Sunday, January 15, 2017

More public comment allowed on Growler jets at Whidbey

After politicians weigh in, the Navy grants more time for public comment on the draft study of the effects of more Growler jets on Whidbey Island.

The Navy has decided to extend, by 30 days, the public-comment period for a draft environmental study of the effects of adding up to 36 EA-18G Growler aircraft to the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island-based fleet.

The new Feb. 24 deadline results from requests by Gov. Jay Inslee, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen for more time for public review of the draft study.

More than 80 Growler jets are based at Whidbey Island, where the Navy is a mainstay of the economy. The noise they emit during crew training has been a big concern for many residents who live near two landing strips and underneath the flight paths. In the San Juan Islands, a county website has received more than 6,500 noise reports since May 2014.

For those without computer access, the draft study can be viewed at public libraries in Whidbey Island and other surrounding areas.

Comments may be submitted online or in writing, and must be postmarked by Feb. 24. 


Space-Based Flight Tracking Comes Closer With Launch of Satellites: Ten Iridium Communications satellites, set to go into orbit Saturday, are ushering in a new chapter in air-traffic control—which the U.S. aviation industry plans to sit out for now

A JetBlue Airways aircraft in 2016. Aireon, a satellite joint venture, would give controllers full visibility and real-time flight information from planes over both water and land by next year, if all goes according to plan.

The Wall Street Journal
Updated Jan. 15, 2017 2:11 p.m. ET

A cluster of satellites launched over the weekend is intended to begin overhauling the way air-traffic controllers track planes around the world, but the U.S. may not take a lead role in undertaking those changes.

For decades, controllers have used ground-based radar to direct planes over land. More recently, they have been finding aircraft locations via global positioning satellites, or GPS, but they can do so only over land or near the shore. There has been no real-time ability to track planes in flight over oceans, which cover 71% of the planet, or remote polar regions.

A new satellite-based joint-venture called Aireon LLC would give controllers full visibility by next year, if all goes according to plan, providing real-time flight information from planes over both water and land.

The first 10 satellites were blasted into orbit Saturday morning from a central California Air Force base by entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., and were determined to be functioning normally. Eight of them are expected to begin commercial operations in about three months, after various checks are completed. SpaceX, as the company is called, has signed contracts to launch 70 such satellites into orbit.

Until recently, many supporters of the fledgling traffic control system seemed optimistic that U.S. authorities would embrace the changes relatively quickly. But over the weekend, the head of the satellite-services company backing the venture indicated that wasn’t likely.

Skepticism among some U.S airlines and federal budget constraints are contributing to that reluctance, according to industry officials. But along with other countries and foreign air-traffic-control providers, federal experts are slated to start verifying the accuracy of the data transmitted by the system shortly.

Aireon dates back to 2011, when Iridium Communications, Inc., a McLean, Va., telecommunications-satellite operator, formed a consortium with foreign air-navigation agencies to find a way to track global air traffic from space. The idea was to piggyback the air-traffic control technology onto Iridium’s replacement constellation of telecom satellites.

An air traffic controller in the control tower at Los Angeles International Airport in 2016. Using conventional land-based systems, air-traffic controllers must extrapolate the location of airplanes flying over water; with a satellite-based system they would see each airplane’s exact location.

Proponents say Aireon’s technology would give pilots greater flexibility to change routes, avoid turbulence and cut flight times. It would help airlines save fuel and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. And it would allow planes routinely to fly within 15 miles of each other over water, compared with about 80 miles of separation under current rules—leading to more traffic in the air on any given route.

The U.S., with the busiest airspace, hasn’t signed on yet with Aireon as either an investor or customer. Budget constraints and reluctance by some airlines to invest in additional equipment have prompted an advisory committee of the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of an Aireon contract compared with upgrades of existing ground-based services. Preliminary results are expected next month; though a decision isn’t likely until later this year.

The FAA has been focused on rolling out advances of its new land-based satellite surveillance system, which cost $2.7 billion and isn’t expected to be fully operable until at least 2020.

Iridium Chief Executive Matt Desch, after the weekend’s satellite launch, projected that the FAA’s embrace of the technology will be slow and gradual, probably taking at least several years. “It won’t be quite the big bang we expected” initially, he said, adding that even after agency agrees to sign up, it is expected to start using the service only in limited areas. Mr. Desch said Iridium intends “to support the process in the U.S.” but looks forward to “signing up the rest of the world.”

The Aireon technology has gained currency in the almost three years since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. That event helped persuade global authorities to adopt international aircraft-tracking rules and look for better ways to pinpoint the location of downed planes.

Today, U.S. controllers in Oakland, Calif., are responsible for a swath of the Pacific Ocean from the West Coast to the Philippines. Controllers in Canada and Great Britain share responsibility for busy North Atlantic routes with counterparts in New York and on Portugal’s Azores Islands. Without full visibility, these and other “oceanic” controllers have to funnel planes onto designated aerial highways, keeping them well separated.

“I’m very excited about how this is going to change my job,” said Neil Collins, a 17-year Canadian controller in Gander, Newfoundland, who helps direct airplanes over the North Atlantic. “We will know exactly where [the planes] are.”

Currently, if a plane deviates from its flight plan, controllers must extrapolate where it is, he said. Most aircraft emit position reports only every 15 minutes and while moving at about 500 miles an hour.

The technology also could obviate the need for developing countries to build or maintain conventional land-based tracking systems. “This would be very similar to the transformative impact of wireless in developing nations,” said John Crichton, Aireon’s chairman.

A study last summer by the Flight Safety Foundation, an independent, nonprofit, international aviation-safety organization, found such satellite-based navigation “should be an overall substantial improvement to the global aviation safety net.”

The venture’s success depends on a number of factors. The planned total of 66 Iridium satellites—including the 10 launched Saturday plus nine orbiting spares to provide full coverage of the Earth—needs to tested and validated as they orbit 485 miles above the planet.

Airlines must install new equipment on their planes to take advantage of the technology, although new models may already come equipped. National air-traffic control agencies will need to sign up and pay for the service: The price will depend on the volume of air traffic crossing their airspace, whether the planes are over land or water, and whether controllers will use the system as a primary tool or backup. Normally the agencies defray their expenses by charging airlines and other airspace users.

Aireon, made up of Iridium and air-traffic organizations in Canada, Ireland, Denmark and Italy—all equity stakeholders—said it already has contracts with air-navigation providers in the U.K., Singapore, South Africa and Iceland, among others. Agencies in Australia, New Zealand, Russia and Germany are assessing the potential for their skies.

Original article, photos and comments:

Job cuts, fewer flights? Hong Kong airline Cathay set for overhaul

SYDNEY/SHANGHAI, Jan 16 Cathay Pacific Airways is expected to announce job cuts, cost reductions and to shift flights to its short-haul arm when it unveils the results of a key review this week, as it grapples with growing competition from Chinese carriers.

The 71-year-old Hong Kong airline is under pressure to combat aggressive state-supported mainland carriers, and to position itself against an "open skies" deal signed last month between China and Australia.

Cathay scrapped its second-half profit forecast in October and announced a review of its business. The December edition of Cathay's staff magazine, seen by Reuters, reported Chief Executive Ivan Chu would unveil the results on Jan. 18.

Cathay declined to comment on the details of its review.

"The new management direction has to look past market share gains," said Will Horton, a Hong Kong-based analyst for aviation consultancy CAPA. "That hasn't been profitable and will become more competitive. It is well past time to get serious on costs."

Cathay's share price has tumbled to its lowest level since the depths of the global financial crisis in 2009, and none of the 18 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters have a "buy" recommendation on the stock.

Some analysts say the carrier will for 2017 report its first full-year loss since 2010.

The rapid growth of Chinese rivals such as China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines has put pressure on ticket prices at a time when Cathay's costs have risen because of the strength of the Hong Kong dollar against the Chinese yuan.

Lower cost hometown rival Hong Kong Airlines is also expanding rapidly to destinations served by Cathay.


James Pearson, who heads Basair Aviation College in Brisbane, said Cathay may need to slash its 33,700 workforce, reduce frequencies on underperforming routes and cut costs at short-haul arm Cathay Dragon, where it could shift more flights.

"[It could also] focus more greatly on ancillary products to drive incremental revenue, a focus on the back-end of the plane which hasn't traditionally been Cathay's forte," Pearson said.

Cathay does not have a low-cost arm, and costs at its short-haul carrier Cathay Dragon are nearly as high as those at the parent, said one source with knowledge of the situation who was not authorised to speak publicly about the matter.

Cathay is also caught on the wrong side of China's "one country, two systems" arrangement towards Hong Kong, as the regional hub is excluded from the air transport deals China is cutting.

The latest was an open skies agreement signed in October between China and Australia, a key market for Cathay for both direct flights and connections throughout Asia and to Europe.

Flights to the South West Pacific and South Africa - the bulk of them to Australia - represented 13.6 percent of Cathay's capacity in the first half of 2016.

The open skies deal allows mainland carriers unlimited capacity on routes to Australia, at a time when Cathay is not allowed to add any more flights to Australia's biggest airports and can only increase capacity by using larger aircraft.

Capacity between Australia and mainland China grew by 61.6 percent in the five years ended 2016, according to data from Flightglobal. Over the same period, capacity between Australia and Hong Kong grew by just 2.6 percent.

In an emailed statement to Reuters, the Hong Kong government said it had not held major talks with Australia about expanding air access since 2015, when no deal was reached.

Chinese hubs such as Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing have seized market share as a result.

"Almost three years ago, the three Chinese hubs shared less than a third of Hong Kong's connections. Now it's catching up," said Singapore-based UOB Kay Hian analyst K. Ajith, who has a "sell" rating on Cathay.

"One must rise while the other one must fall."


What chemicals are being sprayed by jets in the skies over Dothan, Alabama? How long will this continue?

A: The white trails, or contrails, that jets leave in their wake are caused by water vapor in the jet exhaust.

According to Art Morris, airport director at Dothan Regional Airport, any aircraft that is powered by hydrocarbon gasses (aviation gasoline or jet fuel) contains water vapor in the exhaust. Automobiles have water vapor in their exhaust.

“The temperature at high altitudes is quite low which causes the water vapor in the exhaust to freeze and form ice crystals which leave a ‘trail’ behind the aircraft,” Morris wrote in an email. “These are called contrails. They are usually more visible in the winter than in summer but they can occur at any time.”

Morris said Dothan is located underneath several airway corridors.

“These corridors are analogous to highways in the sky,” Morris wrote. “They are the designated travel lanes for commercial and military aircraft to fly in as part of the air traffic control system in the United States.”

Morris said the aircraft that overfly Dothan on any given day come from all segments of the aviation community.

The aircraft seen by the reader who asked the questions could be military aircraft from any branch, commercial airliners or privately owned business aircraft.

3,391 firearms discovered in carry-on bags in 2016, Transportation Security Administration says

NEW YORK -- A record number of firearms was discovered in carry-on bags in the U.S. in 2016, the Transportation Security Administration says.

In total, 3,391 firearms were found in carry-on bags at TSA checkpoints across the country -- averaging more than nine per day and amounting to a 28 increase in firearm discoveries from 2015, when 2,653 were discovered, the TSA said in a blog post on Thursday. 

Eight-three percent of firearms found at TSA checkpoints last year -- or 2,815 -- were loaded. 

“The number one excuse that we hear is that they forgot that they had it with them,” TSA official Lisa Farbstein said, CBS Baltimore reported. “The second most common excuse we hear is that their wife or husband packed their bag. And I tell you what, neither of those excuses fly.”  

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson international airport was no. 1 on the list of top airports for firearms discoveries, with 198 guns being found by TSA agents. 

Firearms were intercepted at a total of 238 airports, with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Denver International Airport rounding out the top five airports for firearms discoveries. Orlando International Airport, Nashville International Airport, Tampa International Airport, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport completed the top ten list.

Data from the TSA shows that the number of firearms found nationwide has increased almost every year since 2005, when 660 were discovered. The only drop was from 2006 to 2007 -- from 821 discoveries to 803.

The issue of firearms at airports caught lawmakers’ attention after a fatal shooting earlier this month at Fort Lauderdale’s airport. Lawmakers are taking a new look at rules about guns on planes following the rampage, which unfolded in baggage claim.

The TSA allows guns in checked baggage, CBS News correspondent Tony Dokoupil reported. They have to be unloaded and locked in a hard-sided container, and owners have to declare them at the ticket counter.  

“We’re going to have to take a hard look once and for all at the unsecured areas of our airports,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said. 

Wasserman Schultz said she plans to review security procedures with TSA leaders.  

Some travelers last year also attempted to bring gun powder on planes, and officers uncovered inert grenades in carry-on and checked luggage, the TSA said. Inert items can lead to closed terminals and checkpoints, and the problem with the items is that the TSA doesn’t know if they’re real, replicas or toys until explosives experts are called upon, the TSA said.

That wasn’t all that officers found in 2016.

“There were many instances last year when travelers attempted to hide items, or the items they packed were disguised to look like other items,” the TSA said. “TSA officers regularly find sword canes, credit card knives, belt buckle knives, comb/brush knives, knives hidden in shoes, knives hidden in thermoses and knives hidden under the bag lining near the handle mechanism.”

TSA officers screened 466 million checked bags, 24.2 million airport employees and 738,318,264 passengers in 2016, which is more than 43,255,172 more passengers than for the same time frame in 2015, the TSA said.

County claims no liability for Sumner County Regional Airport (M33); votes to fund $108,000

Just minutes after telling audience members the county was not legally responsible for the Sumner County Airport, members of the county Budget Committee voted unanimously Monday, Jan. 9 for an emergency spending measure of $108,000 to assist the Airport Authority in an ongoing lawsuit at the facility.

The lawsuit stems from a 2009 imminent domain case where the Airport Authority took land abutting the airport from then -property owner J.H. Whitaker in order to extend the runway.

At the time, the property was assessed at $192,000 - the amount still in escrow, but the original appraiser has since died. Whitaker had his own reappraisal of the property done, claiming its actual worth was $495,000.

Don Drayton, chairman of the Airport Authority, said since the original appraiser has passed and cannot be called as a witness, the airport was court-ordered to have a second appraisal done at a cost of nearly $6,000. That appraisal came in at $300,000.

"Our experts say it is (valued at) $300,000," Drayton said. "Their experts say $485,000. They are not going to go lower than $300,000. It cost us $5,500 to find out it's not $192,000.

Drayton said the court date for the lawsuit has been set for November 16, and at the advice of the board's attorney, he asked the Budget Committee for the $108,000 difference between the $192,000 originally paid and the new $300,000 appraisal the authority had done.

"What we are asking for is consideration of $108,000 for this escrow account," he said.

Drayton has previously presented the matter before the county General Operations Committee earlier that evening and when it came up during the budget meeting, resident Kevin Baigert asked if the county was responsible for the airport financially.

"The airport is its own standalone entity," Budget Committee chairman Kevin Pomeroy said. "The airport is not a county liability."

But the motion for the funding was put on the floor and voted in with little discussion. The money is being earmarked through an $11,000 rainy day fund, referred to by the county as the hospital fund.

Drayton said the lawsuit was one of more than 10 problems he and the new board had inherited from the previous board; most of which have been resolved, he said. Drayton also added the airport is no longer in the red and has a positive cash flow.

Until the lawsuit is heard in November, it is not known whether the additional $108,000 will be accepted or whether the ruling for the entire $485,000 will be granted. If that were to happen, the county could be asked to contribute an additional $185,000.


Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport (KMFR) seeding to cut through fog on Sunday

Medford, Oregon  — The Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport is seeding on Sunday, to help improve visibility. 

With freezing fog conditions, airport officials made the call to begin seeding operations.

Authorities say the airport sends up a helium-filled balloon  with a spreader that disperses crushed dry ice. The device helps to clear fog for planes to land safely.

Seeding operations will take place on Saturday between 6:00 AM and 9:00 PM when Medford Tower is in operation.


Officials: Intoxicated man drives through fence at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (KDTW)

ROMULUS, Mich. (WJBK) - A drunk driver crashed through a security fence at Detroit Metro Airport early Sunday morning.

Sources tell FOX 2 that the vehicle had left a nearby bar with a car full of people, shortly before the incident.
According to airport media relations, the driver of the car ran off the road and went through a security fence at the airport, but did not access a runway, as sources had previously told FOX 2.

Eventually, the car exited the same location of the fence through which it had crashed. There was no chase according to airport media relations.

A short time later, a vehicle was stopped by Airport Authority Police near Middlebelt and I-94, matching the description of the vehicle involved in the incident.

According to airport media relations, the driver and one passenger were in the vehicle when it was stopped. Both occupants were removed without incident.

The driver was arrested for drunk driving, with a BAC high enough to be considered Super Drunk under the Michigan drunken driving laws.

The driver will also face charges of leaving the scene of an accident and breach of security, which is a violation of an airport ordinance.

The passenger was cited for breach of security and released.

Crews are on the scene at DTW, where repairs are being made to the fence.

The safety and security of the airport, passengers, and employees were never at risk, according to airport media relations.


Qatar Airways to launch Las Vegas flights

Qatar Airways has unveiled plans to launch a four times weekly, non-stop service to Las Vegas, Nevada, starting January 8, 2018.

The new route will be the airline’s 11th to the US, connecting McCarran International Airport to Hamad International Airport in Doha, making Qatar Airways the first Gulf carrier to provide regular scheduled service to Las Vegas.

“Las Vegas is a thriving leisure destination and adding the city to our route map has been long overdue. Growing our western US network is important to the airline as we are seeing exponential growth in passenger demand from the East via our state of the art hub in Doha,” said Qatar Airways Group chief executive, Akbar Al Baker.

“Our passengers appreciate the glamour, style and allure of Las Vegas and beginning in 2018, we are going to give our passengers from around the world direct and convenient access to this unique capital of entertainment.”

The new route also provides US-based flyers with an additional point of departure, when travelling abroad to Qatar Airways’ global network of over 150 destinations. It will be Qatar Airways’ second route from the American west, after the airline launched their popular Los Angeles to Doha route, in January 2016.

“International travel has been on an exponential rise and Qatar Airways serves more than 150 destinations, providing US passengers with shorter travel times to popular destinations in Thailand, Africa, the Middle East and India,” continued Al Baker. “With each new US destination, we are bringing our signature Qatar Airways hospitality to more Americans and raising their expectations for the services and sophistication a global airline can offer.”

This year, Qatar Airways is celebrating its 10th anniversary of serving the US, having started serving New York/Newark in 2007. Qatar Airways currently serves 10 American cities. Las Vegas will join Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City/JFK International Airport, Philadelphia and Washington DC. The new route will operate with a Boeing 777-200LR. 


Crashes 'part of the job' says former crop dusting pilot pilot Bruce Aitken

Bruce Aitken, survived eight plane crashes and started a top-dressing business in Hawera.

Bruce Aitken has survived eight near-fatal plane crashes and not once was he put out of the top-dressing industry. 

Flying is in his blood, he says. 

"Four of my crashes were just part of the job.They were bound to happen because at the time it was an industry in its infancy stages.

Former pilot Bruce Aitken (90) has published a book about growing his top-dressing business in the 1950s, 60s and 70s and making one hundred flights a day to fight for his business in the competitive aerial fertilizer dropping business.

"It's hardly surprising when you're flying six-feet above the ground carrying a full load of fertilizer."

Aitken, who went on to start his own top-dressing business in Hawera in 1954 has just completed a self-titled memoir about his time in the then-dangerous line of work.

"In its first 16 years of existence 51 pilots were killed, seven in one year," he says. "It was just part of the job."

Though the industry has improved drastically since Aitken was in the air - where roughly two percent of the workforce was dying - there has still been 61 accidents and six fatalities between 2006 and 2016 in New Zealand. 

Aitken says his most notable crash made headlines at the time for his "miraculous survival" after hitting powerlines in Waitara, North Taranaki.

"I remember asking the farmer if there were any power lines in the gully to the left of the airstrip, to which he assured me there weren't. 

"Turns out that there was and I struck them, which somersaulted the plane and sent me crashing through trees.

"I felt petrol dripping down my back and saw a man running over to me and drag me out of the wreck. Then I heard it catch fire behind me.

"Miraculously I wasn't hurt at all, not even knocked unconscious."

However, he didn't just stumble into the business - as he's stumbled into a few powerlines and trees - Aitken says he grew up with his head in the clouds.

"I grew up in Rongotai [Wellington], where you could literally throw stones onto the airport boundary," he says. 

"I used to climb up on the roof with a telescope and watch the planes come in."

Before he gained his pilot's licence he was sent to Japan with the New Zealand army's occupation forces where he stayed for two years, which piqued his childhood interest in the aviation industry. 

On his return to New Zealand he was determined to get his pilot's licence. He trained in Palmerston North, then went on to his first top-dressing job in Gisborne, before spending a year in Whanganui earning his stripes.

After making a few contacts among farmers in South Taranaki a friend of his started his own business and hired a few pilots. 

"But I saw one of the pilots crash 60 yards from out on a job, he wasn't killed but he was fired, and then I crashed myself quite badly in Matau not long after," he said. 

"After that I thought there's no way I'm flying for anyone else so I started my own business."

With the help of four farmers in Hawera that's exactly what he did, forming Farmers Aviation Ltd and going on to hire nine pilots and a fleet of top-dressing aeroplanes. 

During his ownership of the business Aitken never lost a pilot, although one had a major crash, something he puts down to tough training.

"I was pretty tough on them.

"I felt I had a job to train them properly and to look after them."

However, in the early 1980's a hangar of his in Hawera caught fire, destroying five of his aircraft and effectively signalling the end to more than 30 years in business. 

Insurance money from the fire allowed Aitken to purchase one new plane which he operated for two years before deciding it was time to end the business. 

But it wasn't the end of his flying career as he broke into the stunt flying game in New Zealand soon after.

Aitken, now 90, lives in Taupo and and his self-published memoir can be purchased by emailing him at 

Story and photos:

U-2 pilot Charles Stratton used up ‘all of his nine lives’ in high-altitude exit

Charles B. Stratton is seen in this early 1950s photo, before he became a U-2 spy plane pilot in the U.S. Air Force. 

By Doug Clark, columnist

Nightmare at 73,000 feet.

Jan. 2, 1962. The autopilot guiding one of the country’s secret U-2 spy planes fails, sending the aircraft into a violent spin that is literally ripping it apart.

Charles Stratton, an experienced U-2 pilot, calculates the odds in an instant. His only shot at survival is to engage the seat ejector and blast out of this doomed machine.

The Air Force captain also knows that there is an unfortunate wrinkle with this plan: No pilot has ever been so crazy or desperate enough to attempt such an exit at such a high altitude.

North Spokane resident Charles B. Stratton died Tuesday from complications of prostate cancer.

The retired Air Force colonel and former U-2 spy plane pilot was 87 years old.

He was a decent, loving man who put his family above even his passion for hunting and fishing, which is saying a lot, according to his two sons, Chuck and Bob.

True to the fighter-pilot stereotype, Stratton possessed plenty of swagger. “He was a type-A leader and take charge kind of guy,” agreed Bob, 60. “But he also had a big heart and everybody loved him.”

When I heard about this man’s passing I couldn’t wait to drive to the Stratton homestead and meet the guys who believe their dad deserves to be remembered as an American hero.

This family photo shows pilots Charles B. Stratton, second from left, with Francis Gary Powers, left, and other unidentified pilots during their training in early jets in the 1950s. Both Powers and Stratton became U-2 spy plane pilots.

They’re absolutely right. Stratton was one of a small, elite group of aviators who flew dangerous, high-altitude surveillance missions during those incredibly tense Cold War years, when the United States and Soviet Union were on the brink of turning each other into radioactive dust.

Known as a “fragile, and hard-to-maneuver beast,” Lockheed U-2 airplanes packed sensors and high-grade cameras that were designed to gather data and photograph the terrain below.

They still do. Mention the plane today and most people will probably think you’re referring to YouTube or the Irish band.

It surprised me to learn that U-2 airplanes – though upgraded and computerized – are still flying today.

Originally built for the CIA in the mid-1950s, no civilians knew America had such spycraft until May 1, 1960.

That’s the day Soviets shot down a U-2 flying over their airspace. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured and held until his release in a 1962 prisoner swap.

Stratton and Powers were more than poker buddies, said Chuck, 61, adding that his father even served as best man in the luckless pilot’s first wedding.

Stratton had a stellar career. He flew U-2 missions over Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He logged 165 combat hours over Southeast Asia in 1964 and 1965, and retired from Fairchild Air Force Base.

The man’s official list of commendations includes “the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Air Medal with eleven Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal.”

But none of the exploits during Stratton’s 35-year military career quite compare with when that autopilot crapped out during a nighttime training mission over Mississippi.

“He used up all nine of his lives on that one bailout,” laughed Chuck.

Out of the airplane just before it exploded, Stratton found himself spinning with so much force that he feared he would throw up in his helmet and suffocate.

No one at Lockheed planned for such a high ejection. Because of that, the oxygen tank keeping Stratton alive was too small to last very long.

But what else could he do?

Enduring all the carnival gyrations he could, the captain opened his parachute and prayed he had enough O2 to get him below 20,000 feet where he could breathe naturally.

The oxygen ran dry. Stratton popped his helmet and hoped for the best.

Sure enough, he could breathe as he floated to earth and straight into the branches of a 125-foot Cypress tree.

It was 9:30 p.m. From the starlight Stratton knew he was over water. But it wasn’t enough information to let him know if he should climb down or stay put.

Stratton dropped his helmet – and listened. The resulting splash, he would later say, “sounded like a bucket going down into an empty well.”

He wisely decided to stay put. Using his emergency radio, Stratton called for help and began a wait that lasted overnight.

The front-page story that appeared in the Bryan Daily Eagle put it this way: “An Air Force rescue team plucked U-2 pilot Charles Stratton from a Cypress tree in snake-infested swamplands near Picayune (Miss.) today.”

Bob and Chuck never tire of telling the tale. Because of Stratton’s influence, the “boys” went on to their own military careers.

Chuck became a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Bob graduated from West Point and later resigned his commission from the Army as a captain.

They both agree that of all the things their father accomplished, he had only one true love: Ann, his wife of 65 years, who still lives at their Spokane home.

She was “the center of his universe,” said Bob, in a choked voice. “Everything he did was to make her life better.”

Story and photo gallery:

Businesses consider selling private jets due to lack of landing slots at Hong Kong International Airport: Companies still frustrated at being unable to use jets, despite government measures introduced last summer

A lack of landing slots for private jets at Hong Kong International Airport is harming business and has prompted at least two local companies to sell their aircraft, according to an industry veteran.

Despite government measures, introduced last summer, aimed at bolstering the business jet market by providing more take-off and landing slots, companies are still “frustrated” with being unable to use their jets when needed.

Industry veteran Jeffrey Lowe, formerly with aircraft makers Gulfstream and Bombardier, told the Post that two major global firms based out of Hong Kong have approached his company to assist in the sale of their private jets.

Lowe, the managing director of Hong Kong business jet consultancy Asian Sky Group, said problems stemmed from business jets being unable to secure parking rights, take-off or landing slots at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA). With limited slots available, he said, demand exceeds supply, and priority is given to commercial passenger and cargo flights.

“The frustration level has gotten to the point where businesses feel they can’t make use of the jets anymore, not effectively,” Lowe said.

“When they can’t get slots, can’t get parking, they sell their aircraft,I don’t think it is too much of a stretch – this chairman with this business tool that he uses to grow his business and be competitive, is essentially leaving Hong Kong,” he said, speaking on behalf of his unnamed clients.

Last summer the government introduced measures to prop up the sector including giving more take-off and landing rights to business jets. The creation of a “one-stop shop” was introduced, making it easier and more attractive for operators to fly, land and park in Hong Kong – making aircraft book a runway slot in combination with a parking space and airport ground handling. If either one is not confirmed, a flight booking will be rejected, potentially wasting an unused slot.

The measures are said to have had little effect as the airport’s two runways reached their daily limit of the number of planes it can handle.

Hong Kong billionaire Michael Kadoorie, chairman of operator Metrojet, speaking to the Post last month at an industry gala, said the sector was “in a no man’s land” with slots at HKIA difficult to obtain and the mainland’s business jet sector “not at its best”.

“There are many challenges but if you’re telling me the people of Hong Kong haven’t met those challenges in every field, not just aviation, I would say you were wrong. They have met every challenge. It’s only a matter of time,” he said, predicting the industry’s fortunes would rebound.

The number of business jet flights slumped to 8,845 flights, down 14.7 per cent in the 12 months to November 2016, according to the Airport Authority, which runs HKIA.

The introduction of a new air traffic control system in Hong Kong, which led to a 7 per cent reduction in flights across commercial and business jets in November, added to the woes for the sector as the limited number of flight rights was squeezed further.

Simon Li Tin-chui, the head of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) and a guest of honour at the gala, called for patience for the government-led measures to bear fruit.

In comments to the Post, he warned: “In a congested airport, this kind of challenge won’t go away.”

He also used the same phrase said by Kadoorie, a “matter of time”, expressing confidence the challenges faced by the business aviation community could be overcome.

“[Users] have to get used to working with the new system. I don’t hear any negative comments from them,” Li said, adding that the third runway – to be built by 2023 – would provide the necessary capacity for business jet users.

The CAD will meet with the business aviation industry in January to make further changes to boost the sector.

A spokeswoman from the CAD said feedback from the business aviation industry had been “generally positive.”


Pilots were high, says narcotics boss

Bali crash pilot hallucinated, says Indonesia anti-narcotics boss

None of the 108 on board a Boeing 737-800 were injured when it crashed into the sea off Bali in 2013.

Most of Indonesia's airline accidents have involved pilots who tested positive for drugs, including a Lion Air jet that slammed into the sea four years ago while trying to land on the tourist island of Bali, the chief of the national narcotics agency said.

Budi Waseso made the comments at a ceremony on Bali to inaugurate traditional village security guards as anti-drug volunteers on Thursday.

The comments are another blow to the image of the country's airline industry after a video circulated online in December showing the apparently intoxicated pilot of a Citilink passenger plane.

News reports this week said two pilots of another airline, Susi Air, owned by the country's fisheries minister had recently tested positive for drugs.

"Almost all air accidents in Indonesia, whether it was just a skid or whatever, the pilots are indicated to be positive for drugs," Waseso told reporters.

Earlier in the day he told the event attended by Bali's governor that a Lion Air pilot in the spectacular 2013 crash had "hallucinated" that the sea was part of the runway.

His comments are at odds with other official accounts.

After the crash, which miraculously caused no fatalities among the 108 people on board, the transport ministry said the pilots had not tested positive for drugs.

The final report blamed the accident, which occurred in rain, on poor communication between the pilots and inadequate training.

Lion Air, the National Transport Safety Committee and the Ministry of Transport declined to comment.

Indonesian airlines were previously barred from flying to Europe and the United States but foreign air safety regulators have upgraded the country, allowing some airlines to resume flights.

The US aviation regulator upgraded Indonesia's safety rating in August.

However, the International Air Transport Association's former chief executive, Tony Tyler, who stepped down in June, said in 2015 he was very concerned about airline safety in Indonesia.


Vermont Fish and Wildlife using helicopters to study moose

ST JOHNSBURY, Vt. — Vermont residents may soon see a helicopter flying low overhead as the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department begins collaring up to 60 moose for a three-year study. 

Wildlife experts with professional contractor Native Range will be using nets to capture moose from the helicopter without the use of tranquilizers, according to a press release. 

Capture was expected to begin as early as Jan. 11, depending on weather conditions. Capture efforts require flying just above tree height, and are expected to take one to two weeks.

The processing of a captured moose is completed in minutes and is done using wildlife handling techniques that minimize stress and harm to the animal.

Department staff will track collared moose for several years using the GPS points gathered by the collars, and by visiting moose directly in the field to record observations. 

Vermont is the fourth northeastern state to partake in such a study – state fish and wildlife agencies in New York, New Hampshire and Maine are currently using the same methods to examine their moose herds. 

The study will run through 2019.

“Moose are facing a variety of threats ranging from a warming climate to increasing winter tick loads, and we appreciate the public’s support as we study how these factors are impacting Vermont’s moose population,” said Cedric Alexander, Vermont Fish and Wildlife’s lead moose biologist. 

Members of the public or landowners who have questions or concerns about the helicopter activities can call the St. Johnsbury district office at 802-751-0100. 

For more information, go to


Joseph Diblin: Airlines are still the safest type of transportation

• Joseph A. Diblin, of Northumberland, Pennsylvania,  was a four-engine pilot during World War II and has worked as a test pilot and civilian flight instructor. He is also seaplane rated. If you are a veteran — Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, World War, etc. — and would like to share your story, please contact him at 570-473-2594. 

Readers tell me they like to see articles about aviation as a change from the present day world turmoil. The aircraft crashes into our buildings by terrorists brought back memories of crashes observed by this correspondent during 40 years of flying. Readers shouldn’t get a slanted picture from such an article that flying is unsafe. Flight on the airlines has proven to be far safer than in your car on the highway. Terrorists can strike at any phase of transportation, not just the airlines.

Let’s look back over my 40 years of flight as we remember the excitement of some aircraft crashes during those years. Most crashes occur during training, and that was the case during World War II. There was a great deal of flying by student pilots with limited abilities, which added up to many accidents. There have been crackups where no one was hurt and the whole picture seemed like a humorous movie. During WWII, at a twin-engine Army Air Corps Base, an aviation cadet was thundering down the runway on a takeoff attempt and blew a tire. The aircraft veered off the runway and incredibly went between the standby required fire truck and ambulance. There was just enough room between the two vehicles for the plane’s fuselage, such that the wings on each side were sheared off, while the remainder of the aircraft rolled to a stop just beyond, with no injuries to the pilots.

The opposite type accident happened with this former aviation cadet on board. A fellow classmate was making a takeoff with me in the right seat. The tire blew on the same model twin-engine trainer, but with dire results. The scene was on an auxiliary field with no other planes there. When the tire blew, it flew off, causing the wheel to dig into the sod. The aircraft had enough speed that it flipped over on its back, and in the process ruptured the fuel tanks. Gasoline drenched us, but by some miracle, there was no fire, probably due to the sod runway. My classmate had a gash in his head, but I wasn’t seriously injured. Another aspect of the crash was that we were not found for hours. An instructor and student had been flying off the same field, but had departed. Nobody saw the crash, so we had to untangle ourselves and get out of the crackup however we could. My classmate was almost washed out of pilot training, but the war had just begun and bodies were needed, so he went on and received his wings.

While flight instructing in Twin-Engine Advanced, we were awaiting takeoff at the base and watched another approaching twin-engine aircraft. At the border of the field, the plane’s nose rose and suddenly stalled about 100 feet high, and crashed right in front of us. Both engines broke off and a small fire began. We ran to the crash and pulled the student and flight instructor from the mess. The student had superficial injuries, but the instructor was unconscious and bleeding. Later, we asked the student what caused the crash. He answered sarcastically that the instructor was demonstrating a short-field landing.

At our B-24 bomber base, awaiting our turn to take off, the Liberator ahead of us and the student officer pilot under the hood, was making a practice instrument takeoff. Thinking he was airborne, he hit the brakes to stop the wheels from vibrating at retraction. Because he was not yet airborne, the runway tore off the tires, followed by the landing gear. As the four-engine bomber skidded fast off the end of the runway, the right wing sliced through a nearby wooden house like a knife through bread. Unfortunately, the plane burst into flames and we lost all the crew.

The late Dr. Arbogast Sr. and this correspondent were watching the flying at the Milton Airport some years ago as a small Aerocoup approached to land. He undershot, hit trees on the border of the field, flipped and landed upside down. The doctor joined me in my car and we raced to the crash. We had to dig the pilots out of the soil from their inverted position. Outside of a couple broken noses the two occupants weren’t badly hurt.

During all my years at the Williamsport Airport, I observed some bad crashes. The worst had to be the day the former Allegheny Airlines twin-engine hit the south mountain, killing everyone on board. They passed overhead in a heavy snow storm and we could barely see the plane as it turned after missing the airport. Soon thereafter a loud boom was heard. The plane had struck the mountain.

The Lycoming Aircraft Engine Manufacturing Corporation experienced its only fatality during my years with them. One of our test pilots had a heart attack on takeoff in the fast Piper 400 H.P. single Comanche. We watched in disbelief as the aircraft suddenly pulled up abruptly, stalled and hit the ground. It killed the pilot and an engineer.

However, the traveling public shouldn’t lose confidence in flying. The airlines are still the safest type of transportation.

Original article can be found here:

Whistleblowers’ 2013 suit ground Grand Junction Regional Airport to halt: Original complaint alleging fraud appears headed for settlement, with a whimper

The central claim of a lawsuit brought by two whistleblowers against Grand Junction Regional Airport focused on its perimeter-security fence, which Dave Shepard and Bill Marvel said was fraudulently funded because it was originally described as being needed to keep out wildlife. A settlement of the suit could happen at a Feb. 2 hearing. 

Sordid airport story ends with a whimper

We now have a missing piece of the puzzle of alleged — never substantiated — malfeasance at the Grand Junction Regional Airport.

It was a secret lawsuit filed by two vociferous critics of the airport board and the airport’s former general manager that upended what had been a staid organization.

As The Sentinel’s Gary Harmon reported on today’s front page, the suit, filed under seal March 20, 2013, by David Shepard and Bill Marvel, triggered an FBI raid at the airport that put the operation into a tailspin. The FBI wrapped up its criminal investigation having found no wrongdoing, but by then, the damage was done.

Reputations were sullied, airport employees were fired and projects critical to the long-term success of the airport were derailed. The investigation gave the airport a black eye, complicating the board’s search for a new airport manager qualified to turn things around.

All of this damage inflicted for what? Shepard and Marvel filed a “qui tam” lawsuit, a type of civil suit whistleblowers bring under the False Claims Act — a federal law that rewards whistleblowers if their allegations recover funds for the government.

The law also provides job protection to whistleblowers. Marvel and Shepard weren’t airport employees. They weren’t privy to “insider” information. They merely ascribed bad intentions to actions the airport board had made openly and publicly.

In other words, Shepard and Marvel hardly fit the textbook definition of whistleblowers. Yet, they chose a legal tool that would reward them financially for exposing fraud in connection with an airport perimeter fence project they opposed. They could just have easily shared their concerns with federal authorities without seeking a stake in the alleged ill-gotten gains, which, if proven, would have been borne by taxpayers.

Two birds, one stone. The lawsuit threw the airport into a state of chaos — retribution for a fence the general aviation community despised? — with the added bonus of a handsome potential payday.

Under the False Claims Act, private citizens may sue an entity that is defrauding the government and recover funds on the government’s behalf. The qui tam lawsuit is filed “under seal,” meaning that it is kept secret from everyone but the government to give the Justice Department time to investigate the allegations.

The government investigates and decides whether it will join, or “intervene,” in the case. That’s what happened here. The Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation spent two years looking at claims of deceptive conduct and did, in fact, determine that certain representations in Categorical Exclusion Forms submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration were “actionable” under the FCA.

As Harmon explained in his story, the government dinged airport officials for certifying that the airport perimeter fence would have no siginficant effect on the general aviation business at the airport.

But the government said it would have a hard time proving any damages from the mispresentations. “In particular, the United States found no evidence that more timely disclosures of the fulsom (Categorical Exclusion) Forms would have stopped the fence project, nor led to its significant modification,” lawyers for the U.S. Attorney’s office wrote in a motion to settle all claims with the Airport Authority. “The United States also concluded that there is insufficient evidence to support the balance of (Shepard’s and Marvel’s) claims against the Airport Authority.”

What the government found was that some irregularities regarding paperwork ocurred, warranting a $16,500 penalty. But even if these problems had been uncovered earlier, they wouldn’t have had a significant bearing on completion of the project. That’s a far cry from the picture of institutional fraud and corruption painted by Shepard and Marvel.

Next month, a federal judge will decide whether to accept the government’s settlement proposal. Shepard and Marvel are objecting to the proposed settlement. They contend in recently unsealed court papers that the government’s determination of no provable fraud is incorrect. They want the court to find the airport and a contractor liable for a $5 million fraud in the construction of the airport perimeter fence.

Defendants found liable under the False Claims Act may have to pay as much as three times the government’s losses plus penalties for each false claim. As “relators” in the case, Shepard and Marvel stand to receive 15 to 25 percent of any amount awarded to the government. Since the government is only seeking a $16,500 penalty, Shepard and Marvel only stand to receive a few thousand dollars. But they say they are due $2.45 million to $5 million under the treble damages award on the full cost of the project, which they maintain went forward fraudulently.

Obviously, there is a financial motive for the relators to object to the government’s findings. But imagine if the court agreed with the objections. That could be as much as $16.5 million to be paid from one government entity to another in spite of a government investigation — at yet another cost to taxpayers — that found no fraud resulting in damages to the federal government.

Shepard and Marvel contend the findings are a miscarriage of justice. One could easily argue that the miscarriage has already occurred. The airport has weathered a massive disruption at considerable expense based on their allegations — the merits of which federal investigators largely dismissed.

We agree with one issue raised by Shepard and Marvel. The small penalty contemplated in the settlement would do “further damage” to their reputations, they said. “Extensive publicity has been given to (Shepard and Marvel) as troublemakers and provocateurs. Resolution with a mere slap on the hand (for the Airport Authority) will confirm and rebroadcast that publicity.”

The court will determine if this shoe fits. 


The administration of Grand Junction Regional Airport is just now beginning to recover from years of uncertainty and legal limbo, caused by sweeping federal investigations that were prompted by a complaint from airport tenants Dave Shepard and Bill Marvel. Fallout included the halting of construction on a $6.2 million building, derailment of a new terminal project, and a sullying of the airport’s reputation nationally. The FBI concluded its investigation having found no wrongdoing at the airport. 

The ill-fated federal investigation that sent Grand Junction Regional Airport into a two-year tailspin was launched by a secret lawsuit that two airport critics say should result in payments of as much as $5 million to them as whistleblowers.

The lawsuit — filed under seal March 20, 2013, by David Shepard and Bill Marvel, who claim whistleblower status despite having never worked inside the airport — shines new light on the beginning of a series of events that became public with an FBI raid. Fallout from the raid included halted construction midway on a $6.2 million building, cost the airport chief his job, derailed a new terminal project, roiled the airport’s relationship with the building contractor, and fouled the airport’s reputation nationally. The FBI concluded its investigation having found no wrongdoing at the airport.

A federal judge has set a Feb. 2 hearing in Denver on the fairness of a settlement of the suit backed by the airport and U.S. government. The government, which stepped into the shoes of Shepard and Marvel to prosecute the case, determined that there was no fraud as alleged by Shepard and Marvel and that the airport should be liable for just $16,500 in penalties. The airport agreed to pay that amount in settlement.

Shepard and Marvel contend in court papers recently unsealed that the government determination of no fraud is incorrect and its penalty number is too low. Rather, they say, the airport and a contractor should be on the hook for a $5 million fraud in the construction of the airport perimeter fence, which, with costs and interest, should be tripled, to about $16.5 million.

If Shepard and Marvel are truly whistleblowers under federal law, they would stand to receive 15 percent to 25 percent of any amount sought by and awarded to the federal government. That would come out at $2,475 to $4,125 of the $16,500 penalty determined by the government.

Shepard and Marvel, however, say in court papers that they are due $2.45 million to 
$5 million under the treble damages award on the full cost of the project, which they maintain went forward fraudulently.

Their shares of any reward would pay their attorney fees and other costs, with any amounts left over to be “used for charitable purposes focused on general aviation,” Shepard and Marvel, both hangar owners at the airport, said in court papers.

Shepard and Marvel and their Telluride attorney, John H. Steel, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Other parties to the case also declined to comment.


Shepard and Marvel, who claim to be whistleblowers, filed suit setting off a series of events that began Nov. 16, 2013, with the FBI raid on the airport offices.

Papers filed in connection with the lawsuit also show that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s inspector general conducted an extensive, two-year investigation into the airport.

“This investigation was thorough,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado said in filings. “It involved review of thousands of documents and interviews of dozens of witnesses.”

The Airport Authority terminated three members of its management team after the inspector general’s investigation began, the government said.

The authority fired its director of aviation, Rex Tippetts, in January 2014, soon after suspending him in the wake of the FBI raid.

The FBI investigation was dropped in 2015 with no charges filed.

Fallout from the investigation included halting work on the airport administration building at the halfway point. The skeleton of the building still stands, awaiting developments that might lead to its completion — or demolition.

Eight months before the raid, Shepard and Marvel filed the their case under a whistleblower statute in Denver federal court, alleging that the airport and Tippetts, along with an airport contractor, Jviation, Inc., misled federal officials about the installation of a fence around much of the airport.

Shepard and Marvel are represented by Steel, a Telluride attorney who also represented an airport employee, Donna Vanlandingham, who claimed she was fired because she threatened to expose corruption in connection with the airport perimeter fence.

A former airport employee who wasn’t identified in the suit met with the FBI on Feb. 27, 2013, “through contact” with Shepard, court papers said.

Vanlandingham filed suit against the airport in December 2013, a month after the raid. Her case, however, was dismissed when an appellate panel upheld a trial court ruling that Vanlandingham had signed a release of all claims against the airport.


Shepard’s and Marvel’s lawsuit focuses on the airport’s perimeter fence, which has long been a barbed subject for them and other general aviation tenants at the airport.

The heart of the claim by Shepard and Marvel — sharply denied by a member of the airport board that approved it in a public hearing — is that the airport fraudulently sought Federal Aviation Administration funding for the perimeter-security fence by describing it as being needed to protect the airport from wandering coyotes, foxes and badgers.

“The wildlife control aspect was from the beginning a scheme to obtain otherwise unobtainable federal funds from the FAA,” Shepard and Marvel said in their original complaint, noting that the fence “as designed and built does not prevent the incursion of wildlife onto the airport. It is located where there is no wildlife — only human traffic — which it does inhibit.”

The 8-foot security fence girdles the west, south and east borders of the airport, but the north side is protected by a three-strand barbed-wire fence commonly used in ranching.

“There was no fraud,” countered Doug Simons, who served on the board that approved the fence.

Plans approved by the airport board for the security fence called for it to encircle the airport once it could complete acquisition of Bureau of Land Management property needed for the construction of a new runway to the north, Simons said.

The agreement with the BLM remains to be completed and work on a new runway is expected to continue well into the next decade.

The airport board last year agreed to surrender $500,000 in future grants to the FAA in response to the agency’s demand that it be repaid that amount from the fence funding it provided.

The investigation performed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office determined that there was no fraud associated with the application for FAA funding for the fence, but did find that airport officials violated the National Environmental Policy Act by certifying that the airport perimeter fence would have no significant effect on the general aviation businesses at the airport.

In its filings, the government said that it would likely “encounter significant issues in proving damages from these misrepresentations.”

At the time the certifications were made, the airport “knew that the fence project was likely to have a substantial negative impact on the existing business at the airport due to the restrictions on entry by the public to the businesses located within the boundaries of the fence,” the settlement agreement says, noting that it is not an admission of liability by the airport nor a concession that the federal government’s claims are not well-founded.

The airport and the FAA are separately negotiating issues related to billing the agency to electrify the fence, the settlement said. Issues about electrifying the fence aren’t covered under the False Claims Act, the government said, something Shepard and Marvel dispute.

Shepard and Marvel strenuously objected in court papers to the settlement, saying it “is not in the public interest. It is not justice. It should not be approved.”

The proposed settlement “squelches any possibility of recovery” from Jviation, Shepard and Marvel said.

Jviation was “essential to the fraud” because of its status as a firm with professional engineers and because of its relationship with the FAA, the suit says.

The minimal award contemplated in the settlement would do “further damage” to Shepard and Marvel’s reputations, they said. “Extensive publicity has been given to (Shepard and Marvel) as trouble-makers and provocateurs. Resolution with a mere slap on the hand will confirm and rebroadcast that publicity.”

Shepard and Marvel would also lose their already spent out-of-court costs and be unable to pay their attorney, Steel, their filings say.

“Years of hard work and considerable personal and legal expenditures will go unreimbursed and will thwart the purpose of the False Claims Act to encourage those with knowledge of wrongdoing to expose it,” Shepard and Marvel said.

Jviation, however, would remain exposed to legal action by Shepard and Marvel, the government noted in its filings.

Jviation last year filed a still-unresolved suit against the airport, contending that it hadn’t been paid $225,000 for work at the airport, including work on the unfinished administration building.

The airport board and its contractor, Shaw Construction, reached agreement on the value of Shaw’s work only after Shaw removed its name from the project and sued the airport.

In her order setting the fairness hearing on Feb. 2, U.S. District Judge Christine Arguello stressed in boldface lettering that the hearing “is not the same as a trial on the underlying merits of this case.”