Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fremont Airport (14G) ground school students looking skyward

Tyler Bowes, 20, is lead instructor at the Fremont Airport's Private Pilot Ground School.

FREMONT - Since opening in 1963, area students of all ages and experience have been learning to fly at the Fremont Airport. Now with the start of a new year, another crop of eager future aviators, and a few veterans, are again looking skyward.

But before they get behind the controls and take flight, these students are learning the ins and outs of all the latest federal aviation regulations and aeronautical information in the classroom.

Topics range from aerodynamics, airplane instruments, weight, balance, weather, navigation and more.

This “ground school” is designed to prepare the students with all of the knowledge necessary to ace the written test required for their private pilot license.

It is the eighth year Fremont Airport has held its “Private Pilot Ground School,” and the second with Tyler Bowes serving as lead instructor.

This ground-only class is held in the winter, from January to March, when the Ohio weather is typically less cooperative for student flight time.

Having been flying with the local airport for over six years, Bowes, 20, is a fitting teacher. He went through the class himself many times, first as a student, later as a part-time assistant and eventually moving to the lead.

Rex Damschroder, whose been managing Fremont Airport since 2008, watched Bowes develop his entire piloting career there.

Bowes was certified as a student pilot on his birthday at 16, the earliest age allowable by the FAA. The very next year, he earned his private pilot license, again the earliest he could. The next step was a commercial license at age 18, and an instructor license followed shortly thereafter.

“He’s just been doing a fantastic job,” Damschroder said.

The class is not limited to just newcomers to aviation. Bowes described this year’s class as diverse, having a lot of varying levels of flight experience.

“We’ve got people who’ve never flown on an airplane before,” Bowes said. “And we’ve got people who already have their license. It doesn’t hurt, even if you do have your license, to get some refresher.”

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La Crosse, Wisconsin: Pilot explains challenges to a career in aviation

La Crosse, WI (WXOW) -  Commercial airline pilots are regarded as one of the most prestigious careers out there and also one of the most stressful. 

The pressure is high, especially for airline pilots who are responsible for keeping their passengers safe, not to mention keeping flights on time despite changes in weather.

Experts in the industry will tell you there is a major shortage of pilots.

"Right now there are unprecedented opportunities with the aviation industry,” Elizabeth Bjerke, Aviation Chair at the University of North Dakota explained.

“The U.S. is facing a severe pilot shortage to fly the aircraft and that is coupled by more retirement at the major airlines. They are hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65 so they have more attrition there as well as the economy has definitely rebounded after the 2008 recession,” Bjerke said. 

Young pilots like Skyler Groenning, a commercial pilot and flight instructor at Colgan Air Services in La Crosse said he’s working towards a career flying for the airlines. But it doesn't come easy.

"There's this sense of total freedom when you are flying the airplane,” Groenning said. “For me it's something I always knew I wanted to do so that's how it is for a lot of people.”

Becoming pilot was not the first career path Groenning pursued. 

He completed a Bachelors degree in Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse before deciding he wanted to fly.  

While some complete a four year degree in aviation, Groenning took a different route to get there. First he completed his private pilot certificate, then his commercial pilot certificate, and now he's a certified flight instructor.

"There is a lot of time and money commitment to it, but usually it's the time commitment that is hardest for most people. People will find the money, they'll make it work but the time thing is hard,” Groenning said.

The FAA now requires 1,500 hours of flight time to become an airline pilot. That changed in 2013 when the requirement jumped from 250 hours to 1,500 to become a co-pilot. Airline captains we're already required to have at least 15 hundred hours.

That takes years to accomplish and there's a hefty price to pay.

"It's not unusual for a pilot to go from just entering to getting all their certificates to be $100,000 in debt,” Clint Torp, manager at the La Crosse Regional Airport said.

"You just have to be willing to make the sacrifice on the front end. Yeah you look these airlines and these guys flying these 747s and they're making a very good living but there was a lot of sacrifice that led up to that,” Groenning added.

But is it worth it? Or is the time and money unrealistic expectation for young pilots?

“In any professional career, whatever it is there are always sacrifices and I wouldn't say 1,500 would really hinder anyone who really wants to do it,” Groenning said.

“If someone really wants to do this, they are going to do it. Whether it's 1,500 hours, 2,000, 3,000 hours,” he said.

Bjerke said the aviation industry needs to find a way to attract more people to the field, but she said lowering flight time requirements is not the answer. 

"Even if  you lower the numbers, lets say from 1,000 to 700 you still have the same number of pilots. There might be an initial bubble but you still have the same number,” she said the industry needs to increase exposure. If it can increase the pilot pool coming in, that can begin to relieve the shortage. 

"We need to get more individuals interested in understanding that this is a viable career path and it's an exciting one and their are a lot of opportunities in the aviation industry right now.”

Groenning said that's something he learned long ago. 

Right now he is working toward reaching his 1,500 hours of flight time. He has 1,250 completed. Once he reaches that benchmark he can decide if he wants to pursue a career flying for the airlines. 

“I am very happy with what I am doing,” he said, “I don't feel like I go to work. I get to go here and fly airplanes."

Story and photo:

Enstrom 280 Shark, N133AB: Accident occurred January 24, 2016 near Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (KPHX), Maricopa County, Arizona

NTSB Identification: WPR16LA057
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, January 24, 2016 in Phoenix, AZ
Aircraft: ENSTROM 280, registration: N133AB
Injuries: 1 Minor.

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 January 24, 2016, about 1812 mountain standard time, an Enstrom 280 helicopter, N133AB, was substantially damaged during a forced landing following a total loss of engine power after takeoff from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona. The private pilot sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight, which was destined for La Cholla Airpark (57AZ), Tucson, Arizona. The helicopter was registered to, and operated by, the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The pilot stated that he was climbing the helicopter to an altitude of 2,000 feet after takeoff from PHX. As the helicopter climbed through 1,500 feet, he felt an "abrupt" left yaw and observed the engine rpm indication drop to zero. The rotor rpm began to decay, and the pilot conducted an autorotation to a dry riverbed, resulting in substantial damage to the fuselage and main rotor blades.

FAA Flight Standards District Office:  FAA Scottsdale FSDO-07

And there it goes. Crews have removed the chopper that went down in the riverbed.

PHOENIX - The Phoenix Fire Department said a helicopter made a hard landing in a dry riverbed near 28th and Elwood streets on Sunday evening. 

Phoenix fire said there are no injuries from the incident after the private chopper made the hard landing shortly after 6 p.m.

Officials said the helicopter, an Enstrom 280, had just left Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The pilot had just dropped off his co-pilot after flying in from Oregon and making a stop in Las Vegas.

The pilot was on his way to Tucson when the engine was lost and the chopper went down.

Only the pilot was aboard the aircraft, but he was able to escape without any injuries.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the helicopter, with the tail number N133AB, had gone down under "unknown circumstances. The FAA is investigating the incident. 

The Phoenix Fire Department said the wreckage looks like scrap metal. The chopper is mangled, but there were no fuel leaks or fires. 

Originally, officials said there were reports from the National Guard of a helicopter down in the water. 

The crash is being investigated. 

Story, video and photo gallery:

The pilot made it out with only a few scratches after his helicopter went down.

Still hard to see...but a crew is getting the helicopter out of the riverbed now.

Photo from Phoenix Fire of the wreckage from chopper down in dry riverbed. Hard to see because it's so dark.

Fire captain tells us wreckage looks like scrap metal, but no fire. Pilot is fortunate to only have a few scratches.

No injuries, but there is a helicopter down in river bottom near 28th/Elwood streets

Pilot had just dropped off passenger at airport. Pilot was able to escape uninjured after hard landing.

Fire captain says private helicopter had just left Sky Harbor. Lost engine, made hard landing in river bottom.

Salt River bed: East of Phoenix out to the Gillespie Dam West of Phoenix.

A helicopter crashed into the Salt River bed on Sunday evening in Phoenix.

The white, private aircraft's engine failed shortly after taking off from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, then went down in the dry river bed near 24th Street, said Phoenix Fire Department Capt. Reda Riddle-Bigler.

The pilot escaped with only a few scratches on his arm, she added.

"It looks like scrap metal,'' Riddle-Bigler said, describing the scene, which was not accessible to a Republic reporter who was briefed nearby.

The pilot had just dropped off his co-pilot and was headed to Tucson when he noticed the single-engine helicopter was having problems, she said. The pilot told fire officials had never had an accident before.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board will be investigating, Riddle-Bigler said.


Lawsuit filed against hot air balloon company

A woman from El Paso, Texas has filed a lawsuit in Napa County Superior Court against Balloons Above the Valley, claiming she was injured during a hard landing and dragged under the basket.

Melanie Rodriguez filed her suit on Jan. 8 against the Napa-based ballooning company. She continues to incur medical and hospital bills and suffers from lost income, the suit contends.

Due to “bad weather” over Napa Valley, passengers, including Rodriguez and her friend, took off from Winters in Yolo County on the morning of Feb. 15, 2014. The balloon was piloted by Robert Barbarick, the founder of Balloons of the Valley, according to the suit.

After an hour-long ride, Barbarick allegedly instructed the male passengers to get to the outside of the basket and the women to get in the middle as he prepared to land.

According to the suit, a worker on the ground told Barbarick not to land, saying “Don’t land – landing other baskets – can’t help you now.”

"Instead of waiting for assistance, Robert Barbarick disregarded the warning and decided to land without aid in an open field," the suit alleges, "causing (the balloon) to hit the ground and pitch the basket violently forward, throwing Plaintiff out onto the ground and into the way of the oncoming basket.

"The basket subsequently collided against her person, then dragged her underneath for a period of time before the balloon aircraft was able to lift the basket and the occupants back off the ground."

According to the suit, Rodriguez sustained "great physical and mental pain and suffering," with injuries to her "neck, shoulders, arms, back, hips, legs and feet."

She is suing Balloons Above the Valley and Barbarick for general and special damages, including the cost of medical services and supplies as well as lost income, past and future, according to the suit.

“Robert Barbarick was unfit and incompetent” to pilot the hot air balloon and Balloons Above the Valley knew, or should have known, the risk involved with allowing him to pilot the aircraft, the complaint asserts.

Barbarick is a pioneer of Napa Valley hot air ballooning. He started flying balloons in 1977 and has over 6,800 hours of flying, according to the company’s website. “He works hard and is dedicated to keeping the balloon business safe, exciting and enjoyable for every passenger that flies with Balloons Above the Valley,” it reads.

Thomas Chesus, a Balloons Above the Valley representative, confirmed that Rodriguez did fly with the company, but said he did not immediately have any information regarding the alleged incident.

Company protocol is that passengers sign a passenger awareness form before taking off, which explains the risks that may be associated with the activity, Chesus said. He also reported that the company will obtain discovery information and plans to respond appropriately.  

The ballooning company has not yet filed response to the suit.

Register attempts over two days to get comments from Rodriguez's attorney were unsuccessful. Rodriguez is represented by Eric Arevalo and Nathaniel J. Patterson of Schumann Rosenberg out of Costa Mesa. 

A case management conference is scheduled for June 16.

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European Regulators Order Safety Fixes for Airbus Helicopters: Safety mandates call for enhanced inspections, potential replacement of crack-prone parts

The directives are expected to ultimately affect more than 3,000 Airbus rotorcraft world-wide.

The Wall Street Journal
Updated Jan. 24, 2016 7:46 p.m. ET

European aviation regulators have ordered enhanced inspections and, if necessary, replacement of certain crack-prone parts on thousands of widely used AS 350 and other choppers manufactured by Airbus Group SE.

The aim is to prevent potentially dangerous structural failures related to main gearbox covers or their attachments, and “consequent loss of the helicopter.”

Safety mandates issued Friday by the European Aviation Safety Agency cover main gearbox casings and related parts on certain versions of AS 350 helicopters, which are popular for law enforcement, air-ambulance services and commercial operations. Industry officials said the four directives are expected to ultimately affect more than 3,000 Airbus rotorcraft world-wide, including about 1,000 registered in the U.S., once regulators from other countries embrace the agency’s move.

EASA’s documents don’t call for emergency fixes, and they complete safety moves the agency first proposed last summer. Airbus Helicopters previously issued a number of its own service bulletins dealing with the same issues.

European regulators are requiring stepped-up inspections—as frequently as every 10 flight hours for some older helicopters—to detect oil leaks that could be a sign of hazardous fractures.

The directives become effective early next month, and technically apply only to European-registered helicopters. Based on past practice and U.S.-European cooperative agreements, however, the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to follow-up with similar directives covering fleets in the U.S.

On Sunday, an Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the agency “will evaluate and determine if an unsafe condition exists” before deciding whether to issue its own safety directive.

Single-engine AS 350s were first delivered in the 1970s, but since then various new versions have been introduced. Friday’s mandate also covers twin-engine variants, including some AS 355 models that are no longer in production.

EASA didn’t list any accidents or incidents stemming from such problems, but each of the directives stressed that structural analyses uncovered potential cracking of the main gearbox housing or an attachment point.

Airbus and EASA have said that certification of the latest AS 350 version revealed some “critical areas which had not been identified” during safety studies and testing of earlier versions.

Results of the latest inspections by operators are required to be submitted to company experts. In one of its service bulletins, the manufacturer said it has revised stress calculations for the affected parts, resulting in new limits for “the service life of these casings.”

Last October, the Federal Aviation Administration issued an unrelated emergency airworthiness directive covering the latest AS 350 models. The agency mandated changes in certain pilot ground-test procedures to prevent inadvertent jamming of some tail-rotor controls. The FAA acted after two accidents and one incident, and it said the manufacturer was developing a permanent fix.

Original article can be found here:

Virginia Beach-based SEAL who died in accident was unconscious, never opened parachute

Petty Officer 1st Class William Blake Marston died in a parachute training accident in Florida on January 10, 2015.

An elite Navy SEAL who died in a parachute training accident in Florida last year never opened his main chute and was unconscious shortly after exiting the plane, which an investigation concluded he shouldn’t have been on to begin with because of a discrepancy over whether he was up to date with a required certification.

Why Petty Officer 1st Class William Blake Marston blacked out remains a mystery that Navy investigators said they couldn’t solve. Marston’s parachute and equipment were in good working condition.

“The most important question is unknowable, despite diligent investigative efforts,” Rear Adm. Brian Losey, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, wrote in his endorsement of the investigation’s findings. “We cannot identify why SO1 Marston was unable to operate his main chute.”

The Virginian-Pilot obtained a copy of the investigation through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Navy officials interviewed skydiving and medical experts but couldn’t pinpoint what went wrong. A witness who viewed the parachute gear said it was clear Marston didn’t grab the chute handles.

The medical review was redacted from the report, but the force medical officer noted there was a lack of evidence and concurred “there is no medical conclusion available that explains why SO1 Marston lost his ability to maintain stability and deploy his main parachute.”

Marston lived in Virginia Beach and was a member of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, better known as SEAL Team 6, when he plunged to his death the morning of Jan. 10, 2015, in DeLand, about 18 miles southwest of Daytona Beach. He previously had made about 120 free-fall jumps during his six-year SEAL career and was considered an above-average skydiver by his colleagues.

The investigation says Marston was supposed to open his parachute about five seconds after exiting a small propeller plane flown at 5,000 feet by civilian contractors, with the jump focusing on improving canopy-control skills. But for some reason, that didn’t happen.

About 15 seconds into his jump, he became unconscious. In another 15 seconds, he hit the ground.

It wasn’t clear from the redacted documents how the Navy knew when Marston lost consciousness. The four skydivers who left the plane after him didn’t see his free fall. A security guard on the ground said he heard a loud noise and saw Marston unresponsive in the final seconds before he hit the ground.

Marston wore an automatically activated reserve parachute that opened at 750 feet. But investigators believe that chute’s canopy was fully open for only one to two seconds before impact.

Marston landed feet first, breaking his right leg, and was unconscious and barely breathing when emergency responders arrived.

“Stay with me, buddy! Stay with me!” shouted the security guard who saw Marston fall, according to audio from a 911 call. “I need evac now. ... He’s not conscious at all.”

Marston was quickly taken to a local hospital, where the former college baseball player and avid CrossFit athlete was pronounced dead shortly after arriving. He was 31.

Marston’s death drew significant media attention, especially in his hometown of Concord, N.H. Marston was a well-known local athlete who worked out with city firefighters when he was in town.

Gov. Maggie Hassan ordered flags flown at half staff on the day of his memorial ceremony. Remembered for his smile and loyalty, his obituary described him as “the kind of guy you’d want your children to be around.” He’s survived by his parents, three siblings and two nieces.

A copy of the investigation was released to Marston’s family. A public telephone listing for Marston’s parents rang unanswered Friday and his mother did not respond to a Facebook message.

“It did not surprise me that Blake joined the Navy SEALs because he was always an unselfish athlete and had his team’s best interest at heart,” Patrick Boen, Marston’s coach at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., said in a statement after his death. “He was a great leader and someone that we are very proud to have worn the Stonehill baseball uniform.”

Soon after enlisting in 2008, Marston was selected for Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. He graduated the following year and was assigned to a SEAL team in Virginia Beach, according to his Navy service record. Marston later deployed to Afghanistan and was awarded two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals for heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in combat. He also was awarded an Army Commendation Medal.

The investigation says there were seven largely administrative errors in the lead-up to Marston’s death, although none were considered major factors. One, though, should have kept him from jumping that day.

Investigators said Marston didn’t have a current certification for a high-altitude precision parachute system, which is required before conducting a military free-fall parachute jump. Marston’s certification expired in March 2014, although he said in a command biography that its expiration date was February 2019.

Investigators said neither of the two local high-altitude precision parachute system chambers – at Joint Base Langley and Norfolk Naval Station – had any record of Marston attending classes after March 2014. Regardless, the investigation said the lapsed certification wasn’t a contributing factor because high-altitude physiology requirements for supplemental oxygen begin at 10,000 feet, twice the altitude of Marston’s jump. Marston also was using an altimeter issued by his command that wasn’t authorized for use by the Navy, although it was found to be working.

“I concur with the opinion that these areas were not the proximate cause of S01 Marston’s death. But, we missed an opportunity to intervene that fateful day by grounding our teammate until these discrepancies were satisfied,” Losey wrote.

Marston arrived in DeLand for training the evening of Jan. 7. But the weather didn’t allow for any jumps the next two days. A witness said Marston was in good spirits, smiling and joking and passing time by throwing around a football. The weather was clear the morning of Jan. 10, a Saturday, and Marston and nine other jumpers boarded the small plane about 8 a.m. About 10 minutes later, five jumpers began exiting the aircraft.

As the plane made a second pass over the drop zone about five minutes later, Marston was the first to leave the plane. His exit was described as “clean and stable.” Investigators later found that significant fluctuations in barometric pressure were recorded in Marston’s devices beginning about five seconds into his free fall.

“Approximately 5 seconds into his jump, either at the time or just seconds before he should have deployed his parachute, SO1 Marston likely experienced a physiological event that prevented him from manipulating at least his hands and arms,” the investigation says. “At this time, he lost stability and began an uncontrolled freefall descent.”

He hit the ground about 30 seconds after leaving the plane.

“This tragedy was not caused by culpable negligence or recklessness, nor was it the result of a failure to follow orders or adhere to policy/instruction,” the commander of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, whose name was redacted, wrote in his endorsement of the investigation’s findings.

“SO1 Marston was a loyal teammate and fierce warrior who understood the risks associated with his duties and accepted them, as we all do. His potential was unlimited and we will miss him.”

Story and photo:

Leighton Township, Allegan County, Michigan: Controversy over airpark proposal

LEIGHTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Some residents in northeastern Allegan County are worried that a proposed airpark could make their rural community less peaceful.

If approved, the airport would occupy a large plot of currently vacant land near the intersection of 144th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue in Leighton Township, southwest of Caledonia.

“I don’t know of any neighbors that are for this,” Kate Scheltema, a resident of Leighton Township for 16 years, told 24 Hour News 8 on Sunday.

She and her family run Green Gables Farm, which boards and trains horses. The proposed runway would go in just to the east of her barn. She’s worried the sounds of planes taking off and landing will spook the horses, which could harm business.

“There are, I would say, 12 owners that come out to enjoy their horses, and the airplanes in the air are a little bit of a problem. They’re very noisy,” Scheltema said.

The airport would include a 3,000-foot private runway. To put that in perspective, the longest runway at Gerald R. Ford International Airport near Grand Rapids is 10,000 feet. The proposal also calls for 15 new homes to be built nearby. Each home would be allowed to house two planes.

Clark Galloway, a township resident, and Steve Deer, the township supervisor, are the two men behind the proposed airport. Deer said he will not vote on the issue when the time comes.

“I have a lot of faith in the members of the board,” he said.

Scheltema said she and many other area residents weren’t made aware of the proposal when Galloway and Deer first introduced it to the township in November. Deer said that isn’t so.

“We asked to be on the planning commission agenda. A notice goes out to the public through the newspapers and postings that the planning commission will meet at a given time and place. And so that normal process was followed,” he said.

He said people who own property within 300 feet of the proposed airport also received a formal notice. Scheltema’s farm isn’t within that distance.

“The biggest value of this property is the fact that there’s already a private landing strip on the property that has been there for 42 years,” Galloway said, referring to the Martin family airstrip.

That airstrip is on the far west side of the property where the proposed runway would go.

The planning commission is slated to have its next meeting sometime next month. It’s unclear right now when the board will actually vote on the proposal.

Story and video:

Privatization’ll clean rot in Nigeria’s airport system –Penninck, MMA2 boss

By Louis Iba

Privatization of the nation’s aviation infrastructure is the only option left for the Federal Government to end the rot in Nigeria’s airports and unlock their full potential, says Christophe Penninck, Managing Director/CEO of Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited (BASL).

Penninck, whose BASL, currently manages the domestic wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport under a concession deal with the Federal Government, decried the ranking of the Port Harcourt and Abuja airports among the worst in the world.

He stated that based on such rankings, and the poor state of most of the nation’s airports, it would be better for Nigeria to concession them to competent private firms that will make the requisite investments to ensure efficient management and delivery of services to airlines, passengers and other stakeholders.

“I  support government’s move to concession airports in the country. I support it a 100 percent because that is the right way to go,” said Penninck in an interview with Daily Sun in Lagos.

Pennick also spoke on the investments made by Bi-Courtney to grow infrastructure at MMA2, as well as the challenges it is having with FAAN in the execution of the concession deal.


Future industry prospects

I will say that 2015 wasn’t the easiest year for all of us operating in the industry in Nigeria as against 2014 which was a very good year for operators. But I think 2016 is going to be really a very difficult one for everybody. My fear is that the industry cannot support the various airlines that we have in Nigeria today. And we just have to wake up and face the reality that confronts us this year. Just look back a little. A year ago, the naira exchange rate to the united states dollar was N170 to $1 but as at this same time, I think it is N300 to $1 and that means in just a year, the naira has lost its value by more than a half to the dollar and who says there is no possibility of it exchanging for above N230 in the nearest future this year. And the major issue is that unlike some other sectors or industries, the aviation industry is hugely dependent on the dollar or maybe we can say the aviation industry is a dollar or denominated industry. So, that creates a problem for operators or investors in Nigeria’s aviation industry.

Now let me explain how or why we have a  problem. 

If the various airline operators, investors in the airports  and some other key businesses in the aviation industry are all incurring cost in dollar because of the nature of their business which entails their purchasing things in foreign currencies constantly and suddenly most of the cost have doubled and we haven’t seen the doubling of the airfares in Nigeria neither have we seen the doubling of the airport taxes in this country, that means that somewhere someone is definitely losing money. That’s the simple truth.

And the question to ask is: are we set to see the collapse of a few or more of businesses or investments in Nigerian aviation sector?  And I have refused to say: are we going to witness the collapse of airlines in Nigeria? The reason is that what is happening right now, is certainly affecting everybody in the industry and not just the airlines.

The challenge

We will always have challenges in the industry. But the biggest challenge that we have right now is with the exchange rate. As I am speaking to you now, we have invested over $1million in the CCTV project. Now you know that $1million today, is not the same as $1million some few months or a year ago. And I am talking specifically in reference to the value of the naira to the dollar. Our business income is in naira and you know that the naira has devalued. Whatever we have to pay the supplier has to be from the Naira. So it is a constant challenge. Yet we must have to continue to make investments for the benefit of the users of the airport and also to remain complaint. So, we have to find ways to invest and we have to find ways to get the money. It is a real big challenge for us.

Cost of aviation fuel

Again you might think that the reduction in the price of crude oil at the international market is a good thing for the aviation industry. Yes, it is for the rest of the world, but in Nigeria it isn’t for some reasons.

The first reason is that crude oil is still the major revenue earner for Nigeria which means less business and less revenue for the country at this time that oil prices are falling. In fact, there is less travel as it ought to be because  people are cutting down on cost to adjust to the time. The number two reason is that because of the naira devaluation, aviation fuel (Jet A1) that is not refined in Nigeria has not gone down in cost when compared to the crash in the price of the crude oil which is the raw material. Aviation fuel is still being imported at a huge cost given the current exchange rate of the naira to the dollar. And the number one cost or item that increases the overhead of an airline is fuel. 

A barrel of oil as we speak today is a little above $30. But in Nigeria, we haven’t seen any airline come out to say look my number one cost which is fuel has gone down to reflect prices in the international market. And the reason the cost of aviation fuel has not dropped in Nigeria as I earlier said elsewhere is because it is imported. A litre of aviation fuel is sold for $1 now in Nigeria.

Things are more expensive now for airline owners in Nigeria to maintain their aircraft than it was before. And if airlines are not running as profitable businesses in Nigeria, it will definitely affect every other service provider. It will affect us as in this airport because our cost is partially dollar or euro denominated while our revenue is 100 percent local naira. We live mostly from the revenue that comes from the airlines out of the services we provide for them. So for the first part of this year, I have a picture of a grim outlook. But hopefully things will get better by the end of the year because a lot of people will find ways to survive as things also get tough. Hard times make people to be more creative or innovative. Aviation is not a happy place to be for now in Nigeria.

The MMA2 concession

I think that if we did not take the decision to come into this airport in Lagos, then most probably Nigeria would not have had a good and befitting airport because nobody would have been interested in investing in the airport to boost its infrastructure as we have done. We have invested massively in technology. We have also put in place a very strong maintenance culture such that we have been able to maintain our facility at the level that it is comparable to any of the best airports in Africa. This makes our equipment new or as good as new at all times because of the way we maintain them. We have expanded the check-in counters to 45 and all the systems are new. We have changed everything. The computers are new and the printers are all new.

And for the past one and half years that these have been installed, the airlines have been very positive about the investments.  We have added so much value to the airport from the time we took over that today everyone who uses the MMA2 airport agrees that we have made the airport more efficient and effective. It is the cleanest facility that you can ever think of in the country. Since the installation of these 45 counters and other self checking counters, as well as the passenger and baggage tracking systems, there has been a drastic reduction of queues in the airport. In fact, I can say that the queues are no longer there because people spend very little time on the queue before getting their boarding passes unlike in the past. If you find a line, it is usually a very short one. So we have improved the convenience of passengers and made things lighter for them.

And not only that, we have also improved the security at the MMA2. Thanks to the passenger tracking system,  we now have the ability to know who traveled through the airport and at what date and time. It has become so easy to track passengers because we now know for sure that one passenger has only one boarding pass. We don’t have a duplication of boarding passes. So we know who is inside the airport and wants to fly a particular airline. We know when they came in inside and at what time they were boarded. That old system of manual boarding is long gone at the MM2.   And to track baggage, we also make sure that it is only when a passenger is boarding that a baggage is identified and it is only then that that baggage is boarded. And we know who loaded the bags and also at what time it was loaded and from where it came and who owns it. Everything is monitored. Passengers may not be aware. But these are some of the steps we are taking to increase security for passengers, airlines, and the airport. We are currently installing a brand new CCTV system at the airport, about 267 cameras.

In terms of passenger facilitation, we have all the escalators working and they are all new. What we have done might sound revolutionary in Nigeria, but for me this is just the norm globally. We are in such a time that airports in the world must invest in safety and security and in passenger facilitation. We are not doing anything revolutionary. Rather, what we are doing is just to be compliant to the rules and regulations of the industry at this time and also of the expectations of the airlines and all the users of the airport.

Privatization of airports

The question has always been asked if we are running at a profit or not at MMA2?  And then if more Nigerian airports should be concessioned. First, I have to state that airports in general are profitable business. So, there is no need for an investor to be doubtful. We have a challenge however in this airport as it concerns the execution of the concession agreement.  The concession agreement is very clear that all scheduled domestic flights going out of Lagos airport must operate from MMA2. You might look at it as a monopoly; sometimes a monopoly is good in aviation. Why? Because we have a regulator and the standards are all global. The aviation industry operates on globally set standards. So a regulator ensures that you follow the rules in safety and security and in infrastructure. In fact, a regulator also makes sure you don’t increase prices arbitrary. So, as long as there is a regulator, a monopolist must abide by the rules always and must also continue to invest in the business. If the terms of the concession were respected, I think we would have been happy and the public that uses this airport would also have been happier because we are doing more but could have done much more. But the problem is that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is not respecting the concession agreement. And how are they doing this? Now, I have to inform you and this is general knowledge  in the industry that FAAN is managing and operating a terminal that is called General Aviation Terminal (GAT) at the Lagos airport which is being used for by commercial airlines for their scheduled flights.

For people who might not know the difference and why what FAAN is doing amounts to a breach, GAT is non-scheduled airport, which means it can only be used solely for such purposes by those who own private jets, air ambulances, government owned aircraft among others. That’s what a GAT is used for. But we now have a situation where FAAN is operating a GAT as a competing scheduled flight terminal to MMA2 which is completely against the terms of the concession agreement. FAAN can have a GAT and we are not claiming anything against their GAT. What we are contesting is that all scheduled commercial flight must be operated at the MMA2 which is the term clearly defined in the concession agreement and which we signed with the government, the former Aviation Minister and the former Managing Director of FAAN. Yet, FAAN has refused to respect that agreement. If they had respected the agreement, we will be profitable and we will be investing far more than we are doing now and we will bigger. We still are the best terminal in this country and I tell you Nigerians are very proud of us.

But from what we are doing now with the little resources that we have, we feel we have achieved so much, but if FAAN had respected that agreement, I think the government would have fared better because they would have had a model airport to use in the campaign to get more investors to come into the country.

Now lets face it. I am not the one who said it; the report is there even in the internet that the Port Harcourt airport is the worst in the world and then the Abuja airport. So that means, that there are countries in poor places in Asia and Latin America that have far better airports than Nigeria’s capital city. Bagdad airport even in war time is still ranked better than Abuja airport.  And it is not something to be proud of. 

So I support the government move to concession the airports in the country. I support it a 100 percent because given the situation, it is the right way to go. But let it be done in  a way that local companies also have the fair opportunity to bid and that the terms of the concession be respected and then at the end of the day I can assure you that Nigerian airports would have no reason to be ranked among the worst or dirtiest in the world because private companies managing them would ensure better efficiency, they will invest more in technology to uplift the infrastructure of the airport, and they will also care more about the customer.

Even in South Africa where you have the best airports in Africa, it is a private parastatal running the airport and managing it as a business not as a government employment agency. So, let us concession Nigerian airport and it will be a win-win situation for the airlines, the passengers, and the government. To me, this is the right way to go.

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It’s a dream for pilots and passengers

Geoffrey Thomas enjoys a ride on Air New Zealand’s Dreamliner.

Captain Philip Kirk in the cockpit of an Air New Zealand 787.

By Geoffrey Thomas

After years of all the wrong headlines related to delays and battery problems, the Boeing 787 is impressing passengers and flight crews alike.

Since the first 787 was delivered to Japan’s All Nippon Airways late in 2011, Boeing has delivered 363 Dreamliners and is adding to that at a rate of 10 a month.

The 787 fleet is operating on 350 routes and is performing 600 flights a day, and has carried more than 70 million passengers over 850 million miles.

The reasons for the 787’s popularity are many — lower cabin altitude, higher humidity, turbulence-suppression system and quieter engines.

But it’s the fuel economy that is most impressive. As Air New Zealand’s 787 technical pilot Philip Kirk told Travel, on an Auckland-Shanghai-Auckland return flight the 787 will burn 50,000 litres less fuel than the Boeing 777 it replaces while carrying the same payload.

“We are incredibly pleased at how the introduction has gone and the 787 has outperformed our best expectations,” he said.

The airline has achieved 98.5 per cent dispatch reliability and wants it to be 99.5.

“We are after the best reliability in the world and Boeing is working very hard to help us achieve this. Often it’s just software changes,” Captain Kirk said.

Air NZ and the 787 delivery crew may have been smiling about the 787’s performance but I was not all smiles as, before our take-off, I was “forced” to watch the Rugby World Cup thanks to the efforts of the team at the Boeing delivery centre.

But at least I had a happy Kiwi crew for company on the way home.

For our take-off on October 31 from Paine Field in Everett, just north of Seattle, the weather was bleak .

Our three pilots — captains Kirk, Ian MacDonald and Peter Mouat — quickly had the small group (10) of Air New Zealand and Boeing staff airborne. We turned west moments after lift-off to avoid the worst of the weather, which burst into glorious sunshine within 15 minutes.

After a few right and left turns, the route was virtually a straight line to Auckland.

And this flight was different to most transpacific crossings, as it was a daylight flight. The weather was great, with deep- blue skies, mirror-still seas bathed in golden sunshine and the occasional towering thunderstorm, which we slipped around without noticing.

It was amazing to fly for 13 hours and see nothing but water.

Meal service on this delivery flight was very different. None of the glamorous Air New Zealand in-flight service — the meals themselves were supplied by Boeing catering.

Air New Zealand’s on-board engineering staff had prawns with Alaskan king crab as a starter followed by a nicely done steak. As I was spending time in the cockpit, there was no alcohol.

Away from the technical aspects, Captain Kirk told me passengers were giving the 787 an “overwhelming” thumbs up.

“There is an incredibly positive reaction and passengers are going away very happy. Also there is strong interest in engaging with the crew about the 787,” he noted.

Air New Zealand is using the 787 on routes to Perth, Tokyo, Shanghai, Nadi (Fiji), Sydney, Brisbane and Singapore, and will receive another this year, with the balance of 12 to be delivered in 2017 and 2018.

The additional three will see the last 767 retired, additional frequencies to some routes such as Perth, with Melbourne and Honolulu to be added to the 787 network.

Captain Kirk waxed lyrical about the 787’s performance.

“There is just nothing negative about this plane — it’s really nice to fly,” he said.

“You can tell a lot about an aircraft’s aerodynamic efficiency when it comes time to descend. With engine thrust at or close to idle, one gets a real feel for the airframe during descent operations. This aircraft is one incredible glider, which underscores how good the wing really is.

“And on climb, it really is a Dreamliner.”

Captain Mouat said the pilots loved the fact the plane reached a higher altitude much quicker than other commercial aircraft.

“For instance, out of Narita (Tokyo) in an evening we get right above the muddle, which is at 34,000ft, and we are at 36,000ft,” he said. “ATC gives us priority as we control the game because we are more capable. Life is so much easier.”

Chasing the sun on our delivery flight from Seattle, our sunset seemed to last for hours and provided a kaleidoscope of colours as we discussed the virtues of the new 787.

Our “six hour and eight minute”-old 787 didn’t miss a beat, although our delivery flight added 13 hours 52 minutes to its logbook.

The 787 is giving the airline both dramatic improvements to the bottom line and also a new flexibility to develop fresh routes and expand others.

Boeing has sold well over 1100 787s, with options for about another 500 and production is booked out until 2020.

Qantas will get the first of its eight orders next year.

Perth travellers who want to sample the 787 can choose from Air New Zealand, Thai Airways, Scoot and China Southern.

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Japan Airlines president pilots airline to new heights

Japan Airlines President Yoshiharu Ueki

TOKYO —  In January 2010, when Japan Airlines (JAL) filed for bankruptcy following massive financial losses, the country — and the world — sat and watched as one of Japan’s leading conglomerates turned to ashes, ruining not only its reputation, but possibly its future. “We hit rock bottom,” says JAL president Yoshiharu Ueki in retrospect. “Days went by when we wondered if there would be a tomorrow for all of us.”

Six years later, JAL now appears to stand stronger than ever.

In 2015, the company announced a six-month, record-high net profit of 103.4 billion yen—up nearly 29% year on year — and a profit forecast of 1.35 trillion yen for the fiscal year. At the beginning of this year, the company received more good news: it won the prestigious FlightStats’ “On-time Performance Service Award” for 2015, becoming the world’s top on-time air carrier for the fifth time in its history. JAL further announced plans to provide full-time employment for all of its cabin attendants — a move that surprised many in a field famous for contract-based employment and hourly wages.

The man behind these achievements is Ueki, who is fortunate enough to lead “a brilliant team” (as he says in a Kyoto dialect). Appointed to the post in 2012 by Kazuo Inamori, the entrepreneur behind JAL’s reconstruction, Ueki carries the responsibility of heading a company that “stands strong together.” Dressed in a casual suit and smiling as he slips in a joke or two during his conversation with Japan Today, Ueki appears far distant from a typical Japanese company president. Starting his career as a child actor and piloting JAL planes for 35 years, Ueki is the first Japan Airlines president to climb the leadership ladder from a non-bureaucratic post. It is a role that’s taught him that leading a company should come from the bottom up, not vice versa, as the company did for decades in the past.

Japan Today visited Ueki’s office in Shinagawa to hear more about what has changed at JAL and where the company is heading in the future.

Was 2015 a good year for Japan Airlines?

Yes, I think it was a good year overall. We were able to achieve our highest profit for the first half of the fiscal year to start off with, and we also observed a major increase in inbound travelers. I think the year was good for most Japanese airlines, including JAL.

What led to your decision to provide full-time employment for JAL’s flight attendants?

There are two main reasons: the general change in work standards and the necessity to strengthen female employment. Until now, most of our flight attendants were working on a three-year contract to start. However, we believed that the introduction of full-time employment would motivate our team to perform at their best in all aspects on the job, because it gives them more stability.

What led you to temporarily suspend flights from Narita to Paris following the Paris terror attacks?

We have two daily flights to Paris: one from Narita and another from Haneda. The flight from Haneda, a Boeing 777, can accommodate more passengers, while the one from Narita is a medium-sized aircraft. As the demand for flights drastically declined following the Paris attacks, we decided to temporarily suspend the Narita flight and instead promote the one from Haneda, which could accommodate all passengers for both flights. These are, of course, just temporary measures until demand is restored.

As the first former pilot to become a president of JAL, how does your business style differ from that of former company heads?

At JAL, we have three general divisions: administration, transportation and in-flight service. Up until now, the majority of the former presidents came from the administrative division. In reality, though, this department represents no more than 20% of all JAL Group employees. The vast majority of our employees work at the actual field: pilots, flight attendants, airport staff, mechanics. When I became president, our employees rejoiced, because for the first time in history they saw a president who knows the life outside of the administration.

For many years, JAL had friction among employees from the three departments. Rarely did we all agree and there was never true teamwork at JAL in the past. After the bankruptcy in 2010, we looked into the past and tried to learn from our mistakes. Mr Inamori appointed me president — one supported by the employees, the base of the company. I have many things to polish in my current status, but I also have skills that former presidents didn’t have. One of these skills is decision-making. For my 35 years in the cockpit, I was always exposed to risk –– the lives of 500 people were in my hands on every flight and I was put in the position of making critical decisions at crucial times. I think that’s what makes me different from former presidents. Making wrong decisions could endanger the lives of everyone onboard. The “shacho” (president) and “kicho” (pilot) are very similar: they both should take responsibility and risks while protecting the people onboard.

How does JAL intend to cope with the increasing competition from low-cost carriers (LCCs)?

The airline business has been very slow to evolve. Take restaurants as an example: there are plenty of varieties, from fast food to luxurious restaurants. The introduction of LCCs brought choice and variety to customers and I think this is a great opportunity for the promotion of air tourism. In terms of competition, however, it really depends on what grounds we’re competing with LCCs. It’s never occurred to us to compete with them over cost, for example. We compete with them over hospitality. We want to be a company that offers superior service that can trump prices and we’re happy to see that this appeals to customers. We’re proud to say that our international flights average over 86% seat reservation rate, which are very good numbers in our field.

What separates JAL from other airlines?

We promote both “hard” and “soft” services. Aircraft are ridiculously expensive: prices may go as up as ¥105 billion. But it’s crucial for us to provide modern products that are equipped with the newest and safest technology. We’re ready to replace aged machines—even if it’s costly.

In regards to in-flight comfort, we strengthened our business class by introducing the JAL Sky Suite fully flat seat. But our biggest adventure took place in economy class. We stretched the seat pitch from 31 to 34 inches on our 777 flights, allowing additional legroom of up to 10 cm, and we also decreased the number of seats to eight per row on our 787 flights. While other companies have an average of 300 seats, we have 240. In other words, it meant a potentially major profit loss for us. But we took the risk and decided to go against the trend of shrinking the coach classes in order to provide a more relaxed, spacious flight for customers. What happened to our surprise is that profits soared. We think that it’s this refined human-to-human service that makes us stand out.

That’s a bold move. Did you have second thoughts when deciding on that?

Major ones. We decided to cut the number of seats in the summer of 2010 –– right amid our bankruptcy. At that stage, we didn’t know whether the company would survive another day, yet here we were — acting boldly. There was major criticism about this move. We weren’t confident that it would work, but we trusted our instincts. It turned out well, after all.

In 2015, there were some very major disasters — terrorism, hijackings, disappearances and alleged missile attacks — that affected airlines all over the world. How is JAL tackling these potential threats?

It’s well known that we experienced hijackings in the 1970s. Since that time, we’ve implemented top-level security measures against any potential threats. Terrorism is constantly evolving, so we must also continue to strengthen security. After 9/11, for example, all airlines had to rethink how they deal with terrorism. But while many companies think that all is well as long as mechanics and security officials do their job, at JAL all employees undergo security training — even if it’s not directly related to their field of operation. We should also never forget the Mt Osutaka tragedy [JAL Flight 123 crashed there in 1985, the deadliest aviation accident in Japan that killed 520 people] and learn from it over and over again in order to never repeat it.

On a different note, the GermanWings crash was a horrible tragedy that should never have occurred. It changed the image of pilots in an instant: from heroes to villains. The cause of that tragedy was rooted in the co-pilot’s mental health, which made many wonder if that could happen on any flight. The JAL pilots are required to have mental health checks in addition to regular health checks four times a year. We deal with humans, which means that anything is possible. Thinking of every possible scenario and being ready for it makes us prepared and secured.

Is the anticipated shortage of pilots a threat for JAL?

Frankly speaking, a pilot shortage isn’t a problem for the major airlines such as JAL, ANA and their group companies. That’s mainly because we have an academy for training young pilots. We train them from scratch for approximately three four years until they obtain licenses. The pilot shortage problem is becoming serious primarily for companies that don’t invest in training, but look for professional pilots instead, who are difficult to find — mostly because they’re already employed elsewhere.

This year marks the sixth anniversary of JAL’s bankruptcy in 2010. It seems like the business is flourishing now, but how would you like to see the company evolve in the future?

JAL hit rock bottom in 2010. It was a horrid time and we hurt not only our employees and customers, but Japan as a whole. Since then we have all vowed never to experience that again and to become a strong company with solid management. The bankruptcy made us reconsider everything we had been doing until then. That’s why when we introduced our new corporate values in 2010, we promised to make our employees satisfied. We learned the hard way that nothing positive can happen if our employees are not united. They will not treat customers well if they aren’t being treated well. So, my vision for JAL over the coming years is that we should continue to make our employees happy and satisfied. That’s how we can keep growing and delivering our best.

What is your motto for educating your employees?

To never lose their sense of themselves. Young employees always start working filled with ambitions. As time passes, though, they fall into doing what everyone else does. That’s what many companies lead them into becoming, because it’s convenient for the bosses. I believe that nothing productive can come from that and that’s why I always tell my staff to be who they are. To not be afraid to stand out or speak up. To have one thing they believe in and stick to it. To not be afraid to make mistakes. That is very important for the future of the company.

Did you make any mistakes yourself when you were new to the business?

Many. I’ve been through a lot of difficult moments and I’ve learned from them. Being a pilot puts you in a very responsible position. The moment you put your hands on the control bar, the indicator is on: you can’t hide any mistakes. That’s more pressure than you can imagine! But that helped me mature professionally and personally.

You’re a busy man with a lot on your plate. What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy taking walks with my wife, especially during the cherry blossom season. I also enjoy interacting with all our employees — we sometimes go out for drinks and dinner together.

What was your dream when you were little? Did you always want to be a pilot?

I started being interested in aviation only after high school. Until then, I was trying everything I could: learned abacus, played violin for six years, studied this and that — and I failed at all of those. You should try listening to my violin now. It sounds as if I were playing on a radish. But once I decided on becoming a pilot, I never had any other pursuits.

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