from Long Lake to Ketchikan, Alaska in just under seven hours.

Pilot Joel Mapes of Bremerton doesn't care where he's headed as long as he's in the air.

"It's cheap psychotherapy, and it's more effective," he said.

The guest of honor was a rare Hamilton Metalplane. Built by a Boeing subsidiary in 1929, the silver-skinned Hamilton was one of the first all-metal planes made in the U.S.

The rear propeller and rounded-nose design of Hinds' Seabee also drew plenty of attention. The Seabee was developed to meet anticipated demand from the many military pilots returning home from World War II. But for most wartime pilots, flying for war never translated into a desire to fly for sport or pleasure. Only 1,060 Seabees were produced. About 200 are still flying, Hinds said.

Having a seaplane means Hinds and her husband can visit Puget Sound's most beautiful places while taking in the scenery from just above the trees.

"I love watching it all go by," she said. "I still leave nose prints all over the windows."

Story and Photo Gallery:

No takers yet for seaplane project

ALAPPUZHA: The much-awaited seaplane services are yet to become a reality although the government had said that they would be launched before Onam.  The Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Limited, through newspaper advertisements published on August 14,  had offered incentives  to those who begin  services before October 31,  but so far none has shown any interest.

Mr Anilkumar, MD, KTIL, had told DC that  the government would hold talks with the protesting fishermen to reach a consensus. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had also promised on May 28, while  presenting the state tourism awards 2012-13, that the seaplane services would be a reality soon.  But, nothing has happened so far.   

Mr V. Dinakaran, chairman of the fishermen’s coordination committee,  told DC  that  the government had promised to hold discussions with  the committee to allay their fears. “The Vattakayal is an active catchment area where  500 anglers conduct fishing daily. The government has to solve  the issues facing the fishermen  before launching the seaplane”, he said.

An expert panel report submitted by tourism secretary Suman Billa in August had suggested Vattakayal as a new water-drome instead of Punnamada lake. On June 2 last year, the inaugural flight of the Cessna 206 H amphibian aircraft from Ashtamudi lake in Kollam was forced to return without landing in Punnamada lake in Alappuzha following opposition from the fisherfolk.

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Hampton Roads could become commercial hub for drone industry: Aviation Partnership, working with businesses, seeks testing sites near region

In Hampton Roads, the word "drone" has usually referred to unmanned military aircraft. But given shrinking defense budgets, local companies would like to take this technology to U.S. commercial markets.

Businesses want to use drones — unmanned aircraft controlled by computer programs or remote control — for a variety of purposes, including agriculture, filmmaking, inspections, marketing, search and rescue efforts and even delivery.

News of Amazon's experiments with drone delivery has helped the public understand the potential of the industry in Virginia, State Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson said. Hampton Roads, with its history in unmanned aviation with NASA Langley, NASA Wallops and the military, could become a commercial hub for the growing industry.

"When you start talking about a multidisciplinary industry, this is it. And it's brand new," Jackson said. "We want to be in on the ground floor."

That's why Virginia pursued the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, a team that includes Maryland and New Jersey that was assembled for Virginia Tech's unmanned aerial systems (UAS) testing program. The Federal Aviation Administration gave it the operational green light in August. Congress asked the FAA two years ago to authorize six test sites to collect information for integrating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace. A plan for integration is due by September 2015.

Businesses have grown frustrated by the agency's delays in creating rules for unmanned aircraft, as the FAA has restricted flying drones for commercial purposes. But now through the aviation partnership, Hampton Roads businesses have a pathway to get FAA permission for test flights.

"There are so many people calling us and asking us, 'Can we get out there and fly?'" said Jon Greene, the partnership's acting associate director for Virginia.

While Virginia Tech has been testing unmanned aircraft at Kentland Farm near Blacksburg, the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership doesn't have one assigned test site. The program plans to have multiple "launch and recovery" sites within Virginia, including around Hampton Roads, Greene said.

The partnership initially wants to fly where people aren't, and has been looking at rural areas of Suffolk, Wakefield and over the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, Greene said. The idea is to be remote for safety but close enough to the Defense Department industry, NASA and possibly new companies in the more urban areas of Hampton Roads.

The partnership has to apply for FAA authorization for each location and aircraft and plans to start flying "low and slow," he said. Eventually, by using the same sites for particular uses, the program would like to ask the FAA for designated launch and recovery sites, Greene said.

NASA Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore has been in talks with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership to serve as a launch site, said NASA Wallops Deputy Director Bruce Underwood. The facility has experience working with government contractors in unmanned systems and has been launching NASA's Global Hawk autonomous aircraft to study hurricanes in the Atlantic.

While the two main runways at NASA Wallops — at more than 8,000 feet long — can accommodate larger drones, a nearby 3,000-foot runway planned on Wallops Island would accommodate smaller and medium-sized drones, said Zigmond Leszczynski, deputy executive director of the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority. Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved $5.8 million in funding toward finishing the relocation of a NASA runway to be used as an unmanned aircraft systems test range. He expects the runway to be operational by the end of 2015.

"We have folks lined up already so when this runway is complete, we can start flying," Leszczynski said.

So far, the FAA has granted the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership seven certificates of authorization at two different sites, including Kentland Farm and one commercial project on undisclosed private land, Greene said. The goal is to be as open as possible about where the drones are flying, he added.

For the FAA, the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership is providing data on how drones are being used, safety mechanisms and technical flight issues such as what happens when the aircraft loses power or how it might sense and avoid other aircraft or objects. For businesses, the program helps develop a track record to convince the FAA that those companies can fly safely. The partnership sets the safety standards and procedures for the tests, Greene said.

York County-based AVID (Air Vehicle Integrated Design) got FAA authorization through the partnership to test a small flying robot.

"It's kind of a "Brave New World"-type thing. You've got so many things you can do," AVID chief technical officer Paul Gelhausen said, adding, "It's really aerial robotics."

The company, which maintains an office in Blacksburg, plans on testing its 10-inch-wide, 3-pound, electric-ducted-fan drone. The "EDF-8" can be equipped with sensors for chemical detection or with a camera for video surveillance or industrial inspections, he said. Gelhausen believes the smaller drone can operate in urban areas or indoors, like trying to find the source of a fire or inspecting the inner walls of ship tanks.

AVID also has a license agreement with Honeywell Aerospace to sell 20-pound, gasoline-powered T-Hawk "micro air vehicles." The T-Hawk, designed in part by AVID, has been used to support soldiers with reconnaissance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But until the FAA comes out with commercial rules for drones, AVID can't sell and eventually produce drones in York County, he said. Companies want to know particulars, like weight limits for specific uses. Delays in the rule-making have also cost AVID investment in finishing the EDF-8, Gelhausen said. He agrees with licensing commercial drone users but would like some rules to work by. The FAA plans to publish a proposed rule for small unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds later this year.

"I'm stalled from actually building a constructive industry," Gelhausen, who worked at NASA for 22 years, said. "When the FAA makes their rules, we will start building vehicles next door."

Robert Fitzgerald, CEO and principal of The Bosh Group in Newport News, understands the frustration but sees the FAA's challenge of managing a complex, busy U.S. airspace.

When budget cuts and sequestration reared its ugly head, Fitzgerald wanted to diversify from government contracting with Bosh Global Services, which has provided drone systems support and training for about 10 years. In 2012, the Bosh Group acquired Newport News-based Emmen Aerospace, a custom military drone supplier, and rebranded it as Bosh Technologies with the goal of pursuing commercial markets.

The Bosh Group also launched a Digital Harvest company that equips drones with sensors and data collection systems for agriculture.

"Agriculture, we think, is going to be the big success for unmanned aircraft in the early years," Fitzgerald said.

Digital Harvest's drone sensors and multispectral imager can help farmers see where bugs are attacking plants or where crops need more water, Fitzgerald said. Drones can then also allow for more efficient, targeted crop dusting and chemical applications on farms.

Bosh, which has been testing with North Carolina State researchers, is pursuing multiple FAA authorizations for testing through the Virginia Tech partnership. Once the FAA opens up airspace for commercial use, the Bosh Group anticipates making custom commercial drones as well as providing training and data-collection services for hire, said spokeswoman Angela Costello.

"There's really a very exciting world ahead of us. You see this convergence of technologies," said Dave Hinton, deputy director for the research and technology portfolio at NASA Langley Research Center. "You're going to see the vehicles mature as we develop the means to access airspace. Standards are going to become very important."

NASA Langley in Hampton is poised to support the partnership's activities with its expertise and has already helped in providing flight range safety procedures, Hinton said. In addition to its long history of flight test research, NASA Langley has been using small unmanned aircraft to test the algorithms for autonomous systems or gain insight for pilot simulations, control systems and training, he said.

NASA Langley engineers are also experimenting with aircraft composition, including a hybrid vertical-takeoff plane that hovers like a helicopter. Called Greased Lightning, the prototype is a drone and has potential for package delivery, Hinton said. Test flights are planned this fall.

Hinton views the development of unmanned systems much like how computers have evolved. The technology has become so miniaturized and affordable that there's even a hobbyist movement to make them.

"You put that in the hands of even a small company and wow, they can start doing things you never dreamed of," Hinton said.

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York County-based AVID would like to test its electric ducted-fan drone, through the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership's testing program with Virginia Tech. Courtesy of AVID (courtesy avid, Daily Press / September 3, 2014)

Low flying plane for military funeral

MUSCLE SHOALS, AL (WAFF) - A low flying military plane had many concerned citizens asking questions on Saturday afternoon. Many viewers were calling and sending emails around the Shoals area were asking why a large military plane was flying very low. 

Officials said that the Lockheed C-130 Hercules was flying very low because of a military funeral service in Piney Grove near the Franklin and Colbert County line.

This type of ceremony is usually for Airmen of The United States Air Force that are rated officers such as pilots, navigators, air battle managers, observers, and flight surgeons. Career enlisted aviators flight engineers, loadmasters, and boom operators are also eligible for this type of ceremony.

The Airman honored was 41-year-old  Lt. Col. William Michael Mitchell of Shalimair, Florida, formerly of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, passed away Friday, Sept. 5, 2014.

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Obituary for Lt. Col William Mitchell 


Lt. Col. William Michael Mitchell, age 41. Of Shalimair, Florida formerly of Muscle Shoals, Alabama passed away Friday, September 5, 2014. His family will welcome friends for visitation Friday, September 12, 2014 from 5-7pm at Colbert Memorial Chapel. Dennis Hasha will officiate the service on Saturday, September 13, beginning at 2pm in the funeral home chapel. Burial will follow in Piney Grove Cemetery.

He is survived by his wife of 19 years, Jennifer Leigh Williams Mitchell; father, Billy Mitchell; mother, Joyce Mitchell; sons, William Jacob Mitchell, and Dawson Elias Mitchell; daughter, Clara Naomi Mitchell; and sisters, Suzanne Livingston (Lee), Lynn Robinson (Mark), and Lora Bonham (Craig).

Members of the United States Air Force will serve as pallbearers. Honorary pallbearers will be Mark Flannagan, Trent Jeffreys, Jon German, Lee Livingston, Mark Robinson, Craig Bonham, Ian Fritz, and Brandon Fritz.

Mike was a “plankholder” in the 3rd Special Operations Squadron, Dragon #12, one of only a handful of the original Airmen who established that highly effective combat unit from scratch in the most challenging of conditions. He was an expert marksman. Mike served in the United States Air Force for 15 years. He was a decorated pilot and flew the C-130, Predator drone, C-145, MC130E- Combat Talon and served several tours of duty in foreign countries including Afghanistan as a member of the 8th Special Operations Unit. He was also Chief of Standards and Evaluations of the Predator an unmanned aircrafts. He received numerous medals, awards, and commendations for bravery and service.

Mike loved his children and wife dearly. He was on the board of the Shalimar Athletic Association where his son, Eli, played football. He was an avid supporter of Choctawhatchee High School Football where his son, Jake, plays. Mike also loved attending Gymnastics meets where his daughter, Clara, competed.

Mike was always famous for his jokes and ability to make everyone laugh. His smile was contagious and lit up the room. Mike was not only a dependable and loving father, husband, son, and brother, he was also a great friend. Mike had a great love of music. He loved attending live music events with his family. Mike decided he wanted to play in a church talent show. In two weeks, he formed his own band with his two sons Jake and Eli and friends Hayden Bludworth and Nate Gilmore. They named their band “Unicorns and Rainbows”. Everyone loved them. He had a strong competitive spirit. Mike loved football and was an avid Auburn fan. He also loved the Atlanta
Falcons and Atlanta Braves, even in the bad years.

Everyone that knew Mike loved him. He would do anything for anyone, any time, any place. Mike left many great stories and memories that will never be forgotten. He will be missed immensely. Mike will join his precious son, Gus, as well as many dear friends and extended family that preceded him.

The family would like to thank the staff of the surgical intensive care unit at Sacred Heart Hospital and Dr. Samuel Cretidies for the excellent care and love shown to Mike and his family.

You may sign the online register at

Colbert Memorial Chapel is assisting the family.

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Officials said that the Lockheed C-130 Hercules was flying very low because of a military funeral service in Piney Grove near the Franklin and Colbert County line.

Letter: Don't give up on flights out of Chico Municipal Airport (KCIC)

Chico Enterprise-Record
09/13/2014 04:14:14 PM PDT

We've been following recent letters in the E-R regarding Chico Municipal Airport. We've started our travels from Chico for several years, and would continue. The main reason is the staff, both TSA and SkyWest folks. Kind, competent and relaxed, these staff make the start of any journey a pleasure.

We are distressed that these good folks may soon not have jobs.

We agree with Helen Harberts, who wrote that the delays originate in San Francisco. We've waited there extra hours while the aircraft is re-routed to one or two other cities before returning us to Chico. We don't know the reasons: SFO construction, Federal Aviation Administration or the carrier. SkyWest doesn't seem to have enough aircraft.

Chico rightly values its hometown friendliness and cooperation.

This airport is another flower in the bouquet, and staff deserve to be supported. Let's get on-board and raise our voices to retain air service to San Francisco and maybe Los Angeles. There must be other flyers here who will rally for our Chico employees.

Oh, yes, and let's get a coffee machine or a food truck. Before those early flights people look as if they'd mug us for our caffeine.

— Nick and Regina Ellena, Oroville

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Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority to host public meeting on master plan

MIDDLETOWN — The Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority will host a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24, to receive comments on the development of a long-range 20-year master plan for the Harrisburg International Airport.

The meeting will be at the Penn State Harrisburg Student Center in the Capital Union Building off First Street in Middletown.

 The public is invited to attend and provide comments.

The meeting will be the final planning workshop. 

Airport planners and airport staff will be present to discuss the results of the master plan study and proposed future development projects.

Parking is free and permits are not required.

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Officials: Don't worry about that fighter jet at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (KDCA)

If you're flying to Washington's Reagan National Airport (DCA) on Saturday morning (Sept. 13), you may see a fighter jet flying near the airport. But there's no need worry, says the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) that runs the airport.

The agency has alerted the public that an "unarmed" fighter jet will be landing at Washington's close-to-downtown airport on Saturday around 11:45 a.m. ET.

MWAA describes the flight as "a planned activity (that) does not represent any threat to public safety." The agency adds the jet -- described as "a 'Scorpion' military-style fighter jet aircraft" -- is being brought to DCA "by a private company for marketing purposes." The aircraft is a prototype being marketed by Textron AirLand, according to MWAA.

The flights have been approved by the airport and "appropriate federal authorities" and is not expected to disrupt normal passenger airline traffic, MWAA says. Additionally, the aircraft will not have any weaponry attached while in flight.

Textron AirLand says the jet is making its "first visit to the nation's capital" for the Air Force Association's Air & Space Conference that runs Sept. 15-17.

However, aviation enthusiasts hoping for a glimpse will have limited options. Airport officials say there will not be any public viewing events around the aircraft's arrival. The jet will not be kept at a location visible to the public while it's on the ground, they add.

The aircraft will remain at DCA until Friday, Sept. 19, when it is scheduled to depart from the airport at around 10 a.m. ET.

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Great Bend Municipal Airport (KGBD) runway ready to night-time run/walk

The next Great Bend Airfest is a year away, but Airfest Committee members said they are excited about the upcoming event, Run the Runway.

Community members and visitors have the opportunity to participate in an evening 5K Run/Walk or 1 mile walk on Oct. 3 at the Great Bend Municipal Airport.

The event will start at 7 p.m.

Participants will have the opportunity to run or walk at night with the runway lights on.

Registration is $15 per person or $40 per team of four if they register before Friday, Sept. 19.

Prices go up $5 per person after the late date. T-shirts will be an additional $10.

The proceeds of this race will benefit the 2015 Great Bend Airfest. 

“Airfest was a huge success in 2012 and the 2015 Airfest is expected to be bigger and better,” said Martin Miller, Great Bend Municipal Airport manager.

The Airfest Committee is hoping to bring in old World War II airplanes including the last flying B-29, named FiFi.

“Run the Runway is one of the few fundraisers we will be having to raise funds for our next Airfest, it’s expensive to bring in old warbirds and we need to help the city compensate for the funds needed,” Miller said.

“We encourage you to come out and run or walk our airfield; this is a safe and fun event for all ages.”

To register or for more information visit Explore Great Bend on Facebook or call Christina Hayes, City of Great Bend community coordinator, at 620-793-4111.

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Ohio Department of Transportation study: Ross County Airport (KRZT) impact worth millions

Ohio’s publicly owned airports account for a $13 billion economic impact, according to a study aimed at helping direct spending of federal aviation money.

The Ohio Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation will present draft recommendations from its Airports Focus Study at seven public meetings this month. Final recommendations will be released in December.

The study found that 73 jobs, $1.9 million in payroll and $6.7 million in output of goods and services can be attributed to Ross County’s Shoemaker Airport. The airport’s most frequent operations include air cargo, corporate, medical, law enforcement and recreational flights. The military also uses the airport to practice approaches.

The figures are based on 2012 data and take into account purchases by on-site businesses, government agencies and several million visitors. The figures also include the value of those dollars circulating through the community.

Ross County’s airport has already been periodically receiving federal money for continued improvements, with the most recent coming this past week when U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown announced the U.S. Department of Transportation had awarded $347,248 to the airport for crack sealing and marking to repair the airport apron, to update the T-hangar taxiways and to minimize debris.

“This is great news for Ross County,” Brown said. “These improvements will enhance safety at Ross County Airport. These federal dollars will to a long way in sustaining travel in and out of the airport for area residents and businesses.”

Airport manager Jim Parks said the award announcement was expected and is the result of the Ross County commissioners’ commitment to pursuing funding for the airport’s development. During paving work last summer, officials decided to conduct random load testing of the runways and taxiways to confirm their suspicions that the airport had the ability to support heavier aircraft.

“We were right,” Parks said. “We went from a 50,000-pound footprint to a 100,000-pound footprint. We have doubled the weight-bearing capacity of the facility.”

The result of that is that the local airport has been upgraded to a category one facility, meaning it can accept the larger types of aircraft that can help with economic development and attracting businesses to the local area. It also will likely make it easier to continue attracting money for facility upgrades.

“Reading between the lines, category one airports are the ones that are going to get funded in the future,” Parks predicted.

The two-year ODOT study was requested by the FAA to evaluate the economic impact of Ohio’s public airports and their improvement needs. The study, conducted by Massachusetts-based consulting firm CDM Smith, cost $2.3 million and was funded primarily by the FAA, ODOT press secretary Steve Faulkner said.

“Findings and recommendations are based on site visits and data collected from all 104 publicly owned airports in Ohio, interviews with county and state economic officials, a pilot survey, public input received from two earlier rounds of public meetings, and extensive technical analysis,” Faulkner said.

Statewide, the study determined the 104 airports are responsible for $13.3 billion in economic benefits, 2 percent of Ohio’s workforce, $4.2 billion in annual payroll, and $29.6 million in annual tax revenue.

The majority of Ohio’s public airports are considered general aviation and were the primary focus of the study. The 97 general aviation airports are responsible for $1.8 billion in economic benefits each year. Part of that benefit comes from 17,500 jobs and $688 million in payroll.

The economic findings will be used as part of the evaluation process when determining ODOT and Federal Aviation Administration funding awards. Each year, ODOT directs nearly $1 million, and the FAA $20 million, to general aviation airports across the state.

The primary source of the funding is taxes on fuel and airline tickets.

The study also provides recommendations for improvements using FAA standards that could change after the public comment period. The study notes the information is to be used for planning purposes and “should not supersede detailed engineering studies, airport master plans or pavement maintenance plans.”

The recommendations for the Ross County Airport have an estimated cost of $7.4 million. The big-ticket recommendations include continued improvements to pavement conditions and upgrading the airport lighting system. Parks said a project to upgrade all standard lighting and controls is scheduled for 2016.

Faulkner said ODOT officials hope local residents will use the information to better understand their needs and make plans and to “communicate their local airport’s economic value to the community and decision-makers.”

Gazette Local Desk Editor Chris Balusik contributed to this report.

Ohio aviation by the numbers

• $13.3 billion: Annual economic benefit of the 104 publicly owned airports

• 231,000: Jobs provided by public and commercial airports

• $29.6 million: Public airport annual tax revenues that mostly support the state’s general fund

• $11.5 billion: Annual economic benefit of the 7 commercial airports

• 73: Airport/pilot training programs

Provide feedback

The draft recommendations will be discussed at seven public meetings:

• 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Warren County Career Center, 3525 Ohio 48 N, Lebanon

• 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at Avetec, 4170 Allium Court, Springfield

• 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the Pike County Government Center, Rooms 104 and 105, 230 Waverly Plaza, Waverly

• 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 22 at Zane State College, EPIC Building Room 608, 9900 Brick Church Road, Cambridge

• 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Delaware Community Center YMCA, 1121 S. Houk Road, Delaware

• 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Findlay Inn and Conference Center, Hancock Room, 200 E. Main Cross St., Findlay

• 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Brecksville Community Center, 1 Community Drive, Brecksville

Drafts from the Ohio Airports Focus Study are available at a link under Division of Operations at Comments will be collected at the meetings or can be emailed to

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Glendale Community College gets new wings: College officials approve purchase of third plane for aviation program

The aviation department at Glendale Community College is celebrating a new addition this week in the form of a 1983 Cessna, the third plane the campus has acquired for its pilot training program.

Earlier this week, college trustees approved the $62,000 purchase of the 172P model, making the program eligible to serve 30% more students.

Since the 1930s, Glendale Community College has offered aviation classes, but it was only in 1998 that officials purchased their first airplane and began providing flight-training courses. The college purchased its second plane in 2003.

Early on, the program played a significant role in training pilots who served in World War II.

"As the world was going to war in 1939, there was flight training through [Glendale Community College] — one of many contractors throughout the country that provided flight training for WWII pilots," said Scott Rubke, chair of the technology and aviation division of the college.

The newest plane will join the other two Cessna 172N-models at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, where students take off seven days a week to log 60 flight hours on their way to earning a private pilot's license.

Curtis Potter, the program's chief pilot, said the newest plane is similar to the other two aircraft in the fleet.

Over the course of a year, the planes fly an average of 500 to 600 hours. Every 2,000 hours, the engines are overhauled, and every 100 hours, the planes undergo inspections.

"It's all about safety," Rubke said.

The six instructors who teach an average of 22 students each semester come from various backgrounds as commercial airline or corporate pilots as well as helicopter pilots.

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Wanted: helicopter pilot for the Queen

The job of 'aircraft captain' for the Queen is being advertised on the British Monarchy website
The Queen is hunting for a £78,500-a-year helicopter pilot, twice as much as the Duke of Cambridge is expected to be paid when he returns to the skies.

The job of “aircraft captain” is being advertised on the British Monarchy website and the successful applicant should have “VVIP” experience.

Apart from the Duke, who was a search-and-rescue pilot at RAF Valley in Wales, his father, the Prince of Wales, brother Prince Harry and uncle the Duke of York are all qualified helicopter pilots.

The Duke will this month begin training for a new job as an air ambulance pilot operating in East Anglia.

He will reportedly earn around £40,000 a year. Kensington Palace has said he would donate his post-tax salary - estimated to be in the region of £30,155 per year - in full to an as yet undisclosed charity.

Based at Odiham, Hampshire, the successful applicant for the royal post “must be willing to undertake regular travel across the UK and overnight as necessary, have a flexible approach and be willing to take on duties and activities outside your normal responsibilities,” says the advert.

It adds: “The Queen’s Helicopter Flight consists of a small team of pilots and ground support personnel operating a privately operated Sikorsky S76 helicopter and an Agusta Westland 109S.

“As the aircraft captain, you will be responsible for the safe and efficient execution of the flight in accordance with standard procedures.”

The advert adds that “corporate/VVIP experience are highly desirable”, and applications close September 25.

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Want to see fighter jets up close? We know a spot ♥♡


VIRGINIA BEACH - Jerry Carson backed his car into a gravel pull-off on the side of Oceana Boulevard and took a look around. The lot, about 150 feet wide, already had four other cars lined up for the show.

"This must be the spot," Carson said.

He and his wife, Kathy, were visiting from Colorado and saw Navy fighter jets flying around the Oceanfront earlier Thursday. They asked around, and someone directed them to places to watch F/A-18 Hornets at close range. The couple visited two gates at Oceana Naval Air Station before they finally stumbled upon this nook about 100 yards from the base and runway 23.

It's not easy to find. There is nothing advertising this prime location for jet enthusiasts - just a dead-end sign and a driveway leading to a Public Works Department lot.

A decade ago, it took Tom Lavin and Linda Jewell three trips around the perimeter of Oceana to locate the viewing area. The pair from Westminister, Md., spend hours at the spot during their annual trips to Virginia Beach. Rain dampened the first two days of their vacation, but they were hearing jet noise as soon as the skies cleared.

"I haven't even put my feet in the sand yet, but we have jets, so everything is good," Jewell said.

The pull-off lures tourists from all over the country. Cars parked there Thursday sported license plates from Ohio, New Hampshire and North Carolina. It is also a sweet spot for locals.

Joe Grande shows up every Thursday to photograph the jets and other aircraft. He takes 200 to 300 pictures each week for fun. He also gets quite an assortment - C-130 cargo planes and T-34 trainers in addition to Super Hornets.

This off-base viewing spot, arguably the best of many in the city, still can be hit-or-miss depending on which runway is in use that day. Sunny days are the most enjoyable for viewers and for the pilots they're watching.

The experience can be a bit like attending a baseball game. There's a lot of sitting and waiting for a glimpse of million-dollar machinery in action.

People got out of their cars Thursday and chatted with others who share this hidden gem. Someone wondered aloud whether the pilots were on their lunch break. A roar finally sent them scrambling for phones and cameras.

The first approach was a practice round for those hoping to catch the perfect photo as the jet flew directly over the field at about 2,000 feet. It took a turn, or break, to the left and looped around as if it were exiting a highway. Then it disappeared below a tree line as it slowed and dropped its landing gear. All was quiet again.

At least two minutes passed as viewers checked the sky for any sign of the jet. Kathy Carson saw it first.

"Here it comes! Here it comes!" she called.

The bottom of the jet seemed to be within arm's reach as it passed over the group. People pointed at it until the screeching had them covering their ears. The noise reverberated through their bodies.

The sighting lasted 14 seconds.

Jerry Carson put his iPad down and was disappointed by how fast it all happened.

"I didn't even get to do a video," he said.

Less than a minute passed before another jet started approaching the runway. He pulled up the camera app and started recording.

Story, comments,  photos and video:

Terry King, visiting the area from Fremont Ohio, photographs a Navy jet on approach to Oceana Naval Air Station while he stands in a small viewing area off Oceana Boulevard in Virginia Beach on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 11, 2014. 
(Martin Smith-Rodden | The Virginian-Pilot)

 (Martin Smith-Rodden | The Virginian-Pilot)

Cessna 152: Search resumes in Sagres for body of missing pilot

Maritime police divers are expected to be called in today (Saturday) to help search for the body of 74-year-old “experienced pilot” José António Inácio - still missing after the little two-seater plane he was flying crashed into the sea near Sagre in thick fog on Friday morning.

According to ports commander Carvalho Pinto, the authorities have still not pinpointed the exact crash location, despite having searched a “vast area”.

All they know for sure is that the Cessna 152 flew out of Portimão aerodrome at 10.15 on Friday, lost radio contact fairly quickly thereafter and crashed into the sea about a kilometre from Ponta da Atalaia in Sagres at 11.20 am - just 60 metres from a fishing boat.

“None of us could see anything, as there was thick fog”, fisherman Adriano Guerreiro who radioed Maritime Police with the news told reporters.

“We just heard a great big bang and realised what had happened from the smell of fuel, and the wreckage that we found - which included the wheel of a small plane”.

Carvalho Pinto has told newspapers that it is still not clear whether fog caused the plane to crash into the sea, or whether there was another reason.

According to news reports, Inácio was very experienced and had lived a large part of his life in Canada. He is understood to have had a home in Mexilhoeira Grande - not far from the aerodrome.

As far as maritime police can make out, the little plane - with any luck still holding Inácio’s body - could be 20-30 metres down on the sea bed.

Further news is expected later today.

In the meantime, an Air Force helicopter will be resuming air searches while police and rescue boats scour the waters, keeping a keen eye on wreckage.

This far, papers and documents relating to both the plane and its pilot are believed already to have been found, along with certain items of clothing.

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Paul Allen's company files lawsuit over World War II-era tank: Suit alleges rare World War II tank in Portola Valley was bought for $2.5 million was never delivered

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (AP) — A company headed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco Bay Area over a World War II-era German tank it says it paid $2.5 million for but never received. 

 The Panzer IV tank was part of a fleet of military vehicles amassed by Stanford University-trained engineer Jacques Littlefield, who kept them on his family estate up a winding, forested road above Silicon Valley. After his death, his family turned them over to the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation, which put some of them up for auction in Portola Valley in July.

In the lawsuit filed Wednesday in San Mateo County, Allen's company, Vulcan Warbirds, says it reached an agreement to buy the tank after the auction, but was later told there had been a misunderstanding and the foundation didn't want to give the tank up. By then, it had already wired the money to the bank account of the company that was handling the auction, Auctions America, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims breach of contract and names Auctions America and the Collings Foundation.

Collings Foundation CEO Rob Collings told the Palo Alto Daily News ( the tank was never sold. The company put it up for auction, but then reached its fundraising goal without selling the tank. The foundation was hoping to raise $10 million from the auction to help build a military vehicle museum at its Stow, Massachusetts, headquarters.

"So the decision was made by our trustees that this was core to the collection and we're going to keep it," Collings said.

He said it was his understanding that Auctions America had returned the $2.5 million. Auctions America spokeswoman Amy Christie said in an email the company understands the matter is in litigation and is working with the parties to reach a resolution.

There are only five Panzer IV tanks in the United States, according to Vulcan Warbirds. The Seattle-based company leases rare military planes and vehicles to the Flying Heritage Collection, a museum located in Everett, Washington, the suit says.

Vulcan Warbirds said in a statement Auctions America had failed to honor its agreement, and it looked forward to restoring the Panzer IV tank and having it join a Sherman tank and other historic military aircraft and vehicles at the Flying Heritage Collection.

Story, Video and Comments:

Suit alleges rare World War II tank in Portola Valley was bought for $2.5 million was never delivered 

A company headed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is suing two foundations and an auction house for allegedly failing to deliver a World War II German Panzer IV Tank purchased for $2.5 million but still sitting in a Portola Valley facility.

The complaint on behalf of Allen's company, Vulcan Warbirds, Inc., was filed Wednesday in San Mateo County Superior Court by lawyers with the San Francisco firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP.

Seattle-based Vulcan Warbirds acquires rare military vehicles and planes and leases them to the Flying Heritage Collection, a museum located in Everett, Wash., according to the suit.

In July, Vulcan Warbirds representatives discovered that a rare Panzer IV Tank that had been part of Stanford graduate Jacques Littlefield's collection would be auctioned off at the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation in Portola Valley. The historic artifact was valued at $2.5 million.

On July 11 and 12, items from the Littlefield collection were auctioned off through Auctions America, but a $1.5 million bid from Vulcan Warbirds representative Deborah Gunn and a $1.7 million bid from an unnamed organization were not accepted, according to the suit.

After the auction, Gunn asked a woman helping to conduct the auction, Megan Boyd, whether the Collings Foundation would be willing to sell the Panzer IV tank, according to the suit. The Collings Foundation, which also collects historical artifacts, received the Littlefield collection after Jacques Littlefield died. Boyd works for RM, Inc., which is affiliated with Auctions America.

On July 18, Boyd, acting on behalf of the Collings Foundation, sent Gunn an email offering the Panzer IV Tank to Vulcan Warbirds for $2.5 million, according to the suit. On July 25, Vulcan Warbirds wired the money for the tank to the bank account of Auctions America. In August, however, Vulcan Warbirds learned that the tank, which still sits in Portola Valley, would not be released.

In an Aug. 20 email to Auctions America representatives, Gunn stated that Vulcan Warbirds learned from the executive director of the Flying Heritage Collection that Rob Collings, the CEO of the Collings Foundation, claimed the foundation had not meant to sell the Panzer IV Tank and there had been a "misunderstanding."

The suit alleges breach of contract and names the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, the Collings Foundation, RM Inc., and Auctions America as defendants. It seeks to obtain the Panzer IV Tank, as well as damages and attorneys fees.

In a phone interview Thursday, Rob Collings said any deal made after the auction ended isn't valid.

"We never sold it," Collings said. "It's my understanding that Auctions America tried to return the money. Collings Foundation has not received any of this, not the $2.5 million. We would not accept it."

The World War II tank was put on the auction block because the organization hoped to raise $10 million to build a military vehicle museum. Offers for the tank didn't match the minimum bidding requirements, which is why they were rejected, Collings said. Now the tank is off the market.

"The reason why it was offered at the auction is we have to raise a certain amount of funds ... that amount was reached," Collings said. "So the decision was made by our trustees that this was core to the collection and we're going to keep it."

Vulcan Warbirds did not respond directly to a request for an interview about the suit and instead forwarded a written statement.

"There are only five Panzer IV Tanks in the United States, and this was purchased to be displayed in a specially designed space where the public can see these incredible machines in action," the statement read in part. "Auctions America has failed to honor our agreement and yesterday we sued it and the Collings Foundation, the former owner of the tank, to enforce our contract. We look forward to restoring the Panzer IV Tank and having it join our Sherman tank and other historic military aircraft and vehicles at the Flying Heritage Collection."

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New York troopers lending air support in fatal Pennsylvania trooper ambush

SYRACUSE, N.Y -- New York State Police have been patrolling the New York-Pennsylvania border by helicopter since two Pennsylvania troopers were shot outside a state police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania late Friday, killing one.

State police were flying near the border throughout the night and into this morning, Sgt. Mark Daniels said. The helicopter stopped this morning to refuel, but Daniels expects the flyover to continue.

No state police cars were dispatched to Pennsylvania, Daniels said.

"We don't have a bunch of troopers in Pennsylvania," Daniels said, adding that troopers are focused near the state line.

At this time, there is no imminent threat that the gunman is en route to New York, Daniels said.

The Associated Press is reporting that police are questioning 48-year-old Jeffrey Hudak as a "person of interest" in the shooting.

Story and Photo:

State police Commissioner Frank Noonan, addresses the media on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014 in Blooming Grove, Pa. Two troopers were ambushed outside a state police barracks in northeastern Pennsylvania during a late-night shift change, leaving one dead and another injured, and authorities were searching Saturday for the suspect or suspects, state police said. "This has been an emotional night for all of us" Noonan said. 
(AP Photo/Scranton Times & Tribune, Butch Comegys)