Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Department of Transportation looks at Delta's actions on Atlanta-area airport

(Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Transportation said on Tuesday it is looking into a complaint that Delta Airlines Inc used "unfair and deceptive practices" to block development of a second major airport near Atlanta.

The agency's action comes in response to a complaint filed by county commissioners and a private group trying to develop commercial air service at Silver Comet Field, a small airport about 40 miles from Atlanta. The DOT also received a letter opposing the plan from newly elected county commissioners due to take office in January.

The DOT action is not a formal investigation, as requested by airport proponents. The agency told Reuters it is "looking into the matter" after receiving the complaint in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx last week.

The developments, which have not been previously reported, are the latest in a long-running dispute over efforts to create an alternative to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Atlanta, the No. 9 U.S. metropolitan area, is the only one of the top 10 without at least one secondary airport, according to Census Bureau and Federal Aviation Administration data.

Last October, the Paulding County Board of Commissioners said it planned to bring commercial air service to Silver Comet Field, in a county northwest of the city.

In 2012 it signed a deal to develop airport infrastructure with Propeller Investments, a New York-based private equity firm. Allegiant Travel Co , a low-cost carrier, has said it intends to serve Silver Comet Field.

Delta has long opposed a second commercial airport in the Atlanta area. Chief Executive Richard Anderson has said it would divide investment and "ultimately be an economic and community failure." Atlanta's mayor has also opposed the development.

In the letter to Foxx, Paulding County Commission Chairman David Austin and Robert Aaronson, Chairman of Propeller Airports and a former senior official at FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said Delta wants to preserve its dominance in Atlanta.

They said Delta is "interfering" with efforts to develop low-cost air service around Atlanta, even though the Silver Comet plan has been "endorsed by Paulding County, the State of Georgia and the FAA."

Delta's actions "are harming consumers and stifling economic development in the region," they said in the letter.

Paulding County and Propeller officials said, that since the agreement was signed last October, a series of incidents has stalled the project. These include lawsuits challenging the development brought be country residents through an Atlanta law firm did not charge them legal fees.

A detailed chronicle of events filed with the DOT complaint letter also notes break-ins at the homes of a state representative whose district includes Paulding County, and the county commission chairman, who support the project.

In a separate letter last week, three newly elected members of the five-member Paulding County Board of Commissioners asked Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to halt commercialization of the airport.

The members, who take office in January, said the current county board "conspired behind closed doors" to start air service at Silver Comet, despite objection by residents who voted in three "anti-commercialization" candidates last May.

Delta said its objections are shared by local property owners, environmental groups and labor unions. The airline declined to comment on the legal backing of local residents who oppose the airport expansion.

"The proposal is a waste of taxpayer dollars, violates the city's restrictions on the land, and would siphon off increasingly scarce federal funding that's more needed at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said.

"Metro Atlanta is best served by a single, strong airport at Hartsfield-Jackson," which has enough room for new airlines to being service, he added. Delta has agreed to work with the airport to accommodate new entrants if necessary."

- Source:  http://www.reuters.com

Russian Aeroflot’s low cost air company to operate under brand name Pobeda

MOSCOW, October 28. /TASS/. Russian Aeroflot Airlines’ low cost company will operate under the brand name Pobeda, a source in the Aeroflot group told TASS on Tuesday.

“This brand will be promoted, with the company’s planes bearing its logo. Its website pobeda.aero will be launched soon,” the source said, adding that Byudzhetny Perevozchik, Aeroflot’s new low-cost affiliate, would be the airline’s legal entity.

Earlier on Tuesday, Byudzhetny Perevozchik announced the start of ticket sales from November 1. The flights will start from November 17 from Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport. According to the company's website, a ticket will cost from $23.82. The price does not envision additional fees.

Byudzhetny Perevozchik officially applied to the Federal Air Transport Agency for an air operator certificate in early October. The fleet of the new company has Boeing-737-800 Next Generation (NG) planes, which will fly from Moscow to Belgorod and Volgograd in the European part of Russia, to Kazan and Samara on the Volga River, to Yekaterinburg and Ufa in the Urals Federal District, and to the Siberian cities of Tyumen and Surgut.

Byudzhetny Perevozchik was established by Aeroflot in mid-September to replace another low cost affiliate Dobrolyot, which suspended its flights from August 4 in the wake of European Union’s sanctions that prompted several European counteragents to annul leasing, maintenance and insurance contracts, and deny navigation information.

- Source:  http://en.itar-tass.com

Phoenix Air: The whole world relies on this one United States company to fly Ebola patients

When it comes to transporting Ebola victims by air, the world relies on just one small U.S. company.

Phoenix Air, a jet-charter service based in Cartersville, Ga., has flown 15 infected patients, including Europeans who worked in West Africa and five individuals who were treated in the United States — doctor Kent Brantly, photojournalist Ashoka Mukpo, missionary Nancy Writebol, and nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson.

Now the Defense Department is stepping up. The Pentagon this week said it is developing portable isolation units for use on its military aircraft, as thousands of U.S. troops head to West Africa to help combat the outbreak. The modules are expected to be tested next month and deployed in C-17 and C-130 transport planes by January.

“This system is being developed out of an abundance of caution, to reassure our service members working in Ebola-affected areas,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea. “There are no plans for DOD personnel to provide direct patient care, and therefore the exposure risk remains low” for troops, Elzea said.

The Obama administration has not decided whether it will use the isolation systems to transport non-military patients.

“This particular capability remains under development, so it would be premature to speak to its potential use,” said White House spokesman Ned Price.

One thing is for sure: The military transports would have greater capacity. Phoenix Air can fly only one infected individual at a time, whereas the military’s isolation units will hold up to 12 patients.

The Pentagon declined to share information about the development costs for the transport modules, saying the contract has not been finalized.

The tent-like isolation chambers mainly consist of a metal frame, a plastic liner and an air-filtration system. For the Phoenix Air flights, one doctor and two nurses attend to each patient.

After each patient is transported, the company sprays toxic disinfectant inside the module for 24 hours and sends the contents — including the plastic, the stretchers and even the walkie talkies — off for incineration by a federally licensed hazardous-materials disposal team.

Phoenix Air created three isolation units in 2011 with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Defense Department. Those agencies provided scientific expertise and advice on how to manufacture special materials, respectively.

At the time, the CDC wanted a way to return infected medical workers to the United States instead of treating them in the field, because of growing concern about international conflicts, said Dent Thompson, the company’s vice president of operations.

The transport systems were finished in late-2011, but the outbreaks had long since died down. The units were placed in storage.

“We would periodically make various federal agencies aware that it existed and said, ‘If you ever need it, we can use it,’” Thompson said.

A call finally came from the State Department’s chief of emergency medicine in late-July, amid growing concerns about the West African Ebola outbreak. Phoenix Air quickly assembled a volunteer flight and medical crew after government officials inspected the system and gave it a thumbs-up.

“Within 48 hours, we were on our way to get the first patient,” Thompson said, speaking of the flight to transport Brantly on Aug. 2. The plane took Brantly to Atlanta and turned around almost immediately to fetch Writebol.

Both trips, which cost about $200,000 each, including the decontamination process, were paid for by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization that the patients worked with in Liberia.

After those missions, Phoenix Air decided that the U.S. government should manage future transport efforts, because of the “real-world complexities of what it takes to make a mission like this work,” Thompson said. The challenges include dealing with U.S. customs officials, gaining permission to use foreign airspace and deciding which medical centers should treat the Ebola victims.

The State Department has since coordinated all flights, including those for foreigners returning to their countries. U.S. taxpayers pick up the tab for American patients, but the government requires reimbursement for the others.

“To me, this is no different from a soldier being shot in Afghanistan,” Thompson said. “The U.S. government is going to get that soldier and bring him home and put him in a medical facility.”

The federal government has been a longtime customer of Phoenix Air. In addition to flying executive charters and providing air-ambulance services, the business of about 225 employees also runs cargo for the military, provides flights for the U.S. Marshals Service and carried the White House’s presidential delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The company now keeps one plane on standby for transporting Ebola victims.

“We’re like a firetruck in a fire station,” Thompson said. “We’re ready to go.”

Story, Comments and Photos:   http://www.washingtonpost.com

St. Louis company chosen to provide air service to Fort Dodge

Passenger air service is returning to Fort Dodge after a long absence. The U.S. Department of Transportation is announcing the selection of St. Louis-based Air Choice One to service the north central Iowa city. Rhonda Chambers, director of the Fort Dodge Regional Airport, says she expects the service to take off within the next 60 to 90 days using a single-engine turbo-prop aircraft.

“It’s a small airplane that takes nine passengers but everyone gets a first class experience,” Chambers says. “They’ve decided that they’re going to provide exceptional, high quality air travel to each and every passenger which means every seat in there is like a first class seat.”

Great Lakes Airlines ended commuter flights to Fort Dodge and Mason City in January. Chambers says the new airline, Air Choice One, is not new to Iowa’s skies. “Mason City selected them, they’re having Air Choice One flying them to Chicago,” Chambers says. “Burlington uses Air Choice One down to St. Louis, so Air Choice One has gradually gotten more and more cities.”

The flights will be direct from Fort Dodge to St. Louis and Chambers is hopeful that flights from Fort Dodge to Chicago could be added in the future.

- Source: http://www.radioiowa.com

At Santa Monica Municipal Airport (KSMO), the Noise Off the Runway Is Getting Louder

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Residential neighborhoods encircle the municipal airport here on three sides. And while it has no airline service, about 260 aircraft operate every day from Santa Monica Municipal Airport’s 5,000-foot runway on a plateau above the surrounding terrain.

From above, the airfield looks “like an aircraft carrier in a sea of homes,” says Alan Levenson, who lives near the airport and sometimes watches the activity from the roof of his garage.

Aircraft as small as single-engine planes and helicopters and as large as twin-engine business jets fly in and out of the 227-acre airport. As its traffic has increased, it has brought to a boil a simmering battle over whether the airport has outgrown its surroundings.

Next week, voters in this Los Angeles suburb of 92,000 will go to the polls to determine who should control the airport’s future: elected leaders or residents. Debate over the airport extends far beyond city limits, involving the federal government and national aviation lobbying groups.

“The issue is, This used to be a small airport that didn’t have jets, and people managed to get along,” said John Fairweather, another airport neighbor and the leader of one of several groups that want either a reduction in jet traffic or closure of the airport.

The initial dispute started in the 1960s, when neighbors objected to the noise of the Learjet, one of the first private American business jets and the product of the Santa Monica-based Lear Inc. In 1967 the city restricted jet flights into the airport until a federal court overturned the ban in 1981. Since then, the City Council has imposed flight curfews, landing fees and noise abatement measures.

Jet traffic continued to grow, however, peaking in 2007 when there were 18,500 jet flights at the airport. The growth was propelled by companies selling fractional jet shares and by-the-hour jet travel cards. Jets were 13 to 14 percent of all flights until the economic crisis of 2008. While the total number of jet operations has not recovered, jets are now a larger percentage of the total traffic. According to a report prepared by the Santa Monica airport’s Noise Management Office, jets made up 15 percent of traffic in 2013.

These numbers infuriate neighbors like Mr. Levenson, who says the airport primarily serves outsiders and private, wealthy fliers “while continuing to threaten the health and safety of the neighbors it no longer employs or benefits.”

A complicated trail of lawsuits and real estate transfer agreements runs parallel to the history of the Santa Monica Airport, which was acquired by the city in 1926. Douglas Aircraft used it through World War II and built many of the nearby homes for its workers. But for all the documents generated in the dispute, none has definitively resolved the question that voters will decide on Nov. 4: Who should have the power to make decisions about its future — its residents or the council they elected?

In the face of the complaints, the city has been examining the economic and environmental impact of the airport.

“You’ve got a greater and greater density” in population, said Martin Pastucha, Santa Monica’s director of public works. “The use of the airport at its inception is a different environment than what it is currently, and you have to ask, ‘Are those two compatible anymore? Is the airport really compatible with current land use that exists around here?'  ”

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, an airport advocacy group, is one of two lobbying groups based in the Washington area that is helping to finance a referendum requiring city leaders to maintain the status quo at the airport and get voter approval for any changes. Only this would protect the airport from what the association’s vice president of airports, Bill Dunn, claims is the council’s effort to seize the land for future development to the detriment of aviation.

“Would you consider closing the entrance or exit ramp from your city to the highway? A general aviation airport is an access point to the national aviation system,” he said. “It’s an entry point to take you anyplace in the world.”

Supporters of the airport point to Santa Monica’s long history of aviation.

“The airport has been there 70, 80-plus years,” said Todd Baumgartner, a senior partner at the aviation consulting firm FBO Partners and a former executive for NetJets, a fractional jet ownership company. “They didn’t know that when they bought their house? That in itself is frustrating.”

The city’s immediate concern is the vote, to establish how a majority of the voters feel about the council members’ ability to resolve this lengthy dispute. “What the council is slowly seeking is a determination” of whether it has the right to control the airport’s role in the city’s future, Mr. Pastucha said.

The airport’s space so restricted, it is exempt from runway protection requirements, a fact not lost on the airport’s foes.

Government statistics show there have been 10 accidents related to aircraft operating from Santa Monica Municipal Airport over the last 10 years, four of them fatal. In 2011, a student pilot crashed a small plane into the side of an unoccupied house a quarter-mile from the runway. A year later, another private plane crashed short of the runway, killing the pilot. Neighbors grew more concerned last fall when a Cessna Citation business jet slammed into a hangar shortly after landing, killing all four people on board.

“So far no one has ever been killed on the ground,” Mr. Levenson said, “but accidents do happen.”

Safety and health issues related to aviation fuel emissions and noise are some of the complaints the City Council must consider as it weighs options like reducing traffic or closing the airport, Mr. Pastucha said.

Regardless of what Santa Monica residents decide next week, there is still the matter of the Federal Aviation Administration, which contends that the city is obligated to operate the airport for the use and benefit of the public, according to Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the agency. A city lawsuit challenging the F.A.A. was dismissed as not timely, and city officials say they have not given up.

“We’re really a balancing act between trying to deal with these interests,” Mr. Pastucha said, “and trying to navigate the conflict that exists between the two.”

Story and Photos:  http://www.nytimes.com

Authorities Livid: Sunshine Coast plane crash hoax sparks massive search

Authorities are fuming about a hoax distress call which caused police, a rescue helicopter and commercial airlines to search the Sunshine Coast for a crashed plane that did not exist.

A man pretending to be a pilot radioed in to the Brisbane air traffic control center about 11.30pm on Monday, claiming he was having problems with his plane's landing gear.

The man's voice is slow and slurred when he tells the controller there are problems with hydraulic equipment on board, according to a recording of the communication obtained by Fairfax Media.

The controller stays calm, telling the man to try and reach the Sunshine Coast where emergency services will meet him.

"It's a very stressful situation. You're doing a good job. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks. Keep flying the plane. I'll get you to the Sunshine Coast and we'll get you on the ground," he said.

However, the man appears to panic in the minutes that follow.

"Not good. I've got a fire warning. I've got a fire warning in the engine...It's getting difficult to fly," the man said.

"I can't see the panel. I can't see the panel.

"We're gone, We're gone, We're gone. Tell them I love them. We're gone. We're gone."

The controller and nearby pilots then make several unsuccessful attempts to contact the plane.

All police in the area frantically began looking for the crash, while the Queensland Government Rescue 500 chopper was tasked to locate the supposed wreckage.

A Singapore Airlines plane and a Toll Freight aircraft also flew over the suspected crash area but weren't able to find anything.

Less than two hours later, the "pilot" returned on the radio assuming a different identity and claimed to be flying another plane named "Wedgetail".

He tells the air traffic controller that his aircraft has "underwater topography" technology and is searching the sea for the wreckage of the first plane.

"We have got contact of interest, a boat, and are watching it very closely."

"Well fitted out, appears to be white, although we are looking at it through infrared so it's hard to know."

However authorities - who by now seem aware of the hoax - show no interest.

An Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokesman said there were "a number" of hoax calls made on Monday, but was unable to provide further details.

"We have referred the information to the Queensland Police Service. It is believed there were hoax calls about aircraft and a vessel. There was a series of calls made to a number of authorities," he said.

"It's a criminal offense to make hoax calls."

- Source: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au