Thursday, November 12, 2015

Budgeting, attendance help Air Races to profitable year

The year isn’t over yet and the ledger hasn’t quite closed, but the National Championship Air Races are expecting a profit from the 2015 event in the neighborhood of $100,000.

That’s a pretty respectable neighborhood for the 52-year-old special event that has had its financial woes through the great recession and a devastating crash in 2011 that killed a pilot and 10 people on the ground.

“We think it may be a little more than that, but we wanted to be conservative about it,” said CEO Mike Crowell. “We still have two more months to go and we’re selling still selling some merchandise. But it’s been a good year.”

The original budget for the event, put together by the Reno Air Racing Association Board of Directors, anticipated a loss of about $630,000.

Crowell, a former Coca-Cola executive who took over as Air Races CEO in February 2015, credited tough budgetary decisions made by the board along with an increase in attendance and support from sponsors and volunteers for helping to put this year’s event in the black.

“We did a lot of belt tightening and reviewing of all of our expenses,” he said. “We had a slight increase in attendance -- about 5,000 more people this year than last year, so that certainly helped.”

A safe week of racing and near-perfect weather at Reno-Stead Airport were also contributing factors, Crowell said. And while he is optimistic about the event's future, don't expect any kind of spending spree either.

"We still have a long way to go," Crowell said.

The budget surplus gives the nonprofit special event breathing room as it plans for the 2016 Air Races – an event that will see the return of the U.S. Navy’s elite flight demonstration team, the Blue Angels for the first time since 2009.

“To say we’re very pleased with the preliminary results of the 2015 National Championship Air Races is an understatement,” said John Agather, chairman of the RARA board of directors. “We’re already planning for a great event next year and are excited to have the Blue Angels returning in 2016.”

The 53rd National Championship Air Races will be held Sept. 14-18, 2016. Tickets will go on sale after the first of the year.

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Plane diverted to Burlington International Airport (KBTV), Chittenden County, Vermont • Plane ran low on fuel while circling Logan International Airport (KBOS), Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, officials said

SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. —A Delta flight that ran low on fuel while circling Boston's Logan International Airport had to be diverted to Burlington International Airport Thursday night.

The plane, which originated from Raleigh-Durham, N.C. changed pilots and refueled while at Burlington International, according to the airport's director of Aviation, Gene Richards.

He said 80 people were on board -- 76 passengers and four crew members. They left the plane for light refreshments while it was refueling.

The plane was cleared to take off again Thursday night and land in Boston.


The crew of a medical helicopter was harassed by a laser while flying over Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – A medical helicopter flying over downtown Springfield was targeted with a laser Wednesday evening, officials at Springfield's Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport said.

The incident was one of more than 20 reported laser strikes on aircraft that occurred across the country overnight Wednesday. 

The practice is illegal as the lasers pose a danger because they can temporarily blind pilots.

Mark Hanna, executive director of Springfield's airport, said Thursday that the helicopter crew reported the incident to the Springfield control tower a little after 5 p.m.

"This is an issue that is nationwide, and as displayed last night, it can happen right here in our own backyard," Hanna said.

A Springfield police report said the incident occurred as the helicopter was landing at HSHS St. John's Hospital.

The crew told police that they thought the laser could have been coming from somewhere near North Grand Avenue, but they could not say for sure.

There were no indications on the report of injuries among the crew as a result of the laser.

Helicopters routinely land and take off at St. John's and Memorial Medical Center.

Local and federal officials are investigating the incident, Hanna said. 

Pointing a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, he said.

"This is a very serious incident, especially since we have a lot of helicopters that (traverse) our airspace over the city every day," Hanna said. "We are taking this very seriously and are coordinating all efforts with law enforcement to help in their investigation."

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Pilot Scorches Allegiant Air on Safety

Former Allegiant Captain Jason Kinzer is suing the airline for alleged "malicious" firing.

LAS VEGAS (CN) - With one engine smoking and "acrid smoke" in the passenger cabin just after takeoff, a commercial pilot turned his plane around and evacuated all 141 passengers - and Allegiant Air fired him for "not placing company profits above safety," the pilot claims in court.

The pilot's attorney called it "the most egregious employment action I've encountered in several decades of aviation law."

Two months before the incident, the Aviation Mechanics Coalition wrote a searing letter to Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration, citing a "disconcerting" number of "air returns and diversions due to maintenance-related issues" on Allegiant Air flights.

Jason Kinzer had 141 passengers and four crew members aboard Allegiant Air Flight 864 on June 8, bound for Hagerstown, Md. from St. Petersburg, Fla.

Shortly after takeoff, not yet at 5,000 feet, "one or more of the cabin crew reported to Capt. Kinzer and the first officer that acrid smoke or chemical fumes from an undetectable source was emanating from the rear of the passenger cabin and that it was being detected and inhaled by the passengers as well," Kinzer says in his Nov. 10 lawsuit in Clark County Court.

Repeatedly citing 14 CFR, Part 91, on the responsibility of a commercial pilot, Kinzer says it was his duty and obligation to turn the plane around for the sake of passenger safety, declare an emergency to air traffic control and land at the St. Petersburg airport.

The emergency became even clearer when the airport's fire personnel told Kinzer: "'I'm showing some smoke on your number one engine' and urged the crew to shut it down," Kinzer says in the complaint.

Shutting down the engine and discharging the engine's fire extinguisher did not stop the "acrid burning smell," so Kinzer ordered his crew to prepare for an evacuation, and notified air traffic control.

Much to his surprise, Kinzer says, "a person who did not identify himself or his authority, over the air traffic control authority, commanded the cockpit crew to 'hold off on your evacuation.'"

The complaint continues: "The air traffic controller admonished the persons on the frequency that they must identify themselves when using the air traffic frequency, to which there was no response. Capt. Kinzer requested an identification of the person making this command, to which a response from the unidentified person was a repeat of the command, 'I'm telling you not to evacuate yet,' without giving the source of authority or reason to make such a command."

After a minute passed, Kinzer says, he and the ground controller asked again why the evacuation should be delayed, and got no response.

He landed the plane and evacuated it. Kinzer and a flight attendant carried one passenger, a paraplegic, off the plane.

A transcription of the 7 minutes of conversation between Kinzer, ground control and the unidentified voice is attached to the complaint as an exhibit.

"Smoke in the cabin is obviously a major safety concern and there is no responsibility I take more seriously than protecting my passengers and crew," Kinzer said in a statement. "All I'm asking for is a recognition that evacuating the plane was the only safe course of action and a commitment from Allegiant to put safety first so my colleagues never have to worry that doing the right - and safe - thing could cost them their jobs."

Allegiant fired him on July 23, in a letter of termination attached to the complaint.

The seven-sentence letter, firing him immediately, called the evacuation "entirely unwarranted," and says it "compromised the safety of your crew and your passengers and led directly to the injuries."

The letter says his responsibility as an air captain is to "operat(e) each aircraft safely, smoothly and efficiently and striving to preserve the Company's assets, aircraft, ground equipment, fuel and the personal time of our employees and customers. You failed to exhibit these behaviors during Flight 864."

In other words, Kinzer says in the lawsuit, Allegiant Air fired him for "not placing company profits above safety."

His attorney Michael Pangia said in a statement: "This is the most egregious employment action I've encountered in several decades of aviation law. Allegiant Air is retaliating against a pilot for protecting his passengers."

In a rather devastating April letter to Congress the FAA, an airline union and the public, the Aviation Mechanics Coalition took Allegiant Air to task for "Air Returns and Diversions due to Maintenance-related Issues September 2014 Through March 2015."

The letter - sent two months before Kinzer evacuated Flight 864 - says Allegiant Air has had a "disconcerting" number of flights returned, diverted or takeoffs aborted due to maintenance issues.

The coalition said it tried to tally Allegiant's recent flight diversions, but because the airline is too small to trigger mandatory reporting to the FAA, it's impossible to know how many diversions occurred during any period of time, but it identified dozens from September 2014 through March 2015. Summaries of the incident take up 11 of the letter's 13 pages.

The coalition says Allegiant has 70 aircraft that average more than 22 years since their date of manufacture and that average 5.5 hours of flight time each day, which is less than half the industry average.

"We find it disconcerting that an airline with such a small fleet has experienced such a large number of schedule disruptions due to mechanical issues," the coalition wrote.

It describes Allegiant Air as an "ultra low cost carrier based in Enterprise, Nev."

It continues: "Allegiant Air is run by CEO Maurice Gallagher, and up until Oct. 1, President Andrew Levy. Both can trace their roots back to another low cost carrier, ValuJet, and were in place when ValuJet Flight 592 crashed into the Florida Everglades due to a cargo compartment fire caused by errors committed by contract maintenance employees."     

Allegiant declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said:

"Any and every decision about our flight crews is made first and foremost with the safety of Allegiant's passengers in mind. While we are not able to comment on specific employment matters or lawsuits at this time, we never compromise on our commitment to safety. We take any employee termination with great seriousness and ensure that a thorough investigation, collecting facts from all stakeholders, is conducted before any decision is made.     

"Allegiant has a culture that values the safety of our passengers and crew above all else. As such, we have high standards for all of our team members. We expect that all team members, particularly flight crews, exercise sound judgment in performing their duties to ensure that the wellbeing of our passengers is never compromised.

"Additionally, we expect that when team members are found to have acted in a manner that is inconsistent with the safe operation of the airline, that those individuals will take responsibility for their actions and take appropriate steps to improve future performance."

Kinzer seeks punitive damages for defamation, wrongful termination and emotional distress.

He is represented by Michael Pangia, of Washington, D.C., and Michael Urban, of Las Vegas.  

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 Pilot Sues Allegiant Air, Says He Was Fired For Evacuating Jet 

DALLAS - A pilot who ordered an emergency evacuation after smoke was detected coming from one of the jet's engines is suing Allegiant Air for firing him.

The 43-year-old pilot says Allegiant is putting profits above safety. Allegiant says the evacuation was unnecessary and put passenge
rs at risk — several were injured sliding down inflatable escape chutes.

The incident in June was one of many over the summer that brought unflattering attention to Allegiant. The Teamsters union, which is trying to negotiate Allegiant pilots' first union contract, has publicized the events and accused the airline of cutting corners on safety.

The case highlights a natural tension in the airline industry: Captains are responsible for safety on the plane, but airlines can and do judge their work.

On June 8, Jason Kinzer was the captain of an Allegiant Air jet with 141 passengers scheduled to fly from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Hagerstown, Maryland. Minutes after takeoff, Kinzer says, flight attendants called the cockpit to report smelling smoke, so he declared an emergency and returned to the airport.

Kinzer said he rolled to the end of the runway, where the plane was met by emergency vehicles. According to a transcript of airport radio transmissions, a fire-and-rescue worker detected smoke coming from one of the two engines on the McDonnell Douglas MD-80.

Kinzer told airport officials he planned to evacuate the plane. On the recording, someone can be heard telling the pilot to wait, but the person didn't identify himself or give a reason for the delay.

Kinzer then ordered passengers to evacuate. Several passengers and one flight attendant were injured, Allegiant reported at the time.

In a July 23 termination letter, Allegiant chief pilot Mark Grock told Kinzer that he "ordered an evacuation that was entirely unwarranted and ... compromised the safety of your crew and your passengers and led directly to the injuries."

Kinzer said he first learned of his dismissal in an earlier phone call during which a personnel staffer said he was being fired because the flight was one of several incidents that brought negative attention to Allegiant. He did not record the call, and Allegiant spokeswoman Kimberly Schaefer disputed that the airline would fire someone over an issue of "public perception." She said terminations are made only after thorough investigations.

The company "values the safety of our passengers and crew above all else," Schaefer said. "Allegiant is a safe airline."

Evacuations are expensive for airlines. Allegiant declined to say how much it cost to reinstall the emergency chutes on Kinser's plane, but after a JetBlue flight attendant intentionally deployed a slide in 2010, a police report said replacing the chute cost more than $25,000 — that was one slide on a much smaller plane than Kinser's MD-80, which had four slides.

In an interview this week, Kinzer, who joined Allegiant in January 2013, said the airline's own operations manual calls for evacuation in case of a potential fire.

"I have not had a moment of remorse over this," he said. "No aviator should ever feel the fear of retribution ... (for) doing something in the interest of safety."

Bryan Dougherty, a passenger, said once the captain gave the evacuation order, "It was pure mayhem. Everybody was pushing everybody." He said an older woman who was pushed down a chute by a flight attendant wound up going to the hospital.

Dougherty said he didn't smell smoke before the evacuation but that others sitting in the back of the plane did. He didn't think it was necessary to use emergency slides, but added, "I'm no airline expert."

The wrongful-termination lawsuit was filed Tuesday in state court in Las Vegas, where parent Allegiant Travel Co. is based.

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Officials: Fire at Jumptown Skydiving facility was near plane fuel • Orange Municipal Airport (KORE), Franklin County, Massachusetts

ORANGE — An early morning fire that destroyed two recreational vehicle campers and a sports utility vehicle at the Jumptown skydiving facility at 31 C St. on Wednesday remains under investigation.

No one was injured in what could have been a catastrophe, since the fire was about 25 feet from a large tank of aviation fuel, according to Orange fire investigator and firefighter James Hopkins.

Swift winds helped to blow a fire that ignited an empty camper toward a row of about five other trailers, including one occupied by skydiving instructor Andreas Szerbakowski.

According to Hopkins, Szerbakowski was awakened by the smell of smoke in his camper. “He saw the fire in the first camper and ran to a neighbor’s trailer to call 911,” said Hopkins. “The first call came in about 4:28.”

The Orange Fire Department responded with two fire engines and a ladder truck, while the Athol Fire Department provided station cover. Hopkins said the fire was extinguished by about 5 a.m. A third camper was also damaged by the fire, he said.

No one from Jumptown could be reached for comment Wednesday, although the Skydiving Club’s Facebook page is linked to an online fundraising site for Szerbakowski. A GoFundMe website, started by Stacey Perry, said that the fire resulted in a major loss for Szerbakowski, who lost his car, home, clothing, money, laptop, stereo and his skydive rig.

“He has been left with literally nothing but the clothes on his back,” Perry wrote. The fundraising goal for Szerbakowski was set at $20,000.

Orange Airport Operations Manager Bryan Camden said there was no damage to airport equipment or property, and that the fire did not affect airport activity.

Camden said that Jumptown leases space at the airport and, as of Wednesday afternoon, Jumptown had started a clean-up of the fire site. When asked about campers at Jumptown, Camden said skydiving instructors, who come here from great distances, often stay there in campers for the weekends. He said there are usually between six and 12 campers on the site, during the season.

“The fire was pretty minimal, compared to what it could have been,” Camden remarked. “It could have been a lot worse, if it weren’t for (the firefighters).”

Camden said the Orange Fire Department has had training sessions at the airport, to identify potential hazards, and how to handle them.

Camden said he didn’t think the fire will affect Jumptown’s operations.

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Federal Aviation Administration: Lasers beams hit more than 20 aircraft overnight

Federal authorities have launched an investigation after numerous aircraft were hit by laser  beams Wednesday night.

More than 20 aircraft were struck while in flight over at least 16 U.S. cities, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration. Authorities said three strikes were reported to the FAA in the New York City area, followed by three in Texas that hit jets that were preparing to land.

“None of the pilots reported injuries,” according to the statement. “Nevertheless, shining a laser at an aircraft is a federal crime that the U.S. vigorously pursues. Lasers distract pilots from their safety duties and can lead to temporary blindness during critical phases of flight, such as takeoff and landing. In some cases in the past, pilots have reported eye injuries that required medical treatment.”

Laser beams have been known to travel more than a mile from the ground to the cockpit, momentarily blinding pilots in flight.

Capt. Joe DePete, first vice president from the Air Line Pilots Association, told The Washington Post over the summer that lasers are most dangerous when pilots are trying to take off or land.

“During critical phases of flight, particularly in hours of darkness when the eye is more sensitive to light sources,” he said, “a laser strike in the cockpit can create a ‘startle response’ which negatively impacts pilot health and flight safety.”

A helicopter from CBS New York in flight over Park Slope, Brooklyn, was among the those that saw the beams.

“When we were looking there, we got lasered,” pilot Joe Biermann told the news station. At the same time, he said, “the NYPD was right next to us, so they hovered above the place.”

Pilots for two other TV stations — WNBC-TV and WABC-TV — made similar reports, according to CBS New York.

The other laser strikes were reported in Los Angeles, Oakland, Ontario, Palm Springs and Sacramento, Calif.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Springfield, Ill.; Covington and Danville, Ky.; Detroit, Mich.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Jamestown, N.Y.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The FAA said that more than 5,300 laser strikes have been reported in the U.S. so far this year.

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Sikorsky Sued After Fatal Black Hawk Helicopter Crash: Lawsuit points finger at missing cotter pin in tail rotor assembly

Families of three U.S. Army soldiers have filed a lawsuit against Sikorsky Aircraft, alleging the Stratford-based defense contractor failed to properly design, manufacture and maintain a Black Hawk helicopter that crashed into a Georgia airfield in 2014, killing one of its passengers.

The lawsuit, initially filed in California, was recently refiled in U.S. District Court in Connecticut.

"There were clearly a variety of problems that lead to this crash," said attorney Brendan Leydon, of Tooher Wocol & Leydon in Stamford, who is representing the families. "The families are fully prepared to pursue this case."

Sikorsky has built many thousand helicopters for the American military, and the Army has more than 2,000 Black Hawks. In addition to building the choppers, Sikorsky and its vendors provide maintenance for the aircrafts. Company officials would say little about the latest lawsuit.

"The allegations against Sikorsky in the complaint have no merit, and we intend to defend against this lawsuit vigorously," said Paul Jackson, the company's communications director.

On Jan. 15, 2014, Jon Ternstrom, Clayton Carpenter, and Cameron Witzler were nearing the end of a what the lawsuit called an "uneventful" training flight from St. Augustine, Florida, to the Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia.

All three were members of the 160th Special Operation Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers. The crews conduct attack and reconnaissance missions at night at high speeds and at low altitudes. The unit was responsible for transporting the U.S. Navy Seals who conducted the raid and assassination of Osama Bin Laden.

Ternstrom, who was acting as pilot-in-command of the Black Hawk, received permission to land from the Hunter Air Traffic Control. However, Carpenter was at the controls. According to the lawsuit, as the helicopter started to make its descent, it "suddenly and without warning" experienced a failure of the tail rotor pitch assembly, which control the blades on the helicopter's tail. The rotor started to spin in the opposite direction of the main blades atop the aircraft.

"Carpenter announced to the crew that there was a problem, and despite appropriate flight control inputs as prescribed in all relevant training manuals and training exercises, was unable to stop or slow the spin," according to the 24-page federal lawsuit. Ternstrom took control of the aircraft and attempted to reduce the spinning. "Nonetheless, the Black Hawk continued out of control and impacted the ground," the lawsuit stated.

Missing Pin

The lawsuit alleges that the primary culprit was a Sikorsky vendor, a California company called Prototype Engineering and Manufacturing, which designs and maintains the rotor pitches for Sikorsky helicopters. In this case, according to the lawsuit, the company's employees failed to install a cotter pin during maintenance on the helicopter. The missing pin set off a chain reaction that led to a critical nut coming loose, which caused the pilot's controls to become disconnected from the rotor.

"It looks like somebody building this aircraft for the Army allowed it to go out without that cotter pin," Timothy Loranger, a California attorney, who initially represented the families, told the Defense News website. "It's tragic someone appears not to have been paying attention."

Once the helicopter crashed, the electronic locator transmitter (ELT), which sends a signal to air traffic controllers in the event of a crash, did not send the emergency signal to the traffic control tower, according to the lawsuit. "Failure of the ELT to transmit caused a significant delay in the arrival of medical aid and assistance and exacerbation of the injuries suffered by Carpenter, Ternstrom and Witzler," according to the suit. Carpenter was found inside the wreckage, and suffered from "massive internal injuries."

Carpenter eventually died from his injuries. Ternstrom was able to extricate himself from the wreckage and called for help on his cell phone. Both Witzler and Ternstrom suffered severe, long-lasting and permanent injuries as a result of the crash, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims the seats in the helicopter failed to reduce the forces of the crash, exacerbating the men's injuries.

"The design, manufacture, maintenance, and assembly of the Black Hawk were and are defective and dangerous because the aircraft is not capable of safe flight throughout the entire operative envelope, for which it was supplied, does not meet generally accepted performance requirements, and does not meet required manufacturing and quality control standards," according to the complaint.

After the crash, the Army inspected it's other Black Hawk helicopters, and found only one other with a missing cotter pin, the Defense News reported.

The lawsuit claims Sikorsky is responsible for all aspects of its helicopters, even components created by other companies. "The Black Hawk's failure to perform safely was a substantial factor in causing the death of Carpenter and damages to each plaintiff," the claim states.

A lawsuit against Sikorsky was initially filed in California, but a federal judge dismissed it for jurisdictional reasons. It was refiled in Connecticut on Oct. 30.

The three families, including Carpenter's mother, and Ternstrom and Witzler's wives, have made claims for product liability, breach of warranty and negligence.

Given the number of helicopters Sikorsky sells, it's not surprising that there have been other lawsuits following crashes.

In early 2014, a suit was filed against the company claiming gross negligence after a Black Hawk that crashed in Texas in 2009, leaving its pilot severely injured and with permanent brain damage. That case was dismissed in August 2014 because it was filed after the two-year statute of limitations had passed.

In June 2009, the sole survivor of a crash that killed 15 others off the coast of Newfoundland sued Sikorsky for negligence after a civilian helicopter crashed. The case was withdrawn just a month later and the families of the dead and the survivor settled with Sikorsky for an undisclosed amount.

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