Thursday, April 06, 2017

Economists spar in wrongful-death air crash case: Cirrus SR22, N122ES, Graeves Auto & Appliance Inc (and) Robinson R44 Raven II, Advanced Helicopter Concepts Inc, N7518Q; fatal accident occurred October 23, 2014 near Frederick Municipal Airport (KFDK), Maryland

Economists on both sides of a wrongful-death suit offered widely different estimates of what helicopter occupants’ families lost financially when their loved ones died in a midair crash.

The families are suing Midwest Air Traffic Control Services, a contractor that staffs the tower at Frederick Municipal Airport. The suit alleges that the company’s negligence resulted in the deaths of Christopher Parsons, 29, of Westminster, and William Jenkins, 47, of Morrison, Colorado.

The men were killed on Oct. 23, 2014, when a Cirrus plane and their helicopter crashed. Midwest has argued that inattention on the part of the pilots caused the crash and the controller provided enough information to avoid it had they been listening to radio transmissions.

Breandan MacFawn, 35, of Cumberland, a passenger on the helicopter, also died in the crash, but his family is not part of the suit.

Midwest on Thursday called expert economist John Scarbrough to the stand. He estimated the financial impact of Parsons’ death at around $1.3 million and the loss of Jenkins at $732,889, factoring in unpaid labor he provided the household.

If the jury determines that Midwest is at fault for the deaths, these estimates will be used to determine how much the company should pay the families.

Scarbrough’s analysis was a far cry from the estimates of economists hired by the families' attorneys. Thomas Borzilleri testified Tuesday that Parsons, who was working part time at the time of his death, would have contributed around $3.3 million to the family if he worked until age 70. That was the upper limit of the estimates he offered.

Patricia Pacey calculated the financial loss of Jenkins, president of his family business, Allegany Coal and Land, at around $4.5 million. In a second estimate that included the value of dividends from the company, the loss was as great as $12.2 million.

One key difference between Scarbrough’s estimate and the other economists' was that he used a calculation known as the human capital earnings function, which predicts earnings based on level of education and work experience.

The other economists used the median earnings for people in Jenkins' and Parsons’ fields as a key part of their calculations.

While Pacey considered dividends Jenkins earned from his company as income, Scarbrough discounted them. He believed it was inappropriate to calculate it as a secure revenue stream since the company’s fortunes could change.

“The idea was, what is the right number,” he said, acknowledging that plaintiffs in the case are generally looking for a high estimate while defendants hope for a low number.

The attorneys for the families of the helicopter's occupants sought to highlight flaws in Scarbrough’s methods in their cross-examination.

The economist calculated Parsons as a 22-year-old instead of his actual age, 29, to compensate for Parsons’ level of experience starting out as a pilot.

He discounted Parsons’ experience in the military, and his veteran status was not part of the equation. Scarbrough asserted that his status would not have affected his estimate because, controlling for experience and education, veterans don’t tend to earn more than nonveterans.

Parsons was considered a single man in the estimate model, although he was actually married.

The jury is to hear closing arguments Friday morning and begin its deliberations.

Original article can be found here:

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:  
Federal Aviation Administration Flight Standards District Office; Washington, District of Columbia 
Cirrus Aircraft; Duluth, Minnesota 
Robinson Helicopter; Torrance, California

Aviation Accident Final Report / National Transportation Safety Board:

Docket And Docket Items / National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary / National Transportation Safety Board:

Tower communications (graphic audio, may be disturbing) 

N7518Q Aviation Accident Final Report / National Transportation Safety Board:

N7518Q  Aviation Accident Data Summary / National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: ERA15FA025A
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, October 23, 2014 in Frederick, MD
Aircraft: CIRRUS DESIGN CORP SR22, registration: N122ES
Injuries: 3 Fatal, 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB Identification: ERA15FA025B 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, October 23, 2014 in Frederick, MD
Aircraft: ROBINSON HELICOPTER COMPANY R44 II, registration: N7518Q
Injuries: 3 Fatal, 1 Minor, 1 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The private airplane pilot was conducting a personal cross-country flight, and the commercial helicopter pilot and flight instructor were conducting a local instructional flight. A review of radar and voice communications revealed that the accident airplane pilot first contacted the nonradar-equipped tower when the airplane was 10 miles from the airport and that the local controller (LC) then acknowledged the pilot’s transmission and instructed him to contact the tower when he was 3 miles from the airport. At this time, the LC was also handling two helicopters in the traffic pattern, one airplane conducting practice instrument approaches to a runway that intersected the runway assigned to the accident airplane, another airplane inbound from the southeast, and a business jet with its instrument flight rules (IFR) clearance on request. About 1 minute after the accident airplane pilot first contacted the LC, the LC began handling the accident helicopter and cleared it for takeoff. One minute later, the controller issued the business jet pilot an IFR clearance. When the accident airplane was 3 miles from the airport, the pilot reported the airplane’s position to the controller, but the controller missed the call because she was preoccupied with the clearance read-back from the business jet pilot. About 1 minute later, the controller instructed the accident airplane pilot to enter the left downwind leg of the traffic pattern on a 45-degree angle and issued a landing clearance. She advised that there were three helicopters “below” the airplane in the traffic pattern, and the pilot replied that he had two of the helicopters in sight. Data downloaded from the airplane and witnesses on the ground and in the air indicated that, as the airplane entered the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, it flew through the accident helicopter’s rotor system at the approximate point where the helicopter would have turned left from the crosswind to the downwind leg. Because of a specific advisory transmitted on the tower radio frequency advising of traffic on the downwind, the pilot of each accident aircraft was or should have been aware of the other. A witness in the helicopter directly behind the accident helicopter had a similar field of view as the accident helicopter, and he reported that he acquired both accident aircraft in his scan before the collision. Given this statement and that the accident helicopter had two commercial pilots in the cockpit, the pilots should have had the situational awareness to understand the conflict potential based on the airplane’s position reports. Although the airplane was equipped with a traffic advisory system, its capabilities could have been limited by antenna/airframe obstruction or an inhibition of the audio alert by the airplane’s flap position.

The airplane’s data indicated that the collision occurred at an altitude of about 1,100 ft mean sea level (msl). The published traffic pattern altitude (TPA) for light airplanes was 1,300 ft msl. Although several different helicopter TPAs were depicted in locally produced pamphlets and posters and reportedly discussed at various airport meetings, there was no published TPA for helicopters in the airport/facility directory or in the tower’s standard operating procedures. According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Aeronautical Information Manual, in the absence of a published TPA, the TPA for helicopters was 500 ft above ground level; therefore, the appropriate TPA for helicopters at the accident airport was about 800 ft msl. The lack of an official helicopter TPA, which was published after the accident, significantly reduced the potential for positive traffic conflict resolution. Review of the airport procedures, tower capabilities, and the controller’s actions revealed no specific departure from proper procedures. Because the tower was not equipped with radar equipment, all of the sequencing and obtaining of traffic information had to be done visually. This would have been especially difficult at the accident airport due to the local terrain and tree lines that extend above the pattern altitudes from the tower controllers’ view, which can cause aircraft to easily blend in with the background. Further, the controller spent a lengthy amount of time on the task of issuing the IFR clearance to the business jet while handling multiple aircraft in the traffic pattern. It is likely that the lack of radar equipment in the tower and the controller’s inadequate task management also significantly reduced the potential for positive traffic conflict resolution.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
The failure of the helicopter pilots and the airplane pilot to maintain an adequate visual lookout for known traffic in the traffic pattern, which resulted in a midair collision. Contributing to the accident were the airplane pilot's descent below the published airplane traffic pattern altitude (TPA) and the helicopter pilot’s climb above the proper helicopter TPA as prescribed in the Federal Aviation Administration's Aeronautical Information Manual for airports without published helicopter TPAs. Also contributing to the accident were the lack of a published helicopter TPA, the absence of radar equipment in the tower, and the controller’s inadequate task prioritization.


On October 23, 2014, about 1537 eastern daylight time, a Cirrus SR22 airplane, N122ES, operated by a private individual, and a Robinson R44 II helicopter, N7518Q, operated by Advanced Helicopter Concepts, collided in midair approximately 1 mile southwest of the Frederick Municipal Airport (FDK), Frederick, Maryland. The airplane departed controlled flight after the collision, the ballistic parachute system was deployed, and the airplane landed nose-down in a thicket of low trees and brush. The helicopter also departed controlled flight, descended vertically, and was destroyed by impact forces at ground contact. The private pilot on board the airplane was not injured, and his passenger sustained a minor injury. The flight instructor, commercial pilot, and a passenger in the helicopter were fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and an instrument flight rules (IFR) flight plan was filed for the airplane, which departed Cleveland, Tennessee, on a personal flight about 1247. No flight plan was filed for the helicopter, which departed FDK on an instructional flight about 1535. The flights were conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.

Witnesses on the ground watched the aircraft approach each other at the same altitude and saw the collision. One witness said the helicopter appeared to be in a stationary hover as the airplane closed on it and the two collided. She said neither aircraft changed altitude as they approached each other.

A flight instructor for the helicopter operator in a company Robinson R22 helicopter followed the accident helicopter in the traffic pattern for landing abeam runway 30 in the infield sod at FDK. He said his helicopter had just completed the turn onto the crosswind leg of the traffic pattern when the accident helicopter came into his view to his front at about the point where it would turn to the downwind leg of the pattern. At the same time, the airplane appeared in his field of view as it "flew through the rotor system" of the helicopter.

Radar and voice communication information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as well as interviews conducted with air traffic controllers, revealed the following:

At 1534:10, the accident airplane first contacted the FDK tower and was about 10 miles west of the field at 3,000 feet. The local controller (LC) acknowledged the pilot's transmission and instructed him to report 3 miles west for a left downwind to runway 30. At 1534:31, the pilot of the accident airplane acknowledged and read back the controller's instructions.

At the time the accident airplane contacted the LC, other traffic being handled by the tower included two helicopters ( two company helicopters N2342U and N444PH) in the VFR traffic pattern, one airplane conducting practice instrument approaches to runway 23, another airplane inbound from the southeast, and a business jet (N612JD) with its IFR clearance on request.

At 1535:02, the LC then cleared the accident helicopter for take-off from alpha taxiway as requested and issued the current winds, and the call was acknowledged.

At 1536:02, the LC contacted the pilot of N612JD and advised she was ready to issue the airplane's instrument clearance. From 1536:06 to 1536:49 (43 seconds), the controller issued the clearance.

At 1536:49, the pilot of N612JD read back his clearance as required. Also at 1536:49, during the read back from N612JD, the pilot of the accident airplane reported on local frequency that he was 3 miles out on a 45-degree entry for runway 30, which the LC did not hear because she was listening to the read back from N612JD on ground control frequency.

At 1537:09, the LC transmitted to helicopter N444PH, "…four papa hotel option to the grass at your own risk use caution and on uh next go around stay at a thousand feet. I have traffic in the downwind."

At 1537:22, the LC instructed the accident airplane to report midfield left downwind for runway 30 and said "I have three helicopters below ya in the uh traffic pattern". At 1537:30, the pilot of the accident airplane acknowledged the request to report midfield downwind and stated he had two of the helicopters in sight. Immediately after that transmission, at 1537:34, the LC said "Alright uh two echo sierra, I have ya in sight runway three zero, maintain your altitude to…until turning base, cleared to land."

At 1537:41, cries were heard over the local frequency, and, at 1537:49, the pilot of a helicopter in the traffic pattern reported that an airplane and helicopter were both "down."

The pilot of the accident airplane was interviewed and provided written statements. His recollection of the flight was consistent with voice, radar, and aircraft data. The pilot stated that as he descended and slowed for the traffic pattern entry, he set the flaps to 50 percent.

The pilot stated that, about the time the airplane entered the downwind leg of the traffic pattern, the tower controller issued a landing clearance, and, "out of nowhere…I saw a helicopter below me and to the left…" The pilot initiated an evasive maneuver, but he "heard a thump," and the airplane rolled right and nosed down. The pilot deployed the ballistic recovery system, and the airplane's descent was controlled by the parachute to ground contact.


The airplane pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and instrument airplane. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued April 31, 2014. He reported 959 total hours of flight experience, of which 804 hours were in the accident airplane make and model.

The flight instructor on board the helicopter held commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates with ratings for rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument helicopter. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued April 31, 2014. Examination of his logbook revealed 832 total hours of flight experience, of which 116 hours were in the accident helicopter make and model.

The helicopter pilot held commercial pilot and flight instructor certificates with ratings for airplane single-engine land, multiengine land, rotorcraft-helicopter and instrument helicopter. His most recent FAA second-class medical certificate was issued April 29, 2013, and he reported 2,850 total hours of flight experience on that date. Excerpts of a pilot logbook for his helicopter time revealed 1,538 total hours of helicopter experience. A review of records revealed that he stopped flying as a helicopter tour pilot in 1994. During the years following, he logged five or fewer helicopter flights per year. Between 2004 and 2011, he logged one flight per year, none in 2011, and one in 2012. In 2014, he logged two flights in September, and two in October prior to the accident flight.


According to FAA records, the airplane was manufactured in 2006. Its most recent annual inspection was completed June 13, 2014, at 1,289.8 total aircraft hours.

The helicopter was manufactured in 2004. Its most recent 100-hour inspection was completed October 2, 2014, at 1,758 total aircraft hours.


The 1553 weather observation at FDK included scattered clouds at 4,800 feet, 10 miles visibility, and wind from 330 degrees at 16 knots gusting to 21 knots.

The was 26 degrees above the horizon, and the sun angle was from 225 degrees.

The air traffic control (ATC) group was formed on October 23, 2014. The group consisted of the group chairman from operational factors and a representative from the FAA compliance services group.

The group reviewed radar data provided by the FAA from Potomac TRACON (PCT), ATC voice recordings, controller training and qualification records, facility logs, standard operating procedures (SOP), letters of agreement (LOA), controller work schedules, and other related documentation. Additionally, the group conducted interviews with the LC who provided services at the time of the accident and the off-duty controller who witnessed the accident and assisted with initial notifications and the after-action response. Tenant operators on the airport were interviewed, including the operator of the accident helicopter. The group also held discussions with the air traffic manager (ATM) at FDK.

When asked what the traffic pattern altitudes (TPAs) were at FDK, both controllers, as well as the ATM, stated that the altitudes were 900 feet mean sea level (msl) for helicopters, 1,300 feet msl for small fixed-wing airplanes, and 1,800 feet msl for large fixed-wing airplanes and twins. When asked the origin of these TPAs and where they were published, the LC stated that they were published in the SOP and airport/facility directory (AFD). The witnessing controller thought the helicopter TPA was published in the local noise abatement procedures, but not in the AFD, but that the fixed-wing TPAs were in both. The ATM stated that only the fixed-wing TPAs were published in the AFD and that the helicopter TPA had been inadvertently left out without them realizing. The ATM stated that helicopter TPA was agreed upon during meetings with tower personnel, airport management, and airport tenants prior to the tower's commissioning. The facility was unable to produce any documentation that these meetings were ever held, and they were also unable to produce any documentation of the 900-foot msl helicopter TPA they had mentioned. The only documentation that was found was from old, locally produced noise abatement procedures.

According to FAA Order 7210.3Y, minutes of the meeting were to be taken and distributed to "the appropriate Service Area" office and to each attendee. These minutes were neither recorded nor distributed.

In an interview, the helicopter operator was asked for a copy of his flight school's SOP. He stated there was none. The policies and procedures were made by him, and distributed by word of mouth in periodic meetings. During an initial discussion, the operator stated that the helicopter TPA was between 900 and 1,000 feet msl, and 1,200 feet msl for autorotations. When asked how he decided upon the TPA of 900 feet msl for his pilots and students. He said, "It just kind of morphed into that. The airplanes are at 1,300 feet msl, and we thought we should be below that. They never published that in the AFD, and I wish they would."

According to the chief pilot for the helicopter operator, a 14 CFR Part 141 application would soon be submitted and an SOP would be published concurrent with the application.


FDK was at an elevation of 306 feet and was tower controlled. The tower was an FAA contract tower and was not radar-equipped.

Runway 5/23 was 5,219 feet long and 100 feet wide, and was located along the east side of the field. Runway 12/30 was 3,600 feet long, 75 feet wide, and located on the north side of the field. The two runways intersected at the approach end of runways 23 and 30.

The published TPA in the AFD for single-engine and light-twin airplanes was 1,300 feet msl, and 1,800 feet msl for heavy multiengine and jet airplanes. The traffic pattern was a standard left-hand pattern.

There was no published traffic pattern or TPA for helicopters in the AFD at the time of the accident. According to the FAA's Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), in the absence of a published TPA for helicopters, the helicopter TPA was 500 feet agl, or about 800 feet msl at FDK.

A pamphlet produced by the City of Frederick, Maryland, depicted the airport traffic patterns and identified the helicopter TPA as 1,100 feet msl.

A poster of the pamphlet's depiction was posted around the airport, and it also identified the helicopter TPA as 1,100 feet msl.

The SOP for the contract operator of the tower had no TPAs published. However, when interviewed, the LC on duty at the time of the accident stated the TPA for helicopters was 900 feet per the SOP.

As a result of the investigation, the AFD was updated on January 8, 2015, with a recommended TPA for helicopters of 1,106 ft msl/800 feet agl.

Radar Data

Radar data for the flights was obtained by the FAA from several radar sites in the area surrounding FDK. Radar data recorded the flight track of the accident airplane until seconds before the accident; however, no data were recorded for the accident helicopter.

At the time of the accident, the floor of the Potomac TRACON radar coverage in the area surrounding FDK appeared to be about 1,200 feet msl. The helicopter never climbed into radar coverage, and the collision between the helicopter and the airplane occurred below the area of radar coverage.


The helicopter wreckage and its associated debris came to rest in a self-storage complex between two buildings, with parts and debris scattered in and around the complex. All major components were accounted for at the scene. The main wreckage came to rest largely upright, and the cockpit, cabin area, fuselage, tailboom, engine, transmission, with main and tail rotors attached. All components were significantly damaged and deformed by impact forces. The "blue" main rotor blade was fractured near its root, and the outboard 11 feet of main rotor spar was located 50 feet from the main wreckage with no honeycomb or blade skin afterbody material attached.

Control continuity could not be established due to numerous fractures in the system, but all fractures exhibited features consistent with overload.

The airplane came to rest nose down, in a dense thicket of brush and low trees, wedged between tree trunks, and held in that position. All major components were accounted for at the scene, except for the right wing flap, aileron, and right landing gear wheel and tire assembly which were located between the helicopter and airplane sites. Examination of the airplane revealed that the trailing edge of the right wing was impact-damaged, and that the flap and aileron hinges were significantly damaged and twisted, and the surrounding sheet metal displayed "saw-tooth" fractures, consistent with overload. The structural cable between the wing strut and the empennage was still attached at each end, but missing a 5-foot section in the middle. The two severed ends displayed features consistent with overload. The empennage displayed a vertical opening and parallel slash marks.

Examination of the cockpit revealed the flap switch handle was in the "50 percent" position; however, the flaps and the flap actuator were positioned consistent with a flaps-up position. Because power was applied to all systems throughout the flight and after ground contact, the flap position could not be determined prior to the collision.


The Office the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland performed autopsies on the helicopter flight instructor and helicopter pilot. The autopsy reports listed the cause of death for each as "blunt impact injuries."

The FAA's Bioaeronautical Sciences Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicological testing of the helicopter flight instructor and helicopter pilot. The tests for each were negative for the presence of carbon monoxide, cyanide, and ethanol.


Avidyne Primary Flight Display (PFD) Description

The PFD unit from the accident airplane included a solid state Air Data and Attitude Heading Reference System (ADAHRS) and displayed aircraft parameter data including altitude, airspeed, attitude, vertical speed, and heading. The PFD unit had external pitot/static inputs for altitude, airspeed, and vertical speed information. Each PFD contained two flash memory devices mounted on a riser card. The flash memory stored information the PFD unit used to generate the various PFD displays. Additionally, the PFD had a data logging function, which was used by the manufacturer for maintenance and diagnostics. Maintenance and diagnostic information recording consisted of system information, event data and flight data.

The PFD sampled and stored several data streams in a sequential fashion; when the recording limit of the PFD was reached, the oldest record was dropped and a new record was added. Data from the Attitude/Heading Reference System (AHRS) was recorded at a rate of 5 Hz. Air data information such as pressure altitude, indicated airspeed, and vertical speed was recorded at 1 Hz. GPS and navigation display and setting data were recorded at a rate of 0.25 Hz, and information about pilot settings of heading, altitude, and vertical speed references were recorded when changes were made.

According to the data, at 15:34:30, about 9 miles from the airport, the airplane initiated a descent out of 3,000 feet msl. The descent rate varied between 500-1000 fpm. The descent stopped at 1,600 feet pressure altitude (1,582 feet indicated) for about 10 seconds, at 15:36:40. The airplane then continued its descent at an approximate rate of 700 fpm.

As the descent continued, the airplane entered a right bank of about 15 degrees about 1.5 miles from the airport. While descending and turning right, pitch, vertical, longitudinal, and lateral acceleration experienced a loading event simultaneously at 15:37:36.

When this occurred, the aircraft was 0.75 miles from the field at 1,045 feet pressure altitude (1,027 feet indicated) and 100 kts indicated airspeed. Following the loading, the aircraft rolled a full 360 degrees to the right, pitch recorded extremes of 21 degrees nose- up to 80 degrees nose-down, and heading spun nearly 720 degrees to the right.

Following the loading, altitude was maintained for about 3 seconds before dropping at a maximum recorded rate of 5,470 fpm. The aircraft came to rest at 15:37:52 at 330 feet pressure altitude in a 75-degrees nose-down attitude with the wings rolled 46 degrees to the left. The recording ended with the aircraft static in these conditions.


Traffic Advisory System

The accident airplane was fitted with an L-3 Avionics SKYWATCH Traffic Advisory System (TAS). As installed, the system included an L-3 Avionics SKY 497 transmitter/receiver unit and an L-3 Communications antenna. The traffic information developed by the SKY 497 system was displayed in the cockpit and provided an audio alert.

According to the manufacturer, the SKYWATCH TAS monitored the airspace around the aircraft for other transponder-installed aircraft by querying Mode C or Mode S transponder information. These data would then be displayed visually to the pilot in the cockpit. The system also provided aural announcements on the flight deck audio system. The audio alert would be inhibited at 50 percent and 100 percent flap settings.

If an intruder aircraft's transponder did not respond to interrogations, the TAS would not establish a track on that aircraft. The system was not equipped with recording capability.

The SKYWATCH system operated on line-of-sight principles. If an intruder aircraft's antenna was shielded from the SKYWATCH system antenna, the ability of the SKY 497 to track the target would be affected. If a SKY 497-equipped aircraft was located directly above an intruder, the airframe of one or both of the aircraft could cause the SKY 497's interrogations to be shielded, depending on antenna location (top-mounted on the accident airplane). The SKY 497 also had the capability to coast (predict) an intruder's track to compensate for a momentary shielding.

In an interview with state police immediately after the accident, the pilot explained the operation of the system to the trooper conducting the interview, and stated he did not receive a traffic alert prior to the collision.

FAA Advisory Circular 90-48c

"Pilots should also be familiar with, and exercise caution, in those operational environments where they may expect to find a high volume of traffic or special types of aircraft operation. These areas include Terminal Radar Service Areas (TRSAs), airport traffic patterns, particularly at airports without a control tower; airport traffic areas (below 3,000 feet above the surface within five statute miles of an airport with an operating control tower…"


Mesa evicts World War II aviation non-profit from Falcon Field Airport (KFFZ) hangar

On any given day, three to six historic planes sit in an old-time airplane hangar at Mesa's Falcon Field. A Union Jack and a 48-star American flag hang from the ceiling, and black-and-white photographs of young military men and their aircraft adorn the aging walls.

The planes are the same type that the British Royal Air Force cadets used to train for battle in the 1940s. The hangar is the same one used by thousands of those cadets who trained in Mesa during World War II.

The Royal Air Force's presence at Falcon Field is a unique, but often forgotten, sliver of Mesa history. That's why a group of pilots and history aficionados started the Wings of Flight Foundation in 2007. There are multiple non-profits and museums at Falcon Field, but theirs is the only one focused specifically on the history of the British training program.

The non-profit has operated out of half of a city-owned hangar there for about four years, but on March 20, members received an eviction notice. The group had one month to pack up and vacate the property.

"We were kind of blindsided," said Wings of Flight Foundation member Dennis Glauner.

Mesa signed a lease with a local aircraft repair company in early March to take over the entire 20,000-square-foot hangar. Precision Heli-Support is slated to move in to the building in June.

City officials say the new tenant is good for Mesa's economy as it will grow local jobs and spur additional development.

But to the Wings of Flight Foundation, Mesa's decision is an unfair trampling of their rights — and WWII history.

The Wings of Flight Foundation has signed month-to-month leases with the city since it moved into the hangar in June 2013. But since that time, the foundation has asked the city for a long-term lease of their half of the hangar — or the entire thing — to no avail, according to Dan Condon, one of the non-profit's directors.

About a year ago, the city issued an advertisement for the half of the World War II hangar not occupied by the foundation. Four entities, including the Wings of Flight Foundation, submitted applications for the space, according to the city.

The Wings of Flight Foundation told the city it wanted the extra space to start a vintage aircraft restoration business. Condon said they already had a slew of customers interested in the service, but without permanent space, they couldn't accept the work.

Mesa spokesman Steve Wright said Precision Heli-Support's application fell more in line with the city's vision for Falcon Field, which is to expend economic development and job opportunities. The company currently operates out of a business park a few miles from the airport.

Sam Boyle, managing member of Precision Heli-Support, said he was looking to move his company to an airport for convenience, but he needed more room than the half-hangar advertised by the city. The company currently employs about 13 people, but hopes to grow that number in the new space.

He said he asked city staff if he could lease the entire hangar, and they obliged.

Condon said it was inappropriate for the city to offer up the entire hangar when it only advertised half. The foundation members knew they may not be successful in securing the entire building, but they were shocked to learn that they wouldn't have a home at all, he said.

Additionally, Condon accused the city of unfair treatment. There is a second World War II-era hangar at Falcon Field leased to another aviation history group, the Falcon Warbirds. That group does not have an economic development purpose, yet the city offered it a long-term lease, Condon said.

Wright said that on top of job opportunity, the city also chose Precision Heli-Support for its willingness to invest money into restoring the hangar. While the Wings of Flight Foundation also said it would invest in improvements to the hangar, it was less specific in how it planned to do so, he said.

Boyle said his company plans to spend around $400,000 redoing the walls and doors in the hangar, installing LED lighting and demolishing the existing office and restroom space to build new office areas.

"We're making a long-term commitment," he said.

The backlash over Precision Heli-Support's move to Falcon Field was unexpected, Boyle said, but his company looks forward to their new chapter at the airport.

"It's not like we're not sympathetic. On the other hand, what do you do when you have signed a lease and you already are spending lots of money to execute that?" Boyle said.

A 'non-profit act of love'

About 75 people donning red T-shirts crammed into the Mesa City Council Chambers on  Monday to convey their dismay over the city's decision to replace the Wings of Flight Foundation with a business that may not have as much appreciation for the hangar, which was recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the midst of an increasingly deadly World War II, Britain found itself in need of additional pilots — but had nowhere to train them in Europe. Under the direction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress allowed British pilots to train on six new air bases in the U.S., including what is now called Falcon Field.

Thousands of cadets lived and trained in Mesa from 1941 to 1945 in two large hangars. The dormitories are now gone, but a fireplace from the cadet lounge still remains as a tribute at the airport.

After the war, the federal government deeded the property to Mesa to use as a municipal airport. Today, it serves as a general aviation reliever airport.

In addition to the Wings of Flight Foundation, Falcon Field is home to other aviation history groups including Falcon Warbirds and the Arizona Commemorative Air Force Museum.

Three Wings of Flight Foundation supporters spoke to the council, reminding them of Falcon Field's history, and the foundation's work to preserve that history while helping the Mesa community through toy drives, veterans programs and other services.

Pilot Billy Walker spoke fondly of the foundation, noting its annual tribute to the 23 British cadets who died while training at Falcon Field. Each year the foundation does a fly-over at the Mesa cemetery during a ceremony honoring the cadets.

"Why evict them? It makes no sense," asked Walker. "There's is a non-profit act of love."

Kurt Tingey told the council he became involved with the Wings of Flight Foundation through Boy Scouts. He's taken several troops out to Falcon Field to learn about the planes and their history, he said.

"It's more than just a hangar. This is a World War II hangar. This kind of plays into the whole benefit of this," he said.

Vice Mayor David Luna, who represents the area, said he can understand why the foundation wants to remain in that specific hangar, "because of the historic nature." But, "the city is looking at it as a space for economic development," he said.

Boyle said that although he will use the hangar for business purposes, he's also a history buff, and he plans to preserve the history of the hangar by making renovations.

"I saw the potential of doing something for the building and something for us," he said.

An online petition in support of the Wings of Flight Foundation has more than 750 signatures. But Luna said the foundation's exit from the hangar is pretty much a done deal.

'We have no place to go'

Condon said the city asked his group to vacate the hangar by April 22. But they've asked for more time.

There's no way they can get all of their things out of the hangar so quickly, he said, and more importantly, "We have no place to go."

Wright said the city is working with the non-profit to find them another space at Falcon Field.

"The city values all of the tenants out there, whether it's aviation enthusiasts, pilots with private planes, or old warbirds, we want to work with them to keep them out there," Wright said.

But Condon said all that's been offered to the group so far are hangars that are too small to fit all of their planes. He said his team's still hopeful they can convince the city to reconsider its eviction decision.

Kris Van den Bergh, one of the foundation's directors, asked the council to see Wings of Flight as the community asset that it is.

"I think in life there's opportunities to keep history. Sometimes, very few people have the opportunity to make history. I think here — you, us — we have the opportunity to actually make history by keeping history," Van den Bergh said.

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U.S. airlines already cutting back flights to Cuba

CLEVELAND, Ohio - U.S. airlines, finally permitted to start regular nonstop flights to Cuba late last year, are already scaling back service to the island because demand isn't as high as anticipated.

Frontier Airlines announced last month that it was exiting the Cuba market in early June, just six months after it began. Other airlines, including JetBlue and American, are scaling back on the number of flights and size of planes to the island nation.

Just last summer, most major U.S. airlines were vying for permission from the U.S. Department of Transportation to fly to Cuba, part of a years-long easing of tensions between the two countries during the Obama presidency.

Dave Hershberger, a Cincinnati travel agent who specializes in Cuba travel, said airlines likely over anticipated demand in a rush to get a foot in the door of the new market. Even with the new nonstop flights, he said, travel to Cuba remains tricky.

"There are still a lot of restrictions in place, criteria you have to meet," said Hershberger, owner of Cincinnati's Prestige Travel Leaders. "You cannot freely travel to Cuba."

The U.S. government, for example, still requires that travelers to Cuba fall into one of 12 categories of permissible travel, including family travel, people-to-people educational travel, professional research, government business and others.

Hanging out on a beach at an all-inclusive resort doesn't qualify, he said.

Because of the bureaucracy, it's also expensive to travel to Cuba, said Hershberger, compared to, say, the Bahamas.

Hershberger said he has fielded many calls from travelers who are interested in traveling to Cuba. The number of people who actually go, however, is much smaller.

Even so, he said, he expects that demand for travel to Cuba will continue to grow - though that could change, depending on whether the new Trump administration makes any changes in the evolving U.S.-Cuba relationship.

Original article can be found here:

New Mexico National Guard readies for wildfires

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The roar of military Blackhawk helicopters fills the skies over forest lands near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Usually all green, these ships have blaze-orange stripes and giant radio call-sign numbers painted on them with washable paint.

The New Mexico Army National Guard Aviation Unit helps scoop up water from Cochiti Lake using cable-suspended collapsible buckets that each hold 410 gallons.

From the lake, it’s miles across rugged mountain terrain to a simulated fire scene where the U.S. Forest Service has deployed firefighters.

While many are veterans of joint deployments, some in the Guard have never been deployed to fires — and some ground firefighters have no experience taking advantage of military resources.

This joint training allows crews from the two disparate agencies to practice firefighting tactics together.

“Understanding the language and the capabilities,” said Forest Aviation Officer Jennifer Martynuik. “What are the ground crews up to? What are the capabilities of the helicopter?”

Martynuik feels the joint exercises also helps build working relationships between staff from the two agencies. That helps each understand how to best employ the aid of the other and fight fires efficiently.

“Aircraft take up fuel and flight time,” she said. “And water here, especially in New Mexico is quite a distance away. It comes down to trying to get it targeted in and being effective and efficient.”

High overhead, the crew of a command plane called “Air Attack” coordinates the flow of firefighting air traffic and relays messages and guidance as needed.

In the field, ground crews use everything from radios to signal mirrors and cloth banners to communicate with aircraft crews.

“Effectively communicating with the helicopter about where on the fire line they want that drop to occur and what kind of drop they’re looking for,” said Fire Aviation Officer Justin Jager. “If they’re building fire line with that helicopter drop, or they’re doing a spot drop.”

Winds often blow the plumes of water drops well to the side of a helicopter’s path over the ground. The firefighters on the surface help the crews in the helicopters judge where to best release the water so it hits the place it is needed.

The firefighting mission is a different one for the New Mexico Army National Guard. Although they do a lot of New Mexico rescue and disaster relief flying, the unit is also often deployed to other hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Unit commander LTC Daniel Purcell and his troops say they like the opportunity to join others in the fight against wildfires.

“We take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “It’s something else in our toolbox that we can come and support our great state and our country.”

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Efforts to privatize air traffic control opposed

Several groups presenting the interests of agriculture and rural Americans have written a letter to Congress opposing the privatization of the nation's air traffic control system.

A news release from the Alliance of Aviation Across America said the privatization proposal, which is being pushed by big commercial airlines, would remove air traffic control from congressional oversight and put it under a private board of mostly commercial interests.

The release states there are 5,000 airports across the county, 3,300 of which are public-use airports. Only 509 airports have commercial air service.

The groups contends that under a privatized system, a private board dominated by the largest commercial operators would direct resources and investments to the largest hub airports and urban areas where these investments would be most likely to benefit their bottom line.

The opposition groups include the Agricultural Retailers Association, Alliance for Aviation Across America, Crop Life America, League of Rural Voters, National Agricultural Aviation Association, National Council of Agricultural Employers, National Farmers Union, National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, National Women in Agriculture Association, and the USA Rice Federation.