Monday, February 09, 2015

Parts of tourist plane found in fishing net

TEHRAN – The landing gear and some other parts of a small tourist airplane that went missing in northern Iran a few days ago were found inside a fishing net in Shiroud on the Caspian Sea coast on Monday.

The two-seat tourist aircraft went missing around Ramsar, Mazandaran Province, on February 2 shortly after takeoff. It was carrying Saudi tourist Mohammad Khobaith. The pilot, Alireza Mahdi Qoli, was Iranian.

On Sunday, reports said that the pilot’s jacket and credit cards had been found by the seaside. On the same day, Ramsar Governor General Hossein Sarvari and officials from the county’s Red Crescent Society visited the families of the victims.

Khobaith’s wife said that she and her husband were spending their honeymoon in Iran and were visiting Ramsar to enjoy the beautiful area.

Small Wyoming airports on funding chopping block

Three Wyoming airports are likely to see major funding cuts in 2015 as they fell below a federal threshold for passengers boarded in 2014.

Cheyenne Regional Airport, Sheridan County Airport and Riverton Regional Airport all boarded fewer than 10,000 passengers in 2014, which is supposed to cut federal funding from $1 million to $150,000 for the airports. The funding could be restored if Congress passes certain measures like a Sen. Enzi-sponsored bill that would look at 2012 flight numbers instead of 2014.

“It hurts,” said Tim Barth, Cheyenne Regional’s new director of aviation who is one week into his job. “It hurts bad.”

Barth said without the extra $850,000 in federal entitlements, the planned terminal enhancement will be delayed, phased or changed in scope; the airport will have to potentially roll together several years of funding to do routine maintenance on pavement; and more. And those are struggles Barth said he hopes the airport doesn’t have to face.

Cheyenne Regional had the most precipitous drop in passengers in the state in 2014, boarding or unloading 59 percent fewer people than in 2013. In boardings, the key federal metric, the airport dropped from nearly 11,000 to just over 4,000. The dramatic shortfall signals some major problems for small airports and air carriers.

Cheyenne Regional is serviced solely by Cheyenne-based Great Lakes Aviation, which has had a remarkably similar drop in overall passenger load during the same time period. The airline has dropped its passenger load by around 60 percent over the past year. January figures showed a 60.3 percent drop from January 2014, which itself was a 40 percent drop from the year prior.

The airline has pinned its deterioration on federal regulation changes that require entry-level co-pilots to have 1,500 hours of airtime compared to 250 hours previously. Great Lakes officials have said the rule cut their workforce and caused problems keeping to schedules as qualified pilots became hard to find. The airline has taken emergency actions like stripping out seats from planes to requalify some pilots, hooking wingtips with a flight school and more, but the passenger-bleeding continues.

At Cheyenne Regional, Barth said he hopes Congress will reevaluate the 1,500-hour rule, which a Great Lakes official said was passed after an emotionally charged session.

“A senator from New York implemented this legislation and it was really difficult to argue against when families of accident victims were circulating the halls of Congress,” said Douglas Voss, the president and co-founder of Cheyenne-based Great Lakes Airlines in 2013.

Barth said the plane reconfiguration has had a two-fold effect on the airport. First, the change takes time, thus taking planes out of the fleet while they are reconfigured. Second, they come back with fewer seats, making it even harder to maintain passenger numbers.

“Realistically we need to find a way to work with the home-base airline and in the region to work with ridership and provide reliable service,” Barth said.

He wants to find a way to connect with local travelers to extol the virtues of skipping Denver to fly directly out of Cheyenne. He also wants to expand the airport’s hub system out beyond Denver to include places like Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Kansas City, which could also open Cheyenne travelers to more airlines.

“We can’t rely on [Denver] as our ultimate hub,” Barth said. “If we continue forward with that model, it won’t be beneficial to our operations.”

Barth said that currently the airport’s search for a supplementary airline to complement Great Lakes is on hold while he evaluates how the airport operates in his new post. The search is likely to continue come summer as details like what Congress does or doesn’t act on fall into place. 

Original article can be found at:

Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority members in a dogfight

An internal power struggle on the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority has caused one member to resign, while others jockey for position just days before the board is slated to pick new officers.

At the heart of the turbulence was a palace coup of sorts in which longtime member David Haines had quietly decided to challenge Chairman Marc Troutman's bid for another year in the chairman's seat.

As Haines worked behind the scenes in recent weeks to gather enough votes on the 15-member board to overthrow Troutman, some board members brought in an outside attorney to investigate whether Haines and others have conflicts of interest.

Haines, a former two-year board chairman, abruptly resigned in disgust. Troutman, who did not return phone messages Monday, again appears to be unopposed for Wednesday's vote, and a board that's spent the past three years trying to stabilize its finances now has division within its ranks.

"I resigned because there is a lack of integrity shown by some members of [the board]," said Haines, of Forks Township, a board member since 2009. "I have the utmost respect for most of the board members, but there are some who I simply choose not to be near any longer."

Lehigh Valley International Airport is a $22 million-a-year operation that handles nearly 60,000 passengers per month, in addition to the nearly 200 small-plane pilots who fly out of LVIA and its smaller siblings, Queen City and Braden airports.

It's all run by the part-time board, whose decisions dictate everything from airport parking rates to how much pilots pay to keep their planes there to how much major airlines spend for fuel and landing fees.

Despite being an unpaid position that can require members to attend several meetings per month, airport authority seats are sought-after political plums given by Lehigh and Northampton county executives to some of the Valley's most-connected figures.

Most recently, the authority has been trying to deal with a difficult aviation market that has decreased annual passengers to roughly 700,000, while struggling to pay off a $26 million court judgment against the authority for taking a developer's land in the 1990s.

A rift that had been building for months came to a head last week as Haines was preparing to challenge Troutman's bid for a second year as chairman. That's when Jane Baker, a longtime board member and member of the authority's nominating committee, revealed that an outside attorney had been brought in to investigate several board members' potential conflicts of interest, according to board member Dean Browning.

Browning identified those members as Haines, because he is a major-airline commercial pilot who flies out of LVIA; Ed Pawlowski, because he's mayor of Allentown where Queen City Airport is located; Robert Berger, because he's a small-plane pilot who flies from Queen City; and Browning himself, because he's chief financial officer for LVIA's largest private tenant, New World Aviation.

Authority Executive Director Charles Everett confirmed that Haines had resigned but declined to discuss the outside attorney or an 11-page report delivered by an attorney with Hiscock & Barclay of Albany, N.Y. Everett declined to say how much the outside attorneys was paid, or even if a report exists.

"It's a legal and personnel matter that I am not at liberty to discuss," Everett said.

Baker also declined to comment on who hired the outside attorneys or how, or even if, they were paid.

"I think it's important that this board progress properly," said Baker, a former state legislator and Lehigh County executive. "That's as much as I'll say right now."

Browning would not produce the outside attorney's report, but said it essentially opined that he was the only one of the four with a conflict of interest — an opinion he said is not supported by authority board solicitor Robert Donchez Jr.

"I'm absolutely not going to resign," Browning said. "I'm here to focus on stabilizing our finances, reinvesting in the airport and marketing it so that it can be much more successful than it is now."

Donchez declined to comment.

Haines said he resigned before knowing the report's decision that he did not have a conflict of interest, largely because it didn't matter. What mattered, he said, was that other board members brought in attorneys to investigate whether his involvement on the board was a conflict with his job, without ever discussing it with him.

"I'm disgusted by this behavior and cannot, in good conscience, continue to serve on this board of governors," he said.

Pawlowski has no intention of giving up his seat, but he has some advice for some of his colleagues.

"We need to stop all this bickering and focus on attracting more airlines to this airport," Pawlowski said. "This constant fight for control is getting us nowhere. All of our efforts should be on the fiscal stability of this airport."

It sets up a potentially explosive special meeting Wednesday in which the authority board will choose new officers, discuss its debt and update news on its land sale.

"Quite frankly, all this is just silly," Pawlowski said of the power struggle. "I would hope we can find more constructive things to do than bicker with each other."

Austin Police Department gives a look at the damage to Air One after deadly weekend standoff

MyFoxAustin | KTBC | Fox 7 Austin | News Weather Sports

 Flight officers counted two dozen damage marks to Air One.

Flight officers say the markings look like bullet fragmentation as well as debris from trees as the gunman was shooting up from the trees.

There is damage on the rotor blades and on the side of the aircraft where the co-pilot sits.

Two flight officers were onboard. Police Chief Art Acevedo says those officers made the tactical decision to stay in the air to distract the gunman from shooting at officers on the ground despite the fact that cloud cover prevented them from getting higher than shooting range. Acevedo says the pilots went as far to identify an emergency landing site.

Chief says there is flight video showing the suspect firing multiple shots at the aircraft as well as the moment the swat officer fired the fatal shot at the suspect who Acevedo says was armed with a rifle and a scope.

The aircraft is out of service, but not because of the damage. It is still fly-able. Each marking has been measured and reported to the manufacturer. Repairs should take a full day.

Story, video and photo:


AUSTIN -- Police on Monday gave an up close look at the Austin Police Department helicopter damaged after a man reportedly shot at it late Saturday night.

Police said AirOne appears to be flyable, however, they're choosing not to fly it until engineers get a better look.

Scratches and dings mark the cowling and the rotor blades also have marks from bullets or debris. Video from the chopper won't be released until the investigation is over, but Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said it shows 27-year-old Sawyer Flache on the ground firing multiple rounds at AirOne.

Acevedo said video from the sniper who killed Flache will also show what happened that night.

"It is very dramatic, and I can tell you that the video shows the suspect come out at the same time of his garage, with a long rifle and a scope. The SWAT officer being a sniper himself understands the capabilities offered with a long rifle and a scope, makes the targeting of our aircraft a lot greater threat," Acevedo said.

Neighbors said they knew Flache as a nice guy and good father to his two girls. The chief said he's also been learning more about Flache after speaking with his father Sunday night.

"I actually talked to his father last night and extended my condolences, and he wanted to extend his apologies to our men and women for what they had to endure," Acevedo said. "But speaking to that father says a lot about the man that was raised, that sadly, was killed over the weekend."

On Monday, investigators went door to door on Pax Drive interviewing neighbors where the fatal SWAT shooting happened over the weekend. Friends of Flache also stopped by his home to pay their respects.

Austin Energy crews also visited to fix street lights. Police said Flache shot them out around 10:30 p.m. Saturday before neighbors called 911 and the SWAT team came on scene.

Austin police have three helicopters in their fleet. One is undergoing engine repairs and can't fly. While the helicopter damaged in the shooting is still flyable, police want to get the damage repaired before it returns to the air.

Story, photo and video:

Smugglers suspected of flying marijuana into U.S. via Ultralight aircraft • Agents seized 230 lbs. of pot believed to be dropped from sky

U.S. Border Patrol

CALEXICO, Calif. - Border Patrol agents at the Calexico station seized more than 230 lbs. of marijuana over the weekend that they suspect was dropped off by a small aircraft.

The drugs were found near Bowker Road and Interstate 8, according to the Border Patrol's release.

Agents said the incident took place Sunday around 7:40 a.m. when they found an abandoned metal basket loaded with ten large bundles of marijuana. Agents believe the bundles were dropped from an Ultralight aircraft and were intended to be picked up and transported by drug smugglers on the ground.

Border Patrol agents determined the marijuana weighed 233.7 lbs. and it was estimated to be worth $140,220. The drugs were turned over to the D.E.A. for further investigation.

El Centro Sector Border Patrol agents seized 5,713 lbs. of marijuana last fiscal year, according to the release.

Agents ask the public to report suspicious activity to help keep the country safe by calling the Border Community Threat Hotline at 1-800-901-2003.

Story and photos:

U.S. Border Patrol

Incident occurred February 09, 2015 off off Galiano Island - BC, Canada

VANCOUVER – Two men are OK after the float plane they were in crashed off Galiano Island Monday afternoon. 

A spokesperson for the Ganges Coast Guard on Saltspring Island says the owner and co-pilot of Ocean Air Floatplanes were in the plane performing a procedure when they had trouble during takeoff.

The float plane crashed near Montague Harbour on Galiano Island.

Both men in the plane were ejected. They were able to keep afloat by clinging to the plane in the water and were not injured in the incident.

They have both been rescued.


Two people escaped with their lives after a Cessna 180 float plane crashed into the chilly waters off Montague Harbour between Galiano and Salt Spring Island around 2pm.

The Transportation Safety Board’s Bill Yearwood says it’s hoping the pilot will be able to explain what happened.

“We are not dispatching any investigators; we think the pilot will be able to help us understand what caused the accident.”

The pilot and passenger did not suffer serious injuries.

Yearwood adds the aircraft is classified as an air taxi operation, so it could be part of the TSB’s industry safety review. 

Original article can be found at:

Idaho Company Using Drones To Help Local Ag Community

Treasure Valley, Idaho ( KBOI ) - An Idaho company is one of the first in the nation allowed to fly drones... For-profit. Many companies are making money on the unmanned aircraft... But very few are legal. KBOI Eric Gonzales explains why a Treasure Valley man was given an exemption to let his company soar.

It's an industry waiting to take off. Drones aren't just a hobby anymore. Many companies are waiting for clearance to make money using unmanned aircraft systems. One company, whose owner lives in star was given the go ahead.

Steve Edgar, Advanced Aviation Solutions Owner, "We can actually conduct flights over your farm from the soil preparation phase to the harvest phase, and during the course of that growth crop cycle we can help find the stress points in the crop."

Advanced Aviation Solutions is the only agricultural business in the U.S. allowed by the FAA to fly drones commercially. The owner believes the drone Ag industry, combined with cutting-edge technology, will be a multi-billion dollar business over the next fifteen years.

Steve Edgar, Advanced Aviation Solutions Owner, "There is a lot of science behind this too. This is not just, put a camera on an airplane and go out and fly around."

Brandon Moore, Farmer, "Cotton's been growing around here since before the Civil War."

Brandon Moore is a farmer in Toney, Alabama. He hires dozens of workers to survey his crops. They're checking for water, bug, weed and soil problems.

Brandon Moore, Farmer, "Using some of the unmanned aircraft would allow us to almost have real time information. We would be able to cover large acreage's in just a fraction of the time. with the fraction of the people that it takes."

But Moore isn't legally allowed to use drones for his business. The government's only allowing 24 companies to fly them - and nearly all of them are movie production businesses.

Advanced Aviation Solutions is the only company allowed to fly over Ag land. Advanced aviation solutions got the gig, in part because of the owner's expertise in the cock pit.

Steve Edgar, Advanced Aviation Solutions Owner, "All of our guys are former military pilots, former commercial pilots, air traffic controllers. We've been in aviation all of our lives."

Edgar flew the F-117 stealth fighter in combat. He also manned drones for the air force sitting at a command center in California while his aircraft was zoning in on targets in Afghanistan and Iraq. After a six to nine month application process with the FAA, he's now in business. Snagging one of those exemptions, is nearly impossible.

So far the FAA has been giving exemptions but with strict rules to qualify for an exemptions. For example, a business that has a drone pilot has to have at least a private pilot's license; two, a third class medical certificate And three. a separate observer to watch where the drone is going at all times.

Brandon Moore, Farmer, "To have some hoops to go through is a good thing but on the other hand to go through that is total unnecessary, when any 18 year old can go down to the local hobby shop and purchase one and be up and flying in the next hour or so."

Moore says while his farm could save a lot of money on drones, a pilot's license would be a costly investment. For the FAA it's not just whether you can fly a drone, but more about safe operations in national airspace.

Steve Edgar, Advanced Aviation Solutions Owner, "But we are out there to do it the right way. We also know, as manned pilots the last thing I could ever say to somebody is, I am sorry if somebody was hurt or killed because an unmanned vehicle hit a manned vehicle."

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Location of US anti-poaching pilot remains a mystery after presumed West African crash in 2014

African Parks'pilot Bill Fitzpatrick (right) with an aviation official before departing from Dakar in Senegal on June 19, 2014 en route to the Republic of Congo. Fitzpatrick has gone missing en route between Nigeria and Cameroon. 
Contributed Photo, Courtesy African Parks

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Last year, an American disappeared while traveling alone in a small plane in West Africa, heading to a new job as an anti-poaching pilot in a national park. Investigators think he hit a mountain but the location of his Cessna 172 remains a mystery after a search stymied by limited resources, patchy help from local authorities and forested, mountainous terrain.

Bill Fitzpatrick's last contact with aviation authorities was on the night of June 22 when he calmly gave his position and altitude to a control tower during a nighttime approach to coastal Cameroon. Then, nothing. Both man and plane vanished.

"Jungle will swallow up a small airplane," said Ray Kapteyn, aviation program manager in Cameroon for SIL, an organization based in Dallas, Texas that translates the Bible and took part in aerial searches for Fitzpatrick's plane. SIL also searched for a Cessna 182 originating in Germany that disappeared in roughly the same area in August, possibly after crashing at night into the Gulf of Guinea.

Kapteyn noted that radar coverage in the area is poor, but he said: "It is a little bit unusual that there were two of them in such a short time."

The fate of vanished aircraft, rare in an increasingly mapped and technologically connected world, is the stuff of intrigue, fueling theories about the cause and speculation about the last moments of those aboard. American aviator Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific in 1937, and the hunt is still on for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean after it went missing with 239 people aboard in 2014.

This weekend, media quoted Chilean mountaineers as saying they found the wreckage of a plane in the Andes that went missing 54 years ago. It had crashed, killing 24 people, including eight members of a professional soccer team.

Fitzpatrick, 59, was flying from Kano, Nigeria to Douala, Cameroon and his final destination was to be Odzala-Kokoua National Park in Congo, which is managed by African Parks, a nonprofit group based in Johannesburg. The Central African park, which consists mostly of rainforest, hosts gorilla researchers and tourists who join expeditions tracking the great apes.

The job of the former Peace Corps volunteer would have been to scan the park's many clearings for elephant carcasses from his cockpit and alert rangers who could intercept poachers escaping with ivory tusks.

"Everything is in limbo," Fitzpatrick's brother, Ken, said in a telephone interview from his home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The missing pilot's wife, Paula, and their three children live in Chelan, Washington.

Bill Fitzpatrick learned to fly when he was 17, and once took primatologist Jane Goodall for a spin over San Francisco Bay, his brother said. Bill Fitzpatrick previously worked as a ranger and pilot at North Cascades National Park in Washington state, Arctic National Park in Alaska and elsewhere.

There was no mayday signal on the night of his disappearance, suggesting he crashed into a mountain without time to react, and that weather or a fuel shortage was not the cause. No signal was detected from the plane's emergency transmitter, which can be activated on impact or by the pilot.

African Parks has discounted the possibility that the aircraft may have been shot down by any military forces in the area.

Cameroonian troops canceled a ground search, citing a lack of fuel, said David Zeller, manager of Odzala park at the time.

Zeller said Cameroonian authorities let him listen to recordings of the radio transmission between Fitzpatrick and air traffic controllers, but he was not allowed to record or transcribe them. He believes the plane crashed in an area of the Bakossi mountain range with heavy cloud cover.

On behalf of African Parks, anti-poaching consultant Gauthier Selva also visited Cameroon. Some villagers tried to cash in, offering to rent him a truck with a driver for two or three days for $1,000, Selva said. He also talked by telephone with a man who asked for money to reveal the crash site, but did not send a photo to prove his information was correct.

The American's takeoff from Nigeria was delayed because he had to make cash withdrawals to pay for fuel, according to a witness. Despite the increased risk of flying at night in an unfamiliar area, he apparently decided to leave around 6 p.m. because his Nigerian flying permit was expiring that day, African Parks said.

The U.S. State Department says it is monitoring the case and providing consular assistance to Fitzpatrick's family, which wants Washington to deploy surveillance equipment and other resources to search for the plane.

Fitzpatrick's brother said he informed the FBI of purchases of items including a laptop and a camera made on Bill Fitzpatrick's PayPal account after his disappearance. Zeller said those transactions could indicate the pilot was either scammed on his journey through West Africa, or somebody found the plane wreckage in Cameroon and stole financial details from his laptop.

Fitzpatrick built an aircraft hangar in Odzala before going to pick up the Cessna. Torsten Bohm, a German who was researching hyenas in the park, smoked cigars and chatted with Fitzpatrick.

"Bill is such a wonderful person," Bohm said in a July email to colleagues. "I especially liked his 'everything is possible' attitude and he showed me that sometimes some things should not be taken so serious."