Saturday, February 4, 2017

Big steps for Elite Airways, and Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (KPHF)

Elite Airways announced Wednesday morning that it will provide nonstop service from Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport to Islip, N.Y. and Newark, N.J. starting in March. Fares for both destinations will start at $99. John Pearsall, President of Elite Airways during his speech. 

Elite Airways' jump into the business-travel-oriented Peninsula market represents a big commitment for a fast-growing little airline that is drawing another big undertaking from the Peninsula Airport Commission and local governments.

The Maine-based airline's plan to connect Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport to two metro New York airports that straddle the Big Apple to the east and west marks a major move away from the snowbird business on which it first built its new scheduled air service.

For Elite, it means bringing planes here that aviation consultants estimate can cost roughly $3,750 an hour to fly, as well as all the other costs that go into ensuring that aircraft are in good repair and the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in fixed costs ranging from crew training to insurance to hangar space.

For the airport commission, Elite also represents a new direction. The commission is buying nearly $400,000 worth of equipment and planning to make its first-ever plunge into handling the terminal side of air service, a line of business executive director Ken Spirito hopes to offer to other airlines, including Delta and American, the two already at the airport.

The commission also plans to spend $300,000 advertising the new service, when it starts, while a regional body funded by seven local governments is ready to make up the difference if Elite's first year revenue falls short of $500,000.

All in all, it's a proposal that would add up to $1.2 million if Elite didn't sell a single ticket, which neither the airport nor Elite think will happen, especially since people were already buying tickets when the airline announced it would delay a March launch date. Elite did so because it was concerned about perceptions of the airport in the wake of Daily Press reports that a commission loan guarantee to another airline two and a half years ago had prompted state Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne to yank the airport's state funds.

Elite president John Pearsall declined to talk about the airline's business for this story, but had said earlier that he liked the Peninsula's strong business-travel market.

Airport officials first made their case to him about that business market about a year ago.

They've been looking for a New York-area connection for years.

"Newark — you can almost just call it a service to New York. And Long Island is — you are catering to a different New York population because getting to LaGuardia or JFK or Newark is not that easy," said William Swelbar, a research engineer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's International Center for Air Transportation and an affiliate of the school's Global Airline Industry Program. Swelbar has been a consultant to the airport commission.

"Is there a sufficient enough population on Long Island for a small aircraft serving the Hampton Roads-Williamsburg area? My guess is yes, if marketed correctly. Newark, I'm less concerned about," he said.


The Peninsula's promises to Elite add up to a larger potential commitment than Elite has received from other communities it serves, though it is dwarfed by the big bucks that come from the controversial federal Essential Air Service payments, a $275 million program meant to assure service to rural areas.

Elite's first venture into the Essential Air Service arena, an offer to link the Nebraska cities of North Platte and Kearney with 12 flights a week from each, supported by federal subsidies of $4.7 million and $4.2 million, didn't pan out, according to published reports.

But even those sums are dwarfed by the incentives that lured Aer Lingus to the airport in Hartford, Conn. That airport included up to $9 million to offset potential losses in the trans-Atlantic service's first two years of operation, as well as $5 million in marketing funds and waived fees, according to the Hartford Courant.

Nowadays, airport authorities are using incentives more often to encourage business, Swelbar said.

There is no "cut and paste" incentive formula, he said, and every airport authority tries something different. It is not uncommon for incentives to exceed $1 million, he said.

"If you kind of believe you can use your airplane better somewhere else, that's probably what you do because assets are mobile," Swelbar said. "So if they're not satisfied with how the market is developing, it's not uncommon to see someone take the asset and try another city pair."

And, he added, Newport News is anxious to be part of such a pair.

"The folks in Newport News have been very aggressive in using incentives over the years," he said.

Spirito has said airports, especially smaller ones like Newport News, have to offer support in order to woo new airlines. For the airlines, a new market means spending on what Spirito calls a perishable product — the seats they need to fill. If not enough people file in at the gate, there's simply no other way for the airline to make up the loss.

Frederick J. Piccolo, president and CEO of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, said that hasn't been a problem since Elite began its service this past November from the Florida west coast airport to Portland, Maine, and Melbourne, Fla.

The airline has been filling 90 percent of its seats, and its twice weekly flights have grown to five flights during heavy travel times, he said.

The airline "certainly meets the goals and then exceeds them some," he said. "We'd love to see more flights, obviously."

The airport authority, along with Sarasota and Manatee counties, contributed $200,000 in marketing incentives to the airline, Piccolo said.

The airline's airport fees have been waived for the next two years — the most allowed by federal regulations — and will amount to about $1,000 a week, Piccolo said. If the airline operates every week through November 2018, that would amount to about $104,000.

Elite's time at Vero Beach Regional Airport also has exceeded expectations, said executive director Eric Menger. The airline started nonstop flights to Newark in December 2015, then expanded service from two days a week to four, he said.

"There was a pent-up market that they were able to capture," Menger said.

Menger said there's a sizable retired population from New York that has moved to Vero Beach or its surrounding area. And besides tourism, the airline provides a quick link to New York City for business trips that might have otherwise happened over Skype.

"It's almost like we created a little bit of a market now because there's an airline there ... when they might not have otherwise scheduled that trip," Menger said.

The airport authority gave Elite $24,000 in marketing incentives and waived rental fees for one year, which shakes out to about $30,000 to $40,000 in total breaks, Menger said. It has no landing fees currently, he said.

"I like the way that Elite has been growing," Menger said. "They're a small company, they're growing slowly and they're growing carefully."

Elite has struggled in Naples, Fla., where the airport commission is upset by its decision after just a few months to stop direct service to Newark, replacing it with a one-stop, after the airport spent $50,000 on marketing and waived $24,000 in rent. The combination of a seasonal market and more limited local support made that market a challenge, Pearsall has said.

Elite's plan

Small airports — and the subsidies they hand out — have been key to Elite Airways' business plan since it got into the business of scheduled air service in 2014.

Outlining the company's plans to his hometown newspaper that year, Pearsall said he had always had the idea of turning the charter company into a regular airline, hoping to benefit from the incentives smaller airports offer.

"We just needed to find the right city pairs," he told the Portland (Maine) Press Herald.

Pearsall had built the company into a player in the charter market, where what was then a five-jet fleet ferried sports teams and the White House press corps, after the collapse of Primaris Airlines, where he was president and chief operating officer.

Primaris filed for bankruptcy in 2008, court records show. Primaris wasn't alone. The first year of the Great Recession, 2008, was bad for many airlines, even ones much bigger than the two-jet operation. Air Midwest, ATA Airlines, Big Sky, Champion Airlines, Eos Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Skybus Airlines also went to bankruptcy court that year, according to the Airlines for America trade association. Aloha Airlines and Sun Country Airlines made return trips in 2008 — Aloha had filed for bankruptcy four years earlier while Sun Country's first bankruptcy came in 2002.

After an an abortive 2013 feeler in Baton Rouge, La., where the airport promised a two-year waiver of fees and $100,000 in advertising, Elite's first move into scheduled service was a connection between Portland and Melbourne, Fla., about an hour's drive from the tourist mecca of Orlando, according to published reports.

Elite got a taste of the often contentious politics of airport incentives in 2015, when the Mesa, Ariz., airport, in the shadow of Phoenix's giant Sky Harbor International Airport, offered it a $600,000-plus package if it would agree to provide flights to San Diego. Mesa offered a similar deal of revenue guarantees, advertising and waived fees if Elite would serve Salt Lake City, but dropped the offer after another subsidized airline serving the airport complained, according to the Arizona Republic.

The airport figured once Elite was up and running and the fee waiver expired, it would realize about $100,000 a year in revenue. Elite eventually decided against the Arizona business. The other subsidized airline dropped its threat to shift to Sky Harbor.

John Pearsall, President of Elite Airways 

Elite made a point of saying it was not getting any incentives from the airport in Rockford, Ill., when it announced service to Newark and an airport about 50 miles north of Denver in May 2015. It dropped the Newark service in October. It dropped the Colorado service in August, but plans to restart it in May.

June of last year marked its big splash: new twice-a-week service from Islip airport to its home base of Portland, Maine, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Melbourne, Fla., and new twice-a-week service from the Maine resort town of Bar Harbor to Newark. From those bases, it added one-stop service linking Portland to Myrtle Beach, as well as Bar Harbor to Vero Beach, Fla., and Bar Harbor to Islip.

In July, Elite made a bid for some $700,000 of federal grants to the airport in Charleston, W.Va., proposing service to Florida, but nothing came of that.

Elite began service in July 2016 from Branson, Miss., to Houston and Denver, operating the route on behalf of Great Lakes Airlines, in a seasonal service to that tourist spot.

Elite started as a charter operation in 2006, with backing from a trust for the family of California investor Robert V. Lyle, who made his fortune with a packaging company he sold in 2002 for an undisclosed sum. The Lyle trust owns 60 percent. A trust for California financier Don Hankey and his family owns 25 percent, according to federal aviation records.

Pearsall owns 15 percent of Elite. He is a pilot who worked as a Boeing 757 flight instructor at America West Airlines before going on to found Primaris.

Elite operates 12 planes, and its most recent financial reports with federal regulators show its assets exceeded its liabilities, unlike the airline that operated People Express' planes.

Those reports show Elite had total assets of $12.1 million, mostly its fleet of aircraft, valued at just under $12 million. Its IOUs amounted to just under $11 million.

So far, it has weathered accumulated losses of $3.6 million, and still has a solid net worth, its financial data show.

Story and photo gallery:

Bringing law to a deadly drop zone

If there's one local outfit that enjoys a dangerous exemption from regulation - somehow, in this over-regulated state - it is the Lodi Parachute Center.

At least 13 people have died out there. Federal "regulators" have been useless. So now Stockton's Assembly member is stepping in with legislation.

Susan Eggman, D-Stockton, is introducing AB295, a state law that would hold drop zone owners accountable in state court if they fail to obey federal safety regulations.

"We've seen multiple people dying out of that facility in Lodi," said Eggman. "It prompted me to say, how are these regulated? And maybe they're not regulated appropriately?"

To say Lodi Parachute Center is not regulated appropriately is an understatement. The owner, William C. Dause, runs an operation seemingly regulated by no one.

The center is one of the few in the nation that do not belong to the United States Parachute Association. It therefore does not have to abide by USPA's voluntary safety standards.

Dause held a personal membership; the USPA revoked it after finding that the instructor who died in a double fatality in August, Yong Kwon, 25, of South Korea, was certified by a man who forged his credentials. Kwon's certification was therefore invalid.

Nonvoluntary safety laws are the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA's regulations govern aspects such as parachute rigging and airplane maintenance.

In practice, however, Uncle Sam been flagrantly derelict. With few exceptions, they have treated the Lodi center as if it were on an impossibly remote high-altitude plateau in Tibet.

"We are still investigating," said Ian Gregor, the public information contact for the FAA's Western-Pacific Region, said of the August double fatality.

Gregor added, "Our investigations often take some time because we are very deliberate in what we do. And we document everything meticulously."

This would not be an issue - on the contrary, a drawn-out investigation would be a marked improvement - if it led to punishment for violators.

But Uncle Sam never produces results.

In 2010, investigators accused Dause of neglecting airplane maintenance in more than 2,600 flights. They "proposed" a stiff, $664,000 civil penalty.

In 2011, they proposed a $269,000 civil penalty after allegedly finding Dause ignored safety inspections on a plane that took 41 flights.
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What followed was staggering in its toothlessness.

"We couldn't reach a settlement with Mr. Dause," Gregor said. "So per our protocols we referred it to the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution. The U.S. Attorney's Office opted not to pursue the cases."

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment.

It's amazing. Dause simply refused to pay $933,000 in civil penalties, and Uncle Sam let him get away with it. Dause presumably returned to business as normal.

In May, a Cessna plane carrying a pilot and 17 passengers from the Lodi Parachute Center suffered mechanical failure, clipped a pickup on Highway 99 and crash-landed upside down near a farmhouse.

That no one died or suffered major injuries is one of the most astronomically improbable outcomes in the history of San Joaquin County aviation.

Eggman's bill, designed to fill the appalling regulatory void in which the center operates, would give plaintiffs and district attorneys the power to take action in civil court.

"If the feds aren't concerned about keeping people safe in California, we certainly are," Eggman said.

Skydiving is a risky sport. Occasional fatalities are expected. But customers should be able to expect that the safety regulations on the books are being followed.

Reached at the center, Dause said he could not comment because he has not seen Eggman's bill.

He declined to answer numerous questions, including the exact number of people who have died at his business.

"I haven't kept track of that," Dause said.


Cessna 208B Grand Caravan, N1114A:  Accident occurred May 12, 2016 near Lodi Airport (1O3), San Joaquin County, California 

he NTSB did not travel to the scene of this accident. 

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Flanagan Enterprises (Nevada) Inc:

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Oakland FSDO-27

NTSB Identification: WPR16LA107
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, May 12, 2016 in Acampo, CA
Aircraft: CESSNA 208B, registration: N1114A
Injuries: 1 Minor, 17 Uninjured.

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 May 12, 2016, about 1413 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 208B, N1114A, was substantially damaged during a forced landing near Acampo, California. The airplane was registered to Flanagan Enterprises (Nevada) INC., and operated by the Parachute Center under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. The commercial pilot sustained minor injuries and his 17 passengers were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the skydiving flight. The local flight originated about 1 minute prior to the accident.

The pilot reported that following takeoff from runway 26, he made a right turn and continued his climb for the skydive drop, however, while passing through 1,000 feet above ground level (agl), the engine lost power. The pilot initiated a turn toward the airport, however, realized he was unable to make it, and landed in an open field. During the landing roll, the airplane exited the field, crossed a road, impacted a truck, continued into a vineyard, and nosed over.

Examination of the airplane by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector revealed that the fuselage and left wing were structurally damaged. The wreckage was recovered to a secure location for further examination.

Waterloo Regional Airport (KALO) flying at eight-year high in business

Keith Kaspari 

WATERLOO – More passengers flew out of the Waterloo Regional Airport in 2016 than any time in the past eight years, a new report and data compiled by airport director Keith Kaspari shows.

 A total of 25,322 outbound passengers during calendar year 2016, an increase of 338 passengers from calendar year 2015 in contrast with 2015. But it's also the most since 25,620 passengers "flew Waterloo" back in 2008.

The number of passengers flying out of Waterloo has especially increased over the past four years, largely due to American Airlines/American Eagle, airport officials reported. The passenger numbers for 2016 also reflect an increase of 5,990 passengers, or 38.6 percent over 2013, an by an average of about 9.7 percent a year.

"Slowly and surely, we are trending in the right direction," airport director Keith Kaspari said. "My goal is to continue to build ridership so we can justify with American Airllines a third departure to O'Hare (International Airport). They've served us very well.

"Our task is to get Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Northeast Iowa travelers to look at Waterloo, in contrast with maybe looking at the steering wheel for about an hour or two before they get to a larger airport," Kaspari said.

The airport's end-of-year report also indicates 2016 is the second year in a row the airport averaged over 2,000 passengers per month - 2,110. Monthly numbers also are approaching calendar year 2008, with a monthly average of 2,135.

Kaspari anticipates significant increases the monthly averages during 2017, with a goal of 2,500 passengers per month.

"This is good news," Kaspari said of the year-end numbers. “A very competitively priced air fare structure allows the airport to be looked at more favorably" in comparison to other nearby airports. Passengers "are becoming more aware that flying out of Waterloo saves money as they do not have to pay for an added fuel expense and the higher cost of vehicle parking,"

Kaspari noted in his report that the total number of annual American Airlines flights increased to 693 in 2016 from 675 in 2015, due to American officials adding service on weekends and fewer flights cancelled - 20 in 2016 compared with 35 in 2015. Additionally, American’s on-time reliability showed continued improvement .

Kaspari said, “The increases in passenger numbers from calendar year 2016, fewer cancellations, improved on-time reliability and competitively priced air fares, shows that American Airlines is providing an excellent product for Cedar Valley passengers.”


JetBlue Airways, Airbus A321-231, N913JB: Accident occurred July 28, 2016 in Bermuda

Aviation Accident Final Report  -  National Transportation Safety Board:

Docket And Docket Items -  National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary  -  National Transportation Safety Board:


NTSB Identification: DCA16CA205
Scheduled 14 CFR Part 121: Air Carrier operation of JetBlue
Accident occurred Thursday, July 28, 2016 in Bermuda, Bermuda
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/23/2017
Aircraft: AIRBUS A321 231, registration: N913JB
Injuries: 1 Serious, 6 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 28, 2016, at 0111 eastern daylight time, JetBlue Airways as flight 1561, an Airbus A321, N913JB, experienced turbulence during cruise that resulted in one flight attendant sustaining a serious injury. There were no injuries to the other passengers and crew aboard and the airplane was not damaged. The flight was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 as a regularly scheduled passenger flight from New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), Queens, New York to Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI), Christchurch, Barbados. The flight diverted to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), San Juan, Puerto Rico .

According to the operator, aircraft encountered turbulence during cruise while the flight attendant (FA) at position #4 was carrying a pot of hot water from the aft galley towards one of the aft lavatories. The FA stated that she held on to the galley counter with her right hand and swung the coffee pot in her left towards the jumpseat away from another flight attendant. She stated that the aircraft experienced another sudden drop and the water in the pot flew up in the air and landed on her left shoulder and left side resulting in second-degree burns.

The flight crew indicated that at the time of the event the weather conditions were mostly clear, but had encountered short segments of instrument weather conditions as forecasted with no associated turbulence or precipitation. They indicated that they had been actively using the onboard weather radar, but there were no returns that led to deviations. The first officer stated that the turbulence was sudden, with no other associated rain or precipitation and then immediately calm again, so no actions were taken.

The operator indicated that the flight data from the Quick Access Recorder (QAR) showed smooth conditions prior to the turbulence encounter.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
an inadvertent encounter with clear air turbulence.

Republic Airlines, Embraer ERJ 170 100 SE, N655RW: Accident occurred July 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio


Aviation Accident Final Report  -  National Transportation Safety Board:

Docket And Docket Items -  National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary  -  National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: DCA16CA208
Scheduled 14 CFR Part 121: Air Carrier operation of Republic Airways Holdings (D.B.A. United Airlines)
Accident occurred Tuesday, July 26, 2016 in Cleveland, OH
Probable Cause Approval Date: 01/23/2017
Aircraft: EMBRAER ERJ 170 100 SE, registration: N655RW
Injuries: 1 Serious, 52 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On July 26, 2016 at 5:00 pm eastern daylight time, Republic Airlines flight 3458, an Embraer 170, N655RW, encountered turbulence during descent at about 16,500 feet. Of the 53 passengers and crew members onboard, one flight attendant was seriously injured and the airplane was not damaged. The airplane was operating under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 as a regularly scheduled passenger flight from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), Houston, Texas, to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), Cleveland, Ohio. 

The flight crew reported that on initial check in with CLE approach control, the controller advised of moderate turbulence. The first officer was in the process of notifying the cabin when the aircraft encountered turbulence. The crew reported the duration of the turbulence was only a few seconds. One flight attendant working in the aft galley fell and broke her left tibia. A medical doctor on board assisted the flight attendant. The flight crew notified operations to have EMS meet the flight and the airplane landed with no further incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
an inadvertent encounter with turbulence.

Diamond DA-40 Diamond Star, RTB Trading Co. LLC, N808ET: Accident occurred May 27, 2016 in Jacksonville, Duval County, Florida

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 
Aviation Accident Factual Report  -  National Transportation Safety Board:

Docket And Docket Items -   National Transportation Safety Board:


NTSB Identification: GAA16CA528
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, May 27, 2016 in Jacksonville, FL
Probable Cause Approval Date: 02/06/2017
Aircraft: DIAMOND AIRCRAFT IND INC DA 40, registration: N808ET
Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot reported that during the landing roll in crosswind conditions, the airplane drifted off the runway to the right and the left wing impacted a runway sign.
A postaccident examination revealed substantial damage to the left wing. 

The pilot reported no preaccident mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

An automated weather observing station 5 nautical miles from the accident airport, about the time of the accident, recorded the wind at 090 degrees true at 11 knots. The pilot reported he landed on runway 7. 

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

The pilot's failure to maintain directional control during the landing roll in crosswind conditions.

Rural communities rely on general aviation - By Greg Mitchel, Pecos Municipal Airport (KPEQ), Reeves County, Texas

We all know that Texas is large, but even as a lifelong Texan, I’m still constantly in awe of the expansiveness and diversity of our state. Texas is bigger than more than 35 European counties and our 3,000-plus cities and towns are spread across 260,000 square miles of land. For those of us living in rural towns, the distance that makes Texas great also often represents the biggest challenge.

I live in Pecos, more than 200 miles from the closest metropolitan area. When I worked in the dairy industry, supporting my family’s farm, travel was a large part of my job. Without general aviation, I had to take two days away from the farm anytime I had a meeting in another city. Being in a remote area means that you do not have the same services as far as equipment sales and repair. Sometimes just to get a piece of equipment, my only option was to fly to the seller to inspect it myself. Even getting replacement parts sometimes means flying 150 miles.

Now that I have had the chance to expand into different industries, my plane has become a critical tool. I sell caliche as road base and fill to construction companies, provide fresh water for fracking to oil companies in the area, and lease property for equipment yards and housing projects. All my businesses require flexibility and mobility to development relationships with customers and business partners, no matter where they are. For example, I once had a day’s notice to get to a time-sensitive meeting in Lubbock with a construction company about a new contract. Without buying an expensive last-minute ticket, I flew there, several hours there, and got home the same day. Without general aviation, I would have lost that business opportunity.

I truly believe that general aviation shrinks the world and brings opportunities and economic development to communities like mine that we otherwise would miss. We don’t have any commercial airline service in Pecos, so businesses depend on access through general aviation. Several companies fly their employees into town, for example, increasing traffic at the airport and bringing investment into local services.

General aviation isn’t just important for economic development; it is a literal lifeline to rural communities in Texas. It ensures we can access emergency and specialized healthcare, especially since several major hospitals throughout rural Texas have closed in the last ten years.

Law enforcement, search and rescue, and border patrol also rely on general aviation to cover longer distances and oversee teams on the ground. Even our farms rely on agricultural aviation to increase yields and protect crops from pests and disease.

It’s because general aviation is so integral to rural life that I am worried about a D.C. proposal to privatize our air traffic control system and brand oversight over this system to a private board that would make decisions about who has access, how much consumers and other operators are taxed, and what airports are invested in.

Right now rural America, and the air transportation network that supports it, ensure that thousands of local communities, businesses and economies throughout our state and country, stay connected and thriving. Let’s make sure to keep it that way.

Greg Mitchel is a businessman, a general aviation pilot, and serves on the board of Pecos Municipal Airport.


Zenair CH 601UL Zodiac, G-CBUR: Accident occurred July 22, 2016 in Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

'The wing was ripped off and the fuselage had buckled'

With its wings ripped off, these pictures show how pilot Robin Duckett is lucky to be alive after his plane crashed - but he walked away unscathed.

Robin was looking forward to flying his Zenair CH 601UL Zodiac when terror hit on take-off.

He was flying with his 24-year-old son Alex when he was “caught out” after hurtling down the runway.

Now the 60-year-old has revealed how his £23,000 aircraft was wrecked when it crashed at Headon Microlight Strip near Gamston, Nottinghamshire, and it’s a miracle he walked away uninjured.

“We were shaken but not hurt,” said Robin, of Gateshead, director Sightlines Initiative, which has worked to improve early years teaching in scores of schools throughout the country.

“The plane was a complete write-off, the wing was ripped off and the fuselage had buckled. We walked away without any injuries but it could have been a lot worse.

“We were lucky. That plane has now long gone and I’ve got myself another one - a newer version of what I had before.”

Robin’s nightmare happened on the morning of July 22 last year when he and Alex had flown to meet up with other plane enthusiasts.

The perfect Mediterranean-like conditions of a beautiful summer’s day created a “freak condition” which caused the crash.

As experts release a report into the dad-of-two’s accident, he added: “I was caught out due to marginal factors and it being a very hot day, about 26 degrees. It meant the plane struggled to take off. There was no head wind and no breeze to fly into. The plane didn’t hit air speed and possibly a warm thermal current came over a hedge which caused the plane to dip.

“We took off and was about 15ft in the air. We span around and hit the hedge, which acted like a cushion. We didn’t have time to be terrified, but we escaped without injury. The plane on the other hand was a write-off.

“It hasn’t put me off flying as a I talked to a lot of instructors and inspectors. It was almost a freak situation why we crashed and it is very unlikely that it would happen again.”

Aviation experts carried out an inquiry into the incident and a newly published Air Accident Investigation Branch report says Robin, an education consultant, was “caught out” by the conditions on the day.

The report said he believed the runway’s down-slope would have compensated for the fact he was taking off with a 3 knot tailwind.

However, heat can impact on the performance of the aircraft - the temperature on the day was 26C, the plane was close to maximum weight and the pilot had not calculated the take-off run he would require given the conditions.

The report says that the take-off roll was longer than expected and, although the pilot rotated - applying back pressure to lift the nose wheel off the ground - he believed, in retrospect, that he probably rotated at a slightly lower airspeed than normal.

The report added: “At this stage the controls felt ‘heavy’ and, when only a few feet above the ground, the left wing dropped. The pilot was unable to regain control and the aircraft veered into a hedge and span around its left wingtip.

“Although the aircraft was severely damaged, the canopy opened normally and the two occupants vacated without assistance. They had been wearing lap and diagonal harnesses and were uninjured.”

Robin, who had 187 hours flying experience at the time, told investigators that in future he intended to calculate his aircraft’s takeoff performance, with appropriate allowance for the ambient conditions.

“He believes he was caught out, on this occasion, by the combined effects of a tailwind and the low atmospheric density,” said the report.

Story, photos and video:

Pilot Robin Duckett, 60, of Gateshead, in his plane with son Alex before it crashed.

Runway 14 was used for takeoff as the pilot believed this offered sufficient downslope to compensate for a possible 3 kt tailwind. The temperature was 26ºC and the aircraft was close to maximum weight but the pilot knew the airstrip well and did not calculate the required takeoff run. He anticipated being airborne before reaching a prominent dip in the grass surface, approximately two-thirds of the way along the 600 m strip.

The takeoff roll was longer than expected and, although the pilot rotated just before the ‘dip’, he believed, in retrospect, that he probably rotated at a slightly lower airspeed than normal. At this stage the controls felt “heavy” and, when only a few feet above the ground, the left wing dropped. The pilot was unable to regain control and the aircraft veered into a hedge and span around its left wingtip. Although the aircraft was severely damaged, the canopy opened normally and the two occupants vacated without assistance. They had been wearing lap and diagonal harnesses and were uninjured.

In future, the pilot intends to calculate his aircraft’s takeoff performance, with appropriate allowance for the ambient conditions. He believes he was caught out, on this occasion, by the combined effects of a tailwind and the low atmospheric density.

Accident report:

Ohio State University Airport (KOSU) to get new terminal

Ohio State University's Don Scott Field will be getting a new $13.4 million terminal and educational building, with work expected to start in late May.

The project, the largest portion of a $20 million overhaul at the airport, was one of several approved by OSU trustees on Friday.

"This is a large-scale renovation that will create a portal to Columbus... as well as to the university," said Rudy Buchheit, associate dean of Academic Affairs and Administration for the OSU College of Engineering, which oversees the airport. "This will address all three parts of our mission: education, research and service."

Whiting-Turner will be the construction manager for the project. Moody Nolan is the design architect.

The airport, on Columbus' Northwest Side, grew over decades with a hodgepodge of buildings that now are outdated. It's the fourth-busiest airport in Ohio based on takeoffs and landings. It is one of only a handful of airports operated by research universities.

Work is already underway on a $5 million project to add new hangar space for planes at the airport, more than doubling the current 50-plane capacity.

There has been a long waiting list for spots. Worthington Industries and Cardinal Health are among the major companies that are regular users of the OSU airport.

The airport is among the less than 1 percent of general-aviation airports in the country that are considered an airport of national importance by the federal government. This means it would be given priority status to keep operational in the event of an emergency. It is used by MedFlight, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the CIA.

The university is working on a new comprehensive 10-year plan for the airport, which is expected to be completed within 12 to 18 months. The plan is being funded by a $10 million grant from the Knowlton Foundation. 


Mentally unstable man threatens to crash Delhi-Mumbai Jet flight

NEW DELHI: Air travellers' worst fears came alive on a Delhi-Mumbai flight on Saturday when an unruly flyer loudly claimed that he had the plane in his control and that he would crash the same. It took some off duty pilots and well-built passengers to pin down the young man. He was sedated and handed over to security agencies on landing safely in Mumbai. However, the person turned out to be mentally unstable and was let off after his family apologized on his behalf.

This scary episode took place on Jet Airways' 9W 332 on Saturday morning when the flight had covered over half of the distance from Delhi to Mumbai. "About an hour into the flight, a passenger suddenly got up and threw up his food tray. He shouted that the plane has been remotely taken over and will crash. The well-dressed person, who appeared to be in mid-30s, then tore down the curtain separating the business class and started walking menacingly towards the cockpit," said KPMG partner Amber Dubey who was on the flight.

"Two passengers and some off-duty Jet pilots in business class blocked him and pinned him down. The crew also held back some aggressive passengers who wanted to thrash the person. A doctor on board gave him some sedatives which helped cool him down. He was escorted to the back of the plane where two off-duty pilots of Jet Airways held guard," Dubey added.

The person made these threats in fluent English and spoke of having control over the plane. The Jet pilot then informed Mumbai air traffic control and requested for security personnel to be sent to aircraft on landing.

Once in Mumbai, the unruly passenger was handed over to Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel. His family had come to receive him at the airport. They reportedly told authorities that the person was mentally disturbed and that he may not have taken his medicine because of he behaved like that.

A CISF spokesman said: "The passenger was allowed to go as he apologized to the airline, which then did not submit any complaint to us." Given his mental condition, the security agency did not detain him for long and released him at about 10am - two hours after he created the ruckus on board.

"This (episode) could have turned ugly but was handled well by the Jet crew and passengers. With air traffic growing by leaps and bounds, such incidents are likely to recur. There is a need to enhance the number of plainclothes air marshals. We also need to build an 'unfit to fly' registry with biometric details of high risk passengers," Dubey, an aviation expert, said.


Work continues at Redlands Municipal Airport (KREI)

REDLANDS >> City staff is continuing to work with pilots on improving the Redlands Municipal Airport.

Members of the Airport Advisory Board Wednesday were updated on the city-owned airport’s business plan, facility maintenance, grant funding and the upcoming Hangar 24 AirFest and 9th Anniversary Celebration May 20.

Here’s the latest:

• Board members will compile a list of needs at the airport that could be funded using proceeds from the Hangar 24 AirFest, hosted by Hangar 24 Charities.

“Hangar 24 Charities has expressed an interest in giving back to the actual airport itself,” said Will Hamilton, senior administrative analyst with the city. “They’ve given back to several other community organizations or nonprofits.”

The donation could be used to make improvements to the airport lobby, signage and new landscaping to help prevent soil loss due to runoff, he said.

“We can make a creative list,” said Chairwoman Ingrid Biglow.

• Pilots on the airshow subcommittee will be making some recommendations for this year’s event, such as posting more “no smoking” signs in the kids’ zone, asking the city to send a letter to the airport users two weeks prior to the event and ensure the dumpsters are picked up the following Monday.

Biglow also suggested some guidelines be given on the use of pop-up shades during the event.

• Staff plans to address erosion occurring along the fence line between the airport and Santa Ana River to the north.

“It’s a multi-layered issue,” Hamilton said. “The erosion itself is problematic because any runoff can create an issue with (foreign object damage) on the actual runway and the taxiway that can lead to some damage toward the aircraft.”

The erosion has also formed some breaks in the fence, which could allow wildlife and homeless people staying in the wash to get through, he said.

• City staff is working to update the leases on city-owned hangars at the airport and working with fixed base operators, which are the largest lease holders, Hamilton said. They also have been conducting hangar inspections and talking to hangar tenants on maintenance needs they have identified. Staff is working to fix the gate card entry system and is still working with the Federal Aviation Administration and California Department of Transportation on updating the airport’s permit, he said.

• The city has secured three grants through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airports Capital Improvement Plan, Hamilton said.

Some of the grant funding is being used to install runway and taxiway lights, navigation aids and signage.

Hamilton said he has drafted an application for the second phase of the project.

• Pilots are still seeking the installation of a wash rack at the airport, but funding is the biggest issue, Hamilton said.

“Once we get done with the lighting and signage project and any possible updates to airport documents, that is something we will re-explore,” he said.

The Airport Advisory Board meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every even-numbered month in the City Council Chambers, 35 Cajon St.


Kerry Dougherty: Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport (KPHF) commissioners bet big with taxpayers' money, and we're left holding the bag

They must have been desperate.

How else to explain a troubling financial gamble that resulted in millions of public dollars wasted and Richmond abruptly cutting state funding to the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport?

What else could have caused the airport's commission members to risk state money on a startup airline's bank loans? An airline with just two jets and a mountain of debt.

Let's back up.

In 2012, AirTran Airways, which had merged with Southwest Airlines, stopped flying out of the Peninsula airport, cutting passenger service from about 1 million fliers a year to around 500,000, according to  airport commission member and Newport News City Manager Jim Bourey.

A blow, no doubt about it.

Airport officials believed there was a hunger for low fares and wanted another discount airline at their gates. Enter People Express, a new company that promised flights between Newport News, Boston and Newark, N.J.

The business had trouble obtaining financing, however. That should have been a red flag. Instead, public officials did the unthinkable: They pledged $3.55 million in state funds and $1 million in regional and federal dollars to guarantee about $4.5 million in bank loans.

The state dollars were intended for capital improvements or buying equipment such as airport firetrucks, Virginia transportation officials insist today.

Not exactly true, Bourey counters. According to vague state policy, he says, that money could be used for "air service development."

People Express, or PEOPLExpress, flew for three months in 2014 before going bust.

Taxpayers all over Virginia helped make good on the loan.

Lucky us.

A blistering editorial in Thursday's Daily Press said "Newport News City Manager Jim Bourey still thinks it was a wise decision to guarantee up to $5 million of borrowings by a start-up airline that was already more than $1 million in debt and that was planning to use planes operated by a firm that owed $30 million more than its total financial assets."

When I talked to Bourey on Friday he showed little remorse. In fact, he predicted that as soon as the investigation is complete, the Peninsula Airport Commission will be exonerated and state funds will flow again.

Bourey says it is easy to be a "Monday morning quarterback," but the loan guarantee seemed like a splendid idea at the time.

"There was such a tremendous upside," Bourey told me. "Risking $3.5 million seemed like a reasonable risk."

In his city manager's online newsletter last week, Bourey cheerfully assured the public that there was nothing improper about the loan guarantee.

"As the airport carefully evaluated this plan, it was evident there was a high likelihood of success," Bourey wrote. "The market clearly demonstrated and projections showed a fairly quick progression to profitability."

Bourey blamed the airline's failure on unexpectedly too few planes and a "fluke event" – "an unauthorized individual with the company contracted by People Express to service the airplanes, (who) drove a vehicle into one of the planes, damaging it and putting it out of service."

I hesitate to bring this up, but an airline with a pair of planes in its "fleet" is barely an airline. Hardly a recipe for quick profitability.

It's the plot of a slapstick comedy, perhaps, but not a prudent public investment.

Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne says that when he became aware of the loan guarantee through newspaper reports, he was "flabbergasted."

It appears to be "a misuse of funds," Layne says, choosing his words carefully.

Virginia's transportation chief says he hopes the state finishes its investigation within 60 days.

In the meantime, Bourey is blaming the media for the airport's troubles. He claims the loan was acted upon in open meetings, but the press missed it. Worse, he says, the "poison" climate created by recent publicity has caused another low-fare airline to postpone service to Newport News.

Elite Airways had been scheduled to begin flights from Newport News to Newark, N.J., and New York next month, but has delayed.

According to a report in the Daily Press, Elite was close to landing $1 million in local incentives, a common practice in the industry.

It’s a pity that foolhardiness by desperate airport commission members three years ago may be causing problems for the commission today. But that's what happens when public officials gamble millions in taxpayer dollars and lose.


Testy retort letter about Whidbey Airpark (W10) was inaccurate


I’m answering Pete Becker’s testy retort to me about Whidbey’s Growler problem. He had some serious misreadings and inaccuracies. Example: “OLF was built…[74 years ago] to efficiently and safely conduct carrier landing practice.” Reality: The field was made in WWII for small propeller-driven fighters to just land. After WWII was a period of dormancy. It was reactivated in the late 1960s to mimic an aircraft carrier for “flight carrier landing practice (FCLP).”

Its ancient surface is dangerously below standard for heavier fighters. Its length (5,280 feet) is 3,000 feet below standards, with civilian-inhabited “crash zones” at its ends, begging for a deadly incident. Just 700 clear acres around it is one-fortieth or 2.3 percent of the currently mandated 30,000 clear acres for any new FCLP field. But, Becker thinks “required level of performance” can only occur at this crowded, unsafe field. In fact, two years ago the Navy halted all FCLPs at OLF for 13 months and moved them to California/Nevada. Currently, it has halted all ops at OLF for a number of months (but doing them elsewhere) while water testing for its other deadly problem: extensive toxic pollutants from an OLF well site that have trashed civilian wells.

He also missed all my points on why the Navy isn’t the money pump for Whidbey he thinks it is. I can’t repeat all that here, except perhaps examples like how many Navy families take state food stamps, use Whidbey health programs, and use roads they don’t pay to upkeep. And if only, Mr. Becker, the Navy kept its “$5,000 for students of military” impact-aid agreement of 1950 (that would be $50,111 in today’s dollars per student!). But no, times change, so now the struggling Oak Harbor school district’s budget shows impact aid is now just $155 per student of military (and payments are always paid one year-plus late). And get this: it is now paid by the U.S. Department of Education, not the Navy, which pays zero.

Finally, Becker didn’t acknowledge my explanation of why it is a financial disaster for land-depreciated noise-hounded residents to “give away” a home and seek new expensive housing elsewhere. He just says “Move!” (After all, it’s simple in Clinton so must be simple there.)