Saturday, December 27, 2014

Parking business near Orlando International Airport closes without warning

ORLANDO, Fla. —Hundreds of air travelers returning to Orlando International Airport are finding out that getting a way home may not be so easy.

A parking business near the airport shut down without warning, leaving a lot full of cars and no easy way for the owners to get to them.

If travelers left their keys with the business, the keys are in an unsecured building.

When WESH 2 News called Airport Quick Parking on Jetport Road, a message said the company was out of business due to unforeseen circumstances.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office was on the scene and said there were more than 400 cars at the lot.

Deputies said they would stay at the parking lot until they can track down the owner of the business in order to make sure the lot is secured and none of the vehicles are stolen.

Some of the cars are boxed in, making it impossible for some people to leave.

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First tanker test plane does taxi tests at Paine Field (KPAE), Everett, Washington

EVERETT — The first test plane of Boeing’s aerial-refueling tanker program ran through taxiing and ground tests Saturday ahead of its first flight, which is slated for Sunday.

Boeing workers spent Saturday morning doing ground checks on the plane, callsign VH001. It finally pulled out of its stall on Boeing’s flight line at Paine Field mid-afternoon, and proceeded to do taxiing tests on the airport’s main runway.

The plane was freshly painted in flat gray. A small American flag adorned its vertical fin.

It is a nonmilitary version of the KC-46 tanker designated a 767-2C model. It is based on the 767-200ER airplane, but it includes aspects of the 767-300 and -400, as well as a cockpit based on the 787.

With the flight test program six months behind schedule, Boeing has focused on getting the first test airplane into the air.

The first KC-46 tanker is slated to fly in late April. 


Incident occurred December 27, 2014 at Reid-Hillview Airport (KRHV), San Jose, California

SAN JOSE -- A small plane skid off the runway at Reid-Hillview airport Saturday morning, prompting a federal investigation.

At about 10:30 a.m., a Mooney M20P aircraft, careened off the runway at Reid-Hillview, a small airport in eastern San Jose. 

There were no damages or injuries in the incident, according to Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor. 

Gregor said the pilot was able to taxi safely to the parking area.

It is not clear what caused the plane to taxi off of the runway, and FAA officials are investigating the incident. 

- Original article can be found at:

Pitts Special S-1S, N49294 and Piper PA-28-140, N95297: Accident occurred December 27, 2014 at Carroll County Regional Airport (KDMW), Westminster, Maryland

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Docket And Docket Items -  National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary  -  National Transportation Safety Board:

National Transportation Safety Board  -  Aviation Accident Final Report:

Docket And Docket Items  -   Aviation Accident Final Report:

National Transportation Safety Board -  Aviation Accident Data Summary:

NTSB Identification: ERA15LA084A
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, December 27, 2014 in Westminster, MD
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/08/2015
Aircraft: AEROTEK PITTS SPECIAL S-1S, registration: N49294
Injuries: 1 Serious, 2 Uninjured.

NTSB Identification: ERA15LA084B 

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, December 27, 2014 in Westminster, MD
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28-140, registration: N95297
Injuries: 1 Serious, 2 Uninjured.

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

A Piper PA-28-140 and a Pitts Special S-1S collided in midair while both airplanes were on final approach to land. The Piper was equipped with a two-way radio and the Pitts was not. Both pilots were flying their airplanes on a visual approach to the same runway; the Piper entered the traffic pattern on the downwind leg, and the Pitts entered the traffic pattern on the crosswind leg. According to the Piper pilot, he made radio calls during each leg of the traffic pattern to announce his position, and, after beginning the final approach about 1.5 nautical miles from the runway threshold, he observed the Pitts on the downwind leg. The Pitts pilot reported that he flew a tighter traffic pattern and that he did not see the Piper. Witnesses reported that, as the airplanes were on short final, the Pitts converged on the Piper from behind and above. The Pitts’ tailwheel struck the top of the Piper’s fuselage, and the right main landing gear struck the cowling and was subsequently separated by the Piper’s propeller. After the collision, the Pitts entered a dive and then impacted the ground, which resulted in substantial damage to the wings and elevator. The Piper pilot landed the airplane on the runway; the airplane sustained substantial damage to the fuselage from the collision. 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The pilot’s failure to see and avoid the other airplane, which resulted in a midair collision while both airplanes were on final approach to land. 

On December 27, 2014, about 1545 eastern standard time, a Pitts Special S-1S, N49294 and a Piper PA-28-140, N95297, were substantially damaged when they collided during an approach to land near Carroll County Regional Airport (DMW), Westminster, Maryland. The private pilot and passenger of the Piper were not injured. The private pilot of the Pitts received serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for either local flight. The Piper departed Lancaster Airport (LNS), Lancaster, Pennsylvania about 1500 and the Pitts departed DMW about 1545. Both personal flights were conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to the accident pilots, the Piper was equipped with two-way radio communication and the Pitts was not. Upon returning to the airport the Piper entered the downwind leg for runway 16 and made left traffic. The pilot of the Piper stated that he announced his position over the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency during each leg of the traffic pattern. During a long final approach leg at about 75 knots, the pilot of the Piper observed a "small red aircraft" on the downwind leg about midfield. Witnesses reported that while on the final approach leg the Pitts came from behind and above the Piper and converged on top of the airplane about 100 yards from the approach end of runway 16 about 100 ft. above ground level. The Piper landed on the runway and the Pitts entered a steep dive and subsequently impacted the ground.

The pilot of the Pitts reported that he was not aware that he was involved in a mid-air collision until he spoke with witnesses; however, he did recall that he flew a "tight" airport traffic pattern. In a follow-up written statement, the pilot of the Pitts reported that he entered the traffic pattern parallel to the runway 16 upwind leg at 1,600 feet and 100 mph. He flew both the crosswind and downwind legs at the same altitude and airspeed, but flew a "descending base and final" at 90 mph. The pilot of the Pitts also provided a hand drawing of his approach to runway 16. The illustration showed that the pilot established himself on the final approach leg about 1,000 feet from the runway threshold.

The operators of both airplanes reported that there were no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplanes that would have precluded normal operation.

Carroll County Regional Airport was a publicly owned, non-towered airport with an elevation of about 789 feet mean sea level (msl) and a traffic pattern attitude of 1,599 feet msl.

The recorded weather at DMW, about the time of the accident, included clear skies, visibility of 10 miles, and wind from 260 degrees at 4 knots.

Examination of the airplanes by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that the Pitts top and bottom right wings had separated at the wing spar. The airplane also sustained substantial damage to the right outboard section of the elevator. The right main landing gear of the Pitts had completely separated at the airplane's right main landing gear strut. Examination of the Piper revealed a tire mark and compression damage on the fuselage and left cockpit window, above the pilot's seat, and another tire mark on the cowling, just aft of the propeller. The damage and tire mark on the Piper fuselage matched the width of the Pitts' tailwheel landing gear. The Piper cowling tire marking was similar in width and tread as the Pitts airplane's main landing gear tire. The Piper's propeller also exhibited a black mark with similar dimensions to the Pitts' main landing gear.

There was one witness at the fixed base operator who was operating the Unicom/CTAF frequency and recalled hearing some "chatter"; however, he could not recall any of the specific frequency communications.

The accident was not captured on radar; however, both pilot reported that they were utilizing navigational aid devices. The pilot of the Piper used an Adventure Pilot iFly 700 GPS receiver and the internet application Foreflight on his iPad. The Pitts pilot used an earlier version of the internet application Foreflight on his iPhone, which was not equipped with recording capabilities. The iPad and Adventure Pilot GPS were forwarded to the NTSB Vehicle Recorders Laboratory, Washington, D.C., for data download.

According to the recorder laboratory factual report, the iPAD foreflight internet application was not recording at the time of the accident and, thus, did not retain any pertinent information.

The Adventure Pilot iFly 700 GPS captured the accident flight and revealed that the Piper approached the airport from the east at a GPS altitude of about 1,600 feet msl and entered the downwind leg of the traffic pattern for runway 16 about 1539. The Piper entered the final approach leg for runway 16 about 1.5 nm from the runway threshold at a GPS altitude of about 1,237 feet msl. The last recorded GPS data showed the airplane at an approximate distance of 1,600 feet from the runway threshold, at a GPS altitude of about 919 feet msl.

Bob Gillespie:


NTSB Identification: ERA15LA084A
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, December 27, 2014 in Westminster, MD
Aircraft: AEROTEK PITTS SPECIAL S-1S, registration: N49294
Injuries: 1 Serious, 2 Uninjured.

NTSB Identification: ERA15LA084B

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, December 27, 2014 in Westminster, MD
Aircraft: PIPER PA-28-140, registration: N95297
Injuries: 1 Serious, 2 Uninjured.

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

On December 27, 2014, about 1555 eastern standard time, a Piper PA-28-140, N95297, and a Pitts Special S-1S, N49294, were substantially damaged when they collided while on final approach into Carroll County Regional Airport (DMW), Westminster, Maryland. The private pilot and passenger of the Piper were not injured. The private pilot of the Pitts received serious injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for either flight. The Piper departed DMW on a local flight at 1500 and the Pitts departed DMW on a local flight at 1545. Both personal flights were conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to the accident pilots, the Piper was equipped with a radio and the Pitts was not. After returning from a local flight the Piper entered the downwind leg of the airport traffic pattern for runway 16 and made left turns. During a long final approach leg, the Piper pilot observed a small red plane on the downwind leg about midfield. Multiple witnesses stated that the Pitts impacted the Piper from behind while on short final approach about 100 yards from the approach end of runway 16 about 100 ft. above ground level. The Piper landed safely and the Pitts entered a steep dive and subsequently impacted the ground short the runway.

The operators of both airplanes reported that there were no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplanes that would have precluded normal operation.

Examination of the airplanes by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed that the elevator and wings of the Pitts sustained substantial damage. There was a tire mark and skin damage on the fuselage of the Piper, above the pilot's seat, and another tire mark on the cowling, just aft of the propeller. In addition, the Pitts' right main landing gear strut contained damage consistent with having contacted the Piper's propeller.

A wrecked Pitts Special S-1S rests in the grass at the scene of a small plane accident at the Carroll County Regional Airport in Westminster Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014. The pilot of the Pitts Special S-1S was transported by helicopter to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center as a precaution.

Emergency workers prepare to transport the pilot of a Pitts Special S-1S that crashed at the Carroll County Regional Airport in Westminster Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014.

Ron Matz has the latest on the investigation into what caused the crash.

It happened just before 4 p.m. Saturday when investigators say two small planes got too close to each other at Carroll County Regional Airport.

Maryland State Police say a Piper low wing plane was attempting to land at Carroll County Regional Airport when it was struck by an aerobatic biplane. Word of the collision spread quickly through Carroll County.

“I got on Facebook and saw it on Carroll Fire Wire. I’ve never seen anything like it out here,” said Robert Ingle, Westminster resident.

Maryland State Police say one of the planes was able to make a safe landing on the runway. The second plane made a hard landing in a grassy field adjacent to the runway.

WJZ was there as investigators made their way to the scene. The pilot of the plane that landed safely met with state police.

Investigators say both planes were attempting to land at the same time with the aerobatic plane striking the Piper from above. The drama that unfolded came as a surprise to many.

“I travel 97 daily. I pass the airport every day. It was definitely a big shock,” Ingle said.

Representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration and the NTSB were notified and responded to the scene.

State police have identified the pilots and passengers involved. One pilot, Bobby Gillespic, was taken to Shock Trauma as a precaution.

The other pilot and his passenger, Robert and Helen Grahem, refused treatment at the scene.

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WESTMINSTER, Md. (WJZ) — Midair collision. Two planes clip wings while landing at an airport in Carroll County. WESTMINSTER, Md. —Two planes collided late Saturday afternoon at Carroll County Airport in Westminster. 

 Maryland State Police said reports of the planes colliding came in around 3:49 p.m.

According to witness reports, a white Piper Single low-wing plane was approaching the runway eastbound for a landing. A red Aerobatic Biplane was also on approach and did not see the Piper.

The planes attempted to land at the same time with the aerobatic striking the Piper from above. The Piper was able to complete a safe landing on the runway. The aerobatic biplane made a hard landing on the grassy field adjacent to the runway.

The pilot of the aerobatic, identified as Bob Gillespie, was flown to Shock Trauma as a precaution. The pilot and passenger of the Piper, identified as Robert and Helen Grahem, refused medical treatment at the scene.

Representatives from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board have been notified and are at the scene.

Story and Comments:

WESTMINSTER, Md. - It was a close call for two small planes trying to land on the same runway at a Westminster airport Saturday afternoon.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)  and Maryland State Police are investigating how the planes failed to communicate and tried to land at the same time on the same runway at Carroll County Regional Airport.

Witnesses told police around 3:45 p.m.  a Piper single-engine low wing plane was approaching the runway eastbound for a landing. A aerobatic biplane was also on approach and did not see the Piper. The planes attempted to land at the same time with the aerobatic striking the Piper from above. The Piper landed safely on the runway. The aerobatic biplane made a hard landing on the grassy field adjacent to the runway.

The pilot of the aerobatic was flown to University of Maryland Shock Trauma as a precaution. The pilot and passenger of the Piper refused medical treatment on the scene. The names of both pilots and one passenger are being withheld pending family notifications.

The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office is assisting with the investigation. 

Rapid growth in air ambulance industry raises safety concerns • Fueled by higher payment rates and few regulations, for-profit helicopter EMS operators are taking to the skies with often tragic results

Multiple agencies including the FAA and NTSB investigate the scene of a crash involving an Air Evac helicopter stationed out of Duncan, Oklahoma on October 4, 2014  in Wichita Falls, Texas. The helicopter was transporting a patient to United Regional Health Care System from Waurika, Oklahoma when it went down and caught fire.  Courtesy Patrick Johnston,  Wichita Falls Times Record News / Submitted photo

In the early hours of Oct. 4, Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter pilot Zechariah Smith and his Duncan, Oklahoma-based flight crew received a call from their company’s dispatch center to pick up a patient in Waurika, Oklahoma, and fly him some 40 miles to the United Regional Hospital in Wichita Falls, Texas.

The medical helicopter had just returned from a flight to Oklahoma City, but Smith accepted the flight, telling the dispatcher they would need 15 minutes on the ground to prepare.

They picked up the passenger, a gunshot victim, at Jackson County Hospital and departed at 1:33 a.m. in clear weather for Wichita Falls. But as Smith approached the helipad 20 minutes later, he felt he was coming in too fast and too high, and decided to abort the landing. As he tried to regroup for another attempt, the helicopter suddenly turned violently to the right. He would later tell investigators it was the fastest he had ever spun in a helicopter.

He told the crew to hang on as he tried to fly out of it. But the aircraft continued to spin, rotating at least five times before hitting the ground upside down and exploding. The crash killed the patient, 26-year-old Buddy Rhodes. Flight nurse Leslie Stewart, 27, and paramedic Johan van der Colff, 51, were admitted to the hospital but later died of their injuries.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the accident was the 184th crash of a medical helicopter in the U.S. since 1998, and the three fatalities brought the combined death toll to 174 patients and crew.

Several industry insiders believe the Wichita Falls crash highlights many of the disturbing trends in the industry, which has increasingly seen operators trying to cut costs on equipment and crews while skirting safety to maximize the number of patients flown.

Fueled by high reimbursement rates and scant regulation, the rapid growth of the helicopter EMS industry over the past 15 years has transformed what many consider a life-saving service into an industry fraught with safety concerns but little oversight.

“It’s sort of the perfect storm,” said Dr. Michael Abernethy, chief flight surgeon for University of Wisconsin Health’s Med Flight. “It’s great money, it’s unregulated and there’s really no utilization criteria.”

Growth industry

While neither of the two Central Oregon air ambulance services, the for-profit AirLink Critical Care Transport in Bend or the not-for-profit LifeFlight in Redmond, have experienced any helicopter crashes since 1998, the addition of a second operator in 2012 created a competitive market, mirroring some of the trends seen nationwide.

Prior to 2002, helicopter emergency medical services, or HEMS, programs were mainly owned and operated by hospitals, flying medium-sized twin-engine helicopters with experienced emergency physicians and critical care nurses. Hospitals often lost money on the operation but made up for it with payments for the extensive trauma care these patients required. After much lobbying by hospitals, Medicare officials agreed to rebase payment rates to more accurately reflect the true costs of running a high-quality helicopter EMS program.

In 2002, Medicare more than doubled its payment for air ambulance transport, expecting that the increased reimbursement would help HEMS programs upgrade their equipment and invest in training and safety.

“It did almost the opposite,” Abernethy said. “Companies figured out that there are no stipulations to get this reimbursement. If we go on the cheap, if we started flying single-engine helicopters and using minimally experienced crews, we could save a hell of a lot of money.”

As a result, for-profit operators have added hundreds of new HEMS programs nationwide over the past decade. According to the Atlas & Database of Air Medical Services, in October 2003, there were 545 helicopters flying out of 472 HEMS bases in the U.S. By September 2014, those numbers had nearly doubled, with 1,020 helicopters at 846 bases. Some states have more medical helicopters than all of Canada or Australia. And annual Medicare spending on HEMS transport between 2002 and 2009 grew 434 percent.

Now more than a third of HEMS programs are owned by three large for-profit operators: PHI Air Medical, Air Methods Corporation and Air Medical Group Holdings, the parent company of Air Evac Lifeteam.

In 2004, only 41 percent of the U.S. HEMS fleet consisted of single-engine helicopters. By 2014, single-engine aircraft outnumbered twin-engine models 513 to 485, and that trend is being driven primarily by for-profit operators.

But as the number of helicopters flying increased, so did the number of crashes. In 2008, the industry had its worst year ever, with 11 crashes and 28 fatalities. And many are pointing fingers at the for-profit segment of the industry.

“The corporate for-profits make up less than 40 percent of the industry, yet they’re responsible for 80 percent of the crashes,” Abernethy said.

This month, researchers led by Fort Lauderdale trauma surgeon Dr. Fahim Habib published an analysis of the link between for-profit status and the risk of helicopter crashes. From 1998 to 2012, for-profit HEMS operators averaged seven to eight crashes per year, while not-for-profit or public operators averaged one crash every year or two. While the researchers couldn’t account for differences in hours flown between different types of operators, crashes appear to be happening much more frequently among for-profit operators.

“While HEMS missions are undoubtedly getting safer, the increased number of missions being flown is likely offsetting gains in safety,” the authors wrote.

Industry representatives maintain there’s no reason to believe that for-profit operators are any less safe.

“I don’t think you can point to a specific business model and say that raises a safety concern, because all business models, for-profit and not-for-profit, have to pay attention to revenues and expenses,” said Rick Sherlock, president and CEO of the Association of Air Medical Services. “You have to operate in a way that’s sustainable.”

Sherlock said HEMS operators have invested between $500 million and $700 million in safety equipment and training, including adding night-vision goggles, helicopter terrain awareness and warning systems, flight data monitors and dual-access autopilots.

“2008 was a tough year in the industry,” he said. “But I think the commitment of the industry to safety is one that’s very strong.”

The numbers suggest the industry has made gains on safety. From 1999 through 2008, there were at least 10 crashes per year, killing anywhere from three to 28 people per year. Since the NTSB held a four-day hearing on HEMS safety in 2009 and issued recommendations for the industry, accidents have remained in the single digits all but one year. Still, 2010 and 2013 were bad years for the industry, combining for 21 accidents and 38 deaths, leading many to wonder whether any permanent gains have been made.

Older aircraft

The Air Evac helicopter that crashed in Wichita Falls, for example, was a single-engine Bell 206 Longranger. According to the online helicopter database,, that aircraft was built in 1981 and sold to Nigeria, where it was flown for 25 years. In 2006, the helicopter was registered in the U.S. by Heliworks Leasing of Wilmington, Delaware, before being acquired and presumably refurbished to serve as an air ambulance by Air Evac in 2010.

Company documents posted online by Air Evac, which declined multiple requests for an interview, indicate the company flies more than 100 Bell 206L helicopters, and many appear to have colorful pasts.

According to data provided by the NTSB, Air Evac has had at least 20 helicopter accidents since 1998, 18 of which involved the Bell 206 model. Of those, 14 involved aircraft built between 1975 and 1983 that were at least 25 years old at the time of their accidents. Many of those helicopters were bought used, stripped down and refurbished with new components to serve as air ambulances.

“When you’re hauling people for exorbitant amounts of money, they should expect something better than a 33-year-old aircraft,” Abernethy said. “But it’s a lot cheaper. Something like that could be had for $700,000, whereas the EC135 that we fly could cost $7 to $8 million. Quality costs money.”

The NTSB has warned that the Bell 206 is particularly susceptible to a problem known as loss of tail rotor effectiveness, or LTE, that can cause the aircraft to spin uncontrollably to the right. After the Wichita Falls crash, pilots posting on online helicopter bulletin boards said the details of the crash fit the description of an LTE problem.

“The 206 is an aircraft that is a little more prone to that,” said Guy Maher, who spent 24 years as a HEMS pilot and now consults on helicopter safety issues. “If you know the limitations of the equipment and you think ahead of what you’re doing, (it’s manageable). But it’s always when someone is trying to push it a little bit that they’ll get themselves caught in the situation and when they try to get out of it, they hit the limits of the aircraft.”

Maher said when operators buy and refurbish old aircraft, often little more than the airframe is left from the original model.

“It’s really like a Mr. Potato Head. You connect all these parts to the frame and the parts have time-limited restrictions,” he said. “Sometimes it’s nothing more than a roll-cage with the serial number on it. So a 30-year-old helicopter, it would be incredibly rare to have any critical component on that aircraft be 30 years old.”

When asked about the 18 Air Evac crashes involving the 206 model, Maher said, “That jumps out to me that there is a cultural problem within the organization, more than there is a problem with the helicopter.”

Pilot shortage

The rapid growth in HEMS has also put pressure on the supply of helicopter pilots. Where 10 to 15 years ago operators generally required 3,000 or more hours of flight time from prospective candidates, the demand for more pilots has led many to lower that standard.

“Some companies have dropped back to 1,500 or 1,200. They’ve lowered the minimums, and it’s purely out of necessity,” said Kurt Williams, president of the National EMS Pilots Association and an air medical bay supervisor with PHI Air Medical Group in Clinton, Missouri. “The military isn’t turning out as many pilots, and the ones they do don’t have as many hours.”

Williams stressed, however, that there was no definitive link between flight hours and accidents, and certainly pilots with thousands of flight hours have crashes as well. According to the preliminary NTSB report, the pilot in the Wichita Falls crash had logged about 1,810 total flight hours, of which 1,584 were in helicopters and 214 in the Bell 206 model.

Air Evac lists a minimum of 2,000 hours required in several HEMS pilot job postings on its website and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems, a voluntary accrediting body. The group generally requires pilots to have a minimum of 2,000 flight hours, but it does list some exceptions.

The bigger concern may be how much authority pilots have to decline flights in questionable conditions.

“Pilots are fairly well insulated — and deliberately so — from the medical side of the condition. We just need to know how many people and the location,” said Bill Conklin, chief pilot at AirLink in Bend.

“Because of our familiarity with the business, we know they’re medically related,” he said, “but our decisions are supposed to be based on the capability of the aircraft and the weather.”

But HEMS operators typically have high fixed costs that account for up to 80 percent of a base’s monthly expenses. While some operators sell memberships to provide a more stable revenue base, operators generally don’t get paid unless they transport patients.

“Unfortunately, everybody in the business knows that if your base isn’t flying much then your employment is going to be at risk,” said Williams, the pilot group president. “So as hard as we try to regulate that out of the equation, it obviously comes in.”

Many helicopter operators determine how many flights they need to break even each month and keep pilots apprised of their progress in meeting that number. It’s a subtle but unmistakable message.

“It’s the ‘fly or you’re fired’ syndrome,” Maher said. “The industry has become so driven by the dollar and it’s not looking at the bigger picture. You don’t have to take that flight. They can take somebody by ground if the weather is iffy.”

There is similar pressure on mechanics, he said, to complete maintenance quickly and get the helicopter flying again.

“The more downtime you have, the less revenue you make, so mechanics are under incredible pressure now to perform as much as the pilots,” Maher said. “Get it done fast, get it done cheap and don’t let the other guy beat you to it. It’s like the Wild West out there. Somebody’s got to stop it.”

Tarek Loutfy, director of safety for Metro Aviation, which owns AirLink, said their pilots know they’ll get support from management when they decide conditions aren’t safe.

“Instead of you pushing your luck trying to save a patient, you might end up making four more,” he said. “It’s not worth gambling to make a buck and then ending up on somebody’s doorstep telling their family they won’t be coming home.”

While the recent expansion of the HEMS industry has brought air ambulance services into new areas, much of the growth represents a duplication of services in large metropolitan areas. With so many competitors, operators can’t afford to pass up a flight.

“It’s a for-profit business. You’ve got to face the facts. You’re putting a $2 to $3 million helicopter in service, and you have to pay the bills,” Williams said. “When there is such a huge number of competitors in a limited market, every single flight counts.”

When the NTSB held hearings on HEMS safety in 2009, the agency heard of rampant problems stemming from this ultra-competitive environment. Helicopters were flying in bad weather, stealing dispatch calls from other operators and flying to accident scenes even when no one had called them in. Some operators would accept a second dispatch call before they had completed their first, leading to unnecessary delays in transporting patients. Others would create close ties with ground EMS services, even hiring an ambulance company’s staff member knowing the paramedics would be more likely to call their friend.

The profit-driven environment meant HEMS operators often flew patients who could have been safely transported by ground, costing both patients and taxpayers thousands of dollars per trip.

In Bend, AirLink conducts strict reviews of each flight to consider whether the flight was medically necessary and works to educate EMS providers on what conditions are appropriate to fly. If an AirLink crew flies to the scene of accident and the crew realizes that patient can be safely driven by ground ambulance, they are encouraged to fly back to their base empty. Even though AirLink loses money on that flight, program manager Kevin Schitoskey gives his crew a Starbucks gift card every time they make that call.

“I think it’s important for those guys to make those decisions solely on patient care. I want to promote an organizational culture that promotes the right tools for the right job,” Schitoskey said. “If we’re flying somebody with a (minor foot injury), they’re not available for a higher acuity patient that needs them. We do have an obligation to serve Central Oregon.”

In order to avoid the competitive dynamics between AirLink and LifeFlight, local EMS providers have devised protocols for when to call for air transport and what service to fly.

“We’ve worked really closely with dispatch to create an algorithm so that the most appropriate air resource comes, and I think that’s worked out well,” said Doug Kelly, division chief at Redmond Fire and Rescue and chairman of the Deschutes County Ambulance Service Area advisory committee. “Rather than choosing one provider over the other, we’ve taken the standpoint of, ‘Let’s get the closest resource there.’”

The lack of such regional coordination in other parts of the country as well as the fiscal pressures to fly a certain number of patients per month mean HEMS operators could be flying patients for whom there is little benefit over ground transport. Benefits could include getting patients with time-sensitive injuries or conditions to the hospital faster or being able to provide care en route in a helicopter that is beyond the capabilities of a ground ambulance.

A recent analysis in Arizona, however, found that nearly half of patients transported by helicopter weren’t even admitted to the hospital, suggesting their injuries weren’t all that severe.

“There are patients that they are transporting to hospitals that we wouldn’t have remotely considered just 10 years ago,” Abernethy said. “Right now, the utilization criteria are so vague that almost any flight (is covered).”

It’s resulted in some scenarios that strain the limits of credulity. A 2012 assessment of HEMS services on behalf the Oklahoma State Department of Health, for example, cited a case in which a ground ambulance crew handed off a patient to a helicopter crew at a trauma scene and then met the helicopter at the landing pad after the flight to transport the same patient to the receiving center.

That review, authored by emergency physicians at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine, also underscored that with no publicly owned HEMS services, the state had left the task of providing air medical transport to the free market and so had to expect some degree of competitive behavior.

“It is problematic to expect corporate entities,” the authors wrote, “to do more than aim to optimize profits within the context of legal and regulatory compliance.”

This year, the FAA issued new rules for HEMS operators that would implement many of the aviation recommendations made by the NTSB. Those requirements will be phased in over the next four years. Industry representatives had been urging the FAA to finalize those rules so operators could know what would be expected of them, and many companies are already compliant. But some in the industry have been resistant to implementing those, and there is speculation that some outfits will go out of business if they can’t meet the regulations and their bottom line.

“Every operator has different resources and different abilities to pay for the amount of technology that is now being put on helicopters. And so those that have more resources are doing it more quickly than those with less resources,” said Dr. David Stuhlmiller, chairman-elect of the Air Medical Transport section of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “But now those who can’t afford to comply will no longer exist.”

Others believe the industry is fighting regulations to keep them from eating into profit margins . Even beyond safety equipment and other changes under the new FAA rules, operators must invest in training, staffing and other quality improvement measures — all of which costs money.

“Everybody is always worried about spending money, but what is the cost of an accident?” asks Denise Landis, critical care and transport manager for the University of Michigan’s Survival Flight program and a board member of the Association for Critical Care Transport. “So for me, it comes down to the dollar. I hate to point the finger, but you don’t know how people want to invest.”

- Original article can be found at:

NTSB Identification: CEN15FA003
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Saturday, October 04, 2014 in Wichita Falls, TX
Aircraft: BELL HELICOPTER TEXTRON 206L 1, registration: N335AE
Injuries: 3 Fatal, 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On October 4, 2014, about 0155 central daylight time, N335AE, a Bell 206L1+, was destroyed by post-impact fire after it impacted terrain while on approach to the United Regional Hospital helipad, in Wichita Falls, Texas. The commercial pilot was seriously injured and the patient, flight nurse, and paramedic sustained fatal injuries. The helicopter was registered to and operated by Air Evac EMS, Inc, O'Fallon, Missouri. A company visual flight rules flight plan was filed for the patient transfer flight that departed Jackson County Hospital, near Waurika, Oklahoma, about 0133. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the air medical flight conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135.

According to the pilot, he stated that he and his Duncan, Oklahoma, based medical crew had just returned from a flight to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, when he received a call from company dispatch to pick-up a patient in Waurika and transport him to United Regional Hospital in Wichita Falls. The pilot accepted the flight, but told dispatch that they needed 15 minutes on the ground to prepare for the flight since they had just landed.

The pilot said that he, along with the paramedic and flight nurse, re-boarded the helicopter, performed the necessary checklists, called dispatch and filed a flight plan. The flight to Waurika was uneventful. After landing, the pilot stayed in the helicopter for about 20 minutes with the engine running while the patient was prepped and loaded. The pilot and medical crew then departed for Wichita Falls. The weather was clear and the wind was three knots or less. Upon arriving in Wichita Falls, the pilot said he performed a "high recon" of United Regional Hospital's helipad and called out his intentions to land. He performed the pre-landing checklists, and started the approach to the helipad from the northwest at an altitude of 700 feet above ground level (agl). Both of the hospital's lighted windsocks were "limp" but were positioned so they were pointing toward the northwest. The pilot, who had landed at this helipad on numerous occasions, said the approach was normal until he got closer to the helipad. He said he felt fast "about 12-15 knots" and a "little high," so he decided to abort the approach. At this point, with about ¼ to ½ -inch of left anti-torque pedal applied, he added power, "tipped the nose over to get airspeed," and "pulled collective." The pilot said that as soon as he brought the collective up, the helicopter entered a rapid right turn. He described the turn as "violent" and that it was the fastest he had ever "spun" in a helicopter. The pilot told the crew to hold on and that he was "going to try and fly out of it." The pilot said he tried hard to get control of the helicopter by applying cyclic and initially "some" left anti-torque pedal "but nothing happened." The pilot said he added more, but not full left anti-torque pedal as the helicopter continued to spin and he was still unable to regain control. He also said the engine had plenty of power and was operating fine. The pilot recalled the helicopter spinning at least five times before impacting the ground. The pilot said the helicopter landed inverted and quickly filled up with smoke. He unbuckled his seatbelt assembly, took off his helmet, punched out the windshield and exited the burning helicopter.

The pilot also said that he did not hear any unusual noises prior to the "tail coming out from underneath them" and did not recall hearing any warning horns or seeing any warning/caution lights. When asked what he thought caused the helicopter to spin to the right so quickly, he replied, "I don't know."

The helicopter was equipped with tracking software that recorded its position every 60 seconds. A preliminary review of the track data revealed that after the helicopter departed Waurika, it flew on a south westerly heading until it crossed Highway 447 in Wichita Falls. It then flew on a westerly heading until it reached Highway 287, where it then turned on a north westerly heading. As it flew to the northwest, the helicopter flew past United Regional Hospital to the east before it made a 180 degree turn about 1 to 1.5 miles north of the hospital. The helicopter then proceeded directly to the helipad on a south easterly heading before the data stopped at 0154, about .2 miles north west of the helipad. At that time, the helicopter was about 212 feet above ground level (agl), on a heading of 138 degrees at a ground speed of 11 knots.

A portion of the accident flight and impact were captured on one of the hospital's surveillance cameras. A preliminary review of the surveillance tape revealed the helicopter approached the helipad from the north with the spotlight turned on (The pilot did state in his interview that he was using the spotlight du ring the approach). The helicopter then climbed and went out of frame before it reappeared in a descending right hand turn before it impacted the ground. The time of impact was recorded at 0154:56. About 6 seconds later, a large explosion occurred where the helicopter impacted the ground. 

An on-scene examination of the helicopter was conducted on October 4-5, 2014, under the supervision of the National Transportation Safety Board Investigator-in-Charge (NTSB IIC). The helicopter collided with power lines and came to rest inverted between two trees that lined a public sidewalk about one block northeast of the helipad. All major components of the helicopter were located at the main impact site. A post-impact fire consumed the main fuselage and portion of the tail boom. The tail rotor assembly and vertical fin exhibited minor fire and impact damage. 

The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate for rotorcraft-helicopter, and instrument rotorcraft-helicopter. His employer reported his total flight time as 1,810 hours. About 1,584 of those hours were in helicopters, of which, 214 hours were in the Bell 206 model helicopter. His last Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second class medical was issued on May 13, 2014, without limitations or waivers.

Clarion Inn near Evansville Regional Airport (KEVV) closes

The Clarion Inn on U.S. 41 North and its Steeplechase Cafe closed on Friday, citing “issues beyond the control of management.”

The hotel is located just north of Lynch Road, near Evansville Regional Airport.

Late Friday afternoon, the hotel’s message sign wished passers-by “Merry Christmas,” and a large Christmas tree and other holiday decorations adorned the lobby. But the hotel’s parking lot was almost empty, the front door was locked and “CLOSED” signs were posted on the main entrance and side doors.

No one at the hotel was available to comment, but in a written statement the business said it was in the process of issuing refunds to guests who had made advance deposits for lodging.

According to the statement, attributed to Skyway Management LLC, the hotel and restaurant closed after lunch on Friday.

“Issues beyond the control of management have made this very difficult decision necessary,” the statement said.

“Due to the traditional slow period in the industry in January and February, it became impractical to continue into next year. We are sorry for the inconvenience this will inevitably cause.”

Skyway Management LLC is registered to Gary Nickolick.

- Original article can be found at:

18 pilots found ‘high’ before taking-off flights

New Delhi: Eighteen pilots, including a female, of various airline services in India were found positive in the pre-flight test conducted in November this year.

As a matter of concern, almost all of them were captains and first officers. In fact, most of them worked for private airlines.

This is a strict violation of DGCA norms as per which the pilots and cabin crew are not allowed to consume alcohol 12 hours before take-off.

Although the number is comparatively lesser than what it was in 2013 and 2012 however, after seeing three major air crashes this year the number still hasn’t become zero.

As per sources, 31 pilots were found drunk in 2013 and 41 in 2014. In the earlier years, the number of drunk pilots dwindled in this range only with 35 in 2009, 25 in 2010 and 20 in 2011 respectively.

The incident came into limelight after an RTI was filed demanding the number of such offenders. In its reply, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) stated that 170 pilots had been pulled-up in last five years. But the services of only eight of them had been terminated under section 5 of the Civil Aviation Requirements.

The DGCA clarified that the first time offenders were slapped with a three-month suspension with total loss of pay and other allowances while the repeat offenders were suspended for five years.

As per the report, Air India reported 11 such cases and Indian Airlines reported only one case in last five years. Maximum number of offenders were caught in Delhi (53) followed by Mumbai (43) and Kolkata (20). Kochi reported four cases and Thiruvananthapuram, two.


Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, part of airport funding

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Pauls Valley is one of several communities across Oklahoma that should see construction ramping up at their local airports over the next three years after the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission recently approved its Three-Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for fiscal years 2015 through 2017.

The commission’s CIP programs federal and state funds for the state’s 110 publicly owned airports that comprise the Oklahoma Airport System.

This allows federal, state and local officials to anticipate funding needs for airports and accommodate changes in project costs, scope and schedule.

The CIP is based upon anticipated funding through aviation taxes and user fees from the state and federal governments.

Also as part of its three-year CIP, the Aeronautics Commission is expected to provide Halliburton Field in Duncan, Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport and Pauls Valley Municipal Airport with $700,000 each in state funds to repair, seal, remark and smooth their respective airport’s primary runway.

For the Pauls Valley Municipal Airport, a total of $700,000 in state funds is expected to be provided to repair, seal, remark and smooth the airport’s primary.

Funding is expected to be similar for Halliburton Field in Duncan and Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport.

 “Many businesses, such as Walmart, Love’s Country Stores, Seaboard Farms, Michelin and Weyerhaeuser, that use aircraft as a critical tool in their business, depend upon the maintenance and improvement for our airports that are in the CIP,” said Director of Aeronautics Vic Bird.

Bird explained that Oklahoma is a channeling state, which means that all airport projects, whether funded by federal or state funds, are determined by the Commission’s CIP. Projects for Oklahoma City Will Rogers, Tulsa International Airport and Lawton-Ft. Sill commercial airports are determined outside the channeling process.


2014: The Year in Photos - Aero Commander 500B, Central Airlines, N30MB, accident occurred November 18, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois

Plane crashed into a home in the 6500 block of South Knox. Tuesday, November 18, 2014 
Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

The people and events that made for the best photos of 2014 by Sun-Times staff and contributing photographers:

NTSB Identification: CEN15FA048
Nonscheduled 14 CFR Part 135: Air Taxi & Commuter
Accident occurred Tuesday, November 18, 2014 in Chicago, IL
Aircraft: AERO COMMANDER 500 B, registration: N30MB
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On November 18, 2014, about 0245 central standard time, an Aero Commander model 500 B airplane, N30MB, impacted a residence while attempting to return after takeoff from the Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW), Chicago, Illinois. The pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. The airplane was registered to and operated by Central Airlines, Inc., dba Central Air Southwest, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 135 as an on-demand cargo charter flight. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which was operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan. The flight originated from MDW about 0238. The intended destination was the Ohio State University Airport (OSU), Columbus, Ohio.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic control data (ATC) revealed that the flight was cleared for takeoff at 0238 from runway 31C, to be followed by a right turn to a heading of 110 degrees. About 2 minutes later, the pilot informed the MDW tower controller that he was having trouble with the left engine and requested to return to the airport. The pilot elected to fly a left-hand traffic pattern and return for a landing on runway 31C. At 0241, the controller cleared the pilot to land as requested.

The initial ATC radar contact was recorded at 0240:34 (hhmm:ss) and located about 0.51 mile west-northwest of the departure threshold of runway 31C. The altitude associated with that data point was about 800 feet mean sea level (msl). The radar data depicted the airplane turning left to become established on a southwest course, paralleling runway 31C on a downwind traffic pattern leg. The final radar data point was recorded at 0242:01 and was located about 0.54 miles south-southwest of the approach threshold of runway 31C; this was about 0.15 miles southwest of the accident site. The altitude associate with the final data point was about 800 feet msl. The accident site was located 0.50 miles southeast of the runway 31C approach threshold.

The airplane impacted a residence, with the forward fuselage coming to rest within the building. The southwest corner of the home was destroyed. Both wings remained attached to the fuselage. The left wing was located outside the building perimeter, with the wing tip resting on the ground. The right wing remained attached to the fuselage, with the outboard portion of the wing extending outside of the building perimeter and over the roof of the adjacent residence. The buildings were separated by approximately 10 feet. The left engine remained attached to the wing, and the left propeller remained attached to the engine. The right engine had separated from the wing and the right propeller had separated from the engine; both were located within the home. The aft fuselage and empennage remained attached to the remainder of the airframe. However, they were dislocated to the right relative to the forward fuselage. The aft fuselage/empennage came to rest on the roof of the adjacent residence. Damage to that home appeared limited to the roof and soffit area at the northeast corner of the structure. The flight control surfaces and wing flaps remained attached to the airframe. The landing gear was in the extended position when observed at the accident site. The forward fuselage and wings were oriented on an approximate magnetic heading of 030 degrees; the aft fuselage and empennage were oriented on an approximate magnetic heading of 005 degrees.

FAA records indicated that the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with single engine land, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane ratings. The certificate included type ratings for CE-500 and LR-Jet airplanes. The pilot also held a flight instructor certificate with single, multi-engine, and instrument airplane ratings. He was issued a first class airman medical certificate with a restriction for corrective lenses on November 12, 2014. On the medical certificate application, the pilot reported a total flight time of 1,374 hours, with 303 hours flown within the preceding 6 months.

Jakarta airport operator apologizes for alleged rape of Chinese tourist by its security guards

JAKARTA (JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Indonesian state-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II has apologized after two of its security officers allegedly raped a Chinese tourist at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta earlier this week.

The two airport security officers have been named suspect by the Jakarta Police, which oversees the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport Police.

Airport spokesman Yudis Tiawan said that they initially received reports that the two security guards allegedly raped a 26-year old tourist from China at a hotel near the airport.

"We sympathize with the victim, and will obey and go through the process of law and order. We are ready to cooperate fully with the police to help this case," Mr Yudis told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

He added the airport operator would follow up the case in accordance with the company's internal regulations before slapping any suitable punishment.

"The harshest punishment for the two security guards is being dishonorably discharged from their jobs," Mr Yudis said.

He added that both security guards, a supervisor and an enforcer at the Aviation Security department, faced Article 285 of the Criminal Code, which carry more than 12 years of imprisonment.

The victim was found crying at the airport's Terminal 1 on Tuesday and told policemen who approached her that she was the victim of a rape, elaborating that she was initially drugged and brought to a hotel near the airport where she was kept for two days and was raped by both security guards.

She explained that her initial encounter with the perpetrators came after she landed at the airport's Terminal 2 and approached them unwarily about a place where she can get some sleep.

Because the victim did not speak English or Indonesian, she conveyed her request through body language. The Airport Police's chief detective Azhari Kurniawan said that the perpetrators allegedly took advantage of the situation and drugged the victim before taking her to a nearby hotel.

The victim returned to her home country on Wednesday.

- Source:

Seaplane service splashes down in Key West

Salt Island Seaplanes Owner Jon Rector, whose wife is an airline pilot, likes flying seaplanes, partially because of scheduling. 'This fits in very nicely because I'm home every night,' he says. 

Salt Island Seaplanes Owner Jon Rector, whose wife is an airline pilot, likes flying seaplanes, partially because of scheduling. 'This fits in very nicely because I'm home every night,' he says.

Flying seaplanes is part of Jon Rector's retirement plan. The former commercial airline pilot has been flying planes, both on land and on the water, for more than 30 years. His Naples-based company, Salt Island Seaplanes, started its first season in the Southernmost City about three weeks ago.

"We can pretty much land wherever we want to," Rector said. "The response is great; people just love it."

The route is simple -- Naples in Southwest Florida to Key West and back with one-way tickets costing $210. The 55-minute flight in Rector's Cessna 206 amphibious seaplane, which holds up to four passengers, however, is no fly-by night operation.

Rector takes the time to point out points of interest on the flight, whether it's sharks or the impending Key West landscape. The initial takeoff and subsequent landing is, well, literally like floating on water. On a recent flight, no air pressure was felt on takeoff from the Garrison Bight waters in Key West.

"It's such a feeling of freedom not being restricted to an airport or runways," Rector said.

Seaplanes fly at a much lower altitude, between 1,500 and 5,000 feet, compared to some commercial planes that service the Florida Keys and fly between 15,000 and 25,000 feet. That means the sea places offer up-close, scenic views of both of Florida's coasts.

As far as safety, Rector said he checks conditions like wind patterns and wave height before he flies. The plane also needs to be washed every day because of the saltwater, to prevent corrosion.

The flights depart from Naples Municipal Airport and land near the Garrison Bight Mooring Field, northeast of Fleming Key. A seven-minute boat ride takes passengers to the Conch Harbor Marina dock, which is less than three blocks from Duval Street.

The trip back to Naples is just the reverse. Passengers would meet a boat captain at the Conch Harbor Marina to be carried back out to the plane.

Rector is working with the city on setting up his own dock space in Key West. At the moment, he pays nearby boat captains to take passengers to the dock.

Locally, Rector said seaplane companies, such as Key West Seaplanes, have been welcoming. He also has been working with a local hotel property, which also has locations in Southwest Florida, to do joint marketing.

Besides his Key West season, which runs from October through April, Rector has a similar operation in Michigan with a different operating name, Royale Air Service.

That route, which runs from May through September, flies from the Michigan mainland to Isle Royale National Park near Lake Superior. Because of the seasons, Rector splits time living between Michigan and Southwest Florida.

For more information, visit

Story and Photo:

Looming pilot shortage threatens regional airlines

FARGO -- The adage "What goes up must come down," is coming home to roost for commercial aviation.

For decades, the industry's consistent story was one of large numbers of pilots competing for very few open jobs.

Today, airlines — particularly regional carriers — are having trouble filling cockpits with qualified pilots and the problem only promises to get worse, according to William Swelbar, a Washington-based consultant and a research engineer at MIT's International Center for Air Transportation.

"By 2017, it (the pilot shortage) will be a crisis and very difficult to repair," said Swelbar, who is also executive director of the Regional Air Service Alliance, a coalition of airports, state aviation departments and other groups that have an interest in the future of small community air service.

Swelbar said there is scant data right now to back up his contention that a major pilot shortage is imminent, but he said signs of trouble are starting to show.

"There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests regional airlines are struggling to fill the (cockpit) seats that are coming vacant," Swelbar said. "It is air service death by a thousand frequency cuts."

Jim Higgins doesn't need convincing.

An associate professor at the University of North Dakota's Department of Aviation, the largest aviation school of its kind in the country, Higgins warns that a major pilot crunch is coming at a time when airlines are experiencing the most profitable traffic they've ever seen.

He said that growth will only accelerate the pilot shortage while intensifying its effects.

"The conundrum is very apparent, it's very easy to see," said Higgins, adding that while enrollment in UND's flight program has been stable in recent years, the same can't be said for programs elsewhere in the country.

"A lot of schools flat out closed," he said.

Higgins and other experts say a number of reasons are behind the growing pilot dearth, including an unprecedented wave of retirements.

Another factor cited is a growing awareness among would-be pilots of the cost of education and the relatively low pay commercial pilots can expect to see in the early years of their careers.

Pilot training can cost $125,000 to $150,000 and take up to seven years to complete.

And while pilots with a regional carrier can earn $60,000 a year by their fifth year on the job, starting salaries can be less than $25,000.

Many find the cost/benefit analysis discouraging, according to Swelbar, who said a new federal law that sets the minimum flight time requirement for commercial pilots at 1,500 hours — up from 250 hours — is another factor weighing on pilot numbers.

Congress imposed the change in 2013 following a 2009 commuter crash that was blamed on pilot error.

While the new law aims at improving pilot competency, it might have the opposite effect, according to Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of the Fargo Airport Authority, who worries a growing pilot shortage may lead to reduced service for airports like Hector International.

When it comes to the new rule on flying hours, Dobberstein said by the time pilots reach 1,500 hours and take commercial airline jobs, their skills won't be as sharp as they would be had they started working when they were fresh out of school.

Higgins goes further, asserting the rule is forcing airlines to hire pilots they never would have hired in the past simply because the pool of quality candidates is limited.

"In my opinion, it's absolutely a potential for catastrophe down the road," Higgins said.

Swelbar said changing the 1,500-hours rule would be politically difficult, but he said one way to mitigate the negative impacts would be to grant student pilots additional flying time credit if they graduate from quality flying schools like UND.

Swelbar said he worries the growing pilot shortage won't be addressed until it becomes so pronounced airlines begin pulling out of markets altogether because they are unable to maintain routes.

"Then it's going to get the attention of every lawmaker on Capitol Hill," Swelbar said.

- Original article can be found at: