Sunday, February 15, 2015

After spending $25,000, Mobile Airport Authority learns 'Outlook' show hosted by Ben Kingsley doesn't exist

The Mobile Airport Authority paid thousands of dollars for videos to showcase the city's airports to TV viewers for a program to be hosted by Academy Award-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley. But similar contracts have raised concerns among television stations around the US.

Two weeks ago, the Airport Authority rolled the videos out on YouTube. In a news release, officials said the five-minute mini-documentary and one-minute commercial were elements of series titled "21st Century Aviation: Cities in Motion." Both were produced by Outlook Television, at a cost of upwards of $25,000.

The videos have been "distributed to public television stations in all 50 states," and will be shown "continuously throughout the next year" as part of the Outlook series, according to the news release.

At least one local cable provider has confirmed that the 1-minute commercials have aired in Mobile. But there's scant evidence of when or where the mini-documentary will actually air on public television. And there's even less proof that the "Outlook" show exists.

Nationally, over the years, both businesses and nonprofits have reported questionable solicitations by video producers pitching opportunities to participate in mini-documentaries set for public television, usually connected to celebrity hosts. A number of these pitches turned out to be money-making ruses, according to news accounts.

According to information given to the Mobile Airport Authority, "Outlook" was set for hosting by Kingsley. Lawyers for the English actor say that the relationship with "Outlook" was terminated in the summer of 2013. That's around same the time, however, that Airport Authority officials were considering the deal, eventually signing a contract at the beginning of August.

"I don't know if it's a real show or not and I don't know if it's ever been broadcast, but I can tell you unequivocally that Ben Kingsley is not affiliated with that program or that show whatsoever," said Brian Wolf,  who represents the actor with the law firm Lavely and Singer in Los Angeles.

"There had been a preliminary agreement that had been entered into between Ben Kingsley and a company called Crown Media about two years ago in 2013. He was contemplating, perhaps, hosting one segment of this show called 'Outlook.'"

Spot checks with PBS stations turned up nothing about a show named "Outlook." For example, representatives of PBS affiliates in Houston, St. Louis, Kansas City and Nashville, each relatively large markets named in the news release, said they hadn't heard of "Outlook" and didn't air it.

Said Justin Harvey, the director of content at Tennessee Public Television in Nashville, "There are incarnations of shows like this where a producer gets a celebrity host and they charge organizations to produce the program and they make it available to public television stations, but I am not aware of any stations that airs it."

In fact, PBS posted a permanent statement on its website, clarifying that it does not have any business relationship with Outlook Television, the Outlook show or similar shows.

The end of the statement reads:  "It is important to note that producers of programs distributed by PBS do not solicit fees from individuals or organizations in return for inclusion in their programs."

PBS also offers links to news stories published by The New York Times, NPR and The Washington Post, which detail the solicitation tactics by another South Florida production company, Vision Media.   

Sometime in the middle of 2013, the Airport Authority first received a call from the firm. Reluctant at first, officials said they decided to move forward with the deal after doing some research of their own.  

"We had some questions at first," said Roger Wehner, the Airport Authority's executive director. "I'll be honest with you the conversations were just a little too slick." It helped, Wehner said, that the company was endorsed by someone they knew and vouched for them.

According to the contract, the base cost for the work was about $25,000. And there was an additional $3,000 for what was described as a "location fee." Crown Media, a Pompano Beach, Fla. company, was to produce both videos.

The Outlook series was supposed to delve into several topics. Its segments would discuss the latest developments in medicine, or the popularity of green products. Some public television stations air what's known as interstitials -- short videos that typically spotlight a local institution -- between major programs.

The Airport Authority's longer segment would have fallen into a similar category, presented as something "educational in nature." The contract also states that airing the interstitial segment is at each station's discretion.

Mark Miller, owner of Crown Media, said the longer TV spots have not yet been distributed to public television stations. He also said the company never named specific PBS affiliates in its negotiations with the Airport Authority.

He said the programming is provided free of charge and that Crown Media doesn't receive any fees from public television stations. He added that their clients also walk away with the rights to air the videos which could be used for marketing purposes.

Miller would not provide any information clarifying how the spots will be broadcast on public television stations. He also said Crown Media reached an agreement in October 2013 for Kingsley to leave the project sooner than expected.  

Early attempts to market the program identified the actor as the host, but it's unclear if the Airport Authority knew he had walked away from the hosting job. Miller says that they did, but the contract was never amended.

"We're not hiding anything, if we made a mistake," Wehner said. "I would like to believe that this transpired and changed after the Kingsley relationship, after we did our deal."

Kingsley's lawyer sees it a little different.  

"Even if they did (act) in good faith," Wolf said. "I would think they would have an obligation to go back to the airport and any of their other clients and say 'by the way: Ben Kingsley is not affiliated with this and we can't promote the show as Outlook with Ben Kingsley.'"

Story, comments and photo gallery:  http://www.al.com

 

Taiwan pilot union slams post-crash tests for missing the point

An evaluation of TransAsia Airways pilots by Taiwan's aviation regulator following the crash of a TransAsia plane in Taipei last week missed the point and shed no light on the cause behind the crash, Taiwan's pilots union said Friday.

"The tests did nothing to identify the real problem," said a union spokesperson, who asked to be identified by his surname Chen, after 20% of the TransAsia pilots examined failed the test.

Taiwan's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) ordered TransAsia's 68 pilots of ATR72 turbo-prop planes to undergo a competency test after a TransAsia ATR72-600 crashed in Taipei on Feb. 4, resulting in the deaths of 43 of the 58 people on board.

Preliminary flight data recorder readings pointed to possible human error behind the crash, prompting the re-evaluation of the pilots.

In the first part of the two-part test, consisting of an oral exam on basic knowledge such as dealing with emergencies, 10 of 49 pilots failed. The other 19 pilots were either in training overseas or on sick leave.

Chen saw the seemingly high failure rate as nothing more than the CAA trying to find a scapegoat for the crash.

"The CAA had to present some flaws to show the public it was doing its job," Chen said.

The spokesperson complained that oral tests are not objective by their nature, including marking pilots down for hesitating when giving an answer.

"How do you determine that an examinee is hesitant?" he asked.

TransAsia president Fred Wu admitted, however, that the test results were "unacceptable" and said the carrier will re-train its pilots.

CAA director general Lin Tyh-ming also said that pilots who did not pass the test or did not take it would not be allowed to fly.

The testing and the high rate of pilot failure have resulted in massive flight disruptions, forcing the airline to cancel 44 domestic flights Friday due to a manpower shortage.

But according to the union, its members on the front lines feel that the emphasis of aviation authorities and the airline on pilot testing has diverted attention from other major problems, namely the carrier's poor management and poor treatment of its workers.

Chen said that while the TransAsia pilots did not perform well on the tests, conducted from Feb. 7 to 10, the high personnel turnover due to low salaries was mainly to blame.

TransAsia's domestic pilots, who fly the ATR72, are said to make about half of the typical salary in other countries, and many of them have been poached by Chinese airlines.

"The speed with which TransAsia pilots come and go is so high that even the pilots themselves do not know how many people are on the team," he said.

Since the problem was systematic, Chen suggested that if such tests had to be conducted, they should be replaced by a two-way peer evaluation.

"The tests were only aimed at fixing the tip of the iceberg and holding someone responsible," Chen said. "What's needed is an overhaul of the system."

The union spokesperson said he had no objections to the second part of the tests mandated by the CAA, which will have pilots tested in simulators overseas by third-party flight instructors.

Original article can be found at: http://www.wantchinatimes.com

New Zealand pilots, crew tell of unruly midair behavior

Pre-loading airline passengers are boarding planes already drunk and going wild in the sky.

Cabin staff have been groped by drunk passengers, and dealt with vomit in the galley, "mile-high club" antics in the toilets, and a passenger who grabbed a door handle midair shouting "I'm going to kill you all", aviation industry insiders said..

Pilots said earlier check-in times meant people were pre-loading before boarding, as well as drinking during flights.

The Civil Aviation Authority has supplied details of reported cases since 2009 of "unruly" passengers on New Zealand planes in which the offending person was intoxicated.

The figures, released under the Official Information Act, show incidents averaged more than one a month, and all but one had alcohol to solely or partly blame.

In many cases, people were getting drunk while in the skies, while in others intoxicated passengers were allowed on to planes.

Air attendants have told of inductees to the "mile-high club" - having sex in their seats and in cramped lavatories.

"We put up with a lot of tales of people that are drunk," one said.

In December, Air New Zealand issued a warning to an off-duty flight attendant who reportedly got drunk on a flight from Los Angeles to Auckland and "straddled" All Black Israel Dagg.

Six other off-duty crew were investigated after the flight, with several put on temporary alcohol bans while travelling as passengers.

In 2012, Perth grandmother Frances Macaskill forced a New Zealand-bound Qantas flight back to Melbourne after she punched a passenger.

She boarded after drinking and yelled profanities at passengers and crew before punching a seat, a court was told. When crew members told her to stop, she punched a passenger in the face, causing a 6cm cut and heavy bleeding.

She was restrained but continued to yell profanities and head-butted the seat in front. The crew had to strap her to the seat to stop her from injuring herself.

The pilot returned the plane to Melbourne. She was fined $4500 and sentenced to four months' jail, suspended for two years.

Also in 2012, Australian man Fiso Fiso boarded a Sydney to Wellington flight drunk and indecently assaulted a fellow passenger by touching her cleavage and brushing her genitals. He was arrested when the plane touched down in Wellington, where he was ordered by the District Court to pay the woman $1500.

Anyone boarding a plane drunk in New Zealand can be fined up to $1000, and those getting drunk on board can be fined up to $600.

The CAA said it appeared none of the incidents reported to The Dominion Post resulted in danger to crews or passengers, and no flights had to be diverted as a result.

It pointed out that, considering the number of flights every year, only a small number resulted in problems.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said the airline had clear policies about passenger intoxication, and crew members had authority to prevent boarding or refuse service to any customer they deemed intoxicated.

The airline had no record of diverting an aircraft in the past five years because of a customer being intoxicated, she said.

A Jetstar spokesman said that, during the past three years, none of its flights were diverted because of intoxicated passengers.

The airline was licensed to sell alcohol on domestic and international flights, and there had been "negligible issues related to irresponsible drinking", he said.

DRUNKER FASTER IN THE AIR

One drink in the air is the equivalent of about three on the ground.

Otago University occupational and aviation medicine unit director Rob Griffiths said cabins were typically pressurised to levels experienced about 2100 metres above sea level. This meant there was less oxygen reaching passengers' brains, causing hypoxia - a condition that mirrored drunkenness.

While blood-alcohol levels were not affected by altitude, the effect of that alcohol on the brain increased dramatically.

He was not aware of the effects of illegal drugs on air passengers, but imagined they would be the same.

- The Dominion Post

Federal Aviation Administration unveils drone rules; Obama orders policy for agencies

The Federal Aviation Administration released Sunday its long-awaited proposal for governing small commercial drones, setting a plan for remote-controlled aircraft to share the skies with passenger planes.

The FAA proposal would allow drones weighing up to 55 pounds to fly within sight of their remote pilots during daylight hours. The aircraft must stay below 500 feet in the air and fly less than 100 mph.

People flying drones would need to be at least 17 years old, pass an aeronautics test and be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration, but a certificate wouldn't require the flight hours or medical rating of a private pilot's license.

"We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. "We want to maintain today's outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry."

The FAA asked for 60 days of public comment on its proposal for commercial drones, but industry experts expect the analysis of comments could take 18 months or longer before the rules are completed.

In another action Sunday, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum governing how federal agencies will use drones of all sizes.

The memo, which has the same legal effect as an executive order, requires agencies to publish within one year how to access their policies about drones, particularly about the collection, retention and dissemination of information. The goal is to ensure that uses don't violate the First Amendment or discriminate against people based on ethnicity, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

And the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration will begin developing a framework for privacy and transparency in commercial use of drones, which the administration hopes trade groups will ultimately adopt.

While surveillance of the southern border of the United States is one of the most publicized federal uses of drones, the aircraft are expected to be deployed for a variety of other purposes.

Drones "are a potentially transformative technology in diverse fields such as agriculture, law enforcement, coastal security, military training, search and rescue, first responder medical support, critical infrastructure inspection and many others," according to a White House statement. "The administration is committed to promoting the responsible use of this technology, strengthening privacy safeguards and ensuring full protection of civil liberties."

The FAA proposal and the presidential memo represent the latest progress in integrating drones into U.S. airspace. Congress set a September 2015 deadline for establishing rules and standards, although the Government Accountability Office doesn't expect the agency to meet it.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, projects the industry will create 70,000 jobs with $13.6 billion in economic activity during the first three years after drones fully share the skies with other aircraft.

The FAA has been granting certificates for drone flight to public agencies such as local police departments for years. And in September, the FAA began granting waivers for commercial uses such as filming on closed television and movie sets, bridge inspections and agricultural surveys. So far, 28 waivers have been given.

Hundreds more companies have applications pending. Industry advocates have urged faster action and more flexible rules out of concern that drone research will move overseas if the government moves too slowly.

"Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.

The new FAA proposal doesn't apply to hobbyists. The agency already issued a policy for recreational use, with rules calling for flying less than 400 feet high and within sight of the operator, while keeping clear of other aircraft and notifying air-traffic control when flying within 5 miles of an airport.

The small-drone crash Jan. 26 at the White House renewed focus on regulations. Though the incident is still under investigation, indications are it involved a recreational user losing control of the aircraft.

The certification requirement for commercial drones could be contentious. The Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing 50,000 commercial pilots, has urged that drone pilots be highly trained and monitored to prevent mid-air collisions.

The FAA proposal for commercial operators to keep their drones within sight means they can't rely on on-board cameras to fly farther away. The proposal maintains the existing prohibition against reckless flight and it would bar an operator from dropping anything from the aircraft.

The agency also asks for comment about rules for the smallest drones weighing up to 4.4 pounds, which are nicknamed micro drones. Industry groups have asked for greater flexibility for the smallest drones flying faster.

The Unmanned Aerial Systems America Fund, a group which was organized a year ago to provide financing for drone development, formally asked the FAA in December for a separate rule for drones up to 3 pounds flying lower than 400 feet high and more than 5 miles from airports.

Brendan Schulman, a lawyer representing the group, has told the FAA that a study found "no significant added risk" to other aircraft from these smallest drones.

Story and comments:  http://www.usatoday.com

Charlotte airport’s next big hire: Someone to boost development

Charlotte’s airport is growing fast, with plans for a fourth parallel runway and dozens more gates. But what the airport is planning to do around its borders could be just as important.

The airport is hiring a new economic affairs manager whose job will focus on luring companies that want to locate at or near Charlotte Douglas International. Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said he’s preparing to interview candidates and hopes to fill the position in the next few weeks.

Although economic developers regularly cite the airport’s hundreds of daily flights and status as American Airlines’ second-busiest hub when they’re pitching the city to companies, this new position means Charlotte Douglas will be jumping into the economic development game more directly.

“The real intent of that job is to help us identify new business leads, to coordinate with our regional partners ... and then to actively go out and seek new businesses for those properties,” said Cagle, to whom the new employee would report.

The airport will focus on luring industrial, warehouse and logistics companies that want to locate nearby. Not only might such companies bring jobs and growth, they’re also a more compatible use near the airport than residential subdivisions full of people who don’t want jet noise.

Norfolk Southern opened an intermodal rail yard at the airport in December 2013 between two runways, switching cargo between trains and trucks. The rail company pays the airport $1 million in rent a year, and Charlotte Douglas could, in theory, make more money by charging other companies that want to open facilities on its property.

That could help keep costs low for the passenger carriers – mainly American Airlines – who operate at Charlotte Douglas.

“We do think it makes a lot of sense for the land we control to be pursuing those kinds of opportunities,” said Cagle. The airport is also buying a 370-acre neighborhood south of the western runway, where it plans to raze the houses and market the land to businesses.

Charlotte Regional Partnership CEO Ronnie Bryant said there is “significant interest” from companies that want to locate around the airport and rail yard.

“I welcome the airport’s point person to help us sort through the options in that area,” said Bryant.

Land beckons to the west

Another focus for the new economic affairs manager at Charlotte Douglas will be the land west of the airport. Known as Dixie Berryhill, the stretch lies sandwiched between Interstate 485 and the Catawba River. Lacking sewer service and many roads, the more than 5,000 hilly acres have remained largely undeveloped, one of the last major open stretches in Charlotte.

The city is planning to widen Dixie River Road and lengthen Garrison Road for almost $45 million as part of a plan to lure private developers by bringing more infrastructure. Cagle said Charlotte Douglas should play a key role in encouraging and coordinating the development of Dixie Berryhill.

“That’s where our connection with the city and the private sector really starts to come to the forefront,” said Cagle. “We know there’s a lot of interest from the private sector, from private developers in that area and we think that’s great.”

Crescent Communities is the area’s largest private landowner, with about 1,000 acres. Crescent CEO Todd Mansfield said the company is exploring opportunities for a large, mixed-use development in the area. Plans should start to come into focus in 12 to 18 months, he said.

“It’s one of a kind,” Mansfield said of the land. “This is a blank canvas in an extraordinarily strategic location.”

He said Crescent is talking with the city and other interested parties to define the best plan. He said the area could have similarities to Ballantyne, another “edge city” that grew on thousands of largely vacant acres.

Johnny Harris and his Lincoln Harris development company considered building a mixed-use development similar to Crystal City, a group of apartment buildings, hotels, offices and stores near Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va. They put those plans on hold after the recession.

Nothing has materialized yet, but the buzz hasn’t died down.

“We get an awful lot of tire-kickers, middlemen that are wanting to buy and flip it,” said Wayne Cooper, who owns 80 acres in Dixie Berryhill. He said many of the inquiries are from people looking to build warehouse space. “There’s an awful lot of interest.”

Cooper said he’s remained in contact with Harris about the possible development.

“We’re still talking to Johnny, and he’s very serious about this thing,” said Cooper. Harris didn’t return a message seeking comment.

Asked why the airport boom hasn’t boomed yet, Cagle said it will likely be years before the full extent of development around Charlotte Douglas is realized. With the rail yard open for little more than a full year, he said it’s become clear the airport needs to promote development more aggressively.

“It is a long game,” said Cagle. “I think 12 months is enough to let us know that certainly we need to do more, and we’re taking actions.”

CHARLOTTE DOUGLAS TO GROW

Even as officials look to spur growth around the airport, there’s plenty going on at Charlotte Douglas proper. Here’s a rundown of the key points of the airport’s expansion plans for a new runway, terminal and roadways:

• In the coming months, airport officials plan to start construction on an expanded roadway in front of the terminal, which would increase the number of lanes from three to eight.

• Construction on an annex to Concourse A, where the rental cars are currently located, could begin in spring 2016.

• Charlotte Douglas will start an environmental impact study soon, which should enable it to start building a fourth, 12,000-foot-long parallel runway. The study will take at least three years, Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said, and construction on the runway could start after that.

• After 2025, the airport could build a new, satellite terminal with 40 gates south of the current terminal, where the diagonal runway is now. The terminal would be connected to the main terminal by an underground people-mover. Cagle said those plans are preliminary and will depend on future demand. 

WHO’S IN CHARGE AT THE AIRPORT?

It’s been more than two years since the idea of creating an independent authority to take control of the airport away from Charlotte City Council first surfaced, and the airport remains under city control – for now.

Here’s how it breaks down:

• Though he still has the “interim” tag in front of his title, Brent Cagle has been aviation director at Charlotte Douglas since July 2013. He reports to City Manager Ron Carlee, who answers to the City Council.

• Charlotte Douglas International is an independently funded city department, known as an enterprise fund, that gets its operating money from concession sales, airline charges and federal grants, not local tax dollars.

• The 13-member commission that the N.C. General Assembly created to take control of the airport exists, and still meets regularly. But the group is barred from actually running Charlotte Douglas until it gets the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration. That has left it in bureaucratic no-man’s land, a limbo that the FAA has shown no inclination to resolve. The airport commission is also deeply divided, and has deadlocked on basic issues such as whether to send the FAA a letter.

Read more here: http://www.heraldonline.com

Scorpion: Passenger stung on domestic flight

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A scorpion stung a passenger on the hand just before her flight from Los Angeles to Portland took off.

Alaska Airlines spokesman Cole Cosgrove says Flight 567 was taxing on the runway Saturday night when the passenger was stung. He says the plane returned to the gate and the woman was checked by medics. She refused additional medical treatment but didn’t get back on the plane.

Meanwhile, flight attendants killed the scorpion and checked overhead compartments for any additional unwanted arachnids. 

The flight then took off at 8:40 p.m., about an hour late. 

Members of Oregon State University’s men’s basketball team were on the flight, Cosgrove said.

He says it’s unclear how the scorpion got on the plane, but the flight originated in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Original article can be found at: http://www.wjla.com

Cambridge Municipal Airport (KCDI), Ohio: Chris Rocco elected as president of Cambridge Area Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors

Personnel actions marked the January meeting of the Cambridge Area Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors.

Chris Rocco will lead the board as president. Members selected Tom Stemmer as vice president. Brenda Dolweck will continue as secretary/treasurer.

Members discussed filling an open seat on the Guernsey County Planning Commission to bring representation of the airport to the agency. Operations Manager Dave Mourer was chosen to serve on the commission.

No appointment has been made to fill a vacancy on the board.

In other action, Operations Manager Dave Mourer said the precision approach path indicator and runway end identifier lights are working properly. The flight check was conducted Jan. 16 to ensure the lights are functioning according to Federal Aviation Administration standards.

Technicians with Perram Electric were on-site during the flight check to make any adjustments the FAA mandated. Accordingly, they adjusted PAPI lights on Runway 22.

The FAA did not check the PAPI's following the adjustments, and must submit the proper documentation before additional adjustments can be considered.

Specifications and plans for the non-strengthening overlay project for both runways have been completed. Engineering Consultant Steve Potoczak of Delta Airport Consultants will present the documents to the board during the February meeting.

The board received bids for banking services. Dolweck will present them to the board for consideration during the February meeting.

The Cambridge Regional Airport Authority Board of Trustees is scheduled to next meet in regular session at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 18 at the airport. 

Original article can be found at: http://www.daily-jeff.com

South Africa airports 'wiped off' navigation systems

Air traffic safety in South African skies has been compromised after about 70 airports were wiped off one of the world's leading satellite navigation systems, pilots say.

The airports have been delisted from Boeing's navigational services subsidiary, Jeppesen, due to administrative bungling - which the Civil Aviation Authority has denied.

The delisting means the airports, including busy regional hubs such as Nelspruit and Stellenbosch, no longer appear on most pilots' navigation systems.

As a result, pilots cannot automatically access vital information such as geographic location and runway conditions on their satellite navigation tools. Instead, they must manually enter co-ordinates for these airports, which, many say, increases the chance of error.

"The airports have disappeared off the map," said Aircraft Pilots and Owners Association president Chris Martinus in an "urgent notice to pilots" published last week on a popular aviation web forum.

Jeppesen last week issued an "urgent alert" notifying the international aviation community of the delisting due to "missing data", effective from Thursday last week.

But yesterday the CAA insisted there had been no error, saying the "missing" airports had been removed from the local database due to outdated survey data. Spokeswoman Phindi Gwebu said the authority had resolved the matter with Jeppesen, and the missing data would be restored. "This matter served before the National Airspace Committee on Thursday, and industry is satisfied that safety is indeed not compromised."

Comments on a popular web forum for pilots ranged from "This is madness!" to "CAA's actions are ... untruthful [and] seriously impair safety".

Guy Leitch, editor of SA Flyer magazine, said: "If our CAA is not able to provide basic services such as details of its own licensed airfields, then it would ... risk being downgraded. If that happened, it would impact on South Africa's ability to fly internationally."

Other affected airports include those in Mossel Bay, Krugersdorp and Empangeni.

Original article can be found at: http://www.timeslive.co.za

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Published on February 15, 2015

Air Fiesta boasts top-flight aerobatic performers • Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport (KBRO), Brownsville, Texas

Air Fiesta Chairman David Hughston leans on the wing of a Fleet Finch aircraft produced between 1939-1941 at the Rio Grande Valley Wing of the Commemorative Air Force hangar at the Brownsville SPI International Airport.



Air Fiesta, Brownsville’s annual sky party, takes place Feb. 21-22 with a full complement of top-flight aerobatic talent, according to air show Chairman David Hughston.

This year’s performers will include Chet Kuhn in his Dallas-based Pitts Special aerobatic biplane; Mike “ Spanky” Galloway, also from Dallas, in a 300-horsepower, German-made Extra 300 monoplane; and retired King Ranch chief corporate pilot Paul Fiala in his vintage Great Lakes biplane.

“Paul has been to almost every air show we’ve ever done,” Hughston said. “He’s a good, good friend, and we just love having him. He is so precise in his routines. You’ll see high-end national aerobatic pilots that come to our show. They’ll stop what they’re doing and watch Paul Fiala’s routine.”

Aaron Taylor will also perform in his World War II-era North American AT6 Texan advanced trainer, and Randy Ball will return with his sleek, Soviet-era MiG-17F fighter — the bane of U.S. pilots during Vietnam.

“Randy’s been with us a couple of times, and he’s always a big crowd favorite,” Hughston said. “He comes across the field at 0.95 Mach, which is just under the speed of sound. You’ve got to be watching very carefully, because he’s here one second and gone the next. This year we’ve got some excellent aerobatic performers.”

Air Fiesta, in its 24th year, will also feature World War II-era aircraft, such as the B-25 Mitchell twin-engine bomber, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter and the North American P-51 Mustang fighter.

These planes will take part in the air show’s “reenactment” of famous Pacific Theater air battles, as will four Japanese military aircraft replicas from the era. The CAF’s “ Blastards “ pyrotechnics unit will be doing its part as well.

“You can’t have an attack on Pearl Harbor without explosives, so we’ll have a lot of pyrotechnics,” Hughston said.

Also taking to the skies will be the Commemorative Air Force Rio Grande Valley Wing’s own stable of aircraft, including the Boeing Stearman PT-17, the Ryan PT-22, the Fairchild PT-26, and the CAF’s newly restored Fleet Finch biplane.

The CAF’s extremely rare Focke Wulf 44 Stieglitz biplane, a pre-World War II German primary trainer, will be on static display. “Stieglitz” is German for “goldfinch.”

Because of federal spending cutbacks due to sequestration, modern military aircraft have been virtually nonexistent at general aviation events such as Air Fiesta for the past few years, though two F-16s will be on static display at this year’s air show.

“They’ll fly when they get here and they’ll fly when they leave, but they will not participate in the air show itself,” Hughston said.

Air Fiesta, because it doesn’t rely solely on modern military, has survived sequestration while many other air shows around the country have not, he said.

The event will also feature a crop-dusting demonstration, a strong man plane-towing contest, a trade show, food and beverages and kids’ activities, including camel rides.

Hughston said Air Fiesta, which the CAF puts on every year, is run entirely by volunteers.

“We have no paid staff at all,” he said. “We organize it, we produce it, we take the financial risk. We think that means something in the community. When you go and talk to a potential corporate sponsor, they know that we’re the ones that are out there making it happen.”

Gates open at 9 a.m. and the flying starts at noon on both days of the air show. Because Air Fiesta is a family event, organizers are doing their best to hold the line on ticket prices, plus kids 12 and under get in free, Hughston said.

“We know how expensive it is for mom and dad to take the kids out to any kind of an event, whether it’s the circus or the air show or the zoo or whatever,” he said. “It gets real expensive.”

Hughston feels strongly that children’s lives are enriched by experiencing aviation up close.

“We hope that we can instill in them a love for and appreciation of aviation,” he said. “In our area, and we see it all the time when we have school kids come through the museum, a lot of these kids have never seen airplanes up close.

“All they’re seeing are maybe the airliners that fly over. They’ve never had a chance to get up close to an airplane, to talk to pilots.”

Advance tickets are $12 and can be purchased online or at any Cameron County Stripes, RGV Wing headquarters, 955 Minnesota Ave., Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and in McAllen at the Mail-Pak Your Box Store in the Town & Country Shopping Center at 5111 N. 10th St.

Tickets are $15 at the gate. Parking is $5. Reserved-seating, VIP tickets, Flight Line Club and Jetsetters Club tickets will be available at an additional cost.

Story and photo:  http://www.valleymorningstar.com